Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Day Off

Back when and where I grew up, folks worked six days a week.  But still, even then, the hard core workaholics like farmers who never got to the end of the row took off Sunday.  Maybe they figured the mule used to plow the fields needed to rest, or maybe they just knew they did, too.  As times changed and the five day work week became the norm, Saturday became a day for "me" and Sunday continued to be the Lord's.  Nowadays it seems like both Saturday and Sunday belong to "me."  The Lord has lost His. 
During these years and decades of transition, I began preaching.  The older preachers who were already working talked about working all the time which, of course, was not a healthy thing for them or their families.  But, those ordained with me and after me were talking about blending in and being like everyone else around them.  If other professionals had a five day work week, then so should the ordained clergy.  Such was our reasoning.  Since we had to work on Sunday, it soon became the norm for clergy to take off Friday and Saturday.  While there was nothing wrong with coming to this place of taking time away from work, Sabbath got lost in the cultural shuffle.  Days were taken off, but no day was really viewed as a day for Sabbath rest.  Sunday continued to be a day for Sabbath work.
Time off is not Sabbath rest.  Mostly, time off was doing things that were unrelated to the work of the church.  Of all the people who should have been figuring Sabbath rest out, we allowed ourselves to dismiss it as something which was for all practical purposes not really necessary.  We became those who thought they could get along without it.  Sunday was usually the hardest, most exhausting, and longest work day of the week.  Not finding a way to make Sabbath happen can only be viewed as an act of disobedience even though we justified what we did by looking at what we did do for God on the Sabbath.  In retrospect it may have been a poor trade when we traded Sabbath for a day off. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Sign

As the rainbow in the sky is a sign first given to Noah and those who floated with him, so is Sabbath keeping a sign from God of "a perpetual covenant."  (Exodus 31:16)  When we ignore or abuse the Sabbath and make it just another day, then we have chosen to take lightly something put in place by the God who created us.  Sabbath rest was not an option for those Hebrews who first learned about it from Moses, but a commandment of God to be kept under the threat of death or expulsion from the community.  Our contemporary attitude toward keeping Sabbath is far, far away from what was intended in the beginning.
Ours is, of course, an attitude of "anything goes."  For most folks it is just another day.  And for many Christians it just means going to worship and then doing whatever it is that is out there to do.  I can even remember a time when I was a teenager that attending church twice on Sunday granted permission to date after evening worship.  There is not a whole lot of Sabbath keeping with that kind of motivation.  It is also true that many of our Sunday practices and habits which we think of as fulfilling the commandment to observe Sabbath have at their core all the wrong motivations.  Many times we do what we do not to please God, but to pacify ourselves.
When God put Sabbath rest on the table it was a way of doing something special.  In Deuteronomy 31:13 the Word says, "You shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you."   To understand Sabbath rest is to know that through it God sets us apart for sacred purposes in the world.  We are not just moving through this life from conception to death without any purpose, but God desires for us to make a difference in the work of the Kingdom.  As we faithfully practice Sabbath rest, we put ourselves in position to know how it is that God is at work in our lives. 

Friday, April 28, 2017


As we search for an understanding of Sabbath, we find some insight in an unusual place.  In the 16th chapter of Exodus we read about the manna from heaven falling upon the wilderness encampment of the Hebrews.  The Lord told Moses to tell the people, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day..."  (Exodus 16:4)   He went on to tell them to gather only a certain amount each day for if they tried to hoard some as leftovers to keep from going out to gather the next day, it would spoil.  However, on the sixth day they were to gather twice as much as there would be no fresh manna falling on the Sabbath Day.  The Sabbath was for resting which excluded even the work of gathering manna. 
Of course, some did not take God at His Word.  Some tried to gather extra for the next day to find out that it was foul when the sun rose on it.  And some went out on the Sabbath expecting to find the extra they did not bother to get on the sixth day.  Sabbath keeping is about trust.  It was then and continues to be so now.  The Word calls us to a lifestyle of working which speaks of depending on our own strength and resources for living for six days, but reminding ourselves on the seventh that it is really not all about us by practicing the discipline of not working.  To work on Sabbath is an expression of our distrust of God.  He may not do for us as we want or need Him to do, so instead of practicing Sabbath rest, we take matters in our hands.
Taking matters into our own hands when God is telling us it is actually in His hands is a recipe for disaster in our personal lives.  The disaster may not come at first, but is it not possible that a life time of ignoring Sabbath rest has resulted in health issues related to stress, broken families caused by the constant worship of the workplace, and a loneliness that is ultimately traced to trying to live without God's rule in our lives?  Getting it all now may seem like a good idea, but it is always a costly one.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Refreshing Moment

Did God really need to rest on the seventh day?  Was He truly worn out, beat-to-the-bone weary, after six days of creating all that is and ever will be?  Had He come to the place of such exhaustion that thinking about what was next was impossible?  Did He declare a day of rest because He was worn out and all His resources depleted?  Of course, not! As humans we know about exhaustion, weariness, and being empty of strength, but this human condition is not anything experienced or known by God unless, of course, we acknowledge that He experienced it through Jesus as He walked and worked and grew weary among us.
There might be some room to differ from the idea that God never grows weary as we read the 17th verse of the 31st chapter of Exodus when it says, "It (Sabbath) is a sign between Me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed."  What about this image of God in need of being refreshed?  Does not such an admission of need imply weariness and exhaustion?  Not necessarily.  So much work is done today in the market place that is impossible to see at the end of the day.  It is not like the farmer who starts breaking land open to plant and at the end of the day he is bone tired, but can look back at the field of fresh plowed dirt and be refreshed and renewed by what he sees has been accomplished.  Not only is there a sense of completion, but there is also participation in something that is purposeful. 
Such a moment at the end of the row at the end of the day is indeed a moment of being refreshed for what is still ahead.  It is an image that comes to mind as this verse from Exodus becomes fodder for meditation.  Like all our images, it is not perfect.  It has it flaws, but it surely points us to the way God might pause for a moment in the midst of what He is about and say with a sense of accomplishment and purpose, "It is good."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


When I was growing up, Sunday was defined by what you don't do.  Because it is Sunday, you don't go to the movie, you don't fish, you don't do any work (particularly the kind the neighbors can see like cutting the grass), you don't buy stuff at stores (of course, most were closed), and you don't do anything if it is going to be fun.  But, it was not a totally negative day.  You could go to Sunday School, you could go to church services twice, and you could go visit extended family.  And, oh yes, visiting cemeteries was allowed, too. 
Of course, to make it an even more difficult day, going to church required wearing Sunday clothes.  Those were the ones not worn any other day of the week.  And Sunday shoes had to be shined to pass an inspection.  It was even necessary to make sure the Saturday night bath included washing behind the ears.  Everyone always got up to a different schedule on Sunday which seemed to have a way of making family life a bit topsy turvey.  Even today one parent I know says that the devil is always sitting on her couch on Sunday morning to throw a monkey wrench in the possibility of peacefully going to church. 

Perhaps, most of us started trying to figure out the 4th commandment by becoming overly conscious of all the things you were not supposed to do.  Back then it may have seemed the only things permissible had to do with going to church, but as we learn there is far more to this sacred word given to Moses.  Sabbath rest is not just about not doing, but is actually more about doing.  God is not interested in making us miserable, but instead desires for us to have a joyful and full life which is, of course, where a right practice of Sabbath rest will take us. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Go Figure"

I know the fourth commandment.  "Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy."  (Exodus 20:8)  It is not hard to understand.  The story of creation found in Genesis speaks of a creator God who created for six days and  "rested on the seventh day from all the work He had done."  (Genesis 2:2) It looks plain and simple.  Work six days and rest on the seventh.  But, it has never been quite that simple.  There is more here than jumps off the page at us.  Sabbath rest is not just about not working on the seventh day.  There is something more here and that something more often makes it difficult to figure.
The most obvious thing about all this is not just the math, but the fact that God rested.  The all powerful Creator of all that is and ever will be took a day for rest.  Maybe that day was not a 24 hour period.  Maybe it was a season of rest, or a period of rest, but it was defined and intentional rest, nonetheless.  And, then, what is rest?   Did God break out the Laz-Boy and put His feet up?  Or, did He take a long afternoon nap?  Exactly what does a resting God look like?  To be truthful, it is not an image I have really tried to cultivate or understand.  Did He rest out of need, or "want to," or to model how created humanity should live?  Did He rest for Himself, or for us?  As my old Episcopalian priest friend used to say, "Go figure."
Sometimes I think those two words, "Go figure" are the keys to coming to an understanding of Sabbath rest.  I have never really been comfortable with what it seems to be saying from the surface of the page where the words hang out.  It seems that there is more there underneath the words, underneath the print, and underneath the superficial understanding we too quickly claim.  I keep finding myself thinking that I am not being pointed so much to a commandment as I am a way of life.
"Go figure."

Monday, April 24, 2017


As long as I can remember Sunday has been a special day.  Where I lived and grew up, it was the Lord's Day.  My Father was an avid fisherman.  Before he became a professing Christian, he often told me, "You don't fish on Sunday.  Give the fish a day of rest."  After his death when I was seven, my Mother moved back to Waycross, Georgia so my sister and I could be reared among family.  As I grew up there, going to church on Sunday was always a part of our life.  Sunday morning and Sunday evening, we went to church where I learned about Jesus and sang the great hymns of our faith.  Five years after we moved back home, my Mother married a Methodist preacher who, of course, kept the Sunday tradition very much alive.  His deep influence on my life is obvious enough as I walked in his footsteps as well as the footsteps of his Father to the altar of ordination.
I have been fortunate and blessed to have adults in my life who kept saying to me that Sunday was a special day, a holy day, the Lord's Day.  Back in those years what we know as Blue Laws kept most businesses closed on Sunday which further underscored the special nature of the day.  In those days folks bought ahead what might be needed on Sunday and those who wanted to do so attended church services.  Not even Blue Laws made everyone attend worship.  While in Waycross, Sunday became a day for worship and going out in the country to visit uncles and aunts and cousins and the cemetery.  Later after I became a Preacher's Kid (PK), Sunday was even more filled with the stuff of church life.
While I had my "going to do things my own way" when I went to college, the not doing church stuff on Sunday soon became a part of my past.  I could never completely throw away the influence of those who told me again and again that Sunday was the Lord's Day which made it different and my life within it different, too.  As I look around and see a society doing it differently and see how it is not working so well, I can only wish that the influence which guided my life could so direct those growing up today. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Suffering Community

There are communities which no one wants to be a member.  Sometimes we even go so far as to separate those communities from what we consider to be the mainstream community we inhabit.  The 17th chapter of Luke tells us about a community of sufferers no one wanted in their midst.  This particular community was made up of ten lepers.  In those days lepers were thought to be highly contagious and were therefore forced out of the towns and villages where the healthy people lived.  These outcasts ended up living a homeless existence in camps and caves inhabited by other lepers. 
Of course, we have come a long way since those days set forth in the New Testament.  Yet, still it often seems that their are certain communities which end up being so set apart from the mainstream of life that we forget about their existence.  The homeless community is certainly one of the more obvious ones in today's culture.  But, it is also true that those homebound because of age or illness, those who spend long weeks and maybe even months in hospitals and rehab facilities, and the institutionalized form communities that often exist under the radar.  As soon as we allow ourselves the freedom to look, we begin to see all around us these people who are bound not by a choice, but by the circumstances of their life.
Jesus always seemed to see the marginalized, the forgotten, and the suffering ones of His day.  He not only saw them, but He reached out to them with a compassion that had the power to change their lives.  This is evident with the ten lepers He met on the road to Jerusalem as well as others like them whom He encountered.  They were never invisible to Him.  He saw them.  He spoke to them.  He treated them as people of value.  They were included in His community and to follow Him means making them a part of ours as well. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017


It has been a long time now, but I still remember.  Some thing just linger in the old gray matter in the "too important to forget" file.  I can remember where I was standing the first time I saw each one of our children.  I also remember the first time I held each one of them and looked closely in their faces.  It was also the moment I offered my first prayer for them.  I prayed in those first moments that they would grow up and know what it is to know and love Jesus.  It is surely a prayer I have been blessed to see answered.  But, there is nothing special about my prayer.  It is the prayer of many parents.
I wish I could write that it is the prayer of every parent, but, of course, such is not the case.  Some children grow up without parents praying for them.  While it may be hard for us to imagine, such is surely the way it is.  The other day as I was watching some children being children, I wondered how it was with them.  I wondered if a parent had prayed for them, or was praying for them.  When young children are baptized in my United Methodist tradition, the whole congregation makes a commitment to live before the child in such a way that the child will grow up to love Jesus.  Unfortunately, a lot of us never give that commitment much thought when we see that same child running around in our midst. 
When was the last time we prayed for the children who race around us on their way toward adulthood?  We may not know them as well as we could, but could it not be that God might have put them in front of us so that someone will pray for them?  Is it not possible that our prayers could be like the prayers of Elijah and have great affect on the lives of the very young around us?  We could pray for the children who hang out with our children, or we could pray in a random way for those we see running around in the places where we go, but will we?  Do we?  Maybe it is time for us to ask God how we should be praying for the children around us who are moving toward the rest of their lives.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Not An Option

While we might want to peak under the eastern horizon to see what is coming, we know it is not an option.  We can see behind us with so much clarity, but when it comes to looking ahead, there is simply nothing but what can only be known as the unknown.  Despite this truth and our acceptance of it, we still live trying to control what is going to happen to us. We not only try, but we spend great amounts of time and energy to pave the way for a smooth landing on tomorrow's surfaces. 
One Word the Bible teaches us is that one day's trouble is enough for today.  Perhaps, this can be interpreted in different ways, but surely one of the most obvious is that it is wise to live in the present moment.  When we fail to live in the present moment, we not only miss out on the good things which could be happening with the people we love, but we also put ourselves in position to miss out on the blessings God is seeking to pour out upon us.  After all, the only moment God blesses is the present moment. 
To live always looking toward tomorrow is an understandable thing.  Sometimes we do it not for reason of control, but as a way of escaping what seems to be the unbearable circumstances of our present moment.  It is in some ways an expression of hope.  Today is so bad that tomorrow has to be better so let it come and come quickly.  God is in the business of being with us in those unbearable moments in our life.  When the darkness is the deepest and the pain is the greatest, He can be counted on to be present.  Tomorrow is not necessary to have Him with us to comfort, encourage, strengthen, and get us through.  He will do it today.  Count on it.  Live expecting it.  And be thankful, too.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

From Point A

It would seem when you read "Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan, that the spiritual journey goes from Point A to Point B.  In Bunyan's allegory Point A would be the City of Destruction and Point B would be the Celestial City.  Point A to Point B.  But, as any reader knows it was not such a journey.  Another appropriate prototype for the journey would be the Hebrews journeying from the land of slavery to the land of promise.  No Point A to Point B trip in that story.  It is no different with any of us as we reflect on the story of our journey.
As I think back over mine, I remember my baptism at age 9.  But, I was almost 18 before I really made what would count for a positive response to Jesus that had any permanence about it.  I have often thought I got the cart before the horse, but maybe there was some design in it all.  I am convinced that most of us are not on a straight line journey toward God.  My experience is full of getting sidetracked and running off on tangents that mattered very little.  About the only thing constant has been my staying set on moving toward God.  Of course, sometimes it did not seem too evident!  Spiritual journeys are messy.  They are full of stumbles and falls.  But, as in Bunyan's allegory, they carry us toward where God wants us to be.
For sure our journey of faith is not one we could have planned, or even imagined.  As we have put ourselves on our course paved with grace and mercy, we have encountered other sojourners who have challenged us to follow even though the road was full of surprising twists and unexpected turns.  At every turn something new is before us, something not yet seen and never before experienced.  We think we are moving toward God on our journey, but the truth is that He is with us along the way.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Made Holy

It has been with me for nearly 27 years.  More like a companion is what it has been.  The imitation black back and front leather cover has finally come loose and pages that once were protected are now getting wrinkled, folded, and torn.  Actually, it is showing its age.  Some pages have faded scotch tape keeping torn places together.   Parts of pages are missing.  So much of the white margin space is filled with handwritten notes, verses are underlined, and large arrows connect words on one page to words on another.  More than just a few cups of coffee have been sloshed over it and a really close look might surely reveal the stain of some shed tears. 
It is a mess, but it is our mess.  I have pored over its pages in the study preparing to preach and carried it with me to the pulpit lest I stray from what it called me to preach.  The Spirit has been a teacher, the saints of the past have shed light on its words, and the spiritual needs of the folks entrusted to me have caused many a wrestling match as I struggled with its words.  It is hard to turn it loose.  Many a lonely moment has been spent with it as the Spirit sought to open my eyes and heart to some illusive Word for which I was searching.  All these years this copy of God's Word has been near as I have journeyed after God.
It is holy, but not just because the front page says, "The Holy Bible."   It is holy because of what it has meant in my life.  It is holy because of the way the Spirit set this book apart from all other books and all other written words in my life.  Holy things cannot just be thrown in the trash.  It is just not done.  So, I suppose the only thing to do is to take what is torn apart, tie it all together with a good strong cord, and put it in a box where others have gone before. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rocks and Stones

I guess it was the story of the rolled away stone that was supposed to keep Jesus inside the tomb which got stones and rocks on my mind.  While I have never been a rock collector, I have kept a few over the years.  I saw them in their place in a tray just the other day.  I know I picked them up because there was something about the moment I wanted to remember, but, the truth is, I have forgotten.  So, now as I see those rocks all I can remember is that somewhere in the past there was something I valued enough that I wanted some reminder of the place and the moment.

My rock story is not the first one that has been told.  The Bible tells a few.  Jacob laid his head down on a rock one night, had a dream, and turned his hard pillow into a altar the next morning.  Joshua had twelve stones taken from the Jordan River for an eternal monument to a crossing.  And, of course, there is the story of the boy David taking five stones from a creek bed to take care of a menacing giant.  But, no stone and rock story is bigger than the rolled away stone which finds itself a major center stage prop on Resurrection Morning.

One last rock story has to do with Simon Peter.  Clarence Jordan who wrote a folksy cotton patch gospel some decades ago gave Peter the name "Rock Johnson."  Upon that "man-rock" Jesus declared He would build His church.  You have to love the way the Holy Spirit used such ordinary stuff to spill out the good news about how God was at work in the world.  Everything is suddenly made holy when God touches it.  What is an even greater miracle than God incorporating a rock or a stone into the holy story of His work in this world is the one when He takes hold of one of us.    

Monday, April 17, 2017

Not Fair

God is not fair.  No where in the Bible does it tell us God is fair.  Jesus told a parable about a man who paid the workers who worked all day the same amount he paid the ones who came to the job just before the day was done.  No fairness in that parable.  And, of course, the Word also tells us that the rain falls on the just and the unjust meaning that no one gets any breaks or special privileges.  Maybe there is some fairness in impartiality, but in nothing else. 
Expecting fairness from God implies that our behavior merits favor.  Because we do certain things, or because we have made certain commitments, God should treat us differently than He does those who view Him with a callous and indifferent spirit.  It seems to us that it is only fair that there is some correlation between how we live and how God treats us.  But, the truth we have discovered is that this rule of cause and effect does not apply in our relationship with God.  He does not act according to fairness.
We may not get a fair shake from God as we think we should, but what we do get is mercy.  Who among us would not rather have mercy than fairness?  Fair treatment means that what I get is up to me.  Mercy means what I get is up to God.  No smart person would ask God to give them what they deserve.  The Bible makes it very clear that no one, not even you and me, are without sin.  None of us are righteous.  If we believe this is true, we certainly do not want God to be fair.  What we really want is for Him to be merciful.  What do we really prefer?  A God who acts with fairness, or One who relates to us out of mercy?  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Sightings

The women went early expecting the dreaded moment of seeing the dead body of Jesus once more.  As hurried as they had been on Friday afternoon, there simply was not enough time to finish the burial preparation before the beginning of Sabbath.  So with the sun slipping away, they, too, slipped away planning to return on Sunday morning to finish what they had started.  Nothing could have prepared them for what they found.  An empty tomb.  Angels.  Soldiers asleep to the point of death.  And, a walking in their midst Jesus. 
Later, after listening to the women give their report of the early morning sighting of a resurrected Jesus and checking out the empty tomb for themselves, the disciples gathered in a private secluded place in Jerusalem to plan their next move.  Making sure the doors were locked, they tried to make some sense of what had happened that day.  Suddenly, without knocking or opening the door, Jesus was in the room with them.  No one needed to tell them who was with them.  Not a one doubted it was Jesus.  It was Jesus speaking, giving them assurances, and giving them peace. 
Much later in the day, Cleopas and his friend arrived in Emmaus with a new friend who had joined them on their walk from Jerusalem.  When it came to the moment of sharing bread around the table, the two travelers realized it was Jesus who broke the bread with them.  It was Jesus, the One they had heard had slipped from the tomb of death early that very day.  And, then as soon as they knew Him, He was gone from their midst, but not from their hearts.  It was a day when many saw Him as they had never seen Him.  It is such a day for all of us as well.  As they knew, so do we.  He is Risen! 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Saturday Stillness

The day after the day of the day of the cross was a day unlike any other day that had ever dawned in Jerusalem.  As surely as Friday had been the most violent of days, Saturday was a day of the deepest silence.  It was as if the air had been sucked out of that place leaving nothing.  No clouds stirred in the endless blue sky.  No birds were seen soaring or heard singing.  And while any Sabbath was quieter than other days, this Sabbath the day after the day of the cross was as quiet as the tombs of those dead and mostly forgotten.
Of course, on the day after the day of the cross, few people of Jerusalem had forgotten the Death of the One said to be Son of God.  The One who some had thought should be King of all the Jews.  But, alas, the crowds no longer gathered and clamored for Him to ascend a throne.  No one even spoke His name aloud on that day for fear a fate like His might fall on them as well.  It was a heavy day filled with an awful silence.  No one spoke of Him, or called His name anymore for His voice was silent now as He laid lifeless in a tomb carved out of cold stone.

Indeed, the day after the day of the cross was the most different of all days ever visited upon the earth.  The One who brought all things into being, even the dirt of the earth itself, now lay silently within His creation.  It was the first and only day the One who had always been and would always be was not.  Silent, lifeless in the grave the Savior lay.  Silent, lifeless in the grave the Savior waited for the day after the day of the cross to end so that the next new day could begin. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Fury

I have always remembered Dr. Fischer telling us in an Asbury College psychology class that we would not need a textbook to know if we encountered someone suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  I also remember the morning some ten years into my ministry when I guy walked into my office, started talking, and I knew firsthand the truth of what I had learned that day in psyche class.  No textbook was needed.  No one needed to spell it out for me.  The same thing might well be said of being in the presence of evil.  No textbook is needed. 

Now, I am the not kind of person to go round looking for demons in every bush.  I am more into what Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God..."  Evil may not be something we expect to encounter every day, but there are moments in our life when it happens, nonetheless.  All of us experience those moments differently.  It is not a "horn and tail" kind of moment, but one filled with such a dark oppressive spirit that an impossible to remove cloud seems to be hovering over us.  Descriptive words and phrases are not really adequate.  It is one of those things that we know not because we are prepared.  Instead, it is something we only know when we arrive.

Surely, Jesus stared into the eyes of Satan that Friday when He was nailed to the cross.   It was not the religious hierarchy or the political power brokers who stood up against Him that Friday, but the power of Satan himself.  Jesus had dealt with him on other occasions and always sent Him scurrying, but this time Satan thought He had truly bested Jesus.  But, it was not so.  Jesus stared into the vortex of the fury of evil being unleashed around Him and prevailed.  Unfortunately, evil is very present in our world, but we belong to the One who has already trumpeted its defeat on Resurrection Morning. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thursday Teaching

While preachers like to think that every sermon is divinely inspired, such is, unfortunately, not true.  Some are inspired by lesser things.  A preacher or two have been known to preach grudge sermons using the pulpit to have the last word with some antagonistic church member.  Others have been inspired by a sense of desperation as the clock ticked away the minutes on Saturday night.  But, it is also true that some sermons convict the preacher in such a way that they are preached with an overwhelming sense of passion and urgency.  At such moments the preacher anxiously awaits the preaching hour; yet, is scared to death when it arrives.
Thursday was surely a day when Jesus sensed an overwhelming sense of urgency for the teaching that came from His heart.  In some ways it was like a final word to the disciples.  It was a last opportunity to speak a word that He had carried heavily in His heart; yet, still not grasped by those who should have gotten it right by the day before the day He would be with them no more.  As we read those passages of the Word associated with Thursday of Holy Week, we find ourselves in the midst of such teachings.  We find ourselves going back again and again to that table where the bread and wine are given and feet are washed.  We read not once but often about those moments in the garden.  And even though centuries have passed, the urgency of those teachings is still overpowering.
Today is certainly a day for going back into the Word and allowing the events of Thursday to wash over us.  It is a moment for listening again to those teachings about serving and sacrificing and seeing how Jesus not only spoke such words, but fleshed them out.  What He said in those final hours before the cross not only give understanding to what was going to happen on the cross, but it also points the way forward for those of us desire to walk the way of the cross with Him. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday, Not Wasted

The last Wednesday of Jesus' time on this earth in the flesh was a lot different than the other days of that final week.  Sunday was filled with an excited crowd ready to make Him a king, Monday was a day of upheaval in the Temple, Thursday was the day of getting last things done, and Friday, of course, was the cross.  In contrast to all of these days and their drama, Wednesday was a quiet day spent outside of the city where the storm against Him was only intensifying.  Bethany seems to be the place where He rested and waited in a stillness not yet felt that week.  No drama in Bethany.  No antagonist.  No battles to fight.  Just quietness.  A moment to share with the Presence which directed Him.
When life seems to be throwing things at us and life is raging out of control, the last thing we think we should be doing is nothing.  In such moments we operate with the premise that something, anything, is better than doing nothing.  But, then what seems to be nothing to the folks who regard hurried frenzied activity as the norm is really something.  Doing what seems to be nothing is not always wasting time.  In fact, it may be the most productive and powerful thing we can do.  Such is always true if what appears to be nothing is actually being in the presence of God.
The Martha people go crazy when someone chooses to sit quietly in the presence of God.  Staying busy is their mantra and they want everyone to embrace it.  Being in the Presence looks too much like doing nothing for them.  However, it is the best of time for each one of us.  It prepares us for all that is before us because we have been with the One who knows what is ahead and who is also ready to get us ready for it.  No wasted time in such a moment.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday Troubles

On the day after the chaotic cleansing of the Temple, the religious hierarchy overtly launches its attach against Jesus.  Things have gone far enough, perhaps, too far.  The common masses of people are ready to crown Him king and His actions in the Temple were like a declaration of war against the religious status quo.  Those who held the power could no longer tolerate Jesus.  He was viewed as an upstart rabbi and a dangerous insurrectionist.  Jesus had to go.  When Tuesday dawns in Jerusalem, Jesus is verbally attacked from all sides as those keepers of the status quo seek to trick Him into saying something which will discredit Him and reveal Him as a troublemaker who must be gone.

Such a moment comes to some folks who start out with the best intentions about following Jesus.  It is not just a response of the ones who are bent against Him from the beginning.  Starting out with Jesus is always an exciting thing.  Endless possibilities seem just over the horizons.  Challenges abound which promise a more fulfilling life.  But, then there comes that moment of clarity when expectations are muddied by reality.  Jesus does offer a more fulfilling life, even a more exciting one, but it only comes at the cost of giving up an old way of life for the new one He holds out to those who are bent on faithfulness. 

Lent challenges us and calls us to realize that mere emotion and the thrill of the beginning will not see us through to the end.  Jesus was walking a hard way when He set His face to go to Jerusalem.  It was not some sight seeing journey, but a steady walk toward the cross called for by a desire to be obedient to the Father at whatever the cost.  It is no different for us.  The question is not the one based on how we feel, but based on a love for God which will not allow us turn aside from whatever it is that He is asking of us.  The way of the cross is not the way for the fainthearted, but only for the ones who like Jesus have set their face down the road of obedience. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday Mayhem

The day after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus went to the Temple.  He went not to worship, or to participate in its rituals, or to meet with the entrenched power brokers.  He went to turn everything upside down.  Overturning tables filled with "on sale" items, He soon was hollering about the sins of money changers who only saw the holy place as a stall in a market.  Dust and debris, pigeons and lambs, merchants and worshippers moved as if a tornado was blowing through the space.  It was a moment which sealed the determination of the power brokers to do away with Him.  The economic nerve He touched was too painful.
I have often feared Jesus would show up in the church of our day.  Talk about holy mayhem taking place.  If Jesus would turn things upside down in the Temple of first century Jerusalem, there is no way to envision what He might do in the church of this day.  In some places the collection plates are more important than the cross which stands beside them.  Churches are measured not by souls saved, but by dollars accumulated and spent.  The things that matter have to do with size and numbers.  Prayer rooms are about the size of closets if they even exist at all. 
Could it be we have forgotten?  Or, even worse, could it be that we know better and still make choices driven by economic expediency and self-promotion?  Is there enough mercy to cover the sins we have committed by going after such gods?  Is there hope for the consumer driven, financially pre-occupied church of this day?  Is there grace enough for those who have silently stood as its leaders and worked as if nothing was wrong?  Oh, God, have mercy.  On me.  On all of us. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Details.  Most good stories are filled with details.  And, often enough we miss many of them because we get caught up in the movement of the story.  When the story of the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is told in the gospels, Matthew and John omit a detail included by the other two gospel writers.  Luke and Mark tell us that Jesus rode a colt into the city that had never been ridden.  Anyone who watches western movies knows that wild un-ridden horses have to be broken by cowboys who hang on until the bucking horse becomes a broken horse ready for riding.  Yet, Jesus gets on this not yet ridden horse and rides him into the city with no trouble at all.

The un-ridden colt has no problem with Jesus riding him into the city.  And neither is he bothered by the noise of the shouting crowd, or rough palm branches being waved in the air and across his head.  Unfazed.  He is such a gentle ride that he is hardly seen at all.  He just blends into the fabric of the story in such a way that his extraordinary behavior is almost missed.  Of course, the rider was the one who could look demons in the eye and tell them to be gone and they were.  Not only were demons sent running by His look, but He also looked into the eye of the storm and restored peace.  A nervous and excited colt was surely no problem for Jesus who had such power over wild things.

But, perhaps, we know this best because of the way Jesus has looked at us, seen a wild and headstrong spirit, and brought order and peace into our lives.  We read the stories of it happening to folks like the centurion at Calvary, Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, a wild troubled man named Augustine, and John Newton who transported slaves.  And we know our own story, too.  It is the story of someone whose heart was set apart from God by our sin and who then became one of God's set apart people because of grace.  Wild animals, terrible storms, and headstrong hearts are all broken by the look of the man on the cross. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Prayer

"Lord, I found myself watching folks today in their coming and going at the grocery store.  Maybe seeing is the better word.  Some looked like well manicured lawns outside some upscale suburban house.  The kind that is cared for by a fancy lawn care company.  Others looked worn out.  Their faces were wrinkled with age and scars.  They just looked beat down and weary.  Nothing fancy about how they looked.  Just beat up and thrown away.  They were the kind of folks I figure have been through a lot of hard stuff in their lives and they are still going.  I am not sure about the well groomed folks who walked alongside them.
But, it set me to wondering.   What do you see, Lord, when You look at me?  Not talking about how I am dressed or how the mirror shows me.  I am wondering what You see when You look and see my soul.  Does it look like it has never seen a struggle?  Does it look too well kept to have been through the tough times of life?  Or, does it show spiritual scars from battles lost in struggles to do the right thing?  Does it look as old as the rest of me, or does it somehow reflect the ageless Kingdom I talk about seeking?  I guess what I really wonder, Lord, is whether or not it reveals a man who still bears the marks of spiritual immaturity.  Is there any evidence I have moved at least a bit toward spiritual maturity?
Just wondering, Lord.  When I looked at those folks, I knew I would rather be seen as one of those who looked worn and beaten because I figure those are the ones who know the most about living.  I want my soul to show it, too, but maybe I have chosen the easy way too many times to really look like one who has learned what it means to endure in the midst of spiritual struggles and keep on going in faithfulness.  Lord, that is who I want to be.  Forgive me for not being there yet.  Amen."

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Unexpected

Those who knew Jesus as a companion on the road surely came to realize He was an unpredictable rabbi.  He did not live with disregard for religious laws and traditions, but neither did He let them rule  His life or keep Him from doing what He knew to be the will of the Father.  Neither was He concerned about being on the good side of the power brokers who could make life easier for Him.  The outcasts, the forgotten, and those for whom no one cared were the welcomed ones.  And then, just when it seems He would turn no one away, there is that story in Luke about the three would-be disciples who talked a good game, but had other things in their lives that were really more important.  These He turned away as unfit for the Kingdom.
If we fall too much in love with the Jesus of our expectations, we are likely to be disappointed.  He is just not someone who concerns Himself with pleasing others, not even folks like you and me.  When He walked that road from the Mt. of Transfiguration to the hill called Calvary, He only had one thing in mind and that was being obedient to what He knew was the will of His Father who sent Him.  Anyone who had any other plans and purposes for the journey was not going to find it to their liking.  He was going to the cross.  A cross is not really a desired destination for most of us.
Yet, it is exactly the place where He is taking those of us who set out to follow Him.  If we have not yet learned it will not be an easy journey, the lesson is soon to come.  The cross speaks volumes about the sacrificial life, the life based obedience to God, and putting self aside for the sake of others.  It is not the way most folks in our ego centered culture are choosing to live.  Choosing the way of the cross over the common way of culture is the way chosen only by those who have their mind and heart set on going after God.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Words From a Peach Farmer

When I was still figuring out what it meant to be ordained, I went to the Talbotton Church as a pastor.  I was five years out of seminary and figured I knew more than I did.  It was during those years that I met an old guy who had spent a lifetime growing peaches.  I visited him one day out in his orchard.  He was in his mid 70's and planting a orchard of young peach trees which he told me would take about seven years to come into full production.  He must have seen what I was thinking as he then said to me, "I may not eat any of these peaches, but I want my grandchildren to know after I am gone that I was pointed in the right direction."
I have never forgotten his words about living life pointed in the right direction.  Perhaps, it can rightly be said that Lent is about helping us with the work of keeping, or getting, our lives pointed in the right direction.  All these spiritual disciplines to which we are called through The Invitation to Observe a Holy Lent are the kind of things which help us with the work of staying pointed in the right direction.  We may not be where we might want to be with any of these disciplines, but not being involved with them because it is a struggle is a bigger failure than not living up to our expectations. 
Many years later I made the decision to start rising at 5 am for  prayer and the Word.  It was not always as successful as I wanted it to be.  Some mornings I fell asleep.  But, when it happened, I learned to step back into my praying by praying, "Lord, I have fallen asleep again, but I am here because I want to be obedient to what I believe You have called me to be about..."  I was falling short, but I was pointed in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Two Books

There are two kinds of books on spiritual growth.  One is the one about "doing."  The other kind is about "being."  We like the "how to do it" books better.  We are oriented toward following the directions and getting the desired result.  We also have an aversion toward the hard work necessary to really grow in our spiritual life.  The "how to do it" books give us a plan, we work it, and then we sit back expecting the promised results.  It is the easy way and most of us have a number of such books on our book shelves. 

The books about "being" are often viewed an unreadable.  Too challenging. They require thinking.  The "how to do it" books spell it out, but the books that focus on being do not present us a clear plan about to proceed toward spiritual maturity.  The road forward is not marked.  It is up to the one on the journey to figure it out.  Actually, it is not so much about the one on the journey figuring it out as it about being open to the Holy Spirit to provide the enabling power and guidance.  It becomes a partnership in which we seek to work in submission to whatever it is that God is doing.  It is the uncharted journey and the unpredictable way.

It is no wonder we have a fascination with the "how to do it" books.  And while they offer us something of value, they do not usually have the kind of staying power we really need for the journey.  They are the expendable books.  They are the trendy guides that have a limited lifetime on our book shelves.  The books about "being" are different in that we tend to hang on to them, read them more than once, and find ourselves living with them in a way that causes us to realize that something of lasting value is taking place in our relationship with the God who is leading us.      

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Words from the Past

When the church decides it wants to do something, committees are organized and set to work.  A goal is set,  Strategies and methods are put in place.  In Martha like fashion the church hurriedly increases its pace and puts itself on a course of accomplishing its planned mission.  And in most instances, the plans are spoken of as anointed with the will of God.  Even though no one has prayed to determine exactly what the mission is to be, once it is determined, it is cloaked with such holy language that no one dares to speak against it.  Many a mission has been launched without the kind of divine guidance that can only come through the struggle of prayer.
So often I find myself remembering a quote from E. M. Bounds, a 19th century preacher who is most remembered for what he wrote about prayer.  “What the Church needs to-day is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use -- men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men -- men of prayer.”   Understand he was writing in a different gender environment and understand, too, his words still ring with power for the church of our day.
Prayer is what keeps the ship of the church on course.  And, surely, one of the reasons it flounders so in these days is that it depends too much upon those who stand in its pulpits and sit in its pews.  We simply do not have time to pray.  There is such an urgency to get the church's mission accomplished  and those who advocate too much time at the feet of Jesus seeking direction are banned from the room where decisions are being made.  Before we pray about what the church should be doing, perhaps, we should be praying that God would raise up men and women who want nothing more than to prayerfully discern and know His will and purpose. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Journey

The Lenten season is always associated with the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem.  The first three gospel writers all start the journey with the Mt. of Transfiguration and end it on another high place called Calvary.   The gospel writer Luke notes the beginning of this final journey with his words written in Luke 9:51 which speak of Jesus setting His face to go to Jerusalem.  It is for Jesus a moment filled with the decision of not turning away, not turning back, but going steadfastly forward to what He knows awaits Him at the cross.  There is a sense of urgency heavy upon Him as He walks toward the city and His sacrifice.
It is not a moment for what we sometimes call "dilly-dallying."  Those who did not want to get with the program were left behind.  The program was going to Jerusalem to die for the purposes of His Father.  Those who were not willing to go along with their mind set on accomplishing the will of the Father in heaven were deemed as unfit for the journey and the Kingdom.  The will of the Father always involves setting aside our own agenda for the agenda of the Kingdom.  It always means that the ego in us which has grown so accustomed to sitting on the throne of our life no longer has such a valued place in our life.  In fact it has no place at all alongside of serving God and being a servant of others in the world. 
These Lenten days are days for us to decide again if we really want to walk this way that Jesus walked.  He is always beckoning us to come along where He is going, but it is never the way that nurtures ego, but the way that calls us to put ego aside so that we be an instrument of service in the hands of God.  If such is the goal of our heart, then we have a place on the road behind Him.  Otherwise, we need not think about signing up for the journey. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017


I have  been reading a long time.  A really long time.  I do not know who had a hand in teaching me to read.  I wish I knew those teacher's names.  Most likely they are long gone from teaching, but I wish I could thank them.  Long ago I fell in love with words.  It is a love affair that has never ended.  To this day I am fascinated with the way some people can use words to create verbal images as clear as anything which can be seen in a painted portrait.  I envy them.  I would choose to be a master at the craft of reading and writing, but even though a life time has been invested, the title "master" is not yet mine.
Learning to read opened books up to me.  But, more than just books, it opened the Sacred Word to me.  How impoverished my life would be had I not been able to read that Word and carry it with me on my spiritual journey.  When I was learning to read, the emphasis was on reading silently without having to mouth out each word on the page.  As we practiced reading, we came to that place of no longer needing to call each word out silently.  Reading aloud to hear the words was no longer needed so we ceased doing it.

As we read the Word during these days of Lent, it might be a helpful thing for us to practice reading aloud again.  Find a place where reading aloud is no problem for the rest of your world and give it a try.  Reading aloud helps us slow down in our reading.  If we find ourselves reading so fast the words are running together in our ears, it is likely we are speeding along without really hearing and knowing what the Words are saying.  Reading aloud is also something which helps us to focus more.  Few people fall asleep while reading aloud while many of us have been guilty of doing it while reading silently.  Whatever it takes to help us hear what God is saying to us through His Sacred Word is worth the effort.  Give it a try during Lent.  It may become a habit kept even beyond the end of the season. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Better Basis

When the stuff of our spiritual lives are built on the Word of God, there is a permanence about it.  One of the reasons there is so much spiritual floundering is because too much of what we think of as our spiritual life is based on our experiences or feel good feelings. People measure worship and sermons on the basis of how good it makes them feel.  And somehow we find ourselves thinking that the better we feel, the more spiritual we are.  When we have good outcomes to our problems, we go around declaring, "God is good!" but the truth is what we experience or feel has nothing at all to do with His goodness.
A much better basis for our spiritual lives is the Word of God as we find it in the Scripture.  It does not change. It proclaims the same unchangeable truth regardless of the circumstances of our life.  It is a dependable source of truth for us in all kinds of weather.  But, knowing such is true is not enough.  We finally have to come to the point of choosing to make the discipline of reading and living with the Word as a part of our lives.  Unless we read it, there is no way it can make a difference in how we walk the twists and turns of our life.  As Lent continues to unfold, we find ourselves hearing this call to read the Word.  It is not something to be done because it is a good religious practice, but because it is something which has the power to change the way we are able to live in the midst of our circumstances.
The Word we put into our heart becomes a part of the attitudes we embrace and express with our living.  There is always a correlation between input and output.  What we carry with us from our quiet moments of reading the Word will serve us well when the noise of our life is overwhelming and we do not have time to think.  The more we read the Word, the more it becomes a part of who we are.  We become what we put in our heart.  Read and know this truth as reality for yourself.