Thursday, May 14, 2015

Rules for Facebook

From Adam Hamilton's book, Revival:
We have forgotten how to listen, as individuals, as churches, and as a nation.  Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, progressives and fundamentalists find it easy to demonize others.  The mark of those early Methodists, and a key elements of personal and corporate revival in the twenty-first century, is a willingness to see the good in others, hold our positions with humility, and treat others with respect.
I enjoy Facebook.  I like catching up on what is going on in friends' lives, I like to see their pictures of their families, I enjoy articles people post, and I like the funny shared stories. For the most part, it is a nice addition to my day. What I don't like are the political posts - or perhaps I should generalize it more to say I don't like the judgmental or arrogant posts.  I don't like the unsubstantiated posts.  For me it seems to be a more widely spread form of gossip at the least, and slander at the most. I don't like the comments people make when they don't have all the information - and don't really want to know the whole story.  I don't like the manipulative political posts, and for the most part, I don't read them.

Many years ago, an author (Stephanie) of one of the blogs I read asked her readers to consider her blog to be her living room.  She asked her readers to ask themselves if they would say what they post in comments to her while sitting in her living room.  Would they say it if their mothers were sitting there, too? The problem with online conversation is that we perceive a distance between us and the reader, but it's a distance that really isn't there. (Please don't think I'm directing any of this to people who comment on my blog - you are all very nice, and very wonderful).  I think we should extend Stephanie's test to a much wider venue (ie, all of social media, and beyond).

I posted the above quote on Facebook a few days ago, and wrote that it should be the personal rules we use when posting and commenting.  Our Christianity - how we love people - doesn't stop when our fingers meet the keyboard.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Spirit like Wesley's

I may print this quote from Adam Hamilton's Revival and carry it with me to meetings:
Having a spirit like Wesley's today means that we assume the best of others, not the worst.  We give them the benefit of the doubt.  We speak well of others, not poorly.  We treat them as we hope to be treated.  We listen more and talk less. We walk in other people's shoes and try to understand what they believe and why.  This does not mean we give up our convictions, but it does mean we test them.
Do we do that?  Do we give people the benefit of the doubt?  Do we assume the best, and speak well of others?  Do we treat them well?  Do we listen more than we speak?  And do we test our own convictions?

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 2:3-5)

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Gift of Faith

From Mike Slaughter's book, The Renegade Gospel:
People believed it was impossible for the human body to break the threshold of four minutes in running one mile - that is, until Roger Bannister did it in 1054 with a time of 3:59.4.  The barrier that had stood for centuries is now broken regularly.  What was considered undoable is now doable!  For the impossible to become possible, you must believe it is possible; you must believe it before you can achieve it.  To be raised to a new way of living, you have to die to an old way of thinking.
My husband rides bikes.  He rides what I consider (what anyone would consider) to be long distances on a bicycle. For example, last Saturday he rode 106 miles to raise funds for a Children's hospital in town.  I have to think twice to DRIVE 100 miles, because it's a long way, but he doesn't.  He just does it.  What used to be undoable is now doable because he has changed his way of thinking.  (Not to mention trained and trained and trained, but still - you have to believe you can do it).

So it is with faith.  Faith is a gift given to us by grace, but we still have to open our minds and our hearts to the gift.  Today is the either anniversary of the day I started as the Associate Director of the Foundation where I work.  Am I sitting at my desk at work because God has called me here?  Me, a trained biologist, who knew more about splicing DNA than planning estate gifts (I mean, I knew NOTHING about planned giving, so it might be an unfair comparison), am now starting my eighth year of doing this.  Has God called me to this ministry?  I say that God has.  I might have believed it was undoable, but faith (and training, training, training) has made it doable.  The gift of faith given to me, and the faith of those who said, "Come be Associate Director," have opened the gift of this ministry to me.

I thank God for this faith, which is certainly a gift of grace.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

The Via Media

I'm reading Adam Hamilton's book, Revival.  He says of John Wesley that the two generations of Wesley's family reflected the religious conflicts of the time.  His grandfathers were both dissenters from the Anglican Church while his parents were strong supporters of the Anglican Church.  Perhaps because of this, "Wesley had the ability to value and listen to people on opposite sides of the theological divide, to find the truth each possessed, and to chart a middle way, embracing both sides." This is the via media - the middle way.

I taught Sunday school last weekend, and the lesson touched on the troubling problem of Church division - from arguments in the church whether about when to wash the tablecloths to how to be inclusive of all of God's children.  How do we avoid the division and strife that these arguments can create, while at the same time not ignoring challenging theological issues that need to be addressed? We talked about what it means to love someone through arguments.  I think Wesley's via media might offer us clues to that struggle.  Do we listen?  Do we find the truth each person possesses?  Are we willing to believe that other people besides ourselves or those we agree with might possess truth?

Where can we find the via media?

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Expectation

Having written yesterday's post about volunteer vs servant, I think we need to face a problem that I
think the church often has:  low expectations.  As church leaders, what are our expectations of members?  Of volunteers or servants (whatever you call them)?

Do we ask people to serve on a committee and tell them, "You won't have to do much - the committee only meets once a year."?

Do we say, "Nobody will volunteer to do this" when the problem really is that we haven't asked anyone?

Do we not want to bother someone with a task because we think it will be too much or that it will be an imposition?

Believe me, I hate to ask people to take on a task in the church (or anywhere else).  Having said that, I think we need to ask people to serve.  I think we need to expect that they will serve - not out of guilt or duty, but because they have found that service is when they are closest to God.  And if they haven't yet discovered that, then we need to make sure they have the opportunity to find out - it's part of "making disciples."

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Servant or Volunteer?

I'm still reading Mike Slaughter's Renegade Gospel.  He says this:
...we come to Jesus offering ourselves as volunteers rather than as servants.  ... Volunteers serve out of convenience of their calendars, controlling when, where and how they participate. ... Volunteers follow Jesus up to a point - the point of interference with their lifestyle.
I get what he is saying, but I don't completely agree with it.  Do you?

Slaughter doesn't call people volunteers in his church - he calls them servants.  I agree that we are to be servants of God - available and obedient to God's call, regardless of the inconvenience.  I don't believe (and maybe Slaughter doesn't either) that we are servants of our church.  God has placed particular calls on my life, and that includes the work I do in my job, in my family, in my community and in my church.  They are all calls from God, and there are times when one will have priority over another.  God calls me to know how to do that - and that is part of the service I am called to do.

I can't always say "yes" at church, because sometimes it's not the highest priority.  Another part of my service is higher.  Sometimes I have to say "no" to a family event because I have to do something for work.  Sometimes I need to take time off from work for a family responsibility.  Sometimes I miss church, work and family time to go on an Emmaus walk, and for that weekend, God has called me to place that at the highest priority for my time.

I asked a pastor once, "Why don't you like the Walk to Emmaus?"  His answer was that it pulls people out of worship.  I'm not convinced that this was actually his reason, but still - God calls us to many ministries, and calls us to prioritize them (with God's guidance).  That doesn't make me a flighty "volunteer."  It makes me a servant "volunteer."

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Monday, May 04, 2015

A God Worthy of Praise

Mike Slaughter, in the book Renegade Gospel, writes:
Do you remember the periodic tables of elements from high school chemistry class?  Everything your body is made of can be found on that chart.  What a humbling thought.  All the chemical elements that comprise my physical body, can in essence, be found in the dirt.  This is what i means when your forehead is marked with the burnt ashes from the prior year's Palm Sunday palms.  It's an important reminder of the fragile and transient nature of our time on earth.  As God told Adam in the garden, "For dust you are, and to dust you shall return"  (Genesis 3:19)
In our office, we often marvel (with disbelief) at the fast passage of time.  At the beginning of January, we'll talk about how quickly Annual Conference will arrive (in June), and once we are past that, how quickly Christmas will arrive - and another year is finished.  Time does pass quickly, and our lives are fragile.  This is an important reminder to us.

As I read this passage today, I did consider the fragility of life and the passage of time, but I was also reminder of what a majestic and powerful God we have.  We are literally creatures of dust, formed by a marvelous creator - a creator who can take carbon and water and many other elements and create a person - a breathing, walking, thinking, creating person.  Isn't God worthy of praise!?!

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Unprayed Answers

I read a Letter to the Editor in Interpreter Magazine from Rev. Wayne F Albertson, a retired pastor from the West Ohio Conference.  He was responding to an article entitled "When Prayers Seem Unanswered."  He said:
I am far more concerned in our culture, and even in our churches, about "unprayed answers" than I am about "unanswered prayers."  The persistent question concerning unanswered prayer strikes me as concern with our self-interest given St. Paul's understanding that prayer begins with God's initiation in our lives.  If we are concerned with unanswered prayer, perhaps it is because "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Romans 8:26).
What do you think?

Are you concerned that we have unprayed answers in our churches?  Do we go about our church business without pausing to consult with or listen to God?

Is the concern about unanswered prayers a reflection of our self-interest?  (and is this even what he means - I was unsure about that sentence).

Does the idea that prayer begins with God's initiation in our lives expand your understanding of prayer?  Do we see prayer that way?

Do we know how to pray as we should?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Science and God


In reading Mike Slaughter's book, Renegade Gospel, I found a wonderful quote from Dr. Francis S. Collins, the head of the Humane Genome Project.

The purpose of this project was to map out and sequence the entire genome of the human species. When I worked in medical research, this was a fascinating idea to me, full of potential for scientific advancement and medical breakthroughs, and I still feel that way.

I imagine Dr. Collins is a very scientifically oriented person. What might surprise some is that he also wrote the book The Language of God.  He argues, "belief in God can be an entirely rational choice and that the principles of faith are, in fact complementary with the principles of science."  Slaughter says that Collins called the sequencing of the human genome, "both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship."

In a society where we so often think science and faith are opposites that should never mix, this is a breath of fresh air.  And it rings of truth. Science is God's art, and the study of it is an occasion for us to delve deeper into the ways of God.  I am a scientist and a lay minister, and I find those two parts of me are actually so intertwined as to be one.  They do not contradict each other but instead enhance each other.

For those who feel differently, I urge you to have a stronger faith that is not threatened by science. Science reveals God in a way that would please God, I believe.

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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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