Thursday, June 30, 2016

Let Your Hope Arise

If you are reading this, you may have read or heard about the devastating flooding in West Virginia. The area of the state where I live was not effected, but over 44 counties (out of 55) were. Following is the prayer I offered as the Morning Prayer in worship at my church last Sunday:

Creating and sustaining God:
In the beginning, you separated the land from the water, and created for us a place to live – places to call home. This week, we have witnessed the devastation that water can cause – homes lost, work places lost, lives lost. We have witnessed the pain and suffering that flooding has caused. We ask that you would bring your healing and peace to this devastation. Let your hope arise.

In your mercy, surround those who are in mourning, who are homeless, who have lost their jobs or all that they own, and grant them healing and peace. Transform us, and people like us, to be your hands and feet in this disaster. Help us to provide housing and clothing, comfort and solutions to those who are in need. Let your hope arise through us.

In the days to come, let there be new and fresh beginnings. As families begin to clean up the mud and water that is left behind, let hand reach for hand, and your grace be seen. Empower us to be the help that is needed. Strengthen those who are hopeless this morning, and strengthen us to provide a way to new life in the recovery. Let your hope arise as fresh as the new morning.

In this church, as we begin a new partnership with a new pastor, create in us new beginnings. Oh, Lord, help us to be the church you have created us to be. We ask for new ideas, new energy, new ways to do your will. There are those among us who are ill – even to the point of death – we ask for your healing touch on them and on those who care for them. We ask that your spirit would be seen in this place – that ask that your hope would arise in this place.

We come to you as a people of faith, believing in your mercy, power and love. Let your hope arise.

We pray this in the boldness of your son’s name, who taught us to pray using these words:

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Greater Things

The woman
Ninety, if she was a day
Stood on her porch. 
The trash on the sidewalk embarrassed her
but what could she do?
As she watched, 
a man with a garbage bag
walked into her yard
and started clearing away the mess.
At her look of puzzlement,
he said, "I'm here to help.
I'm from the church."

Greater things have yet to come
and greater things are still to be done
in the city.
There is no God like our God.

The father sat with his son
on the bench outside the principal's office.
The teenager had been caught
His locker yielding pills.
The father's heart was broken.
The son's future hung in the balance.
Neither knew what to do.
Except pray.

Greater things have yet to come
and greater things are still to be done
in the city.
There is no God like our God.

The child hid in the backyard
Trying to be invisible.
She hurt, and she knew worse was coming.
If he found her.
If he saw her.
The sound near the tree startled her,
She didn't trust the voice of the neighbor,
but to the neighbor, she wasn't invisible.
She took her hand, 
and they went in the neighbor's house.
The kind woman called someone
and told her she would be safe.

Greater things have yet to come
and greater things are still to be done
in the city.
There is no God like our God.


(Quote from God of This City (Chris Tomlin))

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Child-Like Faith: Constant Sense of Expectancy

What does it mean to have a constant sense of expectancy? I remember when I was a child looking forward with anticipation to Christmas. I knew something great was going to happen. There was a sense of expectancy.

Do we expect great things to happen? 

At Blueprint Worship, the band has been singing the song God of this City. This is the chorus:

Greater things have yet to come
and greater things are still to be done
in this city.

My town has a drug problem. It's such a large problem that it's becoming known for the problem. We talk in the church about trying to help, and some steps are taken to bring help, but I also feel a sense of powerlessness in the face of such a large challenge. And then I heard this song.

Greater things have yet to come
and greater things are still to be done
in this city.

There is no God like our God.


It brought me hope. A person with a child-like faith would have a constant sense of expectancy and would be anticipating that God was going to make great things happen.  Things that couldn't be anticipated, but can be expected. 

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Child-like Faith: Trust Others Unless...


Finding a child-like faith: Trust others unless....

This hint for having a child-like faith is fourth on the list. It surprises me, because it sounds cynical. Trust others unless -- is there a presupposition there that there will be an "unless?" Let's trust others until the inevitable happens, and our expectation of disappointment is met?

Or maybe that's my own cynical nature coming out.

Perhaps loving our neighbors includes trusting them - includes starting with the idea that they are trustworthy rather than approaching a relationship with the idea that someone needs to earn our trust.

The other day, a person called me at work. He was looking for funds for a project he was associated with in town. He was a friendly person, but he wouldn't tell our administrative assistant what he was calling about - he said it was a "personal matter" and he needed to talk to the Director. Our Executive Director was on the road, so she transferred the call to me. My suspicions were high when I started the conversation, and when he asked somewhat personal questions (such as: where do you live, and when did you graduate from college), I didn't want to answer. He was trying have a conversation, and I, who am in the relationship business, was wary. It felt very awkward.

I hadn't started with the "trust others unless..." place, whether right or wrong.


We are suspicious by nature, and perhaps a child-like faith calls us to be trusting by nature.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Nothing is Wasted

Is there anyone who believes he or she has followed God's call on his or her life without deviation? Without looping around on the path? Is our spiritual journey ever straight?

How do you feel about your wanderings? Do you feel guilty about them? Do you believe they have been a waste of time?

Have you ever heard the phrase "nothing is wasted'? I believe that the person I am today - the person you are today - is a product of our path. The way we have traveled has brought us to this point. My path may not have been the one God would have chosen for me - or maybe it is - but either way, God uses the decisions I've made to prepare me what's next.


Nothing is wasted. Accept where you have been and know that God has used it for your good. 

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Curiosity and Whole-heartedness

There is a profound relationship - a love affair, really - between curiosity and wholeheartedness. How do we come to those aha moments if we're not wiling to explore and ask questions?.... (Brene Brown in Rising Strong)

Do you ever have those? The aha moment? In my spiritual walk, the aha moment is that moment when I see something new - something I've never seen before or something I've never known before.  Aha moments feel like steps forward - movements toward truth - movements toward a deeper understanding of the nature of God or of my purpose as a child of God. I love aha moments. They make Bible study seem effective and worth while.

According to the quote above, we can't have an aha moment without exploration and questions - without curiosity. The problem is, if we think we are right - if we think we have everything completely figured out, we won't have curiosity. We won't question or explore. We won't have aha moments, and we won't move any closer to a better understanding of God.


Have you ever considered that certainty can impede spiritual growth? 

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Child-Like Faith: Believe without seeing

Believe without seeing.

How easy it is to see this in a child. A child believes in God, with an enviable certainty. As we grow, we become jaded and cynical. Our trust is betrayed by those we believe, we are taught to believe what we have the evidence to prove. We have to live like that in order to survive; we can't believe without seeing, or we'll be falling for every scam that presents itself. We would be hurt countless times as we believe those we cannot and should not trust.

But in all of that, do we forget to trust God? Do we get so jaded, that we lose the certainty of our faith?

I'm not talking about turning off our brains and believing without critical study. We are called to explore our faith, to reach our own conclusions about the scriptures and those who preach about it. We are called to give all we have, including our questions and our doubts, to God. I'm talking about the child-like trust in God that we seem to lose.

When we say, "thy will be done," do we mean it? Do we believe that God has the best in mind for us? Can we trust God to do his will, and that we will not be a sacrifice in the process? Do we trust that we are loved by our creator? Do we have the faith to believe that? Without seeing it?


Believe without seeing.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Reckoning

In navigation, the term reckoning, as in dead reckoning, is the process of calculating where you are. To do that, you have to know where you've been and what factors influenced how you got to where you now (speed, course, wind, etc.). Without reckoning, you can't chart a future course.  Brene Brown, Rising Strong
Sometimes I think organizations get stuck. They get stuck where they are, unable to move forward, unable to solve problems. I believe this situation can be attributed (for some groups) to two things: they don't know why they are where they are, and they can't articulate a goal for the future.

In churches, we might sit in a meeting and bemoan our problems, and talk about the glorious past, when we had to put chairs in the aisles. If we try to consider why we are where we are now, we talk about population dropping in the community and how we don't do things like we used to do them. If we try to create a picture of where we want to go, it might range from going back to where we were or just not dying.

Frankly, neither one of the visions of a church is very exciting to me. We can't go back to what we were, and we can't convince people that a church that is "just trying not to die" is going to have a life-changing impact on their lives.

So what can we do? I think we have to enter that dark place of analyzing why we are where we are now. We don't want to do it, but there is no way to know where we are unless we do a reckoning - a calculation of the factors that influenced where we are now and how we got there.

And then we have to create a God-inspired vision of what the church will be. Where is God leading us? What is our call as a body of Christ? I think the last thing Christ would have stated as his vision for his life on earth would be, "I just don't want to die." 

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Child-like Faith: Find Pleasure in simple things

Continuing the series of Finding a child-like faith: Find pleasure in simple things.

Do you think that much of our lives is centered around the "big things?" Haven't you seen the demonstration where the speaker places large rocks in a jar, then adds the next smaller size, then the next smaller, and at the end, adds all of the gravel, filing the jar? Not all of the rocks will fit in the jar if he starts with the small things and works his way to the larger ones.  It's a lesson in priorities - find time for the higher priority items in your life first, and then the rest will follow. 

It's a good lesson, and I agree with it, but does it create in us a sense of urgency to complete the big tasks right away, and forget about the small pleasures?

Do we take time for the small things?

The child telling a story, the spouse talking about the day, the sunset, the hobby that brings pleasure - are these small things? Probably not, but they do get lost in the rush of the day.

Perhaps finding pleasure in the simple things meaning opening our eyes to what is around us instead of being so focused on what we are doing. 

And why does that bring us faith? If I rush past the child, I miss God at work in the life of a new creation. If I ignore the spouse, I miss the love of God in this gifted relationship. If I pass up the sunset, I miss the beauty of God at work. If I ignore the simple pleasure of free time, I miss time with God. 


Find pleasure in the simple things.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

What is Creativity?


What is creativity? The internet says, "the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.  synonyms include inventiveness, imagination, innovation, originality, individuality."

But I don't always agree with the internet.

What is creativity? There is no doubt that creating something original, something innovative requires creativity,  but I don't think these alone define it.  

In a comment a couple of days ago, Birdwatcher (great to see you at Conference!) said, "I struggle with the label "creative" - when I take a pattern for the leg of a sock, and move it around (make it twice, or put one design on the top of the foot) I don't think of it as creating - more like adapting someone else's creation for the individual who will receive the sock. Maybe in Creation, God took a basic pattern and adapted it to different needs/locations?"

I think this is a common thought - many of us feel this way. I knit and make cards, and I struggle with the idea that if I follow a pattern or am heavily inspired by the work of someone else, I'm not really being creative. When I knit a sock, I am not (ever) making something that someone has not made before, and has not written out instructions for me to follow, so that I can make a sock just like the one that was made previously. BUT, I am taking lightweight yarn and five double-ended sticks, and when I am finished, there is a sock. It is something that didn't exist before. When I'm creating it, I have the reassurance that someone has done the engineering for me, but still, when I'm finished, I have a sock that I created. It didn't exist before, and now it does. (And it sits there, impatiently waiting for me to knit a mate).

It takes creativity to believe that tiny yarn and sharp sticks can become something else.

Unlike a sock, I can design a card from scratch. I can create in my imagination the image of a card that I've never seen anywhere else before. And I can create it from my imagination. I can also look at a card that someone else has created, and use my imagination to recreate it, using the tools I have and the inspiration from someone else's work. In the end, paper and ink has become something that didn't exist before on my desk - a card to send to brighten someone's day. 

It takes creativity to believe that I can turn ink and paper into a card, and it takes creativity to believe that my work in making the card, and sending it to someone else will brighten her day and provide him with encouragement.

I can see a need in my church for ministry with children, and I can research vacation Bible school programs, purchase one, recruit volunteers, and implement the program, exactly as it is written, and I am still being creative. It takes creativity to imagine that a need can be met. It takes creativity to adapt the program to our own particular setting (because, even though I said exactly as it is written - it's never that way). It takes creativity to imagine that we can change the lives of children through the work we do as a church. 

Birdwatcher is right - God took a basic pattern and adapted it to different needs and locations, and God is still doing that, every day. And no one would dare to say that God is not creative.


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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sacred Place

I may have mentioned before that each week at our office meeting, one of the staff members begins the meeting with a devotional.  This week was my turn. Sometimes, when I'm searching for a devotional topic, I turn to the book by Frederick Buechner called Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith

The book was a gift to me on October 16, 2005. I had been asked by the Lay Leader of the church we attend to give the sermon on Laity Sunday. During the writing of the sermon (which took me months), I asked him if he remembered the source of a quote I had heard - he did; the author of the quote was Buechner.
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.
The book was an appreciation gift for the sermon, and before he gave it to me, he had placed a bookmark on the page. The bookmark is still there.


The actual passage is longer than the quote I have above, and I read the few paragraphs at the office meeting, and talked about calling.  I am grateful that I have been called to this place, and that I have found joy in the work that I do. It is a sacred place.

I pray you find (or have found) that place. 

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Child-Like Faith: Each Day a Gift from God

Sunday School Chalkboard
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

Our Sunday school lesson a couple of weeks ago was based on the passage in the Gospel when Jesus tells the disciples to not prevent children from coming to him. We talked about having a child-like faith. As part of the discussion, the teacher listed 12 characteristics of a child-like faith. I took of picture of the chalk board, and thought it might be interesting (at least for me) to look at each of these as a blog post. So, over the next few weeks, if all goes as I plan, all twelve will make an appearance here.

The first one was "Greet each day as a gift from God."

I think many of us would say that each day is a gift from God, but do we approach it as if it is? My British History teacher in high school (yes, I had British History, and it was wonderful) was a very upbeat person. He greeted each person who came into the room - he was almost always happy. One day we were talking about it, and he asked me if I knew why he was so upbeat. He had had cancer, and he had survived, so every day was a gift.

What difference would it make in our days if we didn't take the time for granted, but instead greeted each day with excitement and anticipation for what God would bring into our day that day? It sounds kind of "Pollyanna," but it is a child-like attitude. And I think living each day that way would change the way we approach life.

I love the work I do; I love the life I lead. I wake up each morning (after I get out of bed, which might take a little time) looking forward to the day, most days. I can't imagine greeting each day with dread. Is that because of my life, or is it my approach to it? I don't know - maybe a little of both. We can't change our lives with a positive attitude, but a positive attitude can change how we live them? Is that true? I think it might be.


Each day is a gift from God.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Creativity

Creativity is just connecting things.  (Steve Jobs)

I read that today. What do you think about it?

I've heard so many people say, "I am not creative." I wonder if re-imagining what creativity IS would help people to believe that they can be creative.

Suppose your church is holding a vacation Bible school. And it sees a need to reach out to the community. Could there be a way to connect the two? That would be creative.

I preached a couple of Sundays ago at a retirement community. Whenever I do that, I struggle to find a way to connect the message of the lectionary reading to those who will be listening. It's a struggle that finds its solution in creativity.


Creativity doesn't always mean writing a story or drawing a picture (as we are trained to believe in school). Creativity is so much more. You are created in the image of God, the most creative entity ever. You were born to create. What will you create today?  

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Kingdom, Power, Glory


For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

This last line of prayer we recite is called a Doxology - a short hymn of praise to God. Why is this little line important?


I think it is a reminder to us that God is God and we are not. According to Orberg in the book, The Lord's Prayer: Praying with Power, "We can try to build our own kingdoms...and put ourselves first, but Jesus invites us to a life focused on his kingdom, his power and his glory."

>We pray the prayer at times without hearing the words, but there has to be some value to us in reciting that the kingdom, power and glory belong to God - not to us. What difference does that make? If I build a kingdom of my own - focusing on my wants and needs - then I am ignoring God. I am centering my life on myself instead of on God. I am not loving God; I am probably not loving my neighbor. If I build my life as if all around me is God's kingdom, my life is different. My focus is different - I can be loving and faithful.

If I claim power of my own, I forget God has real power. I don't serve as a conduit for that power. I fail to bless others, and fail to make myself available for God's work.

If I center my life around the idea of God's kingdom, and if I recognize and utilize God's power, then God is glorified.

Whose kingdom is it? God's.