Friday, September 14, 2012

4 Calendars

Recently, I attended a meeting at an area church.  Those attending carried with them passion and devotion to do the will of the Lord in the world.  I was there, too.  We met in a conference room, of sorts.  What struck me like a phone book on the back of my head was that there were four calendars on the walls of the room.

I did my best to stay engaged with the discussion and proceedings, but I couldn’t help but feel woefulness of those calendars.  In fact, even though they were attached securely to the walls, I could feel their weight upon my shoulders.  Nothing in the meeting’s agenda related to anything written on any calendar, but they each looked at me with a cold stare of importance and insistence. 

Even though I didn’t know for sure, I could guess the theme of each calendar.  Two of them aided worship planners for thematic and musical planning for upcoming worship events at this particular church.  A third scheduled events outside the confines of the property that had some sort of missional significance.  The fourth was considerably smaller and much busier in its appearance due to the writing on each date and various colored stickers on various dates. 

Why would these aids to planning create in me such tension?  Detailed planning, I know, is necessary, but it drives me crazy because it weighs my soul down.  Someone is responsible for the leadership and the carrying out of these detailed plans.  Someone is held accountable for the success and/or failure of each proposal and idea.  Sorry, that’s not me.

Why is all this necessary?  Chances are its because some A-type people feel the need to organize and implement.  Again, sorry, that’s not me. 

I don’t want to.  Don’t look at me.  The things I’m passionate about, I’ll organize and carry out, but, if I have the power, I’ll delegate and hope for the best.  If I’m not delegating, I’ve come to the point in my life to know what floats my boat and what sinks it.  If it sinks it, I’ll tell ya.

God bless all calendar makers and keepers.  Sorry, that’s not me.

Monday, August 27, 2012

My Salvation Is Close At Hand

My wife April is a dreamer.  She has experienced fresh and clear expressions from the Lord for her and our lives together through dreams.  I’ve asked the Lord to speak to me, and I, on occasion, have dreams that speak to me.  More often, the Lord has given me scripture passages to find and study.

On July 10, in prayer, I asked God to speak to me.  Within the subsequent hour, Isaiah 5617 came to me.  I often see a book name in my mind followed by numbers when the Lord answers my request.  I then looked up Isaiah 56: 17.  I found out there is no verse 17 in Isaiah 56.  Such experiences have taught me not to give up.  I then moved to read Isaiah 56, verses 1 to 7.  These verses spoke to me profoundly and, I believe, prophetically. 

This is what the Lord says:  “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.  Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”  Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.”  For this is what the Lord says:  “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.
 Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
In July we were heading for a decision as a church regarding the unifying of our two worship services into one.  This passage speaks of worship and ‘sabbath keeping’, and it speaks of what is coming.  “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” 
Foreigners and eunuchs are referred to in this.  Biblically, foreigners are those outside of the covenant of God politically and racially, and eunuchs are known as those outside of God’s covenant socially by their own actions.  When they worship and keep the Sabbath, they will be given a name better than sons and daughters and “joy in my house of prayer.”  This has already begun among us.
The last Sunday of August I met four people at Hewett who I hadn’t met before or who hadn’t been to our church before.  Prior to Sunday school in the fellowship hall I shook hands with Matthew (this isn’t his name).  I first met him at the Albertville City Jail two weeks before.  Back then, he told me he’d come to church to hear me preach.  I, also, met Mark (not his name) that day as we greeted one another in worship.  Troy, the director of Stepping Stones Rooming House, told me that Mark has just gotten out of jail, had heard of the house in jail, got out and walked to the house in Boaz.  Troy had never had that happen before.  He came with them to worship (Sabbath keeping) that morning.
I was greeting folks after worship in the lobby. Two women came to me.  Sarah (not her name) greeted me with a beaming smile and said how much she appreciated worship.  I didn’t know who she was.  Lastly, there was Rachel (again, not her name).  She had a speech impediment.  She said she’d suffered from a stroke, but that that day she discovered she could make a fist with her right hand for the first time since the stroke.  The Lord gave her joy in the house of prayer.
It has begun.  The Lord is sending the ‘foreigners’ and ‘eunuchs’ to our church and our congregation to worship and to, subsequently, be blessed.  What a wonderful time to be at Hewett!  Join with me in praising our Lord because His salvation is close at hand!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Villain, The Victim & The Hero

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a

I recently heard that there are motivations in prayer.  Such motivations are easy to understand and, actually, look rather simplistic.  The motivations are simply three: fear, selfish ambition or love.  When such a list is made those who hear it always try to make it more complicated than is necessary by combining motivations or constructing scenarios where there are mini-motivations between the dominant three.  Anyway, all that isn’t necessary.  Just consider fear, selfish ambition or love.

If you were to consider your prayers in the last 24 hours, you could put your petitions or communications with God in one of these three categories.  You could be praying because of a bad report from a doctor regarding a loved one and fear motivates you.  You could pray for a business deal that would benefit you over another whom you hate.  Selfish ambition is leading you here.  Then, you could be praying for the salvation of a neighbor whom you love but you know they curse God and the church regularly.  So often, our prayer lives can be broken down like this.

When I heard these three motivations explained, there was another triad overlying the first three.  The second three came from the examination of stories and legends.  A simple storyline in most stories goes this way.  There is the villain, the victim and the hero.  The villain brings harm.  The victim suffers unjustly.  The hero brings deliverance and victory. 

You can link the two triads together and see a greater understanding of our own spiritual motivations and the results if each is lived out.  Selfish ambition is a villain that deceives and brings harm.  The victim cowers in fear.  The one motivated in love to pray or serve emerges as the hero to lift up and protect the victim from the villain. 

Love is not self-seeking but rejoices in the truth.  It protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres and never fails.  This obviously illustrates the differences between the hero and the villain.  The victim is protected and encouraged when love is the motivation. 

Simply said, you must focus on your motivation in what you do.  In prayer and service, what is your motivation?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mega Millions

The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church state that, "Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice. Where gambling has become addictive, the church will encourage such individuals to receive therapeutic assistance so that the individual's energies may be redirected into positive and constructive ends. . . ." (¶ 163G).

What’s going to happen if good Methodists buy lottery tickets?  Or even bad Methodists buy one ticket?  I personally think, “Who cares.”  If they have little problems with gambling addiction or big problems, our business is to love them and reveal to them the goodness of God, and to communicate to them and all that our Father is always in a good mood. 

Should they repent because they’re participating in an activity that is a menace to society?  I won’t be calling them to repent.  That’s somebody else’s call.  I honestly don’t care. Our behavior, rules and laws do not make us righteous.  Righteousness comes from relationship.

I’m tired of sisters and brothers all along the spectrum being known for what we’re against.  I would imagine that students and experts in and defenders of The Social Principles would say that these principles document a church stating what is good and what is positive – the dignity and personhood of every human being.  I agree.  I’m a United Methodist clergyperson.  I just have distain for the waging finger and the “You better be careful.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Flee & Pursue

In my personal devotions, Bible reading, theological study and just listening to other preachers over coffee or through podcasts across the Internet, I’ve noticed many references to the two epistles directed to Timothy from Paul. 

I noticed this as a pattern so I was beginning to trust that God was trying to direct me to these two books in the Bible for my own growth and encouragement.  What sealed the deal for me was, again, noticing a repetition.  I found it in a Charter Communications advertisement on television where the lead character in the ad was a 10 year boy by the name of, you guessed it, Timothy (My favorite part is when the boy is internally rejoicing over the speed of his internet connection and it ultimately will lead to the world knowing his name, “Timothy!  Timothy!”  Ah, he said it twice.  Two epistles?  By accident?  I think not.)

Anyway, in reading the two letters to Timothy in the New International Version, I found an interesting coincidence.  In 1 Timothy 6: 11 & 2 Timothy 2: 22, Paul uses two verbs identically to convey similar meanings without the verses themselves being identical (Does that make sense?).  Anyway, the two verbs are flee and pursue.  The two verses go like this:

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6: 11

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. – 2 Timothy 2: 22

Flee, to me, means run away.  These two passages direct Timothy to flee from lusts and other unrighteous behaviors that will cause harm for him.  Pursue, to me, means run after to capture.  As for this, Timothy is encouraged to pursue righteousness, faith & love. 

These verses tell us in a straight forward manner to run away from those behaviors, beliefs and ungodly pursuits that corrupt our relationship with God and to run after the many life-giving principles conveyed through scripture and a Christian lifestyle.

When I was a kid I enjoyed playing Tag and all of its complex variations.  It was all right to be chased.  I preferred to be the chaser.  Paul’s word to his young son in the faith to flee all the greed and desires that corrupt is important.  In this season I will prayerfully listen for the Spirit’s direction in fleeing “from all this.”  I will, also, with a bit more passion, listen for the Spirit’s guidance in running after, pursuing, righteousness, faith & love so that my discipleship grows in power and commitment to bring glory to God and to be a conduit of grace to the hurting I encounter.  Join with me in this.

Finally, this effort to flee that which is sinful and to pursue that which is life-giving CANNOT TO DONE PASSIVELY.  Passive Christianity is weak and lukewarm and will not bare the fruit we most urgently desire – lives changed eternally by the work of God through us.  Isn’t that your desire?  Isn’t that your passion?  If not, then you know where you need to begin your Lenten discipline – repentance of apathy in the work of God in and through you. 

Join with me in aggressively pursuing through worship, prayer & study the fullness of a relationship with our God who longs for a people completely surrendered to His will. 

Have a blessed & productive season of Lent.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tuesday Night 01-31-12

We’re having what we’re calling Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting weekly in our sanctuary at Hewett.  April and I felt the calling to have weekly prayer services in August.  We did, and the response was good.  Our mutual calling did not include continuing the services beyond August, so we stopped the services.  Folks were disappointed we stopped leading those services, but we said we’ll see what the future holds.

Last Tuesday, 26 of us met together, sang praises and prayed.  In our time of prayer, April encouraged us to listen for what the Lord may say to us so we might share with others what the will of God might be that night.  A few came forward for prayer.  Souls and bodies were touched by the presence of God.  It was the presence of God among us that made the time together rich.  There was faith, hope and love among us.  Expectations grow among us as we come together to seek the More of God.

Our hope as a people is not grounded in memories of past work or projects together.  Our hope as a congregation on Sand Mountain is grounded in the presence of God among us as we seek Him together.  For when He comes, He comes to bless and save and heal.  We need Him.  We God more now than ever, and there is more to receive.

Our Tuesday evenings will continue in the sanctuary.  I pray that we continue to seek His presence and power for the sake of all who attend.  Without the Presence, we gather for no reason.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Delight Myself

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

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6: 33

Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
-- Matthew 10: 38-39

I’m just caught up in the reality that God is everything for me and to me – the fullness of the Trinity -  Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  God is everything I want and need.

I’ve been among Christians who confess that that mindset is destructive to the mission of the church, and it just makes people in the church uncomfortable.   It’s fine to worship God, but get busy.

If I don’t delight myself in my heavenly Father than the heart desires of the hungry being fed and the naked being clothed and the lonely being visited will never be accomplished.

In seeking the goodness of God manifested in my life and through me to the world will provide the abundance that’s necessary to do all that’s important.  Seeking first His kingdom is putting God first in my passions and compassions.

This way of life will bring its own cost.  Do I accept the cross (cost) in order to find my destiny?   

Thursday, January 19, 2012

They Booed Ron Paul

At this point, it’s probably been written about a lot on blogs and columns around the country.  I’ve only seen it mentioned once and that was on The Daily Show, but it’s my turn.

At a recent debate among the Republican presidential candidates gathered in South Carolina, Ron Paul talked about our country’s foreign policy.  He said that maybe we should adopt a Golden Rule policy – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Before he finished his thought, the boos rained down from the audience and practically drowned out the candidate’s voice.  With that, if I were Congressman Paul, I would have thought and maybe said, “Alright!  It’s on now!”

Paul tapped a vain and, with it, a nerve.  Paul quoted Luke 6: 31.  I’ve always thought, idealistically, obviously, that our principles as a country were grounded in divine revelation.  So, it’s interesting to hear a candidate for the highest office in the land quoting scripture as a means to propose a change in foreign policy – how we treat other people in the world – get booed and suddenly become a irrelevant candidate in one evening in South Carolina.

Good for Ron Paul.  I agree with him on this point.  It certainly would save our human and monetary resources in this country to not go into senseless wars and kill brown people readily.  Most importantly for me, the word of God trumps all other political rhetoric when it’s a means to convict those in power to change the way they think and act.

What are the principles this country stands on and is willing to defend?  Many folks all along the waterfront would have a small list of answers consistent regardless of their party affiliation.  How many of them would have booed Ron Paul that night?  I would have clapped and cheered.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

I've Believed Lies

For as much as I want to deny it, I can’t deny the fact that I believe lies about myself.

I read a recent article my bishop wrote about faith and works.  It was good, and I affirm what he wrote to be worthwhile.  I go through periods in my life that whenever I hear or read authority figures state what needs to be happening and what is not being done, I take it personally.  Some may say that I’m simply convicted of sloth and sin.  I say that the feelings I have are not godly sorrow but painful shame.

The shame is not based in reality but based in words and spiritual impressions of condemnation.  I know enough to say that condemnation is not birthed from the goodness of God in Christ.  I, also, know that many in the church believe that what I just declared is simply wrong. 

Well, I know what godly sorrow feels like in my spirit, and I’m growing more soberly familiar with what condemnation feels like.  I use to affirm it and allow it to enslave me in pain and fear and use religious dysfunction to permit condemnation to have it’s way in me, usually through tactics of fear and shame.  This wouldn’t lose its grip on me until several days had passed. 

I’ve believed lies about myself for a long time.  I’m tired of such a belief system that justifies shame and fear.  I have decided to be more intentional in being aware of when these feelings arrive, and to state that condemnation is not from my Father (sorry if you disagree – maybe you need to find another blog).  I have, also, decided to ask my Father to bring to me godly sorrow for particular sins that lie unaddressed so that I can confess them as sin and know anew Godly forgiveness in mercy and grace.

The lies stem from my belief that God is not happy with me and, in fact, is mad at me for not doing all that He requires.  I’ve preached regularly that God is not angry with us.  He simply wants us to believe it and to act accordingly.  For those that read this and feel a bit betrayed because I preach what I’m not believing for myself, please forgive me and pray for me.  My heavenly Daddy is doing a work in me, and I am very thankful.

The truth is that my heavenly Daddy loves me, no matter what.  I am created in the image of Daddy.  Jesus was the model, and he died in my place getting what I desire so that I would receive what He deserved.  I am the righteousness of God gifted in some things by the Spirit but not responsible for everything.  I’m not responsible for everything, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. 

Lastly, where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3: 17).  Freedom means I am free.  Free means I am not enslaved in strongholds but free to be all that God is in me.  Praise God.  Pray for me.