Sunday, April 30, 2006

Carry a Cross

Do you feel like there are phrases in our "Christian vocabulary" that people use kind of "willy-nilly" but don't stop to define for themselves (or for others)? Phrases that we gloss over without really thinking what we are talking about? For example -- "thy will be done," The Whole Lord's Prayer, "God bless you," "church family," and "This is my body, broken for you." There are lists and lists of these kind of phrases (and that doesn't even include the WORDS that we use in church -- sanctification, redemption, forgiveness...)

I think that the phrase "Carry your cross" is one of these "churchy" phrases that we use but don't think much about. What does it really mean? I'm not sure that I (actually, I'm sure that I don't) have the answer to this question, but when has that ever stopped me from talking about it?

From Luke 9:23-25 Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

I think that the crucifixion was so horrible -- so painful and dreadful -- that we automatically assume that Jesus meant that to be Christians, we must suffer horrible pain -- that "Cross-carrying" is BY DEFINITION equal to suffering. But what does the scripture actually say?
  • Deny himself -- I think this means that we place the emphasis on God's will for our lives -- not our own. Deny in this case doesn't mean neglect of self, but instead implies a change of control -- God in control instead of ourselves.
  • Take up his cross -- If I knew what this meant, I wouldn't be writing this entry.
  • Daily -- Sounds like this "cross carrying" is a daily struggle -- we're never finished in this life.

There is a group of Roman Catholics in the Philippines that "celebrates" Easter by undergoing actual Crucifixion in order to be thankful for Christ's sacrifice. (Click here to read about it). I like S's answer when I told him about this. "Didn't Christ suffer crucifixion so that we wouldn't have to?" Yes, he did. So I think we can all agree that Jesus didn't mean that we should take up an actual cross and follow him to crucifixion.

Cross must be figurative, you think? Could it mean to take up your call? Could it mean to pick up that task which God assigns to you? Daily?

Consider the Luke scripture in the light of this quote from Frederick Buechner on vocation, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." (Thanks to Jeff for the emails to determine what the quote really is and the gift of the book last fall).

Deep gladness sounds alot like joy, doesn't it? How about this one:

C.S. Lewis said, "When they are wholly His, they will be more themselves than ever." He goes on to say, "the deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting point with which [Christ] has furnished him."

And one more from the Bible in John 15:9-11 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Don't you like the idea that we are "furnished" with deep likings and impulses -- that picking up our cross, following God, answering our call will bring us joy? That answering that call will bring us joy because it fulfills our God-given likings and impulses? This makes me think that we are created to carry our cross, and instead of bringing us pain, it will bring us joy -- that once we are wholly his we will be more ourselves than ever? Can anybody say prevenient grace?

Does it sound like I think carrying a cross is just a bed of roses? If that were the case, then I don't think that Christ would have used the word "cross." It's not easy. It's not always what we want to do, or how we want to do it. Crosses are heavy, and the path we walk with them is not always smooth.

  1. I was watching a member of our congregation today during the youth service. She lost her daughter to cancer right after her granddaughter was born, but she was full of unmitigated joy, dancing with the music. What excuse do we have to be less than joyful when she can be joyful? I'm sure she's not always happy, but joy is different. It's a God-given fulfillment.
  2. I have felt closer to God this year than any other time in my life. With that has come joy, but it has brought an unexpected result as well. Is it possible that with this joy comes a greater awareness of shortcomings -- of mistakes? Is it possible that when it means more, the worries are bigger?
  3. Can it be that when joy is bigger, that the other emotions are closer to the surface? I was sitting in the early service this morning, listening to the lead singer of Portal sing about the greatness of God, and I just knew that He would be in our church today; that He was going to touch us. Those leaky tears that aren't crying were falling. Is that joy? I would really rather joy be smiles and laughter, but I don't get to choose.

Now I'm just rambling, so I'm going to stop. So what does it mean to carry a cross? Maybe I'm not sure because I haven't picked one up yet.

Photo: View from the Church steps last night. S thinks it looks like heaven opening up.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

God Threw a Party

God threw a party.
He opened the doors
He invited his children to cross through the rainbow,
And to come in to play.

Amazing grace,
How sweet the sound.
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost.
But now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.

The music was loud and fast.
His children danced, clapping in joy,
In imitation of His creation.

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

A strong man spoke of the Lord.
A man strong in the Lord spoke.
"These are nails.
What are they used for?
They hold things together.
They hold this building together."

These are nails.
They held him to the cross.
Now the same nails hold the church together.

Don't be a pencil holder -- a useless and bent tool.
You must be a fisher of men.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
the hour I first believed.

God threw a party, and his children danced,
while God danced with them.
Lights circled on the ceiling
while His Light circled among them.
His house shook with the joy of the party
while his children played on the furniture.

I2J ... I2J
I'm into God.
I'm into Jesus,
and He is into me.
I2J. Praise God.

Stories were told of God's strength,
His presence in the dark times,
His healing of the body and of the soul.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far
and Grace will lead us home.

While the music played, and the lights flashed,
Grace rained down on His children,
blurring the lines between faith and memory.
Which church did which ones attend?
Tonight, at this party, it didn't matter.
Tonight, it was all about the song, the dance and the joy.
Tonight, it was about the quest.
Tonight, they were all God's children.

When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Then when we've first begun.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Don't tell me you can't help it!

I mentioned in an earlier post that S and I took the boys to Lexington on our annual Spring Break Retreat. You would think that this would be a wonderful time to be with our boys away from the distraction of sporting events, homework, housework, etc etc. It is, but it is not perfect bliss. Anyone who has children could have guessed that!

My younger son, J, makes noise all the time. Sometimes it's talking, but often it is just noise -- nahnahnahnahnahnahnah. It wraps around every nerve in my body and squeezes. Conversation from our car on Friday:

Me: J, please stop. That's just noise!
J: I can't help it.
Me: Of course you can help it.
J: I can't help it.
Note: It is a statement of how tight the nahnahnhanhahnahanha was squeezing my nerves that I would blame all of society's avoidance of responsibility on my nine year old.
Me: You can help it. Don't say that anymore. We are all responsible for our own actions (see, Mom is getting wound up). If you say that again, I'm taking a dollar out of your wallet.

Now, don't frown at me. It's not bribery if I am TAKING money FROM him. It might be extortion, but it's not bribery. And it worked. He didn't say "I can't help it" again all weekend. He came close, with "I ca.." But he stopped, although he didn't stop with the nahnahnhanhanhan.

How often do we do that? Do we (I) ever fail to accept responsiblity because we think "we can't help it?"

There is a song on the CD that I've been listening to lately called If We Are the Body by Casting Crowns. Go read the whole song -- I like it a lot, but here's the chorus and a bridge:

But if we are the Body
Why aren't His arms reaching
Why aren't His hands healing
Why aren't His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren't His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the Body of Christ

As the body of Christ (Corinthians 12), we have certain responsiblities. Just as each of us is a different part of the body, we each have different gifts and different jobs, but each of us HAS a job -- has a role in the body. How often do we (I) shrug off that responsibility? I do, but that doesn't mean that I should. "I can't help it," doesn't hold water anymore. As part of the body, we have access to the One who can "help it," -- to the One who can help us to be a useful part of the body, doing His will.

Track meet last night at Laidley. Beautiful weather. My only complaint (you didn't think I woud be without complaint, did you?) -- We arrived at 4:15. G ran his first race at 8:15. Four hours of inactivity is a long time!

Two stories:

First: We were driving home from the track meet, and G was saying how tired he was (hard to imagine). I told him that he needed to remember to take his vitamin in the mornings. Biologist-Mom then goes into the benefits of said vitamins, "The B vitamins will give you energy; the calcium will keep your bones strong so you don't break any of them this year, and the C and E will strengthen your immune system so you won't catch anything."

"Like balls?" G responds.

Chimes in S, "Sorry, coach, that I dropped that ball. I took my vitamins this morning, and I just can't catch anything at all."

Second: J bought one of those stress squeeze balls on our weekend Lexington trips. (Maybe he thought I needed it?) We're driving along, and he asks, "Mom, do you want to squeeze my ball?"
"No, thanks, J." Calm on the outside, laughing myself stupid on the inside, and S was no better.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Light of the World

I should probably have my husband write this post. He knows more about light than I ever will. His job is to convince people that they need to buy light. Heh. Makes endo research sound pretty simple.

Nevertheless, here are some (I think) interesting tidbits about light:

  1. Light travels in a straight line along a ray. The ray itself is imaginary; its only purpose is to describe the path of the light.
  2. You cannot see light as it travels. Do you remember those science fiction programs where the good guys fired the laser at the bad guys, and you could see the beam of light leaving the "gun" and traveling across to hit the villian? Impossible. You can only see light if it is reflected back to you.
  3. Light is composed of the different colors of the rainbow -- not always in an equal measure.
  4. The color you see is dependant upon what colors the object reflecting the light absorbs (for example, a blue ball reflects blue light and absorbs all the other colors). The preceived color of an object is also dependant upon the light which strikes the object (right, S?). That's why a pair of pants that look blue in the store will be purple outside. (They really are purple -- you just bought purple pants -- the only way for them to be blue is if you only wear them in the store).
OK, enough physics.

John 8:12: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Matthew 5:14-16: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

I taught a Sunday school lesson a couple of months ago based on Psalm 139. I like verse 12: even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (note: 'you' in this passage is God)

"For darkness is as light to you." The writer of one the curriculum books said that there is no darkness for God, for he is light. Is darkness the absence of light? My light-selling husband would tell you that this is correct, I think.

God may not know darkness, but we do. If God is light, and darkness is the absence of light, then our darkness might be described as the absence of God. According to this source, "Jesus came to earth to show men that God loved them and to demonstrate what he was prepared to do to have a relationship with them. In a dark, dark world, that revelation was like a piercing bright light." Once Jesus left, we became the light to the world. But how do we do that?

So, when I don't understand something, I am apt to "run home" to what I kind of understand, so let's go back to the physics (Stop that moaning).

If God is the source of the light, then we are reflective Christians, sharing His light with others by reflectance (is that a word? You know what I mean). Light is made up of many colors, so how we reflect it will, in part, be based on us -- we all reflect the light in different ways. The purpose, though, is for the people of the world to know that God is the light, and that we are sharing His light with them. In this way, they will know that God is the source of the light.

Yes, OK, it's getting abstract and odd. So let me change it just a little:

If God is the source of the love, then we are reflective Christians, sharing His love with others by reflectance. Love is made up of many colors (de colores), so how we reflect is will, in part, be based on us -- we all share love in different ways. The purpose, though, is for the people of the world to know that God loves us all, and that we are sharing His love with them. In this way, they will know that God is the source of love.

God loves us -- he wants a relationship with us, providing us with light in our darkness (love in our shadows). And everyone else, well, it's our job to convince them that they need light. "They will know we are Christians by our love."

As an extra, here's a really cool devotion about light.
How about a song? Light of the World
Image sources: here and here and here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Salt of the Earth

S’s grandmother was a wonderful cook. She was one of those cooks who could throw this and that together, without measuring anything, and have a masterpiece when she was finished. It was kind of comical to watch Judy, S’s mother, try to write down recipes while watching her mother-in-law cook. “How much sugar?” Mrs. M would hold out her hand, showing Judy the ingredient in her palm. Judy would grab measuring spoons and measure it before it entered the pot.

His grandmother once told him that everything, even desserts, needed salt. “Without salt, food tastes ‘raw.’” We passed this wisdom on to J while we were preparing Easter dinner a few weeks ago. “Why are you adding salt to bread pudding?” he asked.* Even though it was a sweet dessert, it needed salt.

Without salt, food is flat. Chefs on the Food Network would tell you that salt brings out the flavors of other foods.

Salt is mentioned in Matthew 5:13 (NIV) You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

The first thing I noticed when I did some reading about salt was that in Biblical times, it was a thing of great value. In fact, the word salary is derived from the Latin word for salt.

According to Wikipedia, salt in Exodus, Ezekiel, and Kings was described as a purifying agent. In Leviticus, Numbers and Chronicles, it was a sign of God’s covenant. In Rabbinical literature, it was a symbol of wisdom.

In another article, the author lists several possible meanings of the symbolism of salt:
  • Salt is white and could symbolize purity.
  • Salt is flavoring – Christians should not be boring.
  • Salt stings in wounds, so it could symbolize that Christians are to be the prick of the conscience of the world.
  • Salt creates thirst (which is why bars serve peanuts or snack mix); Christians should create in the world a thirst for God.
  • Salt is a preservative, symbolizing that Christians should be the preservative of purity or moral behavior in society.
Could it be all of that, but more than that?

In this particular case, I like The Message version of the scripture: “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be the salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste Godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage."

I like the phrase, “salt-seasoning to bring out the God-flavors of this earth.” I don’t think it’s very poetic, but the image is good.

So here’s what Kim thinks (and you can take this with a grain of salt – and yes, I said that on purpose). Could it be that “salt of the earth” is meant to be the opposite of apathy? Think about this – there is salt in sweat and salt in tears. The ocean – with its pounding waves and relentlessness – is salty. Maybe “salt of the earth” is a command to be INVOLVED in the world – to be passionate about God and His call on your life. Our life is not a waiting room at the DMV – we aren’t here just waiting for the Kingdom of God to arrive – or for us to be delivered to it. If we are not involved – if we are not salty – then what is our purpose? How can God find use for us if all we are willing to do is be a bystander? Apathetic and flat? If we lose our saltiness, how will people taste Godliness?

I'll tell you a fun factoid if you promise not to try this at home. We've all been warned to avoid combining electrickery with water -- no radios in the bathtub, no hair-dryers in the shower. The truth is that pure water will not conduct electricity. In order to conduct electricity, the water must have salt in it (or the ions that make up salt). Living water -- God within us -- cannot carry the power of God to other people without our involvement or passion -- the salt.

*Story: S and I were rushing around on the Saturday before Easter, cleaning house, getting groceries, etc. The Prayer Vigil was going on, and we were hosts for part of the Saturday evening at church. The bread pudding recipe is the one that Lazarus (the department store, not the man who was raised from the dead) used to use, and it has a whiskey sauce. So we’re running around the house, getting ready for Easter, and S says, “We’ll have to stop for whiskey on the way to church.” I don’t know why I find that funny, but I do.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Noah and the Rain

Genesis 6-9

Noah was a man of God
In a time when no one else was.
Against all pressures
Amid ridicule,
He kept his faith.

God saw in Noah a faithful servant,
And a way to start again.
God had been rejected by his creation.
Evil filled the earth,
And it could not continue.

Noah, build an ark.
Make it a large as I tell you
Follow my instructions to the letter.

Noah looked at his sons.
“What’s an ark?”

Noah, gather all the animals.
I will save you, your family,
And enough animals to start again.
Rain will come, and destroy everything else.

Noah looked at his sons.
“What is rain?”

But Noah did was God commanded him to do.
Those around him, sometimes even his sons,
Laughed at him.
Sometimes he laughed at himself.
He finally convinced himself that maybe this was a test.
A test of his faith.
Maybe it was a way for God to convince his people,
To change their ways.
Surely God did not intend to destroy the earth.
He questioned, but he built.
In the end, he had an ark,
Filled with his family,
Filled with noisy, stinking animals.

When the time came,
God slammed the door behind them.
It’s closure, so full of determination,
Abject sadness,
Reverberated through the ark,
Each board shook from the sound.
Every animal became quiet.

And it began to rain.
The water fell in pounding, relentless handfuls.
Thrown from above to strike the earth.
Thunder boomed as lightning crashed through the sky.
This was no shower.
This was a mighty storm,
Engineered by God himself.

With the water fell fear.
Noah now knew that God would not change his mind,
He prayed that the boat would hold.

Those around the ark, outside of its protection,
Those who had jeered at Noah,
Now began to pound on its wood.
And to scream.

Noah, who was a kind and gentle man,
Tried to open the door.
“Maybe we can save a few of them.”
But God had shut it,
And it would not open again.

Water flooded the earth,
Destroying all life.
The ark, with a horrendous groaning,
Was lifted by the water.
Lifted up above the destruction.
The flood of devastation
Was carrying them.

Noah and his family
Sank to their knees,
Covered their heads,
Trying to block out the noise,
Hoping to block out the fear.

For forty days the rain fell
Pounded against the earth.
As if God had released all of his anguish.
All of his disappointment,
All of his anger,
Against the evil in his creation.

When the rain stopped,
Noah looked at his sons,
“Do you hear that? What is it?”

It was silence.

Eventually, the waters receded.
The ark landed,
And God allowed them to leave their floating protection.
The world glistened like something new.

A rainbow crossed the sky,
Brilliant in its colors,
Illuminated from within by God.
A promise
A covenant.
Painted with God’s steadfast love.

Image source

Monday, April 24, 2006

Living Water

Water. When I mentioned yesterday that bread was a basic of life, if I had compared it to water, bread would have come up short. Water is the essence of life.

Human bodies are made up of 61.8% water. A 2% loss of body water can cause symptoms of dehydration including fuzzy short term memory (so that's what's wrong with me!), headache, loss of appetite, and dry skin. Up to 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. (I don't give you a link to that factoid because it came in my email -- an email which also told me that Coke is used to clean out trucks. Who knows what is true in email, anyway).

Water is mentioned in the Bible 784 times, and that does not count the number of times thirst is mentioned. Another unsubstantiated email factoid -- the thirst instinct in Americans is so weakened that we mistake it for hunger. We don't even recognize thirst for what it is (and if that's not a topic for a blog post, I don't know what is).

A few choice water scripture references (I won't ask you to read all 784):

  • Genesis 7:17-18 The flood continued forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters.
  • Matthew 14:28-29 And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus;
  • John 4:13-14: (from the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well)Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
  • John 7:37-38: On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"
  • Hebrew 10:19-22: Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

As I look at these passages, the dual nature of water is what becomes apparent to me.

The song Flood, by Jars of Clay on the WOW #1 Hits CD has been played in my car many times today. If you go to that site, and choose Jars of Clay (CD2, track 1), you can hear part of the song.

Rain, rain on my face
It hasn’t stopped raining for days
My world is a flood
Slowly I become one with the mud

But if I can’t swim after forty days
And my mind is crushed by the thrashing waves
Lift me up so high that I cannot fall
Lift me up

Water can destroy -- as we see in the flood story in Genesis. Jesus saves Peter from the water when he starts to sink.

Conversely, Jesus talks about "living water." I did a little reading about it, and one explanation I found is that Jesus meant the Holy Spirit -- God within us. I can also relate it to a close, personal relationship or experience with God -- God around us. It reminds me of part of St. Patrick's Breastplate (which I blogged here).

I was thinking about this, trying to work through it after work today. I'm going to go through the boring timing of the evening, because it's important to the story (sort of). Anyway, I had an hour or so between work and a vacation Bible school meeting I needed to go to, so I stopped at Fazoli's for a salad and free internet access. While I was there, I worked on the first part of this post. Then I went to the meeting, thinking about living water, trying to figure out what I was going to write.

Annetta, the DCE for the church where we had the meeting, related this story about one of the confirmands in her class. During the children's moment one Sunday, their pastor gave each child a river rock, and explained that the rocks were made smooth by the flow of water. He told them that people are like that -- kind of rough around the edges, and then they are smoothed out by the flow of living water.

At confirmation class that evening, Annetta was talking to her youth about difficult situations in which they might themselves. One young girl (I'll call her Jill, to avoid pronoun confusion)related a story of a student at school (Katy) who wanted to each lunch with Jill's group. They didn't really like Katy, but she intimidated them, so they let Katy eat lunch with them. Jill got to talking to Katy, and realized that Katy's parents were going through a divorce. Jill told her confirmation class, "Katy is kind of like the rocks that Pastor Tim was talking about. She's rough around the edges, but if we are nice to her, maybe it will smooth her out.

Living water -- God moving through us, around us, to others from us, to smooth out our roughness.

Take a look at this piece of digital art (click here).

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Our Daily Bread

We had breakfast this morning at Panera in Lexington -- a whole store devoted mainly to bread and its permutations. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that every culture in the world -- or close to it -- has its own version of bread.

I've been thinking about bread lately -- and salt, and bushels, and light (see a pattern?) for a small project I'm cooking up (Ha Ha -- look, a pun!) at church. I thought, since I began my day with bread, I would end it with thoughts of bread.

Bread is mentioned in the Bible 430 times (I love the internet and computers!). Let's look at a few of them.
  • Exodus 16:4-5: GOD said to Moses, "I'm going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day's ration. I'm going to test them to see if they'll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration." God provides what His people need -- bread. He always gave them enough to meet their daily needs. Since He wanted them to rest on the Sabbath, he gave them enough to follow His commands -- they would not need to work to feed themselves on the Sabbath.
  • John 6:32-35: Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
  • Luke 11:3: Give us each day our daily bread;
  • Luke 22:19: And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
  • Luke 24: 28-30: So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.

So, what does all of this say to me? Bread is a basic in all cultures. If Jesus is the bread of life, then he is the "basics." God will provide our "daily bread" -- that which we need -- the basics of our spiritual life. He will give it in abundance -- just what we need. It is through this bread that we will recognize Him -- that we will remember Him.

Can I talk about the prayer vigil just one more time?

  • The UMM received 39 "kits" to make crosses out of nails. They returned all 39. I gave away 39 crosses -- no more were needed, and none were left over as extras.
  • I am not sure how many prayer packets I made -- around 40, but not exactly 40. I gave away all that I had, and no extra were needed.
  • When Jeff prepared for the Emmaus hour of prayer during the vigil, he printed 13 copies of the order of prayer -- for no reason. Thirteen attended the hour. All copies were used; none were extra.

I know these could all be coincidences, but I'm not sure that they are. I think that they might be our daily bread -- God meeting our needs to do His will -- just enough for what we needed. Bread provided to meet our needs, and so that we would recognize Him, and remember Him.

Image from this site.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


I like to count -- the number of children in Sunday school, the number of people who attend a picnic, the increase/decrease in attendance -- all kinds of criteria. I read a post today called People Matter - So we count by Mark Waltz.

Mark states (and pardon me if I have this wrong) that there are two categories of measurements -- hard and soft. Hard measurements are the kinds of things that I mentioned in the first paragraph -- counting. Soft measurements are harder to quantify, but they give one a feeling of the success of a project -- feedback, stories.

A few examples:
  • I can tell you that 122 people from inside and outside our church received our recent Lenten Devotional via email (hard measurement). I can also tell you that one person emailed me that a particular devotional was so meaningful to her that she read it to her Sunday school class (soft measurement).
  • I can tell you that 46 people prayed for a total of 64 hours during our recent prayer vigil. The palandromic nature of those two numbers means nothing, I guess, but it gives me chills. Anyway, it's a hard measurement. I can also tell you that more people have made positive comments about that one project than any other one project, if I had to guess ( I didn't count them -- even I'm not that statistically centered).
  • We have had an increase in attendance in our worship services over the past year (hard measurement). To me, the services seem -- I don't know -- just "more." Last week's Easter service was the best I've ever seen at our church.

How do we measure success? If you are a salesman, then success is measured on a very real, numeric scale. You have a sales quota, and you are measured against that quota.

Church life isn't like that. We can't measure everything "by the numbers." The number do create a picture, but only part of the picture. The soft measurements are another set of brushstokes in the painting. We really need both, don't we? How else do we do it? What else adds color and detail to the picture?

Aren't there times when we don't even know if something is "successful?" I'm sure that you've wondered if something you said or something you did actually touched anyone at all? Or if it made a difference in the life of the one person you were trying to reach? I don't teach children's Sunday school (very often), but I imagine that Sunday school teachers often feel that way. Oh, and don't even get me started about talking to Middle Schoolers.

Sometimes we can't measure success. We just have to leave it in God's hands.

But, I'll still keep counting. Mainly because I like to.

Photo: One (count it) bird outside the window at lunch today.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Job and Mark

We are on our annual Spring Break Retreat. S, the boys and I have, for the past four years, taken a few days during spring break to leave town and just be together. We're in Lexington -- only two hours away from home, but we'll be here until Sunday afternoon.

The boys are happy that the hotel has an indoor pool (it's actually a requirement for our Spring Break Retreat abode); I'm happy that the room has free wireless internet access and a nearby yarn store. (he he) S is spending some time trying to come to terms with his new phone / PDA thingee with an "expert" on the phone. Good luck to him.

I taught Sunday school last Sunday. I decided to accept the challenge and teach from the regular curriculum. The lesson was from Job (!!!) and Mark. Job and I have come to an understanding. I don't require Job to be uplifting, and Job, in return, offers me more than Ecclesiasties.

Specifically, the Job passage for Sunday school was Job 38. I've hyperlinked to The Message version of the passage, which is what I used in Sunday school. I read a pretty long passage from Job 38 -- versus 1-35. God finally (in Job's view) decides to speak to Job. God's tone in the passage is pretty sarcastic. If you've never read it, or haven't read it in a while, take a look at the passage from the Message. It paints a picture of God that is huge -- a God we could never confine to our understanding. Sometimes I think we want God at our beck and call -- we want God to answer to us. This passage, to me, is God saying, "I am GOD!"

Just because I think the language and images are beautiful, here are a few verses:

Verse 12: "And have you ever ordered Morning, "Get up!' Told Dawn, "Get to work!'

Verses 19 and 20: "Do you know where Light comes from and where Darkness lives, so you can take them by the hand lead them home when they get lost?

So, Job and I have called a truce -- I still have problems with the idea that God gave Satan permission to "tamper" with Job's life, but Job (the book) tells me that God is God, and I am not. I'll take comfort in that idea.

The other passage that the lesson used was Mark 16:1-20. This is the passage where Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome have gone to the tomb to annoint Jesus. They find the tomb empty.

My question is this --> How do you connect the two passages? What is the common theme? The best I (and the curriculum) could come up with at the time was that God did not abandon Job. He never left. The message of Easter is not, “I will remove your suffering.” The message of Easter is “I have redeemed your suffering.” Because of God’s transforming love, our suffering is not only known; it is shared and transformed. Jesus’ resurrection is the sign of the new life. God brings out of suffering and death. (Some info from the teacher and student curriculum books).

And then I went to Common Grounds on Thursday night. Carol, our associate pastor, did a terrific monologue as Mary Magdalene, ending with the line, "I know that my redeemer lives." Nicole Mullen's song of the same title was then played. Look at these lyrics. It looks to me that the person who wrote the lyrics (is that Nicole Mullens?) must have read Job and then Mark.

Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning
Who told the ocean you an only come this far?
Who showed the moon where to hide 'til evening
Whose words alone can catch a falling star?

Well I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
All of creation testify
This life within me cries
I know my Redeemer lives

The very same God that spins things in orbit
He runs to the weary, the worn and the weak
And the same gentle hands that hold me when I'm broken
They conquered death to bring me victory.

Photo: lights in tree (green leaves!) at night at Pullman Square.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

I just finished reading Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Before you read any further, if you plan to read this book, be warned that I am going to include several SPOILERS in this post. Be warned.

A very brief synopsis: A secret organization has been guarding the “grail” for 2000 years or so. The “grail” is not the cup of Christ used in the Last Supper, but is instead the idea that Mary Magdalene was his wife and was pregnant with his child when he was crucified. The four protectors of this “grail” are murdered by someone intent on exposing the “truth,” and the main characters are attempting to find the “grail” – which is actually Mary’s body and documents supporting the “truth.” This quest involves much code-breaking and symbology “translation” along with narrow escapes and plot twists.

It is relatively well written and kept my attention.

Will it challenge my faith? No.

Is it fiction? Yes.

Let’s explore:
  1. One basic premise of the book is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that she was pregnant when he was crucified. What if that were true? (I’m not saying it is; I don’t believe it was, but let’s explore). My faith tells me that Jesus is sinless and totally obedient to God. True? Yes. Then I am not going to point fingers in judgment at Jesus and say that this was wrong. I’ve mentioned before that I need to KNOW that Jesus understands, from his time on earth, what it means to be human. Marriage, sexuality and having children are a BIG part of our lives – it would be a comfort to know that Jesus was a husband and father – wouldn’t it? I certainly don’t think marriage, sex or parenting are sinful. One more thing – doesn’t it make the time in the garden and his sacrifice even more of a sacrifice, if he were willing to give up his family for us? No, I don’t think it is true, but would it change my faith? No.
  2. Another premise of the book – Jesus was only human, not divine. If I believe that Jesus was sinless and totally obedient to God, then I certainly have to deny that he was only human. And that’s only one small piece of evidence for his divinity. (The Word passage from John is a pretty powerful statement of divinity in and of itself). I think even a quick glance at the early church would refute the book's claim that Constantine established the idea of divinty for his own purposes. Evidence points to the belief that the majority of Christians prior to Constantine believed in the divinity of Jesus. He was totally human; he was also totally divine. It’s a paradox, and difficult to understand, but it is true. I’ll let God take care of the how of it. Did the DaVinci Code challenge my belief in this? No.
  3. So how can I say that it wouldn’t be a challenge to my faith if Jesus had a child and that I believe that he was human and divine? Here again, I’ll trust God to take care of it, but a wholly human man can have a wholly human child. Again, I don’t believe that it is true, but it would not change my faith.
  4. Another premise – Constantine altered Christianity to serve his own political means and what we have today is not what Jesus or God intended. Would it alter my faith to think that politicians have tried to twist religion to their own ends? No. They do it all the time. I do believe that God works in the world, and that he wouldn’t allow us to go 2000 years with a completely false faith without intervening. Which he does, and has. God didn’t drop Christianity in our laps and then run away to see what we would do with it. I also think an examination of history will give evidence that Constantine's influence was not nearly as extensive as the fictional book states that it was.
  5. One more – The role of women – the balance between men and women – was altered by society in order to subjugate women. It’s hard to disagree with that one. I don’t believe that Jesus or God values women any less than men, but our society has certainly done so for centuries.
I think these five issues may be the major ones to examine in the book. There are others. Some are just plain rubbish – the idea that men can only understand God in the mindlessness of orgasm – the role of intercourse in ritual – just to name a couple. (I don't even want to think what Google is going to do with this post). I would like to explore further what is actually historical in the book and what is a distortion.

So what is the basic question that so many seem to want to answer regarding this book? I think it is whether this book will mislead Christians – whether it will harm the faith of some Christians. To tell you the absolute truth, when I was discussing this book with S, I was a little hesitant to do so in front of our boys. They are just beginning to hone the skill of discerning truth from fiction.

If you have the ability to tell fact from fiction, and if you are worried that this book will mislead people, then I think you ought to read it. If you are really worried that this book (or the upcoming movie) will damage the faith of some people, then read the book. Be ready. Know what you are talking about when you encounter those who cannot discern fact from fiction. Be credible. Speak from truth rather than what you think the book is about. Read your Bible, and then tell people what you really think.

If you are interested in what someone much more knowledgable than me thinks, try out Christianity Today.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

God in the Empty Places

Have you ever stood in the Sanctuary of a church in the quiet, when no one else is there? To me, there is a special sense of God-presence in the emptiness.

Have you ever heard the phrase, "a God-sized whole" in our hearts? In our lives? A space -- an emptiness -- that only God can fill?

First read this, taken from Exodus 25:-22. This chapter of Exodus describes the building of the ark of the Covenant:

Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

So picture the ark, with the two angels on each end, and the presence of God between them.

Keep that in mind, and read this from John 20:11-12:
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.
Do you see the similarity? Two angels -- one on each end of the emptiness in between. The "God-space."

I never would have noticed that comparison on my own. Lorna at see through faith pointed it out here, and if you want to read more about it, take a peak -- it's a good blog entry at Monastic Mumblings.

I remember watching the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston as a kid. Pharoah is praying to an idol -- as I recall, a rather large statue that he considered to be a god. We don't worship idols. Our God can't be contained by a statue. He's so huge that he fills emptiness.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Spring Photos

Blogger just ate my almost completed post. VERY FRUSTRATING! Let's try again.

Since the last week of posts were kind of serious, I thought I'd take this post to just blog with some photos. Picture time!

I mentioned in a couple of posts that we have been going to track meets lately. Have you ever noticed that when you try to take a photo in order to remember an event, you might miss the event itself? In order to avoid that, I try to focus on the event, which means that sometimes the pictures are -- well -- of substandard quality.

No, my son can't actually run faster than the speed of light. I took the photo with the camera's fireworks setting by mistake.

A movie in being filmed in Huntington -- "We are Marshall." While the boys were at church last Wednesday evening, S and I walked by filming. I got some pictures of the stars! No, not Matthew McConaughey or Matthew Fox; I got photos of the cars:

Spring has finally arrived! This is a tulip from our church flower bed.

The apple tree in our backyard is really blooming -- it only does this about every other year, for some reason. We'll have apples (golden delicious) this year. I had so many great pictures, it was hard to choose just one. These are my "adventure" photos -- to get these I had to hang off the cliff in our backyard. OK, not really a cliff, but a 45 degree slope (at least!).

And then the azaleas. We have seven azalea bushes in our backyard, planted along a brick wall. I bought these bushes one fall, years ago. Did you catch that -- in the fall -- not blooming at the time. We ended up with one red and six fuchia azaleas. There are two kinds of pick ones, which don't bloom at the same time. A very strange hedge of azalea.

Palm Sunday was the first time our younger son, J, has ever acolyted. He did it with his big brother (the one who can run faster than the speed of light). Here's something that I think is really cool. The first time the older one acolyted, S was an usher, and lit his taper. S wasn't ushering Palm Sunday, but he went back and lit J's taper (for the first time). Father passing the "light of God" to his sons. Isn't that a great image? (Wish I had a picture).

Monday, April 17, 2006

Prayer Vigil

The committee which I chair at our church just finished sponsoring a project called a “40-Hour Prayer Vigil.” The concept was simple. The time between 3pm on Good Friday and 7am on Easter morning is forty hours. Members of the congregation were asked to “claim an hour” to pray.

While the project was simple, and certainly not a novel idea, it was a unique experience for me, in several ways:

  1. It was a project that required prayer. I understand that every project we do in church requires prayer, but I’ve never tried to meet that requirement before this one. If you have ever been on an Emmaus walk, then you hopefully had the feeling that the entire weekend was surrounded by prayer. To try to give a taste of that feeling to those who volunteered to pray meant that prayer was required. I had to ask people to pray (which is new to me), and I tried to support it with prayer. Amazing things happen when you pray. I’ve felt the hand of God in other projects I’ve been involved with at church, but never to this extent.
  2. It was a project that required release of control. This is something that I did not anticipate. Prior to the start of the Prayer Vigil, I had to let go – and I know this is a cliché – and let God. I’ve never had a project start before that not only did not require my presence, but for which my presence would be a hindrance. I had to “leave it alone.” This is going to sound very goofy, but it’s my blog, so I’ll be goofy if I wanna – there was a time on the drive home from work Friday evening of mild grief – letting go of it, and – really – letting go of the control of it. It was very strange to go to my son’s track meet that evening knowing that a project I had worked on was underway at church, and that I wasn’t there – and shouldn’t be there.
  3. It was a project I wasn’t sure would work. I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in participating. I thought a few people would sign up to pray, but I had my doubts about whether we could fill 40 hours.
  4. It was a project that had unexpected outcomes. Our youth Sunday school teacher invited her students to join her during her hour of prayer. It turned into a great experience for all of them. On Saturday evening, several of the Emmaus people at our church got together to share an hour of prayer – certainly an unexpected blessing. Another blessing – we asked people to serve as prayer hosts during the hours of the vigil for which the church was open – just to be a presence in the church while someone else prayed. For me, what I thought would just be a quiet time in the church to get some work done turned into time in the garden, keeping watch. Who knew?
So what happened? All forty hours were claimed by someone, and some hours were claimed by more than one person. All together, 46 people participated, and 64 hours were spent in prayer. There was a real commitment by several members of the church to make this work – to fill in whenever help was needed – to make sure that the project was a success.

Funny story – My hour of prayer was 5-6am on Sunday morning. I set my alarm, but I forgot to turn it on. God woke me up at 4:59.

If you are searching the web for information regarding prayer vigils, our vigil had a blog, and the information I found is linked from that page. If you’re looking for advice – take a leap of faith, and do it. Pray. Be surprised. The whole endeavor has been a blessing and a joy to me.

Photo: Sky over the track meet on Good Friday

Poems about Peter

Over Lent, I've posted a series of poems about Peter. The purpose of this post is only to provide a common link for the series, so that my sidebar isn't as messy as it would be with all five poems listed under "Poetry."

To follow the sequence of the Poems about Peter, use these links:

Fishers of Men
Walking on Water
Standing in the Presence
Follow Me

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Follow Me

Note: This was to have been written and posted on Easter, but life got in the way (taxes, dirty dishes, and Easter dinner). I'm posting it on Monday, but backdating it to Easter. Shh, don't tell.

He had been witness to it all.
He had seen the empty tomb.
He had seen his Risen Lord in the fear-filled upper room.
He had seen the marks left by the crucifixion.
He had heard the words,
Spoken by one who had been dead,
And was now alive.
“Peace be with you.”

Peter shared in the unbelievable joy
Of knowing that Christ had been raised.
But he had no peace.

Peace did not exist in the heart of one
Who felt himself to be a betrayer.
His heart held shame, anger, despair.
But no peace.

He stayed with his friends
Because he could do nothing else.
He felt useless, as he had
When Jesus had first called him
When he had first left his fishing boat.

Not knowing what else to do,
He went fishing.
He would have gone alone,
But his friends would not allow that.

They fished, but caught nothing.
The nets were empty,
Just as they had been on the day he had been called.
He was useless. Purposeless.

The sun was rising.
They saw a man on the shore,
Who told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.
Fish in abundance.

John recognized him first,
“It is the Lord!”
Peter thought nothing of jumping overboard
And swimming to the shore.
The other disciples laughed, and said
“Now, that’s more like it!”
They picked up the oars,
And followed their rock to meet their Lord.

After a meal of abundance,
Jesus and Peter sat together to talk.
Peter could not meet the eyes of his Lord,
But instead waited for the condemnation.
To be removed from the His presence.
“Before the rooster crows,
You will deny me three times.”
Peter would never forget
The look of sadness and pain in Jesus’ eyes
After Peter denied him the third time.
He would never be forgiven.
He could never forgive himself.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Peter said it, but Jesus heard the shame in his voice.
Peter said it, but he doubted Jesus could believe him.

“Feed my lambs,” said his Lord,
but Peter wouldn’t meet his eyes.
He looked everywhere, but at Jesus’ face.
The water, the sand, the boat.
He even counted the fish bones near the fire.
Anything to avoid seeing disappointment.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

“Take care of my sheep.”
Peter barely heard him.
He yearned to say he was sorry.
To beg for forgiveness, but he didn’t deserve it.
Instead he studied the marks on his Lord’s feet,
The scars on his hands.
One hand was open, laying on his thigh.
The other gripped a rock,
The knuckles white with the effort.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter knew, with a feeling of dread,
That Jesus didn’t believe him.
How could he trust him?

Before Peter could speak,
Jesus reached over and grasped his arm.
He could feel the scrape of the scar on his skin.
Finally, he looked at Jesus,
Meeting his gaze.
“Lord, you know everything;
you know that I love you.”

Instead of disappointment, he saw relief.
Instead of accusation, he saw forgiveness.
Instead of rejection, he saw unconditional love.

“Take care of my sheep.
I am telling you the truth.
I have always told you the truth.
Follow me.
What I ask you to do is not easy,
For you know the path I traveled.
It will change your life.
It will cost you your life,
But I have already given it back to you.
Follow me.
I go to our God.
And you will follow me.”

Saturday, April 15, 2006

One Shared Hour

They came together,
from different parts of the city,
from different walks of life,
united in one purpose for the evening,
to share an hour of prayer.
One hour in a forty-hour vigil
One hour between death and resurrection.

The leader distributed an order of worship.
He walked around the inside of their circle,
handing one to each.
When he reached his chair, he realized
that he had printed just enough for those who came,
even though he had had no idea how many would come.
The number who were present for the Last Supper.
God has fascinating ways of making Himself known.
And this would be only the first evidence
of his presence with them
for this one hour.

Even though most of them had not received the gift of song,
they sang.
It began with an almost silent humming,
building, as each voice added its strength.
Until the song was more than any of them
could have done on their own.

A cross was passed around the circle,
each holding it for prayer.
It was a cross that had been held by many,
one at a time painting it with prayer,
until it carried a Holy Patina.

Their prayer filled the room,
some spoken, some not,
all heard by God.
They lifted prayers of celebration,
heartfelt thanksgiving,
and humble confession.
They asked for healing of a brother,
and care of his family.
Blessings were named, as they realized in wonder,
that their blessings were too numerous to be counted.
They asked for God's spirit to fill His church,
and to rain down on His people.
Jesus was named as Savior,
his sacrifice praised with grateful hearts.

God's grace filled the room,
and His spirit moved among them,
touching each.
Prayers were offered,
some dripping with tears,
some elevated by joy,
some surrounded by gratitude.
All from the heart.

Communion was shared,
as it had been down through the generations,
for 2000 years.
A humble table, linking them to those
who had come before.
They served each other.
The body of Christ broken for you.
The blood of Christ spilled for you.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

One prayer was spoken last.
Another gift from Jesus,
The Lords prayer,
spoken in a circle
with hands clasped.
A fitting prayer to end the hour.

Prayers had been shared,
song, communion.
Love was passed around the circle,
Hugs and words of community.

One hour, shared with each other,
Shared with God.
Exactly one hour.
God's final pass to let them know
That there had in reality been fourteen in the room.

Friday, April 14, 2006


The air was heavy with expectation.
Something was about to happen.
Simon, who Jesus called Peter,
The rock,
Was sharing the Passover meal
With the other disciples,
And with the man he worshipped,
The man he had declared to be the Messiah.
Peter's love for Jesus
Had no boundaries
No beginning and no end.

Did Peter ever understand,
Did he ever realize the blessing
Of having Jesus pray for him?

Jesus began to wash their feet.
As he did so, the water turned black
From their travels, from their sins.
Peter would have none of it.
He would not be served by the Master.
"If I do not wash your feet,
You will no longer be my disciple."
Peter, in his exuberance,
In his great passion for the Lord,
Asked to be made completely clean.

Betrayal was in the air that night.
Plans were already underway
"One of you is going to betray me."
Jesus knew who it would be.
Judas knew who it would be.
The others wondered
Will it be me?
At some point, at some time,
It would be all of them.

"Before the rooster crows
You will deny me three times."
Peter, who declared that he would
Willingly lay his life down for his Messiah,
Must have been shattered by this accusation.
He must have felt the pain of it
Deep into his being.
Deny him three times?
Impossible, because if he did,
How could his Master ever forgive him?

Peter shared time in the garden with Jesus,
But he fell asleep
Unable to keep watch
As Jesus prayed
And his sweat dripped like blood.
Finally, the betrayal came,
And the humiliation began.

A servant girl near a fire
Declared concerning Peter,
"This man too was with Jesus!"
"Woman, I don't even know him."

A man noticed Peter, and said
"You are one of them, too!"
"Man, I am not."

An hour passed.
Minutes dripping by
As Jesus suffered.

"Listen to this man's voice.
This man was with Jesus,
He is also a Galilean!"
"Man, I don't know what you are talking about!"
Three times.

And the rooster crowed.

And Jesus turned and looked at Peter.

Realization hit Peter
Like the rock he was named for.
He ran and hid in his shame and fear.
His tears were wrenched from the depths of his soul.
Hot, bitter, unending.

He felt cast out and alone,
Separated from God by his own sin.
He could never be forgiven.
He could never be loved again.

To: Follow Me

Thursday, April 13, 2006

His Life

I wrote this poem for our church's Lenten Devotional, so if you read that, you've seen this already. However, it seems to be a week of poetry on this blog, and this one fits as a Maundy Thursday entry. Something fresh tomorrw -- more Peter.

He sat on the rough-hewn bench
His elbows on his legs,
His hands dangling between his knees,
His head bowed.
He thought of his life.

He had been born into poverty
And had never known the taste of riches.
His mother had been young and unwed.

He had known illness
And the touch of the cool hand of his mother.
He had known his father's support and teaching.
His parents had loved him.

He had known the utter sorrow and grief
Of the death of his father,
And the heavy burden of providing
A home for his mother.

He had known the tragedy
Of the death of friends
Lost to illness and violence.
He had seen greed and generosity.
He had seen disloyalty and faithfulness.

He had known the absolute joy
Of pleasing his Father
And the heavy burden of responsibility.

He had felt the satisfaction
Of knowing his purpose
And of fulfilling his mission.

He was loved and respected by his friends.
He had been the target of hatred, fear and ridicule.
He had been trusted, revered,
And had felt the pleasure of being a teacher.

He had witnessed the horrors of addiction,
Known the cost of lies and hypocrisy
And had seen the pain of sin.
He had felt fear, temptation and anger.

He understood obedience to God,
And the horrible loss of the betrayal of a friend.

He had laughed, cried, shouted, and smiled.
He loved - with wild abandon, with unlimited freedom,

His life had been a good one.
He had treasured it.
Each breath. Each experience.
He did not want to give it up.

As he sat on the bench,
Sweat dripped from his hair,
Stinging his eyes, mingling with his tears.

Tonight he would be betrayed.
Tomorrow he would be beaten and tortured
Tomorrow he would be crucified.

Matthew 26:36-46

Please remember, whatever you are experiencing, whatever your pain or confusion, whatever your grief or sorrow, your Savior has experienced it. He has been there, and he is standing with you now.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Standing in the Presence

Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13

Life with Jesus was a little bit like fishing.
Some days the net drug the bottom, scraping sand.
Other days it was flung high into the air, almost flying
Until it settled on the deck of the ship.

One day Jesus called Peter, “The Rock”
The rock upon which his church would be built.
Soon after that he called him Satan,
Berating Peter for presenting temptation.
Peter never knew what to expect,
But he was absolutely certain,
Certain to the marrow of his bones,
That he would not choose to be anywhere else.

Today Jesus called three of them,
The brothers James and John, and Peter
To go with him up a mountain.
He went willingly; honored to be included.

The climb was rough, rocky
The hot son beat upon them
But Peter would never dare to complain.
He would walk through fire for this man.

The four of them stood on the mountain-top,
Surrounded by beauty,
But their attention was for Jesus, and nothing else.

He stood before them,
And all three stared
As his garments became white.
Whiter than anything they had ever seen before.
He glowed with the radiance of a full moon,
With the heat of a white star.

Then, as if that were not spectacular in itself,
Two other men appeared.
Peter could not really see their faces,
But he knew, with a certainty that he would never question,
That the two men were Moses and Elijah.

All three men sank to their knees in amazement.
In wonder.
In fear.
How could this be?

In his wildest dreams,
Peter would never be able to understand this.
Never fathom or explain it.
All he knew, even in his fear,
Was that he wanted to stay on this mountain.
The presence of God had never been closer.
Faith had become doubt-less.

He looked at Jesus, and said,
“Lord, tell me we can stay here.
I will build shelters for all three of you.
Just allow me to stay in this place.”

While he was speaking,
A bright white cloud enveloped them,
Surrounding them.
Filling them with the knowledge
That they were standing in the presence of God.
They hid their faces in fear, and heard,
“This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.
Listen to him”

Peter couldn’t move.
He could barely breath.
Only the voice of Jesus,
His touch, his breath,
Could penetrate the fear.
“Get up. Do not be afraid.”

He looked up, and found that Jesus
Stood on the mountain alone,
His company no longer the prophets
Or God himself,
But only his three disciples.

Every muscle quaking in fear,
Peter stood up, and began to follow Jesus
Down the mountain.
Unwilling, but compelled.

The three disciples began to talk,
Sharing their awe, their wonder.
Jesus turned around and stopped them.

“Don’t tell anyone what you have seen.
Keep it to yourselves,
Until it is dwarfed by something even larger.
Keep it to yourselves,
Until I am raised from the dead.”

Image credit: This site
To: Betrayal

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Walking on Water

Matthew 14:22-32

They were all in the boat together.
Jesus had sent them out while he went to pray.
Jesus had wanted to be alone,
And now they all were alone.

The full moon shown down,
Bright enough to illuminate the faces around Peter,
His brother, his friends.
They all showed the fear that he felt.
He was a fisherman by trade,
Because he was, he had a fisherman’s fear of storms.
As the boat rocked back and forth,
He wished he didn’t know what he did,
How a boat can capsize.
How a man can drown,
Swallowed by the water.

He held on to the wood of the boat,
And looked out over the water.
Was that a man?
Men can’t walk on water.
Was that a ghost?
His fear magnified itself
Trapped in his throat as if it would choke him.

A voice came across the water,
Familiar to them all,
“Don’t be afraid. It is I.”
Could it really be Jesus?
How could that be possible?

Peter called to him,
“Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come out.
Tell me to come out on the water with you.”

“Come!” answered Jesus.

So Peter stepped out of the boat,
And onto the water.
Fear forgotten for the moment
As he kept his eyes on Jesus.

One step in front of the next,
The water felt cold, but almost solid.

The moon was bright enough to illuminate
The face of Jesus.
Peter saw his eyes,
His face,
His whole body -- willing his disciple to come to him.

Peter remembered all that he had seen.
A sermon delivered from a mountaintop,
When Jesus spoke about happiness,
Salt and light.
He gave words against judgment,
And encouragement to ask God for help.
He healed a Roman officer’s servant.
He had even healed Peter’s mother-in-law
With just a touch.
As if it were easy.

And then today, just that evening,
He had taken five loaves of bread,
Two fish,
And fed 5000 men.
If this man told Peter to walk on water,
Then Peter would walk on water.
His strength; his confidence
Poured from the man
Who could perform miracles.

The wind blew hair into Peter’s eyes,
The water splashed against his legs.
He took his eyes off Jesus,
And looked at the sky.
Saw the rain.
Was shoved by the wind.
And began to sink
Once it started, he couldn’t stop it,
The water was taking him,
Consuming him.
He reached out, and cried, “Save me!”

Jesus grabbed hold of him.
and pulled him close, whispering to him,
“Why did you doubt?
What happened?”

Both men made it into the boat,
The storm quieted,
The disciples, knowing all that had happened,
Worshiped Jesus.
“You are truly the Son of God!”

Later that morning,
As the sun began to rise,
Peter lay on the deck of the ship.
And thought of Jesus’ question.
He knew why he doubted.
When he was focused on Jesus,
He could ignore his fear.
When he looked away,
He sank.

Photo credit: Sea of Galilee from this site
To Standing in the Presence

Monday, April 10, 2006

Fishers of Men

First, please take note that WabiSabi has been labeled a stalker by Locust and Honey in the weekly round-up of Methodist Bloggers (You'll have to scan to the bottom of the posts to see it -- under the W's). I have it on firm authority that the Smallest Angel is his accomplice. Keep it up, and be sure to show us the pictures!

Secondly, I've been mulling the idea of a poem about Peter for a long time. Other poems have presented themselves to be written first, but it looks like it might be Peter's turn. This is one of two that I'll post this week -- maybe others, but two have been written already. Here's the first:

Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18; Luke 3:1-11; John 1:35-42

It was the end of the day.
The sun was still shining, but just barely.
It reflected off the water
Giving everything an unearthly hue.

Simon, the son of Jona, was bone tired.
He had fished all day
Pulling on the nets
Hauling nothing onto the boat
Time after time.

He felt that his life was a waste.
Each day, catching fish.
Or, even worse, catching nothing.
His life had no purpose.

He had worked that day with his brother, Andrew.
His brother had enthusiasm, optimism.
Andrew told him stories of a man named John,
And lately of another man, Jesus.
All day long on the boat,
Andrew could speak of nothing else.
It only made Simon feel like less.

As he was folding his nets,
Preparing for the next day,
A man approached them at the lakeshore.
The setting sun glinted in his eyes
As he smiled at Simon.
He was a man with a purpose.
A man with a vision.
He carried himself across the sand and rocks
As if he knew exactly what he wanted.
Exactly who he wanted.

Andrew grabbed his arm
Saying, "That's him. That's Jesus."
Simon shook off his brother
And waited for Jesus to reach them.

Once Jesus was close,
His feet wet from the water,
He reached over and examined the nets
A rock was caught amid the ropes,
And he worked to free it,
Lifting it up to expose it to the sunshine.

"Come with me, and I will teach you be fishers of men."

Simon looked away, uncomfortable,
And said, "You don't want me.
I am a sinner.
I am not worthy of the work you offer."

Jesus held on to the rock
And waited patiently for Simon to meet his gaze.
When he did, Jesus repeated, "Come with me."

Simon had no way to know
That this man, this decision, would change his life
Would change the world
Would end his life.
Would give him life everlasting.

The only thing Simon did know
Was that he had found his purpose
His calling, his mission, in this man.
He dropped his net,
Left his boat,
And followed Jesus.

To Walking on Water

Sunday, April 09, 2006


A few times I have written a poem in response to a worship service (Claimed by God, Brightly Colored Beads, Determination). This poem was not written in RESPONSE to a service; it was written in ANTICIPATION of a service -- next week's Easter service. I wrote this week about expecting the amazing -- expecting God to act in our lives and in our church. In that spirit of expectation, I wrote this poem.

It was Easter morning.
The Sanctuary was holding its breath in anticipation.
It was prepared for the amazing.
Flowers perfumed the altar,
and God stood, waiting.

The Children entered in their finery,
Dressed in new clothes out of respect for where they were,
In celebration of the risen Lord.
They filled the pews, talking, chatting
Enjoying the fellowship.

"What day is this?"
They answered, "A day the Lord has made."
"Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

The service began with a trumpet fanfare,
A choir processional;
Grace poured into the room,
raining down on the Children as a gift.
Abundant. Overflowing.
The living water of eternal life.

Some turned their faces to heaven
to enjoy the downpour.
Other put up their umbrellas.

One woman, sitting alone,
Sheltered herself under her flowered umbrella.
She tucked her purse closer to her side,
pulled back her high heels,
and hunkered under the cloth.
She was a widow, her children had moved away.
She felt lonely, afraid, and not ready for redemption.
The choir sang, and she cleared her throat.
The children sprinted forward for their moment.
Happy and joyful.
One said, "Jesus Christ is Risen Today,"
in a sing-song voice.
The woman peaked out from her umbrella.
"He lives!" said another.
She slowly reached up, and pulled the mechanism,
lowering her umbrella.

Rain fell.
Quenching her thirst.
Soaking her spirit with living water.
Her skin absorbed it as grace filled her.
Washing away her tears and loneliness.

A man sat in another pew, his golf umbrella held straight.
On his mind were taxes, paychecks, and dwindling supply lines.
He was not alone, but he might as well have been.
The rain beat on his umbrella, but he held it powerfully still.
The trumpet blasted; the liturgy was read.
The wind started.
Some rain landed on his sleeve, but he brushed it away.
The voice of the minister swept through the room,
And the spirit of God blew.
It blew so hard and strong that the man lost his grip.
The umbrella flew out of his hands,
and somersaulted down the aisle.
A baby saw it bounce by, and giggled.
The man sat in the pew, getting drenched.
His clothes were ruined, his mind had lost his focus.

None of it mattered.
Grace filled his soul,
Enlivened his spirit.
The torrent plastered his hair to his face.
He laughed.
The minister joined in, joyful in the rain.
Grateful for the laughter of a man
who had never laughed before.

Two teenagers sat together in the balcony.
One held up his black umbrella,
Not even looking toward the front of the church.
He was dry.
The congregation stood up,
honoring the glory of the Halleluiah Chorus.
Because he knew his mother was watching,
the teenager stood up, too.
But stayed under his umbrella.
He leaned over to his friend,
whispering, "Are you going to watch the game tonight?"
The friend looked at him in exasperation,
"Just listen!"
She snatched the umbrella out of his hand,
and dropped it off the balcony.
It landed at the foot of an usher,
who calmly folded it up and put it away.
Sometimes this happened.
He had come to expect the extraordinary.

The teenager stood in awe
as the rain came down in buckets.
Soaking him.
Drenching him.
Filling his tender, new spirit with grace overflowing.
He reached over and held the hand of his friend,
Speechless for once.

God smiled,
One of those big, joyful smiles.
He loved to surprise his Children.
He rained grace and love down on them.
Giving in abundance.
He held nothing back.
He never did.

Dream for our church:
May God rain down his love and grace on us this Easter;
May we put away our umbrellas, and be drenched in the downpour;
May we be so certain of the coming rain that the women wear waterproof mascara,
and the men refrain from washing their cars.
May we be prepared for the rainbow,
And may our hearts be filled to overflowing.
Bring it on.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Holy Week Meme

How about a meme -- this one from Lorna's See Through Faith:
  1. What do you do with your new blessed palm from Palm Sunday? I'm not sure what a "blessed" palm is. We do use palms in our church. I walked into the Sanctuary on Friday, and it has been "decorated" with palms. They are lining the main aisle, high up in the candle holders. Vases of palm branches are near the altar -- I know I'm missing some. Our children's choir is singing tomorrow, and they traditionally carry palms during the processional. I think, if memory serves, the congregation receives palms as well. I usually end up taking it home, but it quickly dies. It probably won't last until Easter, but I'll more than likely put in on the hearth (unless the dog tries to eat it.)
  2. What do you do with your old one from last year? See answer to question above. We have in the past received crosses made of dried palm leaves, but I don't do anything specifically with it.
  3. What do you do during Holy Week in preparation for Good Friday? The committee of which I am chairman sponsors a Lenten devotional. Each evening I'll be preparing a devotional for email distribution to our subscribers. I'll continue my reading through the Bible -- Jeremiah. And I'll make one last push on my personal Lenten commitment. Our church is having a Maundy Thursday meal, planned to be similar to Christ's last Passover meal. We would attend that service, but G has a -- you guessed it -- track meet.
  4. How do you commemorate Christ’s Passion on Good Friday? We have a new project at church -- a Lenten Prayer Vigil. I'll spend a little time on Good Friday preparing the chapel for those who are coming into the church to pray. I'm toying with the idea of what to do during lunch. I'm planning on setting aside some time that day to pray for the prayer vigil.
  5. When do you color Easter eggs? The boys love to color eggs, and we enjoy spending the time with them "helping" (mainly helping to keep the dye off the countertops, floors and kitchen table). Sadly, we don't find the time to do this every year. I have a feeling that we'll miss it this year, too, with G's track meet schedule. There are sometimes not enough hours in the day.
  6. When do you buy Easter candy? Next week, I guess, for the boys' Easter baskets.
  7. What is the first thing you plan to do Easter morning? My time for the prayer vigil is 5-6am on Easter morning, so that will be the first thing that I do. I've done a couple of prayer vigils with Chrysalis (the Emmaus walk for teens), and I always seem to pick this time period. The times I've committed to for the upcoming Emmaus walks are 5:30-6:00am. It's really quiet in our house at that time, so I have privacy and -- well -- quiet, which isn't the case most of the time. I've never started Easter this way before, but I think it will be nice. I'm kind of looking forward to praying our church out of Lent before handing it off to the last prayer vigil participant, Scott, who will pray us into Easter.
Do you have any special Holy Week plans?

Clip art from

Friday, April 07, 2006

Running the Race

Heb.12:1 -- Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us

Perseverance can be a difficult lesson to learn. We often just want to throw in the towel and give up.

This evening, I learned a lesson in perseverance from middle schoolers. Tonight was a track meet at Hurricane High School. If you live near us, you may have noticed that the weather was a little -- well -- hard to predict this evening. We had a tornado watch all evening, and the possibility of severe thunderstorms.

We arrived in Hurricane at 4:15. By 5:00, an announcement was made that the track events would be slightly delayed because the Barboursville bus was having problems (Just a minute! How did Barboursville get a bus?). B'ville finally arrived, and they started the events.

After the first event, lightning was seen in the sky. Remember, please, that we are all sitting on metal bleaches. Everybody had to leave the field and go to the gym. Before the meet could resume, we had to have at least 30 minutes with no lightning. State rule.

At this point, I'm thinking -- tornados -- lightning -- severe thunderstorms -- hail -- I think it's time to cancel this meet.

No, perseverance was the word of the day. After 45 minutes in the hot, crowded gymnasium, the head guy announced that the meet would resume. The kids clapped and cheered. Huh? No cheering! Let's go home.

Back out on the field. We sat through rain. I watched two ducks fly overhead, look around and leave. It wasn't even a good place for ducks.

The rain finally cleared up. Umbrellas came down. We spent one hour completing an 800 meter race and two 75 meter hurdle heats. IN ONE HOUR. Apparently there was a dispute on the finish of one of the races, and we persevered until we had some agreement on the matter.

G finally ran his three events: He came in 7th in the 65m high hurdles, 4th in the 4x200m and 4th in the shuttle hurdle relays (we think).

Before the third group of guys could run the shuttle hurdles -- lightning. Back to the gymnasium. Luckily (YEA!) G had already run his race, and we could go home.

Those kids, parents and coaches trudged back to the gym to wait for the lightning to go away. It was 9:30 at night, and the meet was only about half over. Talk about perseverance.

On our drive home, we had brilliant lightning, rain and hail. And once it was over, those kids would be back on that field, running. For all I know, t 11:40pm, they may still be there.