Friday, April 24, 2015

Opposites?

On the road much this week - from Potomac Highlands to Midland South to Greenbrier to Western to
Wesleyan and then back home to Western.  Sorry for the spotty posts, and glad for the day of normal today.

I mentioned the Prayer class that was part of our District Leadership Training event, and I talked about the greeting that is used in the Lord's prayer - Our Father, best translated as Abba.

Continue on in the prayer, and you find the next phrase is "hallowed be thy name."  This refers back to the name that God gives Moses at the burning bush - I AM.  I AM is the most revered name of God, considered so holy by the Jews that they would not speak it, and because the Hebrew written language didn't include vowels, we really don't know how it would have been pronounced, even if it had been.  The best guess is Yahweh.

Consider the juxtaposition of those two ideas for a moment.  Jesus addresses God as Daddy, and with the most holy, reverential name he can use.  Together.

I think much of our faith is like that.  Was Jesus human or divine?  Yes.  Is God a God of justice or mercy?  Yes.  Is our relationship with God intended to be one of close intimacy, or high reverence?  Yes.  God is best understood - not that we can understand God, but we get closer - when we say yes to opposites.  Our faith is richer when we accept that we will not understand, and allow the idea of God in our mind to expand to include even those ideas which are in juxtaposition.

If anything, it will increase our gratitude toward God.  We are invited to pray to the most holy God as if he (or she) were our father (mother).  (See?  Is God father or mother?  Yes).  Amazing.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Abba

Two things collided in my mind this past weekend.  First, I participated (as a student) and co-taught a class about Prayer at our District Leadership training event.  It was a great class (I can say as a student), and I imagine there will be more posts that spring up from it.  Secondly, I preached at First UMC in Barboursville this past Sunday (also, more posts to follow).

In the prayer class, the Lord's Prayer was mentioned often.  The first words of the Lord's Prayer are "Our Father."  When translated into Greek, the word is Abba.  It is best heard by us as Daddy.

After worship on Sunday, a very young child came running into the Sanctuary and with the most delight and joy imaginable, yelled, "Daddy!"

Could it be that we could pray with the enthusiasm of this young child, so grateful to be reunited with Daddy?

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hiding in God

Psalm 71 begins "In you, O Lord, I take refuge."  The author of a devotional in Disciplines 2015 compares that to Jesus action in John 12:36:  "After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

Where did Jesus hide?  Why did Jesus hide?  The Psalmist gives the answer to the question. Jesus took refuge in God.

God offers a place of refuge.  Have you ever thought of hiding in God?  Perhaps Jesus did that so as to prepare for what was coming.  What is coming in your life?  Do you need to go hide in God?

It reminds me of Elijah running away after the battle with Ahab and his priests.  He hid in God. Angels took care of him.  And when he was ready, God came to him to speak again, in the stillness.

God is a refuge, and from God we can receive strength.  Do you need to go hide, for just a little while?

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bringing Light and Life

A couple of phrases stuck with me from the Church Leaders conference:

  • Do you bring life into a room when you enter it?
  • Are you excited to be in your church?

So often we don't ask those questions.  And if we do, it's in a self-centered way.  We ask these questions:

  • Why don't I feel as if I'm nurtured by my church?  I don't "get anything" out of worship.
  • Why doesn't my church excite me?

We forget, I think, that our apathetic attitude has its own "ministry."  Does your church not bring life into your spiritual journey?  Why aren't you bringing life to someone else in church (or outside of it)?  Not excited by church?  Why aren't you bringing excitement to your church?

How can we change our viewpoint and stop seeing church as something that feeds us and see it instead as something we bring light to?

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Leaders Who Bring Excitement

As I still consider thoughts from the conference I attended about Growing Church leaders, I offer this idea:  a church that is growing has energy, momentum, and excitement.  How do you reach that point in a church?  Have you ever felt that your church doesn't have those characteristics?  What are we really saying when we say a church is lacking energy?  We are saying that the people who are the church are lacking energy, momentum and excitement.  Do we too often detach the characteristics of the church from the characteristics of the people?

How can we foster the kind of enthusiasm in the people that is reflected in the church and the work of the church?

The conference suggested that leadership development can do that, and they may be right.  I know that when I am working in the church on projects that excite me, the excitement is contagious.  And fostering that kind of excitement probably means developing leaders who give of themselves for the work of the church.  Here are their suggestions for doing that, in a nutshell:

  • What do we need?  Lots of leaders in lots of different roles
  • Why to we need it?  Leaders have a higher investment in the work, an increased excitement. We are providing them an environment to use their gifts.
  • When do we start to do it?  Now.  Consider the cost if you do not.  You may have to stop doing some other things, but it seems like it would be worth it.
  • Where do we find leaders?  Inside and outside your church. Don't forget children, youth, and young adults.  Think long term, not short term.


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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Trust and Become

The seminar I went to a couple of weekends ago featured presenters from a United Methodist Church in Brunswick called The Chapel.  This church is very intentional about discipleship.  Their summary statement for their intentional process is trust and become.  (If you want to read more about it, you might want to go to The Chapel website.)  The idea is that those who do not know Christ come to the church, and are welcomed with open arms.  They are invited to enter into Trust - trust of God, trust of the church and trust of each other.  Once that trust is developed, the person can transition to being a "partner," which is what many of us call members.  Members continue with development through discipleship by becoming - a worshiper, a community and a missionary.

It made me think about the unintentional process that a church might have for discipleship.  We say we are welcoming to whoever might come to our church, but I'm not sure we evaluate our welcomeness.  We feel welcome, so we assume everyone else feels that way, too.  If someone new comes, we hope they stay, and if they join the church, we feel as if we have won a victory.  They chose us!

The difference - or at least one of the differences, to me - seems to be the intentionality of the process.  Do we expect people to become disciples without nurturing them?  Do we have any expectations of members to become anything at all?

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Leadership and Vision

People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.  -- John Maxwell

What do you think of this quote? Is it true?

A pastor told me a story once of his service in a church.  The church loved him and thought his ministry among them was good and a blessing.  One year, they decided to install new carpet in the sanctuary, and the carpet chosen was very light.  Fearing that communion grape juice spills on the carpet would stain it beyond repair, the pastor suggested that they use a lighter colored grape juice. Since they loved him, they loved his idea, and went with it.

This isn't a vision for his church, but it is an example of how building trust among the people with whom you are in ministry is important.  It is - as they say - all about relationship.  Getting to know people, showing them acts of caring and compassion, listening to them, encouraging them, suffering with them - all lead to relationships of trust.  And when God makes his vision for a congregation known to that leader, then those who already trust him will see God in it, because they can look through the trusted leader.

Otherwise, my experience has been, that the distrust clouds the issues - whatever they might be.

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Monday, April 06, 2015

Leaders

What is a leader?  I've often found that some people see a leader in a church as a person who holds a
particular office - the Lay Leader, the chair of the Church Council, the pastor.  While these are leadership positions, it doesn't always necessarily follow that the people holding the positions are good leaders.  By the same token, there can be church leaders who hold no position in the church.

Leadership isn't about position; it's about influence (from a Church Leaders seminar I attended a few weeks ago).  Everybody has influence, in one way or another.  How are you using your influence?  Where are you leading people?  When you walk into a room, do you bring life or do you take it?  Do you lead people in the direction that Christ wants them to go?

Whether you realize it or not and whether you agree with it or not, you are a leader, and you will be leading people somewhere.  To deny this doesn't remove you from the position of leadership; it just defines what kind of leader you will be.

What kind of leader WILL you be?  Where will you lead people?  Is it in God's direction or not?

Will you bring life or take life from a room?

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Friday, April 03, 2015

For Them

John 8:1-11, Mark 10:17-22, Matthew 27:45-50, John 19:28-30

The two of them stood
At the foot of the cross
Watching the man named Jesus
Die.
The clouds in the sky
Were boiling, like black oil.
The world cried out in protest.
And yet the man hung on the tree,
Nailed to the wood.

She stood, and watched and remembered.
The day was branded into her memory
The day when she had met Jesus.
The “wise ones’ had stolen her from her home,
After they caught her in adultery,
Caught her in her sin.
She had been so ashamed.
Lost.

“My God, my God,
Why have you forsaken me?”

His words from the cross pierced her heart,
And stole her breath.
She had felt forsaken, abandoned.
Then she had stood, head bowed,
In front of this man.
He had searched her,
And knew her.
He had saved her.

Without him, she would have been stoned.
Suffered justice for her sins.
Instead, she had been transformed
By his love.
And had returned home,
New.

He stood, watched and remembered.
He thought again,
As he had so many times,
Of the time he had spoken to the man.
“What must I do to have eternal life?”

“I thirst”

The words of the one dying
Echoed his life.
He had thirsted,
For everything,
And his yearning had never been quenched.
He had always wanted more.
More treasure, more money.
Nothing else had mattered.
Certainly not the request of this man.
Not even the young wife who stood beside him now.
None of it had been important.

Until that day,
When he had walked away,
The words of the savior
Echoing through his mind.
“Then come, follow me.”
When he reached home,
He told his plan to his wife,
And together, they had made a new life.

Without this man on the cross,
He would never have been alive.
He would never had found what he
Had sought everyday of his life.
Treasure beyond imagining,
A gift of grace,
Given to him when he let go.
When he surrendered all.
He had been transformed.
Saved.
Recreated.

“It is finished.”

Their savior died,
And their hearts broke.
And somehow they knew
That it had all been done for them.

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Thursday, April 02, 2015

I will remember

He took the cup,

held it up,
and gave thanks to his father for this gift.
Take this, share it,
and remember me.

I will remember you.
I will remember
The flow of water as you were baptized
The flight of the dove as God declared,
this is my son.
Wine, where water had been.
You, quieting the storm,
and walking on the water.
The tears at Lazarus's grave.

I will remember
The sweat and tears dropping like blood
as you prayed that the cup would pass.
The blood draining from wounds
caused by fear, anger, torture and sin.
The vinegar on hyssop
and the watery sun that stopped shining
when you died.

I will remember
My sins are washed clean.
The taste of the wine at the meal
at your invitation.
The life and light flowing through me
because of your love.
I will remember.

He took the loaf of bread
held it up,
gave thanks to his father for the gift
Take this, share it,
and remember me.

I will remember you.
I will remember
The prophetic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
You fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fish
and baskets left over.
You healed the sick,
loved the lost,
extended God's grace
even to the sinner.
I will remember the stones that were dropped
and not cast.

I will remember
The bread you fed Judas
who would betray you.
The lash of the whip.
The jab of the crown.
The strike of the hammer on the nails
into your flesh.
The stone rolled away
and the empty tomb.
The bread lifted and blessed at Emmaus
and eyes opened.
I will remember.

I will remember
I am part of the Body of Christ.
The taste of the bread shared with others.
The towel offered in service,
the blanket to be shared.
The feel of the ground beneath my knees.
I will remember.

Remember me, Jesus,
when you come into your kingdom.
I thank God that I can remember you.
I will remember you.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Who will betray him?

John 13:21-38


Jesus ate one last meal with them.
He said, "One of you will betray me."
He risked telling them the truth,
as he always had.

Sounds at the table stopped.
The shuffling, the rasp of hand on beard,
the wash of drink clearing away the dirt.
Silence fell for a moment
as hearts stopped
and minds raced.

Guilt and sin rose with the thought.
Is it me?
Will I betray him?
After a moment, in the heat of the night
uncomfortable in their doubt of themselves,
the disciples began whispering,
prodding,
until the brave (or brazen) Peter urged John to ask,
"Who is it, Lord?"

Jesus fed Judas the bread
and sent him on his way.
Communion with the betrayer.

If they had known what it meant
there might have been
a released sigh,
a quiet breath,
a prayer of gratitude
that Jesus hadn't given them the bread.

But Jesus wasn't finished, not quite yet.
Love one another.
Feed and care for one another.
Peter swore to lay his life down for Jesus,
and Jesus once again spoke the truth,
as he always does,
and said, "You will betray me.
Three times before the cock crows."

The words must have echoed in Peters mind
mingled with the denial,
and the guilt.
I am the one who will betray him.
I am the one.
Me.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How large is God's love?

How large is God's love?
Its reach is to the heavens.
And it touches my soul.
The distance between the the stars
is nothing compared to the breadth
of God's love.

How strong is God's love?
God is more faithful than the sun,
more predictable than its rising and falling.
God's loyalty to those he has created
is more certain than the rain from the clouds.

How righteous is God?
The strength of his goodness is as firm as the mountains
Granite, bedrock, solid under our existence.

How just is God?
His judgment is as deep as the ocean,
probing into truth,
weighing feathers,
but granting grace so that
all of God's creation is saved.

God's children fail to comprehend
the goodness of God's mercy
and the completeness of God's love.
We can take refuge in God's presence,
secure under the shadow of God's wing.
We can find our fill,
even in our emptiness,
at God's table.
Abundance we can't even imagine.
Living water.
Life-giving light.

We pray that God's steadfast love will continue
even when we can't understand it,
even when we fail to comprehend its limitlessness.
We pray for salvation
even when we haven't earned it,
and we rest in the grace of God's love.

Inspired by Psalm 36:5-10

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Monday, March 30, 2015

The Lord Needs It

I want to do something this week on the blog that relates to Holy Week, and a week of Holy Week poetry came to mind.  That reminded me of some of the poems I have already written, and I started looking at them.  

So this week will be poetry related to Holy Week - some repeats and perhaps some new.  


Luke 19:28-40

His footsteps were slow
As he walked his final path to Jerusalem.
The disciples had been told,
but the refused to hear.
Was he walking alone?
Isolated in their denial?
Or did he find some comfort
In the nearness of friends?

Closer, just a few miles to go.
How often had he walked this path in his mind?
The journey had been long,
And the end was just beginning.

He sent two friends ahead.
"Go, and as you enter the village,
you will find a young colt,
never ridden,
tied to a post and waiting for you."
As he said it, did he think of the future?
Tied to a post and waiting?
Nailed to a cross, barely breathing?
"Untie it, and bring him here.
If you are asked, say
'The Lord needs it.'"

They did as he said,
And found what he said.
The owners asked what they were doing.
"The Lord needs it."
So they gave it to him.
No questions; no hesitations.
Do we always answer the same?

They laid their cloaks on the back of the animal,
and then his friends lifted Jesus up to ride him.
Friends, lifting up their friend.
Face to face, heart to heart.
Would they remember this moment, later?
When he broke the bread,
or washed their feet?
When they lifted him down,
face to face, heart to quiet heart,
off the cross?

The donkey plodded along,
carrying a king,
stepping, not in the mud,
but on clothing, thrown on the ground.
Gifts.
Jesus entered Jerusalem,
as his forefather Solomon had entered Gihon,
riding his father's donkey.
Was he riding on a donkey,
Provided by his Father?

The crowd shouted praise,
"Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
As he rode, did he hear the echo
of the angels' praise
on the night that he was born?

As the crowd shouted,
the Pharisees complained.
"Teacher! Make them stop!"
These Pharisees were the ones who should have known.
Who should have recognized the son of the God they loved.
And yet they were blind to the man in front of them.

Jesus told them,
"If these are quiet,
the very stones on this ground
will cry out!"
God is changing the world,
And if you cannot see it,
If you cannot sing His praise,
The void will be filled
By those who will.

The song will not be stopped.
The Lord has need of it.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Images and Ideas

I posted a picture a week or two ago of a paten and chalice.  I took the picture for the cover of The Foundation's annual report, but I didn't just pick up the objects and my camera and snap a picture. First, I prepared.  I thought about what I wanted the picture to be, and I planned it in my mind.  Then I did probably at least 100 images, just testing out what I wanted the image to look like and how I could make that picture in my mind come to life.  I pulled the best of those images and electronically put it on the cover, to see what it might look like.  I evaluated it, and critiqued it, deciding what might need to be changed.

After that, I prepared again, selecting the best time of day to get "the image," buying the bread, getting my materials together.  And when all was ready, I took everything down to the chapel and took at least 200 more pictures.  I went through them all, and selected a few that came close to what I was imagining.  I dropped each into the Annual Report file, trying them out, and then selected the final one.  I put it in the Annual Report, moved it around, cropped it, moved the text, undid selections and redid them - it wasn't just drop and go.  And throughout this process, I sought the opinion of other people about what I was doing.

What I want to stress is that I didn't just take one picture.  I took hundreds.  I knew that was necessary to find the one I wanted to use.

I was in a seminar this past weekend.  The speaker said, "Remember that you are not your ideas.  Don't become personally attached to them."  When we do church work (or any kind of work), we bring our ideas to the table, and use them, with others, as springboard to where we need and want to go.  We'll need hundreds of them before we get to the one that is right.  We'll take pieces of one idea and combine it with another, we'll use one idea to spring board to something none of of ever thought about.  If we are too personally attached to one idea, then we never get to the best idea.

"If I have 1000 ideas, and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied." -- Alfred Nobel

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