That’ll Preach

What to do about the teens? Last night we decided to let them tell us how they want to investigate the Word and their faith during the next school year.

We feel confident they’ll make a good choice. Our most faithful attender has voiced an interest in simply joining the younger classes that’s where he’ll probably end up. His reasons are so sweet: He wants to be around for his nine and ten year old nephews.

Our reasons for allowing him to be an associate in teaching may be selfish. It’s hard to imagine a better role model for a year in which we are focussing on the work of discipleship. Charles (not his real name) is naturally civic-minded and participates in every fundraiser that comes through town. He usually walks away with the prize for “Most Canned Food Collected” or “Most Calls Made.”

This year my prayer is that he continues to to identify the best in himself with the sacrifice of his Savior.

 

Lord, We are so grateful for the gift of Charles in our church. May he never give up Your call on his life. We pray you help him keep his innocence that he may never be lost in cynicism born of pride in his own service. Let us model the love that You give us to give away, born of gratitude for our own salvation and the salvation of our friends and loved ones. In Jesus name, let us be suffering servants, too. Amen.

Advertisements

Ash Wednesday, A Glimpse of Spring

Today’s bright sky is just a tease.  On the East Coast, people are digging out of a deep snow storm. Here, the temps will only reach freezing today and tomorrow’s high will be in the forties. To  my thin southern California blood, that has never felt warm.  More to the point, there are going to be many more cold winter days before new growth begins. Around Easter, that’s when I’ll be taking a clear sky and a windless day as a promise of spring.

So it is with Ash Wednesday. Our church sanctuary will be cozy for the 7 PM service, thanks to a new furnace, but we will know the truth of the cold, cold season when we step back outside. We can enter that place to celebrate the promise of Easter Sunday. But as Christ experienced the bitter chill of desertion and betrayal as well as the heady smell of triumph, we will surely experience days of bitter chill as well as warm perfumed breezes before spring rises triumphant.

One flame burns truer than our new heating unit: Our Risen Savior, once cheating death and once again to cheat time when He returns forever. Allelulia now, in winter, and again in spring. Allelulia!

Humility or Hype

If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

When we were married my husband and I chose silver wedding bands with a slightly stylized cross as our symbols of our love for one another and our determination that Christ would be at the center of our marriage. When we built our house, one of our children gave us a plaque featuring the  Serenity Prayer,  another gave us a copy of the 23rd Psalm engraved on a mirror and one has given us a sculpted cross. My husband took a chainsaw to a tree stump one fall afternoon and at the end of the day a rough-hewn 5-foot cross stood on a gentle slope overlooking our backyard.

If Christian decoration were the way to heaven we’d be good to go.

But we know we are the people called by his name and that God didn’t call us to advertise or promote a multi-level marketing plan based on our faith. He didn’t call us to shop and seek more Christian stores and turn from here to there in search of new ways to advertise our relationship with Jesus.

No, he called us to humble ourselves, to pray and seek His face. The promise that follows that command is too wonderful to imagine. Even if He had not promised to heal our land, would we not be blessed beyond measure just to lay our egos and our agendas and our wants and desires before Him? How like our God to ask us to do these things that might be difficult initially, but, when completed, bring us such joy and peace.

I love the wedding band my husband never takes off. He replaced mine as an anniversary gift with a jeweled band but I wear the cross, too. Not as hype but as a private reminder to me of who I am and who we are. Humbly, His.

(Thanks to our adult Christian Education class who kicked this issue around for an session a few Sundays ago and gave me the idea to write this.)

If You Love Me, Obey Me

To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Sam. 15:22b (NIV)

I can tell you what the old me thought of that bit of dialogue between the prophet Samuel and King Saul. You’ve got to be kidding, Sam. God prefers simple obedience? Wait till He hears what I’m gonna do for Him!

I of course took the immediate meaning of the phrase out of context. To me, to obey anyone meant to give in, give up or give out, none of which I have ever been prone to do gracefully.  So what does it mean to say obedience is better than sacrifice?  In my winner-take-all playbook, “to obey” was already a huge sacrifice. How, therefore could it be better than a well-prepared, juicy, choice cut of … oh, wait a minute. Maybe I do have an idea why God would prefer the obedience of our actions to anything we can cook up to distract Him.

My parents had gotten a well-deserved weekend away from their kids. I was about eight, my sister five and my brother a newborn and I honestly don’t remember who they suckered into coming to our house to care for us that weekend. It wasn’t our regular babysitter; I couldn’t have gotten away with it if he’d been there.

Whoever it was, they didn’t know that the most of the trees in our Florida subdivision lot were soft woods. Many were fruit trees. My father, a transplant himself from the majestic forests of Oregon, called the laurels overgrown bushes.  And he also called them absolutely off limits for climbing. He maintained that we had a swing set, a sturdy elm and each other to climb on.  Sixty pounds of trunk shimmying tomboy did not bode well for the health of the kumquat tree. He had made that clear to me but it was never mentioned to the babysitter. Certainly not by me.

Not only did I climb the kumquat tree, the orange trees, the grapefruit trees and the laurels repeatedly throughout the two days our parents were gone, I attempted to build a fort in the limbs of the almost-majestic cedar in the front yard. A painful experience since the needles were sharp and the bark rough and also my carpentry skills weren’t up to the task. And I fell. Hard enough to hurt but not hard enough to tell the babysitter.

Back to obedience. Samuel told Saul obedience was better. Better for whom? It would have been better for Saul. God doesn’t ask us to do things just to make Himself feel good. Does he ask for a tithe because He needs your money? No, he wants your heart and your heart in the hand of God is better for you. Did he want Saul’s complete obedience in the matter before him because he wanted a bunch of  His enemies to die? No, God will accomplish his purposes–here it was to purge the land of a people committing heinous crimes–He wanted Saul to be obedient for the sake of Saul’s own good.

Here’s what happened in our house in 1963, and how I learned that obedience would have been much more acceptable that any sacrifice.  Mom and Dad came home to a good report from the babysitter, who still had no clue that my tree climbing was a full frontal school girl rebellion carried out under her nose for two days. After the sitter left, we settled in for the ritual Walt Disney Theater Sunday night show, and, after a rapt half hour in front of the television, all my little muscles, tendons and ligaments refused to move. I was so sore I could barely move. As Mom massaged my thighs, calves and biceps, I could not tell a lie.  No, I had not chopped down the cherry tree, but I had surely climbed the kumquat tree, as well as all its citrus cousins. As I experienced my first post-workout soreness Daddy told me the real reason he hadn’t wanted us in those trees. Their limbs couldn’t safely support us; Mom couldn’t climb up after us to help us for the same reason; the dumb laurels could have actually toppled over from our weight, throwing us into the street. And yes, the trees themselves were property that should be respected, but that was secondary.

As was God’s desire to rid the earth of the Amalekites. Without Saul’s compliance to the letter of God’s command to him, their contemptible practices went on for centuries after Saul’s reign. But that was secondary. God loved Saul and wanted his obedience. More than the sweetest fragrance of sacrifice, more than his explanations and excuses for why he didn’t do God’s will, God just wanted Saul’s obedience. And ours. For our own good.

Ready, Set, Pray

ARE YOU LOST FOR WORDS, BEYOND CONFUSION, DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU NEED? GOD KNOWS. SEND HIM AN ARROW PRAYER. HE HEARS – EXPECT AN ANSWER.

                                 

↑       ↑ HELP  ↑       ↑        

                                ↑       ↑ PLEASE  ↑       ↑     ↑              

                                   ↑              ↑                ↑       ↑  PLEASE, NO! ↑       ↑   

↑       ↑THANK YOU, JESUS  ↑       ↑

Pray for the Overconfident

“…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…”

Early Monday AM–Our road has a dry forge. Where Retherford Road crosses Hanna’s Creek, a flat span of concrete crosses over with no side barriers.  This crossing is not elevated, so any time the creek runs over its banks it gushes across the concrete as well.   The overflow happens several times per year and in the spring of 2011, it’s just our little portion of the violent mid-Western weather system that has taken lives and so wrecked so much property.

The best way to go to the county seat in Liberty is to turn right at the end of  my drive and follow the road over the creek. Knowing it’s flooded, I turned left today,  settling for the  longer way into town.  It’s just simple common sense not to risk driving through such a potentially treacherous waterway.

And yet I felt the pull.  It’s shorter.  It’s quicker.  I’ve got tons of errands and to do.  Really, I could do it.

For one thing, I drive a large four-wheel drive truck.  (Don’t judge me.  I live in the country.) The truck is high enough that the cab could clear the water and heavy enough to maintain the traction.  If the water were much deeper than six inches I couldn’t do it.  In a car I couldn’t do it.  Common sense says not to do it. What is it in me that wants to do it anyway?

Contrary to my nature, I took the longer and safer route. You can put it down to maturity but I actually think I was “…lead not into temptation but delivered from evil.”  I prayed for that this morning and even lingered on the phrase, wondering what in my lovely world could be evil enough for me to ward off with prayer.  Maybe it was the creek. More likely it is the pride that makes me think the “Road Closed ” sign doesn’t apply to me.

Early Monday PM–In the interests of honest reporting I drove down to the creek after lunch.  I had talked to my engineering consultant (a.k.a. husband) and he agreed that I could make the six-inch depth I had described. But our conversation begged the question: Was it only six inches deep or deeper?

What follows is my gallery. You’ll see my rain boot swished with muddy water up to an easy six inches. I had only waded out as far as the current allowed me to stay on my feet. Beyond that I’d venture to say the water was closer to a foot deep as it passed over the little forge.

So in the morning, when I was simply ruminating over God’s possible protection from my own foolishness, I didn’t have a clue. My truck cannot make that forge with that much water and current.  My insurer probably wouldn’t cover that much stupid.  I never really know how far I am tucked under His mighty wing. But I know I’ll continue to pray that prayer.

Pray for those who think they are safer than they are.

New Song

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise for our God. Many people will learn of this and be amazed; they will trust the LORD. Psalm 40:3, Common English Bible

The choir at College Corner United Methodist Church is on a roll. We were 15 strong at 10 p.m. Christmas Eve, singing two rousing cantata-style songs from “Wasn’t that a Great Day (When Christ the Lord was Born)” before exiting the choir loft to join our families in the pews. The candle light service was gentle and sweet and worth every minute of lost sleep!

New worship and song books are on order and we have so much to look forward to!