Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Do More" --- err --- I mean, "Do Less!"

Instead of our trying to do more, maybe we should try to do less, to pay attention to the presence of God.

Yaconelli, Michael.  Dangerous Wonder.

Have you ever been scolded for doing too much?  This is usually not the case -- at least in my life it is not the case.  We are usually told that we are not doing enough and this has produced in me a desire to do more.  When we are told that we are not doing enough, we find ourselves frustrated because we are, for one reason or another, not living up to the expectations of others.

I remember when I was hired as the Youth Director at St Luke UMC in Columbus.  I sat down with my senior minister and asked him, "What are your expectations of me?"  I asked this because I wanted to make sure that I did everything that he expected of me.  And, if I had any dream of exceeding his expectations, I needed to know what they were before I could exceed them.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  We need to know the expectations of our bosses.  We need to know the expectations of our spouses.  Knowing these expectations help us succeed in our work and relationships with others.  However, I feel that this mindset may have bled over in our spiritual life.  The problem for me is not that I understand what God expects of me.  The problem is when I am solely consumed by doing and forget the real presence of God in my every day life.  There are things that God expects of us and these things help us maintain our right relationship with Him.  But how many times have our duties and His expectations drowned out the still small voice of God to the point where all we see is the task list and duties of being a follower of Christ?   Psalm 46:10 reminds the reader to "be still and know" that God is God.

This is a Christian principle that Mike Yaconelli is reminding us.  It is not that he is encouraging us to stop praying and performing acts of mercy and justice.  But rather, he is reminding us not to be overcome with the doing.  Be still, pay less attention to the task list, and recognize the presence of God.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Value of the Journey

But while being a pastor certainly has some of these components, the pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who “gets things done” but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God—this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful “without ceasing.”
Peterson, Eugene. The Pastor: A Memoir. 

Isn't it amazing how God shows us things not too early and not too late, but rather He shows us things at the right time?  I love the way God works!  He never gets caught off-guard.

I came across this quote and I needed to read it today.  I highlighted it this past spring when I read this book.  It was today of all days that it was brought to my attention.  Those who know me best know how much my task list runs my day.  It's not necessarily a bad thing -- task lists help me stay organized and they help my stay on top of everything that needs to get done.  But I confess that for the last couple weeks my task list has blinded my heart from "being" in the kingdom of God.  What I mean is that for the last several weeks my task list has kept my focus on the end task or the completed project.  It reminds me of everything that I need to get done.  It focuses my attention on the finish line.  The problem is that at times I am oblivious to the process as I look at just the end -- the finished product.

Some of you know that there had been a period in my life that I was a truck driver.  I enjoyed being a truck driver.  The journey from point A to point B was alone time for me.  It recharged my batteries and strengthened my soul.  But I soon became oblivious to the journey and started being anxious about when I would get to point B.  Soon, the journey became a chore and unenjoyable because I was focused on the destination.

Ministry is about the journey as much as it is about the destination.  I don't want to miss the journey of ministry.  I want to pay attention and call attention to what's going on right now between men and women and between us and God.  We cannot let the destination distract us from the value of the journey.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Surrendered Pen in My Pocket

The great nineteenth-century preacher Andrew Murray made this analogy: “I have a pen in my pocket that is surrendered to its purpose of writing and must be surrendered to my hand if I am to write with it properly. If someone has a partial hold on it, I cannot write with it.” By the same token, if we hold back the natural abilities God gave us at birth — or if we use those abilities for purposes that don’t include God — those talents will not be used to their full capacity.
Rees, Erik.  S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life.

My goal for life is to one day stand before God and hear Him tell me, "Well done, John.  You've been faithful with what I've entrusted with you."  I imagine this would/should be goal of every Christian.  But, if you're anything like me, then you know that this is a most difficult task.  For me, the difficulty falls squarely on whether I am going to let go of my grip of the "pencil of my life" and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct me.

I like what John Wesley said in your Notes on the New Testament about John 11:39.  When Jesus asked for the stone to be moved from the tomb of Lazarus, Martha responded, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead for four days."  Martha was conflicted.  Reason told her that what Jesus was asking was preposterous.  Faith told her that the Jesus was the Resurrection and the Life.  And, the struggle ensued!

At times (more ofter, I suppose, than I'd like to admit), I struggle between faith and reason.  Reason tells me that I need to be in control.  Faith tells me that God is capable.  Reason tells me that I need to be anxious.  Faith tells me that God cares for me.  Faith...Reason...the struggle continues.  

Andrew Murray reminds me that in order for me to achieve my goal, I must not struggle and I need to let go.  How will God write with the "pencil of my life" if I still want to move it and write what I want?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Kierkegaard on Reading the Bible
According to Kierkegaard ... “To read the Bible as God’s word, one must read it with his heart in his mouth, on tip-toe, with eager expectancy, in conversation with God. To read the Bible thoughtlessly or carelessly or academically or professionally is not to read the Bible as God’s Word. As one reads it as a love letter is read, then one reads it as the Word of God.”
Quoted by: Utley, Robert James Dr. You Can Understand the Bible!
Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1996.

I have been guilty of reading the Bible as an "academic."  I've read the Bible as a "professional" and I'm afraid that at times I have missed the love letter that was intended for me.  I love to dive into the academics of a text.  I love to redact it and partake in its textual and grammatical criticism, but Kierkegaard has reminded me of the simple and overarching message of the Bible: A message of love. 

Unfortunately, many Christians approach their Bible reading with baggage, and I am guilty of doing this, too.  We read with a bias; we read with a denominational slant; we read with a presupposition; we read without any regard to context.  And when we only do any one of these, we read it thoughtlessly or carelessly.  Certainly this is most unfortunate!

Now, there's nothing wrong with the academic side of Bible reading.  I still love this type of reading.  But my soul also needs my "heart to be in my mouth ... with eager expectancy" so that while I am doing a word study,  I am also listening for that gentle Gospel message of love.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, God desires to give you and me His message of love that has the power to cut through any baggage or bias that we may have.  Listen for that message the next time you read His word. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Moody: A Man of Prayer

Oftentimes Mr. Moody would write me when he was about to undertake some new work, saying: "I am beginning work in such and such a place on such and such a day; I wish you would get the students together for a day of fasting and prayer,"  and often I have taken those letters and read them to the students in the lecture room and said: "Mr. Moody wants us to have a day of fasting and prayer, first for God's blessing on our own souls and work, and then for God's blessing on him and his work."
Dr. R. A. Torrey. Why God Used D.L. Moody. Public Domain

I am convinced that any grace that God has granted me in ministry has been through my prayers or the prayers of someone else.  Whether it was the prayer of a parent of a childhood friend, the prayers of my wife, or the prayers of someone I have never met, these prayers -- including my own -- have been an important part of my life and my ministry.

I learned a lot about prayer at the first place that I served.  It was in a small Kentucky town called Shelbyville and the church was Olive Branch United Methodist Church.  I served there a few years in the early 1990s as their youth director and worship leader.  Rev. Steve Pearson was my senior minister when I first started there.  I worked there with an eye on him teaching me.  One of the lessons that he taught me was the importance of prayer.  Steve carried around a stack (and I mean a stack) of index cards.  On the front of each card was a prayer request.  The back of the card was reserved for the answer.  When the prayers were answered, he filed them away and referred to them often.

Steve didn't take prayer lightly (as I have too often).  When you asked him to pray for someone or something, your request quickly made its way to the front of one of his index cards.  His method was to take prayer walks.  Armed with the cards, he would go for a walk and pray through each card and each request.

It's been over 20 years since I had the privilege of serving with Steve, and I still remember this as if it were yesterday.  What a message!  What an impact!  What an example!

D.L. Moody took his prayer life seriously.  He prayed for others and he engaged others to pray for him.  He did this because he knew the importance and the power associated with an active prayer life.

God only knows the people that received an outpouring of God's grace because of the prayers of Steve.  God only know the people that received an outpouring of God's grace because of Moody's prayers.  What does God know about your prayers?