Friday, January 29, 2016

Saddlebag Sermonizing

Friday, January 29, 2016


While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers.  “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them.  “No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”  “Then what baptism did you experience?” he asked.  And they replied, “The baptism of John.”  Paul said, “John’s baptism called for repentance from sin.  But John himself told the people to believe in the one who would come later, meaning Jesus.”

As soon as they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied.  There were about twelve men in all.

Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.  But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way.  So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him.  Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord. Acts 19:1-10(NLT)

A defining characteristic of 18th century Methodism was its’ circuit-riding preachers.  John Wesley sent Francis Asbury to watch over the spread of the movement:

In 1771, Francis Asbury answered founder John Wesley’s call to bring the Gospel to America’s untamed frontier.  For 45 years, the premier bishop of American Methodism travelled the back country from Maine to Georgia.

Thousands of miles.  Through treacherous conditions.  Shunned by those who did not want to hear about God.  But, along the way, Asbury saved souls…planted parishes…and mobilized ministers. 

October 14th, 1803, Francis Asbury wrote:

“What a road we have passed!  Certainly the worst on the whole continent, even in the best weather.  Yet, bad as it was, there were four or five hundred crossing the rude hills while we were.  We must take care to send preachers after these people.”

And, Asbury sent saddlebag sermonizers across the land.[2]

Paul was a saddlebag sermonizer.  One of my favorite sayings about Paul came from a seminary professor (who probably stole it from someone else):  wherever Paul went he started a revival or a riot – sometimes both!

From the first century ministry of Paul, to the eighteenth with Wesley and Asbury, and on down to where we are today, the Word of God will produce revival and riot; it’s all up to the hearers.

Paul had the joy of seeing about a dozen men come to Christ in Ephesus (and in all likelihood their families also).  Then, for two years he stayed with them and spread the word in the surrounding communities.  With the revival came the riot of resistance in the temple, so Paul moved out. 

John Wesley did that as well.  Wesley preferred the established church buildings and all the refinement of liturgical ceremony and order.  What dashed that was the staid and stuffy resistance from his peers in clerical robes.  So, Wesley (like Paul) was forced into the streets to preach to the people, and the movement was born.

What we should never forget is that the saddlebag sermonizers, were never alone – the people went with Paul; the people welcomed the circuit-riding Methodist preachers.  And in each case, the combined efforts of preacher and people bore fruit.

Francis Asbury wrote:  “If I can only be instrumental in the conversion of one soul in travelling round the continent, I’ll travel round till I die.”[3]

This was the commitment of a movement.

For You Today

Are you involved in a movement?  Or do you put your time in going to church?

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…and have a blessed day!

[1] Title image: Rembrandt, via Wikimedia Commons & Giovanni Paolo Panini, via Wikimedia Commons[both Public domain]
[3] Ibid.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I Have Trusted You, O Lord From Childhood

Thursday, January 28, 2016


O Lord, you alone are my hope.  I’ve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood.  Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me.  No wonder I am always praising you!    Psalm 71:5-6(NLT)

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years.  He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David.  He did not turn away from doing what was right.  During the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, Josiah began to seek the God of his ancestor David.  Then in the twelfth year he began to purify Judah and Jerusalem, destroying all the pagan shrines, the Asherah poles, and the carved idols and cast images.  He ordered that the altars of Baal be demolished and that the incense altars which stood above them be broken down.  He also made sure that the Asherah poles, the carved idols, and the cast images were smashed and scattered over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them.  He burned the bones of the pagan priests on their own altars, and so he purified Judah and Jerusalem.  He did the same thing in the towns of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, even as far as Naphtali, and in the regions all around them.  He destroyed the pagan altars and the Asherah poles, and he crushed the idols into dust.  He cut down all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel.  Finally, he returned to Jerusalem.    2 Chronicles 34:1-7(NLT)
A defining aspect of doctrine in the group to which I belong (United Methodist) is prevenient grace – the grace of God which goes before.  The idea is that, before we can know, God is already there, guiding, protecting, loving, and urging us towards Him.

King David’s Psalm looks back to that grace covering him since childhood, as did the boy-king, Josiah. 

I’m not a king, but I too recall the awakening of faith as a child, and somehow understanding God’s care in a prevenient sense.  My parents never missed church unless we were snowed-in or sick (in an on death’s door kind of way). 

In Sunday School the year I was about 7, our lessons were all about Exodus and the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness.  Each week the obedience or disobedience of God’s people became the object of discussion on the way home.  These lessons nurtured my sense of God’s sovereignty and His providential care.

One particular Sunday, after hearing a lesson on God’s chosen, and then the Pastor’s sermon where he referred to our church being part of God’s special people, I did the math, Russell-style.  Riding home I recall leaning up towards the front seat of the car and asking Mom and Dad, are we Jewish?  When the laughter subsided, they helped me iron-out the realities of Old and New Testament theology, bar-mitzvah and baptism.

God’s prevenient grace was able to prepare Mom and Dad to help me get a more accurate picture of where I stood in the timetable of before and after the cross.

The “boy-king”, Josiah began to earnestly seek God when he was about 16.  And when God’s prevenient grace started revealing the truth to him, he used his power as ruler in Jerusalem to break down the old superstitions and raise up worship of Yahweh, the one true living God. 

God placed Josiah in a position to begin a revival of genuine worship.

For You Today

Have you ever considered that God may have placed you where you are today to begin some kind of revival?

Activist, prayer-warrior, leader, or follower – if you’re drawing breath, God has a part for you in whatever He’s doing. 

What will that look like when you step outside your front door today?

You chew on that before you hit the Rocky Road today…and have a blessed day!

[1] Title image: By Andrés Nieto Porras from Palma de Mallorca, España (Nuevas aficiones), via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What's in YOUR Kingdom?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Previously on the Judah melodrama:  Jeremiah the prophet has been in prison for displeasing the king by speaking the truth about the Kingdom of Judah’s bleak future, if they don’t repent.  Their arch-enemy, Babylon, is gathering war troops like a storm on the horizon.  And the king, petulant as ever, hears a new message from Jeremiah, delivered by overnight Baruch scroll express; the king cuts it up, throwing each piece into the fire.

The drama continues:

After the king had burned the scroll on which Baruch had written Jeremiah’s words, the Lord gave Jeremiah another message.  He said, “Get another scroll, and write everything again just as you did on the scroll King Jehoiakim burned.  Then say to the king, ‘This is what the Lord says:  You burned the scroll because it said the king of Babylon would destroy this land and empty it of people and animals.  Now this is what the Lord says about King Jehoiakim of Judah:  He will have no heirs to sit on the throne of David.  His dead body will be thrown out to lie unburied—exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night.  I will punish him and his family and his attendants for their sins.  I will pour out on them and on all the people of Jerusalem and Judah all the disasters I promised, for they would not listen to my warnings.’”  So Jeremiah took another scroll and dictated again to his secretary, Baruch.  He wrote everything that had been on the scroll King Jehoiakim had burned in the fire.  Only this time he added much more!  Jeremiah 36:27-32(NLT)

The old saying about power being a corrupting influence on a person, and absolute power corrupting absolutely is an old saying for a very good reason; it’s true!  And truth has a habit of staying around long after the echo of lies has abated.

For our visual evidence this morning, look the picture entitled “Ruins” by the photographer; it is the ruins of a castle in lower Austria.  While the scene is quite impressive against the backdrop of a city in the valley below, if we wish to maintain appropriate perspective, remember that what remains on that mountaintop speaks of a momentary flash of grandeur by the former owner.  Those people are long dead; their “kingdom” is but a footnote against the backdrop of humanity, which, itself is only a small blip in eternity’s lifeline.

Jehoiakim was a king, but he didn’t understand this.  And any ruler who doesn’t get it will fare no better than the bleached bones exposed to the elements that marked the king of Judah’s final epitaph.

By comparison, when confronted with the Word of God, another earlier king named David, who had sinned just as badly as Jehoiakim, didn’t cut up the scroll and burn it; rather he let the Word of God burn out of his life all that separated him from God.

And that’s a good lesson for a ruler…or a citizen. 

Yesterday we looked at the lack of humility in the candidates running in our current election cycle.  Today, let’s reflect on what kind of people elect such arrogant, God-despising leaders.

What kind of scroll would Baruch overnight to us?

And, when confronted with our own sins, will we remember Jehoiakim and not burn the message (or the messenger)?  Could it be that it’s time to repent and let the fire-power of God’s cleansing Word transform our allegiance to a lasting kingdom?

For You Today

What’s in YOUR kingdom?  And is it an eternal one, or is it bound for ruins?

You chew on that out on that Rocky Road today…and have a joy-filled and blessed day!

[1] Title image:  By Uoaei1 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

No Fear; No Repentance

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Our first reading is the account of Jeremiah’s scroll – prophecy he received directly from the Lord about His anger towards the nations of Israel.  It was read to the all the citizens, and received with appropriate sorrow and trembling; the king reacted differently:

The king sent Jehudi to get the scroll.  Jehudi brought it from Elishama’s room and read it to the king as all his officials stood by.  It was late autumn, and the king was in a winterized part of the palace, sitting in front of a fire to keep warm.  Each time Jehudi finished reading three or four columns, the king took a knife and cut off that section of the scroll.  He then threw it into the fire, section by section, until the whole scroll was burned up.  Neither the king nor his attendants showed any signs of fear or repentance at what they heard.  Jeremiah 36:21-24(NLT)

The Apostle Paul also wrote a letter to the church at Corinth about their sin and God’s judgment.  Our second reading is Paul’s follow-up letter about their response:

I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while.  Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways.  It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way.  For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation.  There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow.  But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.    2 Corinthians 7:8-10(NLT)

What a contrast between King Jehoiakim and his subjects.   One sat on a throne without fear of God or repentance of any kind.  The other, common people, who trembled at the thought of offending Holy God.

We are in an election year, and those who would be our rulers in this country will talk about religion at various points in the process.  Donald Trump did, claiming he has never actually asked God to forgive him.  He said:  I just go on and try to do a better job from there. [2]

Now, I have no special ability to know what is in Donald Trump’s heart, nor anyone else for that matter.  But, it’s like many other things – actions speak louder than words; you may not be able to see a person’s heart, but you know what humility, respect for God, and repentance looks like.

Understand, I’m not singling-out Mr. Trump (he does that well-enough without my help); the fact is that every one of us has sinned and needs repentance (Romans 3:23)

What I am pointing-out (by way of Paul’s letter) is the spiritual consequences of a leader who thumbs his nose at God.  Even worldly sorrow, lacking repentance (recognizing you may not have made good choices, and need to go on and try to do a better job from there), only leads to spiritual death, according to Paul.

And that affects the subjects of the king – in their case it was being conquered by enemy nations.  Who knows what would be in store for the citizens of America with leaders who do not fear God?

Let me be totally-clear:  I hate making political statements, or giving political advice (especially when nobody’s asking), but we all have a choice to make about who will control our representative government, and I make mine after running the possibilities through a theological/ethical/moral filter based on what the person who wants my vote both says and does

So far, I haven’t seen much to shout about.

For You Today

In the end, I do not want a Methodist, or a Baptist, or a Presbyterian, per se in the Oval Office.  But I most certainly want a leader who fears God and is humble enough to act like it.

You chew on that out on that Rocky Road today…and have a joy-filled and blessed day!

[1] Title image:  Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, via Wikimedia Commons