Thursday, November 30, 2006

Community Prayer

Community prayer – it’s what’s on my mind this morning. What is the role of the person who prays for a group of people? What is the role of the minister who delivers a morning prayer in a worship service? Or of the teacher who prays before a class starts? Or of the person who is saying grace at a holiday meal? Beyond that question, is there a right way and a wrong way to do it?

These thoughts were put into motion last night at our Yancey class during a discussion of prayer stemming from the Sermon on the Mount. One of the ladies in the group said, “I don’t like it when people read prayers instead of just praying them” (I’m paraphrasing). I opened myself up when I answered, “I read prayers often.” She went on to tell me why she thought that was not the way to pray, and ended her list with, “They’re beautiful, but are you trying to impress us? You should be talking to God, not to us.” (I’m still paraphrasing).

Those questions stuck with me. They went home with me, they nagged at me, and they ended up being the focus of my morning prayer time.

To understand this post, you’ll need to know my process for preparing a community prayer. If I know I’m praying for a group of people, I will sit down, think, and write a prayer. I then, when the time comes, pray the prayer from what I have written. I can do it from short notes – words to remind me what I want to say – but I still have to, when I write the notes, in my mind, “think” out the prayer. I usually just end up writing in down in full text because it’s quicker.

What is my role when I stand and pray for a group?

I have to believe that that role is two-fold. First, I am serving as a spokesman for the group. I am standing for them, in front of God, offering the group’s concerns and worries to God. This is not me praying for me, usually, it’s me lifting to God the concerns of entire group. (Sidenote: The obvious exception I can see to that is when a person delivering a sermon prays prior to speaking. That prayer is often from the heart of the speaker to God. We, as the community, pray with him/her as a way of affirming our support for the one about to deliver the sermon. “You are not alone; we stand with you as you ask for God’s help.”)

Secondly, if we believe that prayer is two-way communication, then my role is also to communicate to the community, in the prayer, what God wants them to hear. If I do it right – if I am open to it – then God can take that opportunity to speak to the group through what I say.

Speaking for the group, and even more so, being a way for God to speak TO the group are heavy responsibilities.

How does preparation enter into that equation, and is it OK to write things down? Am I doing something wrong when I pray from a written prayer?

If I believe that when God gives me a job to do, that he will work with me to accomplish that job (and after this past year, I believe it), then I also believe that the time I spend in preparation for a community prayer is one of the times when he and I work on what the prayer will be. It is the time when he helps me to discern what concerns the group needs to have raised, and what words from Him that he wants the community to hear. I write it down because, if he spends all of this effort sitting down with me to plan it, I don’t want to miss any of it. I want it to be what he wants it to be, and writing it down is the best way I know for me to accomplish that.

Do I want it to sound nice? Yes, I do, but I hope that isn’t the overriding factor in what I’m doing. Do I write them down, and then pray the prayers to impress anyone in the room? I’m going to give myself a break on this one, and say no. I don’t think I am. It’s something to watch for – a danger, but I hope it’s not my motivation.

Will it always be this way?

Probably not. I’m just starting to develop “prayer muscles,” and I think God has me in Prayer 101. I’m OK with that – in fact I’m enjoying it.

My team teacher opened the class with prayer last night. You can hear God’s echoes in his words. I don’t know if he prepares for those prayers ahead of time, or it God works with him on the spot, but it’s a beautiful gift. Maybe someday I’ll get there.

But for now, God and I are doing it this way.

Images: The first image is of the National Palace in Sintra, Portugal. (The link has a better picture). All of it is old, but parts of it, the chapel, for example, are very old. Can you see the arches? The second picture is taken from the palace, looking at the town itself through the arches. Great bakery in the picture, plus a little shop where Steve bought me a garnet cross. The last picture is of the seaport town of Cascais.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006


One year ago today, Sandpiper’s Thoughts was born as a blog. Today is its one-year blogiversary.

I’ve been thinking about the blog, and reflecting about its purpose, its history and its evolution. I thought, in celebration of today, I would share those thoughts in a post. Aren’t you lucky!?

The Beginning:

The first post was called “Your Age by Chocolate Math,” and it was pure silliness. The same day, I posted a poem about a vision of a church – what a church should be like. I was going to a Vision Committee meeting that evening, and was thinking.

It was the next group of seven posts that started to shape what the blog would become. I was driving into work one day, and started thinking about Mary – what would it have been like to have been asked to be the mother of God’s son? A poem started to take shape. I’ve never written poetry in my life, but I wrote one that day, followed by six more – the series of poems called “After the Angel’s Visit” were posted next – one written each day for a week.

Daily posts didn’t begin until January 9, and since that day, something has been posted each day (a couple of times back-dated), except for January 23 – I have no idea what happened that day.

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Today’s post is #424. As of this minute, the blog has had 8,146 hits, with the highest traffic this month (1,020 hits), which is an increase over last December, when I started measuring (433 hits). Does any of that matter? No, but it amuses me.

Of the 424 posts, 60 of them are poems (which continually amazes me).

The blog is a member of the Methodist Blog Ring and the MethoBlog (which replaced the Methodist Blogroll.

Why Blog:

Why do I blog? When I started to do it, it was because I had things that I wanted to write about that were not appropriate (in my mind) for my knitting blog – they weren’t about knitting. I have continued to blog because, at least at this point in my life, I can’t not do it. It has become a discipline – a means of grace. The blog gives me space to work through questions in my mind, to see what others might think, to state opinion, and to praise the presence of God in my life.

I don’t remember when I decided that it would become a daily effort, but that has become a commitment. Because I know that I will be writing something each day, I have become more open to God’s presence in the world around me. I’m always watching, because I need things to write about. I read more books about life with God. My eyes are literally open all the time to see God at work – I need pictures for the blog. I listen for blogging material in phrases and conversation. I am made more aware because of the blog.

I blog because people are reading it. Not many, but the number’s not important. The fact that people DO read it, though, increases my commitment to write it. Some of the readers I know, and I treasure that they take the time to read what I write and to comment on it. It is a truly a blessing. Some of the readers I don’t know, and that, too, is amazing to me. Would I continue to write if I knew no one was reading it? I probably would, but perhaps not online. And without the knowledge that someone will be reading what I write, I’m not sure that I would have the discipline to do it daily. So, hats off to you, readers – you are helping me on my journey with God.

Best Blogging experience:

Oh, I have many, but I’ll highlight three.

The Youth of our church strung beads during their 30 Hour Famine last February – one for each child who would die during their fast. 29,000 beads. They decorated our sanctuary with them to try to increase the congregations awareness of the effects of hunger in the world. I wrote a poem about it. Later, in June, the beads were taken to our Annual Conference, and used as part of the Children’s Sabbath worship program. The poem was used as a meditation on the cover of the bulletin for that service. I am blessed that something God and I wrote was used to highlight the costs of hunger and to lift up the efforts of our youth group.

I have had guest bloggers – my husband, Steve , my son J, and Jeff the Methodist. I am continually amazed that these guys would think enough about the blog to write for it when I asked.

The After the Angel’s Visit poems were eye opening for me. I believed at the time, and continue to believe that God was at work in those seven poems. Without them, I’m not sure that the blog would have evolved into what it has become.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you in year number two!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sermon on the Mount

Class tomorrow will be based on chapter 7 of Yancey The Jesus I Never Knew book – the Sermon on the Mount Chapter.

Have you read it in one big chunk? Do that, and I imagine you will come to understand how difficult it can be to hear, and to attempt to live. I love Yancey’s line, “Jesus made the law impossible for anyone to keep and then charged us to keep it.”

Think about what is said (just a few snippets):

  • When you manipulate words to get our own way, you go wrong.
  • I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.
  • Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are legal.
  • You can’t worship God and money both.
  • Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults…
  • The way to life – to God! – is vigorous and requires total attention.
The list goes on and on. We look at it, and think, “No way. I cannot meet these expectations.” And Yancey’s right – Jesus never opens up a loophole for us. He never says, “Well, do the best you can.” He never tells us that it is OK for us to be less than this. Why would he? We already are less than this.

There is a line in the United Methodist Ordination service which asks the candidate, “Are you going on to perfection?” and “Do you expect to be perfected in love in this life?” Daunting questions. I think, though, that we can ask them of ourselves as well as candidates for ordination. Think of perfect as meaning, instead of flawless, complete and whole. We can grow toward completeness and wholeness. I think an understanding of this will help us to grasp the Sermon on the Mount. Hold that thought, and I’ll connect it in a minute.

Why did God send Christ? There are lots of answers to that question, and none of them may be complete, but I could list reasons such as to redeem us, to bring us into relationship with Him, to reveal himself to us, to show us what grace is all about.

If Jesus’ purpose (or one of them) was to reveal God to us, and to bring us into relationship with God, then can’t we look at the Sermon on the Mount in that light? Yancey does. He says, “For years I had thought of the Sermon on the Mount as a blue-print for human behavior that no one could possibly follow. Reading it again, I found that Jesus gave these words not to cumber us, but to tell us what God is like.” Jesus – showing us what God is like – telling us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

That doesn’t mean Jesus is saying that “You don’t have to do this. You are excused from living this kind of life.” He’s not telling us that it is OK to be less – he’s telling us that there is MORE. He’s showing us what completeness – wholeness – looks like. This is what God is like, and this is what he wants for you.

The Sermon on the Mount is not a list of laws or rules. It’s harder than that. We make a mistake, though, if we ever again try to look at what God is doing in the world without seeing it through grace. God wants more for us that for us to live by a set of laws. He wants us to be whole, and he’s given us grace to get us there. The Sermon on the Mount shows us what perfection in God is all about. If we stand here defeated in its shadow, then we miss the point completely. The point is that God knows we can’t get to wholeness on our own – he wants US to understand that. He wants us to know that he loves us enough to give us Christ – we are made whole through him – through grace.

He doesn’t want us to ignore the Sermon on the Mount because it is too hard. He wants us to know how hard it is, so that we will stop ignoring HIM and the grace he offers.

Images: More from Lisbon. The first one is where the Tagus river meets that Atlantic. Right at the end is the Tower of Belem, which is beautiful (built in 1515). The second picture is also of the river, but a little bit further away from the Atlantic. There are several restaurants sharing building space -- looks like a warehouse -- right on the river. They all have outdoor seating. We were having dinner one evening (outside) and took this picture of the view. Notice the bridge? It is the 25 de Abril bridge. It's similarity to the Golden Gate is not coincidental. Both bridges were built by the same construction company -- in two cities where earthquakes are a major concern. The statue across the river is of Cristo Rei (Christ) -- similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro. The last photo is another one of the Jeronimos Monastery, taken from the top of the Monument to the Discoveries.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Getting ready?

Four weeks until Christmas day. That’s 28 days. Are you ready? Do you hate that question? I do.

I caught myself yesterday telling my newly-moved-into-town sister in law that I have come to dread the Christmas season, and that by December 26, I’m glad that it is all over. That’s an awful attitude, and it is unlike me. I like every individual part of the Christmas celebration – cards, presents, wrapping, cooking, decorating. I love the church at Christmas. I enjoy the special events, the way the building looks, and the music. So what’s going on with me?

I was thinking about this on the way to work this morning. I wondered what God would say if I asked him.

  • I think he would say, “Focus. Focus on Christ instead of on all the rest.”
  • I think he would say, “I have great plans for this month for you. Don’t turn your back on Christmas because you are too busy doing other things.”
  • I think he would say, “I have a great banquet prepared for you. Don’t disappoint me – I want to share it with you.”
So, what does that mean? What do I need to DO to make the season centered on God? Do I need to go and buy a special advent devotional? Make sure I attend all of the Advent concerts? Rush around and get everything done early? What do I need to add to my “To Do” list to make this happen?

Then I realized, as I walked through the parking lot this morning, that I was approaching this problem in the wrong way. There is nothing I need to DO; there is nothing I can DO to fix this. What I need to do is to let go. Surrender it to God. Give Christmas to him, and let him fix it.

I think he would say, “Come on, Kim, trust me.”

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13: May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you! And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you. May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers.

Images: All of these images are from the Alfama district of Lisbon. It is the one of the oldest areas of Lisbon, designed by the Moors who lived there. The streets are narrow, in the narrowest sense of the word. One walks in Alfama. Notice the cobblestone on the paths. The third picture? Not the narrowest place we walked. Some paths wouldn't have allowed you to stretch out your arms. I have to admit, though, the dog picture is one of my favorite from the entire trip. What's he looking at? What's he waiting for, so patiently?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Prayer

I mentioned in an earlier post that I left the Emmaus walk in October with the feeling that I should be praying more -- and with a commitment to try to do that.

I think I've talked about reunion groups before on this blog, but if I haven't, I'll summarize. A reunion group is a "small accountability group," for lack of a better word. I belong to one that meets on every other Saturday morning. It's a group of eight (well, seven plus me) wonderful (the seven) women who meet to be a support for each other. We talk about life; we talk about walking with God; we help each other. Emmaus reunion groups have a specific agenda to follow each time we meet -- although there is no "emmaus police" that come and chastise you if you "do it wrong."

On a walk, to help the pilgrims to understand what reunion groups are about, we hold a "pretend" reunion group meeting. We did that in October. One of the questions that we try to answer at a reunion group meeting is, "What is your plan?" When it came time for me to tell those sitting at my table my plan for the week, I said, "I'm doing daily devotions with Disciplines -- I'll continue with that this week. I'm teaching a class on Wednesday evenings -- I'll work on that this week. I think from this walk that I've learned that God wants me to pray more, so I'll try to incorporate that into my week."

Immediately, one of the pilgrims said, "What does that mean -- to pray more? What does more mean? An hour more?" She wanted a very detailed description of what "more" meant. She was trying, I think, to help me be "accountable."

I didn't have an answer for her. I am normally a detail oriented, goal setting person. With this commitment, though, I wasn't. I couldn't explain what "more" meant. I thought it meant trying to work in more time in the mornings for prayer. I've been trying to do that. Looking back, though, almost a month later, I have found that "more" means something else.

More prayer has been God-instituted, not scheduled by me. This past month, I have found many more opportunities for prayer. Not more time spent in prayer, specifically, but more reasons for prayer. That has led to more time spent in prayer, but not because I set a specific goal in minutes to accomplish. I've prayed more because God has given me more things to pray about. Does that make any sense?

I think I'm going to take a moment to specifically list the opportunities that God has given me for prayer, if you promise to realize that I'm not telling them to you with any "look how wonderful I am" reason. I am not wonderful; I am certainly not a good pray-er. I'm going to list them because I feel so blessed to have been given these gifts. This is my blog; this is where I list my blessings (among other things).

  • I've been praying for our Wednesday night book study. I have to admit, I never would have thought to do that before. It has been a gift to be able to set aside a few minutes each Wednesday to pray for the class -- for the students by name, for the teachers, and for the teaching.
  • I have been gifted this month with the opportunity to pray for a few specific friends. God has pointed, and I have been blessed.
  • Our Advent devotional will be distributed this week. As part of that "launch," I've planned for our committee to pray for the project. This is the eighth devotional we've done; this will be the first time I've prayed for them. God's pointing.

Please understand, I'm not praying anywhere near ENOUGH -- I still am very weak in this area of spiritual life. I do, however, find that I have a need for the morning prayer time that I haven't had before. I'm excited about it. I'm not sure that the prayer time is any longer than it was, but it seems more focused -- more necessary. MORE.

Images: How about some pictures from our trip a while back to Lisbon, Portugal? These are both photos of Jeronimos Monastery. The first is a not-so-great photo of the outside of the building. The other one is of the inside, during a worship service. Notice the trolley car lines -- Lisbon is much like San Francisco in many ways -- trolleys, built on hills, even the bridge over the main river looks like the Golden Gate bridge. Of course, Lisbon is much older.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Prayer Updated

I am often of two minds. Sometimes I like formal sounding speech -- hymns written long ago that have been sung by generations, Psalms from the King James Version. Sometimes I like the more modern paraphrase of The Message, and praise songs written only this year. I like being of two minds -- I think it makes the possiblities endless.

I ran across this prayer today from The Book of Common Prayer. I like it -- I like the way it is written, but wonder what it would sound like updated:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen. —Book of Common Prayer, 1928
So, here is my updated version:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants, do give you the most humble and heart-felt gratitude for all of your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all of your children. We worship you and sing your praises for our creation, preservation, and for all of the blessings of this life; but above all, for your infinite and immeaurable love given to us in the redempton of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the unending ways in which you grant us grace, and for the hope of glory. We pray that you will flood us with the realization of your mercies, so that our hearts may be truly thankful; that we may praise you, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord. May all glory and honor be yours, world without end. Amen.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Comparing Messages

The reading this morning for the Disciples devotion was Matthew 6:25-34. This is the Matthew version of the lilies of the field scripture. The Bible I use upstairs for this devotional time is a parallel NIV and Message version, so I read both versions this morning.

NIV: Matthew 5:25-34
The Message: Matthew 5:25-34

I was struck by this comparison. When I read the NIV version, the overall theme of it seemed to be in verse 25: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear." The passage to me seems to be a call to rest from your anxiety. God will be with us. He cares for the lilies and the birds; he will certainly care for you. Verse 34: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." The purpose of the passage (NIV) seemed to be a call to rely on God.

Then I read it in The Message. Verse 25: "If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. " And then verse 34: "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. " The overall theme of this paraphrase seems to be a call to focus on God -- that worry about the inconsequential things in life is a distraction from God.

I'm not saying that either interpretation is wrong -- I think one could make a case for either -- but I am struck by the different result the two versions produced in my head. I wonder if the two interpretations are caused by the choice of words used. In the Message version, words such as fashion, primp and shop are used, which do seem to be distractions from God. In the NIV, the words are more related to clothing and food, which aren't distractions so much as necessities. The NIV seems to be a call to place our legitimate worries in God's care, and to trust him. The Message version sounds more like a call to focus -- to look past the insignificant in life to what is important.

As a sidenote, my favorite line from the passage appears in the NIV (verse 34b).

Each day has enough trouble of its own.

One quick story to go along with this verse. A few weeks ago, we went with JtM and M (plus our families) to Charleston for dinner and the Audio Adrenaline/Mercy Me Concert. A roving magician was entertainment at dinner. He asked me if I could chose, would I want to know in advance the next 24 hours or not. My answer was, and continues to be that I would not want to know the future. I think this verse is the reason. I am designed by God to handle one minute at a time -- this minute that is right in front of me. It is reassuring to me that God understands that this minute -- this day -- has enough trouble of its own. Sometimes I have trouble remembering that.

Image: The centerpiece on our Thanksgiving table -- candles and cranberries.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


On your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence.

Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us; we didn't make him.
We're his people, his well-tended sheep.

Enter with the password: "Thank you!"
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank him. Worship him.

For God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.

(Psalm 100)

I hope today finds you blessed and joyful, awash in the presence of grace, and able to offer God thanksgiving and gratitude. As I sit here in the quiet, as the day holds its breath, waiting for the busyness to begin, I find that my blessings are too numerous to count, too many to list, and yet I have a need to at least attempt it.

For what am I grateful today?

Two sons
Entire family -- blessings without end.
A house to call home.
A home that is bigger than a house.
The ability to feed 12 people.
The joy of gathering together.

Memories of both
Expectations of both
Hands to hold
People to hug

And all that it means
To have the presence of God in my life
And in the life of those I love.
The Body of Christ
Children of God
Who are willing to say "yes"
Fellow travelers on this journey
Who travel with me,
And who will hold the hands
Of my children
And travel with them.

Friends who pray
And who bake cakes.
Girlfriends who meet to talk
And to listen.
Friends at work,
And friends far away,
whose memory is brighter than their presence.
And a husband who is a best friend.
Christian conversation as grace,
Face to face
In email
On walks
At home
And in the building called church.

Classes to teach
To give and to receive
The joy of deep gladness
Meeting deep hunger.

The journey

It is right, and a good and joyful thing,
Always and everywhere to give thanks to you,
Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

(Word and Table Service I)

Images: Both drawn by J -- The Indian is a self-portrait.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What if no one came?

I threw a party last night. It was an Advent devotional assembly party. I invited -- oh, around 75 people to come and collate and staple. Steve and I arrived early, moved and set up tables, arranged the pages on the tables to be picked up, tried out the stapler, put up direction signs and then waited.

No one showed up.

No, I'm kidding. Of course they came. Just the right number of people arrived to get the job done in only 20 minutes. It was wonderful, and I am always very grateful that volunteers stop by and work on this project. It's always fun, and always a joy.

But as I was putting up the signs to tell people where we would be, I wondered what it would be like if no one came through the door. If Steve and I moved all the tables and put out the papers for nothing.

I was reminded of the parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22:1-14. It's the one about the king who prepares a wedding banquet for his son. Much preparation is done (the Message says that the "prime rib is ready for carving -- this is a special banquet), time is invested, but the guests refuse to attend. They even kill some of the king's messengers.

What is it like for God, who has this banquet prepared for us, when we turn our backs, and refuse to attend? What is it like for him, to stand ready, just beside us, and to be ignored? Day after day?

He must be God; anyone else would have just turned and walked away.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Spiritual Boundary-Markers

In his book, The Life You've Always Wanted, Ortberg talks about boundary-marker spirituality. He defines these as "highly visible, relatively superficial practices ... whose purpose is to distinguish between those inside a group and those who are outside."

I carry around with me three employee ID badges. I'll not go into the reason that I have three - suffice it to say that it is necessary. All three of them are different employers, and depending on where I am during the day, I'll wear one or another of them. They are superficial - just a piece of plastic that says nothing about the quality of the work that I do. They are highly visible (when I choose for them to be). They distinguish me as an "insider" – a member of the group – and make me different from "outsiders" who don't have my special piece of plastic. They are boundary-markers.

While are spiritual boundary-markers may not be as obvious as my IDs are, we still have them. We use them to help us to identify who "belongs" in our church, and who does not. I have thinking about this concept, and wondered if I could come up with a list of the ones that I have seen (in my church, and in other churches). Keep in mind -- these boundary-markers are artificial and damaging to the Body of Christ.

My list (What would you add?):
  • It's sad to say, but the first one that came to my mind was money, and all of the "accessory" identifiers that come with it - career (and the status it carries), employment (as in employed or not), salary, as well as what the money will buy.
  • What someone wears can often be a boundary-marker, in at least two ways. First, the quality of the clothing can send out messages to those who are looking for that kind of identifier. In addition, and this might be only true of women, but skirt versus slacks in church can be a boundary-marker. I guess I should say that this IS only true for women.
  • A person's history in the church can set them apart. How long have you been a member? Does it make a difference in the way you are seen in the church?
  • Education can be a boundary-marker.
  • Age – Do we ever make our youth or college aged members feel like less of a part of the church than they are? Are we keeping them apart from "real" membership because of their age? Do we do the same thing to older members?
  • I'm not sure that I see this one in my church, but I imagine in some places doctrinal beliefs become a litmus test for membership. Believe the way that the church insists that you believe, or find another place to be a member.
  • Gender can be a boundary-marker. It can be used to limit a person's participation in the life of the church or to define it.
  • Sexual orientation – We have institutionalized sexual orientation as a boundary-marker in our churches.
  • Race – We don't talk about it much, but for some people, race is a boundary-marker.
  • And then, I must mention, or one of my "regular" readers will bring it up – clapping. Clapping might be a perfect illustration of a spiritual boundary-marker. Some people use it to judge the spiritual depth of a church member. "If he were really worshipping, if he knew that the music was an offering, he wouldn’t be clapping!"
What did Jesus use? Ortberg says, "Jesus consistently focused on people’s center: Are they oriented and moving toward the center of spiritual live (love of God and people), or are they moving away from it."

Speaking of backwards (yesterday's post), "This was the great irony of his (Jesus') day: The 'righteous' were more damaged by their righteousness than the sinners were by their sin."

Image: Sunrise this morning at the VA.


Monday, November 20, 2006

It's backwards

As he speaks about transformation, John Ortberg says:

When morphing happens, I don't just do the things Jesus would have done; I find myself wanting to do them. They appeal to me. They make sense. I don't just go around trying to do them; I become the right sort of person.
I'm wondering this evening what that would look like.

After class last week, and thinking about the Beatitudes as being "backwards" from what we would logically except from life, I think that living as a "morphed" person, would be to experience life backwards from what we would expect.
  • A friend sent me a quote today by Saint Teresa of Avila -- "Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds." A life lived as Jesus would have lived would turn this quote backwards to read, "On body is designed such that the more care and comforts it is provided, the more we want to care and comfort other people."
  • I wrote yesterday about forgiveness, and the idea that the grace of the act is felt most often by the one forgiving -- sometimes not even noticed by the forgiven. Unlike what society says, the forgiven doesn't need to earn the act.
  • Serve a meal, make a donation, read to a child -- who is blessed? Certainly the one who receives the grace of the action, but just as much the one who acts for God. Do God's work, and know this to be true.
  • When we share gratitude, the receiver of the thank you is blessed. More than that, though, being gracious and full of thanksgiving is transforming -- it makes us realize how much we have to be thankful for.
  • Write a note to someone, pointing out God's work in his/her life, and learn how to recognize God walking among us.

It's all backwards. Our expectations -- at least those based in what society thinks -- are turned upside down when we morph. We learn to give grace, and we find that the more we give it away, the more we experience it. It's illogical. It's backwards.


Sunday, November 19, 2006


I written posts about three of God's promises -- joy, strength and growth. Forgivness is another one of them.

I don't think we can understand forgiveness unless we grasp that God's concept of it might be the opposite of what we expect if to be.

  1. Forgiveness isn't something we earn. It's something that we are given -- it is so completely wrapped up in grace that they can be indistinguisable from each other.
  2. The grace isn't always only a gift for the one being forgiven -- it is grace for the one who is forgiving. Sometimes, the grace for the forgiving is the only grace that is realized.
  3. We have to struggle with forgiveness -- God does not. From God, forgiveness is abundant. When we find ourselves outside of that forgiveness, it is never that God chooses not to forgive us; it is that we have taken a path away from God. It is we who are ignoring the grace of forgivness, not God who is failing to offer it.
  4. Forgiveness, which sounds like it might make "everything better" actually does nothing to change the consequences of poor choices (sound familiar? It was one of the points I tried to make in Sunday school today.)
One of the most active pictures I had seen in my mind of God's forgiveness involved prayer for one's enemies. That kind of prayer, when done in a spirit of grace and forgivness, involves more that just prayer for the enemy to be changed; it meaned standing in font of God, with the enemy behind us, and praying for the other person -- praying the prayer that that person is unable to pray.

Update: Weight lifted, 10 days later? Still lifted.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


In our reunion group meeting today, one of the members told us about the person who she thought, in her life, was closest to Christ. If I remember correctly, it was her cousin. Her cousin has a myriad of illnesses -- chronic and painful, and yet is, according to D, always happy -- joyful. She walks with God in her life.

I mentioned before that on the Emmaus walk a couple of weeks ago, I sat at the table of Joy. Joy -- yes -- these women had it. It wasn't that their lives were happy all the time. Together, the five of them had lost 20 family members to death in recent years. One had had a scare with cancer (blessedly benign). None of them were strangers to tumoil, and yet all of them knew God, and were, literally and figuratively, sitting at the table of Joy.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8)

And another one:

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:11-12)
The John 15 scripture is found in the discussions at the Last Supper. Jesus told his disciples that their joy would be complete the evening before he was crucified. They certainly wouldn' t be happy, but he was promising them that their joy would be complete.

It's not an emotion, like happy. Joy is abiding. Joy is a response to the presence of God.

Image: The VA hillside sometime this summer. I may actually have used this photo before, but I like it.

Note added the next day: I fell asleep writing this post -- I'll probably go back and write a "Part Two" at some time.

A Quote

Never has the world had a greater need for love than in our day. People are hungry for love. We don't have time to stop and smile at each other. We are in such a hurry! Pray. Ask for the necessary grace. Pray to be able to understand how much Jesus loves us, so that you can love others.
-- Mother Teresa

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Lord Remembers Us

Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself (Soren Kierkegaard)

You may notice that I’ve added a new book to the side bar – The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg. Expect to hear a lot from this book in the coming weeks. I’ve read one chapter, and I’m liking it a lot!

The first chapter is called “And We Shall Morph Indeed: The Hope of Transformation.” I want to consider some of the writing in this chapter in the light of one of this week’s lectionary readings – 1 Samuel 1:4-20 and with a reflection back to the Beatitudes (once again).

The lectionary reading is about Hannah, Samuel’s mother. She was, as the Old Testament phrases it, barren. She desperately wanted a child. Eli sees her praying in the temple, and after a few mis-starts, tells her to “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” What impressed me is that she DID go in peace. She was “sad no longer.” That, to me, is a testament to her faith.

And the “Lord remembered her.” She conceived and bore a son, Samuel.

And the Lord remembered her. Hold that thought.

Think now about transformation. An Ortberg quote, “I am called to be the person God had in mind when he originally designed me.” We are poiema – God’s work of art. And one more from Ortberg, as if God is speaking, “You are what you are – but that’s not all that you are. You are what you are, but you are not yet what you will be. I will be with you.”

And the Lord remembers us.

Transformation. We have an innate desire to be transformed. We search for it, although sometimes in the wrong places. God is supremely, ultimately concerned that we BE transformed, so much so that he is willing to make it happen. So much so that he sent his son to accomplish it. So much so that he will take action so that we are changed – formed into what he designed us to be in the first place. Changed into who we really are. Changed so that we “become ourselves.”

The Good News as Jesus preached it is that now it is possible for ordinary men and women to live in the presence and under the power of God. The good news as Jesus preached it is not about the minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven when you die. It is about the glorious redemption of human life –your life. It’s morphing time.(p 25)
And maybe, perhaps, that is the promise of the Beatitudes. Jesus is telling us of future hope – what the kingdom of God will be like in its completeness. More than that, though, he’s describing transformation. In our brokenness, in our barrenness, God breaks through. He will transform us into the creations he imagined us to be – that he designed us to be. It is all about a “glorious redemption of human life” today. Now. Jesus is saying, I think, “Fear not. There is hope in the future – I have seen it. But fear not, there is hope now!” Why?

Because the Lord remembers us.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Connected or not?

I was reading the blog Out the Door, and ran across a couple of posts that sparked my interest. John Battern wrote about a recent ruling of the Judicial Council regarding a ruling by the Bishop of the Iowa Annual Conference.

Before we go any further, understand that budgeting and stewardship are not my “work areas” in our church – I have been focused mainly in Christian Education and Spiritual Development (for lack of a better description). I, in no way, know what I’m talking about. I do have an opinion, and it’s my blog, so I’ll share.

A task force within the Iowa Annual Conference recommended that each church be required to contribute 10% of their general offering toward the conference budget and then “adopt” a ministry or ministries of the Conference to support financially. The bishop of the conference ruled that this report was “out of order.” The Judicial Council then ruled that the Bishop was correct, and that there were several points at which the recommendation, if adopted, would have violated The Discipline. That’s my summary; read the Council’s decision here.

First of all, I would have to assume that this “tithe and offering” system would have resulted in unpredictable income for the Iowa Annual Conference and would have most likely have produced less income for the conference budget.

I have to say that I am not so impressed with the idea of a tithe and offering system for conference giving. A few reasons and a few questions:

  1. In the comments to the second post listed, John states that the finance chairman of his church called the present system a “tax” on the churches. First of all, I don’t understand how one system could be called a tax, while the other one is not. If one is, then the other one is, as well – only the amount of money requested is different. I, personally, wouldn’t use that term at all. If we are a church connected – local churches connected into a larger church, then it shouldn’t be considered US vs THEM. WE are the church. We have financial requirements for ministry locally, in the district and in the conference. If it is one church, then all of those obligations belong to all of us. It’s not a tax – it’s supporting the ministry that God has set before us – UMCOR is the ministry of my church as much as buying curriculum for the preschool class is part of the ministry of my church.
  2. The purpose of the tithe and offering system is to provide local churches the ability to fund those ministries for which they have a passion. Don’t we already have that opportunity? If my church decided that Ebenezer Outreach was a mission project which engaged our passions, then we could go all out, raise money for them, and support them financially. Maybe we ought to consider that. However, the question shouldn’t be “What is our passion for ministry?” Is should be “What is God’s passion?”
  3. One of the objections to the apportionment system is that it doesn’t give the local church a voice in how their money will be spent. First of all, it’s God’s money, not ours. Secondly, don’t we have a voice in how the money is spent?. I know our church sends two lay members to annual conference. They are nominated by a committee on lay leadership, the members of which we choose in charge conference. We then “elect” these lay members to annual conference at our charge conference. Perhaps we need to remember that and choose well (which our church has done in the past). How else do we have a voice? Please correct me if I am wrong, but can’t anyone submit a resolution to the Annual Conference? Or any local church? Isn’t that a voice?
  4. John states that he believes that the local church has trouble paying its apportionments to the conference because church members will not pay for that which they do not support. I don’t think that’s why local churches do not pay apportionments – I think it is because they – the local church members – don’t place a priority on it. They don’t see it as ministry, when it is. So the problem is in education, creating in members the idea that payment to the connectional church is as much a part of ministry as is donating to the local food pantry. Does anyone really expect that every member or even every local church will support every program of its annual conference? That’s unrealistic. We are part of a larger reality, however. We are not just a local church. Our arms are longer, our hearts are bigger, our abilities to do God’s ministry is expanded because we are not a local church, an island – we are a bigger Body of Christ than we could ever be alone. That means that the work we are able to do is large; not all of it will be popular with everyone. But that’s not the question, is it? The question should be – is this what God is calling us to do?
  5. If giving is based on popularity, then what about unpopular ministries? I can easily see that a ministry such as providing camping opportunities for children could inspire “passion” in a congregation. What if the ministry needing funding is dull and boring, but still a call from God? Does that need just go away because it doesn’t win a popularity contest?
There you go – my opinion, for what it’s worth. Which is way less than 10% of anything.

Image: Rainbow on the way to work.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Salty Teaching

Driving J to school this morning was a little bit like an episode of Jeopardy. He is always full of questions, but this morning was a little bit excessive:

  • Mom! Are you going to a funeral today? (Yes, I’m wearing black. I wear black a lot – Did he just notice? Maybe it’s not the black; maybe it’s the celery green shirt?)
  • Mom! (All questions start with Mom!) Have you ever broken a car? Have you ever shut the car door and the hinges break and the door falls off? (Apparently, I don’t know my own strength.)
  • Mom! (See?) Do you get to pick the church you go to, or do they (whoever they are) tell you which church you have to go to?
Questions. He comes up with LOTS. Are we open to questions?

I stopped by Beth Quick’s blog yesterday. She was reviewing the book How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins. Be aware as you read this post (my post, I mean), I’ve never heard of this book, and have not read it.

She explains Rollins’ description of conceptual idols. That thought caught my attention. If an idol is anything we place above God in importance, then a conceptual idol is an IDEA we have of what God is like – the image of God that we have in our minds. It becomes an idol when we hold so tightly to what we THINK God is like that we are not open to revelation of what God is really like. We cling to OUR image of God, rather than to God himself. We normally think of an idol as a physical representation of a god; a conceptual idol is an intellectual representation of a god.

Do you do that? I do that! When I read the last chapter of Yancey’s book yesterday, I underlined parts, put stars in the margins and even wrote “Yes!” in a couple of places. Do I do that because what he is saying is a new, startling idea? Sometimes. Sometimes, though, I’m doing that because he is saying something that I agree with. That’s not learning – that’s affirmation of what I think I already know.

What are the dangers of conceptual idols?

Anytime we place anything – including an idea – above God in importance, that idol becomes an obstacle. Not only is it above God in importance (in our minds), but it also stands between us and God. Beth quotes Rollins: “They (the Pharisees) held so closely to their interpretation of the Messiah that when the Messiah finally appeared in a form that was different to what they expected, they rejected the Messiah in order to retain the integrity of their interpretation.” What was in their minds and their tradition was more important to them than the God standing in front of them.

None of us can grasp God completely. When we try – when we concentrate him down into a little box that we can hold and understand, we make him too small. We reduce him to less than he is. Sometimes that is necessary so that we can gain some kind of understanding of him, but we need to always keep in mind that what we know of him is less than what he is. Our conceptual idol – our idea of God – will always be wrong, because it can never be BIG enough.

When we are convinced that what we believe it right and true – and that what other people think is not – then we close ourselves off from a valuable means of grace – Christian conversation. One of the ways in which God reveals himself to us is in that push and pull of trying to understand God within the Body of Christ. That’s way too valuable to ignore just because what the other person is saying is different from what you (or I) think.

We have minds created and designed by God so that we can seek him – look for him. We have the need to try to understand him – a God-given yearning to connect with him. All of that is good, and right. We should never assume that we are finished with that process. Rollins says in his book, “Instead of religious discourse being a type of drink designed to satisfy our thirst for answers, Jesus made his teaching salty, evoking thirst.”

Drink of the salty water and never be satisfied with your conception of God – for He is more.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Beatitudes -- A Summary

Each Tuesday (except for one) since September 5, I've taken one of the Beatitudes and used it as the theme of a post. I've been thinking for the past week that I needed a final post -- kind of a summary of what I've discovered. On Monday evening, I printed all nine posts out, and read through them as a whole, trying to find a unifying theme for this last post. No such luck. I'm not entirely convinced that I did a very good job with them at all.

Ironically, tomorrow the chapter that is to be discussed in the class that JtM and I are teaching is one concerning the Beatitudes. While I was contemplating my posts, I was also rereading the chapter in The Jesus I Never Knew. Yancey thinks that there are three facets of meaning to the beatitudes. The first time I read the chapter, a few weeks ago, I finished it with a feeling of confusion. As I read it today, knowing that we were teaching it tomorrow, I outlined his thoughts and tried to mesh them with mine. This will have to serve as my summary for this series:

  1. Dangling promises -- Jesus knows what is to come -- what the kingdom of heaven will be like in its fullness. We live in the kingdom now -- we are striving to make it come into being here, but Jesus has seen the goal -- the end product. He is telling us, especially those of us who are suffering, that there are better times ahead. We live in Saturday, but Sunday's coming! I like CS Lewis' quote, "if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak." Perhaps in Jesus' eyes, we are all the unfortunate -- all the suffering, and he is telling us that we should turn our eyes to the future, when the suffering will end. If we knew that, if we believed that, then perhaps we would devote ourselves more completely to making the kingdom come now, here, where we are -- especially those of us who have the means. Another good quote, "To believe in future rewards is to believe that the long arm of the Lord bends toward justice, to believe that one day the proud will be overthrown and the humble raised up and the hungry filled with good things." To go back to Weatherhead's description of the ultimate will of God, then perhaps Jesus is describing God's ultimate will -- what will come, even though his intentional will is not a reality.
  2. The Great Reversal -- Does God have a preferential love for the poor? That statement goes against the idea that we are all children of God -- loved and cherished by him. Perhaps the best way to see it is that those who are poor -- whether in material possessions, family, spirit, or in any other way -- are in a position that makes it easier to reach for and to accept God's grace. "Poor people find themselves in a posture that befits the grace of God. In their (in our, when we are poor, in any way) state of neediness, dependence and dissatisfaction with life, they may welcome God's free gift of love." He gooes on to say, "Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near."
  3. Psychological Reality -- "The Beatitudes reveal that what succeeds in the kingdom of heaven also benefits us most in this life here and now." If the beatitudes are "dangling promises" of what life will be like the kingdom of heaven, then they are also a description of the results of losing one's life -- and gaining it back -- here and now. If "dangling promises" are a description of the result of God's ultimate will, then the beatitudes are also a description of how God will work through us, if we allow him, to bring about his will. In the here and now, living a life of purity and mercy, hungering for righteousness, taking a stand for justice, and by focusing on God instead of ourselves, can bring a life of grace -- blessings -- joy. It is a reversal of what society tell us, but Jesus is trying to tell us that in this way lies God. He isn't waiting for us only at the end of the road, but he is also standing at the beginning of the path, hoping to walk with us along the way.
I walk away from this with no real confidence that I've come to understand what the Beatitudes mean, but perhaps with a little bit more understanding of what they don't mean, and an inkling, I hope, of their depth of meaning.

List of Links:
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Blessed are those Who Mourn
Blessed are the Meek
Hungering for Righteousness
Blessed are those Who Care
Blessed are the Pure in Heart
Blessed are the Peacemakers
Blessed are the Persecuted



The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:2)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. (Philippians 4:12-14)

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:10-12 )

God will give us strength. What do we need strength from God? We are strong and independent. What does it mean to be strengthened by God? And how does it happen?

We often walk through life feeling capable, strong, healthy and ready for anything. Until we aren't. Until we are weak, unable to take another step, facing a task or a reality which is beyond us. In our weakness, we realize that we need God's strength. It is in our weakness that God is the strongest. It is in that weakness that we reach for God, and it is then that God can strengthen us. I also think that as we walk this journey with God, we realize that we are much weaker than we once realized, and that perhaps we need that strength all the time, not just in the valleys.

What does being strengthened by God mean?

Confidence -- Have you ever faced a task at church or outside of church that you thought was just beyond your abilities? A task which you thought was impossible for you? There is confidence to be gained in the idea that if God has given you (or the church) a task, then he will provide the means to get it done. There is strength in that knowledge, which enables us to pick up that which we thought was impossible to lift.

Courage -- If we let him, God will enable us to step forward in faith -- to take an unpopular stand, to say "yes" when we are afraid to say anything at all. If we let him, God will give us the courage to face our fears and anxieties, and to let them go.

Calmness -- There is a couple in our church who lost a grown daughter to lymphoma. Their daughter told them, as she neared the end of her life, that whatever happened, she would be OK. That's serenity. That's strength unimaginable.

Comfort -- There is strength to be found in comfort. I don't mean a soft chair and a blanket, but I mean the knowledge that God walks with us, in all and in everything. That's comforting, and that provides strength.

How is it that God gives us strength? Sometimes it arrives as a result of prayer -- have you ever left a conversation with God strengthened? I hope you have! Sometimes strength arrives on the wings of exhortation -- the encouragement of others. Sometimes, when we need to know that God is near, we can see Him in the support of friends and family. Strength comes from a relationship with God, and from being a member of the Body of Christ. I think that that is true of all of God's gifts.

So, today, for you, I pray that you will know the comfort, calmness, courage and confidence of God's strength. It is a strength beyond our own abilities, and it is a gift of grace.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Be my Lord

Psalm 16

I have run to you, God,
Seeking your presence,
Your protection,
Your shelter in the tribulations of life.
I say to you, “Be my Lord.”
Without you, all is nothing.
Nothing makes sense.
I am lost without you.

I stand amazed,
In the presence of the friends
You have sent my way.
Surrounded by them.
In them I find joy.
In them I find grace.

So other many gods stand ready
Tempting me to give them loyalty.
You are the Only.
The One.
You are I AM.

I choose you,
And in choosing you,
I find the extraordinary.
I find that you have chosen me.
I find that I am a child of God.

I am stunned to turn and to find
That you walk with me.
That you call to me.
That you gently nudge me along the way.
When I am awake,
When I am asleep,
You are there.
And shall always be there.
I take hold of your hem,
And shall never let go.

My heart is beating with joy.
My soul is laughing.
I am made whole,
From the inside to the outside.
You have rescued me.

You have shown me the path
Which leads to you,
You have lit the way
By the radiance of your face,
You have taken my hand,
And with your leading, I can walk on the Way

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Our laundry room is mainly unfinished. G went came out of it this morning, as he was getting clothes together for church, and said, "Mom, I keep hitting my head on a pipe in the laundry room. I didn't used to hit my head on it."

I smiled -- he's growing. His legs are aching, he's eating everything in site, and he's clumsy. In about a week, he'll be taller. His body will learn where its parts are again, so he'll quit running into things, and he'll go back to normal eating again. Right now, though, he's growing.

One of God's promises that was used as an Emmaus table name was growth:
No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Growth in particular has been on my mind because of today's Sunday school lesson. It was about the discovery of the book of Deuteronomy in the temple during the reign of Josiah. Jean talked about how we have the responsibility to take advantage of the gift of easily accessible scriptures -- to read and study them.

I must confess that when I think of growth, I usually think of something hard-won -- something that we work for, and achieve on our own. If it is a promise, however, then it is something that God gives us -- it is a gift of grace.

I can make sure G drinks his milk; I can buy him bigger shoes; I can even give him vitamins, and insist that he eats his carrots. None of that will make him grow. It all creates an atmosphere conducive to growth, and it ensures that he has the supplies for his body to transform itself into a taller entity, but the actual growth is out of my hands.

We need to study, to pray, and to listen for God. We need to reach out to others in service. We need to do what we can to get closer to God. God will grant us with spiritual growth. Then, watch out for the pipes!

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

The drawing to the right was done by my older son from a of the front door of our church. I like the picture, and I like Grant's rendition.The rainbow -- a symbol of God's promise. I really like that it is hanging over the door of the church, and blowing OUT from the church (I never did figure that out. Why out?)

At the Emmaus walk that a couple of weeks ago, the tables were given names using the theme of God's promises -- encouragement, growth, strength, forgiveness, peace and joy. Do we trust those promises? Do we believe that we will find those gifts from God?

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God

R. Kelso Carter wrote the hymn "Standing on the Promises" after reading 2 Corinthians 1:20:

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bird Talk

Across the street from our house, in Dave's yard, is a very tall evergreen tree. In the tree lives what seems like 500 starlings -- I'm probably exaggerating, but it's a lot of birds.

I was sitting on the front steps this evening, waiting for the guys to be ready to leave for dinner, reading Yancey's book, when I noticed the tree. Birds were flying in and out of it, hidden by the thick foliage. They are not a quiet crowd. Each bird fusses at other birds, and rattles its wings, so much so that all of the branches of the tree shake. The whole tree shivers with activity as the birds make their annoyance with their bird community known.

I wonder sometimes if that is what God sees when he looks at a church. If I could translate bird-talk, I wonder what they are saying to each other:

"Move over! That's my branch. It's where I sit every evening!"

"Those young birds up there -- always making noise."

"This is MY tree, and I just wish everyone would pipe down!"

"Look at her -- her feathers are all out of sorts. She needs to take better care of herself."

"If she just had the proper underdown garments, she would look more presentable."

"Where's my worm? Who stole my worm?"

"If someone would just help me to look after these eggs, but NOOOOO, I'm the only one who does any work around here."

"Clean up these feathers. This tree is a disgrace. Can't somebody just clean up these feathers?"

"Those birds over there are singing the wrong songs. The wrong songs, I tell you. In my day, we all sang the SAME song, and we were happy about it."

"Psst. Did you hear what Evelyn did? I hear that egg of hers -- well, let's just say that if that baby bird ends up with brown feathers, Evelyn will have some explaining to do."

"Pipe down! Can't you tell I'm trying to meditate over here, you bird-brain!"

Any others?

Light Shared

We went to a concert last night – Audio Adrenaline and Mercy Me. We had a terrific time – great music and witness, excellent company.

I didn’t take any pictures – I just enjoyed the show. I did give my cell phone to J at one point, and he took a photo. Unfortunately, getting a picture from my phone to my computer involves a pit stop in my handheld PDA, which, while multi-stepped, is usually not a problem. This morning, the handheld and the phone aren’t speaking to each other. I’ve sent them both to Time Out, and we’ll just have to do without a photograph.

Picture in your mind the lights at a concert. Those staging the show must add fog to the air, because you can see the path of the lights on the stage. I love to look at lights – how they dance on ceiling, over the crowd, on the stage. I like the patterns they make and the colors they spread around the room.

As I was watching last night, Steve leaned over and said, “You can only see light when it hits something.” Right. That’s why I’m sure there was something in the air (fog, smoke, dust) to reflect back the light. It’s why I could see the beams in the air, and not just where they hit the floor. Steve looked at me again, and said, “You can only see the Light when it hits something.”


I get it.

You can only see God’s light when it is reflected back to you.

So if you are standing in a room, feeling distant from God, throw some light on the subject. Spread some God around. Then you’ll see it. Reflected back to you.

I don’t believe that this means that if we are alone with God, we won’t know him or be aware of him. We certainly can be. What I think this means is that if we are to be the Light of the World, then we need to Light Up the World. Throw some light around.

A story, and as they say in the movies, the names (and circumstances) have been changed to protect the innocent, but at its core, it is a true story.

Rebecca was “in trouble.” She really needed help, so she went to a private organization that was “in the business” of providing help. One particular woman who worked there, Diana, was involved in getting Rebecca the help she needed.

Later, Rebecca rededicated her life to God. The next day, she stopped by to see Diana. Diana knew what had happened, and hugged Rebecca, glad that God had become involved in Rebecca’s life. Rebecca said to Diana, “I just want you to know that one of the reasons that I am standing here is because of you.”

Light given. Light shared. We don’t always get to see the love of God reflected back to us when we share it, but sometimes, when we throw the love around, we are witnesses to its brilliant work of transformation – during the darkness into the presence of God.

Image: Light and trees at VA. Notice how the light makes the leaves shine.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

He became vulnerable

In reviewing the chapter we covered last night in class (The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey), I stumbled across this paragraph:

The display of power in the midst of a storm helped convince the disciples that Jesus was unlike any other man. Yet it also hints at the depths of Incarnation. “God is vulnerable,” said the philosopher Jacques Maritain. Jesus had, after all, fallen asleep from sheer fatigue. Moreover, the Son of God was, but for this one instance of miracle, one of its victims; the creator of rain clouds was rained on, the maker of stars got hot and sweaty under the Palestine sun. Jesus subjected himself to natural laws even when, at some level, they went against his desires (“If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me”). He would live, and die, by the rules of the earth. (p.91)
We’ve been focusing in this class on the humanness of Jesus. What was he like? His ministry? His personality? What would it have been like to have known him as a person? This paragraph, for me, however, draws the focus away from his humanity, and shines it on his divinity.

Think about it for just a minute. God. The maker of the universe. The God who set the stars in motion, who taught the ocean waves to land on the beach, and who started my heart beating, became vulnerable. He subjected himself to the same rules of nature that he had set into motion. How incredible is that?

What does that mean?

  • It means that he felt pain – in the carpenter’s shop, when the hammer slipped off the nail and smashed into his thumb, he knew pain. When the nails were hammered into his hand, he knew pain. He made himself vulnerable to US – to death on a cross, and yet he was God.
  • It means that when his earthly father died, perhaps when he was a teenager, he knew the immediate, close up pain of loss. And not only that, but he saw the effects of death on those close to him – widowhood for his mother, and what that meant in the time in which he lived.
  • It means he not only saw the result of poverty from the throne of God, but he felt it. He felt hunger, thirst, sleeplessness and illness. That vulnerability resulted in the invasion of germs, the pain of fever, maybe sea sicknesses and unhealed wounds.
We talk often about the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. By no means do I intend to lesson the cost of that event, but I’ve never considered until now that the Incarnation was a sacrifice as well. The God of the universe, who stood in front of Job and reminded him of His majesty, decided that we were worth so much to him that he would become one of us, and take on all that that implies. Our humanity.

It also means to me that when we try to deny his humanity -- to lessen it -- that we are reducing the sacrifice that he made by becoming human in the first place.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What did we notice?

At class tonight, we looked at several different scriptures and then discussed a word or phrase that would describe the emotions or personality characteristics Jesus displays.

Matthew 27:46 -- desperate, human, fear, quotes scripture, disappointed, abandoned, "Where were the 5000?" pained, expresses pain

Mark 1:40-41 -- compassion, cares for individuals, sensitive, healer, those being healed must ask for help out of faith, loving, fearless (brave), accepting, reactive (immediate response), available

Mark 3:1-5 -- defiant, non-traditional, radical, confrontational, good questions, fearless, smart, thinker

Mark 6:30-31 -- humanity, needed rest, tired, mothering, protective of friends, loves friends, leader, need for solitude, need for renewal

Mark 6:35 -- concerned, tenacious, compassionate, tenaciously compassionate, purposeful, responsibility taker, teacher, parental, extrovert, perceptive, shepherd

Mark 14:34-36 -- humanness, helplessness, child, range of emotions, fear, obedience, willing to be compliant with God, acceptance of difficult task, humility, doesn't want to be alone, need for companionship

Luke 10:21 -- happy, excited, smug

Luke 19:41-44 -- sorrowful, angry, regretful, rueful, honest, blunt

Luke 23:34 -- unbelievable compassion, forgiving, generosity, pain

Luke 23:43 -- fulfillment, prophetic reassuring, decisive, gracious on the cross, unselfish,

Luke 23:46 -- trusting, resignation, relief, hopeful, child-like faith

I thought that there were some interesting responses -- words that I hadn't thought of.

And do you know what this is? This is post #400.


Weight Lifted

Do you carry too much around during the day? I do. Last night, when I left work, I left my keys in the lab. That’s a nuisance. I had my car keys, so I could go home, but when I got to work today, I had to walk through the hospital to the office of a friend who has keys to the building, borrow her keys, and then come back and get into the lab to recover my own. After I finished all this walking, I sat my computer bag and purse on the floor. What a relief!!! I wondered just how much these two items weigh.

Working in a lab has advantages, so I pulled out the balance (scale), and weighed them. My purse weighs 1750 grams. My computer bag topped out the balance – it weighs more than the highest capacity of my balance. Not to be deterred, I carried the bag down to the basement, and weighed in on the balance down there (which is heavy duty). My bag weighs 6250 grams.

Sorry – work in a lab, and speak metric. If I converted those numbers correctly (meaning, if I chose the right web page for the conversion), then those two items, that I carry on my left shoulder every day, weigh a combined 17.6 pounds. Too much. I have to carry them on my left shoulder because, and here’s a fact that you probably don’t need to know, my right shoulder slopes to the floor, and refuses to carry shoulder-strapped items. They slide right off.

I wish I were like my right shoulder.

I’ve been carrying a weight around for several months now. It isn’t new, but for some reason has seemed intensified this year. It’s heavier than it has been in the past; not huge and not all-encompassing, but lately heavier than I remember it being before.

I know this is all vague, but I’m doing that on purpose.

I’ve been gnawing on it. Do you ever do that? Do you ever just walk around and gnaw on a problem? Chew on something long enough, and it gets tough and annoying. I’ve talked about it. I’ve tossed it around in my head as I drive to work. I’ve been alternately angry and sad about it, but whatever the emotion, the gnawing – the preoccupation – has remained. I’ve tried praying about it – probably not as much as I should have. At one point, I thought I had given it to God, but God can’t take it, if I don’t let go of it, so I kept on gnawing.

Part of The Plan is that I set aside time each morning to pray. It’s not very much time, and on some days it is less time than on other days. I never really know what the conversation is going to be about, so I was kind of surprised this morning when the first subject on the list was this preoccupation of mine. I started praying, and finally I knew what I needed to pray for. All that talking; all that car time finally paid off, I suppose, and I knew what I needed to say. So I did. It was as if God said, “Finally. I’ve been waiting. I’ve known what you needed, but you needed to know yourself before you could accept it.”

So I received a gift this morning:

Forgiveness for myself
The ability to forgive

It feels right. It feels complete. If feels like I’ve dropped a heavy weight and have been gifted with relief. It feels like peace. I know it sounds rather immediate and sudden, but it hasn't been. I've been working toward this for a while. I imagine the reason that it has been so heavy lately is that it was time for it to go.

I'm not going to second guess this gift. I'm not going to qualify it, or pick at it, or doubt its validity. It is grace, and I'm just going to accept it. And dance a little bit.

As the song says, “I’m coming up to breathe.” And the air up here is FINE.

Image: Our church and one of the few remaining trees still decorated for fall.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Blessed are those who are persecuted

Years (and years and years) ago, when I was in high school, I rode the bus home each evening. There was a guy who also rode the bus – the kind of guy who some would describe as a guy who “ran with a rough crowd.” Even though he was always nice to me, he intimidated me. All that said, he usually struck up a conversation with me as we rode home. One evening, he asked, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”

I never did answer him. I wasn’t sure what his response would be, so I just avoided answering the question. That’s the only time in my life that I have ever been asked that question – that directly. I have always regretted that I didn’t say, “Yes, I am.” I’ve always felt that it was a betrayal in some ways, and now I see it as a missed opportunity.

The last beatitude is this:

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 (NRSV)
How often do we take the easy way out? Are there days when you should speak up for your faith, but you choose not to? I know that I do that. The early Christians were persecuted, in every horrible sense of the word, for their belief in Jesus Christ. I think there are times that I avoid speaking up, answering with a strong, “Yes, I am a Christian” because it might make me uncomfortable or place me in an awkward position.

I’m still thinking about the cross issue that I wrote about yesterday. As I was looking around on the web yesterday, I was reminded of a woman who works for British Airways. She has refused to remove her cross during work hours, stating that employees of other religions are allowed to wear symbols of their faith, and yet she is not. I don’t know the ins and outs of this issue, but I can see that she is taking a stand.

Do we take a stand? Do we risk persecution – even in a very mild form – for our faith? Do we risk disapproval, laughter or ridicule in order to advance the kingdom?

There are times when I will slip a cross on a chain under my shirt because I think its blatant presence causes another person to be uncomfortable. I don’t think that action is wrong, and I will continue to do it when I feel the need. I think in that case, the action is loving, not a denial of my faith. It is, at that time, an expression of my faith.

What I am trying to say is that our actions – whatever they may be – and our words, even when they are unpopular, need to match our faith. Sometimes living the life of a Christian, claiming to be a Christian, involves risk. It might make us uncomfortable, unpopular or unloved, but that might be the price we have to pay to avoid being unloving.

"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble." Matthew 5:10-12 (The Message)
The end of Buechner’s Beatitude Essay:

Jesus saved for last the ones who side with heaven even when any fool can see it’s the losing side and all you get for your pains is pain. Looking into the faces of his listeners, he speaks to them directly for the first time. “Blessed are you,” he says.

You can see them looking back at him. They’re not what you’d call a high-class crowd – peasants and fisherfolk for the most part, on the shabby side, not all that bright. It doesn’t look as if there’s a hero among them. They have their jaws set. Their brows are furrowed with concentration.

They are blessed when they are worked over and cursed out on his account, he tells them. It is not his hard times to come but theirs he is concerned with, speaking out of his own meekness and mercy, the purity of his own heart
Image: Leaves at the VA
Sidenote: A friend's daughter needs prayer (and that's a hyperlink)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Cross addendum

I wrote today's post early this morning. Later in the day, I went to lunch, and read the rest of chapter 10 of Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew. I found some quotes that go right along with today's post:
  • It took time for the church to come to terms with the ignominy of the cross. Church fathers forbade its depiction in art unitil the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine, who had seen a vision of the cross and who also banned it as a method of execution.
  • It was not until the fourth century that the cross became a symbol of faith.
  • CS Lewis points out that the crucifixion did not become common in art until all who had seen a real one died off.
  • The cross redefines God as one who was willing to reliquish ower for the sake of love....Power, now matter how well-intentioned, tends to cause suffering. Love, being vulnerable, absorbs it. In a point of convergence on a hill called Calvary, God renounced the one for the sake of the other.

Wearing of a cross?

My mom and her sister, my aunt (AJ), were talking yesterday. Apparently AJ’s minister has told his congregation that wearing a cross is inappropriate. He told them that he was even given the gift of a cross-shaped lapel pin, but he refuses to wear it. “Why would I want to wear an electric chair?”

I must admit that I was surprised by that statement. I own several crosses and wear them periodically. I carry one around with me most days. I sit in a church on Sundays with a cross prominently displayed on the wall. Never when I look at or touch any of those symbols do I think of an electric chair. Clicking around on the internet this morning, though, I did find that same electric chair/torture devise reasoning expressed on a few sites.

As a Christian, I am certainly aware that the cross was a means of torture and death. Jesus carried a heavy, horrible wooden cross up a hill, he was nailed to it, and he hung from it until he died. I won’t try to “clean it up” or make it less than it is. It is “electric chair” stuff.

If that was all that happened – if that was the end of the story – then I wouldn’t own or wear a single one. I would advocate removing them from our sanctuaries and steeples. We all know, however, that love conquered even that horrendous event. Christ arose from death – he transformed death for himself and for all of us. If he can do that – if he can strike a final blow against death, then changing the meaning of two crossed pieces of wood is nothing. It is no longer an instrument of torture. The cross is now a symbol of faith – the faith that I (and you) have in eternal life, unending love, and resurrection promises. It is a somber reminder of whose we are.

Why do I wear a cross? I am a fiddler – not a violin player, but a person who “fiddles” with things. If I’m holding a pen, I’ll click it. I twirl my wedding rings. I’ll open and close the clasp on earrings. And if I’m wearing a cross, I touch it. I feel it. When I do, I am reminded why I wear it and what it symbolizes. There are days when I really need to be reminded and am grateful for that small pieces of metal on its chain.

Do I wear it as an evangelical tool? No. I doubt that anyone will be converted to Christianity by seeing my jewelry. Wearing that cross, though, presents an extra challenge. If I’m wearing it, I had better make sure that my actions live up to the line from the song “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” If I am blatantly saying, by what I wear, that I am a Christian, then I had better make sure my actions speak just as loudly as my jewelry. Maybe that is a good reason to wear a cross.

And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)

Don’t get me wrong – I know Jesus was not talking in this passage about the wearing of a cross. I do believe, though, as we read the passage today, one of the messages that it can give to us is that we are to pick up our faith – our belief in Jesus as the Messiah, our acceptance of the abundant gifts of grace that we have been given, and our commitment to be followers of God – and carry it. A cross is no longer an “electric chair” – it has been transformed into the symbol of that faith. Picking up a literal cross can and should be a reminder that we are to pick up the glorious cross of our faith and carry it with us wherever we go.

When the cross means that – when it symbolizes that faith – then it is no longer a heavy, horrible device of torture. It is freedom. It is a reminder that God is always with us. It is a continual touchstone for us to tell us that we are loved by God so much that he sent us his son, revealed himself to us, and has never left us to carry our burdens alone.