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Monday, May 2, 2016

Moments

Moments

May 2, 2016


Do you have a friend with whom communication is difficult?  Specifically, I'm talking about those who who are not particularly good about listening.  Generally, these individuals are poor listeners because they are always talking - completely oblivious to the fact that someone else might want to say something.  One such individual comes to mind as I write this.  Lately, the blame has been put on the loss of hearing.  Doubtful, as the issue has been in place long before any hearing loss began to take place.  

I wonder if God's communication with us is often just as frustrating - to him.  It's not that our hearing is defective, it's that our attention is defective.  For the most part, we tend to not be tuned in to God's communication network.  We may treat him like my friend treats others - we are too busy talking to listen.  Being the patient God that he is, I imagine he awaits the moments we stop talking and are ripe for listening.

The comedian, Jeff Allen, talks about one such moment, the moment when God got through because Jeff stopped talking and was ripe for listening.  It just so happened when he and his wife were on their way to dissolve their marriage.  They stopped and asked themselves what they were doing, prayed and God took over the conversation.  It changed Jeff's career, and their lives.  By the way, Jeff is known today for his comedy segment, "Happy Wife, Happy Life."

Jeff Walling, preacher and teacher, talks of his God moment through the illustration of chalk and his own personal grace circle.  Influenced by a culture of legalism, he talks of how he viewed others and determined who was worthy of heaven and who was not by way of a figurative circle of chalk.  In his circle of grace, some made it in, but many did not.  Long story short, was when he realized that his God moment came when God asked for the chalk.

Yesterday, I believe God got through as I knelt down to talk to a little girl after church services.  She is the sort of little girl everyone at church stops and talks to.  It can't be helped.  Jaylie is a living, breathing Precious Moments doll.  If the name doesn't ring a bell, just think of the little porcelain figurines of children with the big, beautiful eyes.  Jaylie is known for her precious little face and great, big, beautiful eyes.  I knelt down to talk to her, as this normally vivacious little girl was clasped tightly to her mother's leg.  A little tear hung in the corner of her eye.  As I reached to wipe away the tear, her mother explained that some event had happened in the nursery to generate the tear and the unhappiness.  Yet something else happened in that moment - that precious moment.  The verse, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

I guess I've always pictured this verse as God wiping away the tears children and adults, but adults mostly.  I guess I've always imagined God putting his arm across shoulder after shoulder, looking at each of us face to face, reaching across the void, and wiping away the tears.  Each tear was representative of hurt, loss, injustice, war, pestilence, wrongdoing by others, anger and every sort of emotional hurt and pain we endure through life.

I'm fairly sure I've been wrong about the picture.

God does, after all, call to us as children, and refers to himself as our Father.  After yesterday, I'm reminded once again just how big he is, and how really small we are - not small in size, but in intellect, knowledge and most importantly - wisdom.  We are children compared to Him.  I believe that when we greet Him in glory, He is more likely to kneel down to our level, or lift us up as children, to soothe, calm, protect, and with an enormous finger - wipe away the tears.  I did not ask for clarification with Jaylie about the nature of the hurt.  Such things are commonplace in the world of a four year-old.  Away from parents, and left to their own devices, children are either extremely happy and caught up in play, or filled with some drama - earth shattering for the moment for a four year-old, but merely a passing drama from the wisdom of an adult.  the adult listens, soothes, and wipes away the tear.  Just being with the parent sets the world back on its axis.  Life is wonderful once again.

I wonder if God does not view many of the things we cry about as merely the drama of a child separated from the immediate protection of the Father.  As I have grown older, i have had a new appreciation for the wisdom found in the book of Ecclesiastes.  When I was younger, the book seemed cynical, hard and pessimistic.  Yet, as a youth, I was passionate about justice, politics, Christianity and a host of ideologies.  I would say that as a man approaching 60, I am no less passionate.  As a matter of fact, I believe myself to be far more passionate.  However, time has taught me that much of what man cares about is meaningless.  This does not mean that there is little worth caring about - injustices, righting wrongs and saving souls...especially the mission to save souls.  It means that our knights in shining armor are often battling windmills - pettiness, selfish goals and ambitions, words instead of true ideals, hollow threats and empty promises.  The knights we look up to have tarnished armor and straw fills their armor.  Much of what we pursue is meaningless, and we fight one another rather than the forces of darkness.

This God moment, this precious moment, was prompted by the tears of a little girl.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Faith and Fear

Fearaith

April 20, 2016

I've been talking to a lot of people lately - actually, for quite some time - about fear.  Their fear or fears I should add.  Some fears are well founded, but most fears just leave me wondering about faith and fear.  I should add that I have grown into my current worldview.  After all, I've been faced with a few fears.

There are fears we all face and grow beyond.  Correction, fears we all face and most of us grow beyond.  Like the fear of being called upon in class.  Some of us face that fear still on Sunday mornings, "I hope no one asks me to read Scripture this morning!"  There are fears related to performance in a new job.  There was the time as a teenager when a group of us thought we were being chased by a sea monster.  There was the time I was at the police station with my buddies and didn't want to call home for a ride - I walked.  There was the time in college when it was the middle of the night, I was driving, took a wrong turn and ended up in the seedier side of Baltimore.  I woke my sleeping buddies up and no one slept the rest of the night.

These pale to those times of gut wrenching terror when one fears for life.  Like the time when an irate customer entered our store and threatened to kill everyone.  Or, the time when I was alone with a couple of drug-crazed kids and wondered why I hadn't told anyone where I was going.  I can still vividly remember the fear as we lost control of a 24-foot fishing boat in heavy seas off of Sebastian Inlet.  But all of these are surpassed by the humbling power of nature displayed in a hurricane. I have lived through several.  Most were just near misses or did not live up to predictions.  They serve to let down your guard for the ones that change lives.  Live through something like that and you are left with deep and abiding realization of just how small and powerless you are in the universe.

It was just such a storm when Jesus inspired awe in his disciples.  The story teaches us a lot about fear, and faith.  Considering the nature of our fears today it is a lesson, and a principle, still in need of being apprehended.

 Jesus Calms a Storm
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
--Mark 4:35–41 (ESV)

Make a list of your fears.  Add to that your hates, for most hate is founded on fear. Read this passage after each item on your list.  I like the way Matthew structured the question Jesus asked in his version of the event.  Ask yourself that very same question, "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"  I would add another question - pertinent to this passage.  What fear, life event, threat, challenge, hurdle, trial, tribulation, angels, demons, authority, power, death, disease, present event, future threat, or anything in all creation (I borrowed all that from somewhere - I'm pretty sure it was the Bible) is bigger than Christ your Lord?  Imagine the discourse:

1) Unpaid bills -  "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"
2) Storms are coming - "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"
3) Our country is going belly up - "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"
4) The (Blank) are coming! - "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"
5) I might have cancer - "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"
6) My marriage is in trouble - "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"
7) We might be persecuted! - "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"
8) Fear! - "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"
9) Hatred! - "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"
10) The myth that anything is in my control - "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?"

This does not mean life is promised to be idyllic, "In this life you will have many troubles."  No, the one who is for us is bigger than anything, anyone who stands against us.  The garden is promised not for the here and now, but in the new earth, the new Jerusalem.  Besides, most fears we tend to outlive.

I should mention that the sea monster was my best friend's dog.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Disarmed

Disarmed

March 30, 2016

"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."  So starts this section of Colossians, chapter 2. The theme of this section could be, "Live as victors - not as vanquished."  I thought I had a pretty good handle on that concept, that is, until God used a major roadblock to wake me up to the realities of my own heart.  I found that it is easy to become overwhelmed, not by real power, but by perceived power.  In such a time, it is easy to forget that He who is for you, is greater than he who is against you.

The Bible, and the New Testament in particular, reminds us that God is GOD - powerful, mighty, sovereign, victorious, invincible, absolute, full of love, abounding in grace and mercy.  If you are on his team, he is on your team.  It is hard though, accustomed as we are to relying upon our own power, to fully trust that in the midst of tribulation we win through Christ.

Verse 8 follows, "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."  I am now convinced that the influences of philosophies motivated by and using the tools of fear and hatred to captivate so much of the evangelical world.  Follow social media posting for a time and it becomes easy to conclude that little of Christ is represented in what is shared.  I refer not to the obvious - as in selfies in underwear - but to "the sky is falling" sort of postings.  For "super conquerors," there is a tremendous amount of fear about being conquered.  For a "kingdom not of this earth," there is a tremendous amount of fear about an earthy nation.  For a people led by an Unconquerable King, there is a tremendous amount of fear about who will lead us.  Furthermore, for a people who are to be known by their love, there is a tremendous amount of fear - even more - outright hatred of others not like us.  For people of salt and light, our talk is salty of another kind, and our light is often eclipsed by darkness.

Perhaps the problem is in ourselves.  I am speaking literally.  Verses 9 and 10 remind us, "For in him (Jesus) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority."  We are filled, yes, as long as we allow him in.  He is the head of all rule and authority, unless we insist on ruling our own destiny and insisting upon our own authority.  Such was the sin which cast us out of Eden, and which now bars Eden from our hearts.  It is fear that motivates such sin.  The overwhelming desire to control the uncontrollable.  It is fear and hatred which drives that insane passion to fix a world broken by the very people obsessed with controlling that which they are incapable of controlling.

Verse 15 is not just about the Sanhedrin, Rome and the ruling characters of the Passion drama 2,000 years ago.  We forget that we need to come to shame.  We all need to surrender our powerless authority to the real authority.  We all need to disarm - lay down our puny weapons of personal destruction.  It is time to be triumphant - but only through he who conquered the cross.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Paycheck

Paycheck

March 21, 2016


This verse reminds me of a lesson learned many years ago.  A new store had opened in our area, specializing in retail electronics and appliances.  Store employees included the store manager, Mike Lee, and the sales staff.  I've lost track of Mike - good Christian fellow, I wonder where he is these days.  The sales staff were paid commission.  If a salesperson was good, he or she made a lot of money.  If the salesperson wasn't good, then he or she made minimum wage for the week.  As I said, it was a new store.  We were responsible for getting it ready for opening day.  Of course this meant there were no customers - which meant no sales - which meant we were all working for minimum wage.  In other words, we didn't KNOW if we were good yet.  However, there was plenty of ego to challenge the known facts.  I'm sure someone - several someones complained.  No one likes working for minimum wage.  A meeting was called.

The district manager was there for the meeting.  I should add that he wasn't there just for the meeting, he had been around quite a bit.  This was, in fact the newest, brightest, biggest store in the chain.  I'm sure that it was his pride and joy.  I'm sure he wanted it to start out right.  It also happened to be payday.  Mike passed out the paychecks.  The district manager was finishing up his cigar.  It was not yet against the law to smoke in public places.  It was now time for the DM (district manager) to impart his wisdom upon us.  Imagine, if you will, Joe Pesci with the voice of Wolfman Jack.  Oh, and for setting recreate in your mind the motivation speech by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross.  The DM asked us look at our paychecks.  Check the amount, make sure that our names were correct on the pay to line.  It was then that he asked the question, "What is the name on the top left corner?"

We all answered, "McDuff Electronics."

He then started an extremely short, but very memorable lesson about paychecks, personnel, ego and a reminder about who we worked for.  It doesn't matter, he said, how good you think you are.  It doesn't matter how important you think you are.  It doesn't matter what you think your job does, or doesn't entail.  What matters is that you remember you are the employee, and the name in the top left corner is the employer.  For that paycheck, you owe the employer a job well done.  Not a debate, not a negotiation, not an attitude of, "You should be thankful to have me on your payroll," and not a speech on how the business would be run if you were in charge.  That's just the point - you are not in charge he reminded us all.  

That little lesson has stuck with me all these years.  In a much kinder, gentler way, I think Paul seeks to teach us a similar lesson in this passage.  The paycheck is written in blood.  It is guaranteed by the Bank of Heaven, and yes - just a reminder - the name in the top left corner is not yours.  We owe a lot to God for what He has given us.  The paycheck is huge, but the cost behind it is even greater.  It might be a good idea to give back to God a work ethic commensurate to the value paid.

By the way.  The egos didn't seem to pan out.  The guys who complained the most, didn't work as hard opening the store.  They were also not nearly as good salesmen as they claimed.  The guys who worked hard, sold hard and made some pretty good paychecks. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"National Get Over It Day"

National Get Over It Day

March 9, 2016

Early yesterday morning I was on my way to Billings.  It's 120 miles from Lewistown, and being Montana - a relaxing, picturesque drive.  However, I was thinking I was going to be late for the start of a church member's surgery, so I might have been traveling rather quickly...even by Montana standards.  I tend to measure the Billings ride in segments; thirty miles to Grassrange, then another 45 miles to Roundup, and finally another 45 miles to Billings.  I won't say how fast I was going - I know too many people involved in law enforcement.  Let's just say the 75 miles to Roundup was a new personal best.

In our part of Montana, there are a lot of wide open spaces.  You can measure that by the absence of all things people on such drives.  There are more cattle than people in Montana.  For that matter, there are more deer than people as well.  You can drive for miles and miles before coming across another vehicle.  Which is one reason why fudging on the speed limit is so common here.  Did I mention that I was driving the church van?  Imagine if one of those cars had been a patrol car which had stopped me with "First Christian Church of Lewistown" emblazoned in large letters along the length of the van.  Actually, I did pass one heading the opposite direction, but neither of us slowed down for the other.  Yet another incentive to consider highway speed signs as "Suggested Speed" rather than "Speed Limit."  The latter sounds harsh and demanding compared to the former don't you think?  Well, these wide open spaces, with very few people along the way also means that technology is sometimes limited.  I know this might be a shock to some, but there can be gaps in cellular coverage.  Inconceivable!  Furthermore...you might want to sit down for this one...there are sometimes gaps in radio coverage between towns.  Let me explain.  It is possible.  No, better said, the reality is that you can drive for miles and hear nothing but static from your car speakers.  The seek button becomes your friend when you first arrive here.  I can see it now, the Millennials are sporting a puzzled expression.  They wonder, "Bluetooth, MP3, CD player, surely there's an aux jack?"  It's a church van - used, good condition - NO frills.  We don't live in a stone age community.  Get over it.  Well, that seek button helped me to discover KLMB - 88.1 on the FM dial in the grand metropolis (1800 people) of Roundup, Montana.  I LOVE that station.  It's only good for about 75 miles on the Billings route, but it is fun.  This is no exaggeration at all - I have heard Deep Purple's Hush, followed by Patsy Cline I Fall to Pieces, a prayer and devotional some minutes later then Three Dog Night and The Show Must Go On.  I've even been entertained by rebroadcasts of old radio shows.  Oh my, now I've got some real splainin' to do, Lucy.  Kids, when your grandparents and great grandparents sat down in their living room to relax and be entertained for the evening they listened to the radio.  They didn't have TV!  Let's wait a second or two for the younger generations to pick themselves off the floor.

Waiting....

Waiting....

I'm tempted to stop at the radio station in Roundup and try and convince them they need to catch up with the 21st century and simulcast on the web.  It's really a selfish desire.  I can't receive their station in Lewistown, and when I say I LOVE listening to KLMB.  I truly mean it.  If they were on the web, I would listen to them on a regular basis.  Perhaps you think I'm making fun of them.  I have to admit that my description makes them look hokey.  Well, I held back really.  The radio personalities are...unique for radio.  I truly do love that station.  I look forward to crossing the hill at mile marker 35 and finally tuning in 88.1.  About that time, YNOP, the Christian station out of Havre with repeaters throughout the state starts to static out.  It only happens when I drive the church van.  Our car has satellite radio.  I never know what will greet my ears when the radio is tuned to 88.1 on the FM dial.  Look at that, even my terminology betrays a past now gone.  In my youth, we turned a dial on the radio.  Now we tune, type in, punch buttons, seek and search.  I love KLMB because listening takes me back in time.  On a late night Monday night drive home, I'm taken back to a time when farmers and ranchers came home, at supper and gathered with their families to listen to actors using sound effects, voice and the art of spoken story to propel listeners to another time and place.  I love KLMB because I can listen to songs of my youth, and in the next five minutes to the songs of my grandparents' youth.  I am moved outside my comfort zone to experience, and with adjustment on my part, to even appreciate the tastes of someone unlike me.

I wondered one time, as I tried to drive, while jotting down notes about the variety of songs played by that station, why?  What would drive a business owner to do such incredible things?  But then the thought came, "How does the only radio station in a community serve everyone?"  Don't make a mistake in reading that last line.  I did not say, "make everyone happy."  There is not even an attempt to make everyone in town happy.  The politics are one sided, religion - particularly Christianity brings division by doing nothing more than entering the room, and surely folk are aggravated that they do not have an hour in which only "their" music is aired.  It finally dawned on me that the love inspired in my heart for a tiny radio station, in a tiny town in remote Montana has a mission to SERVE.  They can be admired because they attempt to serve, not placate, not make happy, not satisfy, promise, or cajole.  The politicians of our day could learn something.  For that matter, Christians, well - everyone could learn a little something here.  It reminds me of what Paul had to say to the Romans, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Rom 12:18 NIV). 

It should be noted that Jesus served, and even He managed to get people upset.  If you remember, they had Him killed for stepping on toes.  To that segment of society, to those perpetually upset about someone, someplace, something.  There is a day set aside for such as you.  It is celebrated on March 9th each year.  It is your day, made special by you, and for you.  It is National Get Over It Day.  Oh look, today is your day!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sleepless


March 1, 2016

Sleepless

I woke up at 2:30 this morning and couldn't go back to sleep.  This happens every so often.  My wife also struggles with sleeplessness.  After several minutes of restless tossing and turning.  Well, the reality is, after about an hour I picked up my Kindle and opened my Bible software program.  It delivers a daily Bible verse.  That's it above.  Normally, a little Bible reading and prayer and I'm off to sleep.  Not this time.  That's due in great part to the passage above.  It's Philippians 2:8.  It's bad enough that the passage was Philippians - one of my treasured studies.  It's from the second chapter of Philippians.  To make matters worse, it's from the first half of the chapter.  If the quote had been verses 19 and 20, I probably would have drifted off to sleep as normal, Verses 19 and 20 are about Timothy, and Paul says of him, "I have no one like him."  I like that.  I probably would have prayed for a few Timothy sort of folk and fallen asleep.  But you can't do that with Philippians 2:8: 

"And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

If you know the passage, you can't stop there.  My next thought was about verse five, "You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." And so, the long night began.  There is no doubt that this section of Scripture is humbling.  But just what makes it so humbling?  Most of us who have hung around a church for a while probably think we understand Philippians 2:1-18 pretty well.  Therein may be the danger.  Is it possible that familiarity breeds contempt when it comes to an oft quoted, and frequently taught passage?  In other words, did the Holy Spirit's work in this passage come to a grinding slow down after Paul's inspiration to pen it?  Oh my, let's be brutal.  Do we allow the Holy Spirit to do all He can do in our hearts when we read Paul's challenge to have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had? Maybe, but likely not.  Remember how Philippians 2:4 goes:

 "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."

Okay, so maybe a lot of folk benefit from our niceness.  However, is it to the level of Jesus?  Nice is, well...nice.  But what Jesus has done is...grab your head in your hands, fall to your face, sob like a broken child and cry out, "I can't take it!  It's too much.  I don't...I don't...I absolutely do not deserve what you have given me!"  A cry for mercy.  Not mercy because the punishment is too severe, but mercy because the grace is overwhelming.  He traded heaven for earth, a throne for a toilet, praise for ridicule, a crown for thorns, the caress of angels for the sting of a whip, ecstasy for agony.  He traded His life for mine...and yours.  Every great thing He has done He gave to our credit.  Every disgusting vile thing we have done, He took the punishment for.  The King became a slave, so that slaves could become kings.  By the way, the slaves were treating Him abysmally as He made the trade.  I like how Eugene Peterson handles this section: 

   “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” (Philippians 2:5–8, The Message)
Yes, it's good to be nice, but Jesus is more than nice.  The difference is like the ring of bells.  Nice is like the chime of the little bell on the counter of some business establishments - a tinkle.  What Jesus has done is like the full-throat rumbling of a large church bell.  No, it's more than that, it's as if bells were cast that were the size of cathedrals, that the whole world would be filled with them.  Then, at the moment Jesus died and cried out for God the Father to rain down forgiveness on this wretched humanity, the bells began to ring the world over.  What He has done would make the bells ring, heaven shout and the world to shake from the reverberations,  we do something nice for someone likable and a counter bell rings.  It begins with, "consider others better than yourselves."  The real test is in the verses before and after five through eight, then the chapters before and after. Read it, absorb it, ruminate upon this letter written by a man chained to a Roman guard and facing death.  If you allow it, it will change you.  However, it may be a sleepless night.

   “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:1–4, NLT)  





Monday, March 17, 2014

Today

“Today”
March 17, 2014

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be
anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
                                                                                     --Matthew 6:34 (ESV)

Today is St. Patrick’s Day.  My guess would be that a large percentage of the population knows the holiday as nothing more than a holiday with parades, green beer, a good representation of people dressed in green, and corned beef and cabbage dinner.  The purpose of said holiday is to get drunk and somehow the Irish are involved.  Still others, perhaps those among us with a Catholic upbringing, remember that Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.  His fame was in driving serpents from Ireland and using the shamrock to explain the Trinity.

What is less well-known is that Patrick’s given name was Patricius and he was a missionary of enormous courage and humility.  He regularly referred to himself as “a sinner.”  When he evangelized Ireland, he set in motion a series of events that impacted all of Europe.  Patrick wrote about his life, his mission and his call to be a missionary to Ireland.  Here is an excerpt:

“I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland.  His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: 'The Voice of the Irish.' And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut . . . and they cried out as with one voice, 'We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.' I was deeply moved in heart and I could read no further, so I awoke.”

Patrick followed that call, humbly, but also with courage difficult to comprehend.  Years earlier, Patrick had spent six years as slave among the Irish.  His master was a cruel warlord who had subjected Patrick to unimaginable cruelties and hardships.  Again, Patrick recounted his thoughts:

“I would pray constantly during the daylight hours.  The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less.”

Patrick had been a nominal Christian until his captivity.  Patrick was thrown into an inferno and what emerged was God’s bold saint to the Irish.  Patrick joined the long line of heroes of the faith who could be added to the list in Hebrews 11. 

I wonder though, what would have happened if Patrick had joined a yet longer list.  What if he, like so many others, had chosen the alternate path?  How many would have chalked the vision up to too much beer and pizza the night before, or some other excuse?  Perhaps Jesus’ instruction about worry and anxiety had more to do with than mere food and clothing.  When a proposal for a new ministry at church, or a new building program, or a new staff member is presented, don’t we often say, “Good idea!” but then begin our retreat by succumbing to that deep voice within?  “This year isn’t a good year to do that.”  Doesn’t Jesus rebuff that by answering, “Trust me, besides, why be anxious?  Today has its problems, but tomorrow is a new set of problems.  Trust Dad and myself to take care of you today, tomorrow and forever.  Just follow me.”

Each stretch of our faith is also a test of that principle.  The down and out individual who comes across your path is your divine appointment, not an opportunity to ask, “I wonder who’s going to take care of this?”  The same is true of every opportunity to serve, give, guide or pray.  We can think of a any number of reasons to step aside, alternate theories, reasons for delay, different plans or excuse.  Yes that’s really the word to use here, excuse.  Is our response to Kingdom calls like Patrick’s, or more like kids wanting an exemption from finals, or adults wanted to be excused from jury duty?  Is part of the problem that God uses Kingdom people to make Kingdom calls?  It’s easy to argue with a church board over direction (even though church eldership is an institution anointed by God), rather than God.  But wouldn’t we also be prone to blame bad pizza for a Jesus vision?  Paul’s Damascus road trip probably would not have the same outcome if Jesus had appeared to any number of other people.

“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”
--Patricius (also known as St. Patrick)