Thursday, March 21, 2019

Curious about the Light


Sprocket, our cat, is curious about the candle.  Are we that curious about the Light?

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Holy, Perfect, and Clear



I'm currently reading Peter Enn's book, How the Bible Actually Works.  I picked it up because I very much enjoy (and learn from) his (with Jared Byas) podcast, The Bible for Normal People.  If you can follow that weirdly constructed sentence, then , go , now and subscribe to that podcast.

In the very beginning of the book, Enns writes, "The spiritual disconnection many people feel today stems precisely from expecting (or being told to expect) the Bible to be holy, perfect, and clear, while in fact after reading it they find it to be morally suspect, out of touch, confusing, and just plain weird.  As you read that sentence, what is your reaction? Are you thinking, "Yes, I know what he means?" or are you thinking "Sacrilege!  Why is she reading that book?"

I want to approach the Bible the way God intended for me to approach it.  I want to be prepared to hear the Word of God through it, and not what other people tell me I should hear.  I want to respect this gift we have from God and not misuse it.  

When I hear someone say that the earth is 6000 years old or so, because the Bible told him so, I cringe.  When I hear that a Southern Baptist Church can be removed from their convention by appointing a woman as senior pastor, because the Bible told them so, I cringe.   And when I hear that a loving gay couple is rejected because the Bible says their love is an abomination, I cringe.  And all of these actions are taken because people say the Bible is holy, perfect, and clear.

I believe the bible is holy.  I have never found the Bible to be clear.  Ever.  It is wonderfully complicated and contradictory.  And if it is perfect, it is perfect in its depth and wisdom, not in its infallibility. And there are those of you who have stopped reading now, and doubt my connection to God. That's OK.  I love  you anyway, because the Bible told me so. Which it does.

Enns talks about the Bible as a book of wisdom, leading us to God.  It is a book (or several books, stories, letters, poems, etc) that speak to us of God, and through which we can find God, and because of which God can reach us.  It is a book that leads us to an understanding of who God is.  

It is complicated and contradictory and lovely.  It is full of people's experiences of God.  It contains a depth that none of us have yet to completely understand or explore.  It is holy.

And for me, when we call it simple and clear, we disrespect it.  And when we use it to support our own beliefs instead of allowing to be a conduit of grace and a means to wisdom, to take the Lord's name in vain.

We all need to stop doing that.  

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Why church?


Why church?  Why come together on Sundays (or any other day) to worship God as a community? Why be part of a community at all? We had this discussion in Sunday school, and I had some pushback to the idea that we need to be in church in order to ... well... be church.

A person once said to me, "I can experience God better in my back yard than in 'church.'"  I get that. I understand that in the quiet and peacefulness of nature, our souls are more quiet, and we can see God more.  I've talked about that alot on this blog, and I have certainly experienced it.  God is present right now, as I sit at my computer and type this post.  I can hear - discern - God more easily in the quiet, without the organ or the distractions of watching other people or hearing the comments in the pews behind me.  I can see God in a tree rustling in the wind,  or in the sunrise on a mountain, or in the beauty of a flower.  

But, how does that help us to be the church other than prepare me to be a part of the church? Other than prepare me to fulfill the mission I've been given and that the Church has been given?  How does me finding God in a bird help anyone else?

Yes, there are ways, but aren't there other ways we cannot ignore? Ways that God intended for us through the Church?

If God is present in a rose or a sunrise, then isn't God present in me? In you? And if I stay home from worship, how will others know God? That sounds very self-righteous, but I don't mean it to be.  Let me turn it around. If you stay home and enjoy your garden, how will I come to know what God needs me to know through you?

There are means of grace.  Some are can be very private and  individualized, such as contemplation, study, fasting, And then there are those that are corporate, such as communion, visiting the sick and those in prison, feeding the hungry, holy conversation, and communal worship.

In our gathered worship, we are Christ to each other.  If we stay away, we miss that experience, and we withhold it from those who would gather with us. 

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Afraid of Grace


In Sunday school a few weeks ago, the question arose,  "Won’t we just sin if the slate is wiped clean?"  If grace is grace, and God forgives and removes sin from our lives through sanctifying grace, then doesn't that encourage us to sin again? If there are no consequences, then won't we sin?

It's a logical question.  It's a parenting question.  We realize as parents that if we remove consequences for wrong doing, or if we never set boundaries or implement discipline, then will a child ever learn right from wrong, and won't the child make the wrong choices again and again?  We know we have to be the parent and enforce discipline to teach our children.  In addition to that, we have an sense of fairness - we can't imagine that wrongdoing can be forgotten or forgiven.  It doesn't seem fair.  

And then there is this: if God forgives sins - without grudges or points lost - then we have to do the same.  We don't want to.

Paul said this in Romans 6:1-4:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Forgiveness isn't meant to be a "get out of jail free" card.  Forgiveness doesn't remove consequences.  What we do has consequences, and even as forgiven people, we have to work through them. 

We sometimes equate forgiveness as "washing away our sins," as if we threw a towel in the washing machine with bleach and if came out clean and white.  The purpose of forgiveness isn't cleanliness - it's change.  It is part of sanctification - grace that moves us closer to the image of God.  It doesn't reset us to where we were - it should change us.  As a person made new in Christ, our desire to sin is changed.  

Don't misunderstand what I am saying. I don't mean that once forgiven, we no longer are tempted to sin, and that we have a magic sin-resistance field around us.  What I do mean is that as we are experience sanctifying grace, we are changed by love. Changed so that we might say as Paul says  in Romans 7:19, " For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."  I believe our desire to sin decreases because our love of God and gratitude towards God increase.  Forgiveness doesn't motivate us to sin more; forgiveness, because it is love and grace, changes us so that we do not want to sin more.

And, as we are changed by sanctifying grace, our willingness to forgive others, without grudge, increases. That doesn't mean we can forgive without the help of God, but our desire to do so will increase.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Rules


Rules.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Word



Yesterday, I quoted Rachel Held Evans: "The apostles remembered what many modern Christians tend to forget-- that what makes the gospel offensive isn't who it keeps out but who it lets in."

Consider for a moment the story of Mary and Martha.  A few years ago, I wrote about this story.  
But that's not what it's about. Mary's decision was radical. Mary decides to not be who she was and to  be someone else -- to be a disciple, sitting at Jesus' feet and learning from him. Ortberg writes,  "Martha did what the culture valued in women: cleaned the house and cooked the food. Mary did  what the culture valued in men: became a disciple".
It's a life transforming decision. And Jesus approved.
Anytime we are struggling with biblical interpretation, we should place our thoughts and teachings against what we know of God and what we know of Jesus.  This is the Word.  This is Truth.

As I thought of this today, I reflected about the evangelical debate regarding complementarianism vs egalitarianism.  When we understand that patriarchy is a synonym of complementariansim, then we understand that the complementarian edict that man should be the head of the household, the head of the church, the head of the world is based SOLELY on the fact that he is a man.  They try to support this idea by saying it is a biblical mandate (my words).  

Compare that to how Jesus lived - the true Word.  Compare that to the idea that God created man and woman in God's image.  I think the patriarchal view espoused by complementarians is supported by our 1950s view of traditional family structure, not by Jesus.  Not even by the Bible, if one reads it deeply instead of proof-texting.  References to Biblical Manhood, Biblical Womanhood, and the Biblical definition of marriage as are used to try to support the edict, but they fail.  The 1950's image of Ozzie and Harriet is not scripture.  Jesus is Truth.  Jesus is the Word.  What does Jesus say?  

And what does the Bible really say?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Who it lets in


Reading this morning from Rachel Held Evans' book, Inspired.

Think about the trifecta of stories in the Gospel of Mark:
  • In chapter 1, Jesus heals a leper by touching him.
  • In chapter 5, a woman who is bleeding touches Jesus and is healed.
  • The story in Chapter 5 is interwoven with the story about Jarius. Jesus goes to his home and brings his dead daughter back to life by touching her.
All three - the leper, the bleeding woman, and the dead little girl are untouchable.  And yet Jesus touches them.  He didn't have to.  Do you believe he could have healed them without touching them? I do. But the touch was part of the healing. The touch changes them from untouchable to part of the society again.

In speaking about these miracles in The Meaning in the Miracles, Jeffrey John says what is more relevant to us is that "...the miracles universal significance; the overturning of social and religious barriers; the abolition of taboos; and Jesus' declaration of God' love and compassion for everyone, expressed in the systemic inclusion of each class of previously excluded or marginalized.

Who in your neighborhood is marginalized? Who is untouchable? Who needs to be returned to the community, even though they are physically present? And what can you do about it as you act as the hands and feet of Christ?

Evans goes on to write, "The apostles remembered what many modern Christians tend to forget-- that what makes the gospel offensive isn't who it keeps out but who it lets in."

Do we remember that?

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Monday, February 25, 2019

What prevents you from worshiping?


In Sunday school today, the teacher asked us, "What impedes your worship in the Sanctuary?"  The question was met with crickets.  No one really had an answer.  

I've heard various answers before from others.  Some of them included:
  • Applause prevents me from worshiping (Oh, please, don't get me started - applaud.  It's worship.  Anyway, moving on...)
  • ___________ kind of music.  Fill in the blank here.  It can be anything from contemporary, to classic, to organ.  
  • Today in class, someone said "the absence of children" which I thought was a cool answer. I've heard the opposite, though - that the noise of children prevents some people from worshiping.
  • Long sermons.  Short sermons.  Sermons that are read from a manuscript. (Truthfully, none of these matter if the sermon is good, to me).
How would you answer? What prevents you from worshiping?

As I thought about the question, ironically, during worship, the answer that was the most honest (to me) came to me.  I prevent myself from worshiping.  I fail to focus, I fail to silence the distractions in my mind.  I fail to worship because I can be my own biggest obstacle.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Prayer for Next Week


On a walk through the woods at Snowshoe last year, I saw this tree.  It had been an obstacle - one that without intervention, would have prevented Steve and me from continuing down the path.

If I had been walking on the path before the fallen tree had been cut, I could not have imagined a way to clear the path myself.  I might have climbed over the tree, or turned around, but I couldn't have removed the tree on my own.

Next Monday, our church is meeting together in General Conference.  Please pray.

Creating God, loving God, sustaining God,
with boldness and humility
we come together as your Church,
or at least in the broken image
of your Church,
and we ask for your help.

Open our minds,
Open our hearts,
Open our doors.
Revive our imagination.
Help us to see your presence
in the work that will be done.
That has been done.
That is being done.

I pray, loving God,
that you will help those gathered
and those of us not with them,
to see a way to
be your Church.
United in Christ.
Loving.
With arms open to reach all of us.
Every one of your children.
As you do.

Be in the room with the delegates.
Close their mouths, open their minds.
Shut away their fears, and recreate their hearts.
Increase their kindness, and decrease their stubborness.
Stengthen each of them for the work you have called them to do.
Not the work they have picked up,
but the mission of your Church.
Clear their hands of what they bring,
and make way for what you give.

May they all be changed.
And may your church be changed.
To be your Church.

Be here with us,
those of us not present.
Bring us the same gifts
that you provide the delegates.
Receate in all of us
the hearts we need
to move forward in your Will.

I let it go,
and place it your care,
where it belongs.
Trusting you,
that you are at work,
as I know you are.
And that your way,
is the Way.

I pray in your son's name,
and ask for his presence in their work
next week.
Amen.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Walking on Today's Water


I'm reading Rachel Held Evans book, Inspired.  Chapter 6 includes a section called "The Sea;' it begins with a modern retelling of Peter and Jesus walking on water.  The story begins with a pastor on a boat during a tour that includes the Sea of Galilee during a storm.  As lightning strikes, they turn back to shore, and the man (Pete) sees Jesus walking towards the boat. On the water.

It was a little disconcerting to read the story.  Modern, but with Jesus walking on the water.  It made me wonder - where in our lives do we find Jesus walking on the water?

It would be an unexpected place during an unexpected time.  When in your life have you been down, even to the point of doubting the presence of God, and then found God walking on the water toward you?

When in your life have you needed to see Christ, walking toward you? And found him?

When in your life have you taken the risk, stepped out on the water, and been Christ for someone else who desperately needed him?

Can you watch for Christ? Can you take the risk to step out and be the hands of feet of Christ, present for someone else?

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Do we believe the same things?


I'm reading Rachel Held Evans book, Inspired.  As I was thinking thoughts related to yesterday's post, I read this:

God is busy making all thins new, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has opened that work to everyone who wants in on it.  The church is not a group of people who believe all the same things; the church is a group of people caught up int he same story, with Jesus as the center.

While you and I are debating issues, God is going about God's work - changing lives, transforming the world.  Do we want in on it? 

I love and applaud the idea that the church is not a group of people who believe the same things.  Certainly, we have a shared system of beliefs that unite us, but beyond that, we do not  We do we continue to insist that we must? 

The church is a group of people caught up in the same story.  Are we? God is transforming the world all around us; are we caught up in that story? Or are we failing to be an obedient church?

Is Christ at the center of what we do?

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Voting


In Sunday school a few weeks ago, a member of the class read a quote from John Wesley taken from his journal, dated October 6, 1774:

"I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them,
  1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy:
  2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And,
  3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.
I've been thinking about those words.  Do you find them difficult to put into practice?  When they were read in Sunday school, another member said, "Well, one out of three isn't bad."

We would all agree, I think, that we shouldn't sell our vote, and that we should make a judgement and vote.  But what about the other two?

I admit, I do speak negatively words about the person against whom I vote, and I do probably have sharp words to say about the people who do not vote the way I do.  And yet, I do think there are times when one must stand up and speak against the people and ideas that we believe are wrong, or even evil.  

In a country that is so divided politically, and in a church that is divided by one particular (that we are currently noticing) issue, how do we implement Wesley's advice while still acting and speaking with integrity?

I don't have the answers, and I confess I've not been able to follow Wesley's advice, but I do think we need to see the other person as a person.  Once we change that person into an issue or into an obstacle, and no longer see him or her as a child of God, we lose the ability to act in Christ's healing peace.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine's Day


Happy Valentine's Day

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Navigating the New Year: A List, Part 3

For the last two days and today,  I'm posting a list I wrote at the beginning of the new year.  Don't take it too seriously, or take it very seriously - whatever speaks to you.  I'm not talking to anyone in particular, or everyone in particular, or quite possibly myself.

In other words, take it for what it is worth - not much, but there are a few laughs in there.  It has forty-five bullets, so 15 on each day.  Here are the last 15:
  1. When it is a choice between doing something or cleaning, do the thing. The dirt will be there tomorrow. (Unless a holiday is coming, then clean. You have to cleans sometime.)
  2. Just because I don't share your Facebook post does not mean I don't love God.  Stop telling me that it does.
  3. When you say, "I wish I had the time to..." you do realize that everyone's days have the same number of hours, right?  Choose differently.
  4. If you are feeling overwhelmed, throw something away. Literally. 
  5. Listen. And don’t let your answer (if there needs to be one) begin with “that is like when I...” too often. It’s not about you. 
  6. Not everyone wants or needs your advice.  
  7. Don’t brag about your ability to say “no” unless you say “yes” sometimes. 
  8. Laugh - it is very good for you. 
  9. Make a list and check things off. Even a false sense of accomplishment can motivate you to get things done. And a list will clear your mind for the action that needs done. 
  10. If your brain is nagging you about something, listen to it. It’s your brain, and it has been right before. 
  11. Ask why. 
  12. Check Snopes before re-posting. You are responsible for what you post, and it’s probably not true. 
  13. When you are posting in response to someone, imagine you are sitting in his living room, and your mother is with you. Would you say it then?  
  14. Proofread. And if necessary (and it probably is necessary) ask someone else to read it, too. 
  15. Beware of lists like this. Investigate the truth of everything on your own. 


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