Friday, September 26, 2014

The Safest Place

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. Psalm 57:1 (NIV)

The other day I went out the back door and noticed that a Mocking Bird was unusually nearby. As I ventured further out in the backyard, the bird’s squawking became an intrusion to the otherwise peaceful afternoon. It seemed that wherever I went, the bird was noisily complaining to me, as if I had angered her.

As I passed by a particular bush, I noticed the bird became even more agitated. That’s when I heard the chirps of baby birds coming from deep inside the bush. I realized then that it wasn’t the bird that was an intrusion to me, but rather it was me that was an intrusion to her and the babies she was tending.

Over the next few days I watched the mother bird feed and tend to her young. One afternoon, our area was hit with a violent storm, and I wondered how the baby birds had fared. After the storm had passed, I ventured out to the bush and peeled back several layers of thick brush. There were the babies, nestled quietly under the outstretched wings of their momma. The mother bird hardly moved as she saw me peering in. I imagined how secure those young ones must have felt under the wings of their guardian.

It’s that way for us, too. The safest place in any storm is right under the wings of God. He watches over us and protects us. Like the loving attention of the mother bird for her young, He cares for us and meets our needs.

Still, the safety we experience is directly related to how closely we align ourselves to His presence. In the greatest storms of life, the deepest security we can know is found in the shadow of His wings.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Red

     The summers I worked up at camp during college gave me a love for the wonder of times-gone-by. I worked on the maintenance crew and most of the camp vehicles and equipment, though well maintained, were discards from bygone days reclaimed from garages and farm yards across the Midwest. My favorite - all the guy’s favorite, was an old truck we affectionately called Red.
     Red was a burly ride made of thick unyielding steel, not like today’s trucks. She was a real work horse; the kind of pickup that turned boys into men; a 1968 four wheel drive International step side with a 400 cubic inch V8 and a Holly four barrel carburetor. Red was a real piece of hard working machinery – she was the pride and joy of our crew and it made you feel important to as much as mention that you had been for a ride. Our chests swelled each time we climbed up inside and there was almost always a momentary pause as we sat there basking in the dusty aroma of aged steel and a mixture of old grease and motor oil. Sometimes we’d catch ourselves running a hand across the dash or seat just to take in the rich history and absorb her strength…and then the key was turned.
     Every ride was an adventure but what I remember most was not so much the fun of driving this powerful piece of Americana but the want of riding shotgun. For me that was the favored seat; the spot where you could feel every bump and experience the adventure without the arduous labor of operating the antique.
     I felt like a king riding up high in that seat - we all did. The ride was euphoric; you just couldn’t help but feel it. The stiff bounce given off by the steel springs in the seat never seemed like an inconvenience – you actually yearned for it, anticipating each bump in the road and each shift of the stick. They were all part of the mystique of the ride and served as reminders of the heft of metal and the craftsmanship and they spoke to you about the bulk of power that was at your hands. Sometimes as we rode along with our elbows perched out the windows and the warm summer breeze wafting through we’d look at each other, knowingly. No one ever said it but we all knew they just didn’t make em’ like Red anymore.
     Occasionally we’d get the assignment to run into town to the hardware store. We’d always swing by the local drive in. It just seemed fitting to stop at the Trojan Horse. Red belonged at the Horse and so we’d pull up to the panel, press the big red button and bark out a request for a couple of Root Beers and some fries. Then we’d sit there, mostly in silence, with the soft summer Wisconsin air swirling through the cab and we’d savor the moments before our reluctant return.
     Once while cutting a half mile logging trail through the woods we got Red stuck between two trees as we rounded a corner on the moss covered trail. The only way out was to gun it and hope for the best. The trees shook and shuttered while bark screeched and squealed against the doors and truck bed. After making it through the impasse we got out to assess the damage to find almost no evidence of the scrape. Red was just plain tough and we used that truck for everything we could think of; we ripped stumps out of the ground and pulled loaded hay wagons; we hauled trailers weighed down with camper luggage, we moved countless loads of firewood and pulled tractors out of the mud when they got stuck.  Every new challenge sent a renewed wave of exhilaration through our team of young sleeveless studs and there wasn’t one assignment that ever held Red back.
     What I wouldn’t give even now for just one more shotgun ride. Those were the good years – the golden days of youth and still all my memories lean in toward Red and the grand privilege of riding shotgun. I’ve always felt this same way about my role in the church. Yes, there are perils and sometimes her ways seem antiquated but the joy of the ride outweighs it all. These are the golden years, this is the ride of my life and I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner.
     You may not be the driver; the one who sets the major direction of your church; the shotgun rider never is and perhaps that’s why you were drawn to read these lines. If you are in a large church you may not have much to do with the direction of the church at all but you certainly have a substantial role and influence over her – way more than you know. The big picture of the church; what people in your community say about her is germinated in a thousand little conversations in the hallways, the kitchens and in the youth rooms of your church. Her success is largely the sum of the actions of the shotgun riders; of the way you carry out each responsibility and each assignment. The success of your church is wrapped up in the totality of the ways in which you handle each criticism and frustration. These are the interactions where parishioners, where sinners, where parishioners who are sinners find the love of Christ, and where vital church life and health are built.
     I’ve spent half a pastoral career as a shotgun rider and I’ve seen the best and worst of church vitality, and still I love the ride. I’m thrilled beyond measure, and humbled, that a holy God would allow me to climb up in for the ride; to have any part at all in what He is doing in His kingdom and in people’s lives. Yes, there have been a lot of frustrating times along the way. Yes, there have been times I’ve considered leaving it all behind. But He always draws me back, back to my calling and to my love for His work. All in all there’s nowhere I’d rather be right now than in this seat. So if you get one thing here it’s this - you can and will make a difference as you faithfully follow the call of the ride. You will, in time, leave behind a legacy of lasting worth.         
    
For you my friend…
are the shotgun rider.


…An excerpt from Shotgun Rider: Restoring Passion for the Ministry Trail, by Doug Brown
    (Available February 2015)

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Big Goal



Isaiah 44:24 (NIV)
“This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord,
    the Maker of all things,
    who stretches out the heavens,
    who spreads out the earth by myself,”

     Terence Cunningham has a big goal.  He wants to raise enough money to put an indestructible copy of the Bible on the moon.  You ask why?  So that it can be preserved in an uncorrupted state for all time.  His project will cost $70 million and will require a rocket and lunar landing vehicle.  Terence told news reporters that on the moon the Bible could be protected in the event that our civilization is destroyed.  It makes one wonder, if our civilization is destroyed who will be able to go to the moon and retrieve this copy, or who would care and as it says in I Peter 1:25, God’s Word endures forever.  God’s Word does not need our help in its preservation.  It has endured thousands of years of attacks and burnings and the like. 

God Doesn’t Need our Help
     Neither does our sovereign God need our assistance in sustaining this world, balancing the stars in the heavens or completing His work of regenerating sinners.  The Lord is a self-sufficient God.  It is small minded to think He needs our help in any way, really.  How utterly ridiculous, to think that our holy and sovereign God, the Creator of the universe, needs anything from us at all.

God Desires our Participation
     We forget that sometimes, don’t we?  We forget that He is self-sustaining and all-sufficient.  We tend to make plans as if God can’t do it without us.  So there’s something that seems a bit prideful about thinking that God needs our help.  You know, it is amazing that He wishes to interact with us on any level and yet He does.  He is indeed, all-powerful, and yet He is knowable and desires His created ones to be in communion with Him.  And He does assign us work to do here on earth as a way to serve Him. 

1 Samuel 12:24 (NASB)
Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.”

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hardly a Role Model

1 Kings 21:25-26 (NIV)
There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.

I recently met a young girl who said her name was Jezebel.  I thought how sad that her parents must not have known of the Bible character behind her daughter’s name.  It’s hard to find anything redeemable in the life of this wicked woman.

In the account of her life the trouble brought on God’s people began with the marriage of Jezebel and King Ahab.  How he met her is unclear but her character and notoriety is plain.  She came from a Phoenician family of idol worshipers.  Her father’s name was Ethbaal which means, a man of Baal, a heathen foreign god. 

This marriage of Ahab to this heathen woman proves why God commanded the Israelites not to intermarry with the heathens.  Jezebel sought to use her powerful position as the wife of the king to destroy the faith of God’s people. 

She used her beauty and every personal resource to wield power over her husband and destroy everything sacred among God’s people.  She erected temples in various places for the worship of Baal.  Her husband Ahab was reduced to a puppet of a leader submitting to her whims. At one point when Ahab’s request to purchase a vineyard was refused she had the owner of the vineyard wrongfully accused and stoned to death.  In fear the prophets of God were hiding in caves.   

Both Ahab and Jezebel paid for their wickedness dying in humiliation and fulfilling the prophecy of Elijah.  In the end we are left with two important lessons; wicked scheming does not pay and one should never name their child Jezebel.

Psalm 1:6(NIV)
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
  but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.