Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Amos...Drives Me to Pray

Studying Amos has been great. If for no one else, for me. I am amazed at how much Israel in Amos’ day resembles America, and how much the religious scene then bears likeness to ours. Then to hear Amos pronounce God’s coming judgment to them gets really close to home. I know we live in another time after the coming of Christ and the cross, and live in the age of grace. And that’s the big difference: when one rejects God today, he is rejecting God's law AND his grace. As the writer of Hebrews said it, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation” (2:3)? The answer is...we won’t.

This is not good news. My heart breaks when I think about the millions of people drinking the world’s Kool-Aid, blindly on their way to eternal judgment. Some of them live around me. Their kids go to school and play soccer with mine. Some are my friends. Some are related to me. And they seem as if they have no clue. Not only this, but the “great salvation” that they are neglecting actually brings them what they are really looking for in the world’s counterfeits: Contentment. Happiness. Fulfillment. Love. Peace. Joy. Things the world rarely delivers, and never on a permanent basis. But it is so hard to convince them of this truth. Especially when the world, aided by our fallen flesh and the Enemy, preaches so persuasively that gaining more stuff...having more sex...looking more hip...etc. are all more important than having...GOD!

Therefore, many of us just quit trying to share the Good News. We see the enormity of the task and are overwhelmed. Indeed some of us do well (or so we think) to fight off the allure of the world ourselves as we occasionally lose skirmishes with our own flesh. Then Satan takes advantage and “guilts” us into silence. What are we to do?

Like Amos, we are to cry out to God. He is the only one who can help. He helps by strengthening us, his children. God has the power to trump whatever influence he has allowed the world and demonic forces to employ, by drawing people to himself. HE IS ABLE TO CHANGE THE GAME.

That is the only logical conclusion: I must ask him to. I MUST PRAY. Especially when he tells me that he, Almighty, Sovereign God somehow utilizes the prayers of his people to make things happen. It is a stunning thought—the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Eternal, Infinite God is actually moved by the prayers of mere men to accomplish his perfect, predetermined plan.

Whoa! I gotta catch my breath.

Umm...why then do I not pray?

Well, I’m going to. I’m committing myself. I’ve always believed that you schedule what’s important to you. Right now, as I write, I can’t think of anything else more important. I laid it out there publicly Sunday...I can talk about praying, but actually doing it is a completely different thing. So I need a little structure for the sake of accountability, that is, if I’m serious.

I’m going to open up the church every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday until Thanksgiving from 6:00 til 8:00 AM to pray. You’re welcome to come join me if you want. I’ve already started, in fact. There have been a few others who have come, too, but I’m really not looking to see who comes (or if anyone else comes at all). This is simply what God wants me to do.

This isn't for show. Jesus said that when you pray, go in your room in secret, not like the hypocrites who want all to see. He said that then “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6). I guess that’s the thing I’ve struggled with the most about coming out with this, or for that matter, even posting this blog. I don’t want any attention for me. I’m not trying to look spiritual. I do, however, want God to move. And maybe it is ok to be like Paul in this sense: he said, “Be imitators of me, as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). I think pastors should lead the way. Interpreting Scripture with Scripture, we see that Jesus didn't always pray in secret. He prayed with his disciples and in public. He taught his disciples how to pray. So did Paul. Corporate prayer is commanded throughout the Bible and is frequently practiced by the church in the book of Acts. So I say, If it helps you to pray with me and others, I invite you to come. Whether you come to the church or not...I ask you to pray.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Déjà Vu: Sox are Through.

Ok, indulge me a little hyperbolic sports drama.

It's been almost a week and I'm still not over it. The Red Sox are done for the season. I'm experiencing this subtle underlying disappointment. It occurred to me yesterday that I used to feel like this all the time! This is only the third time in the last seven years that Boston has not played in the American League Championship Series. But as most baseball fans know, this level of success has not always been the norm for the Sox.

I've been a Sox fan since the late 1970s. Until 2004, I felt like I was the only one in Knoxville! Here's how it happened: Like most other East Tennessee kids who were not Braves fans, I liked the Big Red Machine—the Cincinnati Reds. Bench, Rose, Morgan, Pérez, Concepción, Griffey, Foster, all led by Sparky Anderson—those guys were great. A really cool style among teenagers back then was to wear one of those fake plastic batting helmets. I wanted one and couldn’t find one anywhere. Some of my friends got theirs at Six Flags in Georgia for $6. Soon thereafter, I went with my church youth group to Six Flags determined to buy one for myself with $6 I had saved. All day, I walked the whole park seeking one of those Reds helmets, to no avail. The Reds were so popular! Finally, at the end of the day, I decided to just buy a helmet of another team. At that time, the Red Sox helmets were red with a navy blue bill, and looked really cool. Pointing to one, I asked the vendor, “What’s the team with the B?” “Boston Red Sox” was the answer (I should have known, they had played the Reds in the 1975 World Series). I bought one. While walking across Six Flags, people kept giving me the “thumbs up” sign saying, “Go Sox!” That was cool. So I started keeping up with them. I started collecting baseball cards and collected all the Sox cards. I fell in love with Rick “the Rooster” Burleson, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski, Butch Hobson, Dwight Evans, George Scott...I can remember them like it was yesterday.

(This is my favorite player Rick Burleson in that cool red batting helmet!)

In high school I got to visit Boston and saw a few Sox games in Fenway. Then I was hooked. It was magic. I also got to see them play in Texas, Atlanta, and Baltimore. Like all true Sox fans, a tragic moment in my life was when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs in 1986. I’ll never forget it. I found out later that he is a Christian. I actually got to meet Buckner in 1999. I introduced him at an FCA banquet (I had forgiven him and said nothing of his infamy).

Point is, through all those years, I always got myself worked up that this was to be a championship year. And it never was. In fact, most years we didn’t even get to the playoffs.

That’s why I’m experiencing déjà vu. I’ve been here before. Left feeling empty after the one team I have stood by through good years and bad failed to get past the wildcard series. It’s the team I have loved irrationally and emotionally who play a sport I was never really good at but that I respect and enjoy watching. I really thought they would do it! All my shirts, hats, and jerseys are now useless to me (not really) until next April! That's sports!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mmm. Brunswick Stew.

I first had Brunswick Stew when a friend in seminary took me to shoot sporting clays at a family home place in southern Virginia. We had it for lunch. He was kind of apologizing for not having something else to offer. I was like, “Are you kidding? This stuff is great!” It's a little different looking, but is hearty with a mild and distinctive taste. I didn’t have it again for a few years until I was on a deer-hunting trip near Columbus, GA and ate at a BBQ place called “Country’s.” They served Brunswick Stew as an appetizer then and it reminded me of how good it was. I’ve had it a couple of times since, but none of them evoked the "wow that’s good!" response like the Virginia-style Brunswick Stew I had at first.

So when the first little cool-snap happened last week I got it on the brain. I found many recipes online and combined a couple that looked good. AWESOME. It made WAY too much (I fed it to our family, the church staff, and a bunch of pastors), so I reduced it and tweaked it a little. I made it again this morning and just finished THREE BOWLS. I’m telling you, I can’t get enough. It’s like the perfect meal for a cool rainy fall day!

A couple of the staff asked about the recipe, so here it is:

Brunswick Stew (Virginia style)
Ready in: 3-5 hrs Serves 9 people

4 chicken breast halves
1 small strip fatback
½ of a medium onion (chopped)
2 stalks celery (finely chopped)
½ large bag frozen sweet corn (shoe peg or white)
½ bags frozen butter beans
1 large can whole tomatoes, pureed
5 medium/large potatoes, diced
½ 40 oz. bag okra (use about 20 oz)
½ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ stick butter
1 tablespoon vinegar
¼ cup BBQ sauce (I used KC Masterpiece orig.)
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt (more if desired)
½ teaspoon pepper (more if desired)

In a large stock pot, cover chicken with water and cook until tender. Remove chicken from stock and, when it's cool enough to handle, pull chicken apart, removing all the gristle or fat.

Return chicken pieces to pot with remaining stock. Add fatback, celery and onions, and simmer until tender. Add the diced potatoes, corn and butter beans, and simmer an additional 20 minutes.

Finally, add okra, ketchup, brown sugar, bbq sauce, Worcestershire sauce, butter, bayleaf, and vinegar. Cover and simmer two hours. Remove bayleaf and fatback before serving. Serve with cornbread!

You're going to doubt me while you're combining everything. Don't. It is really good!