October 31, 2007

The Little Gate to God

In the castle of my soul is a little garden gate,
Whereat, when I enter, I am in the presence of God.
In a moment, in the turning of a thought, I am where God is,
This is a fact....

When I enter into God, all life has meaning.
Without asking, I know; My desires are even now fulfilled,
My fever is gone. In the great quiet of God
My troubles are but pebbles on the road,
My joys are like the everlasting hills....

So it is when my soul steps through the postern gate
Into the presence of God.
Big things become small, and small things become great.
The near becomes far, and the future is near,
The lowly and despised are shot through with glory...
God is the substance of all my resolutions;
When I am in him, I am in the Kingdom of God
And in the Fatherland of my Soul.

Walter Raushenbusch (1861-1918)

October 29, 2007

Monday Morning Message - Pink Slipped!

Well, it happened. What more can I say. I got pink slipped yesterday morning. I never saw it coming. As far as I could tell it was a pretty normal Sunday morning. Little did I know that I was about to lose my job. I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life.

It happened like this...

I stood to give the morning announcements and get our service started when our Chairman of Deacons interrupted and insisted on taking the floor. This unusual circumstance was compounded by the presence of the Vice-Chairman of Deacons joining him on the platform. I knew something was up. Mr. Vice-Chairman proceeded to read the notice of termination for me and our Minister of Music while handing us our pink slips. While the shock was settling in I noticed coming through the rear doors of the sanctuary two men carrying a sofa. The sofa was brought to the front where Minister of Music and I were instructed to be seated. We were then informed this was only a temporary termination for reasons of appreciation.

Somehow our entire church family had planned an appreciation service for us with us being none the wiser. Everything was taken care of and Minister of Music and I "took the day off." We enjoyed a memorable time of worship as a church family. It was marked by tears, as stories were shared of God's goodness, and laughter, as a "guest music director" led the choir (trust me, you just had to be there). It was amazing to move from side splitting laughter to spirit filled worship in song as God's people worshiped together. One of our young deacons brought the morning sermon that challenged and moved our congregation. The service closed with the church gathering around us and praying for us. It was truly a time of wonderful celebration and affirmation of all that God is doing in this place.

I am uniquely blessed to pastor this flock.

BTW - I got my job back after the service was over :-)!

October 26, 2007

A Free Gift for You!

Hey... you lucky blog visitor - this is your opportunity to get something for free. Yeay!
I've just read about this idea at Paul's blog. Okay, here goes!

Be one of the first five to leave a comment on this post and I will send you a gift by year’s end. In order to respect privacy as much as possible, we can work out shipping matters via email. It won’t be an expensive gift mind you, but it will be one that I hope will remind you that God loves you and is active in your life each and every day.

Like all other memes, this one comes with guidelines: 1) Be one of the first five to leave a comment on this post and you will receive a gift. 2) The gift must be a tangible item. A donation to charity, for example, does not qualify. 3) Make the same offer to five other people on your blog.

That’s it. Leave a comment and I’ll send you a gift.

The Reader's Digest Condensed Version of the Bible

You've got to be kidding, right? A condensed version of the Bible??? I know, I know, there's something about the whole concept that just doesn't sit well with me. I'm wondering what "jot's and tittle's" are missing.

A conversation on another blog concerning modern translations of the bible led to my being chastised by "Peggy" for simply assuming this whole condensing thing was a bad idea without first checking it out. I responded by stating that I would secure a copy of the RDCV ASAP and offer up my thoughts. Consider this a first installment on my opinions.

I asked my masterful ministry assistant to secure a copy for me from a used book seller. Expecting a cheap paperback I was pleasantly surprised by what she procured. Pictured above is the beautiful edition that is now part of my collection.

The edition is worth the $7 (plus shipping and handling) paid for the artwork alone. (Watch Me Paint Carol, I immediately thought of you and how nice it would be to sit down and let you walk me through this art gallery!) My life has already been enriched by this particular volume and I have a greater appreciation for religious art (Isn't all art religious? Another topic for another day). Each book has a brief introduction in the tradition of most study bibles out there. However, these introductions are graced with dynamic original etchings. You will notice in the right hand margin a smaller picture which is a notable piece of artwork that has a relationship to the adjacent text. Almost every page has one or more of these contributions. This volume is a treasure trove of art history. Below is a sample of one of three full color sections. One section focuses on artwork inspired by the Old Testament, another on the New Testament, and the third offers some photos of the Holy Land. As I said, a bonanza of art history and a beautiful edition.

I could go on and on about the trimmings but I agreed to review the main course, the Scripture. Here are some initial observations. The introduction by Bruce Metzger, attempts to define the difference between a condensation and an abridgment and states, rather emphatically, that this (the RDCV) is not an abridged version. Metzger then goes on to describe how this version is approximately 40% shorter than its traditional counterparts through the condensation methods "perfected" by Reader's Digest through the years. Interestingly, a brief trip to your local dictionary reveals little, if any, difference between "condense" and "abridge". If you're having difficulty hearing my skepticism through these typed words let me say it clearly, I'm skeptical.

After reading the first three books (Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus) I would call this an abridged version rather than a condensed version. Reading comparatively (RDCV side by side with my ESV) through Genesis sealed that observation for me. They have preserved the critical story line while sacrificing some marvelous stories that attend and illuminate the central story. I understand that something had to go in order to "condense" it and I am intensely interested about the process of elimination that was used in order to achieve this. By what criteria did a particular section get pink slipped? (There's a fun Bible Study idea for you...if you were "condensing" the Bible what would you leave out?).

Some things I like. I really like no chapter and verse references. (Footnote, Stephen Langton is reputed to have been the first to put the chapter divisions into a Vulgate edition of the Bible, in 1205. They were then inserted into Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the 1400's . Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus) was the first to number the verses within each chapter, his verse numbers entering printed editions in 1551 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible)) It is nice to read through a text without artificial divisions. I think this will make an even greater difference in reading the epistles (check back later).

As one who is acquainted with the general sweep of the scriptural story I like the job the editors have done of preserving the central story. It was nice to "get the point" of Leviticus without getting bogged down in the repetitive ritual instructions. (OK, by show of hands, how many of you have read every word of Leviticus without skimming?) That said, there is still a big part of me that cringes at portions of this lying on the cutting floor somewhere. Maybe I prefer to be my own editor...

I'm still wrestling with whether or not I can, in good conscience, recommend the RDCV to others. Maybe if it didn't proclaim itself as the BIBLE I would be a little more at ease with it. (But what would you call it?)

I will be back with other observations along the way. Today I'm reading Numbers and Deuteronomy.

October 23, 2007

Huckabee for President?

I'm still thoroughly undecided about the '08 Presidential election. One candidate that has stirred some interest is Mike Huckabee. I must admit that what was first purely curiosity (after all he was a Baptist pastor at one time) has become a more serious look. My blog-friend Idaho Paul has posted Huckabee's interview with Glen Beck for your information, entertainment, and/or teeth gnashing. Interesting stuff.

It's going to be an interesting Presidential race.

October 22, 2007

Monday Morning Message - The Pattern for Continuing Revival

We enjoyed a wonderful and memorable week of revival services at our church this past week. The music was a celebration of our life in Christ and led us to whole-heartedly worship. The messages were challenging as they held up a mirror to the spiritual reality of our lives, suffice it to say I didn't like what I saw and had real business to do with God about issues in my own life. I believe this will be one of those high-water marks we look back on as a key time in our lives.

It was a good week, however that was last week. We are now facing a new week full of of challenges, opportunities, crises, and unexpected events. How do we continue in revival? Revival is more of the Holy Spirit actively working, stirring, and moving in our lives. How can we have this be the norm rather than the exception? I believe there is a clear pattern in Scripture for us to have more of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

It begins with encountering God. Anytime we encounter God is a crisis moment. It will always result in a reaction on our part. Very often it is in the midst of crisis that we encounter God. C.S. Lewis famously stated, "Pain is God's megaphone with which He rouses a sleeping world." When things in our life are difficult or painful it is an opportunity for us to seek God. Hosea 6 speaks of this, "He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us" Is God trying to get your attention through circumstances or events in your life?

An encounter with God always produces a recognition that things in our lives are not as they should be. Just like dirt shows up in intense light (I think this is why a lot of restaurants are dimly lit;-)!) sin shows up when we encounter God. God is deadly serious about sin. In fact, throughout Scripture God has only one response to sin - wrath. He hates sin because He know what it does to us. It kills us. The Biblical formula never changes, Sin = Death. Death in our relationships, death in our ability to love and enjoy life, death in our pursuit of personal satisfaction, death to contentment, death to peace (both personal and corporate - even international) all brought about by sin. When we encounter God we immediately recognize our sin. (See Isaiah 6 for a clear example of this).

Recognition of sin offers us the opportunity of repentance. Repentance is the clarion call of all the prophets in Scripture as well as the singular message of John the Baptist, "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!". Jesus began His public ministry with this same message, "Repent." There must be a turning in our life. A turning from the path we've been following to the path laid before us by God. A turning from self-directed and self-destructive choices to the God-centered and life giving ways offered to us in Christ. Not a half-hearted glance over the shoulder at the things God is offering us while desperately clutching the very thing that has been bringing death into our lives, but a whole-hearted, unreserved turn to God. The time to do this is NOW.

As we repent we discover grace. Grace that says, "You're forgiven." Grace that says, "You're accepted and welcome." Grace that says, "What I have done for you is sufficient." We can quit trying to impress or earn the favor of God. What He's been trying to tell us all along is that He loves us and has simply been waiting for us to turn to Him and discover arms wide open ready to give us real life. It is amazing that we resist this amazing grace.

And in grace we discover His greatest of gifts to us, the very presence of the Holy Spirit living within us. To dust dry throats crying out for water and seared souls the Spirit is water to slake soul thirst and balm to heal the worst of wounds. But there is more. The Spirit of God at work in the life of the believer is power to display the very nature of God to a world desperate for a touch from the Creator. Paul, states in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."

It is possible to live in a continuing state of revival. The question is will we?

October 17, 2007

Lucy's Fine Answers

Lucy, over at Well Behaved Women, has responded to my interview questions. I think you might find them interesting. I'm glad to have Lucy among my blog-friends. Conversations with her are always lively and informative, even if they occasionally cause me to grind my teeth.

A Word From Scotty...

We have been in revival this week and it has been a wonderful time of spiritual refreshment and challenge for our church family. Scotty Davis has been preaching some powerful messages to a receptive church family. Scotty has a brief post (with others to follow, I understand) over at his blog, ...too small a thing. You will find his other exploits in missions of interest as well. Talk about your well traveled man! He's got stories to tell. Maybe he can tell them to you!

October 15, 2007

Monday Morning Message - Leave Your Water Pitcher

Among the best known stories of Jesus' ministry is the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Like so many things with which we are familiar we often fail to take note of some of the telling details. This is the case (at least for me) with this story. In all the times I've read it or heard it told or worked it over in my mind there is a startling detail that had always eluded me, until now. Now I don't think I'll ever encounter the story the same way.

The woman left her water pitcher. There it is. Nothing dramatic. In and of itself it is a pretty nondescript action. However, placed in the context of the story and the reality of her life it is a story that stands alone. I could go on for quite a while on this point, but rather than me filling in all the blanks on this one why don't you just let this rattle around in your head a while. I think you will, like me, come to the place that seeing that woman walking away from the well without her water pitcher will communicate much more than I ever could with a few typed words.

One more thing, are you carrying a water pitcher today?

October 11, 2007

Riot Breaks Out In This Shepherd's Backyard!

News Flash! This morning a peaceful demonstration ran wildly out of control leading to an unexpected riot in this Shepherd's backyard. What would have been an otherwise non-descript October day quickly became a technicolor trip to remember. A quick scan of the participants ruled out any illicit drug use as well as putting to rest any concerns about the scene turning ugly. The only casualty of the event was the use of a swing, often enjoyed in the evenings by the Shepherd and his Beloved.

One of the demonstrators was asked about the reasons for this display and had this to say, "The heavens declare the glory of God...Day to day pours out speech."
Another demonstrator shed some thoughtful light on this display. "Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like on of these. But if God so clothes the grss of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?...Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

One other demonstrator was in a decidedly pensive mood and shared this arresting insight concerning the temporal nature of the display. "A voice said, 'Cry!' And I said, 'What shall I cry?' All flesh is grass, and all beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower fades whe the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever."

October 10, 2007

An Interview with Lucy

What seems like an age ago I was interviewed by Paul Abspoel and part of that interview was to offer to do the same for others. Lucy, over at Well Behaved Women..., volunteered. So, Lucy, here are your five questions (finally).

1. You are a self-described hemorrhaging heart liberal. I am a hand-over-my-heart conservative. Why should people like us "waste time" talking to each other?

2. You have been convicted of a crime (hypothetically, of course!) and your judge passes the following sentence on you for your crime..."You can only eat one meal, watch one movie, read one book, and listen to one album for the rest of your life." What are your choices and why?

3. You spent some time in Sweeden as an exchange student. What are the lingering life-lessons you carry from this experience?

4. Name 5 simple things that bring joy to your day.

5. You enjoy cooking. My Beloved and I are coming over. What's for supper? (Spare no details. Make our mouths water.)

If you would like to be interviewed follow the instructions below!

1. Leave me a comment saying “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

October 8, 2007

Monday Morning Message - Dry

The drought down our way has been remarkable. Statistically it was the driest spring since they began keeping records back in 1895. Practically, that means that everything is bone dry. I read with jaw dropping interest that at one point water had not flowed in the Kissimmee River in Florida for 212 days. That, my friends, is dry.

The drought has everyone talking about it. I overheard some of the guys at the coffee shop trying to "out-dry" the other. One old head, with a grin on his face, said, "It's so dry that my cows are giving evaporated milk." His friend dryly replied, "That's nothin'. I caught a catfish the other day and had to pick the ticks off of it before I could clean it."

Donald Wilhite, writing about the Sudan drought in 2003, asks a stop-you-in-your-tracks question, "We think of water as an unlimited resource. But what happens when you turn on the tap and it's not there?"

The Bible is literally filled with thirsty people. People who are looking for water. Abraham fought battles over water. Elijah prayed for rain. David wishfully desires a drink of water from a memorable well from his childhood. There's the woman at the well who comes to draw water in the heat of the day. Even Jesus on the cross declares, "I thirst." The Psalmist sighs, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God." (Psalm 42:1-2) I know what he's talking about. I guess you could say I'm a parched preacher. My shriveled soul needs a drink. I'm thirsty.

"On the the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37-38). Maybe it's time for me to go to Jesus. Are you thirsty?

October 5, 2007

Hello Blog Flock! I'm back.

"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home." (Luke 15:3-5)

I'm back. To all of you who have checked in and found me missing I apologize. However, I gladly tell you that an intensive season of ministering to the flock I have the privilege to pastor is moderating a bit and I hope to be back to my blogging with more regularity. I miss you guys!

Three births, two weddings, numerous health crises, a revival, various board meetings, two funerals and nearly 4000 miles logged in 3 weeks have kept this shepherd on the run. It is nice to be still for a few moments.

I've got some good stories to share, some new thoughts rattling around in my head, and several unfinished blog projects to pick up. Plenty to do. Monday Morning Message will resume October 8 - feel free to tune in!

A quick quote of note for the day...

"I have never heard anyone says, 'The really deep lessons of life have come through times of ease and comfort.' But I have heard strong saints say, 'Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God's love and growing deep with him, has come through suffering.' Samuel Rutherford said that when he was cast into the cellars of affliction, he remembered that the great King always kept his wine there. Charles Spurgeon said that those who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls." (John Piper, Desiring God)