Thursday, December 9, 2021

"Freely you have received, freely give..."


"Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes." (Annie Dillard, Write Till You Drop)

She is on to something. ;) 

"Channels only, blessed Master, but with all Thy wondrous pow'r
Flowing through us, Thou canst use us, every day and every hour.

This old lyric is only true in loving relationship with Him. More than channels only -- we are friends, devoted servants, sons and daughters of our Elder Brother, redeemed Children of Light, "workers together with God."

Yet, if we hoard what we receive it rots like the secreted manna.

Lord, you are the Safe for our lives. Let me not fashion my own private safe, imaging I can keep something there, only to find ashes on that Final Day when all is opened.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Preacher Shock

Preacher Shock

I saw a miracle today:
Water to wine, stone to bread.
The mind was helpless, mute; the spirit wan.
The need relentless, deep. No way out.
Capacity flat, weakness great, hope bare.
Someone prayed. God poured grace.
A listener wept. “Exactly what I needed.”

I saw a miracle today. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021


Musing speaks of thinking, used perhaps when one hopes it is fruitful, peaceful, right. Not all musing bears good. Some merely repeats, going nowhere. Some breeds and feeds anxiety. Some puffs with pride of reason, hubris compounding its own pretensions. Or something like that.

I have (almost) nothing to say these days. I read alot, mostly online news and Facebook posts. Much important reading goes begging, as my stalled Kindle account attests. I am nearly done with my second time through the Bible this year, so that's a plus. And an Alaskan summer is nearly over, with its relentless demands on mind and body.

God is good. More than ever I feel the need of grace. "Without Him I would be nothing." This is no 'worm theology' as it is often disparagingly called. Of course we are special creatures, made in God's image though fallen. But without Him -- intrinsic image and daily sustaining -- we are nothing. 

I browsed a bit in William Law today, a book on the Holy Spirit in which he challenges us to surrender our reason. With plain sense he said reason, too, is part of who we are and if we are to give all to God, reason is included. Really? Must I? "Lean not on thine own understanding."

What a death knell this is, for how do we let go of reason and still function? "But God expects you to use your brain!" True that! We use our brain as the gift it is, and it helps bring us to the Giver where we submit it to Him, for "the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge." He takes all we surrender, makes it new and whole and clean and gives it back to us.

That is more than two cents, but it came around to sense for me, and I am grateful for a musing that leads me to prayer. That is always a fruitful musing.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Skills for Great Preaching

Pulling some thoughts from Wayne McDill's "The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching." The below is from the introduction. 

  • McDill says, "I have been preaching for 35 years but I am still working at it." Encouraging for those of us in the early learning years. :)
  • The "why" of a sermon is vital. If the hearer is not persuaded it matters, she will not listen. Or if she listens, will easily forget.
  • "Striking content is of real interest to the hearer, even if the delivery is weak."
  • "Most Christians hear from rather humble and nondescript pastors week by week" and so, seems to me, we must dare to believe God is at work in them, even them. What else could we think?
  • "The great weakness of preaching is fuzzy, ill-defined ideas." Ugh! I say again, ugh!! :)
  • "Preaching is a supernatural endeavor. Anyone can learn the necessary skills with discipline, hard work, and a commitment to clear thinking and Bible-based sermons."

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Plain and Simple

Plain and Simple

"Deeper bonds meant creating obligations," she said. "I longed for a group whose members needed and made demands on each other."

Do we know what it means to be plain and simple? I don’t think I do, but I think I can appreciate the idea, and I want to learn.

I picked up a book by that title recently and it has given me much to think on. Sue Bender, the author, was captured with an Amish quilt in 1967. Mrs. Bender — artist, married with children, holding graduate degrees from no less than Harvard and Berkeley — could not escape a virtual presence in the plain nine-patch patterns. They spoke, she said, with a "silence — a silence like thunder". And they had a mysterious quality that illustrated and spoke to the incredible balance of life between "tension and harmony".

The book artfully tells of Mrs. Bender’s visits to Amish homes. On two separate occasions she lived with normal Amish families for a span of weeks. She speaks of the simple life they lead, hemmed carefully with unbending rules, hard work oriented around home and land, the unspoken constant: "do not seek to be special", and, of course, community.

I cannot do justice to the book — I am not sufficiently plain and simple to allow enough time for that task. But one comment on this matter of community really spoke to me. Mrs. Bender, musing on the wonderful sense of Amish community, said,

"My friends and I had been taught to value independence, not to impose on each other. If we needed our house painted, we hired a painter; if we needed a cup of sugar, we drove to the market."

Too true in most of our lives, I suppose, and the internet world, ironically, disconnects us all the more, moving us all the further from real human interaction in so many cases.

The Amish know about community, though, says Mrs. Bender:

"Deeper bonds meant creating obligations," she said. "I longed for a group whose members needed and made demands on each other."

I am thinking this idea is quite rare in most communities, and of course the Amish are not perfect at it. But maybe we could learn from them.

To whom are you willing to be obligated for the sake of community? By whom am I willing to be served for the sake of community?

Mutual obligations are necessary if there are to be deeper bonds.

Something to think on.

  1. tim Says:


  2. axegrinder Says:

    “To whom are you willing to be obligated for the sake of community? “By whom am I willing to be served for the sake of community?”

    Stated another way:

    Upon whom am I willing to impose?

    That may, in the end, be the hardest part of these lifestyle alterations for us to embrace. Is it possible we all want to be the magnanimous benefactor, while none of us want to be the hat-in-hand pauper? Interdependence is fine as long as I’m the one helping, rather than the one receiving assistance.

  3. Stephen Says:

    Great questions.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Irony and self-awareness...:)

People say I'm condescending (that means I talk down to people).

Thursday, January 28, 2021



Expectation is one of life's happiest joys. We 'can't wait' for the day off, a good night's sleep, a cherished friend to visit, a well-earned vacation, supper. Who doesn't love to hear the satisfied sigh: “Finally!”?

Expectations depend on reliability: no one dare get hopes up if the odds are too slim. Sadly, some expectations are little more than wishful thinking, fodder for broken dreams.

Winter in Alaska is full of expectation. Folks from elsewhere can't fathom how we endure the endless white landscape, the thermometer stuck below zero, sun dials with precious little to 'dial'. But we do endure, and one secret is expectation.

We know, we hope – sometimes we wonder. But deep in the soul a weak sun glimmers, hope gives a wan smile, and we know again winter won't last forever. Light will soon come and overstay its welcome, and the magical Alaskan summer will make us forget winter ever was.

Expectation goes with the life of faith as well. Those who believe expect their faith will become sight. Our faith is grounded in One we have dared to trust and found to be trustworthy. As the Psalmist has it, “Those who know what He is like will trust in Him.” (Ps. 9:10) We should think well enough of God to believe He keeps His word. This allows expectation, the result of confidence in one we have found reliable.

When loved ones die with confidence in God, we hope to meet them again, believing God is able and will keep His word. This expectation offers light and joy in dark days. When loved ones – or we ourselves – slip on the journey we find our Lord meets us there. We learn to hope in His faithful love, expressed over and over, nurturing confident expectation that “underneath are the everlasting arms”, “he will not leave or forsake us”, “He is working both to will and to do of His good pleasure”, “joy comes in the morning.”

And finally, Jesus promised all will be made new and those who rely on Him will live forever. The skeptic finds this an outlandish claim: “Show me!” Believers may reply: “Our faith is the reality of what we can't 'show you', evidence of what we cannot now see. But come and discover for yourself – you may find to your great surprise there is something worth believing, something beyond this life reasonably to hope for.”

No believer suggests we know with certainty. Faith is a different kind of knowing, trusting the claims of one we cannot see, giving the Eternal God the ultimate care of our eternal well-being. Who else would we trust for such things? And so, because we trust a faithful Christ, we live with joyous expectation.

What are you expecting this year? Look to Christ, trust His good way, receive His grace to walk steadily on. “He makes all things beautiful in His time.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Ministry Remnants: God Gets His Good Work Done or "God's Ways are Not Our Ways!"

Among reasons for not writing is knowing folks have too much to read and, alas, I have too much to say. Then there's the pesky Proverb: “Where there are many words, sin is not absent.” Yet words give rise to more: explaining, re-visiting, wondering, re-shaping. Such are these forays into “ministry remnants,” drawing on normal angst – occupational hazards – of a preacher. “Did I really say that?!”

If we cook a bad meal – which I never do for, mercifully, I do not cook -- the eaters know, and we might. So with preachers. They grieve for the failings while trusting the one who calls, knowing the eaters needs the best on offer. Maybe remnants are good, if only for the preacher, bringing addition, reflection, hoped-for resolution.

My remnant today is from a rumination on the value of reading the Old Testament at a fast pace. I mentioned how things rise to the surface and in my reading, the idea of stubbornness had emerged. First, Pharaoh's heart hardened, or made stubborn; second, God's painful reminder to his people about why he cleared the promised land. “I am not doing it because you are good, but because they have been bad,” he said to his chosen beloved (my paraphrase). “You are a stubborn people.”

As this second fell from my mouth it seemed I was calling my dear friends stubborn. Indeed I do not think of them as stubborn. But here one easily errs, for the human family has a great many things in common heritage, not least this matter of being head-strong. So, I dare to hope my reflection on hard-headedness gave aid to any listeners who needed to acknowledge and repent of their own stubbornness. One prays.

But the first is more difficult, for who can understand God's ways with people who suffered at His hand so His cause could proceed? Yet, I heard a sound of hope: “God hardened Pharaoh's heart so he could do great miracles.”

“Perhaps,” I had thought and so had to share, “God allows -- yea causes -- our own headstrong ways so he can work miracles in our lives as well."

Better Bible teachers might reply, “Nay. The lesson here is simply God using Pharaoh to further the needs of His people. Pharaoh's doom was well-earned, and do not forget, it was doom, not blessing. The miracle was not for him!”

So is the crumb worth having at all? You must decide I guess. For my part I see the head-strong ways of my youth – some that very-nearly doomed me – and I rejoice that God brings good from ill. I bow with joy in my heart, believing God is both great and good. And I savor the sanity of Job: “Even if his way with me is the end of me, yet I trust Him.” Or to quote Randall McElwain, “Life is short; God's purposes are long.”

Today I kneel, daring to believe – yea knowing – He does as He will with an end in mind that is good, always good, for me and for you. That is a remnant I can morsel and savor, food for the soul.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Ministry Remnants: The Ironies of Unseen Suffering

"I'm trying to say that what you say hurts me!"  The husband was distraught, head down, pain long-buried. His wife barely heard the words. 

"You?!" she replied. "How can you be hurt? You're big and strong and you're in charge. Nothing hurts you!"

The statement was self-fulfilling. Trying to meet the claim, the man visibly receded, pain buried deeper yet. No doubt he tried to be invincible -- for his wife, no less. But he wasn't, and isn't. 

Then I remembered the cross. The greatest, the most loving, the one who could be more "in charge" than any who ever lived: this man suffered scoffing and scorn, hatred, betrayal and abandonment. He hurt, he felt the pain. And He asked God to forgive us for "we do not know what we do."

I wondered if the wife knew what she did, and if the husband would find the grace to bear gladly, for the good of his wife and home.

~ Prayers of a Prairie Pastor

Ministry Remnants: God is Everywhere Involved

I am reading through the Bible in 90 days, a remarkable experience. I recommend it for a sweep of the text, a big picture, an unfolding not otherwise clear.

Along the way I noticed something rising to the surface repeatedly: God is always involved. Or as I put it to a friend, "Look out! God will mess with you!"

I shared this in prayer meeting last night and reflected later that the expression "mess with you" sounds only negative. But I really mean to say that as I read through the Old Testament I realized it is sheer folly for you and I to think our lives are somehow separated from the interaction of Almighty God. Rather, I think he is always involved way more than we are aware, and a key to wisdom is to assume his involvement and ask for his guidance. 

Contrariwise, the axe at the root of the tree of all wisdom is the fruit of our secular age which teaches us not only that God is not involved, but he doesn't even exist. I say with the Apostle Paul, "It is in God, the Living God, we live and move and have our being." Be aware of this and welcome God "messing with your life" (He's doing it whether you see it or not.) If you give him half a chance, listen and follow, he will bless you abundantly. 

This I believe, this I continue to learn.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Ministry Remnants: On Being Wrong

Well, a title like that could lead to an endless rumination, for the extant of one's wrongness could fill the library of the ages. But this will not be endless.

Sunday evening, trying to serve dutifully, I commented on a song so well sang, and edifying. It was the wonderful truth "Our God Reigns" and it's opening line "How Lovely on the Mountains" gave reason to reflect and share, as is my often wont. The song mixed in my mind with another chorus titled "Our God is an Awesome God" -- confused perhaps because of similarities in theme and title. Well enough, but alas, I pronounced the author of "Our God Reigns" as one Rich Mullens. He, as it turns out, authored "Our God is an awesome God", not the former title upon which I was holding forth.

When my wife later kindly pointed out the error, obvious to all who cared to re-open their chorus books, I was embarrassed but could do nothing about it, so left be.

I remembered not to make too much of human frailties, not to take myself too seriously, to smile rather than chafe at these kinds of errors, and to learn to avoid chatter in the pulpit.

Of course, pastors are human, too, and congregations are long-suffering. But best not to try them overmuch lest they begin to wonder what else a preacher may say that is mistaken. :)