Friday, September 30, 2016

Logos Luke 17:5-6

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.  (Luke 17:5-6)

A faith that will move mountains. A faith that can uproot a mulberry tree by command and plant it in the sea. A faith like that. Imagine.

I think it is hard to imagine, and I wonder if the disciples thought the same thing, because Jesus is telling that they have enough faith to make the impossible possible. Imagine.  And they ask for faith, but Jesus tells them that they already have enough faith.

Where does our faith come from? Is it just a product of our belief? Is it developed from our own gumption and determination? Does our faith increase because we read more or listen to sermons more, or pray more? Is our faith a product of what we do?

I don't think so. Our faith is a gift of grace. Our faith comes from God as a gift of prevenient grace. Without God's action, we wouldn't even know God. God provides us with everything we need, including faith, to move a mountain - to do the impossible.

Imagine.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

God of Second Chances

I live in Huntington, WV. We are known (sadly) as a hotspot for heroin use. I don't read the newspaper, but in Sunday school today, our teacher was summarizing some of the recent editorials in the Huntington paper regarding the drug addiction. When I tell you what he said, beware that the information is 3rd or 4th hand - I haven't read the editorial itself.

Marv told us that one of the editorials (well written) stated that the writer did not want his tax dollars used to provide doses of narcan to those suffering from a life threatening opioid-related overdose, just to have that person return to drug use. If you haven't heard of narcan, it is an opiate antidote. When administered during an overdose by health professionals (such as an EMT), it can save a life.

What is your thought? I have a few:

First of all, when did we decide that we would administer life-saving health resources based only on the "sinlessness" of the person who is sick? Do we refuse cancer treatment to a person with lung cancer who smoked? Do we refuse to set the broken arm of a dare-devil extreme sports participant unless he agrees to stop his dangerous behavior? Would we seriously let a person suffering a heroin overdoes because we don't want to pay for a $5.00 dose of medicine?

Secondly, I wonder if the author of the editorial would express the same opinion if his son or daughter was the one suffering from the overdose? Would he be OK with the idea that his loved one will not receive a dose of a drug that would save his or her life because someone else has judged that the person in danger will repeat the dangerous (and illegal) behavior?


Thirdly, and most importantly, what would God have us to do? Our God, who is a God of second (and two hundred sixty second) chances? What does love say to do? Save the life? Or give up?

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Perfection

I may have mentioned this before. One Sunday, years ago, I was teaching Sunday School.  I said, "When people are ordained, one of the questions they answer is, "Do you believe you are going on to perfection?" A member of the class told me I must be wrong - that couldn't possibly be a question ordinands have to answer in the affirmative.

I wasn't wrong. It's one of the historic questions that are asked of those who are going to be either commissioned or ordained, and their affirmative answer is necessary for them to go forward.

I understand what the man meant, though. We are all taught (and we know it from experience) that none of us are flawless. And we are taught that perfect means flawless. To claim that we might one day reach that "goal" seems to be the height of arrogance.

The more I think about the idea of "going on to perfection," the more I am convinced of the following: making the statement that I believe I am going on to perfection is not a statement that says anything about me - it's a statement of faith in God.

God is at work in our lives. Grace is at work in our lives. Moving us on to perfection is the work of sanctifying grace. Perfection doesn't mean flawless. It means wholeness. It means moving on to the being that God has created us to become.

So, to say I believe that I am moving on to perfection means nothing about my own actions. It is a statement of faith in God - a statement of belief that God is active in my life, and is changing me - transforming me - re-creating me into the image of God I was created to be.


I am moving on to perfection, and so are you!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Wilderness Path to Wholeness

Archbishop Tutu (who knew something about forgiveness) wrote:
To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. ... However, when I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out of the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victim hood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator."
Forgiveness isn't forgetting, it doesn't ignore accountability, but it does open up our lives to rebirth.

How difficult it is to choose grief in order to let go of our hurt. And sometimes, we just can't do it. We can't do it by ourselves - God calls us to forgive, but God doesn't leave it to us alone. God works in our lives to enable us to forgive. Does God do this because the other person needs forgiveness? Maybe. But I think God does this because God knows we need - for our own healing and wholeness - to forgive. God walks through the wilderness with us - experiences our pain with us - to lead us to the promised land on the other side.


What kind of love is this that God would love us so much that he would be willing to walk with us into pain in order that we might be whole?

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Monday, September 26, 2016

High Hurdles



This is a video of Jeffrey Julmis, a competitor from Haiti, running in the semifinal heat of 110 high hurdles. He fell at the first hurdle, and yet he gets up  and keeps running.

From the story at sbnation.com:
Julmis mistimes the first obstacle on the course, crashing hips first into the hurdle, and tumbling head over feet into the second one. His race was over, but he didn't let that stop him. Instead, he took a deep breath, composed himself and cleared the final eight hurdles to join the rest of his heat at the finish.
His anticipated goal was impossible to achieve. He couldn't qualify for the finals; he couldn't even officially be placed in the heat because he ducked under the second hurdle in the fall, but he got up and kept running.  

To me, this is perseverance. This is continuing to run the race. Why do that? Why run the rest of the race, and how does anyone run the rest of the race and jump over all the other hurdles? 

Because that's what a "winner" does. That's how a driven person operates. It was't the success Julmis intended, but it was success.


When we fail, do we stop? Do we give up? Or do we stand up, take a deep breath, and press forward. Normally (for me, never) are we running a high hurdles race, and sometimes getting it and moving on means switching paths, but perseverance means not staying on the ground in defeat. Life does through high hurdles at us, and sometimes, we fall down, face first, onto the ground. What's the next move after that?

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Logos: Jeremiah 32:1-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.  Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours."
 (...and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard.)  In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.  (portions of Jeremiah 32:1-15)
 As you read that passage, did you catch that these words of Jeremiah are from a time when the Army of Babylon was attacking Jerusalem? And do you remember what happens next? Judah is exiled. The people are removed from the land. Imagine that - I imagine Jeremiah is buying this piece of land with the full knowledge that he won't be there to use it or enjoy it. The redemption of the land (for it belongs to his family) is only done as a sign. God has told him to do it, and told him to store the deeds in a place where they will "last a long time." Why? As a sign that "houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land."

Would you do it? Would I? Would you redeem land that you could not possess, knowing that you will be leaving? And do it only as a sign to a future generation? A sign of hope?

Have you ever considered that we are the caretakers for the future church? That what we do today isn't only for the church of today - isn't only for the community and people of today, but is also for the church of the future, yet to be born?


What will be our legacy? Do we have enough faith to obey God to make it happen?

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Gratitude

Yesterday, I wrote about anger, and the anger I fell about the loss of our dog. Anger and heartbreak are not the only feelings I have right now. I am also experiencing gratitude.

I'm grateful to so many people for what they did to try to find her or to support us as we looked and after we found her.

The man who received the wrong dog searched for her, even after he knew it wasn't his dog who was missing. The vet and his staff looked for her everywhere they could think of. They printed and handed out fliers. There is a man associated with a no-kill shelter in town who spent days and nights looking and distributing fliers. The people at animal control were very helpful and understanding. Strangers in businesses listened to our story and hung fliers. They shared our grief when we returned and told them the rest of the story.

Friends at church offered support. The choir sent a card, signed by all. Friends of ours suggested next steps and helped with them, then spent time with us afterward, to listen and offer distraction. Family members and friends looked for her and prayed for us. And then there is the man who called, crying, to tell us he had found her. The list literally goes on and on. 


Gratitude is a kind of grace, isn't it. Make a list of what stirs your heart to gratitude, and in it you will find comfort.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Anger

Of the seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both of the pain you are given and the pain your giving back - in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. (Buechner, Wishful Thinking)
If you read yesterday's post, you can understand when I say I am angry. I am heartbroken over the loss and death of our dog, but it is made worse because I am angry. I am angry that the other owner didn't recognize that the dog given to him wasn't his, I am angry at the vet staff for giving him the wrong dog. I am angry at the staff for caring for a dog for over a day and not recognizing that it wasn't our dog (and was in fact a male dog, and not a female dog). I am angry.

And yet, I don't want to be. I want to offer forgiveness, and I want to move through the anger to the other side of it.

God made us. He created us, including our emotions. Anger is a response that we cannot ignore. We get angry. How we deal with it is important. Do we feast on it, as Buechner suggests we might? Or do we pass on that meal, to move to one of grace?


What will I do? I hope that I - in fact, I have faith that I will move through this anger to the otherside, where forgiveness and peace awaits. I know that God will travel with me.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Is it Disneyland?

A few weeks ago, we were on vacation, and our dog was being boarded at our neighborhood veterinarian's office. The vet and his staff have cared for two of our dogs, and is always reliable and trustworthy, so as I tell you this story, know that.

Our dog, Molly, is a beagle. While she was there, there were two other beagles being boarded. Their owner came the day before we were to pick up Molly. Instead of giving him his two dogs, they gave him one of his dogs and our dog, instead of Bud (his dog). Bud is about 10 pounds heavier than Molly, and we think she pulled out of the too loose collar. She ran from him, and he was unable to catch her. 

For the next day, he looked for his dog, and the vet thought they were still caring for Molly. When our son went to pick up Molly, they brought out Bud. Josh recognized the problem, and it was at that point that they realized that our dog was missing. We all started looking. There were sightings and we traced them down. We made fliers and passed them out. 

One evening, two days later, Steve and I were still looking. It was hard to remain hopeful. The sitings of her were near Route 60, a major four lane highway. We walked along the road, calling, giving out fliers to businesses to post. We passed a small building (called a hotel, but it is really a long-term residence for several people), and a stuck a flier on a telephone pole.

The next day, Steve got a call from a man who was crying. He had found our dog, on the side of the road, killed when she was struck by a car. He told Steve when he came out of his room that morning, the flier was at his feet, on the ground. He has a dog, it is "his baby" and when he found ours, he knew who to call.

This is what I think. This is what I believe. God, through God's wind, blew the flier off the poll and deposited it on the ground where this man would find it. God knew this man would care enough to read the flier and to call us. God knew that we were praying for Molly's return, and that we kept searching for her. Truthfully, I'm not sure how we would ever have stopped. Knowing what happened to her was terrible, and we are heartbroken, but still, it is better than not knowing.

I could choose to believe that God was involved, or I could choose to think it was all coincidence.  Frederick Buechner (as published in Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC) says, "There are other agnostics who...have climbed over the mountain" and have only seen the other side of the mountain.  "At least that was all they could be sure of. That faint glimmer on the far horizon could have been just Disneyland."

I think we have to give ourselves permission to believe. We have to choose - will we think it is all a coincidence? Or will we choose to believe that God is involved in our lives, that God loves us, that God is working for our good?


What is your choice?

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Bottle of Cold Water

The other evening, Steve was out of town, and I had a meeting at church. I parked at church and walked downtown to grab some dinner. If I'm eating alone, I often read, as I was that evening. I read a chapter out of Brene Brown's book, Rising Strong. This is what I read:

When you look away from a homeless person, you diminish their humanity and your own. (Quote from Father Murray Powell)

In the chapter, Brown struggles with her reaction to people in need - how she looks away from them instead of connecting with them. I was feeling the guilt of looking away as I read it. As I walked to dinner, a man had asked me for a quarter, and I had told him no.

After dinner, I was walking back to church. I walked by the yogurt store, and stopped, thinking a bottle of water would be great during the meeting, so I turned around and bought one, and dropped it down into my bag.

As I approached church, I saw a woman was sitting on our church steps. I started to go in, and she asked me for - you guessed it - a bottle of water.  No one has ever asked me for a bottle of water.

Do you think God was involved? I do.  I got a second chance to see someone who needed help and to respond. I was able to give a cold, unopened bottle of water to a thirsty woman. I drink water, but I rarely walk around town with an unopened bottle in my bag. And yet, God knew this woman needed water, and God knew I needed to give it to her.  Two humans, needing God. 

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Logos: 1 Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,who gave himself a ransom for all--this was attested at the right time.For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.  (1 Timothy 2:1-7)
Check out the beginning of that passage. It is a command to Timothy to pray for everyone - kings and all who are in high positions.

We are in a tumultuous election season. I'm surprised that each year, it seems to get more and more nasty. The things that are said - the comments that are made - by politicians, the media, and my "neighbor" are sometimes horrible. We act as if we are each others' enemy.

What if the person you are not voting for wins? What then? Can you (can I) pray for that person? Can you pray for your enemy, even if it is Trump or Clinton? Will you? Will I?>

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Doing their best?

And here is a disturbing question from Brene Brown's book, Rising Strong: "Do you really believe - in your heart - that people are doing the best they can?" 

The author was confronted with this question of herself, so she decided to ask it of others as well. There were those who answered yes - that they believe that others are doing the best that they can. They often felt naive saying it, but they "couldn't give up" on the idea that people are doing the best that they can. Others, who responded with a resounding "NO!" often sited the idea that they knew that they were not doing the best that they could, so they assumed that others were not, as well. They judged themselves harshly, and so they judged others harshly, too. Those who answered "no" often struggled with perfectionism. Those who answered "yes" were often people who were willing to be vulnerable and who believed in their self-worth.

And then the last person she asked, her husband, said something that struck me as truth:
"I don't know. I really don't. All i know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best.  it keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be."

Do you believe that people are doing the best that they can? I don't know the answer to that question. What I do know is that when I think about those people who I believe are not doing the best they can, I focus on their failings. I see them with eyes that judge. My life is probably happier and more joyful when I choose to believe that people are doing their best.

I wonder if that is part of what God means when God tells us to love each other.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Made for Spirituality

Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world.... That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian; to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God's new world which he has thrown open before us." (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian; Why Christianity Makes Sense)
What do you think? Where are we? Do we settle for introspection, pleasure, vengeance, our own way, sentiment? Or do we reach for what we are made for? Spirituality? Joy? Justice? Relationship? Beauty?

Christ is at work in each of us. In all of us, together. God's sanctifying grace is active, re-creating us. Are we open to it? Do we accept it? Do we step into the darkness of change and follow Christ? 

What do you think? Is Wright right? Is this what it means to be a Christian? Is this what it means to follow Christ? Does it mean stepping into a new world? Stepping into the world that God has opened for us?


I think he's right, and I think the door is wide open for us to move into the new creation. Are we willing? What step do I need to take to move toward sanctification? What step do you need to take, today, toward where God is calling you?

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Romans 8

If you read the blog, or if you participate in a Sunday School class that is using the International Series for curriculum, you may have noticed lots of references to Romans. This summer, we were in a Romans mood.

Look at this verse:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:35)

When we were reading through Chapter 8, the teacher for that day said, "Why do you think nakedness is mentioned in this verse?" So, what do you think? Why is nakedness mentioned?

To be naked is to be vulnerable. To be naked in front of others (except perhaps one's partner) is humiliating. So, could this be stretched to mean that vulnerability and humiliation will not separate us from God?

Think of what makes us vulnerable or humiliates us? Poverty? Shame? Illness? Sin? Addiction? Crime? Mistakes? Poor judgment? Any and all of those, and many more?


So, none of this will separate us from the love of Christ? Not even our worst nightmare, becoming reality, will separate us from the love of Christ.

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