Saturday, September 30, 2006


This morning I asked G to drop a couple of songs off of I-Tunes software onto a CD for me. He came upstairs later and told me that he "had added a few songs that I like to listen to in the car." The songs on the CD assembled by G for me:

Sadie Hawkins Dance by Reliant K
High of 75 by Reliant K
Next Thing You Know by Matthew West
The More by Downhere
Stir by Downhere
Carry Me by Jars of Clay
Praise You in the Storm by Casting Crowns
Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns
Cry Out to Jesus by Third Day
Flood by Jars of Clay
He Reigns by News Boys

The first two are the ones I asked for. On his own he decided to add the other ones.

Does my son know me, or what?


There is an episode of the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled Tapestry. In this story, Picard (middle) is injured in a battle. His artificial heart is damaged. He ends up facing Q, who tells him that he is dead, and the Q is the Supreme Being. Picard refuses to believe this, and in order to convince him, Q gives him an opportunity to change his life -- to change the one thing that Picard had done that he regrets.

The episode is centered around what Picard's life would have been like if he had avoided the fight in which his natural heart was damaged -- the cause of the replacement of his heart with the artificial one. Picard finds that this one decision changes his entire life, and not in a way that he is happy with. Of course, the show ends well, and he is back to being captain of the Enterprise. At the end of the show he says (something like), "I found that when I pulled at the loose ends of my past, that it unraveled the tapestry of my life."

Have you ever considered the question, "If I could change one thing about my life, it would be..." I would imagine that all of us have missteps in life that we regret -- things we have said, things we have done or not done. Sometimes those missteps are huge, and they change the directions of our lives.

One of the lessons that I have learned from my husband is this -- To quote Steve, "I'm not willing to sacrifice the present that I now occupy in order to change the past." Pull at the strings of your past, and the tapestry changes.

I found a quote today. I don't know who Fulton Oursler is, but apparently he said:

Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves - regret for the past and fear of the future.

I don't have any big regrets in life. I imagine there are things I have done or said or not done that I would change if I were in the moment of the occurrence, but I agree with Steve. I'm not willing to sacrifice the present that I now occupy in order to change the past.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy Birthday

Today is my mother-in-law Judy's 73rd birthday. We went over to Ohio to have dinner with her (and George) this evening.

Judy has Alzheimer's. She still remembers who we are, and will even ask about people who aren't in the room. If my mom is not with me, Judy always asks about her (and her "friend"). She is a different person than I remember from when I first married her son, but there are moments when Judy peaks through, and comes out to play.

We were finished with dinner, and she, I and the boys were standing outside while the bills were paid and arrangements were made to leave. I said, "It's your birthday."

"I know," she replied, grinning.

"I haven't told you happy birthday yet."

"I know," she said, and then Judy laughed. I love it when she laughs. For that one moment, she is Judy, and she is happy.

So am I.

Happy Birthday, Judy! We love you!

Tennis: Rain make up from yesterday. G played with J, his friend for several years, and another JM youth. G/J -- 8 : Covenant -- 1 (W)


One of the lectionary readings for this week is from Mark 9. Marilyn Thornton, who wrote the devotions in this week’s series in Disciplines, used Mark 9:42-50 as the basis for this Sunday’s devotion (which I read today).

First of all, look at these verses (43-47):

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…
I really like Marilyn Thornton’s expansion on these verses – “In this passage Jesus utters an emphatic declaration concerning the temptation to sin in what we do (hand), in the lifestyle in which we walk (foot), and in how we use our intellect (eye).” I’ve never looked at those verses in that way. I’ve always seen the more concrete meaning of them, but this more symbolic interpretation rings truer for me. We should separate ourselves from those things which cause us to sin – to be out of harmony with God. It is better to leave them behind, than to miss out on a relationship with Him.

Then look at this verse (50):

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.

I’ve written about salt before, but this devotion developed its meaning for me beyond what I’ve thought of before. We are to be the salt – She calls it, “the essence that helps preserve the table of Christ’s love…

Think of the cooking show hosted by Emeril on the Food Network. His special, custom made seasoning is called “essence.” He throws this essence on food, and yells, “BAM!” We are custom made, designed by God. Can’t you see God, the joyful chef, sending us into a situation with confidence in us, since He has custom-equipped us for where he is sending us? BAM!

Salt is a preservative. It reminds me again of that line from the song “Stir.” We are the “love remaining.” We are the salt, meant to preserve – keep vital and active – the love of God.

Would you want to have a meal of ONLY salt? We are not the entrée; we are the seasoning, inviting others to the meal. “In other words, we are not the main dish! So get over it and let God be glorified.” (I love that line). Sometimes we really just need to "get over ourselves." Salt brings out the flavors in other ingredients. How can we point out the gifts of other people, and be an encouragement for them?

We are salting, lighting
We refresh like raining
We are love remaining

We are called to be the salt in all that we do, in the way that we live, and in how we use our gifts. BAM!

Thursday, September 28, 2006


There is a discussion traveling around "blogland" that the decline in mainline churches can be "blamed" on the liberal theology of our churches. I'm not going to argue that (although I disagree with it).

On the Connexions blog, Joel discusses liberal theology, and then tries to define it. I am also not going to argue if this is an accurate definition or not. I did find it interesting, and thought, for my own purposes of self discovery, that I would look at his definition, and see if I my own theology matches this definition. Blue text is a quote from Joel's list; black text is my comments.
  1. View of the Bible as inspired and not inerrant.I always feel guilty when I "confess" that I don't believe that the Bible is inerrant. I'm giving that guilt up -- I do believe that the Bible is inspired by God and that God is inerrant, but there are too many layers of humanity in the Bible for it to be inerrant. Translation, interpretation, human authors -- how can it be inerrant? Inspired? Yes. One of our best connections to God? Yes. The Word of God? Yes. A gift from God? Yes.
  2. An understanding that some passages in the Bible are metaphorical or “myth based.” I have to say that I don't care about this. It's the message that is important, not the cart that carries it.
  3. An emphasis on the need to apply human reason, experience and tradition in interpreting the Bible. Go, Wesley quadrilateral! Yes, I agree.
  4. Application of insights from the social sciences (which are also not inerrant) is crucial to interpreting the Bible. As the social sciences are themselves God’s revelation of truth, they complement rather than compete with Scripture. I have no idea. I'm not even sure what this means.
  5. An emphasis on Biblical criticism and literary analysis. Emphasis? I don't know, but these are certainly useful tools for undestanding God's word.
  6. Scripture must be viewed through the lens of time and culture. Yes, but that is not the end of the story.
  7. Doctrines, church authority and Scripture cannot be divorced from subjective personal experience. Can anything be "divorced" from personal experience?
  8. Community wholeness in relation to God is as important as a personal relationship to God through Christ. (“Shalom” creation.) Sometimes the personal relationship is more important to me, sometimes it is the community wholeness. Both are gifts from God.
  9. An understanding that the Bible contains “all things necessary for salvation” but not necessarily all things related to salvation. Yes
  10. A refusal to make creeds a test of faith. Yes, I refuse, although creeds can be a helpful statement of faith.
  11. Opennness to “finding Christ in the culture.” Christ is everywhere. God is everywhere.
  12. Doubt is not inherently the enemy of faith, but can be used by God to engage that very faith. Exactly.
  13. A strong commitment to social justice. I agree with this, although I am overwhelmed by it, and fail in its execution.
  14. The idea that self-reflection is a necessary component of faith. The closer we get to God, the more we learn about ourselves, so self-reflection is difficult to avoid.
  15. Acceptance that the Bible incorporates an intentional tension between “universal” and “exclusive” salvation. (To remind us that God alone judges?) God alone does judge, and the Bible is full of intentional tension.
  16. The possibility that not only may we acquire new understandings of God’s revelation but that it is possible that God is still revealing. Well, yes, absolutely.
  17. Humans, while tending toward depravity, are capable of responding to divine grace. Please, God, this is true -- we are capable of responding to grace.
  18. As “imitators” of Christ, we must engage the essential unity of faith and works. We are saved by faith, which motivates us to work. Work is our response to faith.
  19. That Christian existentialism is criticized but effectively practiced by the “orthodox” and fundamentalists but honestly admitted to by many liberals. Sorry, what?
  20. Rejection of an over-emphasis on a “personal relationship with Christ” that fails to adequately place faith in the context of community. See number 8. We are part of the Body of Christ. Our faith does have a community aspect as well as a personal one.
  21. A strong emphasis on “corporate sin” as being as evil and destructive as personal sin. I understand corporate sin, and feel that it can be destructive. Corporate sin may not seem as real to the individual as personal sin is. Personal sin is also highly destructive.
  22. That while miracles happen, God does not ordinarily suspend the laws of nature. Probably true, although God is God, and I am not -- He can do miracles whenever he wants.
Do I have a liberal theology? I suppose I do, but that doesn't surprise me.

Grant was elected as "Friendliest" in his 8th grade class superlatives.

I Worry

Parents worry. It is inevitable, I think. I find myself worrying today about an issue which sounds silly, and is so odd that I can’t believe I’m actually writing a post about it. The question on my mind today is, “Is my son going to church too much?”

It’s a question that requires explanation prior to exploration. G is 13. He’s my son, but I’ll say it anyway – He’s a great kid. I love him, but more than that, I like him. I enjoy him. I am blessed to be his mother. Is he perfect? No, but he’s G, and I treasure him.

Thankfully, he really enjoys church. I never have to persuade him to go, cajole him into attending. He looks forward to Sunday school and youth group, might be a little bored in the worship services, but goes anyway. I don’t worry about any of that, and am lucky in his enthusiasm. My worry lies in the fact that he also likes to go to church – youth group – with a friend of his who attends a local community church. This community church has a more conservative faith than mine – a more conservative faith than our own church.

I didn’t choose my church originally because of its denomination, but as I became more and more acquainted with Methodism, I become more and more convinced that I had chosen my church wisely, or that God had led me to the right place. The problem is that Methodism isn’t easy. It isn’t a multiple choice, true/false faith. Methodism is an essay test. It requires work. Even something as basic as the Wesley Quadrilateral assumes that we will think – examine – and listen to the leading of God.

I may be wrong, but I think the theology of the community church that G is attending with his friend is more black/white – more right/wrong. That seems simpler to me – easier to grasp. It isn’t, however, the kind of faith that I want to foster in my son.

I worry because lately we’ve had some conversations where social issues have been raised – by him – and his attitude toward them has been more conservative than I would have expected. I know he’s 13, and I know a 13 year old is more likely to see the world in black and white rather than a multi-dimensional gray, but I’m a parent, and I worry.

I have a feeling that the solution isn’t to restrict his church attendance. I think the answer is that I need to get my own act together. When it comes to difficult social issues, there are some that I have set aside, leaving my own conclusions about them murky. I need to do the hard work. I need to pull them off the shelves and struggle with them, so that I can articulate when I believe to my son. He’s smart, and he will be able to start his own struggles, as long as I can point out to him a few basic ideas:

  • We grow in faith. He’s been given a seedling, not a full-grown plant, and he needs to work hard to nurture it.
  • Doubt is not sin. Doubt is an opportunity for growth.
  • He doesn’t have to agree with everything he is told. He’s allowed, and even expected to ask himself, “Does this make sense? Do I think this is how God wants me to believe or to act?
  • He can ask questions – of me, of his dad, of his family, of his Sunday school teacher, of his youth leaders. We all know what it is to try to answer hard questions. I don’t have the answers, but I will help him in his explorations.
Most of all, I want him to know grace. It can be elusive, and it can be hidden when we stop looking for it.

Image: Tree in front of J's school.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Power of Words

The lectionary reading that I've been thinking about the last couple of days is from Esther 7:1-10. The verse that struck me both Monday and today was this one, from the end of 7:8 --

As soon as the word left the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.

The words that left the king's mouth were powerful -- they had substance and effect. They "covered Haman's face."
As children, we probably all heard the phrase, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." It's not true, is it? We tell it to kids so that they can maintain some of their ability to ignore the negative, hurtful statements that they will hear throughout their lives, but words can be powerful. They certainly can hurt.

They can also be used to create, to build, to affirm and to bring joy.

In the beginning of Genesis (haha -- In the Beginning...), God used words to create the world -- "God said...and it was good." We are created in the image of God, and while we don't spend our days creating worlds, we are given the gift of creation with words.

In just the past couple of weeks, I've seen how powerful words can be. I watched my husband say three simple words to a man, and turn on a lightbulb powered by affirmation in his spirit, lighting his face with joy. I've watched a congregation use spoken and sung words to create a fitting goodbye for a friend. When my younger son came home with his midterm report -- all A's and just one B -- he had to call and TELL me, so that I could TELL him how great it was -- how great HE was. JtM took the simple name of a planet and turned it into hilarity (and I say no more about it -- use your imagination). Read the poem on this hyperlinked page -- it's the second part of the devotion, and then tell me that words don't have the power to create vivid images. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes words are more effective than a picture ever could be.

We can hurt each other with words. Sometimes without even knowing the consequences, we use words to make a person feel smaller or "less." There are times when we use words like weapons, intending to inflict pain. There are those who completely understand the power of words and are skilled in their execution.

We kid ourselves when we say that words are powerless.

In fact, it occurs to me that one of the most powerful tools we have in our walk with God, as we seek to do His will, is prayer. Words sent on wings to God. I don't argue that prayer is limited only to words, but words can be used as a strong and vital link to our creator. Bear with me for just one second as I modify the verse above:

As soon as the words left the child's mouth in prayer, they covered God's heart.

Never doubt the power of words.

Images: The first one is the sky on the way to a meeting that I had at church last night. The second one is sunflowers outside of McDonalds.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I forgot to add the tennis scores to the bottom of today's post, so I'm posting them here, along with tonight's score:

Monday: G/M: 8 -- Hurricane: 8 -- Lost 7-1 in tiebreaker. A heartbreaker.
Tuesday G/M:8 -- Cammack: 6 (W)

Keep G in mind tomorrow -- his Jazz band try out is tomorrow morning.

Blessed are the Meek

The third beatitude in the Matthew "list" is:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5; NRSV)

You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. (The Message)

What does it mean to be meek? In our society, we often think of it as meaning timid or submissive. A doormat. I don't think that's what Jesus meant, however.

I found one discussion of this beatitude that said meek is from the Greek word praus, and defines it as "power under control." The author of this site defines meekness as "curbing the 'natural' desires to rebel, fight, have our own way, push ourselves forward, etc. We submit to the Lord in obedience to His will." I kind of like the image of meekness as us curbing our desire to "push ourselves forward." I also like The Message translation of being content with just who we are -- no more, no less. I see it as the opposite of arrogance, the antithesis of superiority.

It doesn't require us to devalue ourselves -- we are children of God -- but it does necessitate that we place God's will for our lives and actions above our own -- humility in a way. It is a recognition that God is God, and we are not. The meek are strong -- they are strong in faith. (see this site). I've talked about humility before, and I think it applies here, as well.

So what happens when we put God first -- when we keep our "power under control" and become submissive to God? We find "riches" beyond anything we could ever imagine. We find God.

Think about inheritance for a moment. How is it that we inherit something? We don't buy it. We don't earn it by what we do or even because of who we are. We inherit something because someone gives it to us. Usually an inheritance is a gift given to a child. We are children of God, and when we realize that, we receive grace -- we find ourselves "proud owners of everything that can't be bought."

It is counter-intuitive, but that's the way God works. We are meek when we realize that the way God works is superior to anything else we know. We are meek when we accept the grace that is offered. We are meek when we submit who and what we are to God, and then we realize that what he wants us to become is who he made us to be. That's where joy lies -- at the point when we understand that who God wants us to be is who we were longing to become from the beginning.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lighting the Candle

J is an acolyte. He loves it; it's on his list of favorite tasks to do in the church.

He was acolyting last Sunday with H, who is a girl in our church, very close to J's age. In our church, the pair of acolytes process down the main aisle to the front of the church. Each of them lights one candle -- one on each end of the altar, and then turns to take a seat in the front pew.

Last Sunday all was going well until J tried to light his candle. No luck. He tried and tried, until finally, his taper went out. H relit it for him, and he tried to light his candle again. And again. No luck. Finally H joined him on his side of the altar, and together, they held their lit tapers against the wick. It finally caught the flame. Much to the relief of his parents.

It was a simple, simple event, that I am about to turn into an example of what it means to be a church.

  • J and H were acolyting. They were, symbolically, carrying the light of Christ into the room. It's what we do; we bring the light of Christ into the room, so that everyone can "see" it.
  • J's candle wouldn't light. How often does that happen to us? Being a church -- being the body of Christ, is not without its challenges. Life as a body will never be simple or easy, and we need to be prepared to deal with the unexpected and with disappointments.
  • J reached over to H so that she could relight his taper. That's another reason we exist. When the light someone is carrying gets a little dim -- or blows out -- we share the light again. Our own light is never dimmed when we share it. The room only gets brighter.
  • When our own light gets dim, we need to know that asking for help is OK -- it's why God has given us this church. Sometimes we get so stubborn that we ignore that help is only 3 feet away -- never farther than our need of it will reach.
  • H decided at some point that enough was enough, and she helped J light his candle. I don't know if H made the decision on her own, or if J asked for help, but it doesn't matter. We respond in either situation. Sometimes we hear the request for help; sometimes God pushes us to help even when no request is made.
  • When the candle finally lit, both acolytes were holding their tapers against the wick. Who lit the candle? It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter in the slightest. The candle was lit and light was brought into the room.
  • In fact, I like the idea that they lit it together. As a church we are stronger when we work as a "team." We aren't only as strong as the two of us together; grace creates synergy, and we are stronger than the sum of our parts.
  • And then there were the worried parents, Steve and I, sitting in the pew. What to do? Jump up and light the stupid candle? Wait? I'm really glad we waited (although I don't think Steve would have waited much longer.) Part of what church is for is so that the younger of us can step out in faith on their own. Church is a safe place to grow a faith, and it's a good place for parents to let go and let their children learn how to fly.
  • Who were the teachers in that moment? Children. We should never forget that God works through everyone, and that there is no magic age at which we become (or cease to be) a minister of God's word.
  • To J and H it was only a frustrating candle that wouldn't light. To me it became a metaphor for the church. We never know if someone is watching what we say or do, and learning about God. We are often not aware that we are creating witnesses.
We have a new short-term program in our church. We are trying, for a few weeks, to "Catch people acting like Jesus." Someone caught H last week, acting like Jesus as she lit J's candle. Amen. That's what we do for each other -- we bring light to each other -- we are the love remaining.

Images: I never see a sunrise on the way to work -- I almost always drive west on the interstate. This morning, I drove east, so that I could make a stop on Route 60. It's amazing how changing direction can change one's view -- a beautiful sunrise. After I headed west again, while I couldn't see the sunrise, I could see the effect of the light on the mountains. Beautiful morning.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

God's Will in the Rain

I want to return to Weatherhead's book, The Will of God, for another post.

I quoted from this book a few weeks ago, using the sentence, "Surely we cannot identify as the will of God something for which a man would be locked up in jail, or put in a criminal lunatic asylum."

I also like this quote: "What sort of God is this, who of his own intention, not through circumstances thrust into life by ignorance, folly or sin, but of divine intention, pours misery undeserved and unhappiness, disappointment and frustration, bereavement, calamity, and ill health of his beloved children, and then asks them to look up through their tears and say, "Thy will be done"?

The short answer is that God does not -- "The intentional will of God means the way in which God pours himself out in goodness, such as the true father longs to do for his son."

Often, though, I think people walk around with the impression that God rains suffering on his children "for their own good." I think it is a mistaken belief that just because God can salvage a blessing from horrible circumstances, that he must have CAUSED the horrible circumstances, just to create the blessing.

If, for instance, I were to take the example that I used in the previous post about this book, the birth injury of our younger son, and say that God caused that to happen so that J would develop determination to overcome challenges, or a stubborn refusal to be limited by his circumstances, then I would be speaking nonsense.

Weatherhead explains that evil does not create goodness -- tribulation and difficult circumstances do not give birth to God-given gifts. It REVEALS them. He states that these same qualities could also be revealed as a response to goodness.

I think that if we come to believe that God punishes us for our mistakes, brings horrible calamity upon us "teach us a lesson" or leaves us in desolation so that suffering can "make us better," then we create a God who is heartless, and who "needs evil to produce good." How could we rely on a God such as this? How could we come to develop a close relationship with a God such as this?

God's intentional will for us is GOOD. In horrible circumstances, he strengthens us, he blesses us with gifts to help us through the storm, and he never leaves us alone. In the cold and in the rain, we can rest assured that GOD LOVES US.

Sometimes we have a twisted idea of what love means, but thankfully, God does not.

Image: Butterfly on flowers outside of St. James Place this evening.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lexington Oddities

We spent the day in Lexington today, and I noticed some rather odd things -- strange occurrences or items which seemed unexplainable. Here's my list of Saturday oddities:
  • We were in Fayette Mall today. Why would anyone want to buy a leather belt with a brass plate attached to it -- about 3 inches long by 1/2 inch wide -- with his name engraved on it? Does he expect to forget his name, and wants to make sure some article of clothing will remind him? Is he really worried that someone will steal this beautiful belt? It just baffles me.
  • We were in EB Games where I read several signs that said, "If it's in the game, it's in the game." What does that mean?
  • G wanted to buy a jacket today -- kind of a hoodie with a zipper. He asked Steve to come into the store with him to see if the one he was looking at was "too black." He was literally asking if the color of the jacket was too black. How can anything be too black? Seems like it either is or it isn't. If it isn't, then isn't it gray? I had no idea how to answer this question.
  • I bought $25 worth of items from Bath and Body Works. I was told, since I spent $25, I could buy a ceramic pumpkin filled with pumpkin scented wax for $35. A $35 dollar candle. Is this supposed to be a deal? What was its original price? Where would I put it after Halloween? Does it relate to baths or bodies? I think the only people who are buying this candle are buying it as a gift for their in laws.
  • At Macaroni Grill, where we had dinner, they give Italian lessons in the bathroom. It's all rather silly, but kind of a cute gimmick. Today they tried to teach me how to say, "Serving coffee on an international flight can be kind of tricky, especially when there is turbulence." Why do I need to know how to say that in Italian?
  • At Macaroni Grill, I ordered penne with basil pesto, topped with a couple of pieces of buffalo mozzarella cheese. The basil pesto makes the dish kind of green, including the cheese. My wonderful husband decided to call the cheese buffalo snot. Thanks so much!

Images: The sky between Dick's and the mall prior to the rain starting. The blue sky image is at twilight on the way home. The night photo was closer to home. I thought both looked kind of odd, so I included them here.


A trivia quiz:

  1. At the time of the census which was conducted by Moses in the first chapter of Numbers, which of the twelve tribes of Israel was the largest?
  2. Who did Peter raise from the dead in Joppa?
  3. What two men in the Bible never died? A. Jesus and Lazarus B. Methuselah and Elijah C. Enoch and Elijah D. Paul and Metheselah
Answers: (Should I type them so you have to hold your computer upside down to read them?) 1. Judah, with 74,600 people 2. Dorcas 3. C. Enoch and Elijah

Did you know the answers? If not, now that you do, do you feel closer to God? If you knew the answers already, did that knowledge help you to feel closer to God? No? Why not?

If we consider wisdom, can we equate it with knowledge?

Consider these verses from James 3:13-16 (Lectionary reading this week. I know it's a long one, but it's one large piece -- it all needs what is around it):
Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here's what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn't wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn't wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn't wisdom. It's the furthest thing from wisdom - it's animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you're trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others' throats.

Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor
We often, I think, equate being wise with having a large amount of knowledge. We pride ourselves on "knowing." In fact, for many of the jobs we do in the world, a large wealth of knowledge is required. We may be asked to pass a scary exam to prove our knowledge. My boss is often quizzing those in our fellowship program with questions like, "So what is the difference between precision and accuracy?" (And if they have been good little fellows, and listened to the research associate (me), then they know the answer). Knowledge, though, is not what James is talking about. He's talking about wisdom.

I think in this context, we can equate wisdom with a closeness to God. Our wisdom originates from God. I like what Thomas Ettinger (the devotional writer from Disciplines this week) said about Martin Luther King, Jr. "His wisdom came from reliance on God." Solomon had wisdom; it was a gift from God. It was when he strayed from God, doing those things of which God would not approve, that his world began to fall apart. The source of wisdom is vertical -- it comes from a relationship with God.

The James passage deals with the more horizontal aspects of wisdom -- the fruits of wisdom. I haven't done a line by line comparison, but doesn't the James passage remind you of 1 Corinthians 13 -- the love passage? James is very practical in nature, so what is his advice for living a life of wisdom? His starts with what NOT to do, and then moves on to more positive advice.

Avoid mean spirited ambition
Avoid boasting
Avoid twisting the truth
Avoid trying to make yourself LOOK better
Be gentle, reasonable and merciful
Live a life that blesses others
Be constant
Do the hard work of getting along with others
Treat others with dignity and honor

Well, there's nothing difficult about that list, is there? Notice that no where does it say that I cannot be sarcastic. I especially like the phrase, "Do the hard work of getting along with others." It is hard work, at times, but James doesn't let us use that as an excuse.

It's a good thing that we don't have to develop this life of wisdom on our own. Never forget that wisdom has more than a horizontal component. It's source is found in the vertical -- it's source is from God.

Live well, live wisely, live humbly.
It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts.

Image: Sixth Avenue from Tenth Street on the way to a meeting Wednesday evening at church.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Good Monsters

Have you ever bought a CD that you regret purchasing?

I like the song Dead Man (Carry Me) by Jars of Clay, so I bought their CD Good Monsters. It was a mistake. I have to say that, other than the song I knew I liked already, there is very little that I like about this CD.

  • First of all, and this is a small thing, but I find the picture of the band on the CD to be a little bit scary. I could ignore it, but with my general annoyance with entire package, I'm complaining about the picture, too.
  • I'm a lyric reader. I like to be able to read the lyrics. The CD comes with printed lyrics, but the print is tiny and pale. With my contacts, I have excellent vision -- I had to use my magnifying light to read the print. I handed it to Steve -- he just laughed. "I can read the titles." Another small thing that I could ignore if I liked the music.
  • So, the music. I haven't listened to the CD from beginning to end, so my comments aren't about the sound of the music. It's the WORDS that leave me wanting. Some of the songs are just difficult for me to understand. Others are so depressing that I want to throw the CD in the trash and crawl under a rock to sleep. Sad.
So how about some examples (Hang on, let me get my magnifying lamp):

From Good Monsters:
We are bored with the things that we know.
Do you know what we are?
Do you know what we are?
Not all monsters are bad
But the ones who are good
Never do what they could.

From Water Under the Bridge:
I do not love you the way I did when we met
There are secrets and arguments that I haven't finished yet.
But it's only that grace has outlived our regrets.
We're still here.

Maybe others would like this CD -- would find it to be wonderful. Not me. Excuse me while I go crawl under a rock.

Critics don't agree with me. The album won the CCM magazine "Album of the Year Award." Oh, well.

Read about the album here, and learn why you might think I'm wrong.
Site for the CD, with a technologically cool interface, although difficult to navigate. It will play a song for you, and really, the music itself is OK -- it's the words that I don't like.

God's Will

Each Wednesday morning, Steve attends a -- um -- Is it a prayer group? Men's group? Study group? Maybe it defies categorization, but it is called Andrew's Brothers. Sometimes the group chooses to read a book together and discuss it in the meetings. This is great, because it adds wonderful sources to Steve's bookshelf that I then go pick up to read.

His group just finished a book by Leslie D. Weatherhead called The Will of God. From the first week they started reading it, it was on my list of books to read. I was anxiously awaiting its arrival on the bookshelf. It never made it; Steve just handed it to me when he was done with it -- fastrack. If I had known how quickly I would go through it, I would just have grabbed it from him the first week -- I read it in one day. Really good book -- go get it and read it.

The book is actually the publication of five of Weatherhead's sermons, delivered in London in 1944. You can imagine -- or maybe we can't imagine -- the congregation to which he delivered them. War weary and wondering how God fit into the devastation around them. He considered the subject of God's will to be "specially relevant to these days of loss and sorrow." I think it is just as relevant today.

It is written so well that I won't attempt to re-explain it here. Go read the book. To try to understand the will of God, Weatherhead divides the subject into three parts:

  1. The intentional will of God -- What is God's intention? What is his original plan or hope? If sin and circumstances did not interfere, what would God will for us? This is God's ideal plan for us -- and we can rest assured that it is good.
  2. The circumstantial will of God -- We live in a world, though, where circumstances and evil -- sin -- interfere with the original intention of God. God doesn't leave us alone in these circumstances. His will works in particular circumstances, as well.
  3. The ultimate will of God -- "God's final realization of his purposes" -- God will not be defeated, and his ultimate will for us -- redemption and reunification with God -- will happen. No circumstance can defeat his ultimate will.
As I read this, I thought about our younger son, J. When J was born, he suffered an injury to his right shoulder -- a brachial plexus injury. There is a bundle of nerves in the shoulder which includes those nerves which feed into the arm. During a brachial plexus birth injury, those nerves are stretched. If you try to touch your left ear to your left shoulder, you can feel the stretching in your right shoulder. This is how it happens. Either the casing around the nerves or the nerves themselves are torn. In addition, in J's case, one of the heads of a section of bicep in his arm was torn loose from it attachment to the shoulder. Luckily, infants -- tiny little cell factories -- have the capacity to repair some of this damage, and much of the damage done by J's injury did heal. Some did not, and he is left with limited mobility above his head and outward from his right side.

Was this the will of God? I don't need Weatherhead's book to tell me that it was not.

What was God's intentional will for J? I believe that it was that he would be a healthy, happy child, loved by his family and friends. I believe that God's intentional will is that J will grow into his faith, into his future, knowing the love of God. I believe that God wants J to be whole, in body, mind and spirit.

What was God's circumstantial will for J? The injury happened. It wasn't God's will, but it did happen. How does God fit into that occurrence?
  • It takes only 5 minutes for a baby's brain to go from healthy to permanently damaged during birth. Five minutes. J was on a countdown. This was not a child that cried at birth -- he wasn't breathing -- he was purple. His at birth APGAR score was 3 (out of 10). God put people in that room that were well trained and able to respond to this emergency, and J suffered no brain injury at all.
  • After his birth, his arm didn't move for six weeks. Nothing. When he was seven weeks old, we celebrated that he could shrug his shoulder -- just a little. God sent us to an occupational therapist who fell in love with our child. She worked with him, helping him to heal. She was a blessing.
What is God's ultimate will for J? It is the same as his intentional will, and it is coming to pass. J is whole, in body, mind and spirit. His arm does have limited movement, but it in no way defines who he is. He is a healthy, happy child, who is loved by his family and friends. He is growing in his faith and into his future. Challenges have presented themselves because of the birth injury, but they have been met. If J wants to do something, even if it is a challenge, he finds a way to do it. I often have to stop myself from expressing doubt or from trying to help. He doesn't need my help -- he does it on his own. God has given him a deep well of stubbornness which is serving him well in his circumstances. At times, he may feel the limitation, but, ultimately, the limitation has not shaped him.

God is good. All the time.

Tennis: G/M 8 : Fatima 6 --> This match was a testament to G's determination. I am so proud of him for not giving up. G and M were behind throughout much of the match. At one point, he looked at me sitting in the bleachers, and mouthed, "We're going to win this match." They came from behind, only through determination, and won. Go, G and M!

      Thursday, September 21, 2006

      Here and Now

      Matthew West has a song out that I like called Next Thing You Know. It’s on the CD History. In order to “get” the last line of the verse that I’m going to quote here, you may need to have heard the first verse, which is a description of the first time the writer was aware of the touch of God, at the age of 13 (the hour he “first believed”). The verse I want to focus on today, though, is the third one:

      Got a picture in my head today
      Of how heaven might look someday.
      I see the people there, so I pull up a chair.
      And their stories, they blow me away.
      ‘Cause I can see it on every face,
      The evidence of grace.
      And as I listen it occurs to me
      Everybody’s got their own thirteen

      Can you picture it? A room in heaven, high ceilings, walls so far in the distance that you can’t even see them. It’s full of chairs – chairs that are easily picked up and carried around, so that you can join into any conversation. You pick up your chair, you slide it into a circle (where there is always room), and you listen. Everybody’s got a story to tell, and the grace in the room floods your being. You are blown away by the glory of it. It’s heaven.

      Can you picture it?

      I don’t have to close my eyes to see it. All I have to do is to open them. It’s here; it’s now. We don’t live in heaven, but we do live in the Kingdom of God. We aren’t sitting in a waiting room, hoping for death so that we can finally gain admission to the place where God waits. God’s not waiting – He’s here, He’s now, and grace abounds.

      You’ve seen it – you know it. Haven’t you scene the evidence of grace on the face of the person sitting next to you? Haven’t you felt the flood? Aren’t there times when you just want to pull up a chair, draw yourself into the circle, and listen to the stories? Haven’t you been blown away? Everybody’s got a story to tell, and the grace on their faces, in their voices, in their actions is extraordinary. Ha! It’s AMAZING.

      If you are waiting for Jesus to return, thinking he’s sitting in heaven somewhere, waiting for his moment, then you’ve missed him. If your picture of God is of a wizard, sitting behind a curtain, pushing buttons, and listening to our prayers over a walkie-talkie, then look around, because He’s here. The curtain was torn apart over 2000 years ago.

      God has been chasing you since the day that you were born, and at some point -- at your 13 -- you turn around and get caught.

      It isn’t perfect, this kingdom of God we’re living in. It has yet to be made whole. It is the dwelling place of God, and it is found exactly where we are standing. It’s not heaven, but it’s as close as we get for now, and it has everything we need. And one of the best parts is that we are all here – you, me and God. We are sitting in our chairs, telling our stories, and being blessed by the grace reflected from one to another.

      So what’s your story, about his glory?
      You gotta find your place in the history of grace.

      Images: Both pictures were taken on my way to a meeting at church last night -- the light was great. The first is the sky over Route 10, and the second is our bell tower.

      Wednesday, September 20, 2006

      Encouragement vs Selfishness

      I promise not to do a tennis post every night, but tonight two small stories come to mind that kind of relate to what I talk about here, so a mini-post is born from the tennis matches.

      Steve was passing K, a 7th grade tennis player (girl) as he walked around the courts. She was finished with her match, so he asked her how she had done. Looking dejected, she said, "I lost 8 to 1." What do you say to that? 8 to 1 makes it hard to be encouraging. Behind her was the 8th grade top seed for the boy's team, who said, "Yes, but she was playing the County champion." Way to be encouraging!

      G and M played a pair of boys from B'ville. G and M rarely communicate verbally as they play -- they just watch each other, and can tell from position on the court and body language who is going to hit the ball back. The B'ville team was not like that. The whole time, almost every other time a ball was headed their way, both members of the doubles team would say, "Mine!" All through the match, they sounded like the seagulls from the movie Finding Nemo. "Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!" Then they would either do a very poor job hitting the ball back or miss it entirely.

      G/M - 8 : Barboursville - 1 (W) (Mine Mine Mine)

      An Amazing Ride

      Way back when, when I was writing The More posts (Trust, Mystified, Moments, Growth) I said that I would write 5 posts based on the song. If you counted, I wrote four. The title of the fifth one was to be "An Amazing Ride."

      I have been looking back at the past year -- especially the ways in which God has been working in my life over these last 12 months. It seemed kind of self-serving to post it on the blog, so I sat the thought of the post aside, deciding not to write it. However, I wrote an email tonight (last night, if you are reading this on Wednesday) that put the thought back into my mind, and I feel a need to write it. So here's my amazing ride, and be warned that it is probably interesting only to me. Some of the information will be redundant from other posts, and I sense many hyperlinks to be defined. Be warned, and tomorrow will be another post.

      It seems that over the past 12 months, I have learned many things about God -- some were not new, but they have been pointed out to me in fresh, new ways. My journey did not begin this year, and it hopefully won't end this year.

      • Nurture Chairman -- I had resigned, but then I "unresigned" -- Am I fickle, or what? I think God didn't give up on the pressure until I changed my mind.
      • Laity Sunday -- It wasn't the "talk" that was important -- it was the preparation of the "talk" that showed me that God will be in the assembly with me.
      • Emmaus Walk -- Way too much happened for a single sentence description, but my take home message was "Trust more, love more."
      • Poetry -- I don't write poetry, but I've written 53 of them over the past year. God is in that.
      • The blog -- The poetry got it started, and it has developed into a daily discipline. God is everywhere, and if I watch, I can find him every day.
      • Reunion Group -- Christian conversation is a means of grace. God works in his own timing, but his timing is worth waiting for.
      • Lenten Devotional -- When I asked for seven writers, I got seven. When I asked for more, I got more. Ask, and it shall be given unto you. Our expectations for what we can do with God need to be bigger than they are.
      • Prayer Vigil -- Mustard Seed Faith -- It doesn't take complete confidence that something will work to insure it will happen. It takes a step in faith -- just a little step -- and then watch out. God will do wonders, and by the end, He is doing it all.
      • JM Emmaus Prayer Hour of the Vigil -- Gather us in a room, and God is there, too. He will make His presence known.
      • JesusQuest -- God can do wonders -- He can even get my congregation on its feet to DANCE. Amazing.
      • Common Grounds -- Make your plans. Got might have others, and He can do wonders when we get out of His way.
      • Spirit Song -- Oh, tons. God is at work in our Youth. Friends turn the ordinary into something special. Always carry paper towels. Worship can happen in an amphitheater when all you expected was some music.
      • Vacation Bible School -- Worried? Ask God for help. Don't ask, and he may send it anyway (Thank God!). God doesn't ask us to do what we aren't gifted to do. If we let him, he will use us to do those things for which he has gifted us, and joy will be found.
      • Worship/Picnic -- God isn't in the building, the chapel or the picnic shelter. He arrives with the people, and then all is transformed.
      • Advent devotional (so far) -- Take the step of faith FIRST, and then watch for God. Doing it the other way doesn't show much faith.

      So I'm here to testify
      That it's been an amazing ride with You
      And I have never walked alone

      Image: Another VA sunrise.

      Tuesday, September 19, 2006


      Tennis matches have begun, and G is playing every evening, Monday through Thursday. He's playing doubles with a young man we will call M. Last year I tried to write down his double scores in my calendar, and kept forgetting to do it. This year, since I'm blogging daily, I'm going to add them to the bottom of each post. It's a Mom thing to do -- just for me -- so feel free to ignore it. If you wonder what the numbers mean, it will be G/M (G and his parter)--score:Opposing school--score.

      As we watch him play, we notice that good shots are either hit at the feet of his opponent or hit to where the opponent is not. I think there must be a blog post in that somewhere, but I haven't found it yet.

      Scores so far:

      Monday -- G/M-8 : Covenant-3 (W)
      Tuesday -- G/M-8 : Milton-2 (W)

      Image: G about to serve.

      Blessed are those who mourn

      It's Beautituesday again! (You know I'm only doing this so that I can call it Beautituesday, don't you?)

      The next beautitude on the list in Matthew is Matthew 5:4:

      Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (NRSV)

      You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (The Message)

      Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. (Luke 6:21b ; NRSV)

      You're blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning. (The Message)

      What is it to mourn? What is grief? I think I like the Message definition in Matthew 5:4 -- "when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you." I feel underqualified to write this post (thank God), but I think grief or mourning is often like standing in the middle of storm. Life stands still where you are -- life seems to stop in the pain of loss. All around you life continues to spin, but in the grief, life grinds to a halt. We wonder how life can possibly be continuing at its normal speed all around us when we stand stopped in grief.

      My Oxford Annotated Study Bible says that comforted in this verse connotes strengthened. Could it be that to be comforted in our mourning -- to be strengthened -- means that there are times that even though we stand in the quiet, eerie stillness of our grief, we are not alone? Out of the spinning world steps members of our family of faith. One at a time, or as a group, they step out of the normal world, and into the grief. We are strengthened by their presence -- by the acknowledgement of our mourning. For a few moments, we know that what our pain matters to someone else. We are comforted and strengthened.

      Have you ever stepped up behind a child, and wrapped your arms around him? It's easy to do when they are small, and you are completely surrounding them in the embrace. Perhaps that's how God comforts us -- You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. Surrounded by God.

      I was at a team meeting a few weeks ago for an upcoming Walk to Emmaus. As part of that, we shared communion. It was done in a conference room full of round tables, so we pretended that there was an aisle, and lined up to receive the sacrament. Stella was standing near the line, ready to "merge" into it, so I stopped to let her step in front of me. She said, "You go ahead; I've got you."

      We are comforted or strengthened in our mourning and grief because, even though we stand in the middle of the dark hole of pain, we know that someone else is saying, "It's OK; I've got you." In this journey called faith, we share each other's burdens, and we know that God never leaves us alone. We are given the gift of hope, so that, even when we can't see it from where we stand, we know that joy comes in the morning. We know it, because God has said it to be true. We know it, because others can see the joy coming, even when we cannot, and we are comforted by its refection in their eyes.

      Images: Morning sun at Pullman Square this morning and a web in the grass. Did you know that spider web silk is stronger than the material that chainmail? God's love is like that.

      Monday, September 18, 2006


      Here's an interesting thought (or set of thoughts). I was reading Andy Bryan's blog -- he wrote today about Control. Here are a couple of quotes:

      When you cannot control the big things, controlling the little things takes on enormous importance...This axiom explains some of why people complain about what seem like trivial issues, especially in church....And so people at church will complain about … just about anything – from the color of paint on the walls to the music choices for worship to the seating arrangement of the choir, and so on and so on.
      Think about that -- haven't you ever wondered how the small, trivial items get to be so huge in a church -- like the color of the paint? Maybe it's because as the church changes, those who feel threatened by the change feel a loss of control over the BIG things, so they focus on what they think they CAN control?

      This one is mine

      Inspirational sources:
      Mark 9:33-37
      Thomas C. Ettinger's Disciples devotion for today -- "To follow Jesus, we must accept not only little children, but also an outsider, someone we don't know, someone we consider far beyond the bounds of our usual community."

      Quotes taken from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

      They were arguing over greatness.
      Who would be first among them?
      He knew, and he asked,
      “What were you arguing about on the road?”
      They were silent.
      Silent in their shame.
      Deep down, they knew enough about him,
      And from him,
      That they knew it had been wrong.
      He found it to be an opportunity.
      Their sin would be transformed into growth.

      He sat among them, and pulled a child onto his lap.
      “You welcome this one and you welcome me.
      You welcome me, and you welcome God.”

      “This one?” they thought. “THIS ONE?”
      This one is nothing.
      This one is less than a person.
      How can it be that welcoming this one,
      Would be welcoming God?

      Because I AM, and this one is mine.
      Just as you are.

      The times were troubled.
      Riots torched cities.
      Battles raged to prove that the color of skin
      Said nothing about the person inside.
      A great man with a dream
      Spoke of “the manacles of segregation
      and the chains of discrimination.”
      He spoke of a “table of brotherhood.”
      He spoke of “transformation into an oasis of freedom”
      His dream was that we would all be
      Free at last.

      Jesus sat among them, and held the hand of a black woman.
      “You welcome this one, and you welcome me.
      You welcome me, and you welcome God.”

      “This one?” they thought. “THIS ONE?”
      This one is nothing.
      This one is less than a person.
      How can it be that welcoming this one,
      Would be welcoming God?

      Because I AM, and this one is mine.
      Just as you are.

      They gathered on Thursday nights.
      To be fed, to hear a prayer, to hear a message.
      They gathered for the same reasons
      that countless Christians had always gathered.
      Many were poor, homeless, hungry.
      Others were addicted, lonely, lost.
      They came to a place that offered prayers.
      For them. For their concerns.
      Only because they asked.
      They came to a place that would feed their bodies,
      And make no other demands.
      They came to a place that offered grace.
      In abundance.
      Some “upstairs” chose to ignore them.
      Didn’t always see them.
      Wished that they would stay outside.

      Jesus sat among them, and draped his arm across the shoulders of a lost man.
      “You welcome this one, and you welcome me.
      You welcome me, and you welcome God.”

      “This one?” those upstairs thought. “THIS ONE?”
      This one is nothing.
      This one is less than a person.
      How can it be that welcoming this one,
      Would be welcoming God?

      Because I AM, and this one is mine.
      Just as you are.

      Sunday, September 17, 2006

      Trust or Fear

      I wrote in this post about trust versus fear. We either trust or we fear. Ortberg goes on in the same chapter to say that fear disrupts faith. I found this weekend that this is true.

      I've said "yes" to a change that will probably happen at the beginning of next year. I'm doing it out of faith -- trust -- that God will help me to do the task which I have agreed to do. Most of the time, while I don't feel comfortable about it, I at least feel as if it was the right choice.

      Yesterday a man at church, who I respect and think highly of, said something to me which knocked me from trust to fear. I had no easy answer for him at the time, and as the evening and this morning went on, I found that, to my surprise, the comment was continuing to gnaw away at my trust that my decision had been the correct one. I shoved it to the back of my mind (where things fester) and went on my way.

      Steve and I attended a district event this afternoon. Our bishop was in the area and was preaching at a district worship service. It was a great event -- enthusiastic music, worship outside (I'm a sucker for worship outside). Our district lay leader (who is also the infamous Jeff the Methodist) delivered the prayer. It began with a moment of silent prayer. I didn't expect it; I didn't plan it, but the spirit in me reached out for God, and He reached back. I left that moment or two of silent prayer touched by God, and knowing that He was with me, step by step.

      The Bishop's sermon was outstanding, but two lines really stuck with me from the afternoon.
      • You have to trust God. Are you willing to trust God?
      • Do not be afraid. (He said it with such force and emphasis that it hit home)

      I am a person who was pulled off the path by a remark that was certainly not intended to have the effect that it did. God passed by me this afternoon, and nudged me back in place. Hopefully, the experience of this will make it more difficult for me to wander off the path of faith in the first place. In other words, I hope I've learned something today.


      Saturday, September 16, 2006


      I've been listening to another song by the group Downhere called Stir. As always, I like the whole song, but here is the chorus and the second verse. Read this, and ask yourself what, in this context, what the word "Stir" means.

      We’ve got life to give,
      So why don’t we do what we we’re saved for
      Come along, why don’t we stir?
      You know you and I could do so much more together
      We are the new at heart, so why don’t we stir?

      We are strong here, but weakness is for certain
      To show our love here, we share each other's burdens
      We don't mind, 'cause there is nothing left to fear
      And Love divine is calling us out from here...

      I've mentioned before that I like to drive the car, top open, windows down, music loud, and just sing. I really only do that when I'm alone -- at least the signing part -- but I've found that this is a favorite thing for G to do, as well. When the two of us are in the car together, we'll drive down the road, singing. Joy.

      I was driving the boys to school yesterday (Friday), and I played this song for G, to see what he thought of it. It has a really interesting rhythm (to me, anyway), and is fast -- a great, loud, car song. I thought he would like it, and he did. I asked him what he thought "Stir" meant. Later I asked Steve. Here are the results of my very formal poll:

      G: Why don't we all just work together and get along (I would never have said that, but I can see it now that he's said it.)
      Steve: Stir the pot -- mix it up
      Me: DO something -- Get things moving.

      What does Stir mean?

      With that on my mind, I went to the Emmaus Gathering last night. Brad's communion message was centered on the scripture John 13:31-35.

      When he was gone, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. "My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

      Now look at the bridge from the song Stir:

      We are salting, lighting
      We refresh like raining
      We are love remaining

      We are love remaining. I kept thinking of that line as Brad talked about loving one another as Jesus loves us. We are the love remaining. I know we aren't in it alone, and I know that the Spirit is with us, but when Jesus left (physically), we ARE the love remaining. We are the Body of Christ, and maybe to Stir is to be the love -- to share love with others (G's answer), to do something different -- love as Christ loved (Steve's answer) and to DO something -- Love in action -- (my answer).

      It's time to Stir.

      We are strong here, but weakness is for certain
      To show our love here, we share each other's burdens

      Friday, September 15, 2006


      From Psalm 1

      The person who does not listen to the wicked,
      Who chooses not to stand with sinners,
      Or to join in with those who are mean
      Or with bullies who are hurtful,
      Will be walking a path which leads to abiding joy in life.

      That person's blessings will be found
      As he listens to God,
      And finds the delight of obedience.
      A child of God will give every moment to his Father,
      Focus each thought on His words,
      Day and night will be dedicated to His will.

      God plants his children on the riverbank of His grace,
      And nourishes them with His spirit,
      Flowing like life-giving water.
      In turn, they bear the fruit of a close relationship with Him.
      They are ever full of life,
      And the touch of God is seen on every thing they do.

      The wicked and evil are dry and lifeless,
      Separated by their own choices from His grace.
      They are rootless and are without anchor.
      As the winds blow,
      They roll away like tumbleweed.

      As the sheep and the goats were separated,
      So the godly and the sinners will find
      God's judgment.
      Those who have clothed themselves in the coat of forgiveness,
      And who wear grace like a mantle,
      Will find that they are in the company of God.

      We stand at a crossroads.
      One path leads to life with God,
      Life everlasting.
      The other one does not.

      Thursday, September 14, 2006

      An Argument Completed

      Why are some churches experiencing a decrease in the number of men they have as members? Does it have anything to do with men's choice and pursuit of careers? I want to spend one more post continuing my discussion of Dan Edelen's discourse concerning the church's missing men (see yesterday's post for links).

      Dan discusses the idea that a caste system exists for men in churches. He says, "Men are categorized by their work and valued accordingly. The doctor and the mechanic are not viewed as having the same worth, even within many churches. Again, this system does not plague women to the same extent." I have a few counterpoints to this statement:

      • If this is the case, then it certainly isn't anything new. Since the beginning of Christianity, it has been a danger. Consider Paul's warning against our tendency to make unfair distinctions between people:
        In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. (1 Corinthians 11:17-18).
        Or these words from James:
        My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
        My point is that if these divisions have existed in the church for over 2000 years, then we can hardly blame a recent decrease in men's church attendance on them.
      • If these divisions exist, then they are certainly not biblical. We should be speaking out against them, not accepting them as a fact of church life (to be fair, Dan doesn't say that we should be accepting them, either).
      • I did a scientific survey of the men (uh, man) in my car, and his judgment is that he hasn't found these divisions to exist in our church. One man's witness.
      • I think in some churches, where the expectation isn't that men will work and women will stay at home, that women who do not work outside the home are facing this same attitude. Again, it is an attitude that should be countered, not accepted.
      Dan also makes the following statement:

      Women marry with an eye to financial security, but this is not the case for men. Therefore, the onus is always on the man to bring in money. To meet this need, the man is usually the one striving to succeed in his career. Our society continues to reinforce this for men, while placing less burden on women to reach the pinnacle of success in their field.

      If you know me, then you know that my head is spinning at this point. Where do I start?
      • "Women marry with an eye to financial security...." In one sentence, he has reduced women to materialistic creatures who ignore the whisper of God and men to commodities who are judged by their earning potential and can be purchased by an "I do." In my life, at least, financial security was no where on the list of my reasons for choosing my husband -- truthfully, I never thought about it. I can't believe that I am unusual in that.
      • I am perfectly capable of creating my own financial security, thank you very much. A man is not required.
      • I believe that financial security in a marriage is the responsibility of both partners -- even if only one of them has a career.
      • To believe or to assert that career women are not concerned with success in that career is a fallacy and a falsehood.
      Dan's premise is that career is "the one thing we still use to define a man," and that the church doesn't speak to this issue, so men are left thinking that the church is not meeting their needs. I think that instead of trying to speak to the issue of career concerns so that men will be interested, we need to make sure that, at least in church, men (and women) are NOT defined by their careers.

      On an Emmaus walk, one of the items you are asked to "leave at home" for the weekend is your job. You are asked to avoid discussing it, so that it does not become a barrier to the development of relationships between the people on the walk. Before I went on a walk, I didn't understand how this would make any difference at all. During my walk, and especially at the point near the end of the weekend when we shared our career paths with each other, I came to see that it makes a huge difference. Perhaps while at church we need to leave these distinctions behind.

      Wednesday, September 13, 2006

      An Argument Made Into a Post

      Have you ever been driving your car, arguing with someone who wasn't there? For the past few days, I have found myself arguing with Dan Edelen of Cerulean Sanctum. I read one of his re-posts last week. It is called Another Look at the Church's Missing Men, and was originally posted on April 20, 2005. I've decided the best way to stop arguing with Dan is to write this post.

      I read Dan's blog on a relatively regular basis -- sometimes I agree with him, often I do not, but reading blogs I disagree with is a means of clarifying my own thoughts. I must say that there is very little that I agree with in this particular post, so rather than taking up Dan's comment space, I'll make my arguments here. I don't know Dan, but from reading his blog, I think he has a pretty strong personality, and can handle me disagreeing with him.

      I've often find Dan's use of generalizations to be distracting and incorrect, and have told him so in his comment section, and I'll repeat that concern here. I am always disturbed by statements such as "All men...," "All women..." or even "Most men or women...." We are more than our gender -- we are children of God. To reduce us to only a generalization is to ignore our uniqueness. I think generalizing is easy -- a quick way to make a point, but is often misleading, and can construct barriers between people. I'll do my best in this post to avoid them, but if some sneak in, forgive me.

      Go read Dan's post if you like -- you may not want to take my summarization of his points as completely correct. Dan is -- as many bloggers are lately -- trying to explain why he thinks that there are more women in churches than men. He breaks his argument into two parts -- men's impatience with the absence of the Holy Spirit in their churches, and men's career issues.

      Dan says that "the main reason that men are not in church is that they simply are not seeing the Holy Spirit move in power." He believes that women 1) are more willing to be satisfied with the relational aspects of church and 2) have a less refined "B.S. detector." Sorry, Dan, I have a pretty refined B.S. detector, and right now it's pinging like a Geiger counter. Any of us are kidding ourselves if we are sitting in church waiting for the Holy Spirit to fall like dew. In the movie Six Days and Seven Nights, Quinn, played by Harrison Ford, says, "It's an island, babe. If you didn't bring it here, you won't find it here. " That's an exaggeration, I know, but we are not called to sit around, waiting to find God. Frederick Buechner wrote, "When your spirit is unusually strong, the life in you unusually alive, you can breathe it out into other lives, becoming literally in-spiring." That's our calling -- men and women -- to reflect God to each other. The Holy Spirit isn't like dew, it's found in the doing.

      In the triangle that Dan (and others) are describing, there are three characters -- the man (or woman or me), the people of the church and God. I'm pretty sure that God has the Holy Spirit "figured out," so we can't blame him. Why is it that so many people (men and women) are willing to blame the OTHER person when he / she doesn't feel the presence of God? Get up out of the pew and DO something about it. Very few churches, I think (I hope), would turn down someone who said, "I want to work on a habitat house" or "I want to paint a room" or "I want to plan a church event." Raise your hand, stand up, get INVOLVED. Make your place in the family. If you want to see the Holy Spirit move in power, then stop sitting around, waiting for it. MOVE.

      Dan goes on to say that part of the problem is that the evangelically defined role of men in family life is to be the sole breadwinner -- the man's identity is very much wrapped up in his career. The church does little to address his career concerns. He further explains what he believes the church defines the role of men should be in this post. The list is long, and if my church had expectations such as this for me, then I would find them unrealistic, as well. According to his list, men are to be the sole breadwinner of the family, while also meeting home and church expectations, while women are to focus on child care, including, most likely, home-schooling.

      I have to explain that my church isn't facing these problems. We have a strong ministry of men (and women). We also don't have the expectations for the roles of men and women that Dan discusses. I would theorize that this makes a profound difference in the way that anyone -- man or woman -- would experience life as a member of a church. Men in our church are involved in every aspect of ministry. I actually counted today, as I prepared material for our Christian Education Sunday celebration, the number of men and women involved in the Christian Education portions of our programming -- 33% of them were men -- even in these traditionally "female" tasks. It's amazing what happens when everyone feels free to use whatever gifts God has given him or her for the edification of the Body of Christ -- to be in-spiring. We stop feeling the stress to meet someone else's definition of who we should be, and we listen for the Voice of God to define our calling.

      We are all men or women. We are not masculine or feminine by what we do, but instead by who we are. I am not less feminine if I get my hands dirty and hammer a nail (I might be more bruised, but I am not less of a woman). A man who walks into a nursery of infants and takes care of babies for an hour is not emasculated. That's beyond ridiculous. You know why I think the men of my church are involved in Christian Education? I think it is because they saw jobs that needed to be done, so they did them. Doing these jobs shows them to be brave, to be authentic, and to be men of integrity. It demonstrates to the children of our congregation that any of us can fill any role in God's family. It shows me that the Holy Spirit is moving with power among us. See how that works?

      Dan had more to say, and so do I, but this post has reached its limit. Tomorrow -- how women choose husbands and the "caste" system among men.

      Image: Morning sun on VA hill (9/11/06)

      Tuesday, September 12, 2006

      Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

      It's the first, (and either only or of a few) Beatitutuesdays here at Sandpiper's Thoughts. Let's look at the first beatitude in four versions -- NRSV and Message of the Matthew 5 and Luke 6 texts.

      Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NRSV, Matthew 5:3)

      You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope.
      With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (The Message)

      Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (NRSV, Luke 6:20)

      You're blessed when you've lost it all.
      God's kingdom is there for the finding. (The Message)

      What does it mean to be "poor in spirit?" One of my study bibles ("Old Faithful" red New Oxford Annotated NRSV) refers us to Isaiah 66:2, which says, "But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word." This same book defines poor in spirit as "those feeling a deep sense of spiritual poverty." My NIV study bible ("Old blue") contrasts poor in spirit to those who "are spiritually proud and self-sufficient."

      I like The Message version -- "Blessed are you when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and his rule."

      I wonder if poor in spirit is perhaps that point in time when we finally come to realize that "God is God, and I am not." It's one of my favorite Steven Curtis Chapman songs. Here's the first two verses and the first line of the chorus:

      And the pain falls like a curtain
      On the things I once called certain
      And I have to say the words I fear the most
      I just don't know.

      And the questions without answers
      Come and paralyze the dancer
      So I stand here on the stage afraid to move
      Afraid to fall, oh, but fall I must
      On this truth that my life has been formed from the dust

      God is God and I am not.

      Don't we all get to that place at some point? That point in life when we remember to pray, when we realize that whatever the problem is, it is beyond our own capability? It's when we are at the end of our rope (figuratively speaking) -- in our weakness, that God can strengthen us. Perhaps this beatitude is really telling us that it is when we find peace in our weaknesses -- our inadequacies -- that we will discover the abiding joy of knowing the strength of God.

      Compare those thoughts to this, from Paul's second letter to Corinth:

      But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
      Frederick Buschner wrote, "Not the spiritual giants, but the "poor in spirit," as he [Jesus] called them, the ones who, spiritually speaking, have absolutely nothing to give and absolutely everything to receive, like the Prodigal telling his father, 'I am not worthy to be called thy son,' only to discover for the first time all he had in having a father."

      We will find abiding joy when we finally find the peace of knowing that we are not sufficient, but that God is all-sufficient -- when we accept the grace of God's strength in our own weaknesses.

      Monday, September 11, 2006

      I Remember the Day

      I remember that day.
      It began just like any other day.
      The sky was blue – perfectly clear,
      And if I had been watching,
      I could have seen the plane change direction.
      U-shaped contrails.
      At first, no one understood
      The hatred that had struck.
      And then, as a second jet collided,
      A building melted,
      Our hearts, our peace, and our security were demolished.

      Lord; take me where you want me to go;
      Let me meet who You want me to meet;
      Tell me what You want me to say,
      and keep me out of your way. Amen

      I remember the disbelief,
      As estimates of the dead climbed.
      Horrible possibilities, horrible numbers were broadcast.
      Buildings collapsed as we watched.
      We knew they hadn’t been empty
      And that the stench of death crept
      Along with the dust and dirt.
      The Pentagon burned.
      Air traffic was grounded,
      Except for the one plane that
      Crashed into the ground.

      Lord; take me where you want me to go;
      Let me meet who You want me to meet;
      Tell me what You want me to say,
      and keep me out of your way. Amen

      I remember the heroes.
      The fireman, who turned to go back in,
      Saying, “It’s what I do.”
      The passenger, knowing death was coming,
      Who said, “Let’s roll.”
      The cell phone calls to family,
      Love, the first and last thing on their minds.
      The photos – Have you seen my wife?
      The doctors, nurses, hospitals,
      Standing ready for the injured who would never arrive.
      Long lines to give blood.
      The prayers, the unity, the tears.
      We were in it together.
      St. Paul's chapel, near Ground Zero,
      Open to nurture anyone who needed it.

      Lord; take me where you want me to go;
      Let me meet who You want me to meet;
      Tell me what You want me to say,
      and keep me out of your way. Amen

      I remember the worry,
      When reality finally set in.
      What would we become?
      Would fear win,
      And would we reflect back hatred?
      I remember the high school student
      Who was slammed against his locker
      For looking Muslim.
      But I remember the memorial service in New York
      Christians, Jews and Muslims,
      All praying together,
      People, feeling the hatred,
      And returning something better.
      What would we become?

      Lord; take me where you want me to go;
      Let me meet who You want me to meet;
      Tell me what You want me to say,
      and keep me out of your way. Amen

      I can never forget the change,
      Even now, even today.
      We live in a world that is post-9/11.
      Our 9/10 attitudes are gone.
      Long airport security lines,
      And we’re glad.
      Anything to feel a little bit safer.
      Our first question now, when tragedy strikes,
      Isn’t “What went wrong?”
      It’s “Who did it?”
      Even now, on a clear day,
      I look at the blue sky,
      See a U-shaped contrail,
      And wonder.

      Prayer between stanzas is the prayer carried by Father Mychal F. Judge, Chaplain, New York Fire Department, who was killed on 9/11 at the World Trade Center.

      1. Image of Father Mychal Judge's body being carried out of the World Trade Center by a police officer, two firefights and an OEM responder. He was the first recognized victim of the attack.
      2. Firefighters on their way to the scene.
      3. Man holding up his blood type as he stands in line to donate.
      4. Wall of posters as people try to find their loved ones.

        Sunday, September 10, 2006


        When I was in fifth grade, I was the tallest girl in my class -- maybe even taller than most of the boys. In later years, I was not able to say that -- I stopped getting taller, and everyone else grew. Still, at 5'4" (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it), I'm the tallest female in my family. This is as good as it gets -- I'm done gaining height. Too bad.

        There comes a time in left when we stop growing vertically. Hopefully, there never comes a time in life when we stop growing spiritually.

        From The More:

        And the more You show me, the more You grow me.

        In his book Natural Church Development, Christian Schwarz says that God causes growth. We work and work to try to achieve church growth, when really, it is all up to God. Our calling is to provide the raw ingredients -- the soil, the water, plant the seeds, add the light, and then God causes the growth.

        I like that image, and I see it applying to three area of church life:

        1. Church Growth -- So many churches, including my own, are struggling with how to grow. The answer to this, I think, doesn't lie in trying to find ways that will cause church growth. The answer lies in trying to figure out how we can best fulfill the calling God has laid before us -- what can we do that will plant the seeds, water the crop and prepare the soil? God already has a plan in mind for growth, and He can do that if we will just get out of the way. Maybe I am oversimplifying, but if we will just "get our house in order," find our mission, and act on it, then God will take care of the growth.
        2. Individual Growth -- I work with the Nurture Committee in my church. Someone the other day called it the Nutrition Committee -- I won't argue with that (although I think it applies more to the UMM), but Nurture might best be referred to as the Gardening Committee. Our task is to help provide the means of individual spiritual growth in our church. We do that through Sunday school for kids, youth and adults, vacation Bible school, devotionals, the library, age related ministries, family life ministries, prayer vigil, boy scouts, and whatever else we can think up. The list is long. None of it, however, causes people to grow. All we are doing is providing the water, light, seeds and soil. God does the rest.
        3. My Growth -- While I don't plan to get any taller, I do hope that I continue to grow. I am completely convinced that God is not done with me yet. I even think -- and I have no way to back this up, that even in heaven, we'll continue to grow. We are designed for growth. At this point, the only thing that can stop it is me.
        When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)

        God has a plan for each of us. I'm sure that plan involves getting closer to Him, coming to understand him more, and allowing him to stretch us -- to grow us. Will He he ever be done? I pray not.

        I'll take a lifetime to know You
        Hold me Lord, keep me
        Draw me closer every moment of my life

        I just watched the preview for the new movie, "We Are Marshall." The last line of the preview is, "It's game day. Time to play until the whistle blows."