Friday, December 11, 2015


Have you ever read the book of Hosea?  I have, and I confess that I didn't like it; however, last night, I may have changed my mind.

Our Bible study is using a curriculum by Rick Slaughter, called "A Different Kind of Christmas." The chapter we discussed last night is called Scandalous Love, and it was centered around parts of Hosea 2.

If you haven't read it, or if you don't remember it, Hosea was a prophet, and God told him to marry Gomer, who was a prostitute.  In effect, he married someone who he knew would be unfaithful, who more than likely didn't love him, and whose children might be his - or might be someone else's. Imagine that.

And yet, that is what God does for us.  He loves us, even when he knows we might not love him.  He knows we will be unfaithful, and yet he is a faithful God.  God enters the covenant with us knowing we will fail to hold up our end of the covenant.... that we will be unfaithful.  That we will worship other gods.  Imagine that.

Slaughter called it the "de-sanitized version of the Christmas story."  It might be the most profound Christmas story I'll hear all December.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2015


Consider the last chapter of John.  Jesus has risen, and he has shown himself to the disciples. At the beginning of chapter 21, Simon Peter, Thomas the Twin, Nathaniel and the sons of Zebedee were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias.  Jesus appears on the beach.  He says to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?...Cast the net to the right side of the boat and you will find some."  They do what he tells them to do, and then they were not able to haul the net into the boat because there were so many fish.

In this passage, Jesus reminds them that what they are doing is not being productive.  And then - do something different.  What you are doing is not working; try something else.

How often in the life of church do we continue to do the same thing, without alteration, and without results?  

Had the disciples noticed that they weren't catching any fish?  Probably, but even so, Jesus has to point it out to them, and receive their agreement that, no, what they were doing wasn't being productive.  Were they self-deceptive?  Were they ignoring the lack of results?  Were they standing in the boat sharing stories of how many fish they used to catch doing the same thing? Are we ignoring our lack of results in ministry?  Do we stand around, remembering the "glory days?"  Do we need someone to draw our attention to what isn't a fruitful ministry?

And then, he tells them something "radical" - do something different.  Change what you are doing.  It is a reasonable piece of logic - don't keep doing what you have been doing if it isn't yielding results - do something different.  I wonder if they said, "But this is the side of the boat we always fish from!"  

So, they changed.  They moved the nets to the other side of the boat.  It wasn't an illogical thing to do. It made sense.  It wasn't just change for the sake of change. They listened to Jesus, and they followed his leading. Do we sometimes just make change for the sake of change, desperately trying something new without investment in discernment or without the hard work of determining the best course of action?

Where is God calling us to do? How do we need to change?

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Monday, December 07, 2015

Is it kindness?

Yesterday, as I drove home from work, I saw a piece of paper sticking under my windshield wiper.  I was stopped at a light, so I quickly got out of the car to grab the paper. It was a "God Bless You" bookmark.  I know it was placed there by someone who wanted to supply news of a God's love - who truly wanted me to know I was blessed.

And yet, having had to stop the car, get out, worry about getting hit by a car, and get back in the car, it didn't feel like a blessing.  It felt like an intrusion. It could be that I was just grumpy, but it doesn't seem like it was a blessing to me.

Do we do that? Do we fail to place ourselves in others' shoes when we seek to "be a blessing?"  Do we consider others less than we consider what makes us feel good?  As if we have done our good dead for the day?

I suppose I should just accept the action of the other as an act of kindness, but it doesn't feel like kindness.


Thursday, December 03, 2015

Extravagant Love

Have you seen this YouTube video from Pizza Hut?

 It's called Big Pizza Delivery - and it shows a pizza delivery done with mega-caroling. It's caroling beyond anything anyone has ever done, I think. Extravagant. Beyond the limits of expectation. It's caroling that is beyond the realm of what anyone might expect.

 At our bible study last week, we talked about hope vs expectation. When we have expectations, we have in mind what might happen. We can imagine what might happen. When we have hopes, what can happen can be beyond our expectations. It is unimaginable. It can be beyond the realm of words or thought. That's what advent is. It is the breaking in of God in ways we never could have imagined or thought.

 Have you loved anyone like that this week? Have you done something that was extravagant - and I don't mean extravagant spending, I mean extravagant in what is expected of you?

 Our son called early this week because he needed a some supplies for an assignment he is working on. He is incredibly busy at school, with more that 20 hours. He had something like four papers and two projects due after Thanksgiving, three juries this week and then seven or finals next week. And a concert on Tuesday. He called about an hour and a half before the concert to ask for the supplies, so that we could bring them to him.

He didn't realize that buying the supplies meant traveling way our of our way before going to the concert, rushing around to get it all done, and possibly missing our only opportunity for dinner. And he even told us he could wait until tomorrow for them - he was asking us now because he thought it would be easy for us to bring them to him when we attended his concert.

Steve and I made an intentional decision to drive out to Office Depot, go beyond expectations into hope. By bringing him what he needed, we knew that he could work on the project that night, wouldn't worry about shopping for the supplies - and that it was something we could do to help him during this busy time.

When Josh saw the Office Depot bag, he knew what it meant, He knew what we had done, and he felt (I hope), extravagantly loved. Not because of any amount of money, but because of our investment of time and effort in his needs.

Have you loved anyone extravagantly this week? Have you caroled extravagantly? Made someone feel loved beyond expectation, the way you are loved?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Miracle Reminders

I wrote earlier that our bible study had challenged its own members and the congregation to FILL the harvest altar, as a mission miracle.  This is the harvest altar on the Sunday we collected food.

The whole project served to remind me of a few things:

  1. That people are willing to give.  They are generous.  They want to give.  They (and I) just need to be asked, and need to understand the good that will come of their giving.  Otherwise, we forget.
  2. That miracles can be ordinary actions of ordinary people, moved by God (hence the miracle) to change the world.  We should never forget that.
  3. That this is church. This is what we are to be about.  

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

False Kindness

We traveled a lot (for us) in October.  I can't remember if we were coming or going, but we were standing in line at the airport when I overheard a passenger in line behind me say to her friend, "I show false kindness all the time." The two women seemed to be speaking of kindness with contempt. "They call it kindness because they don't know other word to use."

I wonder about that.  Is false kindness false? Or is it kindness?  Or, is it only the layer we project to hide our thoughts?

Kindness is defined as, "the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate."  The Bible calls kindness one of the gifts of the spirit. Psalm 145:9 says, "The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he had made."  I think kindness may be part of how we show love to each other.

I don't always feel like being kind.  And I'm not always kind, but there are times when I act with kindness, in love, even when I don't feel like it.  I think that's still kindness.

So when is kindness "false?" Is it when we act out of selfish motivations or with when "kindness" is only the layer we hide behind when we are truly being hurtful? Is it when we are inauthentic? Is it when we the person we are standing with thinks, "If smiles could kill, I would be a goner?" When do we cross the line from kindness when we don't feel like it to kindness that is not kind at all?


Monday, November 23, 2015

Do we listen?

We have a dog.  She is a beagle, and her name is Molly.  She is quite possibly the sweetest animal I have ever known. We met her when she was about two weeks old; she joined our family at six weeks old, and has been here ever since.  She is beloved.

Molly is not without flaws, and one of them is that she pretends, when it suits her, that she does not understand English.  She can't fool me; I know she understands me when I speak.  I say, "Back," and she turns around and walks the other way.  I say, "Let's go downstairs," and she runs full speed down the stairs.  If I say, "Treat," well, you can imagine her reaction.  But when it's time for bed, and I say, "Let's go upstairs," she just stares at me as if I am speaking Portuguese or Cat.

She knows my voice, she understands the words, but she doesn't like them.  So she ignores me.

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. Like any seeker of knowledge, I googled it this evening. The Feast of Christ the King was established in 1925 by Pope Pious XI.  He wrote in December of that year that even though World War I was over, there was still no true peace. He believed that true peace could only be found in the recognition of the Christ as King.

John 18:37, from this Sunday's lectionary, says, "Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

"Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Do we listen to Christ's voice?  Or are we as stubborn as our family's beagle, ignoring words we understand but choose not to obey?  When Christ says to feed the poor, do we?  When he says, "Forgive that person so many times that you can't keep count," do we? When he says that the most important action we can do with our lives is to love God and love each other, do we?

Or do we stare at our savior as if we don't understand him at all because it's not the words we want to hear?

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Expecting a Miracle

In Bible Study last Sunday, Steve was teaching. He asked the question, "What ideas do you have that could be seeds for a mission miracle?"

It seems like I immediately thought of our harvest altar, and I asked the group, "What would happen if we as a church brought in so much food for the harvest altar that we overwhelmed our local food pantry?  What if it took multiple cars to get the food to the pantry from the church?  How many people could we feed?"

So, our group is extending a challenge to the church to do just that.  As I was driving home that evening, I was thinking about how to phrase the email to send out our challenge.  I thought about the people of the congregation - some of them are older, and wouldn't be able to carry in larger quantities of food.  I thought about stationing people in the parking lot to help them, and then I thought that would be foolish.  People are going to ignore the challenge, aren't going to bring in the food, and we'll just be standing in the parking lot, waiting for nothing.

Except that I believe this is from God.  And if I believe this is from God, shouldn't I act like it?  Shouldn't I expect it to work?  Shouldn't I plan for its success.

So the email I sent out told everyone that there would be people in the parking lot to help, and I invited members of our Sunday school to join Steve and me as we act foolish, waiting around for a miracle.

We'll see what happens.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Clip in

I just started a new book called Clip In.  I'ts written by Jim Ozier and Fiona Haworth.  I heard Fiona speak at a conference and was intrigued enough to buy the book and start reading it. The subtitle is "Risking Hospitality in your Church."

Steve is a cyclist.  When he rides, he wears shoes that clip to his pedals.  This means that he can propel the bike on both the down-stroke and the up-stoke.  If your foot just sits on the pedal, only the down-stroke does any work; your foot just rides up as the other leg moves down.  If you are clipped to the pedal, then you pull up and push down - twice the force to increase the movement of the bike.  This is the image that the authors of the book use to teach about hospitality.

I really like this analogy.

  1. There is risk involved in "clipping in." Your foot is connected to the pedal.  Ask my husband. If you lose your balance or stop without planning and are unable to unclip, you fall over.  It's a risk.  
  2. You are connected to what you are doing.  You are invested.  
  3. You can move forward more quickly because you can do more work.

We need all of those in the work of a church.  We need to be invested, to take risk, and to efficiently and effectively move apply work to move forward.  Steve loves riding his bike.  Ask him, and he'll tell you that the investment, risk and work are work it.  I think we will find that in the work of the church as well.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Communion and worthiness

Think back for a moment to the institution of the Lord's supper in the Gospels.  Can you remember Jesus giving a bite of bread to Judas, right before Judas left to betray him?  Do you remember that Jesus washed the feet of all of the disciples, and then shared the bread and cup with them?  Do you remember what happened to the disciples after Jesus' arrest?  They betrayed him.  Peter denied him.  None of them stood by him. Do you think Jesus knew what would happen to the support of his friends?  Do you imagine he hesitated to offer them his body and his blood that night?

Could it be that their sin was the reason he offered himself?

I hear discussions about who should be allowed to take communion.  My grandmother wouldn't accept communion because she felt her grudge against her neighbor prohibited her from the sacrament. Do you ever feel you are not good enough or sinless enough or clean enough to partake?  

Don't get me wrong.  I think the confession at the beginning of communion is important and beneficial - especially to us, as it offers us an opportunity to be honest with ourselves and God.  Do any of us truly repent of all of our sins before we receive communion? Were the disciples?  Was Judas repentant?  How could he have been, since he left that place to betray Jesus.

It is in communion that we meet the grace of God.  It isn't the sinless who are in need of grace; it's the sinful.  God loves and accepts us, knowing that we have sinned, and forgiving us.  Thank God for that truth.  


Monday, October 26, 2015

Live Like That

I served on a Walk To Emmaus in the prayer chapel this past weekend.  The last talk of the weekend ended with this song:

One of the verses:

Am I proof 
That You are who you say You are
That grace can really change a heart 
Do I live like Your love is true? 

People pass 
And even if they don't know my name 
Is there evidence that I've been changed 
When they see me, do they see You?

Good questions to consider.  Do I live like Your love is true?

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

High Notes of Eternity

I attended a leadership conference this weekend. As part of one of the worship services, all 700 of us sang the Lord's prayer together.  Near the end, at the "and the glory, forever," the tune went higher than I can reach with me voice, so I stopped singing.  I listened for a moment to those whose voice can reach those notes.  And the prayer continued.

I can't reach the high notes of eternity by myself. None of us can.  But in community, as voices joined together, we come closer.  We can come closer together because God is working through us.

We try to work alone.  Or at least, I do.  Do you? Do you struggle on and on alone because you think you can get it done?  Be good enough at it to not need help?  A soloist who has the voice range can hit that note, but there was something stunningly beautiful about us all singing it together.  And together, if all of us couldn't sing all the notes, all of us participated in the prayer, buoyed along by each other.

Community is a God-given gift.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Band Stand

I haven't disappeared.  I was in New Orleans last week for a national meeting of United Methodist Foundations.  I'll be back tomorrow with my normal "thoughts."

This is an image of a band stand that was built in the New Orleans City Park.  It was built in the early 1900's (I think). John Philip Sousa played marches from this band stand.


Thursday, October 08, 2015

Does God care if I am smart or not?

I'm still thinking about the conversation I read on Facebook yesterday between Jay and Don.  Jay said, "...the more we learn from science, medicine, and psychiatry, using the intellect that God gave us, the better we understand who God is and what God is about not only through the sacred scriptures, but also through the gifts of reason and experience that are ours from God.

Don replied (and this is just a part of Don's reply), "Isn't it a bit arrogant to think that the more intelligent a person is or the more human knowledge advances the closer we get to God?"

Hmmmm.  Do I think that the more intelligent we are or the more we know that the closer we are to God?  No, I don't, but I also don't think that is what Jay was saying.  I believe God reveals himself to us where we are and how we are - whether we have a MDiv or no education at all, whether we are sinner or -- well, in our sinfulness, whether we have a high IQ or not.  I also think that God reveals himself to us whether we look for him or not, or whether we engage in spiritual practices or not.  Does that mean that spiritual practices don't matter?  Or that gaining knowledge of the world has no impact on our understanding?  No.

I'm a biologist by training, and when I study the intricacies of DNA or the vastness of the universe or the wonders of evolution, I learn more about God.  God is in all of it.  Those studies of God's universe don't move me away from God - they move me closer to God.  It's wonderful and amazing and divine.  My eyes are opened more to God's presence when I look!

What does that mean about the study of the Bible?  When my eyes are opened by spiritual disciplines or intellectual pursuits, then I may be able to see God more clearly in the Bible.  It does mean that I may be able to approach the scripture in a different, hopefully clearer way. Does it mean that God thinks me more worthy of revelation through the scripture?  Absolutely not.  But, for example, if I understand that epilepsy can be caused by brain injury, then I am less likely to believe that epilepsy is caused by demon possession.  However, anyone, with that knowledge or not, can read the passage, and learn that Jesus heals, and come to a better understanding of who God is.

PS - I should tell you that Jay is my pastor, Rev. Jack Lipphardt.  Don's name is David, but I don't know him.  The entire conversation is from a post by a member of our church, Brad Lesher.

The images on the last three posts are from Cranberry Glades.