Friday, August 26, 2016

Logos: Luke 14:8-11

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, "Give this person your place," and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, "Friend, move up higher"; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 14:8-11)
Are you on Facebook? Do you notice all of the birthday wishes that are posted for someone's birthday? It's a cool thing, to be remembered by your friends, no doubt. I have a friend who always posts, "Have a happy birthday; you deserve it." I know she doesn't mean anything bad by it; she means it to be a compliment, but it always makes me cringe.

Please, God, don't give me what I deserve.

The heart of grace, I think, is that it is God's love, given to us when we don't deserve it. The problem comes when we start believing that we DO deserve it. That we have earned it.

I'm not advocating some kind of self-hate, where we think we are scum, worthy only to be wiped off on the ground like slime. We are beloved children of God, made worthy by God's actions toward us. We all are. The problem with thinking otherwise is that we begin to believe that we are worthy and someone else is not. If we earn grace; if we earn a higher place at the table, then we begin to believe we did it on our own. We begin to forget the grace of God. And we forget that grace is given to all; not just to us.

It's a matter of pride, isn't it? And pride is a sin that can separate us from God.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

First Day of School

I was driving to work a few weeks ago, and I noticed a child standing on the side of the road. He was probably 9 or 10, maybe younger. His mother (I assume she was his mother) was standing with him. He was wearing clothes that looked new, and he had a backpack that looked like it still smelled like Target on his back. I think they were waiting for the bus to come down the road.

It was the first day of school for the year.

There are places in our state that have year-round school, and it has been discussed as an option on our county. I'm not here to talk about whether it is a good idea or not. I'm sure there are many pros and cons. That morning, though, was a demonstration of one of the pros. Here was this young man, and he was getting a fresh start. Everything that day would be new. New classroom, new teacher, new books, new schedule. Whatever he had done the previous year - whatever grades he had earned - whatever he had done that had resulted in disciplinary action, if anything, was erased. He was starting fresh.

There is grace in that, don't you think? Do we ever allow someone to have a fresh start? Do we forgive enough to prevent the past from influencing how we treat someone? Don't get me wrong - I think actions should have consequences. I'm not talking about allowing the one who abuses a spouse to continue to do so, or the person who embezzled to continue to work in the same company. But there are times when we could allow forgiveness to recreate the relationship we share with someone.

Do we ever give anyone a fresh start, like it's the first day of school?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Of Cicadas and Music

Last June, as many United Methodists across the state were gathering in Buckhannon at West Virginia Wesleyan College for Annual Conference, it became immediately apparent to us that we were not the only ones there. The area had been invaded by cicadas.

Have you noticed how noisy cicadas can be? There must have been a large group of them in the tree next to the side door of the chapel, because when I would walk out that door, the sound was deafening - not just noisy, but cover your ears and wince loud. In other places on campus, you could hear them, all the time, but it became white noise that you could almost ignore.

It was interesting to me the different comments people made about the sounds. Some people called the cicada sound beautiful - like a choir. Other people (like me) would wince at the chapel side door. One person said the sound they made was exactly the right pitch to strike the chord of his tinitus. Same sound, heard differently by different people.

What made the difference? Location (they were certainly louder at some places on campus than others)? Experience? Did living with them all the time create an immunity to the sound for some people? Obviously physical limitations, such as ringing in the ears, caused a different reaction.  Did attitude (such as, "I am determined to like these creatures, so I will)? All of those responses are legitimate, even if they are different.

My next comment is going to be a big jump.

Do we have the same reaction to music? There are some who love classical, others who do not like it at all. There are some who wish we sang only modern music in worship; others who find it less than sacred. And all of those responses are legitimate.

The problem arises when we value one reaction to cicadas - I mean music - over other ones.  The problem comes when we try to legitimize one person's experience over another person's experience. The problem - or maybe it is an opportunity - arises because we all hear God differently, and that includes the way we experience God in music.

If you hear God in the sound of cicadas (and some people do), then I ought to amplify that for you (even though it sounds like crazy bugs to me). If you hear God in a particular kind of music...

Let's amplify God for each other.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Rise

Have you been watching the Olympics? We've seen some of the highlights. The athletes are incredible, aren't they? I could watch the majesty of Michael Phelps swimming over and over. When I saw Simone Biles' floor exercise, I gasped out loud. It was as if she flew. And the runner who stopped and helped a fellow athelete who had fallen? Unbelievable.

You know that they don't get to this level of skill overnight, right? What incredible perseverence they must have! An interesting fact I learned during these three weeks: Michael Phelps has been to four Olympics, but at the first one, he did not win a single medal. Think of that. Today, he can say he has more medals than any other Olympians - 28 at last count - but after that Olympics? None.

Did he quit? You know the answer to that question. No, he did not. It is a lesson for all of us.

I saw this video today, and I share it with you. Rise.


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Monday, August 22, 2016

Baptized with Christ into Death

Years ago, Heather Murray Elkins was the presenter for Johnson Memorial UMC's second convocation. Her theme was "Descended into Hell," and she focused on that line from the Apostle's creed - a line that some of us include and some of us exclude.

Her teaching came to mind as my Sunday school class looked at Romans 6:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Fahter, so we to might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
Heather related the idea of Jesus descending into Hell to the idea that he came to our world, full of suffering and pain. In our baptism, we are called to follow Jesus into his death - into the hell of this world. The image that comes to mind when I think of this analogy (and it may be the one that Heather used) is Jesus being immersed into the water of baptism - buried into death - and rising again. We follow Christ into those waters as we find Christ in the lives of those who are suffering - those who are in pain. Christ came to serve those, and we are called to follow, into the suffering and death of others.

Think then of the flooding that happened in West Virginia in June. Consider all of those who have followed Christ into the suffering of others - into the mud and muck. Into the pain of others. They who are serving to provide flood relief are living examples, to me, of this idea of being baptism into death with Christ, and rising again with Christ.

It is our calling.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Logos: Jeremiah 1:4-8

Years (and years) ago, I did a series on the blog that I called Logos. Each week I would write a post based on one of the revised common lectionary readings for the week.  I'm going to revise that habit for a time, starting this week. I'll try to post a Logos post on Fridays.
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." (Jeremiah 1:4-8)
Ok, I admit it. I don't like to read the book of Jeremiah. Most of the time I find it to be difficult to follow, but as I read this passage, I was reminded of the idea that God has known us since "before I formed you in the womb."

What difference does it make in our lives if our creator thought us into being before we were even formed? What difference does it make if we were consecrated to God's service before our birth?

When God calls us to service and action, and we respond, "I don't know how to do that." or "I'm not good enough to carry out this mission" - what does God say to us? "Before you were born, I consecrated you."

Moses tried to change God's mind in one of my favorite Old Testament bible passages. God is telling Moses he is going to Egypt and is going to do the work to release God's people from slavery. Moses tries every trick in his book to get out of it. God listens to Moses, and answers his protests, but God never says, "Oh, OK, I must have chosen the wrong person."

We are called by God. The difference that makes is that the one who formed us into being, and knows every stitch of us, knows who we are, warts and all, has consecrated us, equipped us, and calls us. You think you are not worthy? God knows you, and has made you worthy of the call. God knew you before you were born.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
What is hope? If in suffering we find God, and from God we are given the grace of the ability to endure, and from endurance, our character is changed, and from that, we find hope - what is hope?

Hope is the certainty of the presence of God. Hope isn't a wish - it's not like, "I hope it doesn't rain." Hope is another word whose meaning has changed because of Christ. We have hope because "God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."  Christian hope is the certainty that God is with us, present and active in the world. And it is the certainty that God loves us. This is hope, and it comes as a gift from God.

Don't hear me wrong. No where in these four posts have I said that God brings us - causes our - suffering so that we will develop hope. I don't believe that; in fact, I think this passage says that isn't true. What is true is that we will all face suffering. What is true is that God will not allow us to suffer alone. God gives us the grace of God's presence, strength and hope.

That's really good news.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Through Perseverance, Character

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Have you ever been in a situation of suffering when you finally - finally - ask for God's help? And when you do it, you wonder why you didn't ask earlier? I've been in that situation, and I think it is a lack of faith - not a lack of faith in God's ability, but a lack of faith that doesn't bring God to mind sooner. It's an attitude of not listening - not hearing God in the situation soon enough to listen earlier.

So what happens when we find God in suffering, and then recognize that our endurance is a gift from God? Our faith is strengthened. Our character is changed. We are recreated. We gain strength, and that strength is a gift of faith. Our faith is deepened and strengthened, and from that faith, a stronger character - a stronger nature - is born.

When we have witnessed God's action in our lives, we are more willing to believe, to listen, to hear and to obey. We are better people than we were before.

And that is good news, too.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Suffering Produces Endurance

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
What about the phrase, "suffering produces endurance"?

When we were talking about this in class, none of us like the word, "endurance." It sounds hard and as if one had to suffer long and hard to achieve it. In fact, one of the runners in our class said, "Endurance is what you need if you are going to have to suffer even longer." (paraphrased by me).

It doesn't sound like good news - the benefit of suffering is that we are able to suffer more?

But think back to the promise we have - God is with us. And think back to yesterday's post - in suffering, if we look, we will find God. So, in suffering, as we search for and find God, we find something else. We find endurance.

It isn't the kind of endurance that runners develop through more and longer running. It is endurance that is given to us; a gift of grace. We find endurance because it is God's endurance. We find the ability to make it through suffering, not on our own strength, but on God's strength.

In suffering, we find the presence of God, and in finding God, we find the grace of God's ability to carry us through. We find the God's endurance - not our own.

And that is good news.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Glory in Suffering

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
In this post (The World is Changing), I talked about how Jesus has changed, and is changing, the world.  In the same Sunday school lesson, as she talked about the beginning of Romans 5, Terry talked about how Christ's actions have even changed the meanings of words.

For instance: "We boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings"

What does is mean to glory in our sufferings? At first glance, it sounds like something we would never do? Glory in our sufferings? But consider people's views at that time. Suffering was a sign of disfavor. If something bad happened to you, it was a sign that God was angry or disappointed. It was punishment.

Here (and in other places in the Gospel and the Epistles) we see a different story. There is no promise that Christians will not meet sufferings; in fact, there are words that predict that they will. Instead, there is a promise that God will be with us. 

Not only that, but if suffering is not a punishment, then we are not called to shame for it. We can glory in it because God is in it (not causing it) with us.

What does this mean for us? There are those, even now, who would preach a Gospel that promises prosperity for those who believe. What does this say to those who suffer? That they do not have faith? That they should be ashamed of their suffering?

Paul and Christ call us to something different. We are called to find Christ in the midst of suffering - in the midst of our own suffering and the suffering of others. We are not called to shame, but to find glory.

What difference would that make? First, those of us who find shame in our suffering would be able to let that go. Secondly, if we search for God in the midst of suffering, we will find God, and we will realize that we are not alone. There is glory.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

The World is Changing

Our new pastor, Rev. Deane, taught Sunday school a few weeks ago. She said something that struck me - that I hadn't considered before.

The incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus changed the world. It brought the Kingdom of God to the earth. The world was changed.

And yet the world was not completely changed. Because of Christ, the world is changing. We are moving from what was to what will become, and all of creation groans with the change.


We are not there yet, and yet we are moving closer. It is so easy to say that the world is getting worse and worse, but as Christians, we can claim that the world is changing, and it is moving closer and closer to the Kingdom of God. Isn't there hope in that for all of us?

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Forgiveness and the Nature of God

Last Sunday I was praying the Lord's Prayer as part of our church's worship service. I try to not say it without thinking about it, so I was saying the words and running them through my mind, listening. I got to the "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

There are those I know who believe this means that God forgives us only as we forgive others. If we are not forgiving, then we will not be forgiven. That has always struck me as a wrong interpretation, but as I prayed it that day, I figured out why.

Being forgiven only as I am willing to forgive is the opposite of grace. Grace says that I am already forgiven. I am forgiven, as are you. God didn't wait to see how forgiving I can be. How forgiving I would be. God forgave me - forgives me - will forgive me - even for my unwillingness to forgive.

It isn't how God wants me to live - God doesn't want me to be unforgiving or unforgiven, but the one part of that equation that God has already dealt with is my state of forgiveness. I am forgiven.

To think that God would allow God's forgiveness to be measured by my actions rather than God's will is contrary to God's nature. God is love. God is grace. God is forgiving, and God's forgiveness will not be dribbled out in a stingy manner based only on my actions.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Open Wider

Do you think the post office realizes how uninviting this is? I know they are trying to direct traffic, but I was struck by how many "Do not come this way" signs are posted at this entrance.

Do you think we realize in church how many "Do not come this way" signs we have? They may not be actual paper signs, but they are still there.  

As part of my job, I visit churches across the Annual Conference. At one of them, there was a sign posted on a door - a door that was partway open.  The sign said, "Please keep this door open, just a little bit." I loved the sign. It was so polite and positive. Probably not coincidentally, there was a community dinner going on, and the Fellowship Hall was full of people.


How can we open our doors more? How can we make sure that the signs in our church - whether paper or not - are welcoming?

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Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Yes, of the Gentiles also

Continuing with Romans 3:28-29:
For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also.
All are justified. Everyone. What does that mean for us? Well, I for one think it is good news. If all are justified, then so am I. 

In Sunday school, we talked about boundaries. Do we like to draw boundaries? Do we like to say, "God love me; I'm not so sure about you. Look at the way you live and act? God can't love you."

The truth is, God is the God of the Gentiles, also. God is the God of all, and that ought to change the way we treat people.


Pastor Terry ending the service today with a benediction that ended with, "We take ourselves to you and allow you to change us so that we can love the way you do." That's the good news. We are loved so that we will love the way God loves. God loves everyone. And it's a good thing, too, because we are the (metaphorical) gentiles.

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