Sunday, August 31, 2014

Confessions...

But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name." his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary holding it in; indeed, I cannot. ~ Jeremiah 20:9

Church this morning had a predictably lower attendance and even lower energy. SEC Football, coupled with Labor Day weekend seems to leave the community gathering with little more than the dregs of focus and attention. Speaking as a preacher, I try to steel myself against the inevitable, the letdown, but it drains me. It is more than psychological, it is spiritual. There is a noticeable disconnect as we gather to worship the Creator.

I know, I know, it's part and parcel of the culture we reach out to. But nonetheless, I struggle with the reality of our obsession with mainstream life versus our ambivalence toward eternal realities.

After "church," I laid face-down on our bed. In a funk. Covered not by a blanket, but, instead, weariness. I slept, awakened, took a walk, and settled in with my family and guests. Tomorrow, I will once again open my Bible, read it silently, then aloud. Look at each noun, verb, adjective and adverb, all the while asking God to make it real to me. I will ask for the faith to believe it is indeed the living Word of God. I will ask for spiritual guidance to "rightly divide it." I will ask for strength to live it.

Confessions…




Saturday, August 30, 2014

Company

Josh and Sammy are here. Cordelia is here. Ben is on the way from UGA. Ribs from Billy's are here in abundance. We love the company of our kids and their friends. The Shire is a most peaceful place, and  Sandy and I find great pleasure in the fact that our guests seem to melt into its tranquility. Their stay will be short, so the agenda is simple… relax. Sooo, conversing, napping, reading, and chilling has ruled the day.

As the sun rose, we drank coffee and sat on the farmer's porch. Our entertainment was a doe with twin fawns bolting across the field from east to west, and then settling into a shaded corner of the pasture to  forage the freshly mowed fields. After a while, I took the RZR for a spin across Standing Boy Creek. Up and down the network of trails I went, breaking through hundreds of spiderwebs that form a dragnet for anything that moves. Wooded ridges and bottom land that grows thick with vegetation make up the topology. Incredible. Blessed.

The skies have alternated between blazing swords of sunbeams hot enough to wilt anything bearing life, and billowy cloud castles that cruise across the heavens leaving great shadows upon the earth and whipping up brief solar winds that give momentary respites from the heat. To the northeast someone has turned their backyard into a target range. I suspect it's for black powder weapons. Throughout the day they bellow from time to time. A hunter getting his long gun sighted-in for the brief primitive arms hunting season that will be upon us soon?

Speaking of hunting…

Next week I will take my twenty-plus year old compound bow to an archery shop and have it tuned. My friend, Scott, told me. "Don't let them talk you into a new one. The one I have is fine." I agree. It's been three years since I have sat in a tree stand clothed in camouflage waiting for the darkness around me to lighten to ever increasing values of silver dawn. There is a rhythm in nature of sights and sounds that you can't experience any other way. I could care less if I fill a tag.

An armadillo has been tearing up our yard (my northeast friends have never seen the damage they can do. Like little bulldozers running amok) and has dug out a den beneath our our stack of firewood. Ben, Josh, and I will evict him….

Ben just arrived!   

Friday, August 29, 2014

Prelude

The undulating acres of pasture around The Shire are freshly mowed, filling the air with a splendid aroma. Sitting on the farmer's porch, aromatic wafts of air awaken our sense of smell. According to the weatherman, much needed rain showers will visit at first light. With a little moisture, the bristle-stiff amber stocks remaining will magically transform into emerald blades of grass.

A raft of turkeys have been scratching for food in the fields of late. Nearly every day they bounce across the prairie-like landscape with their peculiar strut, their light colored heads bobbing up and down as the sun reflects off their dark feathered bodies. As many as a dozen have been gleaning mother nature's bounty.

Sandy and I got on the RZR and cruised the shaded perimeter of the wood line and circled the peaceful face of the pond. Then we took the cool, shadowy, tree canopied woods road down toward Standing Boy Creek. It's nearly dry now, a mere trickle, shouldered on either side by golden sandbars and gnarled roots that protrude from the banks.

It's all a prelude to a great weekend. Josh arrives later tonight. Over the next couple of days he and I will thread through the cross-stitch of trails amid the 1200 acres that surround us.

Sometimes this spot on God's earth seems too good to be true…


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Peace and Fear: A Beautiful Melody...

The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it become stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers. ~ Acts 9:31

Have you ever stopped to think about what it must have been like for the early Church to grow spiritually--into an increasing head and heart knowledge and intimacy with Jesus? No canonized [New Testament] Scriptures, only scant dispatches of verbal testimony from the apostles as their remembrances of Christ's teachings trickled out from Jerusalem and occasional eye-witness evidence of those same apostles' transformed lives. Try to imagine their dependence on the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God in their lives. A holy niggling worked at their souls' level, urging them toward Christ-likeness and conforming them to His image--validating the new life that Jesus promised.

As far as we can tell, miles of distance and the scrambling that results from fleeing for their lives had to have broken down the lines of human communication. Yet, once again, we see the essence of being a believer--the indwelling and affirming presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ in heaven, just as he promised, spoke into their hearts, confirmed His promises, encouraged them, and urged them forward, through the Spirit in them that was the exact likeness of Himself.

Beautiful and paradoxical, is it not? Peace and fear seem to be in such discord. Yet, think about it...their spirits were fine tuned to a complex melody: Chords of the fear of God harmonizing with the chords of the peace of God and orchestrating a spiritual symphony in their souls. Reverence of God expanded, and a crescendo of strength resulted. Peace that passes understanding, and fear that speaks to reverence toward the unseen God, equalled growth in their innermost being, and their worldwide influence, as the Church that Christ was building, expanded...

  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Higher Ground...

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord's followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. 
As he was approaching Damascus on the mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?" 
"Who are you, lord?" Saul asked. And the voice replied, "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." 
[After these events] The church had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers. ~ Acts 9:1-2; 31

Under duress, the Church that Christ was building left the building--the Temple. Saul of Tarsus, on the heels of the martyrdom of Stephen and unsatisfied with the bloodletting of a single saint, stayed hot on the heels of the fleeing Christ-followers, dead set on dragging them back to Jerusalem in shackles. Driven by an unholy hatred, Saul's lynch mob, with the written blessings of the high priest, left no stone unturned and no safe place for the harassed refugees of the Way. 

Then Saul of Tarsus, the hunter, became the hunted. From his seat at the right hand of the Father, Christ ran him down and knocked him down--confronted him and converted him. The persecutor of the the Way became a preacher of the Way!

At last... the harried and harassed Church was at peace.

What now? Would the neophyte followers shift into neutral? Would the Great Commission of Christ be de-commissioned? Would they relax, and get lax? Would they move on to higher ground or just hold their ground?

What lessons does this moment in the lives of the first believers hold for the lives of present day believers like us? How do we respond to "peace?"

That's what I will be talking about at 11 a.m., next Sunday at First Baptist Church in Phenix City, Alabama….

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fall...

Playfully, a breeze puffs at the tall hay in the pasture that shyly bends away. Willowy limbs of the oaks and pines are only tickled and jiggle.

Blemishes appear on the face of the pond as its taut liquid skin is disrupted by skittering ripples and concentric rings which reveal evidence of unseen forces above and beneath its reflective surface.

Soon, the night air will cool beckoning us to build a fire within the ring of stones that cozy up to its edges.

Fall is patiently making its way to The Shire and will transform the green wreath that surrounds us into a diadem of beautiful colors.

Each day, dusk reminds us that the sun's strength is waining, its arch flattening, its daylight shortening, its shadows hastening.

Summer and winter and spring time and harvest
Sun moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
of Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love
Great is the faithfulness... 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Back And Forth

At the cabin in Maine, the thin red line of the thermometer quit climbing at 66 degrees! It will be at least a couple of months before the mercury begins descending that low at The Shire in Georgia. As I sat in my red canvas chair and journaling, the sun was a whitish-silver glow with undefined edges and slowly slipping behind the tree line. Colorful strobes, broadcasting out from its center to the east and west, eventually dissipated.

Ordinarily there is a sandbar directly across from the cabin on the west bank of the Penobscot. But this past winter a record snowfall, quick spring thaw, and heavy rains caused several different floods. Millions of cubic feet of broiling water forced its way through the narrow immovable ledges and around the two giant boulders in the channel and tumbled the sand/gravel beach further to the south.

Sitting on the porch, I could see a section of the river where the sight-lines are broken-up by trees that reach high into the fading summer skies. Perched on the bare limb of an oak, its talons clinched around a branch the size of my wrist, sat an immature eagle perfectly silhouetted against the evening dusk. Its curved beak, and mottled feathers were clearly distinguishable. Turning its head back and forth, it scanned the wood line for an evening snack.

It's Thursday morning and my fingers bounce on the keyboard as I transfer my journal to this blog. I am comfortably seated on a bus (with wi-fi) having just left Bangor and on my way to Boston. Soon, I will be in the company of Justin, Erika, and The Amazing Wyatt! Our kids are settling into temporary housing until they find longer-term housing. As some of you know, their home was destroyed by a tornado a couple of weeks ago. BTW--they had almost no loss of personal items due to the tornado. However, the city would not let them retrieve most of their belongings, because the building was structurally unsafe to enter. That didn't deter the thieves that broke in last Saturday and took what they could carry off.

I can't wait to see Justin and Erika, and roll around on the floor with Wyatt! It's all good...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Where Is The Evidence?

They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit… [and] the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith… While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed… "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Acts 6:5, 7; 7:59

The death of Stephen, a man full of grace, power, and the Holy Spirit is the detailed narrative of the churches first martyr in the New Testament. James, another martyr and the brother of John, is given a single sentence. Yet, going forward--from Stephen and James--the evidence (and cost) of living in the Spirit in Scripture paints a stark contrast to what we see in the hundreds of sermons and books that present the presence of the Spirit of God in one's life as evidenced by: blissful ease, endless (though rarely substantiated) miracles, good health, excessive wealth, and unparalleled success in all endeavors.

Reading through the record of the Book of Acts regarding Stephen (and Peter and Paul and Phillip, etc), you see the one prevailing work and evidence of the Holy Spirit that never subsides--the salvation of people. The message of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection--the substance of God's love for fallen mankind and His desire and power to save them--was always intended to be the most defining example of the Spirit of God filling His people and at work amongst them.

How things have changed…