Friday, August 29, 2014

Daily Lesson for August 29, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Psalm 16 verse 3:

"As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones."

Let me be straight with you -- the church ain't perfect. As has often been said, if you ever find a perfect church then please don't join it as once you become a member it will no longer be perfect.

On her worst days the church can really break our hearts. She  has her people who will make you want to pull out your hair. She has her factions that will make you want to do the same. She can be small-minded, petty, too set in her ways, and guaranteed to painfully disappoint us at some point. And I haven't even mentioned the preaching .  .  .

But on her best days the church is the people who keep the faith, forgive us our trespasses, bear our burdens, heal our broken hearts, show up with a casserole, pay respects at the visitation, and look after the widow and orphan.

No one should go without such a community.

The great Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight was 91 years of age when his 26-year-old wife finally got him to going to church. He joined the church not long before he died at 93. When asked what kind of church it was Goodnight replied characteristically, "I don't know what kind of church it is; but it's a damn good one."

That's right.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Daily Lesson for August 28, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from these words:

"Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
If your children have sin against him,
he delivers them into the hand of their transgression.
If you will seek God
and plead with the Almighty for mercy,
if you are pure and upright,
surely then he will rouse himself for you
and restore your rightful habitation." *

These are words most of us can agree with.  God is just and upholds the right. Our children must be taught that what they wow they shall reap. God is full of compassion and mercy and will answer when prevailed upon by the pure of heart.  

These are words we can agree on -- except one thing; they were spoken by one of Job's friends.  And after losing home, and health, and children for no known reason, these words we can usually all agree on must have felt like three tons of salt spewing forth from his friend's mouth into Job's wounds.

Sometimes a truth we can usually all agree on isn't so true. Sometimes it's bromide. Sometimes it's acid rain. And sometimes its better just to keep silent presence than it is to say anything at all.

That's especially true when it comes to other people's suffering.

*Scripture is from Job 8:3-6

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Daily Lesson for August 27, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Acts chapter 10:

Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour2 to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

This story marks a seismic shift in the religion that would soon come to be known as Christianity. Before this day, it was assumed that if one were to follow in the way of Jesus of Nazareth one needed to keep the customary Jewish dietary restrictions of the time. This went for Jews as well as for Gentile converts, who up until then had also been required to be circumcised. But in today's story the mold was broken. No longer would these things be required.  What was suitable for the past was no longer suitable for the present; God was doing a new thing.

There is a 19th century hymn called "Once to Every Man and Nation" which extolled the struggle to end slavery in America. Among its noble lines are these words:

"New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth."

Some people always wish for us to hold on to old mores. But truth is out ahead of us -- teaching us new ways of thinking and doing and showing us the ways in which "the good old days" weren't all good. 

During his ministry, Jesus taught saying, "You have heard it said . . . But I say to you." And on the last night of his life he said, "I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." 

God's revelation is progressive -- and there is yet even more truth to be made known.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Daily Lesson for August 26, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Acts chapter 9 verse 39:

39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them.

A woman had died. Her name was dorcas, which means gazelle. She was a woman known throughout the village for her great compassion and care. She had spent her days using her sewing talents to make tunics and other items of clothing for the poor in the village. Who knows where she herself got the money for the materials, but somehow she always made ends meet. And who knows how many she clothed, but she was always ready to dress the next child or adult who showed up naked on her doorstep. When she passed away, the Apostle Peter was taken to the upper room which was full of dresses and tunics ready to be given away when the next one came. She died in the upper room, surrounded by the works she had done for the poor. It was a beautiful thing to behold -- like a gazelle.

On Friday night our church hosted a fundraising banquet for the annual mission trip we take to Haiti in the fall. Helping to decorate the stage were a dozen or so vibrantly patterned dresses a group of women from our church have made which our group will take to the children of Haiti. All in all, this group of small group of women have dressed a thousand children in Haiti and other Central American and African countries.  A small group of women, meeting in the afternoons in a tiny little Sunday school room in our church, where they do their part to dress the world -- and they do it with joy.

The Bible says our deeds follow us. No doubt, when it is these women's time to go to their own Upper Room, they like Dorcas shall also find themselves surrounded by the works they have done. And that shall be a beautiful thing to behold also.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Daily Lesson for August 25, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Philippians 1 verse 6:

"He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it."

Yesterday was a great day in the life of our church as we celebrated our 56th anniversary as a congregation. One of our former senior pastors Hardy Clemons, who led our church for 21 years, was our guest proclaimer for the occasion. His text was from the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippians, a letter written by a pastor to his former church:

"I thank God for you every time I remember you. In all my prayers for you I always pray with joy, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to carry it on to completion on the day of Christ Jesus."

After the service, we went outside for a service of groundbreaking for the memorial columbarium our church is building on the south side of our property. The text for that service was from Genesis 23, where Abraham selected a plot of ground to bury his wife Sarah.

I shared with those gathered there that the site Abraham chose to bury Sarah was the only piece of the promised land he ever owned. Promised by God long before that one day the land would be his and his children's children, Abraham had come near the end of his life without it having come to pass. Yet, when Sarah passed he was steadfast in securing that plot in order to bury her in the promised land.

It occurs to me that in making that purchase Abraham must have known that he would not live long enough to see the promise fully realized. And so, Abraham's purchase of the land was a kind of token, a sign of his trust in God's promise, and his trust in future generations' ability to live out the promise. In other words, what Abraham was saying to his children with the purchase of that piece of land was that even though he may not have seen the promise come true in his time, he still believed in it, and was going ahead and staking his claim on it.

In other words, Abraham was saying to his sons the same thing Paul was saying to the church at Philippi and Hardy was saying to us: "He who began a good work . . . will be faithful to carry it on to completion."

That's a good and hopeful word from one generation to the next.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Daily Lesson for August 22, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Job 2:10:

"Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

A truth we must face in this life is that nothing is guaranteed.  If we go on living life as if the world or God owes us something then one day we are sure to be terribly disappointed. We can live life thinking if we are good boys or good girls then nothing bad will happen to us or our families; but bad things do happen to good people -- then what?

One of my childhood pastors John Claypool showed me how to accept life on its own terms with strength and grace. Before coming to our church John lost his little girl Lara Lou.  Afterward, he wrote a book about his journey in which he told about how one night in the throes of his own grief and unable to sleep he got up from bed and went and pulled down a commentary on Abraham's binding of Isaac by Gerhardt Van Rod. John said up until that night he had always held that story at some distance, as though it were something vestigial from an ancient pagan time and practice where parents sacrificed their children to placate their gods. But reading Van Rod's commentary opened for John a new way of understanding the story that night. John said Van Rod revealed a new meaning to the story, as it asked Abraham whether he remembered "where Isaac came from, that life is gift, that birth is windfall, and that all is finally coming to us from grace? Or had he gotten possessive of something that had first of all belonged to God?" 

That night set John down the path of healing he continued to walk all the days of his life. And as he walked, he showed the rest of us the way.

Life is gift; to accept it we must accept it with its terms and with its conditions and its very limited guarantees. But accept it we must.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Daily Lesson for August 21, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson is from Job chapter 1 verses 4 and 5:

4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

One of the difficult, yet fundamental terms of life we as parents must learn to accept is the fact that we cannot protect our children from all of the dangers in this world - including the danger they are to themselves. Try as we might; at some point we have to realize a lot of life is left to chance and some to choice, but is beyond our ability to control - and that includes our ability to control things with our own religious faith and practices.

Job's children were party types while Job was a classic family member of a problemed drinker. Job fretted and worried about their drinking and what they did while they drank. He then turned to his religion to try to make atonement for them - in other words, he tried to buy God's protection over them with his own religious fidelity.

Here is a tough truth; life just doesn't work that way. We can't pray or pledge or volunteer enough to ever guarantee they will be safe and sound with a hedge of protection surrounding them. There are no quid pro quo guarantees like that in life and those who think there are will eventually be heartbroken.

Here's another alternative. Rather than trying to buy God's favor over our children's lives, we can learn to trust that God already favors them, that God loves them, and that God goes with them - even into that far country Prodigal Children like to go to. And, yes, even into death.

We can trust God with our children, and we can trust our children with God; and if we can learn to trust these things then we shall already have the one thing a parent needs to make it through any circumstance: serenity.