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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Thursday, March 26, 2015

More than we see

I was reading a devotional today based on John 3. The writer spoke about Nicodemus, how Jesus and the Pharisee did not "connect," talked past each other, and that "we assume that Nicodemus leaves Jesus and goes off unchanged into the night." Do we assume that?

It reminded me of the story of the rich young man who was told by Jesus to sell everything he owned, give the proceeds to the poor and then return and follow.  So many pastors who preach about this young man bemoan the "fact" that he turned away, sad, and did not follow Jesus. How do we know that?

Do we think Jesus' persuasive abilities are so week that if there is not an immediate response that there will never be a response?  Do we read into the responses of Nicodemus and the young man our own responses to Jesus, and assume they will be the same? Why are we unwilling to entertain the idea that the two men walked away with seeds of change planted in their minds?

Actually, John goes on to mention that Nicodemus supplied the burial spices after Jesus' crucifixion and assisted Joseph of Arimethea in the burial.  Christian tradition holds that Nicodemus was martyred for his faith in Christ, and some scholars believe that Nicodemus in John is also Nicodemus ben Gurion, mentioned in the Talmud as a wealthy and popular holy man who may have had miraculous powers (Wikipedia).  Whatever happened to Nicodemus, I am willing to believe that the seeds planted by Christ grew into faith through grace.

And then the poor young rich man, who is always portrayed as having chosen his possessions over Christ.  Is that the final word?  Or will we be open enough to believe there is more to the story?

And will we be open enough with the people around us, offering them the grace of believing there is more to their stories than is evident to us at the moment?

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cleaning House

One of the stories I remember from being a child in church was that of Jesus clearing out the temple.  I have a picture of a place full of tables and Jesus angry, moving about, turning over the tables.  People scattered, running away from what they had done wrong.

This passage was one of the lectionary readings recently.  I doubt many of us have money changers in our the lobbies of our churches or tables set up to sell perfect, flawless doves, but the passage does bring to mind questions that we should consider:

The money changers were set up in the outer courtyard, and they became an impediment to worshipers who were not allowed to progress further into the temple.  What is it that we place in the way of people that prevents them from worshiping God?  We think we would never do that, and that we are welcoming, but I suspect we need to think harder about it.

The money changers thought (or at least some of them did) that they were fulfilling a need dictated by the law.  What are we doing with the best of intentions that we think is God's will that Jesus would ask us to stop doing?  What are we doing in compliance with the law that is not a statement of love?

Jesus had to clear out the temple.  What is in our lives - either as a church or as a person - that Jesus is asking us - demanding us - to clean out?

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Call to Worship

Leader:  The gates are open; Christ has opened them.
Give thanks and praise to God that we may enter into God's house.

People:  We give thanks to God that God has answered,
has listened, has saved us.  We remember that Christ, the living capstone, was rejected, humiliated and died for us.  We bring our confession to worship.

Leader:  Remember God's work among us.  Open your eyes and see.  Open your hearts and believe.

People:  In this very day; in this very hour, God is at work, and we bring our joy to worship.

Leader:  Come into worship, knowing that you have been freed from sin into joy.  We are now free to live a full life in God.  You are a beloved people, blessed by God.

People:   God is God, and we are grateful that we stand in the light of his Word.  We bring our gratitude to worship.

All:  We lift our worship to God and give God praise that his love never ends.

Inspired by Psalm 118:19-29

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Ultimate Authority

Our bible study group at church is reading Renengade Gospel: The Rebel Jesus by Mike Slaughter. I'm up to lead the group next Sunday, so I'm reading Chapter 2 today.  Lots of thought provoking snippets here.

Have you ever considered that some of us - and maybe some of our churches - practice Bible idolatry, "acting as if the written word were the highest authority."?  Don't read that and think that either Mike Slaughter or I don't believe in the authority of the Bible, but is there one that is higher?  Of course there is.  It is God.  God is the highest authority.

Consider verses from John 1:  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Logos is the Greek word in this passage that means Word, but with better clarity, it means Jesus, the Living Word.  To take liberties with the passage, we could read, "In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God." It's not really correct completely, but it might be easier to "get."

Consider the passage that some refer to in order to defend the supremacy of the written word over anything else; 1 Peter 1:23, which reads, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God."  Here, again, the word is Logos - the Living Word.  The verse refers to Jesus as the enduring Word of God, and through that Living Word, we have been born again of that which is imperishable.

Slaughter suggests that when we are faced with difficult Bible passages, such as some of the very violent words in the Old Testament, or the edict to take and eye for an eye, that we stop, and we go to read the Red Letters of Jesus, and then we reread the troublesome passage through this lens.  Look at what is troublesome through the eyes of Jesus - the Living Word, and the ultimate authority.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

God's message amid snakes

Today I read Numbers 21:4-9.  Its a story about the Israelites in the wilderness, once again losing their trust in God.  Poisonous serpents began to bite people and some of them died.  The Israelites repented, and God told Moses to make a bronze serpent, set it on a pole, and to show it to those who had been bitten.  They would look at the serpent and not die.

As I read this passage in preparation for reading a devotional in Disciplines, I wondered how on earth anyone would write a devotional based on this passage.  And then I read this, written by Charlene Kammerer:
How often do we as a people forget that God is in charge?  How often do we in the church complain that 'if only" we were bigger, had more money, more children and youth, a nicer building, a good preacher, then we would be growing and multiplying our numbers and ministries?  How often do we act like we want to go back to the past instead of moving forward to God's Canaan for us?  To what do we look to regain our trust in God?
So, two lessons for me this morning:
1.  Trust God more.
2.  Any passage can bring God's word, even one with snakes.

May God touch you today (hopefully, without serpents).

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A publicity stunt

I read this today in Disciplines 2015 (written about the movie The Ten Commandments, released in 1956):
Cecil B. DeMille, the producer-director of the film, devised an unusual publicity stunt to advertise his picture.  Working with a civic group, he had granite monuments engraved with teh commandments erected in the yards of hundreds of courthouses across the country, all for the purpose of promoting the movie.
I thought that was fascinating.  I wonder if this is the origin of so many monuments to the 10 Commandments being erected on court house lawns.  Interesting to me that what began as a secular movie promotion stunt has turned into (dare I say) an idol that should not be touched?  The author of this devotional (Bill Dockery) goes on to say, "Engraving the commandments on a stone and posting it in a public place seems to be a kind of idolatry forbidden by the third commandment."

What do you think?  Does it make a difference to you that the 10 Commandment monuments were built not as a religious icon but as a publicity stunt? Is it idolatry?

Honestly, I do get annoyed by people who tell me that the Christian faith is under persecution in the United States.  We have it so easy here compared to places that are experience real persecution for their faith.  I don't think considering whether a monument to the 10 Commandments is a violation of the separation of church and state qualifies as persecution.

There.  Done.  Go out and love someone today.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Changing the Story

While the church is committed to changing the world, let me suggest that we need to start by changing our story. A future with hope is one we can build together intentionally, while the future of fear is one from which we can only run haphazardly. The difference is the story we decide to tell.
So you want those millennials to start attending your church? Great! A funeral in progress may not be the strongest story we can tell. So let’s stop telling the tale about the death of the church and start writing the story about the future of the church. Our rewrite cannot ignore current realities, but it must refuse to be limited by them.

This quote is from an article on ChurchLeadership.com written by Patrick Scriven.  It's a good article - take a gander when you have a moment.

What story are we telling those we hope to win for Christ?  Are we saying, "Come to this church; we are dying and need more members?"  Or are we telling them, "Christ has made a difference in my life, and in the lives of the people in this community.  Come and join us."?

I know I keep harping on the same question, but I hear the two messages all the time.  Which one are we called to tell?  What should be our story?

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Surround Sound

Last week, I attended three concerts - all of them at our local University and all of them concerts in which my younger son was playing trumpet.  A great music week.

At the beginning of the last one, the symphonic band lined up around the walls of the concert hall, surrounding us.  The lights went completely out, so that the room was dark.  The Director walked down the middle aisle, and began directing the concert band using a glow stick.  Really, really cool idea.

The music filled the space.  I have two trumpet playing sons, and I've been to many band concerts, but this was band music unlike any I've ever experienced.  It was surround sound.  The music wasn't in front of me on the stage, but it was all around me. I was in the center of the music.  And in the dark, the music was all there was.  I couldn't watch the players or the audience.  I was even in front of the conductor, so I didn't watch the bouncing glow stick.  I just closed my eyes, and was IN the music.  It was fantastic.

I wonder perhaps if that is what following regular spiritual disciplines will lead us to.  We come close enough to God that we can close our eyes to everything else - everything that distracts us - and sit in the center of God's will, God's music, and just be.  Surrounded by God.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Moving the focus

Today, something different.  I have recently been elected to coordinate the Communications Ministry at my church, so articles relating to that topic are catching my eye.  This morning I read one from the Lewis Center called "Eight Reasons Why People Aren't Listening to Announcements."  If it interests you, read it here.

One of the themes in the article is that we write and deliver announcements from the angle of how they will benefit the announcer - "I need you to volunteer; the Church needs you to give money; this project needs your participation."  We use "insider" language and don't consider our target audience.

I think all of that is true, and it strikes me as un-Christian.  What if our announcements (and our ministry) were focused on loving the person in front of us.  Announcements might be more concerned with how the message will benefit the person to whom we are speaking.  They might focus on loving others and celebrating their ministry.  The announcements might be more impactful and effective if they followed Jesus' words to "love others."

So, the question for me is how to do that.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Falling

The devotional I read this morning, written by Elise Erikson Barrett, and published in Disciplines 2015, is based on Genesis 17.  In this chapter, God calls Abram to change his name, to give up his expectations of what life will be like, to move to another place, and to trust God.

It was not a small call on Abram's life.

Have you ever been in a situation that required you to trust someone? To depend on another person's character and place your faith in that person?  The author of the devotional recalls those trust games where you fall back and are hopefully caught by someone else.  It's a good analogy, I think - to fall, trusting that you will be caught.

What makes you do it?  Why would you fall, out of your own control, trusting that someone else will catch you?  It's not a wise thing to do, and could result in banging into the ground. You do it, I think, because you trust the person who has promised to catch you.

Why would Abram follow God - give up his home, his life, his name - and follow?  I think it must have had someone to do with his trust of God.  Do we find God to be trustworthy?  Will we fall and let God catch us?  Isn't is a question of faith? Is that all it is?

I think it might be more than that.  How do we develop that kind of trust in God?  Maybe it's through remembering how many times God has caught us?  Maybe it's through developing a close relationship with God and allowing God's grace to strengthen our faith?  Maybe it's through stepping out, getting out of the boat, and walking?

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Does it make a difference to you?

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? (Is 40:21)

We spend much time in our meetings talking about the necessity of reaching young families, because we know that they are missing from our congregations (or at least from mine).  Why? Why do we need to reach young families? Why do we need to reach children?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?  And who is it that does the telling?  And who is it that needs to hear?  We are called to do the telling so that children will know their God.  We care called to do the telling so that young people will know that they are not alone in the world.  We are called to do the telling so that others, whatever their age, can come closer to God.  We are called, not to save the church, but to BE the church.

It's such a huge difference for me so see it that way.  Does it make a difference for you?

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Friday, March 06, 2015

A Photo Essay

On Wednesday evening, we saw the musical Anything Goes at the Clay Center.  It was great.

But this was the drive home...
We lost power in the middle of the night Wednesday (Thursday?).  It was off until 8:30 PM on Thursday.  This is my hot celebratory hot chocolate after it we had power again.


This is outside this morning.  Blue skies and snow.


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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Essence of a Man's Conscience

I've always thought that the reading assignments in my high school and college education were a little strange - both in what they included and what was not included.  For instance, in 11th grade American Literature, we were assigned the first 12 chapters of The Scarlet Letter.  The second 12 chapters were optional.  I've always thought that was strange. Who thinks it is OK to study just the first half of a book in an English class?

When my older son started high school, he was assigned The Great Gatsby to read over the summer. That was one of the books that had NOT been part of my reading background from school, so I decided to read it as he did.  Truthfully, I didn't like it, but at least I can now say that I HAVE read it.

With the recent publicity of the publication of Harper Lee's new book, I decided to read her first one, To Kill a Mockingbird - another book not included in my educational reading.  I'm in chapter 11, and I'm happy to say that I like it. I love the way she writes and the story is engaging.

All of that to explain why I'm going to write about a quote from the book today.  I just read it today, and decided to stop and write about it.  Atticus (a lawyer in a small Southern town, for those who have not read the book) is explaining to his daughter why he is defending a black man.
"This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience - Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man."
Of course, I'm a person who believes we go to Church no matter what we've done, but I am touched and stopped by the desire of this man to avoid hypocrisy.  How can he proclaim his faith and obedience to God while not putting his faith into action and while not doing what he believes to be what God is calling him to do?

Do we ever ask ourselves that?  Do our words - what we say we believe - impact what we do?  I think we all know that those words and beliefs should change our actions, but do they?

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