Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Called to Preach?!

An Inkling
Did you know you’re called to preach?  “Who?  Me?  You’ve got to be kidding!”
Nope, I’m serious.  And we had a great example this Sunday of how that can work.  The video of Arlene’s witness touched the hearts of everyone who heard it.  She is answering God’s call to preach!
How?  By telling what God’s been doing in her life.  She had “preached” to me in bits and pieces over recent weeks, telling about what she had seen the Lord do in and around her.  She didn’t know she was preaching, but she was – only not in a pulpit expositing scripture.  We need that flavor of preaching too.  But her preaching arose from simply letting her observations about what God was doing flow into her daily conversation. 
Having heard her “preach,” I asked if she would be up for sharing more broadly with the congregation.  In her case the video provided a good means for doing so.  And so many were blessed.
It’s how you’re called to “preach” as well.  Whether you ever stand in a pulpit and exposit a scripture passage or not, every day brings you an opportunity through word and deed to hold forth on what God is doing in and around you.  That’s a big part of what Jesus had in mind when he sent his disciples out to tell the good news.  Now their calling is yours.
How can you find your preaching voice?  Let’s help each other learn.  It’s our common calling.  And as the good news finds expression through you, someone’s going to be touched with the love of God.
Preach on!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Long Obedience

An Inkling

It’s a striking title:  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  So Eugene Peterson entitled one of his books.  How does that look?  I’ve seen an example.
Some years ago Collie Burton, James Anderson, and Don Coleman sensed God’s calling to bridge the gaps here in Richmond.  Knowing that Jesus has reconciled us to the Father and to each other, they determined that the gaps between churches, races, and sections of our city could not be ignored.  Christ’s gifts of reconciliation and unity had to be realized.  So they began a journey, and it has become a long obedience in the same direction – years spent in the pursuit of what God called them to do, and often without seeing much headway.
But they persisted.  And not only did they persist, they kept finding new approaches.  They wrote and distributed a book with their vision for reconciliation and unity.  For years they facilitated a pastors’ breakfast here at St. Giles.  When that ran its course, they gathered a couple of new pastors’ groups in other settings.  From one of those groups, where I’ve participated, a new approach sprang forth, named “Bless Richmond.”
It was aptly named – a gathering of Christians with a single intent:  to bless Richmond.  How?  By honoring Jesus in worship, by building relationships across the traditional lines of division, and by serving the poor.  
You can see some of the worship in the cell phone video Sarah took, as we sang an African praise song.  What a joyful time!  The 2000 or so people brought with them over seven tons of food, which will be distributed through the Food Bank.  Worship leaders from several churches joined to lead the praise, and pastors from various churches led the prayers.  What a marvelous way to bless Richmond.
And it happened in large part because the Lord used the long obedience of some of his servants.  Let’s travel that road together!  Thanks Collie, James, and Don for leading the way.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lifting Our Countenance

An Inkling
Sarah sees it the minute I walk in – a tension in my brow, a drawn corner of the mouth, a dimness in my eye.  And so she asks, “Hey, you look troubled.  What’s happening?”  I do the same for her when I see that “look” on her face.
As often as not we’ve not been aware that we were troubled.  We’ve just been pressing on and tending duties, focused on the particulars of the day.  But at a deeper level something was troubling the subterranean waters of the soul.  And the “waves” showed in our countenance.
“Countenance” is helpful word, but not one we use much.  It means our facial expressions in their full range, from the obvious to the subtle.  We learn to read these reflections of the soul in those we know well.
And we bless them when we call forth an explanation of what we see, be it a bright or a dark countenance.  The face hints at what the heart needs to speak.
When the countenance is dark, we serve each other by enabling our loved ones to express what’s stirring around in the deeps.  Troubles identified and expressed verbally somehow become more manageable than those lurking in the depths and showing only in a wave on the brow.
It’s what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Philippians:  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  When the Lord sees our troubled countenance, he offers the same question as Sarah offers me, “Hey, you look troubled.  What’s happening?”  He’s not too busy!  He wants to hear!  And we need to speak.  Let your requests be made known to God. 
Paul’s wise heart prescription is followed by a dear promise:  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  May his peace not only guard your heart and mind, but lift your countenance!
Speak forth!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Growing Up in Grace

An Inkling
When each of our daughters turned 16 their most exciting gift was a set of keys for the family car.  Talk about excitement.  Keys!  Wheels!  Freedom!  Great is the joy when coming of age.  Do you remember?
The shine got taken off my joy very quickly on my 16th birthday.  I got my driver’s license in the morning, and that afternoon I went driving by myself for the first time.  I still remember that feeling of freedom.  Unfortunately, I also remember the crunching sound of the family Buick rear-ending a VW van.  I was only going about ten miles per hour, so the dents were minimal, and the car was still drivable.  But my ego was totaled.
What followed was an object lesson in God’s grace.  I made the embarrassing call home, and my dad drove over immediately.  He certainly didn’t brush the matter off – I had indeed made a mess.  But neither did he condemn me.  When it came time to go home I was ready to ride rather than drive.  But he pointed me to the driver’s seat.  It was a dramatic demonstration of forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness that brings a second chance – God’s kind of forgiveness.
You may recall that when the prodigal returned home, he wanted simply to be a servant.  He had blown it as a son, and didn’t want to risk such responsibility again.  But the father would not hear of it, and again outfitted his son with a son’s robe and ring (Luke 15). 
When we blow it while coming of age, as we inevitably do, we often want to opt out of the new responsibilities, and to regress to some safer age and stage.  But God’s forgiveness is such that we find ourselves back in the driver’s seat.  He wants his daughters and sons to grow up, and that means taking up the full coming of age challenges.  But it is his grace alone that makes those coming of age challenges bearable.
None of us drives far without some new dents.  You can count on the Father to answer your call and come immediately.  And you can count on a grace that will bring you back to the driver’s seat in the wisest of ways.
Drive on!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Time to Hear the Whole Story

An Inkling
Last week I was on study leave in Montreat (a Presbyterian enclave in the N.C. mountains).  It was a week with many surprising turns of joy.
For one, there was the joy of unstructured time.  While this wasn’t vacation (I did a lot of reading, sermon planning, etc), having no schedule was a joy, especially for one whose calendar is usually crowded.  It was fun, and a good change of pace, to make up each day as it came.
Another joy came with the beautiful fall leaves.  Who but the Lord could make even the “last throes” of something like leaves so lovely?  A glance in any direction was a reminder of his creative brilliance.
Still another joy while we were there came with the visit of some friends from our years in Georgia.  Through our church there Sarah was part of a covenant group with Susan, Tammy, and Cheryl.  Since we moved here in 2007 we have managed to keep up with them in bits and pieces – often only at Facebook depth.  So having some time to hear the next chapters of their stories was a joy.  They gave both current perspectives on the dramas in their lives, and retrospectives on what had happened over these years.  In both they honored the Lord simply by speaking aloud of his ways with their lives.
I can never get enough of that.  One of the greatest joys in life is following people’s stories.  Sometimes people apologize that they are “going on” as they recount what’s been happening, but I’m always fascinated to hear yet more examples of how God works in our lives, both “on stage” and “behind the scenes.”  The only problem is that we seem never to have enough time to explore the stories fully.  For the more we probe and reflect, the more amazing we see the Lord’s imagination and wisdom to be.
It just makes me look forward all the more to when we’ll be together in the presence of the master story teller himself, and have all the time needed to hear the whole story.  If the joy we already have in the snippets we hear now is any indicator, then hearing whole story will be a joy (currently) beyond telling!
To be continued…