Friday, November 28, 2008

White Chili

Today we will have white chili; a savory blend of leftover turkey, white beans, and southwest spices. We look forward to white chili as much as we look forward to turkey and dressing. We are just as thankful for white chili as for turkey and dressing. We "say grace" over each meal, knowing that it is by grace that we have both. We could, should, "say grace" over everything in life.

The root of thanksgiving is the recognition of the grace of God. From the animals that God slew to cover the shame of Adam and Eve's nakedness, to the birth of Seth after Cain was banished for slaying Abel, to the grace of the ark Noah built, to the scattering of the people from their wicked plans at Babel, to the continuation of David's throne in spite of his adultery and murder, to the cross of Calvary, to the lives who were spared and celebrated that first great feast in Plymouth, God has made clear his grace in the face of our depravity. Thanksgiving flows freely from the heart that recognizes that we truly do not deserve what we receive and do not receive what we deserve.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wanted: Senior Pastor

Wanted, senior pastor. Must be highly skilled in preaching, teaching, discipleship, counseling, visitation, evangelism, visioning, planning, leading a multistaff church, and directing all activities of the church.

I read this ad from our state denominatinal newspaper to our church leaders. One of them said, "Man, why don't they go ahead and require him to be a CPA, too. That way he could write the checks as well as doing everything else." At least they listed preaching as a requirement, but there was no mention of prayer, character, integrity, or calling. The really sad thing is that in spite of this church wanting a pastor who is more proficient than any of the apostles, he will be following a pastor who is retiring after over three decades as pastor of this church. That means that the new pastor will step into one of the most difficult situations in the church world, with the pre-existing expectations of being super-pastor. Now, contrast that post with this one.

We are seeking a spirit-filled pastor who exhibits leadership, compassion, and integrity, and is found continually in prayer.

I have made a hobby out of reading the qualification listings for senior pastor positions. I have never read one that said he must be a man of prayer until I read this one. I'm sure many churches are looking for a man of prayer, but they almost never list that as a qualification; that, in spite of the clear Biblical requirements for him to be so. Granted, the pastor must be able to do many things, but if he is not a man of prayer he is nothing more than a church bureaucrat. One of my friends has this quote on the header of his blog. It bears reading here.

"A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more." John Owen

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Withering Aspens And The Pursuit Of Peace

There is a creeping death among the Aspen trees of our nation's high country. At first, no one noticed the withered tops of a few trees, but the malady spread and increased, and scientists and naturalists finally became alarmed as large tracts of the glorious trees were found withering and dying. No one is yet sure of the cause, but sections of golden forest are now ashen with the corpses of trees that look like giant skeletons propped up along the mountainsides.

"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord; looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;" Hebrews 12:14-15

Some of us who are alive to glorify God have allowed resentment to creep into our lives. Our words and even our countenances once glorified our Savior like the golden leaves of the Aspen. We failed to notice the withering of our branches as we held on to the first resentment. We justified the wounds of our egos, the slights to our preferences. We whispered our complaints to the lives around us, and many of them joined our cause, withering away with us. One day we found ourselves on the hillside, not alone, but surrounded by the skeletonized remains of those we had infected. As we looked across the valley at the other side, we saw what we had once been; glorious lives glorifying a glorious King. Our hearts broke and we repented and leaves sprung out on our branches again, but not all followed this time. And now, as we look around us, we see the remains of once glorious lives, ashen corpses, and our hearts break with the words of God, "... lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And Not A Drop To Drink

"I was going to end it all last week, but I guess I won't," the leathery old man told me. I listened as he related one tragic tale after another; his life seemingly filled with more sorrow than Job. I had shared the Gospel with him more than once before, but each time he changed the subject; each time rejected the offer of grace. So, this time I asked, "Do you pray?"

"Do you pray?"
he responded cynically. "See this light. I pull the string and it comes on. I pull it again and it goes off. I trust that string. I do not trust prayer. Pray if you want to, but I've never seen anything come of it." As he spoke I remembered the words in Scripture about the blinding of the eyes of the lost, and wondered if he would die before he believed.

When European explorers first reached the coast of Brazil, they were desperate for fresh water; many of them near death from lack of it. When they encountered the miles wide mouth of the Amazon, they mistook it for an inlet from the ocean; assuming it's water to be salty and so poisonous. They sailed up the river for several more days before realizing they were in the middle of more fresh water than they could ever drink. And, while they sailed, at least two more sailers died. Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

"That lady, do you know that lady who comes in here all the time?" I didn't know who my unbelieving old friend was talking about. He frowned and scornfully said, "She is always smiling, always happy. She comes in here prayin' all the time. She prays over there and prays over here," he said, pointing around his room, "Why is she always smiling?" I smiled, too, and said, "Maybe it's because she prays."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Echoes Of Eternity

The sound of cold, clear, running water echoes in my heart and soul. I have fallen in love with rivers and streams and the rythms of rising trout and the ritual of casting flies. It is good to be home from the sabbatical that took me to the water, to sleep in my own bed, worship in my own church, preach, teach, and spend time with friends, but the river echoes in my mind. That echo is shaping me; vacation plans, how to get the time to slip away to a stream for a day, even which college my daughter can attend. I jokingly told her that I do not care where she goes to school, as long as there is a trout stream within an hour of her school

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen yeas ago was caught up to the third heaven - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise..." (2 Cor. 12:2-3a)

Surely this vision echoed in Paul's heart. He wrote that his trials, heavy by earthly standards, were lightened by the knowledge that they were temporary and that their pain could not compare with eternity. The rivers and the streams echo in my mind, but eternity echoes in my heart. God means for it to do so. That echo calls us forward, encourages us in our trials, and gives us hope in the face of mortality. We have not heard the river that flows from the throne of God with our ears, but it echoes in the grandeur and glory of Creation, it sounds in the depths of our souls and in our minds through His Word, and it strengthens us as we experience the presence of God with us and in us.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Quest For Greatness

"The LORD said to Gideon, 'The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, 'My own power has delivered me.'" (Judges 7:2)

Uzzah stretched out his hand to prop up God. Gideon gathered a huge army to defeat Midian. Uzzah was struck dead, and the ark returned to its place. Gideon's corps was reduced to a number so small that there was no way he or the Hebrews could take credit for the victory. They won. God got glory.

A man came back to our small, rural church after a trip to the city. He had attended a wonderful, large, church there; one with multiple services, an orchestra, a school, all the comforts of Christendom. He was depressed when he walked back home. "It was so wonderful there. I want to move there. I love our church, but we are so small and our community so small. There's just nothing here. We just have so little offer."

Maybe we don't have much to offer. Maybe, when we all get down to it we all wonder about our smallness and our ability to do anything good, anything godly. Then again, it may be that we simply need to recognize that God fed over 15,000 with five loaves and two fishes. He defeated thousands with only a few hundred. He made everything from nothing - ex nihilo. So, maybe we who have little offer more to God. Maybe Jesus was right when he said the widow gave more than all those who were rich.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Deep and Wide

If you concentrate on the depth of your ministry, God will take care of its breadth. (John MacArthur)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Do I Have To?

We are poor people, much afflicted.
We camped under various stars,
Where you dip water with a cup from a muddy river
And slice your bread with a pocketknife.
This is the place; accepted, not chosen.
(Czeslaw Milosc, "It Was Winter")

I am not supposed to envy, but I do. I envy people like Brother Lawrence who seem to have found the ability to rejoice in everything they do; to experience God in the opportunity to clean the latrine and to attend Handel's Messiah with equal alacrity.

My friend is about to send his son away to the Navy so that the boy can become a Navy Seal; one of the more dangerous jobs in the military. He is happy that the boy is doing what God wants, knowing that God will take care of him, and yet . . . and yet . . .

There are many "and yet's" in life. We know, we believe, and yet we have not quite mastered our flesh . . . and yet we have not fully grasped the peace that passes all understanding in the middle of the choice to follow Him. I remember a conversation Jesus had with His Father. It went something like this, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet, I will do your will, no matter what."

Could it be that it is neither sinful nor immature to ask God for an easier task? Could it be that if Jesus asked for the cup to pass, that we are allowed to ask for it to pass? And then, with flesh lagging far behind, we step by faith into the thing that we accept, yet have not chosen; choosing the lasting peace that comes to the courageous who follow Christ, rather than the temporary comfort that fills the cowardly.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Near Death Experiences

I went hiking with my 15 year old daughter and 11 year old son today. We didn't take a long trail, nor was it very difficult, but I noticed something. I noticed that they are much younger than I am. As we have fished, hiked, and just rested here in the Kiamichi mountains, I have noticed that most of the people hanging out here are older than I am. I have also noticed that I am older than I used to be, meaning closer to my "expiration" date. A few years ago that would have really bothered me. I didn't want to die - had too much to do. I still have much to do, but realizing that I am probably a few years beyond my halfway point, doesn't make me sad. As a matter of fact, I am looking forward to physical death. This morning was absolutely beautiful, but it was nothing compared with where I am headed. Each morning I wake up here means that I have more work to do, more tears to shed, more suffering. Yes, there are still more joys, but the morning I wake up in the presence of my Lord will be supremely more satisfying than anything here. I will be on a permanent sabbatical. I will shed no more tears, experience no more suffering, and I will experience the fulfillment of my relationship with my Creator; the experience of the promise that all old things have passed away and all things are now become new.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fly Fishing

I truly enjoy fly fishing. Sometimes the fish come from out of nowhere. I make a cast that is into the riffle, watch the fly float downstream, thinking that it is nowhere near a fish, see the flash and then enjoy the fight. Other times I can see the fish, and I work through dozens of casts to try to get the fish to bite. I worked a fish like that yesterday. He was larger than most, hanging near the bottom. I called my eleven year old son down and worked with him for 15 minutes to try to get the midge to float down in just the right spot to attract the big fish. It didn't work. The fish didn't bite. So, I set him up to cast for a few others we saw just above us. I was sitting down watching the big fish hold in his spot. It was a catch and release area, and I guessed that the fish had been snagged before and simply wasn't going to bite. I made a few more casts and all of a sudden he hit. Fishing for trout is so much like life, like Christianity, like evangelism. We cast our efforts out into the world; into marriages, parenthood, friendships, businesses. We have no idea if they will catch anything, and then they connect. Sometimes, though, we can see the opportunities, and can't get them to hit; especially when it comes to reaching people for Christ. We see people who need to know God through His Son. We see their lives, see them in the stream, and we cast and work and tell and love, and sometimes they never bite. Sometimes we must move on, and sometimes we just need to make one more cast.