Friday, July 28, 2017

The Kneeling Spot

I am grateful for the altar in the sanctuary.  An altar is indeed a holy place.  It is one of those places in our world where our human need intersects with the power of the Holy Spirit.  There are, of course, other places where this happens, but there is no place like this particular kneeling spot in our world.  The truth is there are no other places which encourage or invite us to kneel.  Kneeling is not something commonly done by those of our day who only see the whole kneeling thing an unnecessary anachronism.  People who have it all together and see themselves as the masters of their future have no use for an altar.
In my days of ministry every United Methodist Church had an altar.  This is not to say it was used in all of them, but it was at least there as a reminder of something important in life.  In many of our United Methodist Churches, the only time people are invited to kneel is when Holy Communion is offered.  Of course, this is only true if the church has not bowed to the more expedient "walk by" communion offered to many hurried worshipers.  It is sad to see an altar not used and even more sad to see it omitted completely when newer more contemporary sanctuaries are constructed.  In many places an altar is no longer seen as necessary.
For a lifetime I have been kneeling at one after another after another.  I always made a practice of inviting those who worshipped to use it.  I have prayed many prayers while there on my knees.  I have met many a struggling soul at that holy place to pray about the burdens of the heart.  I have been there on many occasions when the Holy Spirit stirred in our midst in mighty and powerful ways.  The altars of all those churches from my past have proven themselves to be holy places where God is encountered.  I am grateful for everyone of them on this journey of faith. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


During my 43 1/2 years of preaching, I have been entrusted with the pulpit ministry that has gone forth from ten different pulpits.  Some were high and some not so high.  Some were very simple in appearance and some were not so simple.  On each of them laid a large open pulpit Bible on which I placed whatever I carried into the pulpit.  The Bible always was a silent reminder of the authority I had for preaching.  It reminded me that folks came not to hear my opinions, but to hear the Word of God.  Though there were too many preaching hours to count, everyone represented a holy opportunity to speak a holy Word to the people of God who came with more needs than I could have ever imagined. 

I still wonder at times about the wisdom of God in calling me to preach, but He did.  Of this I have no doubt.  What a privilege it has been to have a place to stand and preach every Sunday for all those years.  There is no place like the pulpit.  It is holy in that it is set aside for a holy purpose.  From it the Word of God is to be proclaimed.  It is not a rostrum to hold material of a speaker.  It is not something which is to be moved so that other purposes can be in the spotlight.  It should be regarded as a permanent part of the sanctuary which is, of course, larger space that is also set aside for holy purposes.

I remember everyone of those ten pulpits behind which I have stood and preached the Word of God.  There were those times when I stepped into it woefully unprepared.  I deeply regret having wasted a single moment given to me for preaching.  I have always believed God was at work through the preaching and sometimes He did it through this preacher and sometimes He did it despite this preacher.  On the surface it may seem like a ordinary place to stand, but far from it, it is a holy place where extraordinary things are only a breath of the Spirit away.  To have stood there humbles me and blesses me. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Belly of the Big Fish

Going to Asbury College was my "Jonah in the belly of a big fish" moment.   The bottom line was that I did not want to go.  I was convinced at the time that going to this Kentucky school was being obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  I simply wanted no part of it.  It was too religious.  It was a school with a holiness tradition.  It was 600 miles from home.  I was not going to do it.  So, I went to another college here in Georgia.  I had my only Dean's List quarter at that school, but I was miserable  so I sent my application to Asbury and got accepted. 

I went there with a heart full of doubt and a spirit in rebellion.  I was determined being at Asbury would not change me.  I was going to leave as rebellious as I was when I arrived.  God surely had a reason for my being there, but it took me a while to see it.  Within a month or so after starting classes, I met a young girl from Georgia whom I would marry in less than two years.  Since she was far ahead of me in her faith journey, it is amazing she stuck it out with me.  But, she did.  Since attendance at chapel was required three times a week, I began to get a steady dose of preaching that got my attention.  I found myself being introduced to some new ideas about the work of the Holy Spirit.  For the first time I wondered what a Spirit controlled life would look like. 

Everything came to a head for me in February of 1970 at what is known as the Asbury Revival.  For a week classes were suspended and services of worship and praise continued without stopping in the auditorium on campus.  Lives all around me were being changed by the power of the Holy Spirit at work.  Mine, too.  I joined so many others at that altar the first afternoon and my walk with God carried me forward into new and not yet imagined places.  I am grateful God led me to Asbury College and allowed me to kneel at that altar at Hughes Auditorium.  I cannot imagine my journey without that holy moment and holy place. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Bedroom Altar

From the water stop for baptism at the Hebardville Church in Waycross, Georgia, the journey took me to Savannah and then to Alamo where I graduated from Wheeler County High School.  With graduation and college looming on the horizon, I was struggling with what I was going to do with my life.  The "What will I be when I grow up?" question was really weighing heavy.  But, there were other things that were undecided as well.  Important things.  Things like my relationship with Christ.  Though baptized I knew my life of faith in Christ was more pretend than reality. 

On that May evening a few weeks before graduation, the preacher spoke at a business meeting of the church and said, "If you see a need and realize you can do something about that need and do nothing, you may be neglecting the call of God on your life."  It was a word I carried with me back to my bedroom.  It was a word which drove me to my knees beside my bed.  There I gave my life to Christ as I had never done and heard what I knew to be a call to preach.  There in the Alamo parsonage in my bedroom a holy moment took place in my life which would shape the rest of my days. 

The Old Testament guys made a shrine of rocks to mark the holy places.  I should have done something.  Maybe put an X on the floor or a sign on the door.  But, as is the case with many of the holy places in our lives, there is no visible thing to mark the place.  It is marked only in my memory.  It seems to me that I could walk in that room and see that bed exactly where it was back when I was almost 18 and know the spot where I knelt and had the rest of my life re-directed by that encounter with the living presence of Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Water Stop

Whenever I go back to visit the Hebardville Methodist Church (and it has been a long time now), I always look first toward the front pew on the right where I sat.  Somehow or another my mother managed to buy the pew and donate it in memory of my father.  It was where I sat Sunday morning and Sunday night.  And then, I look toward the left end of the altar where I knelt down one Sunday morning when I was nine years old and was touched by the waters of baptism.  The preacher who baptized me would marry my mother a few years later and his influence would continue.

Now, at age nine, most children have no real clear understanding of what happened on the cross when Jesus died.  But, then, such is true of a lot adults as well.  And, to be honest, I still struggle at times to get my mind around what God has done for all of us through the death of His Son on Calvary's cross.  What I do remember was that baptism was for me a way of responding to God.  It was that simple.  Even then I sensed God's presence and out of that awareness I was baptized.  It was an act that sent me forth as a teenager who thought of himself as a Christian.

As I think about the holy places where God was at work in my life, the Hebardville Church certainly comes to mind.  Thinking back causes me to be aware of how long I have been about this journey of faith.  At the water stop there was little understanding of what faith meant, but maybe the simple and unsophisticated faith of a boy is enough.  As we go along, our faith often gets cluttered up with an intellectual search and rigid duty.  Neither is really necessary.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The First Place

I have always thought of country church cemeteries as holy places.  Surely, the prayers from inside have spilled out the windows and doors gracing the ground with a kind of spiritual holiness.  But, then there is more.  Those grounds are made holy by the prayers prayed over graves, the tears of grief and sorrow which have dropped to the ground, and the loved ones left behind.  Unlike the manicured and neatly trimmed memorial gardens which adorn the suburban areas, these country burial places looked real, authentic, and bear the marks of those who go again and again to pay their respects and speak of their love. 
My first memory of going to such a place is from age seven.  We went to the Pierce Chapel Methodist Church Cemetery to bury my father.  It was land donated by our family from a couple of generations back and a place that he no doubt went by on many of his ramblings through that countryside.  Back then only dirt roads gave access and only those who knew where they were going made it without an overwhelming sense of being lost.  While paved roads now take folks to the church and its cemetery, the holy land has mostly escaped and been spared the pain inflicted upon ground by modernization.
At age seven my father's death took me on my first journey to that place that has become holy.  I also know it as a time in my life which set me to thinking about God for the first time.  While there were many things I could not figure out, the one thing which became clear in those years was that there had to be a God.  Nothing made any sense apart from that one single truth.  It is a truth I hung onto and one that got me started on this lifelong spiritual journey which has kept me moving toward God. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Journey Places

When I was a boy with my first Bible, I read all those stores about Abraham and his descendants which followed, Moses and the Hebrew people, Joshua and the fall of Jericho, and many more from Elijah to David and beyond.  As I read the stories, I often went to the back of that zippered black Bible to the maps to see the location of the places mentioned in the stories.  Even then I had a sense that places were important.  Now, I understand more clearly that God does not operate in a vacuum, but within the context of specific places.  Many of those Biblical characters did things to mark as significant some of the places where they encountered God in unusual and powerful ways.
All of us have places that are important to our spiritual journey.  Maybe there is no set of maps to guide us, but then, none are needed.  We know the names of those places and where they are located in the journey of faith that we call ours.  Some of those places may have already been designated as holy by the community of faith, but many others have been noted as holy and special because of the moment we had with God in them.  They are so marked not in a book of holy places, but in the book of spiritual memories we carry in our heart. 
It is, of course, a list of places that is incomplete.  Each year of our life more places are likely being added to that list of memories which remind of us powerful moments with God.  Perhaps, we have some physical token taken from a place in the past to remind us.  Maybe it is a rock, or a seashell, or a t-shirt.  In most cases nothing is really needed to bring to mind a place where a meaningful encounter with God took place.  Think about those places.  Begin to write them down on a piece of paper and slip into that copy of the Word kept so close.  Spend some time remembering.  Spent some time being thankful.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Not a 9-5 Job

Years ago, many years ago to be more precise, when our oldest daughter was but an infant child, we called the doctor in the middle of the night.  She was screaming in pain and we knew not what to do.  I remember the phone call.  I started out by apologizing for calling at such an ungodly hour only to be interrupted by him saying, "Don't apologize.  It is part of the job.  If you don't like it, you should get another job."  I hope he ended his working years with the same attitude.  Sometimes our caring and sacrificing spirits get lost through the years.
What the doctor said years ago is something every preacher and spiritual leader in the church should remember.  Responding to God's call to serve is not a 9-5 job.  People get in terrible predicaments at unscheduled times. Unless there is a daily connecting with the Source of spiritual strength and a heart that is more compassionate than ego seeking, the disturbed servant will likely become a disgruntled servant.  People do not find themselves in trouble according to a schedule and neither does God concern Himself with the inconvenience He might be causing the one who said "yes' to serving Him.
The spiritual leader may have a professional degree and professional certification.   He or she might like to look in the mirror and see a professional person like other professional people, but the one thing which can never be forgotten is that being responsive to the call of God makes one a servant first.  Too many times it seems that those who serve forget.  Too often what begins as a servant ministry ends with a heart made callous and insensitive by too many trips into the pain of others without first kneeling in the presence of the One who did the calling.  Kneeling has saved a lot of ministries.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


A child may walk along the edge of the beach allowing the dying surf to wash across his or her feet and call it going into the water, but only those who have gone out further really know the pulling power of the water surging all around them.  Too many preachers and spiritual leaders are like the child with wet toes when it comes to spiritual disciplines.   Wet toes are enough.  Wet toes are the equivalent of the soul being lightly sprinkled by spiritual power.  Wet toes are about being satisfied with less when there is more.
Instead of walking on the edge, the preacher or spiritual leader needs to be immersed in the surging overwhelming power of spiritual disciplines.  If the person who looks to the pulpit for spiritual leadership is spending a half hour a day with spiritual disciplines, how much more is required of those who are vested with the authority of leadership and the well being of the souls of the congregation. The excuses we use are simply nothing more than cop outs that God surely wearies of hearing.  When we read the biographies of those regarded as spiritual giants, we usually read about people who begin each day being immersed in big chunks of time devoted to their relationship with God. 
Reading books may give new ideas.  Listening to the stories of others may inspire.  But, there is nothing which can take the place of being with the One who calls the leaders of the church to stand as faithful servants.  In those moments our broken and beaten spirits can be renewed, our hope in what God is about in the world can be restored, and a misdirected life can be set once again on the track where the feet of Jesus can be seen clearly ahead.  Is it not true that the quality and the integrity of the spiritual leadership being offered is determined by the way that leader has been soaked and immersed in the power of the Holy Spirit?  It is always a shame to be satisfied with less when there is more.   

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Dangerous Place

Being a spiritual leader and having authority is a dangerous thing.  As we remember the Temptation Story of Jesus in the Wilderness, we see One who had authority.  Not even the tempter questioned the authority of Jesus.  Actually, we hear him acknowledging it.  What he did do was to acknowledge that Jesus had authority and then challenge Him to live as if all the rules did not apply to Him.  As One who had authority, He was the exception to the rule.  This core temptation was seen then and it is seen again and again in the lives of those who wear the mantle of spiritual authority.  Jesus resisted the temptation.  We do not always do so.

What makes this authority so dangerous in the lives of spiritual leaders is the way it can lead to a belief that "I am always right and they are always wrong."   Compromise and tolerance can suddenly disappear in the places where leaders take their authority too seriously, or abuse it.  When the authority given is used as the sole means of getting something done, then it is being used in the wrong way, a way that is bringing harm instead of good.  Every spiritual leader faces this temptation; thus, every spiritual leader truly does need to have people who are praying for him or her. 

But, one other thing needed very much in the lives of those given the authority to lead in the church are people given permission by the spiritual leader to say, "No!"  Too many spiritual leaders surround themselves with "Yes" people, people who owe their spiritual leader allegiance instead of honesty.  It makes a perilous perch for those given authority to lead.  Every one wearing the mantle of spiritual authority needs someone who grounds them; otherwise, they aspire for such a lofty place that they forget the real world in which they really live. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017


Preachers and spiritual leaders are vested with authority.  It is an authority which comes from several sources.  First, it comes from God.  He is the One who starts the leadership process in an individual if that person is to truly be a spiritual leader.  Without the reality and conviction of divine calling, the one who is regarded as a spiritual leader by the church may be the proverbial wolf in sheep clothing.  While it may not be an intentional thing with the leader and while the leader may mean well, there is still something important missing if God is not the One who initiates the ministry and service.  It is always possible for someone to serve the church for personal reasons instead of a mandate from God.
A second sources of authority for the preacher who is often the primary spiritual leader of the church is through ordination.  As a United Methodist preacher I knelt before a Bishop of our church, had his hands placed upon me, and he spoke words giving me authority to preach the Word and to administer the Sacrament.  Those words were not permission giving words, but words which gave direction to a life I had come seeking.  Looking back it was like one of those "Woe is me!" moments reminding me that I dare not take this sacred authority for granted or abuse it. 
And, the third source of authority comes from the people of the church being served.  If the people of the church do not recognize their preacher or leader as one vested with spiritual authority, then only trouble is ahead.  Ministry and service in such a place will be difficult, if not impossible.  It has always seemed that the real key to having a congregation affirm and receive the authority of the spiritual leader has more to do with serving than preaching.  If a spiritual leader is viewed as a servant who seeks only what God is seeking, the permission to serve is more easily granted.  If the ego of the spiritual leader is directing instead of the Holy Spirit, this soon becomes obvious and permission to serve with authority is withheld. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Call

The one thing every preacher and spiritual leader needs is the call of God on his or her life.  Not only is it needed, it is a must.  It is never enough to set out on this particular road without a strong and absolute conviction that it is the road down which God is beckoning us to walk.  I remember back in my seminary days some folks who went to seminary to see if they might like the ministry as a career choice.  It always seemed a bit strange.  A seminary has training and equipping power, but no power to call.  The call always belongs to God. 
The Scripture is filled with stories and words of witness which point us to the power of the call of God.  Moses had no inclination toward doing what God called him to do.  He was content our there in the midst of nowhere tending sheep.  Jeremiah struggled with speaking a message no one wanted to hear, but he had this conviction that he had been conceived and born for such a purpose.  Mary came to know in the deep places of her heart that God had a very special plan for her life.  All the disciples of Jesus heard the call to lay the past down and, most assuredly, Saul of Tarsus, found himself face to face with God calling and setting him apart for an unlikely work as a missionary and evangelist for Jesus. 
The list goes on and on and on.  It runs through the pages of Scripture and then pours out over the edge of the pages with more stories of the unavoidable and often times unwanted call of God touching people lives.  Would that every preacher who stands in the pulpit on Sunday stood there knowing that there was no place else in the world he or she could stand in faithfulness to God!  The pulpit and the leadership of the church is no place for those not sure.  They end up with an uncertain and half-hearted ministry and the work of God is too great and too important for that kind of dilly dally.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Having lived long enough to know that most of my life is behind instead of ahead means seeing things in a way that would have been impossible to see decades ago.  Decades ago death always seemed like something out there in the future somewhere, but as the years have come and gone, I have come to know it as something which awaits around the next twist in the road.  Being older also gives me a different view of some of the things I read in the Word. 
The last few days I have been wondering about something read so often through the years. It is found in Joel 2:28 and then repeated again in Acts 2:19.  "...your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions..."  I wonder why dreams are associated with the old guys like me and visions with the guy I used to be.  Maybe it is because dreams are more about today's struggles as was the case with Joseph trying to figure out what to do with the embarrassment caused by Mary and visions are more long term in nature.  Visions take a long view of the future to unfold.

But, what really struck me about the Word from Joel was the way it began and ended with the phrase, "I will pour out my Spirit..."  This Word is not about human aspirations or present concerns, but about what God is doing in the world through His people.  It is about what the Holy Spirit is imparting and revealing to the human heart.  The real spiritual leaders understand the difference, understand that God operates with the long view, and single mindedly strive to lead according to the divine revelation no matter the cost.  Today's church gives the mantle of popularity to the leaders it anoints as visionary leaders, but the Word promises nothing except the approval of God.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Vision See-ers

Spiritual leaders are people with vision.  If such is true, then there are not as many spiritual leaders around as one might have thought.  Now, there are certainly a lot of preachers and spiritual leaders who allow the mantle of visionary to be placed upon their shoulders.  Perhaps, it some cases it is appropriate, but for most it may be a real stretch.  For many of our day a person with vision is one who can put together an exciting picture of how the institutional church in front of them could grow into something much bigger and much better than it is in its present moment.  Such visions are often driven more by human ego than divine guidance. 
The truth is visions do not usually unfold as quickly as a three year financial campaign.  The real visions which drive the church and its people forward are not those announced, promoted, planned and greased by gimmicks, but those which point to a plan of God that has begun and has some unfolding to do before it can be fully seen or realized.  Today's church is often too impatient to wait.  Today's spiritual leaders want to see it done this week, or maybe in a few years before some call to greener pastures comes.  Instant gratification and the unfolding vision of God are two diametrically opposite things.
So, the spiritual leaders who have seen the vision of God and embraced it are going to be out-of-step with the church that is listening primarily to the voices of the culture around it.  It is not easy being a person who carries with him or her a burning vision of God.  They are not likely to suffer from being too popular and neither are their shoulders going to be sore from back slapping. Carrying God's vision is a heavy load.  Just ask old Jeremiah.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Servant Leaders

The real leaders in the church are the servant leaders.  Putting those two words together seems to create an uncomfortable combination for some who think of themselves at the leaders of the church.  As politicians often forget they were elected to serve, so do some of the church's leaders forget that they were set apart for a ministry of serving Christ and, thereby, serving others.  Too many of today's leaders want no part of being a servant.  They want to be a professional clergyperson, or the Chairman of Church Administration.  Too many of today's church leaders are too busy running the church to be able to serve those who are either within or outside the church. 
But, a servant leader is different.  A servant leader leads by modeling servanthood.  The modeling becomes an invitation to others to "come and do likewise."  Certainly, the church has a premier example to follow in Jesus.  To read the gospel and to look at His life is to see one who lived and died as a leader who served.   A servant leader does not serve others out of duty, or a sense of oughtness, but instead, finds it to be a lifestyle choice that naturally and spontaneously comes forth from the heart. 

When I went to the Vidalia Church some years ago, Vernon was on the church staff as a retired part-time Associate Pastor.  Whenever I think about servant leaders, I remember the way he cared for people.  Some of us have to consciously push ourselves to do the right thing when someone in front of us is in need, but Vernon was one of those guys who just always seem to move forward with compassion and concern without having to ever give it a second thought.  In that place I may have worn the title. "Senior Pastor" but this Associate was miles ahead of me and showed me time and time again what it meant to lead through serving others. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Praying Preacher

As I wrote in a blog a couple of days ago, preachers and spiritual leaders need to "pray and be prayer for..." if they are going to be real leaders for the church.  I have no doubt that there have been many, many prayers offered by many, many people over the decades of my ministry and they have been prayers which have enabled me to be used by God as it would have otherwise been impossible.  But, the other part of what E. M. Bounds wrote is another issue.  While I have been prayed for, I have not always done the praying I needed to do.
Knowing that such a confession likely puts me in the company of a lot of preachers and spiritual leaders does not really make me feel any better as I look back over the years.  There were times when the praying came naturally and I went with eagerness to the time set aside for the praying, but there were also those times when my prayers would not have filled a thimble.  There were times when I did more preaching about praying than praying.  It is not that I did not know to do differently, I did.  I just did not always do what I knew at the time I should have been doing.
One of the things learned through the self-imposed dry seasons is the patience and the mercy of God.  Even when I allowed myself to be so caught up in a lot of trivial ministry pursuits which drained any energy I might have used for praying, God still waited for me to make a move toward Him.  Not only did He wait for me, He called to me like a Father calls to a son who has lost His way.  I not only remember some of those dry seasons, but also the way He called me back to the ways of prayer by creating in me a hunger and thirst that could only be satisfied through being with Him.  To return to Him when He beckons is always an overwhelming moment of sorrow and joy.  Thanks be to God for being merciful time and time again to this old preacher who should have known better.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Being Prayer For

Now I know what my high school English teacher would say about my use of the phrase, "being prayed for..." but it carries with it an unmistakable message.  Preachers and spiritual leaders need other people praying for them.  Their leadership abilities are impaired without it.  I have often said that every preacher should be so blessed as to have a church like the Zoar United Methodist Church, a church on the Stapleton Charge, which I went to as a student and stayed on for a bit longer.  While there were many in that little country church who prayed for me, Mrs. Zeevie and Mrs. Estelle stood out then and stand out now in my memory.  They truly prayed for their young preacher.  I never doubted it.
All the way of my ministry there were many others, but at the last appointment I came to a surprising discovery one Sunday morning during worship.  Before the sermon I had to leave the pulpit area for a moment because of a coughing spell and nearly stumbled over John who was sitting on the steps leading out of the chancel area.  I found out that morning that he sat there most Sunday mornings while I was preaching.  It was the place he prayed for his preacher.  If such a find does not make a preacher work harder to be a better preacher, it is simply time to quit and find another line of work.
I am in debt to these saints who have invested their energy in praying for me.  While I may not be considered a five star preacher by anyone, except maybe my mother, any good preaching I did surely bore the marks of those prayers offered in my behalf.  Giving spiritual leadership to a congregation of folks is no easy task.  It may even be considered an impossible task if the preacher thinks it is all about him or her.  Whatever success any preacher or spiritual leader has is surely more about the way prayers have been offered to the Father in heaven than any personal skills and theological insight.  When such is forgotten, ego will surely get in the way and the preaching and leadership will turn into a message that says, "Look at me!" instead of "Come, see Jesus."

Friday, July 7, 2017

Leadership Markings

A few days ago a pastor and preacher of the generation ahead of me died.  He was remembered today in a memorial service in the town next door.  When I was ordained as a United Methodist pastor and told to preach the Word, this older preacher was one of the ones who was giving strong leadership to the larger church.  His sphere of influence went far beyond the boundaries of a particular pulpit and our Annual Conference.  While some disagreed with him at times, none doubted that he served the church as a leader.  In a time when it seems that strong leaders are hard to find, his witness remains clear as a gifted spiritual leader and caretaker of the church's mission.
Remembering Dr. G. Ross Freeman today has sent me to thinking about leadership in our church.  What are the markings of a leader in the church?  What is it that makes a man or woman who serves the church as a preacher or spiritual leader a real leader?  The first thing which comes to mind is something I remember from the writing of E.M. Bounds, a man who was serving the church back when 1900 rolled around.  He is most remembered for his prayer life and his writings about prayer.  One of the things he wrote was that preachers need to pray and to be prayed for.  Both are important.  A spiritual leader must be one immersed in a life of personal prayer and one immersed in the intercessory prayer life of others.  Without this spiritual immersion, it is impossible for one called to truly serve as a leader for the people entrusted to him or her.
This is likely more of an issue than most pew sitters realize.  First of all, ministry today is too much about being busy and productive.  If a pastor dedicated several hours each day in prayer instead of doing the work of ministry, many would soon decide their pastor was lazy and seeking to avoid work.  And, the truth is that most pastors would not disagree with such an opinion.  However, it still does not change the truth of the equation:  "Strong spiritual leaders pray and are prayed for."  The real leaders of the church are those committed to praying as well as those who humbly acknowledge their need for the prayers of those being served.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Soul's Breath

If breathing air is essential for our bodies, then praying is the breathing that gives life to our soul.  Breathing is an natural things for our physical body.  No one has to worry about forgetting to breathe.  It is a natural thing that requires no intentional conscious thought.  However, such is certainly not the case with the well being of our soul.  We often forget to breathe the rarified spiritual air necessary for it to be nurtured toward a higher level of spirituality.  The traditional disciplines of the spiritual life are not just structured religious practices for the believer, but those things which open up our heart and mind to the presence of the life giving Holy Spirit.
When we think of prayer as a spiritual duty, or a holy habit, or something which we are supposed to do, it is likely going to be something which we do not practice with the kind of regularity that truly feeds the soul.  The right attitude toward prayer is not the one directed by oughtness, but the one guided by a genuine desire to be in the presence of our Father God.  The relationship God desires with each one of us is not one bound by duty, but one driven by love.  As this is true in all the important relationships of our daily life, so is it true of our relationship with God.
Prayer then is that human expression of an inner desire to be in the presence of God.  When we are driven only by our desire for His presence, we find ourselves in a place where getting things is no longer the thing which measures the success of our quiet time.  As we learn how to give breath to our soul, we discover that prayer is not about what we receive, but about how our heart and spirit is being fed and nurtured by the breath of God breathed upon us in those quiet moments.  Praying is also about breathing in and breathing out which gives life to our soul.  Breathe.

Strange Leadings

What is surprising about the leading of the Holy Spirit is the way it is often emptied of common sense and devoid of logic.  If you want logic and pragmatism, do not look toward God.  After all, God is the creator of the bush that burned yet was not consumed.  And then, there are those moments when God directed some of His own to do what made no sense at all.  When Judah's future was as bleak as pitch black, Jeremiah was told by God to go buy a field at Anathoth.  When a giant needed slaying, David picked up five smooth stones from the wadi for his slingshot.  When men like Peter and John heard Jesus say, "Follow Me," it meant leaving behind their means of making a livelihood.

And, what we want God to do is to be logical.  We want Him to do things which makes sense to us.  The only thing certain about the leading of the Holy Spirit is that it is likely to be surprising, unexpected, and totally out of what we think we can do.  It will require a full measure of faith because it usually means jumping off whatever it is that undergirds us with a comfortable sense of security.  So, before leaping, do what can be done to make sure the leading is of God and not some misguided desire to live as a hero for God.  Spend time in prayer.  Nothing is more important when it comes to discerning the leading of God.  After a season of prayer, start moving in the direction of the leading all the time asking God to confirm or to put roadblocks in the way. 
When we sense God's leading, avoid inertia.  Move toward it no matter how slowly. Positioning ourselves to be where we are believing God wants us to be is an important first step.  The Hebrews got to the promised land one step at a time.  The Apostle Paul's journey to Rome was not without some detours.  It took much effort and time.  Getting started on the road of obedience is always required before arrival can take place.  Jesus often said, "Don't be afraid."  It is a good word for those who want to be in the flow of God's surprising stuff.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Nudges to act come in a lot of different disguises.  Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation which brings to mind a moment and a corresponding action from the past and we find ourselves moving in the old familiar direction again.  There are also those moments of wondering what would happen if we moved into some "unlike me" action and we dare to check it out.  Some nudges to act come from something a parent or grandparent said to us in the past and some come from those who share our life in the present moment.
In addition to these nudges to act, there are divine nudges.  This should be no surprise to us if we live believing that the Holy Spirit is present and active in our life.  While we may not always understand the way the Spirit works, it is certainly true that He is no passive player in our spiritual journey.  He may not be as pointed with us as was the case with Abraham or Jonah or Mary, but His direction can still be discerned.  When we sense Him leading us into something that seems strange and new for us, it may be that we will need to test the waters in an experimental manner before jumping in completely.  It is always possible that what we want to be His leading speaks more of our own desires, wants, and wishes than divine leading.
A good place to start any day is in prayer.  When we start the day with a prayer that tells God we are ready to do whatever He might need someone to do in that day, then we have every reason to expect some divine nudges to act as we move into that day.  God may bring into our path someone who needs nothing more than a kind and affirming word and in that moment of intersection we can become partners with Him in giving love and compassion to one in need.  Never be afraid to act on a nudge which coms from the heart, especially if we have invited God to make use of us. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Last Verses

When reading some of the letters written to the early church by the Apostle Paul, there is always that moment of coming to the end.  It is the place where it seems that all the meat of the letter is on the table and all that is left are a few polite words, greetings, and personal notes.  When I come to those last verses of the letter, I usually turn up the speed on my reading because everything of value has already been read.  These last words are just personal words that have little bearing on how I am seeking to live out my journey of faith.
Just look at the last section, the final thirteen verses of II Timothy.  Demas, a deserter is mentioned.  Then Paul writes a word about Crescens, saying he has gone to Galatia.  In a like manner, Titus has gone to Dalmatia.  Luke is still with Paul.  As the Apostle writes to Timothy, he encourages him to come and to bring Mark.  Another who was with Paul was Tychicus who was sent to Ephesus.  There really seems to be nothing here to cause us to read slowly and ponder what the inspired Word of God is saying to us.  There is nothing here but a listing of names, mostly obscure names. 
But, then to look more closely is to realize that the Apostle Paul lived out his life and shared his faith journey with men who were a lot like him.  What he did, he did not do alone.  He lived within a fellowship of men who shared faith in Christ.  These were men with whom Paul talked, prayed, and shared the daily portions of living.  Many times we try to do alone what was not meant to be done alone.  This life of faith was never intended to be a solitary experience.  We need one another.  Too often we learn this truth too late allowing years of spiritual possibilities to die on the vine.  Even Jesus called twelve to walk intimately with Him.  It is not too late for us to invite others to share our own journey of faith. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Confused Church

When I turned on the radio this morning to a Christian station, the first song I heard announced, "I am proud to be called an American..."   My first thought was, "What is that doing on here?" and then I remembered it is the 4th of July weekend.  The church seems to have trouble with holiday weekends.  Holidays like the 4th of July, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day seem to confuse the church and its leaders.  Years ago when a pastor in a town ministry, my Episcopal priest friend always asked us in our weekly clergy gatherings on holiday weekends, "Are you going to preach the holiday, or Jesus?"
Now count me as patriotic as anyone.  My father flew a B-29 bomber over Japan during World War II and then ten years later was killed in a peacetime air collision.  Being patriotic is part of who I am.  But, I wonder how all this 4th of July stuff fits inside the mission of the church.  We do not gather to have a patriotic celebration, but to worship God.  It often seems that this purpose gets put aside on the holiday weekends.  Patriotic celebrations have their place, but our Sunday morning worship services do not seem to be the appropriate format.  No matter what holiday the culture is celebrating, we gather to celebrate God in our midst and to worship Him.
Today was a day when many churches brought out the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag like we used to do daily in school, but it is not to the Flag or to America that we gather to pledge our allegiance.  It seems that the church and its leaders are confused when it comes to this holiday as well as some others.  To paraphrase Someone well known to us, "We should give to Uncle Sam what is his, but we should also give to God what is His."  Uncle Sam is celebrated in secular patriotic gatherings.  The presence of the God we worship is rightly celebrated in the Sanctuary when His people gather only for the purpose of worship.