Thursday, July 30, 2009

The trouble with prayer

This week in VBS, the kids have been studying the book of Daniel, which of course, means I have been studying the book of Daniel. This is one of the great dangers of teaching others – you might possibly learn something as well. I say dangerous because you simply never know where “learning” will take you. While ignorance might be bliss, learning something new can be terrifying. Who knows what changes some new knowledge may require of you? Especially if that new knowledge comes from God through prayer.

Think of Daniel. Daniel was a man of great prayer. Now, we often think of prayer as simply some quaint way of talking to God – kind of a superstitious way to guard against trouble. Talking to God, however, hardly ever keeps us out of trouble. For while that might seem to be our main goal in life, the scriptures seem to reveal that keeping us trouble free isn’t high on God’s priority list. Far from keeping Daniel out of trouble, prayer seemed to keep propelling Daniel right into the middle of it. Prayer kept informing Daniel of what a true loyalty to God really looked like. In at least one case it looked like the bottom of the lions’ den (remember, prayer got Daniel into the lions den well before it got him out of there).

Prayer more than anything else we might do, connects us with God’s work in the world, a work that is as subversive to the world’s ways as it is good for those who will submit themselves to it. Our primary example of this is Jesus Christ who came to undo the ways of this world, the ways of sin and death. What did we do to him? We put him on a cross. When we pray, we are asking God to replace our ignorance of his ways with a realization of his will. After all, he taught us to pray, “Your will be done.” I wonder, though, are we actually ready to do his will? What if it leads us right into the middle of the lions’ den? What if it leads us to a cross? C.S. Lewis compared a person who goes looking for God in prayer with a mouse that went out looking for the cat. That seems about right.

So why in the world would we pray? Why did Daniel pray? Perhaps he realized the great truth that for as fearful a life lived with God might seem to others – it’s nothing compared to how frightful a life lived with out him would be. For while the jaws of the lion certainly scare, Daniel knew, they’re nothing compared to the hand of an Almighty God.

For [Daniel’s God] is the living God and he endures forever . . . He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions – Daniel 6:26, 27.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Only God and well loved infants

This week is Vacation Bible School at Southland. I love Vacation Bible School. It’s a wonderful opportunity to share the stories of our faith with our children so that they can begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is for them and for others. I love that VBS is a chance for me to be reminded of that love as well. No matter our age we need such reminders and I was blessed to be given one this week. It happened when Matt, our youth minister, brought his six month old little girl, Finley into the office. As you would expect, work quickly came to a halt as we all gathered around Finley and made fools of ourselves. Finley smiled and cooed and delighted in us as we delighted in her. A precious, grace-filled moment.

The next morning, I came across a passage in one of Kathleen Norris’ writings that put that holy moment in a new light. She spoke of a similar occasion in an airport when a baby was entertaining a group of strangers with his smiles. She noted how the baby seemed to erupt in delight anytime “he recognized a human face, no matter whose it was, no matter if it was young or old, pretty or ugly, bored or happy or worried-looking.” In an unusual twist, she then compared the way this infant indiscriminately delighted in another’s humanity with the way God must look at us. God looks at our faces so that he might delight once more in those he has made and called good.

Norris goes on to encourage, “And as Psalm 139 puts it, darkness is nothing to God, who can look right through whatever evil we’ve done in our lives to the creature made in the divine image. . . I suspect that only God, and well loved infants can see this way.” We’ve grown old in our sin, as G.K. Chesterton once put it. And in our old age we judge one another upon external appearances and past offenses. But God, who is sinless and pure, is eternally young. And like Finley, God continues to look at us and truly see our humanity, his image, and it makes him smile with joy.

For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation - Psalm 149:4.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Joy in Service

Today we wrapped up our week in the McAllen area of Texas. Around thirty folks from Southland have joined other churches in a Buckner/CBF Kid’s Heart Blitz Week. We’ve spent the mornings putting on a Vacation Bible School at a Community Center in the colonia of San Carlos. Each morning we’ve had from 30-40 kids. In the afternoons we’ve been working on a couple of houses in that same area. On one house we simple painted the exterior and on another, we’ve put siding up on the entire house and then painted (see photos in previous posts). We finished up at noon today and then headed to South Padre for an afternoon on the beach.

The week has been wonderful on every front. It’s been a delight to watch our teenagers (and even a couple of our children) catch the excitement of serving others. They’ve taken the initiative in figuring out ways to serve, they’ve worked long and hard in the heat without complaining, and they’ve shared their faith with sincerity and passion. They’ve also learned that when we do missions, not only do we bless others, but we also are blessed. It’s been fun to watch them react as the children have become attached to them and as families have thanked them for their work.

Yesterday, I also received an email from some missionaries in Kenya where Jeremy and Sarah, our Water for All missionaries, have been working for the last few weeks. The e-mail went on and on about what a blessing Jeremy and Sarah have been to them, their family, and to the people they work with. I’m reminded once again that God is at work in every corner of this world. He delights when we go out of our way to love each other in his name. As your pastor, it makes my heart sing to know that we are a church who finds joy in joining God in his mission of redeeming the world.

“At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” – Philippians 2:10-11.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kid's Heart - Update 3

A few photos from Wednesday. We completely finished painting one house and got very close to finishing the second (the one we put the siding on). Tomorrow morning we'll finish up the painting, do our last day of VBS, and then head to South Padre for an afternoon of relaxing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kid's Heart Mission Trip - Update 1

We just finished up our first day of manual labor - we put up siding on one house and painted another. The kids and teenagers did great. This was after spending the morning putting on a VBS at a local community center. Enjoy the pics.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Scoundrels like me.

As I’ve been studying the life of David over the last few months, I must admit, I find him a difficult character. Though he shows up as the hero in many stories, he appears the villain in many others. For all he gets right, he gets a thousand things wrong. His motivations don’t always seem pure. His actions are often self-serving. Maybe I find him difficult because he reminds me too much of me.

When we read the Bible, we often look for people that we can imitate. We want Esther’s courage or Solomon’s wisdom, Daniel’s faithfulness or Moses’ leadership skills. The problem with this approach, however, is that outside of Jesus, every character in the Bible is deeply flawed. Each, through the grace of God, gets some things right, but the flaws also abound – murderers, cowards, adulterers, the list goes on and on. While we can joyfully imitate aspects of each of these lives, we must remember that who we ultimately imitate isn’t a person, but God at work in that person.

This, of course, is good news – that God works through scoundrels like me. God has chosen to work in this world not through those who have it all together, but through real, fallen, everyday people. People like you and me, who are sometimes mean or lazy or downright selfish. When I think about it, are there any other kind? When God works through us, he doesn’t excuse our sinfulness. Nowhere does God celebrate David’s sins, instead, he chastises him. But God forgives our sins, even the worst of sins, so that he may do a new work in us.

I think the reason David’s story keeps being told, is that for all his foibles, David kept coming back to the Lord. He kept coming back for forgiveness, and strength, and love. He kept dealing with God. Remarkably, miraculously, graciously, God kept coming back to him. Kept including David in his plans. Gives me hope, how about you?

“Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty – Micah 3:7.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Julie's mini-sermon

Julie Merritt, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C., and a classmate of mine at Truett followed me Thursday night. She's an excellent speaker and called us to love people in particular and not in general.

Oops - I went 36 seconds over!

The clock doesn't lie. I went 36 seconds over my allotted seven minutes. At least no one threw anything at me. Here's my sermon from Thursday night's CBF meeting for those who would like to see it. The sound isn't good at all. Not sure what that's about.