Friday, September 30, 2011

What I Owe You

(This is my church’s newsletter article for our October edition)

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
-- 2 Corinthians 9: 6-8

In October, our church will focus on the power and responsibility of stewardship.  I went back to previous articles I’ve written to fill this space on the theme of stewardship, and I found an interesting definition of stewardship.   Stewardship is about the embracing of a relationship and investing in that relationship in order for the best to come forth.   

This passage from 2 Corinthians has everything to do with acting out of generosity. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  Stewardship is in operation when you’re deciding in your heart to give cheerfully because you’re investing in a relationship you’ve decided to take part in in order for the best to come forth. 

What’s interesting is what Paul declares before and after.  If you give generously, you’ll reap generously.  Then, in light of cheerfully giving, God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  All grace will abound to us out of cheerful giving and every good work will abound.  There will be an abundance of good work because grace is an empowering force in and through generous believers.  Wow!

In ministry, I give out of what I’ve been given.  I give because I owe you something.  I’ve been given all grace in abundance through what I’ve been given and what I cheerfully give.  I owe you encounters with God through the grace given to me.  I don’t do it reluctantly or under compulsion.  I want you to taste of what I’ve received, what has been imparted to me, what has been cheerfully given to me.  It’s all come to me through relationships, some long lasting and others spontaneously and short-lived. 

I want you to receive the goodness of God every time we come together.  To me, this is a key to my good stewardship.  This is my cheerful giving, and the wonderful thing is that I’ll receive more in order to give you more later.  I hope this is a good example for you to follow as a stewardship of what good you’ve received.  Give what has blessed you.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Night Football

The summer nights of lingering heat and humidity appear to be over for this year.  What we have, now, are pleasant Friday evenings as we watch high school football.

Friday evening, we watched our high school football team and enormous marching band perform their particular skills wonderfully.  April and I arrived at Etowah High School.  We smuggled our coffee cups past the ticket takers at the gate and sat down anticipating a pleasant night watching our daughter in the color guard and her high school's football team put their undefeated record on the line against the Etowah Blue Devils.

April and I had a couple conversations recently about what we believe God has begun to do around and through us.  We have grown grossly optimistic about where God is leading us and many around us to display His glory and love.  Alleluia!

In the midst of our spiritual joy, even as our team fell behind, April turns to me as we sat in the stands and said, "I feel and sense the angels all over this stadium.  Their surrounding us in this place."  She said this with tears in her eyes and a glow over her face.  As the game progressed, Albertville went ahead, and everything seemed to be as it should be.  Their opponents then took possession on the end of the field where April and I sat.  As the young men competed and our wonderful band played fervently in support of our Albertville Aggies, I looked down at the Blue Devils breaking their huddle, and I felt this great sense of compassion for them and their community.  It was a wave of love and sincere concern for all these folks assembled to cheer on the Etowah squad.  The wave caught me and my emotions were stirred to the point of me whispering the name of Jesus.

On the next down, the wave returned, that wave of compassion for these that I knew and still know that God so loves.  While tears welled up in my eyes, I turned to April, but I couldn't make eye contact with her.  What transpired on the field was a winning touchdown drive for the Blue Devils, but the ultimate score and subsequent mild sense of disappointment was so minor compared to the grace-filled encounters that April and I both had at this game.

After the game ended with a valiant attempt by the Aggies to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, I shared with her what I experienced as I looked on the Etowah team minutes before.  Her mouth feel open and said she was moved to pray for that team at that same time to receive blessings from the Lord.  We both laughed as she said that we shouldn't tell anyone that we might be responsible for the Aggies' defeat, but that we're apparently growing more in sync in the Spirit.

God is at work in us and in many others growing more compassion for those that God so loves.  The uniforms, race or class do not matter to God.  He merely loves, but He's not keeping it there or to Himself.  He's awakening his beloved to feel what He feels.  How cool is that?

Daddy, we love you.  Continue to speak to us as you choose.  When you do, our faith grows as we grow closer to you and to all you love.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

3:40 a.m.

My eyes popped open at 3:40 a.m.  When this has happened in the past, I got up to go to the bathroom.  This time, I sensed that I ought to pray in the Spirit and then to move to the living room to pray out loud and to praise His name.  Prayer was an obvious activity in the wee small hours of the morning. 

I had an early appointment that morning.  I believed that the abrupt rising out of bed came about because of anxiety related to that.  I still have no idea why my eyes popped open when they did.  Regardless, prayer and praise was the thing to do.

We have some uncertainty in our lives, so when I say I prayed, I interceded for us – prayed for the love and power of God to be manifested in our lives and circumstances.   I praised our Father openly and prayed again in the Spirit.  I went on to declare scripture passages that addressed our circumstances.  The declarations were made in faith and praise.  Before long, I was remained of a verse from the Psalms I heard in my sleep a few years ago, but I still remember:

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. 
-- Psalm 37: 4

This memory returning in the wee small hours of the morning while the mysterious anxiety was physically manifested with an uneasy stomach inside me is wonderful.  Truly, I am full of wonder when this verse is returned to me to convey truth that discloses the Father’s heart for me as if he were saying to me, “My son, go on and enjoy me.  Enjoy my will and heart and, most of all, my presence, and I will give you all that you desire!” 

Why did I awaken so early?  Why did I not fall back to sleep?  Are there other questions?  I know there are affirmations.  Our God is worthy of praise regardless of the hour.  Prayer and praise are worthy activities whenever my eyes pop open, and I will enjoy his presence, and my Daddy will give me all I desire.  Alleluia!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Invite, Welcome, Expect

It may not take a lot of vision or energy to throw a door open to familiar faces and similar histories.  It does, however, take some intentional fortitude and an aggressive perspective to get off your island and introduce yourself to neighbors you just don’t know and invite them to what they may not expect.

We climbed onboard our church bus Saturday afternoon with a simple brochure to pass out and inform our neighbors of our Saturday night worship service that includes a meal.  The worship experience known as Safe Harbor came from a calling given to a couple of our men who visit our local jail on Mondays to share the gospel.  They wanted to provide a worship experience in the church for these folks when they’re released in which they can be comfortable.  Though Safe Harbor has not seen a lot of these dear ones, we have seen a lot of folks who have lived hard lives, and they have found a place where they are always invited, always welcome with growing expectations of God’s love and power.

We went to two apartment complexes and a trailer park in Albertville to pass out the brochures and personally invite whomever we met.  On the face of the leaflet, we printed, You Are Invited, You Are Welcome, You Are Expected.  This expresses what we believe.  All are invited.  All are welcome.  All are expected.

This is not a private club.  When everyone is invited and expected to come, not all the faces will be familiar and the stories will not be similar, but the doors are open and the grace is abundant. 

Everyone that went carried with them an obvious desire to invite people to Safe Harbor at Hewett UMC.  The passion was outwardly expressed was smiles and joy.  This is when the church knows what it’s all about – invite’em so they encounter the God who is always good.  I was proud to be with them!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Name

I feel the need to explain the name of my blog.

When I was on leave of absence from pastoral ministry back in the turn of the century, I had several employers.  One of these was a hotel in Tuscaloosa.  During my leave I went from not reading the Bible at all to taking a New Testament & Psalms version of scripture and sticking it in my back pocket wherever I went.  While getting ready for work, I’d look up the daily lections from the Book of Common Prayer and dog-ear those pages in my Message translation I’d stuff in my pocket.  Since I only carried the New Testament & Psalms, those were the passages I read on my breaks or at lunch.

Knowing I was nearing the end of my leave because the fire for God was burning again deep within, when I read the passages, I knew God was doing a work in me.  One day, while at work, I read from Psalm 102.  The verses that caught me and summoned up great emotion from within were verses 18-22:
Write this down for the next generation
so people not yet born will praise God:
"God looked out from his high holy place;
from heaven he surveyed the earth.
He listened to the groans of the doomed,
he opened the doors of their death cells."
Write it so the story can be told in Zion,
so God's praise will be sung in Jerusalem's streets
And wherever people gather together
along with their rulers to worship him.

When I read this passage, I was overcome right there behind the front desk at the Travelodge.  The Lord spoke to me from His heart what the gospel truly is - God looked out from his high holy place; from heaven he surveyed the earth.  He listened to the groans of the doomed, he opened the doors of their death cells.  I was the recipient of mercy (not receiving what I deserve) and grace (receiving what I don’t deserve) in those days.  My heavenly Daddy had heard MY cries and groans in my doomed condition and HE opened the door of my death cell. 

I knew the gospel when I read it and heard it.  This is why this blog is entitled, Psalm 102 In the Message.  I want to reflect on all the ways our Daddy is hearing the cries of the doomed and opening their death cells, and then my place is to write it so the story can be told in Zion, so God's praise will be sung in Jerusalem's streets and wherever people gather together along with their rulers to worship him.  Join with me in recording testimonies of how, when & where God is setting people free in Albertville, Marshall County, this state, this country, this world and in declaring praises when we worship Him.  Alleluia!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Our Day

It's not a surprise to see a slim crowd at church on a Labor Day Sunday.  It was a shame but not a surprise.  Even with empty seats, we still know things are happening in the Spirit at church.  We're in a new day, and the new day is our day.

I shared in the message, Our Day, when we moved to Northport and I wrote my first article for the St. Mark UMC newsletter, I entitled it, Nice & Easy.  I believed the best way to move forward in a new set of circumstances was to proceed nice & easy (it does it every time).  Consequently, my last article as the associate minister moving on to a leave of absence from pastoral ministry, also, emphasized the need to move into a new set of foreign circumstances with the mantra, nice & easy does it every time.  That description of two transition periods not that far apart are NOT descriptive of our current reality.

The current reality is now shaped by many displays of the Kingdom in the lives of many people at and around Hewett Memorial UMC.  Yesterday, it was necessary to reference these two verses of scripture that were given to me by the Holy Spirit in our first Tuesday night prayer service in August.

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off?  -- Luke 18: 7
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.  -- Matthew 5: 6

I preached two weeks ago using these verses as touch stones to declare to the congregation that we've entered into a Day of Filling.  I reiterated the import of these verses/this spiritual disclosure, again, yesterday while adding another verse that is in the form of an intercessory prayer:

Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.  Renew them in our day, in our time make them know; in wrath remember mercy.
-- Habakkuk 3: 2

The heart of these messages is to declare that those who are hungering and thirsting and crying out for divine justice in these days will by filled and satisfied by the glorious grace of God.  For those for whom we are passionately crying for before the throne of mercy, our prayers are heard, and we've entered days of miraculous intervention, conversions, turn abouts, reconciliations and healings.  Alleluia!

This is truly exciting, and, for many of us in mainline tribes, unprecedented.  Again, Alleluia to the Lamb!

What will this mean?  Sunday, I shared from a journal entry I made a year ago:  There are angels in this church when no one is here.  They are preparing the environment for more and for what is about to come.  Alleluia.  The treasure and the gatherers of the treasure.  They are under assignment to gather the lost & sick & broken and to bring the treasure to Hewett so that it (the treasure of people) will be recognized & claimed by Daddy as His.  That is what they've longed for.  Alleluia.  The gathering has begun.  Alleluia.  The treasure will be appraised and valued.  It will not be lost but counted & taken up as the prize of war.  The war has turned.  The enemy could not keep it up.  It is time for liberation and a new reign of the God of the great Kingdom.  The lost are without number, but they will be brought in.  There will be room, and there will be much given in return.  Alleluia.  -- 10/5/10

The passive assertion of Sinatra from years ago will not meet the needs or the wants of the Holy Spirit in these days on Sand Mountain, Alabama.  Habakkuk's prayer for there to be the renewal of God's glorious deeds of power and love in our day is to be prayed again - not nicely and easily, but aggressively and with passion.  The hungry and thirsty for the righteousness of God to be displayed in love & power will be those who witness the treasure being gathered and valued as the King's passion, lives saved, delivered, healed and reconciled.  

What a wonderful time to be alive!  Alleluia!