Thursday, June 18, 2009

Down From the Mountain

Or, this could be subtitled, “Lessons from Annual Conference!” (This could fall under “don’t get me started!” But, if you want to know more – call or e-mail me and I’ll go into more detail.)

I just returned from our Church’s Annual Conference, which is held at Lake Junaluska, NC. It was (as always) an awesome week. The music was uplifting and inspiring. The preaching was amazing. The ordination and commissioning services gave me chills, and touched my heart.

And the teaching was… well… let me just say this – never before have I ever seen an altar call given at Annual Conference, and especially after a teaching session on how to preach and lead worship! Our Bishop was moved to tears (and so were a couple thousand people!)

We left there with our heads swirling and our hearts bursting!

And then we came home.

And maybe it was just me, but the clouds and storms that engulfed us as we left that place seemed to mirror my mood. Maybe I was just tired – after all, the days were long, and the walking… well, let’s just say “thank goodness for the trolley!”

But, my ankles were hurting and then feeling like I’d made a fool of myself didn’t help matters any, and I began thinking of others who’d come “down from the mountain” as well.

When Moses came “down from the mountain” there were the Israelites with that dog-gone golden calf!

When Elijah came “down from the mountain” there was Jezebel and her threats.

When Jesus and “the three” came “down from the mountain” there were those hopeless disciples with that man and his demonic son… does nothing ever change?

And I began thinking about Bishop Marion Edwards’ sermon on Tuesday evening. The title was “Who Will Come and Go with Me?” and his Old Testament scripture was Exodus 14:10-15, where the Children of Israel have left Egypt and have come to the Red Sea.

They have mountains to the right, and mountains to the left, the Egyptians behind them, and the Red Sea in front of them, and they cry out to Moses… “This is all your fault! Were there no graves in Egypt so that you had to bring us out here to die? Is that it?!”

I wrote in my notes, “Leading, when no one wants to follow…” Sometimes that’s what I feel like (and I bet you do too…)

My “Psalm per week” this week is Psalm 77, and once again, God has spoken to my heart.

The “title” for this Psalm in my NRSV Bible is “God’s Mighty Deeds Recalled” and in it the writer cries out to God saying that he is so weary of crying that “my soul refuses to be comforted…”

But then in verses 11-13 he says, “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work, and muse on Your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?”

And with that I call to mind, again, the songs of praise, and the altar call… that gut-wrenching, knees-buckling, soul-humbling, altar call on Tuesday night… and I know, God is in control.

Back to the scripture in Exodus… Moses tried to give the Israelites a pep-talk - “just hang in there… it’ll be ok… but then he turned (where no one could see him, I suspect) and cried out to God. And when Moses cries out to God there on the shores of the Red Sea, God says to him, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward!”

In other words, “Don’t sit around belly-aching about the problems. Go forward!” And the question comes back, “How do you lead when no one wants to follow?” And the answer is, “Lead anyway!”

And so members of Holston (and any other leaders) “Lead Anyway!” Our church is depending on you!

Our Father… it is so very difficult to lead. We just don’t feel adequate for the task. Our enemy attacks us with, “Well, who do you think you are to be leading…” and “Ha! You really made a fool of yourself that time! Why don’t you just keep your mouth shut?”

But yet, You have not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, and love and discipline; not just power, but we are to lead with love, and self-control… Oh God, be in us that power, and that love and that discipline, for “ours” is so very weak.

Bless this Church, O Lord, and all others who stand in their own denominations. We are but cracked and blemished vessels in which You have chosen to pour Your Own Spirit. May we lead with Your Power, Your Love and Your Control… And when no one wants to follow – give us courage to lead anyway!

In Jesus’ Holy Name, we pray – Amen.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

No Fudging

It came to me today, maybe why we sinners think that God will “cut us some slack” when it comes to sin. Why we think, “well, it’s just a ‘little’ sin. It’s not as bad as…” (name your comparison); maybe why we think we can “fudge” a little on the “judgment thing.”

Didja ever play marbles? Once you start to shoot your marble, there’s no “fudging” – no moving the marble from its starting place; no “repositioning”; no moving closer to the target for a better shot. And if you mess up… well, the marble has to stay where it is.

I thought about this today as I was driving up I-40 in the middle lane, and cars were passing me on both sides. The speed limit is 60, and I was going 65. Still, cars were passing (literally) right and left!

The thought went through my mind that, “You know… they pretty much ‘give you’ 5 mph before writing a ticket, but this is ridiculous!

Then I thought back to a meeting yesterday (Methodists will understand this.) In our “apportionment” system, knowing that the Conference will never collect 100% of the apportionments allotted for all the churches, they purposely set the amount higher, so that the amount that does come in will be somewhat close to what is needed…

In apportionments as in speed limits, why can’t it just be “set” what it needs to be, and then made compulsory for everybody? No fudging.

We seem to expect to fudge a little on everything. Maybe that’s why we expect the same in our lives before God.

God does not allow “fudging.” As a friend of mine says, “It is, what it is!” Sin is sin, period. If you’ve not murdered anyone, nor stolen from anyone, but have at some point in your life, told a lie – you’re just as sinful as any murderer sitting on death row.

James says, (James 2:10) “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” No fudging.

No rationalizing, no whitewashing, no fudging. The penalty for sin is set in stone, “the wages of sin is death” no exceptions. No setting it higher so that we can get “close enough.” No “padding” it to make allowances. It must be paid. And it was. Purely through the Grace and Mercy of God, by the blood of Jesus Christ are we saved.

The difference is we want to fudge – but God wants to forgive.

Father, open our eyes to see areas of our lives where we’ve made compromises. May we, starting this very hour, remove all “fudging” from our lives. Help us to stand firm, confessing all, and seeking Your forgiveness. In Jesus’ Name – Amen.

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