Friday, March 24, 2017

Logos: 1 Samuel 16:7

16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
Currently, our children's time in worship is being presented by one of our Music Scholarship students. She sends a bag home with a child each week, who places something in the bag, and brings it back to worship the next week. Erin (the music scholarship student) pulls it out, and does a children's moment based on the surprise object, trying to tie it together with the theme of the day.

This morning, she pulled a hair brush out of the bag, and wove that into the idea that God loves us, no matter what we look like; even when we don't look pretty, we are lovely to God. Loveable to God. Even when someone teases us at school, and we feel rejected, God loves us.

During Sunday school, the teacher asked, "Do some of us need the love of God more than others do?" The answer came forth in two different ways. We discussed the idea that all of us need the love of God equally, and that some of us need to hear about it more than others.


How can we tell people that they are loved by God, no matter what? How can we get past the barrier of how people look, and remember to only look at their hearts? How can we have eyes like the Father, and shine forth love like the Father?

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Burned Out?

Years ago, I was at a sorority training event for adult chapter advisors, and the presenter said, "Sometimes, those who say that are burned out never had a fire to start with." 

I like it. I don't think it means that we are supposed to continue to trudge through the work we're doing, even when we don't have passion or desire for it. I do think there are times when we were called to particular work for God, and we do it, and we reach a place when we are called to do something else, and pass the previous call to someone else. 

But sometimes, we use the phrase "burned out" to signify that we believe we've done a whole lot of work, and we are used up. Empty. I do think that happens, but sometimes, don't we say it because we want someone else to notice how much work we've done? And do we sometimes say it because we never had a passion for the work in the first place? 

In writing about Paul, Buechner says, "Jesus lit the fire, and Paul used it to forge for him a new church." 

Christ lights sparks inside of us, and when we fan those flames through service, we find that Christ continues to feed the fire - that our passion doesn't diminish. We may be called to move on to some other work, but our passion for service doesn't die. Am I write? Or just wishful?

At one point, I told a friend, "I'm going to stop doing this particular job that I'm doing at the church." He replied, "Ok, what are you going to do instead?"


What fire has Christ lighted in your heart? What are you called to do with it? What part of the Church can your forge for Christ?

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Perspectives: Sacred Window

What do you think of this window? Isn't it beautiful? It looks like it belongs in a church - but that's not where I found it.  It's in the entrance of a TGIFriday's in Charleston.

What is sacred? What is secular? Are there strict dividing lines between them? 

I'm not suggesting that a window at TGIFiday's is sacred, but the moment I had, looking at it, think of sacred vs secular, and planning what I would tell you about it was a sacred moment. It was sacred because it had God in it.

Have you been to a worship service that didn't feel like worship at all? That felt like a self-help conference, or even worse, a boring break before lunch? There can be worship that isn't sacred at all, because God hasn't shown up - hasn't been invited or acknowledged.

God transforms the secular into the sacred, and God doesn't set the boundaries for the distinction that we do. I've met with donors where the moments spent with them, hearing about their callings to give, that are sacred moments, made so be the presence of God.  

I've heard music on the radio that was not meant to be sacred, but was.

And I've listened to music in a worship service that had no element of the sacred in it at all.

We draw strict lines sometimes - and God ignores them. We pass judgment on the sacred nature of something, and God laughs at us.


Be open to the sacred every day. It shows up in places we wouldn't expect it.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Doctor, Doctor

My devotional time today in Wishful Thinking started me wondering about calling Jesus the Great Physician:

When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Luke 2:17)

What comes to mind when you think of a physician? The most obvious answer is healer, and Jesus is certainly that. But think about it more.

Think about the relationship/dependence you have with your doctor.
  1. When you visit the doctor, you are stripped (literally, usually) of your defenses, along with your clothes. You are vulnerable.
  2. You visit the doctor because you believe she knows more than you do.
  3. In a good doctor/patient relationship, you trust your doctor.
  4. You place your life, literally, in her hands.
  5. You wait, nervous and anticipating, for whatever news or words she brings.
  6. You depend on your doctor for healing.
  7. Your success as a patient depends on following the doctor's "advice."


Do we have a relationship with Jesus that mirrors the relationship we have with our doctor? Or is it less?

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Not Faith 101

Regarding Paul, Buechner says, "Since then the charges against him have tended to narrow down to one, i.e. that he took the simple and beautiful Gospel of Jesus and loused it up with obscure, divisive, and unnecessary theological subtleties."

There is a scene in the movie An American President when the President, played by Michael Douglas, says, "American isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bed, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight."  He means, among other things, that you can't just say, "Freedom of speech." You have to stand up for the right of the person in front of you, who disagrees with you completely, to be able to say so. It isn't easy.

Christianity isn't easy, either. We can boil it down to "Love God; love your neighbor," but that's not simple. It's not easy. It's not faith 101. You have to want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight.

I'm always wary when someone tells me that faith in God is simple. That the words of the Bible are black and white, and there is no interpretation needed. I always want to ask if the person saying it has actually read it - all of it.


Thank God for Paul, who God gave us to help us to understand what happened when Jesus "exploded on the scene...and blew the world in general ... sky high." 

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Logos: Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:10

Compare two lectionary readings from this week. One of them is from Exodus 17:1-7. 

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded.  They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. (verse 1) ... And God says to Moses (in verse 6a): "I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink."

And then look at John 4:10: Jesus answered her, "if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

I am told that when you are thirsty, you have gone too long wtihout water. Do we do that? Do we go so long without contact with God, without asking for living water, that we get thirsty? When we do, do we trust that God is the provider? That reaching out to God will supply us with what we need? When we go so long in the desert, do we remember the source of the living water we need?


Or do we stay thirsty, when God is offering us life?

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Just Do It

Why don't we speak to others about what God has done for us? It's hard, isn't it? We don't want to be rejected, we don't want to be thought of as "weird." We don't want to be pushy. We don't want to be disliked. We think we don't have the gifts for it, the calling for it, the skills for it. We would rather not do it. We just don't want to.

Regarding Paul, Frederick Buechner says, "As his own letters indicate, his contemporaries accused him of being insincere, crooked, yellow physically repulsive, unclean, bumbling and off his rocker." 

Paul wrote, "Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked. A night and a day I have been adrift at sea. (from 2 Corinthians 11).


As Nike says, I should just do it. I have a story to tell, and so do you.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Perspectives: Spring Point Ledge Path and the lighthouse


The first picture is of Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in Maine.  To get to it, you have to walk on the rocks you can see in the picture. Steve and I stood looking toward the lighthouse, wondering about walking to it. Finally, we decided to do it. 

The trip was not fast, and it required patience and a little bravery (at least for me). It took cooperation, as we helped each other jump or step from rock to rock. It wasn't a walk in the park (although it wasn't terribly difficult - just not simple). 

As you can see, from the second picture, we made it. We turned around and took a picture of the path. And I was SO GLAD that we took the chance and made the trip.


I hope when you look at a potentially difficult path, you decide to step out and take the chance.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kindness Received

Yesterday I wrote about kindness, and how it surprised me that this word appeared on my "radar" so abruptly and constantly at the beginning of the year. 

As a certified lay minister, I am interviewed every other year by the District Committee on Ministry. I was driving to that interview, thinking about what questions the committee might ask me, rehearsing answers in my mind. Do you do that? 

"What has church meant to you this past year?" I'm not sure that question came to mind, but it did. Last year had challenges, and as I thought about the question, I said (in my mind), "If I consider last year, I think of the ways the church - not just my local church, but the Church - has helped during the challenges we had. I think about all of those who were supportive between the month when Steve lost his job (reduction in staff) and when he started his new one. I think of the friend who offered assurances that "everything will work out." I think of the friend who offered the services of his sister to review Steve's resume. I think of all of the people who offered both concrete and emotional help. 

I think about when our dog was lost. I remember the man who took off work to look for her. I remember all of those who offered understanding, concrete advice and help. I think of the card the choir sent to us after Molly had been found. I think of the friend who knew what to do, how to do it, and then sent a card when there was nothing else to be done. I remember the friends who listened to the whole story - more than once - as we worked through our sadness and anger. 

I remember what church has been, and all of those actions of all of those people can be summed up in the word kindness.


I have received kindness; no wonder God wants me to think about ways to offer it.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Kindness

Kindness.

Have you ever heard of the practice of choosing a word for the year and making that word your "focus?" I've heard of it, and I always thought it was a little - I don't know - not silly, not odd - but something. Limiting? Would I only focus on peace for a whole year? Let's just say that it has never been something I wanted to try.

This year, however, a word has been hounding me. At the beginning of the year, I was hearing it everywhere. Sometimes, for me, that is a sign that God wants me to pay attention. That word for me was "kindness."  

I had heard it often enough as the year started that I thought I needed to give it some extra thought. Kindness. I wrote in my bullet journal that I think I was being pushed to think of ways to think and speak with more kindness.

And then one day, I was complaining about someone to a friend. (So much for kindness). The friend said, "smother her with kindness." My response? "I don't want to." I didn't want to, but that was what I tried to do. 

As I thought about it later, I was reminded that kindness is a gift of the spirit. A gift from God. We don't have to depend on ourselves to be kind. We can depend on God to grant us the ability to be kind. When we don't feel like it, when we don't want to, when we know we can't, on our own, be kind, God will give us the grace of kindness - a gift that we can offer others because we have been equipped to do so through the actions of the Holy Spirit.


I'll try to remember that this year as I strive for kindness.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Logos: Genesis 12:1-2

12:1 Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.
12:2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

Years ago - no, more than you're thinking - many years ago, I was a Bethel Bible teacher. Preparing to do that meant taking a two year class that met 2.5 hours a week, homework, and a whole lot of reading and thinking.  I loved it. Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher, and this was a cool way to prepare to do it - plus I love Bible study.

After I completed that training, I led a class. We met weekly, 1 hour a week, for six 6-week sessions. A big commitment for those who took part. But a blessing - I know for me, I hope for the students, too.

One of the basic themes in the Bethel curriculum is from this verse - you are blessed to be a blessing. It stuck with me from that time, even now. 

What does it mean to the way you approach discipleship and stewardship if you believe that you have been blessed for the purpose of being a blessing? 

Last week I preached in Wheeling. Before worship, I received an email from a former student in the Bethel class that I taught. It said, "You have been blessed to be a blessing." It was meant to be encouragement as I prepared to teach, and it was.

If you believe you have been blessed for the purpose of blessing others, then first of all, you recognize the blessings that you have been given - the gifts you have, the time you have, the opportunities you have.  For me, it provided a reminder that I was in that place in that time because God (and others) believed I had the gifts to do what I was about to do. Realizing that you are blessed creates confidence. Secondly, knowing that their is a purpose in what I am doing - to be a blessing - creates trust. It's not me who will bless others - it's God, through me. I can trust that God will act in ways I don't anticipate or understand because I say that I will step out and serve. The blessing that will happen isn't based on my abilities - but on the gifts I have been given and on the action of God through me. Thirdly, knowing that there is a "so that" in what is happening pushes me to say "yes" to God. I have an obligation (which becomes a joy) to serve.

You have been blessed (yes, you have), to be a blessing. You have been given the gifts to do what you are called to do, you can trust God to work through you, and you have a responsibility to act on what you have been given. Seize the opportunities before you, and experience joy. 

As God told Abram, "Go."



As God told Abram, "Go."

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

Mystery

I'm reading today in Wishful Thinking as Buechner speaks about mysteries. There are some mysteries which you can think through to a solution - a murder mystery novel, for example. There are other mysteries which you can't think your way through - you just have to live them.

"To say that God is a mystery is to say that you can never nail him down. Even on Christ the nails proved ultimately ineffective."

I love Bible Study. I love it because I love to know more. See more. Learn more. I want to understand. And there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, I think it is an excellent thing to do.

But - even with that, we can never let ourselves think that we have God nailed down. Figured out. God is a mystery that we cannot understand. God used Christ to help reveal himself to us - and knowing Christ certainly expands our understanding of God - but it doesn't complete it.


None of us should fool ourselves into thinking we have God nailed down. Figured out. And that we know all about him. It's just not true - and is in fact impossible for us.

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Friday, March 03, 2017

Logos: Psalm 32:1-5

Psalm 32:1-5

I wondered
what it would be like,
to be forgiven.
To have this weight of sin
lifted.
What would it be like?

I saw those who walked in joy,
free from guilt.
Their sins covered.
Not hidden,
but removed.
I saw them, 
and I wondered.
What would it be like?

Is it possible,
I wondered,
that God would 
offer such great mercy
that sin,
even my sin,
could be forgiven?
It is possible,
I wondered.
I yearned.

Those who had found such joy
Surely their joy sprang
from honesty?
From a clean heart and spirit?
I kept my silence
Certain that this could not be 
grant to me.
And my spirit withered.
My heart shrank.
Guilt ate away at me.
I yearned, and I died inside.

One day, my sin
was so heavy,
so crushing,
that I knew I must seek God.
I knew I must speak to God.
I knew I must turn to God.
So, finally, in my yearning,
I told God of my sin.

God became my refuge.
My strength.
My sanctuary.
God indeed has more mercy
than I had sin.
God gave me the grace
of forgiveness.
And God lifted the guilt.

My heart is clean.
My spirit rises.
I am alive.
I am forgiven.

I rest in the grace of God.

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Thursday, March 02, 2017

Music

Whereas painters work with space - the croquet players on the lawn, behind them the dark foliage of the hedge, above them the sky - musicians work with time as one note follows another note the way tock follows tick.
Music both asks us and also enables us to listen to certain qualities of time - to the grandeur of time, says Bach, to the poignance of time, says Mozart, to the swing and shimmer of time, says Debussy, or however else you choose to put into words the richness and complexity of what each of them is wordlessly "saying."
We learn from music how to listen to the music of our own time - one moment of our lives following another moment the way the violin passage follows the flute, the way the sound of footsteps on the gravel follows the rustle of leaves in the wind which follows the barking of a dog almost too far away to hear.
Music helps us to "keep time" in the sense of keeping us in touch with time, not just time as an ever-flowing stream that bears us all away at last but time also as a stream that every once in a while slows down and becomes transparent enough for us to see down to the stream bed the way at a wedding, say, or watching the sun rise, past present future are so caught up in a single moment the we catch a glimpse of the mystery that at its deepest place time is timeless.  (Buechner, Wishful Thinking)

Have you had that experience - the experience where music brings you to a transparent place. For me, sometimes, that place offers glimpses of the holiness of God. Glimpses of the eternal, where time is timeless.

I have no musical talent of my own, so I am eternally grateful to those who bring music into my life - people like my son, Josh; our music director, Bruce; the choir, the bells, and even those who have written music that we are blessed to sing in worship.

That's how gifts are - when they are shared, God is seen more clearly.

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