Thursday, March 31, 2016

Peace and fear

Yesterday, I wrote about peace - how peace is dependent not on the absence of conflict, but also on the presence of wholeness, and not just our wholeness, but the wholeness of the relationships within our community and with God.

Peace isn't not just a state, but also a process.

There is much talk in the current political races about security. Fear. Terrorism. This has created a fear of the Muslim community that is part of our greater community in the United States.

If you consider what shalom - peace - means, it is not the absence of conflict between two groups. It is the presence of wholeness between us.

I'm not suggesting that we ignore terrorism, or that we do not take appropriate steps toward security; however, I do believe that some politicians are using fear to manipulate our relationships with those among us who are different than we are, whoever we are. Politicians paint Muslims as terrorists, when that is as accurate as saying Christians are hate-filled white supremacists.

Remember, peace is completeness.  Peace depends on the welfare of those around us. Peace means we reach out and change the world around us; we do not give into fear. We live as Christ has told us to live. We love each other.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Shalom


What is peace?  How do you define it?

I was thinking about peace after worshiping at B'nai Sholom - and what the definition of Shalom is.
My research tells me the following:

  1. We sometimes want to define it as the absence of conflict. This definition might arise from the Latin word, pax, which has that definition.  Shalom is different. It relates more to the idea of completeness. Wholeness.
  2. Shalom is a now, but it also relates to a verb. The meaning is best understood not as a state of being, but as a movement toward peace. We can understand it best when we think about it as something we do - a process.
I like this quote from Cornelius Planting's book, Not the Way It's Supposed to be: A Breviary of Sin:
The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom.  We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies.  In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight - a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.  Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
The face that we aren't fighting with someone doesn't mean peace.  The idea that we are calm and tranquil doesn't mean we are at peace. When those around you are not in need, when you are whole and complete, when your community - all of it - is whole and complete, when your relationship with God is whole and complete, then we are the way we ought to be. We have arrived at peace.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Worship in a Synagogue

In December of last year, there was a fire in the Sanctuary of our church.  Luckily, the fire was detected quickly and extinguished, but it did cause some damage to one side of the church.

The damage was limited enough that we can still use the building (not the Sanctuary), but construction started the Monday before Easter to repair the worship space.

As with most church, our attendance increases on Easter, so the alternative spaces we've been using in the building weren't going to be large enough.  The decision was made to accept the offer from B'nai Sholom Synagogue to meet in their facility on Easter Sunday.

It is a beautiful space, and it was worship inhabited by God. A few comments:

  1. This is hospitality, when a congregation of another faith, one that doesn't believe in the resurrection of Jesus, offers to house your worship celebration.  It is radical, and it is what the God both congregations worship tells us we should do.
  2. This is evidence that "church" has nothing to do with the building.  The "church" is wherever the people are gathered.  I hope we learn that.
  3. I hope this is a door to greater community between us and the B'nai Sholom congregation.  
Over 80 years ago, our church had a fire that destroyed everything except the outer shell of the building.  The congregation then met for 2 years at the Synagogue, so this Easter, there was a sense of home in a different place.  The church is the people.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Loving human praise

Yesterday I wrote about how we can pass by an opportunity for service because we are hoping that someone else will pick up the towel and serve instead.

Read this passage from John 12:
Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus' glory; he spoke about Jesus.  Even so many leaders believed in him, but they wouldn't acknowledge their faith because they feared that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue.  They believed, but they loved human praise more than God's glory.  (John 12: 41-43)
I understand how frightening it would be to contemplate expulsion from the community with which you identify yourself.  I'm not trivializing their reactions.

For us, though, do you think that sometimes we fail to speak about Jesus, or proclaim God's presence because we are afraid of what others might think? We fear not being liked, or being ridiculed for our faith, or just not garnering praise.  Do we fail to shine forth as beacons of light because we are worried about another person's opinion of us?

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Passing the basin

In our Bible study, we're reading the book John: The Gospel of Light by Adam Hamilton.  This morning, I am reading chapter 4 in which Hamilton discusses the Final Discourse.

Hamilton is good at creating pictures in my mind with his words.  I can visualize the scene he sets.  This morning I'm thinking (as let by Hamilton) about the Last Supper, especially the moments when the disciples entered the room.  He tells us that there would probably have been a basin and pitcher by the door so that those who entered could wash their feet. Why didn't they?

He suggests that they had been with Jesus long enough to know that if they stopped to wash their own feet, the action of a servant would have been to wash everyone's feet.  Perhaps none of them wanted to do that, so they ignored the basin.

Do we do that?  Do we know what following Christ means - that it means service and humility?  That it means washing one another's feet, but instead, we pass the opportunity by, hoping someone else will do it instead?

Jesus showed them the way by picking up the towel himself.  There are those in my life who do the same - who pick up the towel, when I walk by it.  I see Christ in them, and yet a I fail to demonstrate Christ to others, hoping someone else will do it.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Hosea

Have you ever read the book of Hosea?  I have, and I confess that I didn't like it; however, last night, I may have changed my mind.

Our Bible study is using a curriculum by Rick Slaughter, called "A Different Kind of Christmas." The chapter we discussed last night is called Scandalous Love, and it was centered around parts of Hosea 2.

If you haven't read it, or if you don't remember it, Hosea was a prophet, and God told him to marry Gomer, who was a prostitute.  In effect, he married someone who he knew would be unfaithful, who more than likely didn't love him, and whose children might be his - or might be someone else's. Imagine that.

And yet, that is what God does for us.  He loves us, even when he knows we might not love him.  He knows we will be unfaithful, and yet he is a faithful God.  God enters the covenant with us knowing we will fail to hold up our end of the covenant.... that we will be unfaithful.  That we will worship other gods.  Imagine that.

Slaughter called it the "de-sanitized version of the Christmas story."  It might be the most profound Christmas story I'll hear all December.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Fishing

Consider the last chapter of John.  Jesus has risen, and he has shown himself to the disciples. At the beginning of chapter 21, Simon Peter, Thomas the Twin, Nathaniel and the sons of Zebedee were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias.  Jesus appears on the beach.  He says to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?...Cast the net to the right side of the boat and you will find some."  They do what he tells them to do, and then they were not able to haul the net into the boat because there were so many fish.

In this passage, Jesus reminds them that what they are doing is not being productive.  And then - do something different.  What you are doing is not working; try something else.

How often in the life of church do we continue to do the same thing, without alteration, and without results?  

Had the disciples noticed that they weren't catching any fish?  Probably, but even so, Jesus has to point it out to them, and receive their agreement that, no, what they were doing wasn't being productive.  Were they self-deceptive?  Were they ignoring the lack of results?  Were they standing in the boat sharing stories of how many fish they used to catch doing the same thing? Are we ignoring our lack of results in ministry?  Do we stand around, remembering the "glory days?"  Do we need someone to draw our attention to what isn't a fruitful ministry?

And then, he tells them something "radical" - do something different.  Change what you are doing.  It is a reasonable piece of logic - don't keep doing what you have been doing if it isn't yielding results - do something different.  I wonder if they said, "But this is the side of the boat we always fish from!"  

So, they changed.  They moved the nets to the other side of the boat.  It wasn't an illogical thing to do. It made sense.  It wasn't just change for the sake of change. They listened to Jesus, and they followed his leading. Do we sometimes just make change for the sake of change, desperately trying something new without investment in discernment or without the hard work of determining the best course of action?


Where is God calling us to do? How do we need to change?

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Monday, December 07, 2015

Is it kindness?

Yesterday, as I drove home from work, I saw a piece of paper sticking under my windshield wiper.  I was stopped at a light, so I quickly got out of the car to grab the paper. It was a "God Bless You" bookmark.  I know it was placed there by someone who wanted to supply news of a God's love - who truly wanted me to know I was blessed.

And yet, having had to stop the car, get out, worry about getting hit by a car, and get back in the car, it didn't feel like a blessing.  It felt like an intrusion. It could be that I was just grumpy, but it doesn't seem like it was a blessing to me.

Do we do that? Do we fail to place ourselves in others' shoes when we seek to "be a blessing?"  Do we consider others less than we consider what makes us feel good?  As if we have done our good dead for the day?

I suppose I should just accept the action of the other as an act of kindness, but it doesn't feel like kindness.

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Thursday, December 03, 2015

Extravagant Love

Have you seen this YouTube video from Pizza Hut?



 It's called Big Pizza Delivery - and it shows a pizza delivery done with mega-caroling. It's caroling beyond anything anyone has ever done, I think. Extravagant. Beyond the limits of expectation. It's caroling that is beyond the realm of what anyone might expect.

 At our bible study last week, we talked about hope vs expectation. When we have expectations, we have in mind what might happen. We can imagine what might happen. When we have hopes, what can happen can be beyond our expectations. It is unimaginable. It can be beyond the realm of words or thought. That's what advent is. It is the breaking in of God in ways we never could have imagined or thought.

 Have you loved anyone like that this week? Have you done something that was extravagant - and I don't mean extravagant spending, I mean extravagant in what is expected of you?

 Our son called early this week because he needed a some supplies for an assignment he is working on. He is incredibly busy at school, with more that 20 hours. He had something like four papers and two projects due after Thanksgiving, three juries this week and then seven or finals next week. And a concert on Tuesday. He called about an hour and a half before the concert to ask for the supplies, so that we could bring them to him.

He didn't realize that buying the supplies meant traveling way our of our way before going to the concert, rushing around to get it all done, and possibly missing our only opportunity for dinner. And he even told us he could wait until tomorrow for them - he was asking us now because he thought it would be easy for us to bring them to him when we attended his concert.

Steve and I made an intentional decision to drive out to Office Depot, go beyond expectations into hope. By bringing him what he needed, we knew that he could work on the project that night, wouldn't worry about shopping for the supplies - and that it was something we could do to help him during this busy time.

When Josh saw the Office Depot bag, he knew what it meant, He knew what we had done, and he felt (I hope), extravagantly loved. Not because of any amount of money, but because of our investment of time and effort in his needs.

Have you loved anyone extravagantly this week? Have you caroled extravagantly? Made someone feel loved beyond expectation, the way you are loved?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Miracle Reminders


I wrote earlier that our bible study had challenged its own members and the congregation to FILL the harvest altar, as a mission miracle.  This is the harvest altar on the Sunday we collected food.

The whole project served to remind me of a few things:

  1. That people are willing to give.  They are generous.  They want to give.  They (and I) just need to be asked, and need to understand the good that will come of their giving.  Otherwise, we forget.
  2. That miracles can be ordinary actions of ordinary people, moved by God (hence the miracle) to change the world.  We should never forget that.
  3. That this is church. This is what we are to be about.  


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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

False Kindness

We traveled a lot (for us) in October.  I can't remember if we were coming or going, but we were standing in line at the airport when I overheard a passenger in line behind me say to her friend, "I show false kindness all the time." The two women seemed to be speaking of kindness with contempt. "They call it kindness because they don't know other word to use."

I wonder about that.  Is false kindness false? Or is it kindness?  Or, is it only the layer we project to hide our thoughts?

Kindness is defined as, "the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate."  The Bible calls kindness one of the gifts of the spirit. Psalm 145:9 says, "The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he had made."  I think kindness may be part of how we show love to each other.

I don't always feel like being kind.  And I'm not always kind, but there are times when I act with kindness, in love, even when I don't feel like it.  I think that's still kindness.

So when is kindness "false?" Is it when we act out of selfish motivations or with when "kindness" is only the layer we hide behind when we are truly being hurtful? Is it when we are inauthentic? Is it when we the person we are standing with thinks, "If smiles could kill, I would be a goner?" When do we cross the line from kindness when we don't feel like it to kindness that is not kind at all?

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Do we listen?


We have a dog.  She is a beagle, and her name is Molly.  She is quite possibly the sweetest animal I have ever known. We met her when she was about two weeks old; she joined our family at six weeks old, and has been here ever since.  She is beloved.

Molly is not without flaws, and one of them is that she pretends, when it suits her, that she does not understand English.  She can't fool me; I know she understands me when I speak.  I say, "Back," and she turns around and walks the other way.  I say, "Let's go downstairs," and she runs full speed down the stairs.  If I say, "Treat," well, you can imagine her reaction.  But when it's time for bed, and I say, "Let's go upstairs," she just stares at me as if I am speaking Portuguese or Cat.

She knows my voice, she understands the words, but she doesn't like them.  So she ignores me.

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. Like any seeker of knowledge, I googled it this evening. The Feast of Christ the King was established in 1925 by Pope Pious XI.  He wrote in December of that year that even though World War I was over, there was still no true peace. He believed that true peace could only be found in the recognition of the Christ as King.

John 18:37, from this Sunday's lectionary, says, "Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

"Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Do we listen to Christ's voice?  Or are we as stubborn as our family's beagle, ignoring words we understand but choose not to obey?  When Christ says to feed the poor, do we?  When he says, "Forgive that person so many times that you can't keep count," do we? When he says that the most important action we can do with our lives is to love God and love each other, do we?

Or do we stare at our savior as if we don't understand him at all because it's not the words we want to hear?

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Expecting a Miracle

In Bible Study last Sunday, Steve was teaching. He asked the question, "What ideas do you have that could be seeds for a mission miracle?"

It seems like I immediately thought of our harvest altar, and I asked the group, "What would happen if we as a church brought in so much food for the harvest altar that we overwhelmed our local food pantry?  What if it took multiple cars to get the food to the pantry from the church?  How many people could we feed?"

So, our group is extending a challenge to the church to do just that.  As I was driving home that evening, I was thinking about how to phrase the email to send out our challenge.  I thought about the people of the congregation - some of them are older, and wouldn't be able to carry in larger quantities of food.  I thought about stationing people in the parking lot to help them, and then I thought that would be foolish.  People are going to ignore the challenge, aren't going to bring in the food, and we'll just be standing in the parking lot, waiting for nothing.

Except that I believe this is from God.  And if I believe this is from God, shouldn't I act like it?  Shouldn't I expect it to work?  Shouldn't I plan for its success.

So the email I sent out told everyone that there would be people in the parking lot to help, and I invited members of our Sunday school to join Steve and me as we act foolish, waiting around for a miracle.

We'll see what happens.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Clip in

I just started a new book called Clip In.  I'ts written by Jim Ozier and Fiona Haworth.  I heard Fiona speak at a conference and was intrigued enough to buy the book and start reading it. The subtitle is "Risking Hospitality in your Church."

Steve is a cyclist.  When he rides, he wears shoes that clip to his pedals.  This means that he can propel the bike on both the down-stroke and the up-stoke.  If your foot just sits on the pedal, only the down-stroke does any work; your foot just rides up as the other leg moves down.  If you are clipped to the pedal, then you pull up and push down - twice the force to increase the movement of the bike.  This is the image that the authors of the book use to teach about hospitality.

I really like this analogy.

  1. There is risk involved in "clipping in." Your foot is connected to the pedal.  Ask my husband. If you lose your balance or stop without planning and are unable to unclip, you fall over.  It's a risk.  
  2. You are connected to what you are doing.  You are invested.  
  3. You can move forward more quickly because you can do more work.

We need all of those in the work of a church.  We need to be invested, to take risk, and to efficiently and effectively move apply work to move forward.  Steve loves riding his bike.  Ask him, and he'll tell you that the investment, risk and work are work it.  I think we will find that in the work of the church as well.

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