Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Guest blogger: J

The following was written by J for school, but I liked it:

Do you know what three things that make me feel good? Of course, you don't. Then let me tell you. The three things that make me feel good are: food, church and family.

Food feels like a trip up to heaven. It is so delicious, it makes my mouth water. Whenever I see food, I barge right into it.

Church makes me feel great. They teach me stuff about the bible. They also have a spectacular service. Sometimes they even have food.

Now my family is the best thing I have. They make my heart warm up like a hot summer day. My mom somtimes makes stuff in the crock-pot and gives it to me. It is fantastic! It makes my heart feel even warmer!

Do you know three things that make you feel good? If you do, write a story about it. I bet it will knock my socks off!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Brightly Colored Beads

Youth were gathered
In the church they considered home.
No longer children.
Not yet adults.

They were committed to their goals.
To know each other better.
To draw closer to God.
To have fun.
To understand the pain of hunger.

Instead of eating,
They played and watched movies.

Instead of eating,
They worked at the City Mission.

Instead of eating,
They prayed and talked.

For twenty four hours they strung together beads.
One after another on plastic string.
Beads of many colors
Resembling the crayons
They had held in their hands
When they were children.

Each bead was one child.
A child who would die
In the 24 hours of their fast.
Twenty nine thousand were strung
One after another.
Each one a child who had died.

After the fast was broken
First with communion
And then with thanksgiving,
They carried the huge string of beads
To the Sanctuary.

They decorated God’s living room
With bright colors
The strand stretching more than twice around the room.
Carefully, the string was hung along the walls
High enough to be out of the way of the congregation
The next morning.
But bright enough to be noticed.
And long enough to bring tears.

Throughout the night
The weight of the beads
Pulled down on the plastic string
Stretching it, making it longer
So that it drooped into doorways
Looped over the choir loft
Stretched below the arches,
as if it would not be hidden.

Twenty nine thousand beads are heavy.
Especially when they are children who are lost.
Especially when guilt is painted on them.
Especially when God pulls on them.

The next morning,
The congregation ducked to avoid hitting them,
The liturgist held the string up
So that the choir could enter the loft.
People smiled at the brightly colored beads
Until the youth explained what they were,
What they symbolized.

Each bead a child lost
Each bead a child who had starved to death.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Prayer by S.

I'm probably about to do a bad thing. I don't care.

S was the liturgist today. He wrote the prayer, and I think it's great, so I'm posting it here.

That's not bad in and of itself, except I haven't asked him if it is OK. He's out of town -- gone to New Jersey, so I can't ask, can I? Happily posting away...

Prayer written by S:

This is a day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Dear Heavenly Father, we come into your house today with glad hearts. A promotion at work, an achievement by a child, a kind word from a loved one or friend. We come into your house today with heavy hearts. Loss of a job, a child spending more time with the principal than in class, a hateful-hurtful word from a loved one or friend. We watch the television with elation as the Olympians, who have trained so hard and so long, push themselves to the brink of human endurance. We watch the television and our hearts break as we see police officers, firefighters, and soldiers, who have trained so hard and long, lose their lives while providing safety and freedom for others.

Great and compassionate God, let us heed the words spoken by theologians and know who we are and whose we are -- we are yours. As we come into your house today, ready to revel in our glories, let us remember that they are your glories, and we are to give you praise. As we come into your house today scraping a bottom we did not know existed, may we be wrapped in the warmth of your spirit and strengthened by your love, knowing that nothing is going to happen today that we cannot handle together.

Lord, you left us your word -- your directions for our lives. We bind the chapters and let them adorn our coffee tables and pew backs. Open our eyes and focus our minds that we may know your Bible -- OUR Bible to be an action plan, not simply a historic record. Thy Word is lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Let us read and let us receive and let us pray without ceasing beginning with the words your son taught us to pray...

Saturday, February 25, 2006

30 Hour Famine

The Youth of our church participated in the 30 Hour Famine this weekend. G, our older son, who is in Middle school, participated. As part of this program, the youth fast for 30 hours. They raise money for World Vision in order to help feed children. From 6pm on Friday to after dinner on Saturday, they have a lock-in at the church.

As one of the activities for the program, they strung together 29,000 beads. Every day, 29,000 children die of hunger. The string of beads stretches around the santuary three times. It's kind of an abstract number, but the concrete string of beads is a great visual. They have strung them around our sanctuary to help the congregation understand the impact of hunger in our world.

Note: It's hard to see the beads in the pictures, but if you click on either the right or left photo, they are visible in the larger images. They are right below the lowest arches and above the front of the choir loft.

Friday, February 24, 2006


(Photo note: Myrtle Beach, 2005. I'm tired of the winter pictures, so here's the beach. Enjoy. S and I are looking at the calendar now to set our vacation, so we're thinking of the beach.)

There seems to be some discussion going on in the world of theology concerning two relatively new translations of the Bible -- Today's New International Version (TNIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV).

I must first say that I have no knowledge or basis to make any comments regarding these two translations. My bookshelf has Bibles in Revised Standard, New Revised Standard, New International, King James, Good News, The Message (I actually like it better now that it has verse numbers), and The Jerusalem Bible. Truthfully, when I am preparing a Sunday school lesson, I usually grab which ever version is closest to me.

I do use certain versions for certain purposes:
  • My King James Version was a gift from my father when I was young. I rarely read it, but this is the Bible that holds all of my "funeral handouts" -- I don't know what they are called, but they are those little fold-over memorial cards that you get at a visitation or funeral. I don't know why I keep them in this particular Bible, but I do.
  • The Bible I'm reading each day is NIV. This is only because I'm reading out of the Bible in 90 Days book, which is NIV. Actually, I own four NIV Bibles. Two study Bibles -- one a hardback I bought, and one a leather-bound one that S bought for me (they are identical except for the cover). I also have a very small (4 x 9?) NIV that is in my briefcase (another gift from S).
  • I carry a thinline New Revised Standard with me to church. I use this one at church for two reasons -- it is THIN, which is nice, and it is usually the version from which the ministers read in the service. Pet peeve of mine -- I can't follow along in a Bible when someone is reading unless they are the same translation. Sideline note -- We bought J and G bibles a year or so ago. J carried his to church and tried to follow the minister, but we bought them NIV, and the minister reads NRSV. They didn't match. J closed his bible, looked a the cover, and said, "I thought he was reading from the Holy Bible."
  • I have an old red hardback Revised Standard that I LOVE. I love it because this is the Bible that I used when I took the Bethel Bible teacher's class, and the one I used when I taught the Bethel series. It's marked all over and kind of worn looking. I lost the paper jacket a while back. When I hold it, I think of Bethel -- the first time I actually studied the Bible in depth. I think of Chuck Echols, my teacher for that class. I think of my own Bethel class. It is a study Bible, so sometimes I pull it out when I'm preparing a lesson (to use the annotations).
  • When I teach, I sometimes read to the class from The Message. It is a very readable translation. Most people haven't heard familiar scriptures from it, so they have a new life when read from this version.
  • I never look at the Jerusalem Bible -- I bought it when I took a humanities course in college -- it was the version they asked us to have. When I look at it, I remember that class, which looked at religion as myth. Not very inspiring.
  • I have a Good News New Testament that was a gift from the Presbytarian church we attended when I was in elementary school. I was asked to read John 3:1-16 as a child from this Bible, and the minister gave it to me to keep. Isn't that a great idea? I wish we did that at our church.

Well, this is not what this post was supposed to be about. I meant to examine the role of inclusive language in Bible translations, but I'll do that tomorrow. Maybe.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Life from Death

I'm tired of it. I'm just sick of it. Winter is so dead looking. No color. Dead leaves, dead looking trees, dead weeds. The only color today was a the blue sky. Tuesday's sky was white -- no color at all.

Looking at these pictures --taking these pictures -- it is hard to believe that spring is even possible. It's difficult to trust that life will spring from these brown trees or that flowers will burst into bloom in just a few weeks.

What do you see when you look at these pictures? Lately I've only been seeing brown, dead, colorless, winter blah. Not a very good attitude. It's difficult for God to use me for his purposes when I have an attitude that doesn't positively look to possibilities. Potential.

A fellow in our lab (note: A fellow is a doctor who is working toward his endocrinology specialty), who was a Muslim from Yemen, asked me one day if I believe that Jesus died on the cross -- was he actually dead? My answer was yes -- dead -- dead as a doornail (whatever that means). Resurrection -- life from death -- is a basic tenet of our faith.

It's hard to look at death, and expect to see life. Nevertheless, that is what we are called to do. We, as Christians, are expected by God to look at life with a positive expectation -- a positive attitude.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Maybe you’ve noticed that I have been thinking about attitude this week. What kind of attitude should we cultivate in order to be useful to God? Do we need to have determination? Do we need to demonstrate gratitude? Probably both, yes. I’ve been putting one off, but guess I have to write about it today – humility.

If I use that really handy feature in Word to discover synonyms of humility, I am shown the words modesty, unassuming nature, and meekness. Is this what we are called to be? Can you tell that much of my post today will be questions, and that I don’t seem to have many answers?

I found this essay on humility this morning. Mr. Brown, the author, would tell you that Microsoft is wrong, at least theologically. I have to say that I agree with some of what he is saying.

I am finished with Job – yes, moving on to Psalms and happy about it. I read these passages this morning:

Job 38:4-7:

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone
- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

And verse 12: "Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place,"

These are just a taste of the latter part of Job. If you want to get a taste of humility, perhaps Job 38-41 is a good place to start.

Ken Brown suggests that Philippians 2:1-16 is a good example of Christ’s humility, and sites verse 8 as the heart of it all, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Perhaps then we should define humility as the realization that God is God, and we are not. Hopefully, biting at the heals of this statement is a willingness to be obedient to God.

If humility is the understanding that God is God, and the fruit of that is obedience, then how do we demonstrate humility? Is it by being meek and mild? Is it by having an unassuming nature? Probably not. Once again, as Scott so wisely would say, it all comes back to Matthew 22:37-39 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul, and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Pair that with Paul’s famous definition of love (1 Corinithians 13:4-7; The Message):

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back, but keeps going to the end.

I don’t always want to do that, but humility – God is God and I am not – means that I’m supposed to do it anyway.

Jesus didn’t want to die on a cross, but he did it anyway.

The secular definition of humility connotes subservience to other people; the theological definition of humility means subservience to God. It may (and probably will) result in acting as a servant to others, but that is a result of obeying the will of God. Sometimes humility will mean standing against injustice – whether in a peaceful protest, on the playground or in the boardroom. Humility doesn’t always mean quiet and meek – sometimes it means loud and annoying – but I would guess that it always means obedience to God and often requires courage.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I remember as a kid hearing the story from Luke (Luke 17:11-19) where Jesus heals 10 men, and only one turns back to thank him. At the time, I thought that maybe Jesus was upset by this because the other nine men had been rude – saying “thank you” is only polite. If one should be polite to anyone, then one should certainly be polite to God.

I have a different view of the passage now that I’m older. I don’t think it is so much about saying the “magic word.” (You have to be a Mr. Cartoon fan to understand that reference.) I think there is much more to it than that.

A few years ago, the committee of which I am a member organized a series of dinners and classes on Wednesday night – seven weeks of family dinners, followed by events for children, youth and adults. The “fly in the ointment” was that at the time we did not have a “church hostess” – that wonderful staff member who cooks meals and then cleans the kitchen. Our DCE, who was one of the staff members on our committee, arranged for the church hostess of a neighboring Methodist church, who was already preparing meals for her church’s Wednesday night dinners, to fix “extra” for our church. That left it up to us to get the food transported about a block and then served in our social hall. This sounded simple; it was not.

In order to have the food hot when it arrived, we were always cutting it close between delivery and serving. Sometimes we would find out at the last minute that some part of the meal needed final preparation – like the night when we had tacos and realized 10 minutes prior to serving that the shells needed to be baked. Sometimes we would have too much of one item, and not enough of another. Always, the last 15 minutes prior to serving were WILD – running around trying to get everything down the stairs to the kitchen and then prepared for serving to the group.

To tell the truth, I was resentful. Here I was in a commercial kitchen, supposedly in charge (but feeling completely out of control – hate that). I didn’t know how to work any of the commercial appliances. Have you seen a commercial dishwasher? NO idea how to make it run. The oven? A mystery. And the stove is GAS – that means FIRE! The DCE, who I thought was supposed to be working with me on this, spent less and less time in the kitchen each week (Now, in her defense, she was also running the youth program at the same time – I mean EXACTLY at the same time.) I received conflicting messages regarding who was in charge of clean up, so that was another mystery added to the pile. See what I’m doing? Complain, complain. It was not a pleasant seven weeks.

After it was over, I sat down to write thank you notes to the people who had helped. Maybe it was that old, “not saying thank you is rude” motivation, but I felt like it was important to let each person know that his/her work had been appreciated. So I wrote out cards. Cards to those who had picked up and delivered the food. Cards to those who had helped to prepare it when it arrived. Cards to those who had served it, and cards to those wonderful darlings who had cleaned up the messes. WOW. I was amazed at how many people had pitched in to help. I no longer felt resentful, but grateful.

Why do we need to say thank you to God? So far this morning I’ve come up with three reasons:
  1. God is God. If he wants thanksgiving, who are we to question? (Can you see I’m still reading Job?)
  2. God is God, and he is deserving of thanksgiving.
  3. God is God. He made us, and has a pretty good idea how we work. When we say “thank you” – to God or to each other – we develop an attitude of thanksgiving. We feel gratitude. God wants our thanksgiving because he wants us to live in gratitude, not in resentment. After I wrote all those cards, I realized how much love and support had gone into those seven weeks. I was blinded to it by my resentment, but once I saw it, it was beautiful.
A minister once said to me, “You (meaning people in general, not me in particular) shouldn’t need recognition if you know that you are doing the will of God.” I would change that to be that we should not allow recognition to be our motivation to do the will of God. I’ve avoided saying this throughout this entire post, because it sounds so corny, but we need an attitude of gratitude. Some people need to hear “thank you” – it can be the confirmation that is needed to allow them to believe that what they are doing is making a difference – that their actions have worth and value. But sometimes the greatest benefit of the words “thank you” is to the person who says them. We say thank you to God in recognition of his Godliness. We say thank you to each other in recognition of our God-like-ness. The blessings of gratitude are not one sided.

    Monday, February 20, 2006


    It was thick in the air
    Like the heat
    Pressing, pushing, shoving
    the people together
    in the small house.

    They all wanted to see Jesus.
    He stood in the middle of them
    Preaching, trying to reach them
    with his words.
    With his love.

    Outside the house
    were five men -- all friends.
    They had known each other forever,
    grown up together.
    They could almost read each other's thoughts.
    One of them was paralyzed,
    and the others had carried him
    so that he could meet this man called Jesus.

    Determination had brought them this far.
    Nothing would stop the four friends.
    Not the crowd in the house,
    and not the quiet remark of the paralytic,
    "Maybe we can come back tomorrow."
    The oldest of the five men said,
    "Not tomorrow. Today."
    Then he started toward the roof.

    The climb up the stairs
    was only possible
    because the four were friends.
    They had worked together all their lives.
    The job was difficult, slow, sometimes frightening
    as the stretcher twisted back and forth.
    The man held onto its side with quiet intensity,
    to keep from falling.
    Together they got the stretcher up to the roof.

    They began to dig.
    The clay roof was hard,
    baked dry in the sun.
    Branches ran through it,
    making it tougher, connecting and supporting the clay.
    Their hands turned red,
    Clay packed under their nails,
    Sweat dripped and mixed with the dirt
    as they lifted pieces of the roof away.

    As they lifted away the last piece,
    they saw Jesus looking up at them,
    as if expecting them.
    They lowered their friend through the hole,
    and then followed him,
    landing on the dirt floor.

    First Jesus healed the man's soul,
    "Son, your sins are forgiven."
    Jesus was looking at the man on the mat,
    but all five knew the coolness of the relief
    from the weight of guilt.

    Next, Jesus healed his body,
    "Get up, take your mat and go home."
    The man, carried into the house by friends,
    stood up without help, picked up the mat.
    The crowd parted,
    making room for him to leave.
    His friends, caked in dirt and sweat,
    carried into the building by determination
    followed in his wake.

    Friendship had motivated them.
    Determination had pushed them.
    Faith had given them courage.
    God had made all five of them whole.

    Photos: Harris Riverfront park
    Thanks to Carol for the sermon that inspired the images in this poem.

    Sunday, February 19, 2006


    I’ve never really believed in the Power of Positive Thinking. I am a positive person, I think; however, all of my good thoughts cannot cause something to happen. No matter how positive I am; no matter how wonderful my attitude, I can’t make it (whatever it is) happen.

    I do believe in the Power of God. His power can make things happen, but I’ve never been able to “connect” that power in my mind to positive thinking or to a good attitude. I figured that they must be connected, but I wasn’t sure how.

    I think that an experiment in the lab finally helped me to understand.

    I have been working on a new procedure in the lab called Western blotting. (Oh, no, not biology!). This procedure works by transferring protein from a “gel” to a “membrane” using electricity. The electricity flows through a “transfer solution,” and moves the protein to its new location. The only problem (or one of the problems) in my procedure was that electricity wasn’t flowing very effectively through my solution. It wasn’t the power supply – that was working perfectly. The fellow in our lab and I decided to try to work on the “transfer solution.”

    We made two versions. Our original solution, that had an acidic pH, and a new one, that was much less acidic. We tried them both. As predicted, the acidic solution would not allow current to flow. Eureka – the new solution worked! The power flowed through the less acidic transfer solution. The electricity was meeting less resistance in the new solution, and was able to cause the protein to move to where it was supposed to be.

    Maybe that’s what attitude is about. It isn’t the power – the power comes from God, and that’s working perfectly. Attitude is the transfer solution. An acidic attitude won’t conduct much power. A less acidic attitude is necessary for the power to flow in abundance.

    Photo credit: Not mine. This one was in a PowerPoint presentation that someone sent me via email. Great picture. I would call it, "Power in His Hands," and that's what we have.

    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    Eight Below

    We went to see Eight Below today. This is a movie that is set in the Antarctic. So think very cold and snowy. A set of sled dogs are left behind after an evacuation of the "camp" in the face of a coming storm, with the idea that someone would return for them in a few hours. I won't tell you how long it took to finally rescue the dogs. I also won't tell you how many of the dogs died. I will tell you that I spent the whole movie waiting to see which dog would die next. None of us enjoyed this movie. Beautiful scenery...really cute scenes with the dogs that make you think they were humans in dog fur. BUT, I left with a backache from the tension. J leaned over during the movie and asked, "Mom, are we going to see this again?" NO "Good, I don't want to ever see this movie again." It has a (mainly) happy ending, and you do love the dogs. Maybe it just wasn't a movie that we particularly would like.

    Word of warning...if you do go see the movie, be prepared to be startled when you see the whale. It doesn't make any sense to you right now, but you'll know it when you see it. Beware of the whale.

    The whole movie made we want to come home and hug our dog.

    We've been watching the Olympics, and I must say that the moguls (a skiing race), the luge, and the skeleten are the strangest things I've ever seen. Short track speed skating is pretty strange, too. We've enjoyed the snow boarding (until I watched Lindsey Jacobellis lose the gold medal last night). Ski jumping must be as close to flying that a human being can reach without a motor or a parachute. Is it bad that I was happy when Johnny Weir didn't win a medal?

    Friday, February 17, 2006

    Know my Heart

    I'm working my way through Job. I anticipated that this would be dreadful -- sad and depressing. It is sad and depressing, but it's not dreadful. I can't say I walk away from it filled with joy, but the book has made me think.

    What has struck me is Job's steadfast determination that he is blameless. Of course, we haven't caught him on his best day, but even though his "friends" continue to try to convince him that he has done something wrong -- something to deserve what has happened to him, Job is convinced that God is unjust. He believes this, I think, because of his unswerving conviction that he is innocent.

    How can Job -- how can anyone -- be so convinced that he is sinless?

    S and I (and J) went to an Emmaus gathering this evening. I was struck by the contrast between Job's conviction of innocence, and my reaction to the Call to Confession prior to Communion. Brad used Psalm 139, which I thought was beautiful, until he got the end.
    Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (vs 23-24, NIV)

    Uh...well...no, thank you. Please don't examine me that closely. Kim's version, "O, God, please ignore my sins, and lead me in the way everlasting."

    Silly, really. Just like Adam and Eve, I can't really hide in the garden and not expect God to know where I am. He knows where I am; He knows my heart and my sins. I'm really uncomfortable with that, but my discomfort doesn' t make it any less true. God knows my sins; he's just waiting for me to do the "examining."

    I'm not particularly comfortable with that, either.

    I enjoyed the Emmaus Gathering. Dan's talk was great. He kept saying all through it that, "I'm not Billy Graham." One of my favorite parts of the evening was when Brad said, "Billy Graham is in North Carolina, saying 'I'm no Dan.'" What a wonderful, God-lead way to lift up the speaker and show him his value as a child of God.

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    Carry my Cross

    I seem to be stuck lately on songs by the group Third Day. The CD I’m listening to is called “Wherever You Are.” I know nothing about this group except, from the CD insert, it seems to be composed of five men, who have written the music and lyrics to all of the songs on the CD. They have an almost “raspy” sound – I really don’t know how to describe it, but I am really enjoying their lyrics.

    Yesterday’s post, and Jeff’s comment to it brought the song “Carry my Cross” to my mind. To really “get” this song, you must realize that the narrative voice is Jesus. I love all the lyrics, but I’ll just post one verse and the chorus:

    I’m praying in the garden
    And I’m looking for a miracle
    I find the journey hard but
    It’s the reason I was born.
    Can this cup be passed on?
    Lord, I pray your will be done
    In this world.

    So I’ll carry my cross,
    And I’ll carry the shame
    To the end of the road
    Through the struggle and pain
    And I’ll do it for love
    No it won’t be in vain
    Yes I’ll carry my cross
    And I’ll carry the shame.

    Then, at the end of the song, comes this haunting little line, repeated twice:

    Three more days and I’ll be coming back again.
    Three more days and I’ll be coming back again

    Now, compare that to this scripture from Job (Job 9: 27-33) that I read this morning:

    If I smile and try to forget my pain, all my suffering comes back to haunt me: I know that God does hold me guilty. Since I am held guilty why should I bother? No soap can wash away my sins. God throws me into a pit with filth, and even my clothes are ashamed of me. If God were human, I could answer him: we could go to court to decide our quarrel. But there is no one to step between us — no one to judge both God and me.

    Job feels wrongly punished by God – blameless – hence his desire for someone to judge both God and him. Putting that aside, I am struck by the desire by Job to have God become human, so that he could speak to him; his desire to have someone to step between him and God as advocate.

    Do I take that for granted? Do I forget how different life is for me on this side of the cross? We talk freely to God, we have an advocate, God has become human for us and has made washed away our sin. Job’s heartfelt desire has been granted in our lives.

    Once again, I’m certainly glad to be living on this side of the cross.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    Citius, Alitius, Fortius

    (Note: Click on the picture for a better look. It's a hawk flying near the VA).
    I actually have two blogs; this one and a knitting blog. I don't usually talk about knitting on this blog, because, well, most people who would read this blog would not be all that interested in knitting (and vice versa). Today, however, I'm going to cross-post. Something kind of cool is happening in the knitting world which I think has some meaning for life in general.

    A few weeks ago, a Canadian knitter who has published a couple of books posted an invitation on her blog. It's pretty common in the knitting blog world to create Knit-Alongs -- "Hey, I'm doing such and such. Anybody want to join me?" Stephanie challenged knitters to choose a project that the knitter felt was a challenge, cast the project on no sooner than the opening ceremonies and then finish it before the end of the Olympics (closing ceremonies). The project had to be a personal challenge for the knitter. A beginning might attempt a simple scarf; an advanced knitter might try to complete a lace tablecloth using dental floss and toothpicks. The goal was "Citius, Alitius, Fortius" (Latin for Faster, Higher, Stronger).

    I joined, and so did 4047 other knitters across the globe. This knit along has almost twice as many partipants as there are atheletes in the Torino games (about 2400). Knitters are from Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia and South America. When the Olympics are over, those who participated will be able to say, "I am better at this than I was 16 days ago."

    My point with all of this boring knitting talk is to ask, "How often do we take up that kind of challenge in life?" Do we (I) ever set a specific goal with a specific time table with the idea of being better at something?

    Lent is 2 weeks away. We (I) often make plans to "give something up" for Lent. From its beginnings, Lent has had a connotation of fasting -- we've expanded that meaning to include self-sacrifice. What if we (I), instead of "giving something up" decided to set a self-improvement goal. Examples:

    • By Easter, I will have incorporated prayer into my daily life, so that it has become a habit.
    • By Easter, I will have studied the book of Job so that I have a real understanding of its meaning (don't do this -- ick).
    • By Easter, I will have read three books about parenting and tried to glean from then lessons in how to do this very important job.
    • Throughout Lent, I will spend 10 hours in volunteer work.

    These are just examples so that I can try to make my point. By the times the Olympics are over, I will have knit a garment which requires gauge adjustments (which I've never done before). I will be able to say, "I am a better knitter." Wouldn't it be great to be able to say on Easter, "I am closer to God that I was on Ash Wednesday" or "I have a better understanding of God's Word" or even "I think I might actually be a better Christian than I was 40 days ago."

    Quite a challenge.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Camera Lessons

    For the last few weeks I’ve been carrying my digital camera around, keeping my eyes open, and taking pictures. It occurs to me today that the lessons I’ve learned from this could be applied to our faith journey and our relationship with God:

    Be Aware – Since I started taking pictures, I’ve seen wonderful sunsets, sunrises, moons, snow….Did all of this just appear because I started looking? No, it was there all the time, but I have missed it. We need to be aware. God is there – we just need to look for him.

    Know your Priorities – When I am driving a car, and I see a great “picture” outside the car window, I need to keep in mind that my priority is still driving the car. Priorities are important.

    Be Prepared – To get the best pictures, have the camera out of the case (and the purse) and turned on. Spend much time digging, and the picture will be gone. Likewise, I lost a great picture last night because my battery died. We need to make sure we don’t run out of lamp oil – be prepared to see God.

    Take risks – How many times have I said, “There is no way that I can capture that in a picture.”? Sometimes, though, I take the picture anyway. Take a chance, and the results may stagger you.

    Be Oblivious
    – That sounds strange when I just said to “be aware.” Sometimes we need to be oblivious to the opinions of others. I’m over 40 now, and this comes with more ease. Last night, the sunset was wonderful. We were dropping off G at all-county band practice in Barboursville. I hopped out of the car in the parking lot, and stood there; taking pictures as cars drove by. Yea, I looked kind of silly – especially because I one point I was taking pictures of puddles – but the light was fantastic, and the clouds were reflecting in the puddles. Sometimes in life, we need to be oblivious to the opinions of others.

    Notice God’s glory in the clouds – I have noticed that some of the best pictures of sunrises or sunsets are taken when there are clouds in the sky. It is as if the sun’s effect is seen best when it’s bouncing off of clouds. We need to know that when there are clouds in our lives, the clouds don’t hide God; they accentuate the glory of God. (Note: As I read this, it sounds to me like I’m saying that God sends clouds our way so that we can see his power more clearly. I’m not saying that at all. What I am trying, poorly, to say is that God’s power is stronger than the clouds).

    Act quickly – When a “picture” presents itself, if I want to capture it, I can’t go feed the dog first. “Pictures” only last a few seconds. In ten minutes, the “picture” will be different. When opportunities arise in life – to make your child feel special, to show a neighbor love, to make someone feel welcome – act quickly, because soon the opportunity will be gone.

    Photos: (1) Sunrise at the VA, (2) Full moon in Barboursville, (3) Sunset in Barboursville

    Monday, February 13, 2006

    An Unclean Priest

    We are in the midst of a pastor-exchange. Yesterday our church enjoyed a visit from Joe Kenaston, who is the pastor at Lewisburg United Methodist Church, but grew up in our church. Next week, our pastor, who grew up in Lewisburg UMC, will travel there to preach. Cool idea.

    Joe's sermon yesterday was about the Good Samaritan. The problem that I have found when I teach about a commonly know parable, such as this one, is that it is difficult to present it in a refreshing way. In fact, one Sunday I was teaching a lesson based on the Prodigal Son. My mom, who was not going to be able to come to class, asked what I was teaching about. When I told her, she replied, "Oh, I already know about that one." It makes for a challenge.

    Anyway, Joe did a terrific job with the sermon and the parable, presenting different viewpoints, and giving me new food for thought. I've been thinking about the Good Samaritan parable, trying to see it from a different angles, and it brought to mind the question, "What about the priest and the Levite? What happened to them?" From these questions arose the following little story, which is, of course, not scriptural at all. I also think it is kind of predictable and cheesy, but I post it here anyway, because, well, that's what I do.

    One day Jesus was walking by the temple. He was alone. Those who usually traveled with him were on various errands, and Jesus had a few moments to spend by himself. Solitude was a rarity, and his plan was to spend some time in the quiet of the temple.

    Sitting on the ground outside the entrance to the temple, in the dust and heat, was a man. He looked dejected, abandoned, alone. Jesus sat down in the dirt beside him, and said nothing.

    Finally the man spoke, “I am a priest!” His words were forceful, as if he hoped to convince himself of the fact.

    “Why are you sitting out here in the dirt?” asked Jesus.

    “I can’t go in to the temple.”

    “Why not? Are you unclean?”

    “No,” the man snapped. “I am clean, and that is the problem.” Jesus said nothing, and waited for him to continue. “I was walking here from my home in Jericho, and I passed by a man in a ditch. He had been beaten and hurt, stripped of his clothes. He was covered in blood and flies. I was sure that he was dead.”

    “What did you do?”

    “I crossed the road so that I wouldn’t have to go near him.” The man whipped his head around to look at Jesus, as if Jesus had spoken an accusation. “I thought he was dead. It is the law; I had to stay away from him.” The man continued to look at Jesus, but his voice dropped to a whisper. “But he wasn’t dead.”

    “How do you know?”

    “I stopped and spent the night at an inn on the way here. It’s a long, hard trip, and it was getting dark. The next morning I was preparing to leave to continue on to Jerusalem. I overhead the innkeeper speaking to a Samaritan.” The man spat out the word, as if it were filthy. “The Samaritan had stopped to help the man. He had spent the night caring for him and was leaving money with the innkeeper so that the man could stay at the inn and recover.”

    “What did you do next?”

    “I had to go see. Before I left, I went back into the inn to see the man I had passed by. He was asleep; his face covered with bruises. I could tell though, through the bruises. I knew him. He lives in my village near Jericho. I know him; I know his children and his wife. I had left him for dead in a ditch.” He looked away from Jesus, as if looking at him was too difficult. “I couldn’t stand for him to know what I had done, so I left him at the inn.” He looked back at Jesus, desperate for answers, “I did what was right. I followed the law. Why do I feel like this dirt that we are sitting in?”

    Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “You know the law. You are a wise and devoted priest. And yet for all of this, you do not know God at all.”

    “What do I do?”

    “Stay here by the temple for a little while longer. You’ll know what to do.” Jesus stood up and went into the temple, leaving the man alone.

    Jesus’ touch had brought healing to the priest. Finally, he realized that he shouldn’t be sitting in the dirt; he had a job to do. He made some arrangements, and then traveled back down to the mountain from Jerusalem toward Jericho. He stopped at the inn and went into to see the injured man. He explained everything to his neighbor, and asked his forgiveness. They stayed together at the inn until the injured man was ready to travel, and then the priest took the man back home to Jericho to his family.

    Once more the priest headed for Jerusalem, finally clean.

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    In Memory of...

    Today at our church we enjoyed the Seventh Annual Joe Neal Memorial Valentine Spaghetti Sweetheart Lunch Dinner. It really doesn't go by all those names -- although sometimes it seems so. Every year that we have had this youth fundraising luncheon, the name changes is some aspect. What has remained the same is that is the Joe Neal Memorial .... The presence of Joe's memory has remained constant.

    I got to know Joe when we took the Bethel Bible Teacher's class together. He was a gentleman with a big heart and a very large and active brain. I have three memories that have kind of stuck with me:
    1. The teacher we had for that class was Dr. Chuck Echols, our assistant pastor at the time (another really good man). Chuck was discussing grace, and how our salvation is a gift from God. I asked him to explain the parable of the sheep and the goats in the light of salvation being a gift. (The sheep and goats parable still worries me). I don't remember what Chuck said, but it was a compact answer, and didn't really answer the question. (Even all these years later, I'm still not sure that there IS an answer to that question). Chuck was continuing in his lecture, and Joe stopped him, telling Chuck that I had asked a good question, and deserved an answer. I still don't remember what Chuck said, but the memory that I took away from the discussion was that sometimes -- maybe -- my questions do have value (and that sometimes maybe I'm wondering the same thing as other people are wondering).
    2. Joe was talking about Moses and the Ten Commandments during one class. His theory (and maybe he had read this somewhere) was that God hadn't given the Israelites these particular Ten Laws in order to just give them these laws. Joe theorized that God's purpose at the time was to make his presence real to the Israelites -- to establish a relationship with them. Joe thought that perhaps this was more important at the time than the delivery of these commandments.
    3. In another class, Joe brought forth the idea that we each have our own image of God -- within us -- our perceptions and ideas of who He is. I'm sure this is obvious, but I had never thought of it before.

    After we finished that class, I was privileged to hear Joe teach Sunday school. He was always well researched, and his lessons were thoughtful and thought-provoking. Sometimes I would just sit back and listen, sure that his level of understanding was so much higher than mine.

    My most lasting impression of Joe? He was such a smart, intelligent man who was in touch with God and kept learning about God as a high priority in his life. He has left a lasting legacy in our church.

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Music on my Mind

    I have been tagged by Jim of WabiSabi (wow -- how cool to be tagged) and directed to list 7 songs that I am into right now. I thought this would be difficult, but it has turned out that I had to limit the list.

    The rules: List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they're any good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying now. Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they're listening to.

    Here goes:

    1. I recently bought the CD Wherever You Are by Third Day, and I'm just loving the song "I can feel it" (written by Mark Lee). My favorite phrase? "I can feel your heartbeat." How close to God would you have to be to feel his heartbeat? Just a great image. It's one of those songs that I play really loudly in the car with the windows down and the sunroof open.
    2. Grant has the CD The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot. Song? More than Fine. Great lyrics. "More than fine. More than bent on getting by. More than just OK." Someday at church, when someone (like Scott) asks me, "How are you?" I'm going to respond, "More than fine."
    3. I really like the song Sweet Home Alabama. I don't know why. I just like it. I like to play it in the car with the boys. We sing and drum, and just have fun. Sometimes you need songs like that.
    4. I am a big fan of soundtracks, and one of my favorites right now is Sahara. I especially like the song Never Been Any Reason sung by Head East. Again, I don't know why, but it's another roll down the windows and sing really loud songs. Do you get the idea that I only sing in the car? True.
    5. I really like the songs Sanctuary and Arise from our Common Grounds service. Reading this, Jim? Please request them for me. (And, yes, I know this is two songs, but I don't care).
    6. Speaking of Common Grounds, I have found a new favorite -- Heart of Worship by Matt Redman. I think I like it because of the story behind it. I feel a blog entry coming on.
    7. And I want to finish this list with some favorite hymns -- Be Thou my Vision, They'll know we are Christians (is that the right name?), and my new favorite, Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown. (Yes, that's three. It's my blog, and I'll do what I wanna).

    Seven people to tag? Oh, I don't know seven people to tag. Here's the deal. If you are reading this, and you want to play, then consider yourself tagged. If you don't have a blog, then leave your list in the comments.

    One picture for you that I took today which proves that church signs do not have spell check, and that we see what we expect to see:

    Friday, February 10, 2006

    Favorite Prayer

    Again, it's Friday night, and I find myself very tired and with no words to share. It's late -- or at least it feels late. We just got back from a movie -- "Firewall." It is a Harrison Ford movie, and I would recommend it. Quite a thriller. Rather violent -- people being shot and beat upon -- one guy killed with a blender. One of those ones with really heavy glass containers.

    Anyway, moving away from the violent images I just put in your head, without a very clever seque, have you ever seen this prayer? It's one of my favorites, attributed to St. Patrick:

    Christ be with me,
    Christ within me,
    Christ behind me,
    Christ before me,

    Christ beside me,
    Christ to win me,
    Christ to comfort and restore me.

    Christ beneath me,
    Christ above me,
    Christ in quiet,
    Christ in danger,

    Christ in hearts of all that love me,
    Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

    And Amen.

    Thursday, February 09, 2006

    Easter Memory

    I have a memory. It is of a little white church -- the kind of church that comes to mind when you think of little, white country churches. It is three doors down from where my grandparents lived. The memory is of an Easter morning when I was in high school. My mom and I had gone to visit her dad (my grandfather) for Easter. I'm not sure which Easter it was; I think it was 1982 -- it was after my grandmother died.

    Picture a small, Presbyterian church with seats like old movie theater seats instead of pews. I remember that whenever we went to church with my grandfather, he would hog the arm rest. Nobody wanted to sit next to him for that very reason. This church celebrated Easter early in the morning with a sunrise service. I remember walking into the very small sanctuary. At the front of the church was a cross -- handmade out of chicken wire -- the kind people use to make chicken coops. Everyone was given a spring flower when we entered, which we then placed through the chicken wire. After the service was breakfast in the "social hall" -- the basement of the church. Later, we returned to the sanctuary for the regular Sunday morning worship. Between the two services someone had filled the cross with flowers. The wire was gone -- only tulips, lilies and daffodils were visible. Abundant life from a lifeless cross. What a powerful image that was for me -- so powerful that I remember it even today (and it's been a long time since high school).

    I have moments, like I did this morning, of missing my grandparents terribly. These moments don't happen very often, but when they do, they take me by surprise. Just a sweet memory of Easter, and I have a lump in my throat. I'm wishing my guys could have known my grandparents. They would have loved them (pronouns purposefully left ambiguous).

    But we have the promise of abundant life from a lifeless cross. So the story's not over yet.

    Photo: Crocuses coming up in our flower bed. Go back! It's February, and snow is coming!

    Under the Surface

    I had a post planned this morning as I drove to work. Driving time can be thinking time, and in the car is often where the kernel of a post is formed. Anyway, I was driving to work today, thinking, tossing around the bones of today’s post, and pretty much had it planned when I sat down at my desk.

    Then I read my email.

    I was reminded this morning that we (I) am often totally oblivious to the pain that another person is suffering. I can be completely blind to what is happening around me, stuck in the center of my own little world. Sometimes I might not be aware of someone else’s pain because it is none of my business – hidden by that person in a desire for privacy. Whatever the reason for our (my) lack of awareness, I think we need to remember that we don’t always know what is going on in a person’s life. We need to be aware that however calm or quiet someone or something appears to be, we can’t know what is underneath the surface. God knows, but we (I) do not.

    My heart aches this morning, and the only prayer I seem to have is, “God, please help.”

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    2 Timothy 2

    I'm teaching Sunday school this Sunday . I probably teach in my own class around once a month, and then in other adult classes every so often. This Sunday is one of those "every so often" Sundays. When I teach my own class, if I don't like the lesson topic in the regular literature, I just pick something else. It's a great freedom, and I like the variety this gives to the structure of the class. I have noticed, however, that this very freedom allows me to pick and choose what I teach -- when something looks too challenging or hard, I can just ignore it.

    I don't get this same freedom when I teach other classes. They expect the teacher to follow the curriculum. Sometimes that means I have to work harder than I would like. Sometimes that means that I have to tackle subjects that I don't feel equipped to teach. For example, several years ago I was asked to teach about sexual purity to a class of 70-80-90 year old women. They were very sweet, but I would have picked a different topic if I had my "druthers."

    This weeks lesson in the Adult Bible Studies literature is 2 Timothy 2, with an emphasis on 2 Timothy 2:14-26. Usually, as I prepare a lesson, it starts to "gel" for me -- everything falls into an outline of sorts, and it start to make sense. So far, not happening. I thought I would spend some time in this post listing impressions and questions to see if that helps:
    • We do try to avoid controversy in the church. We don't handle it well. As church members, we have pretty high standards for each other. It is a church, and we expect people to be nice. We don't always have this expectation in the secular world, but we do in our sacred world. When people disappoint us in this area in church, we are more hurt than we would be normally.
    • How do we decide what is a silly, waste of time argument, and issues where we need to stand our ground? For me, whether to applaud or not in a worship service quickly develops into a senseless controversy. I have seen this issue, however, deeply resonate with people. Dare I compare this to the parenting axiom, "Pick your battles?"
    • I really like in the teacher's manual when the author says, "It was not a matter of winning an argument; it was about winning others for the gospel." He also says that, "It is not enough simply for a Christian leader to be right; the leader must show forth the character of Jesus Christ at the same time. The goal of the Christian is not to win an argument, but to extend God's salvation to all."
    • Paul warns against false teachers. He compares false teaching to gangrene -- rotting of the flesh. False teaching was causing believers to fall away from their faith. As a teacher, I need to pay special attention to this.
    • He talks about "profane chatter." "This is foolish talk that probably sounded religious but whose fruit was a growing impeity rather than the desired growth in such godly virtures as faith , hope and love." I like the advice given here -- to judge "chatter" by its fruits.
    • Paul advises Timothy to lead a holy life. What does this mean? What does a holy life look like?

    More thoughts to be thought and hopefully a lesson will emerge.

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006

    Is the Journey Necessary?

    You can keep your laptops, your combo PDA-cell phones, and your flat screen TVs. I have discovered the joy of a slow cooker. We have always owned a crock pot -- a little one that was a gift when we got married. We have never used it much. A couple of weeks ago we bought a larger one. This morning I threw in potatoes, carrots, a sweet onion, a little garlic, beef broth and a chuck roast. I came home this evening, and the whole house smelled wonderful. Dinner was terrific. I have decided to marry the slow cooker (becoming a polygamist) so that S and I can have a housewife. Now if I can only teach it to clean the kitchen.

    Anyway, appliance-gushing aside, I ran across this post today on a blog called "Pondering Perfection." Joe asks this question:

    I wonder why Jesus didn't tell the disciples in the beginning of the journey on the road to Emmaus that he was who He was. Why do you think he waited to "reveal" himself?

    I re-read the scripture (Luke 24:13-35; The Message), and I don't have an easy answer. I do have some impressions -- images that dance through my head when I read the scripture. Some are supported Biblically; some are only imagination:

    • First, I picture the two disciples as Cleopas and his wife. I could give you my reasoning for this, but it really isn't important to the discussion.
    • They are in distress. The Message says, "They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend." They are in mourning, grief-stricken, and not paying much attention to anything except their own soul-deep sadness. They think their dream has died. They don't understand what has happened. They don't believe what the women have told them concerning the empty tomb. They are lost. Maybe they don't recognize Jesus because they just don't really look at him. Mary didn't recognize him either -- maybe the reason for this is the same here?
    • The NIV version says, "they were kept from recognizing him." Compare that to The Message version, "they were not able to recognize who he was." The Message version sounds more passive than the NIV version. I think the difference between these two phrases impacts the answer to the original question. Did Jesus prevent them from recognizing him? Or did they just not recognize him? If Jesus actively prevented their knowing him, then what was his motivation? Could it be that the walk itself, and the conversation they had was necessary? Perhaps if they had seen him for who he was at the beginning of the journey, the journey itself would not have taken place.
    • If the journey and conversation were necessary, then what was necessary about them? They walk together and tell him what has happened. He points out to them their disbelief, and then goes on to "explain to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (NIV). Could it be that this was necessary for their subsequent faith? Looking at the bigger picture, is the journey necessary for us? Maybe sometimes we just won't get where we need to be in our faith without the journey.
    • I picture the three of them together at dinner, and Jesus breaking the bread. I wish I knew enough about the culture of the time to know whether it was tradition for the guest to do this, or for the host. I love the image of them finally knowing who he is once he breaks the bread. I don't think Cleopas was present at the last supper, but he obviously knew Jesus, and has perhaps seen him break bread before. I like the larger image here, as well. It is in the breaking of the bread -- in communion -- that we recognize Jesus.
    • After he disappears, they look back and realize that "their hearts had been burning" as he spoke to them. He had "opened the scriptures" to them. Apparently the journey was important.
    • What do they do next? They go back to where they started, new in faith, convinced in Resurrection, and they tell the rest of the disciples what had happened -- sharing their faith. Good lesson there, too.

    Go back and look at the picture at the beginning of the post. Do you see the moon? Not what is expected on a clear, bright day. Maybe you saw it right off, but sometimes it takes a closer look, a pointing finger, or a long conversation to see what we don't expect to see. Maybe it takes a journey to reach faith.

    Monday, February 06, 2006

    Claimed by God

    The sanctuary was quiet and empty.
    The only light was the hazy morning sun
    Filtering through the stained glass.
    Only God was present, waiting.

    Finally, the church began to arrive.
    The ushers were first, making arrangements with bulletins
    Pinning on white carnations,
    Welcoming their helpers today
    Who were dressed in Boy Scout uniforms.
    The pews began to fill,
    Here and there, not too close to the front.
    Families, groups of friends filed in and took their places.
    Almost like assigned seats.

    Amid the people a young mother walked in,
    Carrying her son.
    She took her place in the room.
    God welcomed them all
    And His hopes were high
    That all would welcome her.

    Acolytes, dressed in cream robes, lit white candles.
    An anthem was sung with great skill,
    The choir sharing its gift with the church.
    Hymns were sung with sometimes questionable skill.
    It was all music to God’s ears.
    Offering, sermon, prayers.

    Finally, the moment had come.
    The minister stood in front of his flock
    And called forth the woman and her son.
    She came with no apparent family
    except the love she held in her arms.
    Nevertheless, the pastor called for her family,
    “You know who you are.”
    Those who had welcomed her personally,
    Shared worship and meals with her and her son,
    Were asked to come forward
    And stand in support of her.

    Out of the church came the church
    She had known none of them before she came into the building,
    And now they stood with her
    A family. A gift from God.
    To receive her as a gift from God.

    She stood in her church
    And professed her faith.
    Through water, God reached out,
    Claiming her son.
    “He is my son, too.”
    As he had done for all of them.

    Communion was shared.
    His body and his blood
    Given for the woman and her son.
    Given for her new family.
    Given for all of His children.

    Hymns and prayers sent the church
    Back into the world.
    And God was once again alone
    In the sanctuary.
    He whispered after them,
    “You know who you are,
    Remember whose you are.”

    Sunday, February 05, 2006

    Eagles and Underdogs

    I might have to add just one more to yesterday's list of scriptures. I'm not sure that this one would come in first place, but I certainly like it:
    But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, RSV)

    The anthem in church today was based on this text, and I really like Michael Joncas's version of the scripture (which is what the choir sang):

    And He will raise you up on eagle's wings,
    Bear you on the breath of dawn,
    Make you to shine like the sun,
    And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

    The scripture that I mentioned that I couldn't find yesterday was this:

    Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, "LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O LORD, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you." (2 Chronicles 14:11, NIV)

    As I mentioned before, I am trying to pull a scripture out of each week's reading to look at a little more closely as I make my way through the Bible, and for some reason, this is the one that has stuck with me.

    Asa was a king of Judah. He "did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God." As a sidenote, have you noticed in Kings and Chronicles how each king kind of gets a "grade" at the beginning of his section of scripture? It kind of clues the reader in -- "bad king" or "good king." Anyway, Asa find himself in a battle againt Zerah the Cushite, who has a "vast army" and 300 chariots. Wow. They take up their battle positions in the Valley of Zephathah near Mareshah. Before the fighting begins, Asa speaks to God, and he says the prayer I've quoted above.

    I'm not sure why this particular scripture has captured my attention, but it brings to mind a few thoughts:

    1. Asa prays before the battle. I so often forget to pray, that this is a good reminder.
    2. "There is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty." Asa had to be frightened. He has 500,000 men with shields, spears and bows, so Zerah's army must have been something to see. Even in his fear, he is ready to do battle, but not before reminding God that he is the underdog, and could use some help.
    3. "We rely on you...you are our God." I'm not sure if Asa is reminding God or himself. I could certainly stand to be reminded of this sometimes.

    The prayer must have been a good one. The Lord strikes down the Cushites before the battle even begins. They flee, only to be chased and defeated by Asa's army. (It's Chronicles; there had to be a battle -- there is always a battle.)

    I like how the two scriptures relate -- the one from Isaiah and this one from 2 Chronicles. Maybe it's good I waited to post about the 2 Chronicles text today instead of yesterday.

    Saturday, February 04, 2006

    Standing at the Door

    Eyes still open, that's the snow falling outside right now (for a better look, click on the picture).

    I had an idea for an entry tonight, but I ran across something on the web that kind of intrigued me, so I'm bouncing off of that instead (and I can't find the verse for my original thought, so I'll find it later and use it tomorrow).

    If you read blog comments, you may have noticed someone named Lorna commenting on a few of my posts. She is from Finland; I know that because after I read her comments, I went to visit her blog (See-through Faith). Really interesting blog. Anyway, she posted today about another blog (never ask a West Virginian how she feels, because she'll tell you everything), called Reverend Mother. She was visited by Jehovah's Witnesses, who spoke with her and asked if they could read her a scripture. They chose to read from Romans 16:

    I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good, and guileless in what is evil. The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

    So the question is, if you were to go door to door to share your faith, which scripture would you choose to read? Reverend Mother chose this one, from Romans 8:

    Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    I'm leaning toward this one myself.

    Other suggestions which came up in her comments section include Luke 6:31-38, John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 12:4-21, Micah 6:8, 1 John 3, and 2 Chronicles 7:14.

    Two others of my favorites are 1 Corinthians 13 and Galations 3:28. We used the 1 Corinthians 13 passage in our wedding, and I just love its description of love. The link above is from The Message. If you've never read The Message version, take a peek ("Love doesn't strut; doesn't have a swelled head"). When I was in youth group (many many moons ago), our associate pastor at JM asked us to memorize Galations 3:28. He told us that if we memorized it, it would always be ours. That's true, but now I can only say it with a kind of sing-song voice, the way I memorized it. But I still like it.

    I have to say, though, I might just stick with Romans 8:37-39 (The Message):

    None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing--nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable--absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

    So, what would be your choice? You're standing at the door, and you get one choice of scripture to read to someone...

    While you're thinking about that, here's a quick one -- S was talking to his brother, R, today, who just bought a new car. R has had his Saturn for 5 years and it doesn't have a scratch on it. Now, in the time between buying the new car and taking possession of it, what are the odds something will happen to the Saturn? S told him, "Murphy's got you on GPS; he knows where you are."

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    Math and a movie

    Very tired tonight and not much to say. Just a couple of tidbits:

    J, a month or so ago, found out that he was the alternate for his grade's math field day team. He's been very excited and has practiced with the team. I'm proud of him for making the team, and for working so hard when the only chance he would have to compete would be if one of his team-mates got sick. Everyone was healthy today, and he fulfilled his alternate job of being on stand-by. What makes me feel even more blessed is that he was VERY INSISTENT that he go to the "assembly" at the end of Math Field Day to support his team. I took off work, and we went. He was so enthusiastic, cheering on his three friends. Never once did he seem sad or disappointed that he hadn't been able to participate. Sometimes, as a parent, you have moments when you say to yourself, "Wow. What a great kid."

    After math field day, I took J back to his after school care group to play, and then went to a movie. I saw The New World, which is based on the story of John Smith, Pocahontas and Jamestown. There a moments of beauty in this film -- gorgeous shots of scenery. I am not sure where is was filmed, but it looks just like coastal Virginia -- marshes, trees, water. Very authentic looking. However, the script for the movie would have fit on about 10 pages -- it's a 2 hour, 15 minute movie. Lots of soulful music, soulful looks, and very long walks through the grass. I love to see movies more than once, but this one is not on my "see again" list. Time crawled. Except for the 15 minutes in the middle of the movie when I napped.

    Thursday, February 02, 2006


    When you keep your eyes open for the extraordinary, sometimes you find oddities, too. Today I thought it might be kind of interesting to look at some of those.

    It's Groundhog Day. I found out today that Punxsutawney Phil lives in the window of the town library when he's not looking for his shadow. That seems odd to me.

    Next, here’s a photo of a window of a local ice cream shop. They’ve had the window “painted” for Valentine’s Day, and this is cupid. My boys call him the “devil cupid” because we all think he’s scary and odd looking – not the least bit romantic.

    Speaking of romantic, have you seen this story? Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has promised to abstain from sex until the April 9th election. So many questions come to mind that I don’t even know where to start. First, why do I care if he has sex or not? How will abstinence make him a better prime minister or candidate? Why make this pledge at all? Do I just not “get it” because I’m not Italian and do not know this man? How silly would an American politician sound if he made this pledge? Odd.

    I found this sign on the road where I work. I had no idea that Spring Valley Drive had actually been christened something else. I haven’t taken the time to research the General after which they have named this road; I’m sure he’s very deserving. My point is that he is probably deserving of much more. Our road is definitely NOT a “highway.” It’s a two lane, curving road not much bigger than this sign.

    Conversation between S and G this weekend. S was in the kitchen, G was is the woods in our neighborhood with a friend, on his cell phone.
    G: Dad, do you have a dull ax I could use?
    S: No, honey, I don’t have any dull axes. I’m all out.
    G: Well, how about one that’s just a little sharp?

    Here’s one I found a day ago that ranks in the very sad but odd category. Have you seen this news story? In Washington State, a gentleman crashed his pick-up truck on the side of the road. He got out of the truck, took off all his clothes, and then walked across the interstate. It was the middle of the night. He was struck and killed by another pick-up truck. It would only be a sad story, except, one must ask, why did he take off all his clothes? I was telling this story to S in the car, and G spoke up from the back, “So he was naked when he was hit by the truck?” Yes. “So that’s kind of like a possum.” What?

    Two quotes for the day, not in the least bit odd: I was watching an interview with Susan Saint James, her husband Dick Ebersol, and two of their sons. If you remember, Dick Ebersol was in a plane crash a little over a year ago with their sons Teddy and Charlie. Charlie, 21, pulled his father out of the plane, but Teddy was under the plane, and couldn’t be reached. Two quotes I pulled from the interview:

    • Teddy, in his 8th grade graduate speech, said, “The finish line is only the beginning of a whole new race.”

    • When asked if she were angry about what happened, Susan Saint James said that she wasn’t, that anger would serve no purpose. “Resentment is like a poison you take and then hope that the other guy will die.”

    Wednesday, February 01, 2006

    Open Eyes

    I am a self-absorbed, not very observant person. I can walk right by a friend, and never see him/her unless he yells out, "Kim," or S elbows me and says, "Don't you know him?" I can be blind to what is around me.

    As you may be able to tell, I have been thinking about the "ordinary" and the "extraordinary" this week. If we live in the ordinary, but we believe in the extraordinary, then maybe we need to pay more attention. To this end, I have been practicing this week. I've kept my camera with me (I LOVE my digital camera) and kept watch, waiting to see the extraordinary. So, with the theory that a picture is worth a 1000 words, here is a sample of what I saw.

    This is one that struck me the first day I started. It seems to really illustrate what I was looking for. It is the parking lot at WalMart (very ordinary), but look at that sky -- amazing!

    On the same day, I took the picture that was with The Ordinary Day post from the parking lot where I work. Great sunrise picture.

    In case you are curious, while we are looking back at past posts, I took the picture with yesterday's post in Portugal. It is Cabo daRoca -- the western most point in Europe. The ocean you can see is the Atlantic -- very different from our views of the Atlantic.

    Cheating a little, this rainbow picture was taken in November with my cell phone. I was driving the Advent Devotional to the church to be copied. Almost all the way from home, I was following this rainbow. When I got to church (that dark chocolate brown building you can see at the foot of the rainbow), the rainbow actually seemed to be coming out of the bell tower of the church. It disappeared before I could get a picture a closer picture than this one. I include this it with this week's pictures because I just figured out how to get it off my cell phone.

    This one is of the steeple of the the First Congregational Church in Ceredo. The church was first started in the 1850s and the building was dedicated in 1886. I think that it is pretty extraordinary that a church could house people continually for over 100 years. What's really amazing to me is that this isn't the oldest church in the area, and if I were to hunt around, I could find even older church buildings in the area. I went to a seminar on Saturday at a Methodist church that was founded in the first half of the 1800's. They are statements which witness to the long-standing history which supports us. When I notice these very old churches (for our area), I am reminded that the church is already 2000 years old -- that's a long time for people to have faith.

    Speaking of churches, I took this one in our santuary tonight. It was completely dark. The only light in the room was coming through the stained glass windows from the outside. Tiny jewels of color in blackness. I really didn't think that I would see anything of value in the pictures (again, love the digital camera -- great to be able to take photographic risks without worrying about developing them). How often are we like that? Expecting to see nothing in the darkness, but being surprised by glimpses of color. (To see the picture better, click on it)

    One more. Today's sunrise. Just fantastic. Again outside Walmart.

    In a book I read for a church committee on which I serve, I found an interesting quote. The book is Natural Church Development by Robert E. Logan. He says, "We should never confuse that which God has created with God himself. " Let the extraordinary we find in the ordinary be reasons to remember and worship our God.

    I have other photos from my week which I've loaded into a Yahoo album called Open Eyes at this link.

    Closing quote (unrelated to post): I found this in the book I'm reading called The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingswroth. Even though the books is about Mr. Rogers, the quote is from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. "When they are wholly His, they will be more themselves than ever." He goes on to say, "the deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting point with which [Christ] has furnished him." Extraordinary.

    Tomorrow: Oddities.

    Word Cloud

    This is a "word cloud" created from my blog. I went to this web site, which scanned by blog, and has listed alphabetically the words which occur most often (leaving out words like "the" and "a") . The bigger the font, the more often a word has appeared in what I have written.