Monday, November 26, 2012

Black Friday

My plans for the day involved a rake, roar
of blower, hours of bending and bagging
and yet leaves shower down like thick confetti.
This party is nowhere near over.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bring Your Umbrella

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him (Acts 12:5).

Years ago I had the privilege of serving as pastor to a wonderful group of people in a community that had a long history as a farming community. It was not uncommon, especially during the long parched days of summer, for rain to be mentioned as a “prayer request.” On one occasion an older member of the congregation recounted to me how in times past they used to gather for specially called prayer meetings to pray for rain. Folks who came to the prayer meeting often brought umbrellas with them.

The umbrellas may have been a symbolic gesture, but I think it was more than that. I think the umbrellas spoke to their confident faith. Bringing an umbrella to the prayer meeting was a quiet way of declaring that God would respond to the prayers of his people. In my mind, those umbrellas also spoke to the church’s power. We don’t make it rain, but we pray to the God who gives rain and all good things.

There is a wonderful story in Acts 12 about prayer and power. Things were not going well for the church. James, the brother of John, had recently been executed by King Herod. Not long after that, Herod had Peter arrested and assigned sixteen soldiers to guard him. We are told that as Peter sat in prison “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5).

Making a fairly long story less long, an angel of the Lord appeared and escorted Peter from his prison cell in miraculous fashion. Once free and clear of the jail house, Peter went to the place where a prayer meeting was being held – very likely a prayer meeting for Peter.

Peter knocked on the door. When the servant girl Rhoda announced to the praying Christians that Peter was at the door, they didn’t believe her. They told he she was nuts, out of her mind (Acts 12:15).

These were not the kind of Christians who brought their umbrellas to the prayer meeting. Nevertheless, God answered in power.

The church’s only true source of power is prayer. Nothing of lasting significance happens without it. There are other aspects of church life that appear powerful: large crowds, impressive facilities, wide-ranging programs of all kinds for all ages. But apart from prayer these are wires without current.

Far too many of us will show up to pray, but we don’t bring an umbrella. At some deep level, we’re not sure anything will come of our prayers. Said another way, we’re busy at church but we’re not especially powerful. When Peter shows up at the door, we refuse to believe it.

We need the church, but not because we need something more to do. Most of us are already busy enough. We need the church because we need to pray. We need others to pray for us and we need to be praying for others. That’s where power comes from.

So pray. And while you’re at it, be sure to bring your umbrella.

Too often, O God, we live in ignorance of the power you make available to us. We pray with low expectations and we live as if it all depends on us. Move your people to bold prayer, trusting your promises and resting in your grace. Through our prayers grant your power and change our world, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Fool

And I will say to my Soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ (Luke 12:19)

Jesus had a strong word for anyone who calls someone a ‘fool.’ Hold your tongue. Restrain your anger. If you call your brother or sister a ‘fool’ you’ll be liable to the hell of fire. Best to drop that word from your vocabulary (Matt. 5:22).

But then Jesus told a story about a successful businessman, blessed with good fortune and skilled in leveraging it to maximize his profits. He was by every measure a very smart man. But in Jesus’ story God sums up this man’s life with one word: ‘Fool.’

My question: Why was this man a fool? What was it that God saw that merited this judgment?

Interestingly, these two scripture texts use a different Greek word for ‘fool.’ The word that Jesus forbade, the one which places our souls at peril, is the root of our English word ‘moron.’ It is a derogatory word, an insult. By contrast, the word God speaks in judgment upon the savvy rich man is a different word. God is not insulting the successful farmer. God is simply telling the truth, as God always does.

Sometimes ‘fool’ is an outburst, a slanderous word spoken in anger. But sometimes ‘fool’ is a word of truth. A person may rightly be named a fool because that’s exactly how they have chosen to live.

Note that God’s word of judgment is spoken at the very end of the man’s life. For this reason we may rightly regard this man’s death as tragic. The tragedy is not in how he died, for we do not know that. His death is not tragic because of when he died, for we know nothing of his age. The man’s death is tragic because of how he lived.

Embedded in Jesus’ story is the brief mission statement by which the main character had chosen to live. In our culture, whether consciously or not, so many have adopted the same mission statement. Lay up ample goods . . . relax . . . eat . . . drink . . . be merry.

The man in Jesus’ parable was not a fool because he was successful. He was not a fool because planned well and managed his resources wisely. He was not a fool because he built bigger barns. He was a fool because the aim of all of this was his own comfort. All of it was directed back at the self. The highest aim of his life was accumulation for the purpose of indulgence.

Such aims are not worthy of your life. Upon such a life God will pronounce his judgment. To use our energies and resources and intelligence to create a self-serving existence is foolish.

So, work hard. Manage well. Invest wisely. Grow your business. Advance your career. But live for something worthy of the gift of life. Use every grace that is yours to glorify the one who gave it to you. This is why you were made. This is why you are here.

Rightly used, earthly treasure reveals God as our greatest treasure. Where and how are you “laying up treasure” today?

Guard us, O God, from foolish living. Make us thankful for your gifts and grant us wisdom in using them well. But keep our hearts from loving the gifts above you, the giver. Make us bold to use what we have for glory of your name in this world, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.