Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Loving God

Continuing from yesterday, I said that it is necessary to look upon the crucifixion to see the pain of Christ in death so that we will come to understand the love that Christ has for us.

Julian of Norwich goes on to say:
But there is no greater physical pain that this; how could I suffer greater pain than to see him who is all my life, all my bliss and all my joy suffer?  Here I felt truly that I loved Christ so much more than myself that I thought it would have been a great comfort to me if my body had died.
Isn't that the opposite of what I said at first?  And can it be that it is ALSO necessary to look at the crucifixion to come to understand our love of Christ?

Will we come to realize when we see how much Christ suffered out of his love for us that we truly and deeply and with all of our being, love God?

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Love and Suffering

Last week, when I was preparing to teach a bible study lesson on the crucifixion, I posted on Facebook that I would rather teach a lesson on the Nativity.  "That's part of the point, isn't it, though, that crucifixion is too horrible to contemplate."

When our Associate Pastor, Joe, read that, he suggested a reading out of Julian of Norwich, and last night he brought the book with him to church and loaned it to me.  It is in the Short Text of Showings - Chapters x, xi and xii.

She is speaking of watching Christ's death on the cross, and says:
This long torment seemed to me as if he had been dead for a week and had still gone on suffering pain, and it seemed to me as if the greatest and last pain of his Passion was when his flesh dried up.
That's just a piece of a paragraph describing the pain that she saw in Christ during her vision of his death.

One of the things I learned as I prepared for the Crucifixion lesson is that we should open our eyes and hearts to the suffering and death of Christ, for in it, we see the extent to which he would go.  In his dying and death, we see love personified for us.  In this we see the nature of God.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Selling Soap?

Yesterday I posted about the conference I attended last week. The keynote speaker at the Opening Banquet talked about the value of story telling in the work we do.  She talked about her experience as a sales consultant.  She has found that those people who have a passion for what they are doing - those people who see purpose beyond selling - do a better job, and are in fact top "performers" in their fields.

The speaker had begun at Proctor and Gamble and is now, as I mentioned, a consultant in the field.  She's written books and travels across the country helping to train sales people (I gather).

The conference was for non-profit organizations, so that was her audience that night.  The next day at lunch, I sat with a planned giving officer from a college in the Midwest.  He shared that he was offended (my word) by the keynote speech the night before.  I was shocked because I thought it had been a great talk.  What was offensive about it?

He did not think the work we do should ever be compared to selling soap.  Personally, I think he missed the entire point.  She wasn't equating non-profit work with selling soap.  She was saying that whatever we are doing - spreading the good news about the mission of a non-profit, raising children, teaching Bible Study, and even selling soap, will be done better if we have a passion for it.  The key to having a passion for something is seeing its purpose, I think.

The biotech salesperson the consultant used as an example was inspired by someone telling her that the product the salesperson is selling changed the patient's life.  The salesperson always remembers that what she does improves people's lives.  Non-profit work isn't selling soap; the point is that selling soup can have the same passionate mission as non-profit work.

I think the lesson for me is that whatever you are doing can have a God-given purpose that will inspire you. And when you are inspired, you will do a better job, because you believe what you are doing matters.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You Know How When...

Last week I attended a conference.   The keynote speaker told us to use more stories in the work that we do.  That's not a new idea for me - we use stories all the time in the work we do at the Foundation.  It's so easy to see the presence of God working through the stories of people's lives.

This morning, thinking about her talk, I wondered if one of her prompts could also be used in our ever challenging call to tell of God's good news.  The speaker suggested that we tell people what we do by starting with the phrase, "You know how when?"

An example from the work I do:  "You know how when a person has a call from God to help fund ministry but doesn't have the means to do it?  I help that person to find a way through his situation so that he can answer that call."

So, what about telling God's story?

You know how when you think God is calling you to do something, but you aren't sure what it is?  I was in that situation, and God helped me to discover what I was to do.

You know how when you see a person, sitting alone in church, and you aren't sure what to do?  God gave me the words to say and the courage to say them.

You know how when you have a need to contribute, but you aren't sure how to do it?  God has given me the opportunities to use the gifts he has given to me, and my life is so very much enriched.

You know how when you wish you had someone to talk to about spiritual issues?  God has placed friends in my path who share that need to grow spiritually.  They are a joy.

So, what is your "you know how when?"  Think about it, and then share it.

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Love is an open door

Have you seen the movie "Frozen"?  It's a great movie.  Go see it, or I guess by now I should say, "Go rent it."  It's a great story.  Even though it's animated, don't wait around for a young person to give you an excuse.  Just watch it.

One of the songs in the movie is called Love is an Open Door.  I really like the song.  I don't want to write any spoilers, but there are reasons that at the end of the movie that you might NOT like the song. Even so, I love the idea of the song.  Love is an open door.

Think about the United Methodist statement of Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors (I never get them in the right order, so excuse that).  What are they really saying?  I think it is the same -- Love is an open door.

Love opens our hearts, it opens our minds and it should open our doors.  Doors become automatically open when love comes in.  We open the doors to let people in, and we open the doors so that we can go out. Love opens the doors.

Has love opened the doors of your church?  Of your home?  Of your heart and mind?  What doors still need to be opened?  

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Missing God


Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ (John 2:19)

Many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree.  Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, "We heard him say, "I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'" But even on this point their testimony did not agree (Mark 14:56-59)

The devotional I read this morning (Journey to the Cross: Reflecting on 24 Hours that Changed the World by Adam Hamilton) points out that the testimony offered at Jesus's trial by the Sanhedrin misquotes what Jesus said.  Jesus is, of course, referring to his body in the passage from John.  The testimony in the Mark passage states that Jesus is going to destroy the temple and then three days later build it back.  According to Hamilton, "Threatening to destroy it [the temple] would be an act of terrorism and blasphemy."  Remember, this is where God dwelt - in the temple.  Imagine your reaction if you believed that, and someone was threatening to destroy it.

Jesus hadn't said he was going to destroy the Temple.  He had said that when his body (the temple) was destroyed, it would be built back in 3 days.  Hamilton goes on to say, "When Jesus walked into the Temple courts, the glory of the Lord entered that place."  And yet, those present didn't recognize him.

How often do we not recognize Jesus?  Do we believe God still walks among us?  Do we ignore him?  Do we not see him?  Do we purposefully keep our minds, hearts and eyes closed to the presence of the Lord, or are we so busy, that we just miss God?

Perhaps today we can intentionally keep watch.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Interruptions

In the devotional I read this morning, Adam Hamilton points to Simon of Cyrene as an example of a person whose life was forever changed by an interruption.  He was an unconnected bystander, watching a criminal walking to his execution when a Roman soldier grabbed him by chance, and forced him to carry the crossbeam of Christ's cross.  He became a follower of Christ, well known enough by the church in Rome to be recognized in Mark's gospel by name.

I'm grateful there are people who make time in their lives for interruptions.  I am very often an interrupter.  I often walk up to the people in our office and start asking them a question or sharing information that I have.  I'm grateful they listen, and I hope I am open to them doing the same.  I think it changes us from people working together into a team.

Being open to interruptions is harder to do than being the interrupter.  I especially notice this when I am very busy.  I'm serving as the media/tech person on an upcoming Walk to Emmaus.  As I'm rushing around during a team meeting, trying to make sure everything I need to get done gets done, I am often interrupted.  Other team members need to ask me a question or give me a file.  I want to say, "Wait a while; I need to get this done," but I don't.  I intentionally try to say to myself, "Listen.  Focus.  This is the ministry you are doing."  I find doing this puts the task I was trying to get done into the background and calms me enough from my frantic pace to listen.  I look at the person, listen to their words, and make them the important item for the moment.  I think that's one of the hardest parts of doing the tech job on the walk - shoving aside the technology to focus on the person.  I don't know i what I am doing is transformational to anyone else, but it is to me and the job I am doing.

Interruptions.  It's ministry.  Do you find it so, too?

(By the way, I'm hotel internet for a couple of days.  I'm not sure if I can upload images with any speed or not)

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Following

Luke 23:26 (NIV) “As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.”

In Bible Study this past week, Marv asked the question, "Why is it an important detail that Simon was walking behind Jesus as he carried the cross?  I have a few thoughts:
  1. Isn't there a wonderful symbolism in walking behind Jesus as you carry a cross? Simon and his sons would come to be followers of Christ, and well known in the Christian community.  They picked up their crosses and followed.  
  2. From behind Jesus, Simon could see what Jesus was experiencing - all of it.  He could see the pain and humiliation. In this way, Simon became a witness.
  3. From Simon's viewpoint, he could see Jesus so that he could later model Jesus.  
How do we follow Jesus?  What difference does it make in our lives?

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Monday, April 07, 2014

Reluctant Foot Washing

©CreationSwap/Laura Merchant
I am part of a group that is preparing for an event in a few weeks.  The leader of the group planned a worship experience for us that included a foot washing.  She told us a week ahead of time that it was going to happen, so I had a week for fret about it.

I've never taken part in a foot washing, and I must admit to you that I didn't want to.  I get why Jesus did it - he was teaching his disciples what it means to serve each other.  He did for them a job that is normally done by servants - a job that many would think would be "below" the work of a rabbi.  He did it anyway, to show them about service, and to show them about love.  I get that.

I think, though, that he chose to wash their feet because that was, in that time, what a servant would do for them.  I don't think it was the washing of feet that was important - it was what it represented.

I spent the week trying to figure out a way to get out of it.  How could I slip out of the room when the service began?  How could I show up late and miss that part?  Should I tell her that I just didn't feel comfortable participating?  No.  I had commitments and responsibilities in this meeting; I had to go, and I had to be a part of it.  So I was.

Was it terrible?  No.  Was it a step closer to Jesus?  No, not in the way that those who speak highly of the practice would have predicted.

What is was, though, for me, was an experience of service.  Not the foot washing - the participation in it was.  The leader of the group planned it, wanted it to happen, wanted it to be special, wanted it to bind us together as a team.  She spent many hours planning it, and it meant much to her.  To have backed out might have made me happier, but it would have been a disservice to her leadership.

We paired up, and just by chance, she was my partner.  She washed my feet, and I let her because it was how she was serving Christ.  I washed hers, because it was how I could be of service to her, and to Christ. Was it a sacrament?  No, not for me.   Was it a means of grace?  Not as many would anticipate.

What was special for me was not the physical act of foot washing.  It was that after I washed her feet, I could pray for her.  I was able to thank God for her leadership and to tell her in the prayer that God loved her, and to show her in the action of participating, that I loved her, too.  It's not how I would choose to show it, but it wasn't about me.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

This is what I believe

As part of Walk to Emmaus team meetings, speakers preview their talks.  I was listening to a Talk Preview about the Means of Grace, and the speaker (a pastor) described Confirmation as someone saying, "This is what I believe, and I want to live out my belief."

I thought that was a wonderful phrase to use to illustrate what confirmation means.  I wonder if we carry that statement with us throughout life, even after the passion of our confirmation.  "This is what I believe, and I want to live out my belief."

Do we remember what we believe?  Do we remember that God is God, and does that make a difference in our lives?  Do we remember that God is involved in God's creation?

Do we pray?  Do we connect with God?  Do we place our faith into action by reaching out to the poor, the outcast?  Do we bring God to other people?

Do we remember what we believe, every day, and do we life out our belief, every day?

Would someone watching us know what we believe by what we do in our lives?

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Love Like an Ocean

What does it mean to have love like the ocean?

  1. Oceans are enormous.  In fact, we can't see their limits, and can even imagine that they are boundless.  So it is with love.
  2. Oceans are deep.  They can be so deep that we can't imagine how far away the bottom is.  So it is with love.
  3. Oceans are full of life.  They are teaming with huge creatures and microscopic organisms of all kinds.  Life is so abundant in an ocean that we even know every creatures that can be found there. That's a huge image for inclusivity.  Love it like that.
  4. Oceans are passageways for heavy ships.  It's amazing to me that ocean liners and cruise ships can float.  Love lifts us up.
  5. Oceans are salty.  Love is salty - bringing the important taste of God wherever it goes.
  6. Oceans are not still.  There are always waves - the waves might be small or large, but they are a constant encounter if you are in the ocean.  Love is like that - relentless.

May we have and be love like an ocean.


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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Joy Like a Fountain

In Sunday we sang the song Peace Like a River.  I started thinking about the phrases in the song - peace like a river, joy like a fountain and love like an ocean.  What do those analogies mean to us?

What does it mean to have joy like a fountain?

  1. A fountain is fresh all the time.  The water is constantly changing - constantly moving and never stagnant.  Joy is like that.  Doesn't joy create joy? Stagnant water isn't healthy while water in a fountain and clear and pure.  I can't imagine that a joyful life would be stagnant.
  2. A fountain is bubbly.  It often reaches up into the sky with its movement.  Stagnant water doesn't.  Joy lifts us up, beyond our abilities.
  3. A fountain isn't quiet.  It sounds joyful.  It gurgles and sings.  So does joy.
  4. There is an energy that creates a fountain - perhaps from a motor or at through gravity.  The water doesn't move that way on its own.  Our joy - true joy - is a product of energy beyond ourselves.  It comes from God.

May we all have joy like a fountain.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Peace Like a River

Two Sundays ago, we sang the song Peace Like a River.  I started thinking about the phrases in the song - peace like a river, joy like a fountain and love like an ocean.  What do those analogies mean to us?

What does it mean to have "peace like a river"?

  1. A river contains fresh water that sustains life.  Have you lived without peace?  What accumulates in our lives when we do not have peace?  Worry, preoccupation, hatred, selfishness?  What pollution cuts off true life when we are without peace?
  2. Rivers can rise up and overwhelm us with flooding. Peace can rise up and overwhelm us, filling us, changing us.  As I read that, I think it might not be a good analogy - flooding so often does not bring peace. Still, though, peace can flood into us, and it's a good experience.
  3. Rivers carry us from one point to another.  I think peace can do the same thing.  Peace can carry us from dark times to lighter times.  It can carry us from sadness, heartache and worry to resolution.    
  4. Rivers connect us to other places.  I think peace can connect us to other people.  It flows between us - peace is contagious.  
  5. A river can be calmly flowing or rapidly rushing, but either way, it is moving.  Peace can be calming, or peace can move us to action - either way, it motivates us to action.

What am I asking for if I ask for peace like a river?  Do I think I want calm, meandering quietness? I probably do, but that's not what rivers are always like.  Sometimes rivers are anything but quiet - they are often full of life and movement.  Peace isn't stillness or absence of violence.  Peace is the result of connection with God, and that might bring us what we won't imagine, or what we don't expect.

May we have peace like a river.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Do Words Fail Us?

Photo credit: S. Grant Matthews
What is clergy?  What is ordination?  What does it mean to devote one's life to God? How do our words fail us when we try to define it all?

I have an ongoing problem.  I have trouble reconciling two ideas - one is that we are all ministers, called to the work of God and the second is that some of us are called to ordained ministry.  Or maybe the problem is that I can reconcile that, and yet get confused by all of the blurry edges.  A few years ago, when I was leading the Laity Day Worship, I was trying to explain to the young people gathered for the Children's moment what Laity meant.  Who is laity?  Everyone who is not clergy.  What is clergy?  Well, the edges get blurry.

What about the commissioned elder, who is definitely clergy, but is not ordained?  What about the local lay pastor?  Clergy?  Yes.  But what separates him or her from the rest of us?

I've been told that those who are ordained have devoted their lives to God.  I can get behind that definition until I remember that there are many lay people who have devoted their lives to God. Are clergy appointed or assigned to a church?  My deacon friends would disagree with that definition.

I am a certified lay minister.  I am a minister; I am not clergy.  I do not pastor a church and yet I minister in one.  I live in the blur.

I think I'm not the only one who has problems with drawing lines of definition - trying to define that which is blurry.  Perhaps the problem is that our words fail us and trying to box in the call of God leaves us knowing the wrong of it, and yet still needing the exclusivity of definitions.

Oh, well.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Living into Spring

Two weekends ago, my two sons had overlapping spring break time, so we traveled together to Columbus for a spring break trip. As I was packing I had this overwhelming urge to leave winter clothes behind.  I packed bright colors, spring shoes and nothing heavy or wintery.  At the last minute, as a nod to reality, I grabbed a coat.

As it turns out, winter is not done with us yet. It didn't snow in Columbus, but it was COLD. And windy.  Even so, I still wore my spring colors - while winter may not be done with us, I am done with winter.

Driving today, I wondered if there is an analogy in that story to our relationship to God's kingdom. We have an incredible urge to live in God's kingdom - to live in a world transformed by the love of God.  We don't live there, but perhaps we state our desire for the coming kingdom by wearing the clothes of God - by sharing God's light and love - by stating categorically that we are finished with life without God, and leaning into - living into - the kingdom.

Even in the snow, we wear our spring shoes and bright colors.

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