Thursday, October 30, 2008

Red Wranglers and Prayer

In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3

Mark Batterson, author of In A Pit With A Lion, offers an interesting perspective on prayer. He correlates prayer with a cluster of nerve cells at the base of our brain stem called, the reticular activating system. Without this filtering system, we would literally go insane, because our brain would try to process every stimuli it encountered. Think about it -- every scent, taste, sound, sight, and incidental touch -- would have to be categorized and given our attention. It is the RAS that protects us from such sensory overload. The RAS determines what gets noticed and what goes unnoticed.

We can illustrate it this way . . .

We bought a Jeep Wrangler a number of years ago. All of a sudden, wherever we went we saw Jeeps! Why -- The reticular activating system. During the pre-Jeep days, my brain didn't have a special space dedicated for a red Wrangler. But once I bought one, my brain had a new cognitive category. Almost unconsciously my mind came to attention when red Wranglers became a blip on my radar screen.

Prayer follows a similar process. Once we pray we create a category in our spiritual reticular activating system. Following a specific prayer, we will take notice when God brings his activity to those unique requests. We created a prayer category.

However, even in prayer none of us can possibly process and give attention to everything that could be stimuli to pray. We must be comfortable and confident that we can know what needs to be noticed -- or go unnoticed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Eagerly Desired

And Jesus said to them, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer . . .
~Luke 22:15~

Century after century God's people had observed Passover -- a portent of God's Son who would become the sacrificial Lamb. For the final three years of those many centuries, Jesus had been striding toward the cross with his jaw set like flint. The finish line came into view. Jesus' wearying journey of desire was nearly complete. He would fulfill the will of his Father and bring into the full light of revelation the shadowy types and promises of the prophets.

Luke, the immaculate historian, relates and records the mood of Jesus, as told by the disciples. Redemptive gravity was pulling the Savior into the valley of the shadow of death, yet not even the horrendous suffering that awaited him could stifle his joy -- he was eager to lay out the implications of being the Passover Lamb.

Today, for Sandy and me, and our new family of faith, musing on the cross was most appropriate. This morning we broke the bread and drank the cup of Communion. Personally, experiencing the celebration of this holy ordinance in our new setting seemed especially fresh and meaningful. Remembering what Christ did, thrilled with what Christ is doing, and looking forward to what Christ has promised, rekindled an eager desire for the things that matter most.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Into the Pit

There was also Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, a valiant warrior from Kabzeel. He did many heroic deeds, which included killing two of Moab's mightiest warriors. Another time he chased a lion down into a pit. Then, despite the snow and slippery ground, he caught the lion and killed it. Another time, armed only with a club, he killed a great Egyptian warrior who was armed with a spear. Benaiah wrenched the spear from the Egyptian's hand and killed him with it. 2 Samuel 23:20-21

I recently read a book that I would like to recommend: In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day. As I began reading it, I found myself highlighting phrase after phrase. I could not put it down. The book revolves around an Old Testament character named Benaiah.

Although biblical references of Benaiah are relatively few, we are introduced to a remarkable and inspirational character -- the kind of man that is desperately needed in our world today. The first time I learned of Benaiah, I was a much younger man trying to eke out a pioneer church plant in northern Maine. During that time, I remember asking God, time after time, to give me the courage to chase my lions -- rather than run from them. Since then, I have slain a few, and I have run from others.

On the back of the book is the teasing question, What if the life you really want, and the future God wants for you is hiding right now in your biggest problem, your worst failure . . .your greatest fear?

Retrospect has taught me that the sanest moments of life are those when we cast safety and convention to the wind, chase down our lions -- our biggest problems, worst failures, greatest fears -- leap into their pits, and kill them.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here and There, and Now and Then

Make it your ambition to live a quiet life, to mind your own business . . . 1 Thessalonians 4:11

Make it your ambition to live a quiet life . . .

Rarely does anyone yoke together the words ambition and quiet -- they seem like opposites. Were we to make a list of the ambitious people we know, most of them would not be considered quiet people.

Yet, real life teaches us that it takes a lot of ambition and intentionality to be quiet. Quietness is not easy to find. Here and there, and now and then, it might prove to be of great benefit to devote chunks of time to ambitiously pursuing the desire to sit quietly, hear no one -- not even our own voice.

Make it your ambition . . .to mind your own business

All of us are drawn into the lives of others. But our well intended involvement in the business of other people can devolve into nothing more than busyness. All too often we do not give enough attention to our own business, and that can be hazardous.

Here and there, and now and then, it might prove to be of great benefit to devote chunks of time to ambitiously pursuing the desire to sit quietly, hear no one, say nothing, and do a personal inventory of our own business.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Violence and the Violent

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Matthew 11:12

John emerged from the desert with a hard-edged message of repentance. The wild man's warnings echoed through the wilderness and bounced off the granite hearts of the Pharisaical. His announcement of Messiah's arrival ushered in a spiritually violent era. From that point on, few who entered Christ's kingdom did so unscathed. Kingdom people suffered unrelenting violence.

And the violent take it [the kingdom] by force. What does this phrase mean?

We know that Jesus is not suggesting that anyone -- in John's day or our day -- can force their way into God's kingdom or through might subdue it. But I am quite sure he is telling us that those engaged in advancing Christ's kingdom are possessed with a non-violent violence -- their advance may be resisted, but it will not be denied.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fragments

Think on these things. Philippians 4:8

I tend to live in the moment and write about life as it happens. In the last 48 hours I have received numerous and seemingly random contacts from people with whom I have shared the Adventure of life, and life with God.

Josh our middle child called, and we talked for a long while about really good stuff -- I am so proud of him. A couple who were in a church plant I did in Maine, nearly 25 years ago, went to the trouble of finding Sandy and me through Facebook -- Don and his wife Jana are in a pastorate in Lima, Montana. A good friend, and a partner in a dynamic men's ministry in Georgia called -- another great conversation. And I received a hand written letter from one of my young Jedi's who trekked China with me -- he is in med-school, brilliant, and praying about how and where he can invest his talents for Kingdom work.

All of a sudden melancholy comes riding in on waves of emotion that wash over me.

So what do we do with such thoughts and feelings? In front of the fragment of Philippians 4:8, the apostle Paul tells us what kinds of things we are to think on -- things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praise worthy.

From a lifetime that is behind me came forth fragments of just such things. I will think on them -- and I will be grateful.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Severed and Slashed

Temperatures here in southeast Massachusetts were in the middle 70's. New England summers and falls things of remarkable beauty. Sandy and I took a couple of friends with us and went for a ride to adore the spectacular foliage that God blesses us with in this part of His world.

It's funny how we sometimes think the grass is greener (or in this case the trees are more colorful) on the other side of the fence. Our time behind the windshield took us on a 126 mile loop into central Massachusetts and back to Norton. Yes, our excursion gave us some glimpses of nature's artistry, but we saw the most exhilarating sights within ten miles of our home! Our Creator's Autumn colors are inimitable -- his imagination intriguing.

Also . . .

We are continuing with a series of messages called -- Advancing the Kingdom. This morning I took a chance and drew a starfish and a spider (more about the spider later) on a huge flip chart. Did you know that nearly every kind of starfish can grow back one of its legs if it is severed? Did you know that in some starfish species the severed leg can grow into another starfish?

The passage in focus was Acts 8:1-4. There we are told: Stephen was martyred, and following his death a great wave of persecution, led by Saul of Tarsus, broke out against the church . . . the apostles remained in Jerusalem, but the believers were scattered and took the message of the gospel wherever they went.

The point? It is plain to see that the success of Christ's church did not hinge on the presence of the apostolic leaders -- they stayed in Jerusalem -- as the scattering Believers brought people into the kingdom. Wherever they went. Without them. God's people, in their very essence and new nature, had everything needed to ensure the kingdom's advance. Severed and slashed, they simply became the DNA of a new Body.

Nothing has changed. Christ never intended that his people lean on and depend upon a few gifted leaders to be the sole governors and guides of the advancement of his church. Leaders are a gift. Leaders have a significant place. But leaders also come and go, and yet, Christ's church moves onward and forward. Why? Because like the starfish, the church Christ is building is indestructible, and inconceivably adaptable, and in every person whose life is Jesus!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cuz

Cuz, a Mainer trapped south of the Mason/Dixon line sent me an e-mail with a subtle reminder that she looks forward to reading my blogs -- when I write -- especially those that have anything to do with New England. I will try to catch up.

First, I ask my friends in Maine to forgive me for not making contact with them even though I was in the Pine Tree State for a couple of days. Besides getting together with my family, I was really busy closing up the camp and getting ready for Sunday. Honest!

I did take some time to sit on the banks of the Penobscot river, soak in the beauty of the colorful Autumn, and journal a few thoughts . . .

The foliage peaked a few days before we arrived at the cabin. Now, leaves are falling like gentle rain drops -- some make it to the river and drift south with the current. Above normal temperatures surround me as the mercury has eked its way above the 70 degree threshold. A few insects have resuscitated enough to make lazy attempts at being a nuisance. Most of the grasses and vegetation on the ground have turned to a drab beige. On the ledges orange and blushing red bushes tremble as a breeze from the southeast surges up the river.

It has been months since we have been here. Right now the sun is staring through a thin layer of clouds as it makes a low arc from east to west. In front of me is Birch Island where for hundreds of years many species of trees have tried to set down roots and make it home, but thousands of red oaks -- unwilling to give-up their lush green leaves -- have made the island their elite community. Few outsiders are allowed.

Soon the beautiful hues will fade, and Fall's deathly shades of browns and grays will be buried beneath a cold, white blanket of snow. As impossible as it may seem, sometime in January or February the temperature will plunge 100 degrees colder than today!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Helm's Deep

On this rock (the revelation that Jesus is the Christ) I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. ~ Jesus words as recorded by Matthew

This morning I started a series of messages called -- Advancing the Kingdom. We started with Jesus' declaration and description of the church he intended: He would build his church; he is the owner of his church; he would advance his church, and nothing could stop his church's mission.

Most people who have belonged to a church have long suspected that there is a disconnect between it and the church Jesus described. Today's message was anything but a beat down. On the contrary, it was the starting place for an emerging new journey. God's people are hungering for the church he promised. We are ready to hand the deed back to the rightful owner. Like the scene from Lord of the Rings -- The Two Towers, we have discovered that retreating to Helm's Deep was a trap. Though our intentions of keeping the enemy out by constructing fortified castles (church buildings) seemed like a good idea, the choice to retreat, rather than engage, was a mistake. Those walls have been breached and their gates stormed.

Beneath the surface of our souls is a growing dissatisfaction, dislike, and disgust for the taste of defeat, and a growing courage, belief, and hope of advance.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Prophet of LIberty -- Champion of the Slave

I love inexpressibly these streets of Boston over whose pavements my mother held up tenderly my baby feet. And if God grants me time enough I will make them too pure to bear the footsteps of a slave. ~ Wendell Phillips 1811-1884

Today Sandy and I took the train into South Station in Boston. It has been over 8 years since we have been in the shadow of the Brownstones. We also walked under ominous clouds along the choppy waters of the Charles River. Stiff, fresh, chilly winds braced us every step of the way.

Our trek included Trinity Church. We exited the busy, noisy streets and entered its sanctuary. I find it impossible to describe the beauty of the architecture, or the piety of the pews and the kneelers. How many petitioning Believers had knelt before God pouring out expressions of faith. Elevated high above the floor hung the ornate pulpit. From that lofty perch, some of the greatest Christian orators in our country's history delivered the Word of God. Stained glass windows surrounded us, and colorfully filtered the natural light, creating a mystical atmosphere.

After leaving Trinity we criss-crossed Copley Square and Plaza. In the middle is Boston Public Gardens -- set apart from the enormous high rises by wrought iron fences. Once inside, we meandered the paths that circled the lagoon, and from time to time stopped to read the platitudes carved into marble and granite pedestals. Atop the stone foundations stood likenesses of long deceased heroes. Frozen in time, they stand as silent spokesmen of a time when the freedom of a continent and marginalized peoples hung in the balance.

Beginning this post is the quote that caused deep emotions to well up inside me. When written, it was intended to speak against the unspeakable -- slavery. How did minds once reconcile something so egregious. Phillips, the Prophet of liberty -- Champion of the slave, would not.

As troubling as that era of such inhumane actions against another human was, I was struck even harder by a present conviction -- my calling as a Christ-follower. Upon my feet the Spirit has given me the shoes of the gospel of peace. For however long they are allowed to tread this earth, the noblest journey they could ever venture is to make them too pure to bear the footsteps of a slave of sin.

Bill Shorey ~ December 16, 1955 -- 20_ _

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Different Conclusions

Statistics: The only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions. ~ Evan Esar

Did you listen to the Vice Presidential debate?

What will the experts say?