Monday, June 08, 2015

Both/And Faith

A paragraph from Adam Hamilton's book, Revival:
Do you have a "both/and" faith? Do you recognize the importance of both a personal walk with Christ and a gospel that is lived out by good works?  Do you seek to love God with your mind, your heart, and your strength?  Does your faith reflect both sides of the gospel?
Wesley's Methodism started with small groups, meeting together for reasons of sanctification - to grow in Christ.  The work didn't stop there, however.  Wesley visited prisons and the sick, he fed the hungry and advocated for the poor.  There was both a personal gospel side and a social gospel side to his faith.  Do our faith and actions reflect that?  Do we grow in holiness and yet ignore the hungry? Do we visit the sick and yet have no relationship with God?  What is your weaker side?  What is mine?

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Space Walk

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the first American space walk.  At the time, it was seen as a huge step (and it was a huge step); something that had never been done before.  But, on this day, 50 years ago, Ed White stepped out of his spacecraft over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.  He stayed outside for 23 minutes.  Eventually, the commander of the flight had to convince him to come back into the craft - the experience and the views were so spectacular that I assume White didn't want them to end quite yet.

Now EVA (extra-vehicular activity) is much more common and is absolutely necessary for the work that is done in space.

As I listened to an NPR story this morning, highlighting the anniversary of the first space walk, I was reminded of John Wesley's journal entry that I posted yesterday.  To leave the spacecraft in a pressure suit with a tether must have felt like jumping out of the boat - frightening and maybe an almost impossible task.  And I think that's part of what Wesley felt before he started preaching to crowds in fields.  It was against everything he had learned - everything he knew. 

And yet he did it anyway.  And it became a way of life that changed the world.  It did it so often and with such regularity that as he grew older, and it was harder to do, he would preach from a chair - he had to keep doing it.  

And so it is with us.  What boat do we need to leave to continue the work of God in God's church?

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A Fruitful Faith

I taught Bible Study on Sunday evening.  The lesson was based on grace. It seems that people can accept that grace is a free gift, but then get stuck in James' writing: "Faith without works is dead."

What does this mean?  Does it mean that we really MUST do good works to earn salvation? Does God really count the "stars in our crowns?" Or are we missing an important link?

There is an apple tree in our backyard.  Each year it does what apple trees must do, by their nature - yield apples.  In years when the apple count is low, my husband will say, "I think the apple tree is dying."  He doesn't mean that without enough apples, the life of the tree will fade; he means that the fruit is evidence of the state of the life of the tree.  Fruit indicates a healthy tree.

I think the same could be said of faith.  Good works are the fruit of a healthy faith.  A healthy faith, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, does what it must do by its nature - yield fruit.  James was not saying that without the fruit, the faith withers.  He was saying that good works are the fruit of a healthy faith.  Without their evidence, one must question the health of the faith.

As we are sanctified by grace, moved closer by God to God's image, the fruit of good works will become the inevitable outcome.

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Monday, June 01, 2015

Vile

John Wesley visited George Whitefield in Bristol and witnessed how Whitefield preached to thousands of people in the fields.  According to Adam Hamilton (Revival), Wesley wrote in his journal:
I could scarce reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in fields ... having been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought that saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church....At four in the afternoon I submitted to "be more file," and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people.
I'm amazed that the person who said, "the world is my parish," at first found this it to be almost sinful, not because of scripture, but because of what he had been taught as a priest.

What is there in the way we are taught faith "should be" that we need to let go of so that God can use us more?  I can think of so many "shoulds" that the list would be incredibly long - what we should wear (and what others should wear), what the music should be, what the order of worship should be, where we should have church, how we should worship together, how we should treat others, etc. What do we need to release that isn't a teaching of God so that the teaching of God can be heard by those who need to hear it?

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Do we "get it?"

I'm teaching our Bible Study this week.  We're on the fourth chapter of Adam Hamilton's book, Revival; this is the chapter called The Necessity of Grace.

Hamilton says Paul uses the Greek word charis to refer to grace.  He defines it as "an expression of selfless love that is completely undeserved and is given without any expectation of repayment."  Oddly enough, in the middle of typing that sentence, my phone rang.  It was a person I know asking me to do an incredibly easy favor.  I said yes, and she thanked me and said, "so is there anything I can do for you?"

Do we "get" grace?  Do we understand kindness?  Are we willing to accept an act of grace for what it is - totally unmerited and unearned?  Do we offer grace with the understanding that we are to expect nothing in return?  Our society doesn't live into that ideal; each item given is in exchange for something else.

Can we accept unearned kindness?  Do we think it is our just due?  Or do we think we must "return the favor?"  And if we give of ourselves, do we expect to receive back?  I think, if we don't learn to give and receive without expectation of exchange, then we will never "get" grace.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Proof?

Sorry to have been missing for a few days.  It was a very busy week, and I'm heading into another busy one.  I'll try to post this week, but if I'm not here, know that I'll be back soon.

Mike Slaughter's, in his book, Renegade Gospel, wrote about a scientist named Francis Collins.  Dr. Collins was the leader of the Human Genome Project.  The goal of the project was to map all of the base pairs in the human genome and to identify and map all of the human genes.  Fascinating and wonderful stuff:  Collins wrote the book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.  Slaughter quotes Collins:
It took me a while to get comfortable sharing this experience with other peope in science.  I was happy to talk about it with my family and with other people who were not in the scientific arena.  But like most scientists, I had this fear that having accepted something in the way of a spiritual world view, I would be perceived as having gone just a little bit soft; that this was not compatible with the rigorous "show me the data" attitude that a scientist is supposed to have towards all things.
Now, I might say that particular conclusion is, in itself, all wrong.  There will never be a scientific proof of God's existence.  Science explores the natural, and God is outside the natural.  So there is going to be no substitute for making a decision to believe, and that decision will never be undergirded by absolute data-driven proof.
So often I hear people say, "When I look at the sunrise, I wonder how anyone cannot believe in God. How could this be so beautiful without having been a creation of God?"  Really, though, I don't believe a beautiful sunrise is proof of God.  Don't get me me wrong; I look at a sunrise, and I am inspired by God's creative power, and yet, I know that it is my faith that allows me to see it.  It is not proof of God.

When I worked in the lab, I was fascinated with the intricacies of how our bodies work.  The idea of the chemical deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) coding our cells with the instructions to function was amazing to me.  Still is amazing to me.  In it, I can see the wonder and majesty of God.  And yet, I know I see that beauty because I already believe.  It is not proof.

You must believe without proof, and then you will see God everywhere.

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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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