Wednesday, February 28, 2007

He's Chasing Us

Do you have times in your prayer life when you feel like you are not in communication with God? That he is far away? Some mornings, my prayer time is rich and full. Sometimes I am so distracted that I barely make it through a sentence, and my mind starts to wander, far away from what I am doing. Unfortunately, there are also days when I just fall asleep.

I read a devotion the other day by John Fischer called Communication Breakdown. He's talking about those times when we don't pray, and we move away from God. I really like how he ended the devotion; I had never thought of it this way before:

He's speaking to God as he says, "I think I’m getting it now. No matter how far I may have strayed away, it’s always a short trip back. The breakdown in communication was only on my part, never yours. I don’t have to retrace my steps back to the last place I got off before I can hear you again, because you’ve been dogging me the whole way. As soon as I turn my heart and attention toward you, you are there to meet me because you never left.

It seems almost too good to be true. Where did I get the idea it’s supposed to be so hard?
It reminds me of prevenient grace. God is chasing us. He's not standing around, waiting for us to get our act together, to turn around and come back to him. He's chasing us.

In my church's Lenten devotional for today, the author writes, "How comforting to know that no matter how difficult life is that 'God has our back!'" God has our back. Not only that, but God is right there, at our back. We often say that God does not leave us alone. Why is it that sometimes, we insist that he does? Why are we convinced that we can run far away from Him? He will not leave us alone; He chases us.

Matthew 11:28-30 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Memorize that. Write it on your heart: "Learn the unforced rhythms of grace."

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Risk and Consequence

I'm preparing to team-teach a class tomorrow from the Yancey book The Jesus I Never Knew. The topic is the Ascension. I must admit that I've never really thought much about Jesus' ascension. This has been a good chapter to prepare to teach because I've learned so many new things.

Yancey asks the question -- "Why did Jesus have to leave?" Actually, I've never considered that question before. I just assumed that it was part of the plan (and I guess that it was). I've never considered that he might NOT ascend -- might NOT have gone back to heaven, and might have remained here.

I wonder if he disciples believed that he had a choice? If they did, then that would make his departure even more difficult than it was. I like that Yancey explains that by ascending, Jesus was taking a risk -- the risk of being forgotten.

But that's not the only risk. By leaving, he was entrusting us with his mission. I was in a meeting the other day, and one of the students in the class, who is also the chairman of the committee that was meeting, was talking to my team-teacher and me about this chapter. She reached over, swatted JtM on the arm, and said, "Tag, you're it!" By leaving, everything became our responsibility:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
So what was the consequence of his departure? He left the presence of the disciples, and came to live with them forever. He is part of us; he is within us. We are now the Body of Christ. By leaving, he got closer than he has ever been before, and the world has never been the same.

Image: Drawing by G for youth Lenten devotional

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Monday, February 26, 2007

The Parable of the Fruit Trees

Once upon a time, there were two trees growing in a field. They weren’t planted close to each other, but just close enough that anyone standing next to one could see the other one.

Each tree was rooted deeply in the soil. Each received the grace of sun, rain, wind and birds, so that God cared for each of them, providing them with exactly what they needed.

One tree bore beautiful oranges – round, bright and plump with juice. The other one was heavy with pecans – hard, brown, perfect pecans. Each bore the fruit that he was intended to bear.

God’s children of all ages would come through the field each day, picking oranges. They pealed the luscious fruit, and devoured sections, receiving the blessings of its wonderful juice and sticky sweetness. They would then wander over to the pecan tree, and pick the perfect nuts, telling each other how they would use them in pie, or grind them to flour to make special bread. The needs of God’s children were met to completion by the fruits of the field.

One day, God was walking in his garden. He stopped under the shade of the pecan tree and ran his hand lovingly over its bark. “What is the problem, dear tree?”

The pecan tree, its branching hanging low in dejection, said, “I am not an orange tree. My fruit is ugly compared to those oranges. I am short and not very colorful at all. Are you sure that this is what you made me to be? I keep trying to grow oranges, but I have failed.”

“You are exactly what I made you to be. You bear the fruit that is needed by my children. You are lovely in my sight!”

As God walked away, exploring other parts of his garden, the pecan tree stood straighter, taller, and worked hard to create his perfect nuts.

As the sun sat that day, a very young child wandered into the garden. He stopped by the orange tree, and tried to reach the fruit, but it was all too high for him. He walked over to the pecan tree and slumped against its trunk.

“What is it, little boy?” asked the tree.

“I wanted an orange, but all of the fruit is too high for me to reach.”

“I have pecans. Would you like a pecan?”

“No, I can’t eat pecans. My mother says I am all-er-gic, whatever that means.”

“Oh,” said the tree in sadness.

The little boy’s stomach rumbled. He was clearly very hungry.

Suddenly, the tree felt his very lowest limb begin to tingle. As he watched, a small flower appeared, then faded away, replaced by a tiny fruit. The fruit continued to grow, until a plump, red apple appeared, so large that it pulled on the branch, weighing it down. The little boy’s eyes grew excited and huge as he eyed the delicious looking fruit. “Can I have that?”

The tree said, puzzled, “Of course you can. I think that it must be meant for you.” The young boy reached up, plucked the fruit from the branch, and bit into it. His eyes closed in appreciation as he was fed.

We are God’s creation. He will provide us with every grace we need to do his will. We should never worry about what gift we do not have. We should only focus on using the gifts that we have been given to their greatest potential. In the end, God is in control, and he will give us what we need to feed his children, even when we cannot imagine how his will might be accomplished. He loves us, and we are lovely in his sight.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007


I read on a blog somewhere a few weeks ago, that the role of "personal" technology tools (my own term) was being debated for the upcoming General Conferences. Should cell phones, laptops, and PDA's be allowed into the sessions? The person who was writing the blog post expressed an opinion that older people might feel that these objects were distractions from ministry, while younger delegates would see them as tools for ministry.

A friend at church, who does not have a very close relationship with her computer, asked me once if I feel "chained to my computer." I send out a ton of emails each day, write a blog entry every day, and use the computer for an endless number of functions at work in the lab and within the work I do at the church. No, I don't feel chained to it; I feel freed by it.

I don't mean to discount the idea that technology can get between us and God -- that sometimes there are situations in which is can be a distraction or a priority above and beyond working for or attempting to communicate with God.

How do I use technology for ministry?

  • Email -- Email is one of my most used technological tools for ministry. It enables me to do so much more than I would otherwise be able to do. For example, Jeff the Methodist and I teach a class together on Wednesday nights. We plan the lesson ahead of time -- through email. We would never be able to find time to meet in person each week to do the planning that we do, but because of email, we are able to send our thoughts and comments to each other. The result is a lesson unified in content and purpose, but team taught. Another example -- in a few moments, when I am finished writing this post, I'll log onto email, and send out our church's Lenten devotion for tomorrow to over 140 people. Our church would never be able to reach that many people in that large of a geographic region -- daily.
  • Internet -- Once I'm finished sending out the devotion, I'll post it on a blog. It will be available for anyone in the world to read. Who knows who God will touch with it? When I write Sunday school lessons, I can check the internet for ideas; I can copy and paste Bible verses to a handout without taking the time to type them.
  • Cell phone -- I am always a phone call away. I am close to my children when I am somewhere else. Steve and JtM were shopping for food to break the fast at the youth famine on Saturday. MT and I were at church. Do we have eggs? They just called us to find out, and ministry was enabled.
Technology has its place. For me it enables much of my ministry. Just like God took my bread baking and turned it into spiritual food, he can take technology and put it to his own use. Does it ever get between us and God? Certainly, and we need to be careful with it, but I, for one, am grateful for these gifts.

Image: Sunrise on Friday as I drove to Panera for breakfast with my husband.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

One by One, the Candles Died

This weekend, Steve and I helped with a youth event called a 30 Hour famine. It is designed to increase awareness among our youth about world hunger, as well as to raise funds to work toward its elimination. As part of the event, on Friday day, the youth participated in a candle ceremony. 100 candles were lit. We each blew them out, one by one, symbolizing the death fo 2 children per second to hunger related disease. These images were taken during that Candle Ceremony.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Bread of Life

You may have noticed in previous posts that I’ve started baking bread. It’s a new hobby – prior to this year, I’ve never added yeast to anything. I always thought it sounded like something I would like to try, but I never took the plunge.

Steve’s brother and his wife gave us a new mixer for Christmas with a dough hook. It seemed the perfect opportunity. So I’ve begun baking bread. I love it. It’s persnickety, it takes a long time, it’s even physically demanding at times, but when I’m finished, I have home-baked bread. Our house smells like fresh bread. It’s soothing and wonderful. So I keep doing it.

Bread baking has had unexpected consequences – joy that I didn’t anticipate. I’ve had the opportunity to give bread away – that’s a wonderful side product of all of this baking. It’s a lesson in abundance for me.

This weekend the youth group of our church is participating in a 30-hour famine in support of the battle against world hunger. They will break their fast with communion. The bread served at that communion will have been baked by me. What an unexpected blessing that is!

The lesson in all of this for me is that God is able to use anything we have, everything we do, whatever we are willing to give for His glory. Bread baking? Who expects to find grace in baking bread? But I have.

Grace in abundance and without limit.

What we He think of next?


Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Place of Resurrection

Rend your hearts, and not your clothing (Joel 2:13a, NRSV)

I went to an Ash Wednesday service last night. The minister said that we need to make sure that we practice our spiritual disciples in the quiet – just us and God. I’ve heard that before, but I’ve never thought of the reasoning behind it. The reasoning discussed was that if we pray or fast or do whatever it is that we do that brings us closer to God in public, that we will do it for approval. I’ve always thought of abstaining from the public practice of these habits because I might do it to impress someone, not our of fear of trying to gain approval, but maybe that may be true.

The key to the reasoning was that if we do these things to gain the approval of someone else, then we will miss the great benefit of doing them in the first place – we will miss out on the deepening of our relationship with God. Do we try to deepen our faith to win someone else’s approval? Perhaps we should be trying to win God’s approval instead. No "perhaps" about it!

Change your life, not just your clothes (Joel 2:13a, The Message)

What would changing our spiritual clothes mean? Would it mean changing the way we appear to others? So what is the role of community in spiritual discipline? I’m reading John Ortberg’s book Everybody’s Normal Till you get to Know Them. The chapter I just finished is called the "Wonder of Oneness." It has some great thoughts regarding the trinity, which I’m sure that I will return to. But for now, consider these thoughts about community:

No matter how little money we have, no matter what run we occupy on anybody’s corporate ladder of success, in the end what everybody discovers is that what matters is other people. Human beings who give themselves to relational greatness – who have friends they laugh with, cry with, learn with, fight with, dance with, live and love and grow old and die with – these are the human beings who lead magnificent lives.
We often hear how we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill. Ortberg says that we also have a human shaped hole, that God has placed there, and that he will not fill. We need each other.

Rend your hearts, Change your life…

So, if we are to change our hearts – our inner selves, but we are made to be in community, how do we do that? Ortberg quotes Les Miserables and says, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” So perhaps, as the quote above says, when we “give ourselves to relational greatness;” when we love one another, we are practicing a spiritual discipline. We are moved closer to God.

It doesn’t depend on approval or impressing anyone. “A community is not simply a group of people who live together and love each other. It is a place of resurrection.”

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Remembering God

Steve wears a chain under his shirt on which dangles a fish charm. Can you picture it? It looks like an “alpha” – it’s an ichthus. When he decided to start wearing the chain, he was looking for a small cross, but I found the fish in my jewelry box, and gave it to him. It was a gift, years ago, from his mother, Judy, to me. I liked (and still like) the idea that he wears it.

Judy has Alzheimer’s. She still remembers family members, but she is very much changed from the Judy I remember, and the Judy Steve remembers. There will come a time when she won’t remember us, she won’t remember her husband, and she won’t remember God. Can you imagine what that might be like for her?

I was driving today, thinking about this post, and I am grateful that he wears that fish. There may come a time when she does not remember God, but Steve will remember God FOR her. I am particularly certain that God will ALWAYS remember Judy.

Remembering God. Do we forget sometimes? Do we find ourselves in a place where God seems distant?

I was having dinner last night as I waited for a meeting to begin at our church. I wasn’t really looking forward to the meeting – in fact, I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I found myself wanting to just drive home and forget about it, but I knew I couldn’t. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to go to a meeting (I really don’t mind meetings – yes, I know, I’m strange); I was just in a rotten mood.

It didn’t occur to me to pray about it. It didn’t occur to me to think of God at all. In fact, I was pretty far away from God. All I knew is that I needed a mood change, but I didn’t know how.

Then I walked into the chapel, and it all fell back into place. My rotten mood was gone, and as I gave my report to the committee, I was close to God. I remembered Him.

On the way home, I thought about that change, and I decided that God must have been involved – God at work.

Before I went into my meeting, I had emailed a friend to check on him – he had surgery yesterday. I mentioned that I would rather go home that go to the meeting. When I got home after the meeting, I found a reply which included the line “Prayers your way, and all of the committee’s way, tonight.”

He remembered me to God, when I wasn’t remembering God at all. We all do that for each other. It’s part of being the Body of Christ. It’s grace, and it’s a gift, and I am grateful for it.

Image: Fog this morning at the VA.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I was called compulsive at a church meeting this evening. I took exception to that.

Part of what I do at church is to coordinate our devotional ministry. Among a few other things, that involves emailing the devotions each evening to a group of email subscribers. Our pastor was complementing me, and said that I was dedicated and compulsive.

I took a moment, butchered Buechner, and said, "When God's need intersects with what we do, there is joy." (It's a cool quote, actually -- but that's not it). "I am not compulsive," said I.

Our pastor then went on to say that I was compelled by God to send them out.
Compelled by God. That I'll accept. I want to be compelled by God. I hope that I am.
Now, sing along -- you know the tune (Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?) "Wouldn't you like to be compelled, too?"

To compel is to drive. Have you felt the joy of being compelled? Have you felt the frustration of ignoring the gently guiding hand of God? I've felt both. Being compelled is much more joyful.
By the way, the Beuchner quote is this, and it describes vocation:

The place God calls you to
is the place where your deep gladness
and the world's deep hunger meet.
-- Frederick Buechner
Image: Trumpet and Joel 2:15 as drawn by one of the youth (Ryan) in our Youth group. It's part of tomorrow's Ash Wednesday devotion.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Letting God be God

I've mentioned earlier that I read the book Prayer by Philip Yancey. I've been thinking a lot about prayer since I was on the Emmaus team last October.

Since I finished the Yancey book, I've noticed a change in my attitude toward prayer. Do you ever debate with yourself the validity of your prayers? Others' prayers? Are you like me, finding yourself with a judgmental attitude about what I should pray about? About what other people should pray about?

Do you ever find yourself criticizing the person who prays for a parking space? The person who prays about his homework? The success of a project at work? Do you ever wonder if certain concerns are too small to bring to God?

At Common Grounds one Thursday before Christmas, two prayer requests were submitted for community prayer -- one each from a husband and wife. Each of them were a asking us to pray that they would be able to buy his our her spouse a Christmas present. Have you ever prayed that kind of prayer? To this couple, to be able to provide each other with a Christmas present was a huge accomplishment, and a really heavy worry. I think God wants to hear us voice those concerns -- no matter what.

Do you ever edit your own prayers? Do you ever think, "I'll just pray for those things that I think God might wish to grant? Do you ever say to yourself, "I'll only pray for those things that I think he might find to be important or of value?" In addition, I've wondered if praying for disruptions in the "natural law," such as safety while traveling or healing, might be asking God to do something that he wouldn't normally do.

But then I read the Prayer book. One of my take home messages from the book was to let God be God. I've decided to pray about whatever is important to me. I'll ask for whatever is on my mind. God is God; I am not. He can look at what I pray and decide what is best. It's a form of faith. It's a form of trust. It's letting go of control, and giving it to God.

When I think about it, it's how my children talk to me. They ask for anything and everything. As the parent, it's my job to look at the big picture and to answer their requests from my adult viewpoint. If my kids trust me to do that, then I will trust God to do that as well.

Images: The sunrise as seen from the interstate today and proof that I live in Never Never Thaw Land -- our road, still snow covered.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007


I taught Sunday school today and encountered a difficult problem.

Our class is very discussion oriented, and as I teach a lesson, I am always encouraged when our class talks. If the members has things to say, then is reassures me that they are engaged with the lesson. Discussion is also an incubator for learning; there is synergy in the effort.

So, understand when I say that a member of our class today, who attends off and on, monopolized the conversation, that I am not against conversation. I strive, when I plan a lesson, to work in questions and comments designed to help the class members to discuss the issues brought forth in the lesson. It's a good thing!

However, this particular gentleman was relentless. I couldn't string two thoughts together without getting interrupted. When another class member would speak , he would do the same to him or her.

How does a teacher handle a problem such as this? What should I have done?

I suppose at the very least this can serve as a reminder to me that I am not always in control and that sometimes, it's important to listen to the interruptions, too.

Truly, though, I just wanted to ask him to be quiet.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

His Heart Could be Comforted

John 14:1-4
Italicized stanza from The Message

They sat in the upper room
Expecting Passover
Expecting Tradition
Expecting what they had always known.
Perhaps they should have known better.
Jesus had never been what they expected.

They were just beginning to understand
That the time was coming when he would die.
Had he told them before?
Had they just ignored him?
His voice now was full of urgency
Because he desperately needed them to understand.
Understanding was beginning to arrive,
and with it, fear.

Did he see it on their faces?
Did he hear it in their voices?
Was the cold reality of what was about to happen --
Seeping into the marrow of their bones?
Freezing their hearts?
Was the ice of fear visible in their exhaled breath?
He must have known it,
He tried to offer them comfort.

Don't let this throw you.
You trust God, don't you?
Trust me.
If that weren't so,
Would I have told you that I'm on my way
to get a room ready for you?
And if I'm on my way to get your room ready,
I'll come back and get you so you also
may be where I am.
You know the way to the place
where I am going.

Peter closed his eyes
And thought of home.
He thought of his wife
Baking bread
Caring for her mother.
Home smelled like comfort.
He yearned for it,
as a child aches for an embrace.
If Jesus promised home,
even a home he could not understand,
then perhaps his heart could be comforted.

Andrew closed his eyes
And thought of home.
It was the place where he belonged
So different than Jerusalem.
He dreamed of his fishing nets,
of the comfort of the familiar.
He thought of his father,
and wondered if he would approve
of the work he was doing.
If Jesus promised home,
even a home he could not understand,
then perhaps his heart could be comforted.

Jesus closed his eyes,
and thought of home.
He had been homesick for years and years.
Separated from his Father.
He yearned to return to God.
It was the place where he belonged.
He ached for His embrace,
like a child longing for the One who loved him.
He wondered if His Father would approve
of the work that he was doing.
If all that must happen,
resulted in a return to Home,
then perhaps his heart could be comforted.

Opening his eyes, Jesus looked around
at the faces of his friends,
and felt torn as he never had felt torn
in his life.
He would miss them.
He was not sure that they were ready.
He loved them, as his Father loved them.
"Abba," he prayed, "Have I done all that I can?"
He felt the love of a Father for His son pour down,
His heart was comforted,
and he was not afraid.

Image from this link.

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Friday, February 16, 2007


I mentioned in an earlier post in January that at the beginning of the year I stepped into the position of lay leader in our church. As I said then, I mainly understand "what" the lay leader is supposed to do -- the committees, the responsibilities. What I'm working on figuring out is "how" I'm supposed to do it.

Prior to becoming lay leader, I was chairman of the Nurture Committee, and I held that position for something like eight years. The way I started it, and the way I finished it were very different. Hopefully I got better at it as I got more experienced with it.

One of Stephen Covey's habits of effective people is to "begin with the end in mind." When I reach the end of this job in the church, what do I want to look back and see? The questions which are running through my mind are along these lines:

  • What does God want my focus to be?
  • Are there goals he wants me to take on?
  • How can I use the gifts he is given me to the most effective outcome?
There is a song by Nicole Nordeman called Legacy. I think that Steve wrote a devotion about it several years ago. As I was listening to it today, it struck home:

I want to leave a legacy.
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to you enough
To make a mark on things.
I want to leave an offering.
A child of mercy and grace
who blessed your name,
And leave that kind of legacy.

Those are great questions to ask God. Those are wonderful goals:
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to you, God, enough to leave a mark on things?
Did I leave an offering?
Did I bless God's name unapologetically?
How will they remember me? I hope that when I'm done, what they -- my sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ -- are saying is, "I know God better. I love God more. What can I do to further His kingdom?

I hope they don't even say my name. I hope what I do is so transparent that all they can see is God.


    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    Taste Testing

    Steve, when he was a teenager, was a prep cook at a truck stop very near his home. He worked night shift, and each night he prepared countless biscuits, gallons of gravy and pounds of bacon. He said the other day that he would never send out food that he hadn’t tasted. What he if had forgotten the salt, or some other key ingredients?

    Methodists are well known for their covered dish dinners. In an effort to keep things interesting (for myself), when I have time, I like to prepare a casserole or some other kind of offering that I haven’t made before. This always makes me nervous. I like it best if I can prepare the recipe for our family first – a kind of taste test – before sending it out to the entire church family.

    I also like to bake bread. I like the process; I like the preparation, and I definitely like the resulting bread. There are times when I also give it (the bread) away. Every recipe I’ve ever prepared makes at least two loaves of bread. Before I give a loaf to someone else, I always taste the one I’m going to keep. What if the bread is horrible? I don’t want to send nasty bread to someone.

    Love is something that God asks us to give away. Do we taste test it first? Do we make sure that what we are sending to someone else is good and wholesome, rather than destructive or hurtful?

    I wonder if perhaps the measuring stick that we need to use for our words and actions is what Paul calls the “fruits of the spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23:

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
    God has given us the means by which to recognize whether our actions and our words are loving or hurtful. Does the way we interact with one another bring joy and peace? Are we patient, waiting on either God’s timing or another person’s timing? Is our love kind? Is it gentle? Does what we do demonstrate the goodness of God? Are we faithful, and are we exercising self-control?

    How does our love taste to other people? Is it smooth and wonderful like rich chocolate? Or does it pucker the lips, like super sour skittles?


    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    If I Love

    Mark 12:28-31; Corinthians 13

    Love God
    With all of your heart
    With all of your soul
    With all of your mind
    With all of your strength.
    Love God.

    Love your neighbor.
    As you love yourself.

    I hear it,
    But what does it mean?

    It means that there is nothing more important.
    It means that even though God gives us many gifts,
    The one which matters the most,
    Is love.

    If my words are spoken,
    Without thought of anyone else,
    Then I am just a noise.
    Useless to God.
    Even if I am smart enough
    To predict what the future will bring,
    Even if I am clever enough
    To understand the most difficult thoughts,
    Even if my faith is so strong
    That the biggest obstacle I face is nothing at all,
    If I do it all without love,
    Then God cannot touch others through me.

    Even if I am so unselfish
    That my belonging are like chalkdust to me.
    Even if I give all that I am
    To whatever purpose God has for me,
    But I do it without love,
    Then I have no purpose to God.

    I must receive and give the greatest gift of all.
    I must Love.

    Love works at its own speed.
    If I love,
    Then I do not wish for what I cannot or should not have.
    I do not trumpet my own worth,
    I do not value what I do over who other people are.
    I show the value of other people by my actions toward them.

    When I love,
    My own wishes or desires sink in importance
    Compared to the needs of others.
    When I love, I am easy to be around,
    And I do not wish it to be otherwise.

    When I love,
    I do not celebrate sin, but instead I glory in the truth.
    Love will put up with a lot,
    Love will trust beyond reason,
    Love will hope when all seems lost,
    And love never gives up.

    Love never ends.

    Everything else in the world is temporary.
    All other gifts will eventually fade away,
    But not love.

    Love is so hard to understand,
    But God knows that.
    He understands that what we can accept
    Is so much less
    Than what he is willing to give.
    The time will come, though,
    When all will be made clear.
    And love will be for us
    Like the air we breathe,
    And it will make us complete.

    When I was younger,
    My habits were those of a child.
    My speech, my thoughts, my actions
    Were immature.
    As I grew older, I grasped something better.
    And I gave up my childish ways,
    For those of an adult.
    We are like that.
    What we see now, what we can understand now
    Is so much less than what God wants us to be.

    My relationship with God,
    My ability to love God,
    My hope of being able to love my neighbor,
    Is fractured.
    God has promised
    That I will know fully what love means
    And that there will come a time
    When I am able to know him
    Just as fully as he knows me,
    When I am able to love him
    With just as much completeness
    As he loves me.

    He has given us
    But his greatest gift,
    Beyond comparison
    Beyond price
    Is love.

    Images: Pine tree encased in ice with pine cone. The other side of the same tree, dripping as it thawed. Yesterday at the VA.

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    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    Prepare with Persistence

    I was baking bread last night. It was a new recipe – an experiment, actually – so I was embarking on new territory. As I began this “journey,” I forgot one important step. Preparation. I read the recipe. It made sense, so I forged ahead.

    I never checked to see if we had all of the ingredients.

    The recipe required 2 packages of yeast. I could only find one. I got Steve involved (he’s always cleaning up after me; he could have hidden the yeast). We looked through all the cabinets. I was sure that I had purchased another 3 pack of it the last time we were at the store. While we’re searching, the hot liquids that I was supposed to dissolve the yeast in are slowly cooling – soon they would reach a point at which they would be too cool for the yeast to start working. Just at this point, J comes in the room.

    J: Dad, can I have a cookie?
    Steve: J, I’m busy right now, looking for yeast.
    J: Mom, can I have a cookie?
    Steve: J, who do you think I’m looking for the yeast for?

    Yeast was found. We did have more. So on the preparations went. Until it was time to add the oats (it is honey oat bread). Regular oats? Do we have regular oats? Search search search – yes, we do. Amazing.

    Finally, every ingredient is found and added. I begin the kneading.

    J: Mom, what are you doing?
    Me: (thinking it is obvious) Kneading bread.
    J: I’ll add the flour for you.
    Me: No, J, it’s very messy.
    J: How long do you knead it.
    Me: 10 minutes
    J: What does this do? Why do you knead it? What kind of bread is it? I’ll add more flour.
    Me: No, J, it’s messy.
    J: Can I have a cookie?
    Me: Yes, have a cookie!

    There are two lessons to be learned in this story. Preparation and persistence.

    In the latest West Virginia United Methodist newspaper, Bishop Lyght writes about our journey from ashes to resurrection. Do you consider Lent a time for spiritual growth? Many of us “give up” something for Lent. Others think of it as a time of improvement. Have you ever been sitting at an Ash Wednesday service, wanted to make a response to the minister’s call for spiritual discipline, and realized that you would have no idea how to do that? According to Bishop Lyght, now is the time to take stock. Where are you? Where are you in relationship to God? Ask yourself now, so when Ash Wednesday arrives, you can begin the journey – you will know where you are so that you can begin to travel closer to God.

    Persistence. Remember to not give up. Keep asking yourself where you are on your journey. Ask God. Pray. Listen. You’ll know.

    Near the end of Bishop Lyght’s column, he says, “When we come near to the heart of God, we encounter joy and peace.” Amen. And doesn’t that make the preparation and the persistence worth the effort? Worth the sacrifice?

    Note: Preparations for Lent have already begun at our church. We are writing devotions to be delivered via email to subscribers. If you would like to receive those devotions, email JMAdvent at yahoo dot com (You know what to do with the at and the dot, right?). We are also planning our 40 hour Good Friday to Easter Prayer Vigil -- for more information about last year's vigil, go to our Prayer blog (


    Monday, February 12, 2007

    A Lovely Paradox

    I ran across a quote today:

    For though we very truly hear that the kingdom of God will be filled with splendor, joy, happiness and glory, yet when these things are spoken of, they remain utterly remote from our perception, and as it were, wrapped in obscurities, until that day. (John Calvin)

    Is that true? Is it true that our perception of the kingdom of God is utterly remote from our perception and wrapped in obscurities?

    My answer? Yes and no.

    I don’t mean to be unclear or ambivalent – the best answer I can give to that question – the answer that for me is the most truthful – is yes AND no. It is a paradox, and it is actually a quite lovely one.

    The kingdom of God is not yet come, and yet it is here already. We cannot perceive it, and yet God allows us to touch it and be a part of it, every day. It is the now and the not yet. It is the already and the yet to be. We have the promise of it today, and the hope of it tomorrow.

    The sunrise this morning was beautiful. I’m a little dangerous when I drive, because I try to take pictures of scenes like that – scenes that strike my “I must have that photo” chord. Notice in the picture that the sunrise is in the background. It is obscured by the trees, buildings, and power lines. Our world, which, in the middle of winter, is rather ugly, blocks the view. Sometimes we just can’t see the sunrise.

    Other times, we just don’t look. There it is – right in our faces – and we miss it. We are so engrossed in the world around us, that we miss the world above us.

    And then, there are times when we are overwhelmed by it. We open our eyes, we open our hearts, and we know the presence of God. We know that the kingdom of God is not just a far off promise of eternal life, but is a present reassurance in our wintry world. Take a look at this picture. It’s snow from last week. In person (and I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see it on the computer or not -- click on it to see it better) the snow seemed to have glitter in it. It sparkled. It reflected the light shining down on it.

    Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)


    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Who is blessed?

    I was reading the Disciplines devotion this weekend based on the lectionary reading for the week: Luke 6:17-31.

    The author of the devotion tells the story of a gentleman he knew who always replied to the question, "How are you?" with "I am blessed."

    He didn't understand how a gentleman who was retired, but had to continue working, who was struggling to make ends meet, could consider himself blessed.

    He went on to say that the man was blessed because Jesus said he was. He told us that Jesus declared that those who are poor, who are hungry or who are lost are blessed. We talked about the Beatitudes before; in our Wednesday night class I keep coming back to the idea that God's way of looking at the world is backwards from the way we do. It's had to see this gentleman as blessed because of his circumstances.

    He is blessed, however, because of his relationship with God. He must know the joy of finding oneself close to God and living in his will. None of that is related to the man's occupation; it has to do with his life with his creator.

    Do we understand that? Do we look a the Beatitudes with the eye of a member of society or as a member of the Body of Christ?

    I also read a post by the Cheesehead in Paradise about this passage. It's a good one -- it's got a little bit of Buchner, if you look for it.

    Image: Another image of the sunset in Southeastern WV. This one at a higher speed.

    Saturday, February 10, 2007


    We live in a neighborhood that is up on the top of a hill. It's colder up here than in the rest of the world. Our streets, especially after a snow like we had this week, are slower to thaw that every where else in town. Because of that, driving to our house can be a little challenging.

    This week, the snow on the roads, rather than melting, has been compacting into ice. It's tense as you drive the length of the neighborhood, waiting to slide. As I come around the corner toward our house, I see our driveway. Steve shoveled and salted it the morning after the big snow, so it's all clear. It's truly a relief to turn into the driveway, knowing that my footing is secure.

    It is sanctuary.

    What is sanctuary? It is a place of refuge and protection, according to Merriam-Webster.

    If our church worship areas are sanctuaries, what makes them a refuge or a place of protection? Isn't it the presence of God? We may call the room a sanctuary, but it isn't the room? It's God. Sanctuary -- that consecrated place where God dwells -- can be anywhere.

    It's not the stained glass, the organ or the pews that make the place Holy. It's God.


    Friday, February 09, 2007

    An Abundant Catch

    So what’s the end of the story? Yesterday’s post was about deep water – trusting God enough to set aside our own judgment, excuses, and experience, and to just trust God.

    What happened when Simon threw his nets where into the scary deep water, into a place and during a time when all that he knows tells him that this crazy idea of Jesus’ won’t work?

    Verses 6-7:

    When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
    The catch was so large, so abundant, that their nets threatened to break, that they had to call for help and that their ships started to sink. The catch of fish was beyond their imagination.

    I would think that nets would be very important to fishermen. Nets would be the tools of their livelihood. A good fisherman would have strong, well prepared and cared for nets. If he doesn’t take care of his nets, his family won’t eat. What does that say to us? If I can state an analogy, consider that our nets are the tools and gifts God has given us to do his work in the world. When we don’t care for them, when we ignore them or only use them with seeming ambivalence, then these tools will become less than reliable. If we ever do listen and obey God, then our nets will break, and the work will be for nothing. If we cannot imagine God’s abundance, then we need to be prepared for more than we can imagine.

    The catch was so large, that they had to call for their partners. Who are our partners? We are part of the Body of Christ; God has given us an abundance of partners. And yet, what do we do? We fail to call of them when we need help. We think we can do it all ourselves, so we fail to engage the gifts of the rest of the Body in the work that God has set before us. More than gifts, though, what else can our partners do for us in the Body of Christ? They can encourage us. They can be the ones who point to God for us. Sometimes we need that extra boat, or that extra heart or bit of faith that our partners in Christ can provide. What would have happened if Simon hadn’t called for his friends? His boat would have sunk. All would have been lost. I think fishing for people might be even more complicated and difficult than fishing for fish. We have an even greater need of the Body of Christ than Simon had for his fisher partners. God doesn’t intend for us to do this on our own; in fact, he expects us to help each other.

    The catch was so large that the boats began to sink. Do we believe it? Do we think that the work we do for God can be so fruitful as to overwhelm us? Do we have faith in abundance or are we convinced of scarcity? Do we truly have the faith to say, “God is going to overwhelm me today. He’s going to use me in such a way that even I can’t predict the results.”?

    Get ready. Prepare your nets, call your friends, because God’s on the way to fill our boats to the point of more than abundance. Can you see it? Don’t worry; God can.

    Images: The first image is of the sunset in southeastern WV as we drove through the countryside last weekend. The second picture of of tree branches and snow in our subdivision. It looked like cotton balls in the branches.

    Thursday, February 08, 2007

    Deep Waters

    A couple of days ago I wrote a post about Luke 5:1-11. I mentioned that I had found last week depth in this passage that I had never seen before, and that we might be returning to it.

    I think I want to return to it today.

    Take a look at these two verses (4-5):

    When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
    I heard a talk once, given by a teacher. She was a Christian, teaching in public schools, and was faced with many, many opportunities for ministry, but didn’t know how to approach any of them, or which ones she should approach. So she prayed that God would show her “where to cast her net.”

    He did, and she obeyed. It was the student she least wanted to approach about faith in God – he was a true troublemaker. But she trusted God and obeyed, casting her net into this deep, deep water.

    Eventually, she found that she had been successful, and that God had done his transforming work in this teenager.

    Do we face situations like that in our walk with God? God will tell us, “Cast your net here,” but we complain. We present excuses.

    • God, I’ve tried that before. It won’t work. Maybe you just don’t understand, but I know what I’m talking about.
    • God, this water is deep. It is way over my head. Maybe you should find someone who knows how to swim.
    • God, I think that there is a better way than this. Surely you see that your plan is flawed? I know a better way.
    What did Peter do? Bless his heart, I love Peter. He so often says what I would have wanted to say in the same situation. “Hey, Jesus, been there, done that. Are you sure?” When he realized that Jesus was serious in his request, Peter did an amazing thing. Without any more arguments, without any more complaining, he trusted Jesus. He wouldn’t always trust, but this time he did. He trusted, listened, and obeyed. He took the boat into deep water, where he was unfamiliar, and probably frightened. He cast his nets – the tools of his trade; the method by which his family ate or starved – into the deep water.

    His reward was an abundant catch.

    Will we find the same thing? Will we trust and obey, listening to God the whole time? I pray that we do.

    Images: The General Lewis Inn in Lewisburg, WV, and their house cat, Butterscotch.


      Wednesday, February 07, 2007

      J's Prayer

      J created a book in Sunday school a couple of weeks ago. On the pages of this little book, the members of his class traced the outline of their hands and wrote their names on the pages. He was asked to bring the notebook home, place his hand on the outlines in the book, and to say a prayer for the one whose hand outline was on the page.

      Steve helped him at first. They both placed their hands on the book, and Steve said the prayer. Eventually, J was doing it on his own. He begins with a prayer, and then he prays for each member of his class, and, if he knows them, the family of the member. The other day at dinner, he asked if he could say grace. There's my 10 year old, praying for us. How amazing is that?

      I've mentioned before that I read Philip Yancey's new book, Prayer. I find that in watching and listening to my son, I see illustrations for Yancey's words:

      • "We don't need to try to get God's full attention; we already have it." Even a 10 year old, who is being guided through prayer using a notebook with outlines of hands, has God's full attention. Isn't that wonderful?
      • God "has simply been waiting for us to care about them with him." Whether it is J who is asking God to bring two of the students back to Sunday school, or an adult, praying for healing for a young child, we don't have to convince God of the worthiness of the person for whom we are praying. God already knows about those who need his help. He is just waiting for us to care about them with him. "God woos, and waits."
      • "90% of prayer is showing up." It doesn't really matter what J says in his prayer. The fact that he is praying, and that God is listening, is the real blessing.

      Prayer -- it's an amazing thing to see in my own 10 year old the work of God as He builds a relationship with my son. Amen.

      Images: The first one is our dog, Molly. The second on is G, our older son, jumping over the unshoveled part of the driveway this morning as Steve shoveled.

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      Tuesday, February 06, 2007

      Plan on it

      It's snowing here. Tony, the weather guy, says to expect an inch an hour until midnight. It's one of those evenings when you are glad to be home, to have the doors closed, the family tucked in, and the dog curled up on the rug (more about her later).

      Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.
      Proverbs 19:21

      Weather like this often necessitates changes in plans. We were having a meeting tonight at church, but with all this snow, our minister decided to cancel it. To help, I called the members of the committee. Plans changed. Everyone was glad to stay home.

      After that, Steve started calling the members of his Wednesday morning prayer and study group. Hills are risky. Let's stay home. Plans change. We adapt.

      See that picture above? It is our back patio in the snow. It was going to be a picture of our beagle out in the front yard, braving the snow that is almost up the height of her legs. As I was getting the camera, she pulled away from Steve. I grabbed my coat, Steve shoved on his shoes, and G started running. It was certainly not in our plans to be chasing a beagle (still attached to her 25 foot leash) through the snow covered neighborhood in the dark. G was not wearing socks or a coat. Steve - no coat. And yet there we were, calling for the dog, trying to tempt her back with a treat. "Treat! Molly! Treat!" It's dark, it's cold; she wants to play. (Stop that laughing. Not so funny out in the cold.)

      It was definitely not in our plan for the evening.

      Plans change. We respond.

      For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
      Jeremiah 29:11

      Can we find comfort in the idea that while our day to day plans change, God's plan for us remains constant? He loves us; he will never stop, and he plans to bring us closer and closer into his will -- into his presence. His plans for us are better than hot chocolate, better than soup, better than candles and blankets. His plans for us are warmer than any of those things on a cold day like today.

      Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
      2 Corinthians 1:3-4

      He is our comfort, and we may plans on it and count on it, for He has promised it, and He is trustworthy.

      Guess what. This is not the post I planned for today.


      Monday, February 05, 2007

      Fishers for people

      One of the lectionary readings for last week was Luke 5:1-11. I liked the devotion that was published in the Disciplines book for the scripture. The church (to the left) that I attended this Sunday had a really good sermon centered around this passage. Take a look at the scripture:

      Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
      I've printed the whole scripture in this post because I realized last week how much depth it has. Look at how many things one can learn about serving God from these eleven verses.

      • "Put out in deep water" -- That's scary!
      • Simon doesn't believe that what Jesus is asking him to do is worthwhile
      • But he does it anyway! (Trust and obey)
      • Their nets were beginning to break (abundance beyond imagination)
      • Simon has to call his partner over to complete the catch (we need each other)

      So much depth in such a little passage. I have a feeling we'll be looking at it again.


      Sunday, February 04, 2007


      J and I were in the car the other morning. It was cold and snowy; we sat wastching as Steve cleaned the snow off of our car with a broom. For some reason, that tickled J, and he started giggling. He sounded just like he used to sound when he was a toddler. Those giggles were bright and joyful --straight from his heart.

      Psalm 126:2-3

      Our mouths were filled with laughter,
      our tongues with songs of joy.
      Then it was said among the nations,
      "The LORD has done great things for them."

      The LORD has done great things for us,
      and we are filled with joy.
      I spent the weekend enjoying laughter -- it was straight from the heart. The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.


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      Saturday, February 03, 2007

      Isaiah 6

      One of the lectionary readings this week is from Isaiah 6:1-13. The Discipline devotion book broke the reading into a few days worth -- a little bit each day with a devotion.

      These particular verses bothered me (verses 8-10):

      Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ And he said, ‘Go and say to this people:

      “Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
      keep looking, but do not understand.”
      Make the mind of this people dull,
      and stop their ears,
      and shut their eyes,
      so that they may not look with their eyes,
      and listen with their ears,
      and comprehend with their minds,
      and turn and be healed.’

      The first time I read it through, I didn't like it. The image of God purposefully stopping their eyes and covering their eyes doesn't mesh with God as I think I understand him.

      I thought of something that a former associate pastor of our church told me. Prophecy is not necessarily telling the future; it is telling the truth. We do it all the time with our children -- we tell them the consequences of their present actions; we point out to them their actions.

      Perhaps that is what God is doing here. Perhaps he is pointing out to the people what their actions are, and what the consequences will be.

      Yesterday's devotion focused on the end of the passage: "The holy seed is its stump. " The passage is explaining the devastation that will be found, and it is complete. Then there is is the little line -- hope, I think, in the midst of nothingness. When we think all is lost, the life of God is still present - The holy seed is its stump.

      God does not leave. God's presence and support is forever, even when we don't hear him; don't see him, and are surrounded by emptiness.

      Image: I received this in an email. It was originally a National Geographic photo


      Friday, February 02, 2007

      The Love that Counts

      I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "It's the thought that counts," in relation to a gift. What, exactly, does it mean? What is the 'thought' that counts? Do you think that thought is love? When love is the wrapping around a gift, is the actual gift itself as important?
      The last line of 1 Corinthians 12, which is the chapter about gifts and the Body of Christ, is "And I will show you a still more excellent way. " It's the bridge between the gift chapter and the love chapter (13). The more excellent way is love.
      Last Sunday, one of the lectionary readings for the day was 1 Corinthians 13. The choir's anthem for the day was based on that chapter. The final line of the anthem was the final phrase from Chapter 13. "The greatest of these is love."
      The idea of gifts and love kind of slammed together in my mind -- perhaps as Paul intended with his phrase, "I will show you a still more excellent way."
      I mentioned last Sunday in my post that I could probably make a list of the gifts that God has given to me to use in service to Him. We're always talking about that -- What are your gifts? There are tools designed to help us to determine them. In fact, I think I read that in the redesign of the UMC web site, a spiritual gift determination tool has been included. Books are written about spiritual inventories. When we meet to discuss ways to improve our church, we're always including the idea of helping people to determine what gifts God has given them, and then helping them to find ways to use them. It's all a good thing.
      But, to paraphrase the cliche I used at the beginning of this post, it's the thought -- it's the love that counts.
      If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
      Do we forget that? Do I get so involved in the gifts that I have been given that I forget about the most important thing -- the love?
      Remember the post from soulgardener that I mentioned yesterday? He addition to making the statement I quoted yesterday about the service, he also said, " Instead of asking "what is your gift?" we'll ask "are you a gift?"
      Are you a gift? Am I a gift? May God grant that we are, and may he bless us with the awareness that it is the love that counts.


      Thursday, February 01, 2007

      Where is the Line?

      One quick note: I missed it when it happened, but yesterday's post was number #500. How about that?

      Where is the line between evangelism and marketing? Is there a time when we shouldn’t worry about that particular line and just use any tools available to bring people into the church? Is there a point at which that kind of activity becomes "bait and switch?" When does it become a lie – a misrepresentation of what Christianity is all about?

      Yes, I know we’ve talked about this topic before, and I know I’ve written about it before, but I read another post this week about the “feminization of the church” and feel like I must respond or explode. Thanks to the Methoblog for directing me to Vicki’s blog, and her post about “Muscular Christianity.” Vicki highlights a newspaper article from the Orlando Sentinel which described the first monthly meeting of the Church for Men.

      Let’s start with some quotes from the article (written by Mark Pinsky, a staff writer) – I’m not sure that I could state any of this better than it comes from the “horse’s mouth” so to speak:
      • The worship services for the Church for Men are held in the gymnasium of the YMCA. The sermon is timed by the scoreboard. Says the minister, “If you can’t tell it in 15 minutes, you might as well go home.”
      • One man attended the service because he didn’t like the leadership of a female pastor. “Men can be real men and real Christians.” I don’t doubt that, but I wonder how he defines a “real man.” I imagine his definition is a little bit different from mine.
      • The organizer of the event, Mike Ellis, who is a direct-marketing consultant from Port Orange, said, “It gives men an opportunity to get out of their caves and connect with other men.” Out of their caves?
      • The “movement” doesn’t like music its organizers define as “dreamy songs with lovey-dovey words,” sermons (which are boring) or the “image of a sweet, loving Jesus.” They “complain about the sanctuaries’ décor, which reminds them of Martha Stewart.”
      • To combat the décor problem, they hang swords and battle axes on the walls. I am not making this stuff up.
      • At one church, the minister has Sunday evening cook-outs for the men (which is fine). At these cookouts, manliness is displayed at times by the lack of utensils, a fish filleting demonstration in which the leader pulled the bones out of the fish with his teeth, and the presentation of a fresh deer head.
      • Non-muscular Christianity is discussed using terms such as emasculation, homoerotic, machodeficit, impotence, and checking your manhood at the door. Wow.

        My question is whether this kind of presentation of the gospel is true to the gospel itself? Is it a true depiction of what Christianity is like as presented in our mainline churches?

        It’s always hard for me to approach this issue from a personal standpoint, because the lack of male attendees is not a problem that my church is facing. Thankfully, men are involved in every aspect of ministry – from building habitat house, going on mission trips, to leading Children’s church. They sing in the choir, they present liturgy, and they teach Sunday school. At my church, they even cook, more often than the women do. Are they emasculated? Absolutely not.

        Can any of them fillet a fish with his teeth? I wouldn’t know. I imagine one or two of them might be willing to try, but most of them would think it was a very odd thing to do. That’s what a good, sharp filleting knife is for. The right tool for the right job.

        The men at my church aren’t worried about the “feminization” of the church. They are too busy building a stage for the middle aged elementary school students for their Sunday school room, cleaning up the parking lot, pouring sidewalks, fixing dinner for the Youth luncheon, taking care of the infant nursery and teaching classes.

        All of that aside, why do I have problems with the Church for Men? Why do I ask if it is a type of “bait and switch.”

        I agree that the Jesus presented in the Bible is not a “sweet” man, like an Easter bunny. Was he loving? Yes, he was. Love defined him, and any attempt to ignore that denigrates him. He doesn’t offer the Valentine’s Day type love that one finds on Hallmark cards. He offers agape – unconditional, never-ending, grace filled love. It isn’t sugary, like maple syrup. It is living water.

        Should we be so focused on the effects of décor that we hang battle axes? Aren’t swords a misrepresentation of what the Bible offers? If it isn’t the “stuff of war” is it necessarily feminine? Why are some people so convinced that if the struggle doesn’t involve guns and knives, that it is easy? Christianity isn’t easy – it’s hard. It isn’t stuffed teddy bears and lace dresses, but it also isn’t pick axes and orange blaze vests. It’s more difficult than any of that. When we try to make our faith simple, we fail to rise to the challenge laid before us. When we try to mold it into what we want it to be, we are creating God in our own image, rather than attempting to live up to true God-image that we are created to be.

        At the heart of it, when we talk about men "coming out of their caves," being emasculated or threatened by decor, when we describe them as having a short attention span, or being bored by all sermons, when we stereotype them in this manner, we are selling them short. That bothers me. I hope it bothers them.

        Are sermons so boring that we need a shot clock to designate the amount of time we will spend in worship? Are the songs so annoying that we will refuse to lift our voices in praise? I read a post the other day on a blog called soulgardener (thanks to Lorna for pointing it out) that discussed the 1 Corinthians 13 “love” chapter. The author lives in South Africa, and he said that in his church they were endeavoring to avoiding asking “How was the service today?” Instead, they were going to ask, “How was my service today?” Amen.

        Image: Obviously, a snowy leaf. Not so obviously, at the VA this morning.