Monday, April 30, 2007

Holy Ground

Think back to Moses and the burning bush. That's right -- way back -- Exodus 3:1-6. Moses is working, keeping the flock safe for his father-in-law. All of a sudden, he sees a bush on fire, but the bush is not consumed.

Can't you imagine Moses? The NRSV says, "Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." (verse 3). He's working, minding the sheep, and sees something fantastic. "I must turn aside..."

Then the scripture says, "When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see..." I think that's interesting -- God waited until he had Moses' attention and then he called to Moses. Once Moses answered, God said, "Come no closer. Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing his holy ground."

Do you ever feel as if you are standing on Holy Ground?

How do we know?

Those are good questions, but maybe they are not the right questions to be asking. Could it be that we are ALWAYS standing on Holy Ground?

For class this Wednesday, I'm reading chpters 12 and 13 of Yancey's Grace book. He's talking about the cleanliness/uncleanliness standards in the Old Testament, and he says,

I sense in Jesus' approach a fulfillment, not an abolition, of the Old Testament laws. God had "hallowed" creation by separating the sacred from the profane, the clean from the unclean. Jesus did not cancel out the hallowing principle, rather he changed its source. We ourselves can be agents of God's holiness, for God now dwells within us.
We can be a source of holiness.

If that is so, and if God is with us always, then all ground is holy. If it is God that makes us holy, then this ground, where I sit right now, is Holy Ground.

There is a quote, and if anyone knows it exactly, leave it in the comments, please. I can't find it right now. It's something like, "There are burning bushes all around. Some of us see them, and the rest of us sit around, picking daisies." I've destroyed that quote -- it's not at all right -- but you get the meaning. If God is with us, then he is WITH us. It's just that sometimes we ignore him, picking daisies.

This ground is Holy. Take off your shoes and wiggle your toes.

In his presence there is joy beyond measure
And at his feet peace of mind can still be found
If you have a need, I know He has the answer
Reach out and claim it for we are standing
On holy ground

We are standing on holy ground
And I know there are angels all around
Let us praise, Jesus now
We we are standing in his presence
On holy ground
Song at end: Holy Ground -- Words and Music By Christopher Beatty and Geron Davis
Image: Sunset at track meet this evening.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fill this place, Lord.

First, a word of explanation. Every once and a while, I write a poem. It's not a normal thing that I do, but since I started blogging, there are times when I write poems.

When I do that, the poems often begin with a phrase that starts my mind working. That is what happened this morning. As I mentioned yesterday, the band Portal was at our church yesterday and today. This morning for our early service, the three female members of the band did an "unplugged" worship service. The first song that they sang was about meeting God -- seeking him, and asking him to reveal himself to us. The phrase that struck me was "Fill this place."

I think that may be my prayer for our church. Fill this place, Lord. While I listened, I wrote this, sitting in the pew:

No electricity, except the power of God.
Fill this place, Lord.

No noise, except the praise of God.
Fill this place, Lord.

No sight, except the presence of God.
Fill this place, Lord.

No movement, except the guiding of God.
Fill this place, Lord.

No air, except the breath of God.
Fill this place, Lord.

No rhythm, except the footsteps of God.
Fill this place, Lord.

No knowledge, except the wisdom of God.
Fill this place, Lord.

No worship, except the love of God.
Fill this place, Lord.

Images: The band and the door. Standing in that spot was like standing in the breath of God. Click on that second image for a better look.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

JesusQuest 2007

We had a Youth Rally at our church today. The theme was JesusQuest, and we focused on doors, seeking and knocking. The day ended with a concert from the band Portal.


Simple Gift

I’m reading Richard Foster’s book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. It’s been a busy few weeks, and I haven’t had much time to pick it up, but I finished Chapter One this morning. I’ve been purposefully reading it slowly. He writes well, and his work is full of nuggets that need assimilation. I mentioned before that I am hesitant to write in this book – I have no idea why – but I have been, and several lines in this chapter are underlined.

The concept discussed in Chapter 1 is Simple Prayer. I’ve never heard of simple prayer, but I have experienced it. The concept of simple prayer flies in the face of the idea that prayer has to be “just right.”
Simple prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate father. There is no pretence in simple prayer. He goes on to say Simple prayer is beginning prayer. It is the prayer of children, and yet we will return to it again and again.
The catch, though, and something that must not be forgotten, is that this is not prayer from which we “graduate.” “Simple prayer is necessary, even essential, to the spiritual life.”

Consider for a moment those sleepless nights that we all sometimes have – those nights when a worry is weighing on our minds. We pace. Because of the gift of simple prayer, we do not pace alone. We pace with God – he walks with us and listens to our worries. It’s not praise – it’s not high sounding theological terms – its our hearts poured out to God – the worries, the anger, the doubt. Isn’t it a gift to know that we walk with our God through those kind of emotions?

Consider for a moment those times when we are exhausted, maybe even too tired to pray, or to even remember God. Simple prayer means that God hears our tired souls anyway. We can bring that weariness to his doorstep and leave it, and he is our pillow.
To believe that God can reach us and bless us in the ordinary junctures of daily life is the stuff of prayer.
Isn’t that a gift? As I was reading this chapter, a Shaker song came to mind. The words were written by Elder Joseph Brackett:

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right

It’s a dancing song; it was written to be used in dance, and the simple instructions for movement are seen in the words. In fact, the melody can be found in the United Methodist Hymnal associated with the hymn Lord of the Dance (one of my favorites). It strikes me that it is also a description of the gift of simple prayer, and how it is a dance with God. Read it again, thinking of prayer.

The gift: "We will discover that by praying we learn to pray. "

Image: Manuscript of Simple Gifts from this site.
Happy Birthday to JtM!

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Song of Praise

The chorus of praise began
With the angels
Their song a gentle melody
Whispered on the breeze
The notes pure tones
Of majestic glory.
Flawless in its simplicity
Nothing could compare
To its greatness.

And yet, the praise was not complete.

The sun, the moon, the sky, the stars,
Added to the symphony.
Darkness and light,
An antiphonal response.
The ocean rose against the sand
Clapping God’s honor.
Even the rocks contributed their stony silence
Created in perfection

And yet, the praise was not complete.

Trees, reaching toward heaven
Arms outstretched.
The flowers joined in the hymn
Heads nodding in assent.
All sang of his glory.
Bright colors, dancing rainbows
Seeds flew on the wind
Extolling God with their potential.

And yet, the praise was not complete.

Rhythm was added to the song
As the crickets chirped
And the bullfrogs joined in the percussion.
Glory had a voice
In the singing of the birds,
And the howling of the wolves.
The song finally had body and strength,
As elephants trumpeted,
And joy, as hyenas laughed.

And yet, the praise was not complete.

For one moment, one small break in time
He came to teach his children how to sing.
“This,” he said, “Is how you do it.”
And he stretched out his arms,
As a conductor, directing them into songs of love.
His dying breath a note of silence.
Creation brought to its knees
As the song of praise ended.
Angels shocked into pause.

And all waited to see if the song would begin again.

Haltingly, faltering, the children began
Their notes discordant,
Never perfect, far from complete.
But they did sing,
And creation picked up their tune.
Urging them along
Encouraging, helping,
Harmony at its finest.

And finally, the praise was music to God’s ears.

Poem inspired by a line from one of Suzanne's sermons -- On Holy Ground -- in which she said, "And the praise was not complete."
Image: From Target hill last night.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is there forgiveness?

I was reading a blog yesterday, and I ran across this teaser:

Here is something that Richard said that struck me: "God never forgives - he punishes" wow...let that digest.
Since I'm working on the class about grace, and we are specifically focusing on forgiveness right now, that sentence struck me, so I explored it more. I went to the originating post, at Hebrews 9:11-28.

Go read the post on your own, but my general summary is that God never forgives ... he punishes. The idea is that the crucifixion was my punishment, and that I am not forgiven. The idea is that God doesn't love the sinner, he loves the person Christ makes us to be by accepting our punishment. The grace in this is that God punished someone else. There is no forgiveness.

What do you think of that?

I think it ignores much of Jesus' teaching on forgiveness, just one example being the prayer he prayed on from the cross, "Father, forgive them..." It seems to me that Jesus knew that there definitely is forgiveness. I also think that the main idea in that blog post -- that God doesn't love the sinner -- is contrary to the main theme -- the main idea of the God of the Bible. God loves me (and you) from the moment he thought of me, from the moment he breathed life into me, he has loved me. My sin does not stop him from loving me; in fact he loves me so much that he never walks away, in spite of my sin.

I tossed the idea to my co-teacher, guest blogger and commenter, Jeff the Methodist. His response:

I think God loves me. I think God has always loved us. I don’t think God ever stopped loving us. I think God knows how sin hurts us. How it hurts others, and comes back to hurt us. He wants us to experience oneness with him. He wants us to be perfect. He knows we cannot grasp forgiveness (without atonement) and grace and unmerited love. He became human so that he could experience humanity through our eyes, and so that a blood offering could be given, so that we could “get it.”
So that we would "get" it. He loves us so much that he went to (and continues to go to) extraordinary lengths so that we would finally understand it -- be able to grasp the enormity of God's grace and love.

Is there forgiveness? I think to deny it is to deny the love of God.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Forgive who?

I talked yesterday about forgiveness -- am I starting to sound like a broken record? It's such an integral part to Christianity, and it is on my mind because of our Wednesday night class.

Yesterday's question was, "Is there forgiveness?" Today I want explore the idea of its availability.

There is a song sung by Relient K called Who I am Hates who I've Been.

Let's go through a verse or two and the chorus, and I share my thoughts about them.

'Cause I don't want you to know where I am
'Cause then you'll see my heart
in the saddest state it's ever been
This is no place to try to and live my life.

Have you been in that place? Have you experienced the realization that where you are is not where you should try to live your life? Did that realization include a face to face confrontation with the mistakes that you have made? I wonder if God brings us to those moments in an effort to make us SEE -- in an effort to encourage us to turn around (I've got a post about repentance boiling around in my head).

Stop right there, that's exactly where I lost it
See that line, where I never should have crossed it
Stop right there, where I never should have said that
It's the very moment that I wish that I could take back

Have you been there? I know I have. Are there moments in your life that you could point to and say, "I wish I had never crossed THAT line."? Are there moments in your life that you wish that you could take back? Absolutely.

I'm sorry for the person I became
I'm sorry that it took so long for me to change
I'm ready to never become that way again

Regret. We all feel it. We all experience it. I wonder if perhaps it is a sign of growth. I wonder if regret means that we have matured enough, either mentally, emotionally or spiritually to recognize that we have made mistakes, and even more importantly, to wish that we had not.

'Cause who I am hates who I've been
who I am hates who I've been.

There. Right there. Go back and read that again. That's the moment in the song when I say, "Whoa. Back the truck up." Who I am hates who I've been.I might be pretty disgusted with who I've been, and wish that I had done a better job at it, but we all need to realize that God loved who I was, just as much as he loves who I am now. He loves who I was enough to wish that I would change. Enough to work on me to help me to change. And if God loves who I was, then who am I to quibble with his judgment?

That's when forgiveness comes in. That's the point when we forgive ourselves for who we've been. I think that that self-forgiveness frees us to move into who we will become. It's important, and it takes grace.

Image: Trees and sun this morning at the VA.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thoughts about Forgiveness, Part III

I mentioned in a blog post many months ago an idea that I found in an article by JF Lacaria (Director of Leadership Formation and Ministry Support for the WV Annual Conference). “So that…” The phrase “so that” and the thought process behind will help to make fruitful ministry.

My question today, as we continue with Thoughts about Forgiveness is this: What is the “so that” of forgiveness? Why is it necessary for us to forgive? What is the fruit of forgiveness?

So that we will be obedient…

It’s true, and it’s a very obvious but overlooked response. We forgive so that we will be obedient to what God tells us to do. God tells us to forgive each other. Jesus models forgiveness. If we are to place God as Lord of all, then we do what he tells us. One of the things he tells us to do is to forgive.

So that the love triangle will be complete...

Don’t get all excited. It’s not that kind of love triangle. It’s a concept that I read about today. God love me. I love others. Others love God (if I’ve done my job in making a disciple). The triangle is complete. Unforgiveness is a roadblock to love. When we forgive someone else, that roadblock is removed. The triangle can be made complete.

Don’t be narrow minded about this. I don’t only mean that forgiving someone means that we can now love them. I also mean that forgiving person A means that we are free to now love person B and person C and person D. Anger and hatred impact more than just the relationship with person A.

In a strange twist of events in examining this aspect of forgiveness, look at John 21:15-19. In this passage, Peter and the resurrected Jesus are having a conversation. It is the “Peter, do you love me” conversation. It’s a great piece of scripture – deep and full of meaning. There was some discussion of it in class last week, and one of the conclusions was that Jesus asked Peter the “do you love me” question three times to make a point that he remembered the betrayal or to remind him of that betrayal. I disagree. I think Jesus knew Peter pretty well, and knew how devastated he was by what he was done. Jesus pursues Peter, asking him again and again – three times – until Peter finally gives in and forgives himself, even as he accepts forgiveness from Jesus. “Feed my sheep.” Anger at ourselves can be as much of a roadblock as anger at another.

So that we can be of service to God...

Carrying the Peter theme through to this one, Peter must forgive himself. He must let go of the guilt he feels. It isn’t easy, and in the process, he struggles against Jesus’ efforts. He is hurt by Jesus’ repetition of the question. Jesus is making a point, though. He is telling Peter, “Even though you betrayed me, I forgive you. I forgive you even that.” Peter has to let go of it, too, so that Jesus can send him out to “feed his sheep.” Jesus sends the forgiven Peter out in service. Service which will lead to his eventual death. Without the forgiveness, though, I don’t think any of it would have happened. Peter would have been a fisherman for the rest of his life.

What is the “so that” of forgiveness? We forgive
  • So that we say with our lives that God is God
  • So that we know with our hearts that God is love
  • So that we do with our lives that which says we love God.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Thoughts about Forgiveness, Part II

Continuing with thoughts about forgiveness from Friday’s post, what is the role of grace in forgiveness? We talk in class often of our ability to forgive. I’ve heard comments like these:

When the anger is fresh, and the pain is strong, it is too hard to forgive. I need to wait until it hurts less.

What would happen if this were the attitude that we had when we were sick? “This broken arm hurts too much for me to go to the doctor. I’ll wait until it starts to heal first, and then I’ll go seek medical attention.”

If we are hurting, if the pain is so huge that we realize that forgiveness is impossible, why are we taking on the added burden of searching for healing on our own? Shouldn’t we be reaching for God at this point instead of waiting for healing first? I know we don’t. I know I don’t, but the logic of it is a little bit baffling.

There is no way that I can forgive that person. I don’t wish him harm, but I can’t ever forgive him.

I think that she was absolutely right. There are certain situations that we, on our own, cannot forgive. We just can’t do it. God knows that, and he offers a solution.

There are some things that we cannot forgive, except by the grace of God.

Ah hah! One of the older gentlemen in the class said it, and it is the message that I think both JtM and I hope that the members of the class learn above all others.

Forgiveness is sometimes only possible through the grace of God. Sometimes, I think, we see forgiveness as a pretty flower arrangement – smells nice, looks beautiful, sits on the table and gives us joy. Forgiveness is not like that. Forgiveness stinks. It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it can be wrenching. It is not natural. God, through his grace, is our enabler to do the impossible – to forgive the one who hurt us.

Tomorrow: Why forgive?

Happy Birthday, MBC -- Never 10 years older....

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Community and Saul

I should mention before I start this afternoon's post, that the two other parts of "Thoughts about Forgiveness" are written and ready to go. Saul seems to have intruded throughout the weekend, though.

One of this week's lectionary readings is Acts 9:1-20, which is the conversion of Saul. Reading it this morning, and the Disciples devotion about it, I was struck by the statement it makes about the necessity for community. The sermon today enhanced that idea for me.

It's not a connection I've ever made before. Think about it, though.

Saul has been persecuting Christians. As Carol said this morning, he felt that his religion was threatened, and he was doing anything he could to eliminate that threat. On the road to Damascus, he was blinded by a bright light, and he heard the voice of Jesus. He was blind for three days as he prayed and fasted.

Imagine for a moment Saul's situation. He is unexpectedly and dramatically made blind. Out in the middle of no where, with no warning. He has to rely on those who are with him to make it to Damascus, or he would have been stuck on the road.

He has to rely on Judas (whoever he is) for a place to stay for those three days. He doesn't exist in a vacuum for those three days. There must have been people in that house who were caring for him. Helping him.

I like what Carol said this morning -- he was blind so that he could see the truth for the first time (I'm paraphrasing).

And then there is Ananias. Poor Ananias, who has to go to a man who he considers an enemy, and heal him. He does it only because he is obedient to God. He certainly doesn't want to do it.

Saul's conversion to Paul was not complete until the Body of Christ entered into the story. Because of the men on the road with Saul, Judas' household and Ananias, Saul is able to meet Jesus, face to face, and he is changed.

I think it is a scripture which teaches us a few things about community:
  • There are times that we need help, and there are times when we have to accept help, whether we want to or not.
  • There are times when following God means that we give help to someone who we would rather not help. There are times when we are "community" to someone who with whom we would not normally choose to be in community.
  • There are times when God's will can only be done in community. What would have happened if no one had been there to help Saul, or to bring him God's word and to do God's will?
We shouldn't forget these lessons. We are givers and receivers of grace through the Body of Christ.

What happened to Saul? He was healed. He regained his sight, he was baptised (can't do that without community, either), he ate (someone probably got him food), and he found his voice to preach God's word.

God's will was done because people brought grace to Saul.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Blind Ananias

Acts 9:1-20

The road was long
Especially since Ananias kept traveling
parts of it
over and over again.

In a vision, the Lord had said,
"Go to the house of Judas.
Ask for a man from Tarsus
named Saul."

Go to Saul?
Surely Ananias had heard wrong.
Didn't God know what Saul had done?
Ananias felt like Judas
Going to see Saul.

The Lord had said,
"Saul is praying.
Place your hands on him,
and restore his sight."

Ananias had tried to tell God,
had tried to remind him
of all of the harm that Saul had done.
All of the believers that he had hurt.
All of the believers that he would hurt.
Didn't God understand?
Why would He ask this of Ananias?

So Ananias had left his home,
and started walking down the road.
And then he would turn back,
convinced that he had heard wrong.
He would walk toward home.
Then he would turn around,
And walk toward Straight street again,
knowing that he had heard correctly,
but not understanding it.

Why had he been asked to do this?
He hated Saul.
He had no desire
to even be near the man.
He feared the man.
But he loved his Lord,
and he would obey,
in blind faith.

Ananias walked into a place
where he would never have chosen to go
Into a house to speak with a man
he would never have chosen to speak with.
To touch a man,
To heal a man,
who he would rather leave blind.

In the room sat Saul,
praying, fasting,
In blind trust,
Ananias placed his hands on the enemy
and said, "Brother,
The Lord has sent me
The one who appeared on the road to you
Has sent me
So that you may see again
And so that you may truly see
For the first time.

Scales fell from Saul's eyes,
And he saw Ananias.
Scales fell from Ananias' eyes,
and he could see
that Saul had been seeing clearing
for three days.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Thoughts about Forgiveness, Part I

As part of the class that I’m involved in co-teaching right now – a book study of What’s So Amazing About Grace – we’ve been exploring the concept of forgiveness. It’s been interesting to me some of the comments that have come to the surface about people’s believe or experience in forgiveness.

Some of them I disagree with (Big woopdie-do; just because I disagree with them doesn’t mean the other person is wrong. It could mean that I am wrong, but I think they are some things to consider.)

The longer the amount of time between the act which hurt me and the time in which I will forgive the person, the easier it is to forgive him.

Is that really true, all the time? Many people in class seemed to agree with this statement. It is interesting to me that many of the illustrations that Yancey uses in this chapter are stories about long term – 35 year old – grudges which split families. He even talks about a generation-long argument. I can understand that idea that sometimes a little perspective is needed calm hot anger, but I wonder if perhaps that as more time passes, the deeper the resentment takes root, becomes a part of us, and the harder it is to let it go.

Think about Joseph in the Old Testament. Comments were made in class that he had had a better life because his brothers had betrayed him (which is true) and that he had had a lifetime to “get over it” (which is also true). All of this should have made it easier to forgive his brothers, but look at this verse:

Joseph couldn’t hold himself in any longer, keeping up a front before all his attendants. He cried out, “Leave! Clear out—everyone leave!” So there was no one with Joseph when he identified himself to his brothers. But his sobbing was so violent that the Egyptians couldn’t help but hear him. (Genesis 45:1-2).
This forgiveness is NOT easy for Joseph. It is wrenching.

It is easier to forgive a family member or someone close to us than it is to forgive someone who is not close.

Is it? Is it always easier? The problem involved in that logic is that the person who is emotionally close to us has more power to hurt us, and hurting us involves the betrayal of trust. An acquaintance doesn’t have that power.

Think back again to Joseph. These are his brothers, but the pain of it – the pain that he has to let go of – is huge. Would he have had this much of a problem forgiving someone who he didn’t know who had hurt him?

I can see the motivating factor in forgiving a family member – we love them. We desire for a restored relationship, but I think to assume that all of that makes it easier is not always correct.

I can’t forgive him (them) because he started it. Why should I make the first move?

I think that there might be two problems with this statement. First, and thinking again back to Joseph, he could certainly claim that his brothers had “started it.” They certainly were wrong to sell him into slavery, but was Joseph blameless? Think back to Genesis 37, and Joseph’s dreams of greatness. He did not show much sensitivity to his brothers when he told them that they would bow down to him. If Joseph had taken the attitude that “they wronged me,” and refused to forgive them for it, then he would have been standing on a rather self-righteous platform.

Secondly, and I think that this is an extremely important, but difficult concept to grasp, it doesn’t really matter at all “who started it.”

My co-teacher made a comment which I heartily agreed with and wanted to applaud. I think it is SO IMPORTANT to understand. Forgiveness, for us, has nothing to do with the person being forgiven. It doesn’t matter if the forgiven person is repentant, unrepentant, dead, alive, continuing to commit the sin, or is the one who started it. None of that matters. Forgiveness matters most to the person who is doing the forgiveness. If we put off trying to reach for the healing power of forgiveness until some external criteria is met by the person to be forgiven, then we are placing our ability to be healed in the hands of the one who wronged us. This is not a gift we are grudgingly giving to the one to be forgiven; it is a gift we are accepting from God for our own healing.

Tomorrow, what is the role of grace?

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Delilah and Lily

I presented the message today at our Common Grounds Service -- it was a first person portrayal of Delilah who melded into a modern character named Lily. As I mentioned yesterday, grace seemed to flow around my preparation of these thoughts. I'm posting my original ideas, although much changed in the actual delivery. Delilah was not quite as harsh, I think:

Delilah / Lily

You think you are so different from me. You sit at your tables, you walk down the streets, and you think you are SO very different from me. I know what you are doing. You are sitting there in judgment, counting my sins.

Do you know who I am? My name is Delilah. Do you know what I did? I defeated Samson – that Israelite named Samson.

He was a judge of Israel. A leader. I thought he would be a fine catch, and well, I suppose he was, but not in the way I imagined at first.

I am a Philistine. We were at war with the Israelites – always fighting, always on guard against them. Not that they were in control – NO! We were. For forty years we held them in the palm of our hand. I lived in the Valley of Sorek – right between our land and that of Israel. Everyone where I lived had heard of Samson – he was legendary. At night we would tell the children to hurry back inside when it was dark – Samson might be outside, and he might capture you and eat you!

Then one day I met him. Maybe you’ve heard about him. Maybe you’ve heard how strong he was, how intimidating. How powerful. Just standing near him, you could sense all of that. I remember his hands. They were big and powerful. Just looking at his hands, you could sense the strength in him. And his hair. Hair such as this should not be allowed on a man – only women should have hair like his. It was long and straight. It seemed to glow with some kind of internal strength.

Was he handsome? I suppose he was, but it didn’t matter. That wasn’t what I saw in him. I saw in him my chance to be somebody. To be respected. To have that kind of power myself. And I wanted it. I could taste it.

So I set out to take him. To have him. I used everything I had – my looks, my body, my mind, and the kind of power that only women have. You know what I mean – I used it all. But what choice did I have? I was stuck in my hometown – no chance of ever seeing anything beyond the walls of our valley. I found out later – do you know what Sorek means in Samson’s language? Empty. My life in Sorek was empty. And there he was in front of me – my one and only chance for more.

He said he loved me. He promised me everything I wanted. But what did he give me? Nothing. I invited him into my home, my bed. He gave me nothing.

One day, a group of rich men came to see our town. I could tell they had a lot of money by what they wore and by how they acted. All of us in Sorek were second class compared to them. They acted like they didn’t even want to touch us.

They came right to my home – they knew what they wanted. And when I saw them, I knew what I wanted. What choice did I have? Samson wasn’t ever going to give me what he had promised. Never. These men told me that they would each give me 1100 pieces of silver, if I would help them to capture Samson. 1100 pieces! Each! I didn’t even hesitate. If they wanted him, they could have him. As long as they gave me all that money.

So I went up to him one evening. I squeezed him arm, I played with his hand, I ran my hands through his hair – it really was beautiful hair. I made him feel strong. You know how men like that. And I asked him, “What makes you so strong? How could anyone even tie you up if they tried?”

Idiot man. He told me. At least he pretended to tell me. “Seven fresh bowstrings would do it.” (Holds up bowstrings). So the rich men brought me the bowstrings, and waited in the next room while he was sleeping that night. I tied him up. Tight. I did my part. I woke him up by saying, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson.” He jumped up, broke the bowstrings like they were nothing.

I was so angry! He lied to me! So I asked him again, and let me tell you, he got an earful from me! I thought maybe this time he told me the truth. New ropes. Bind me with new ropes, and I won’t be able to get free, he said.

So that night, while he was asleep, I tied him up with the ropes. Tighter than before. He had told me that the ropes would make him like the rest of us – weak. I was ready for him to be weak. I yelled, “Samson, the Philistines are here to take you away.” He jumped up and broke the rope, like it was sewing thread.

At this point, I was ready to just hand him over those rich men without the money. Well, maybe not, but I hated Samson. Hated him. He told me he loved me, but he didn’t. He lied to me, over and over. He said he would take me out of this emptiness, but he didn’t.

I nagged and nagged. What choice did I have? This time his answer had a ring of truth about it. It had to do with his hair. His hair was magnificent. It looked like power, so I thought this was right. He told me to weave seven strands of it together and make it tight with a pin. I thought it might work. But it didn’t. It was just another lie.

I used everything I had to try to get the secret from him. I cried – I can cry at the drop of a hat. I ranted – that was my true feelings – I was so mad at the idiot! “You say you love me, Samson, then tell me the truth!” It took days and days and endless nights of nagging, but he finally told me, and I knew that this time it was true. It was his hair. He parents had made some kind of vow to their God to never cut his hair. His power lied in his hair – I knew that it did.

I hated to do it. His hair was the only thing that I really loved about him, it was so beautiful. But I took it. I took his hair; I took the money from those men, and they took Samson. I watched while they gouged out his eyes.

Yes, it was nasty. They left a mess in my house, but I didn’t care. I had the money, and he was gone. I heard later that he died in the hands of the Philistines. I was glad.

She changes to Lily with a change in costume.

My name is Lily, and you don’t know me. I live down the street from you, and I am just like Delilah. My sins are many; I’ve done so many things wrong that I have lost count. I could spell all of my sins out for you, but I won’t. I’ve done many things that I am not proud of – sometimes I wondered if I had any choice at all.

The joy of my life is my son. We recently moved to a new apartment – new for us, anyway. It is small, but it’s room enough.

Soon after we moved in, our new neighbor came to visit. She brought us a loaf of bread. She didn’t come in, not that time, but later she did, and we would talk. Her name is Mrs. Morgan. When I was a teenager, I might have called Mrs. Morgan a busybody. A nuisance. Today my son calls her Granny. She has saved us.

But anyway, Mrs. Morgan visited us many times, and she put up with my complaining, my unhappiness. Life for me was empty. It was just work and loneliness. I wanted something else, but I didn’t know what.

Mrs. Morgan suggested – invited – us to go to church with her. I refused. Why would I go to church? I wasn’t like those people in church. They were good. I was not. I wouldn’t be welcomed in that church.

Finally, she convinced me to let my son go to church with her. They were having some kind of program called Vacation Bible School. To him, anything with the word vacation in it sounded good. To me, it was free babysitting for an entire week. Who can beat that? So he went.
He came home one day and gave me this.

(holds up a paper heart, obviously drawn by a child, which said, “God loves you”)

God loves me? Me? No way God loves me. I am like Delilah…there is no way God could love me. I’ve made too many mistakes, and I just keep making them.

At the end of the week, the kids had a program at church, and my son and Mrs. Morgan convinced me that I should go. I didn’t want to, but I did it for my son.

They had a cute little play, and then at the end, sang a song.

Grace, grace God’s grace
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within
Grace, grace God’s grace
Grace that is greater than all my sin.

Grace that is greater than all my sin. My sin? Greater than my sin? My sins are huge. Grace is that big?

But it is. Grace is that big. Bigger than my sins. Bigger than your sins. I’m not going to tell you what I’ve done wrong, because God doesn’t remember it. And if he doesn’t remember it, I’m not going to remember it either.

God loves me. And he loves you, too.

Thanks to Steve and JtM for the brass duet and J and H for singing the Grace song.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Have you ever had an experience in which everything dovetails together in such a way that you wonder if God is at work?

Tomorrow, I am supposed to present the message at our Common Grounds service. It is a first person portrayal of Delilah. As I began to think about the character, I was also beginning co-teaching our new class about grace. The thoughts of Delilah and grace dovetailed.

  • Steve brought a new CD -- Wow Hymns. As I was listening, I got stuck on the song Grace, Grace, God's Grace. This song became a part of the message in my mind.
  • After I emailed the minister who is the worship leader for this service, I heard back that she had been thinking about grace, too, and that she was planning on ending the service with Grace Alone. Isn't that an odd coincidence for a message about Delilah?
  • The topic of the class we taught tonight was forgiveness
  • The song Grace, Grace God's Grace is based on the hymn, Grace that is Greater than all my sins. The scripture inspiration for this hymn is Romans 5:20.
All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn't, and doesn't, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it's sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that's the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.
Aggressive forgiveness we call grace. I think that fits right into the lesson for this evening.
  • This quote came in my email today. It's a quote about grace, as well:
Yet, for all this lukewarmness, we hunger. And we know well enough the there is a response. There is an answering back to the Grace of God on your part and on mine that is all-important. We know, too, that the redeeming of our time calls for nothing less than the blazing up out of our prostrate bodies of an authentic, original, passionate, interior life in answer to the Living Flame that confronts us.
There are times when everything seems to dovetail together. Dovetail. Dove. Holy Spirit. God. Dovetails.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Unexpected Blessings

The Emmaus walk this past weekend was a men's walk. Obviously, having a husband and being the mother of two children, I am not a man. However, I found wonderful blessings working as a volunteer to support this walk.

I thought I would take a moment to describe a small part of it.

Steve gave one of the 15 talks during the walk. Of course, I knew that he was going to do it for several months, and all along I thought that I would only get to hear about it second hand. It didn't turn out that way, though.

Part of the tradition with the talks is that the speaker is "prayed in" in a small chapel close to the conference room by team members assigned to the task. I was privileged to be able to join Steve in the chapel with the prayer team, and our friends, JtM and MT. A blessing. How wonderful to be able to pray for your husband as he prepared to speak about Christian Action and to do so with friends.

By then I knew that I would be able to listen to his talk in the next room over a speaker, but the prayer chapel team members, who were very nice, offered to set a chair for MT and I in the hallway -- which is part of the conference room, so that we could see the talk. I was hesitant to do it; I didn't want to distract either Steve or the men in the conference room, but I slipped into the hall to see if I thought if he would be able to see me or not at the end of the hallway.

Once I did that, I had to stay. It was a joy to watch him, to see him deliver his talk. He did great, and I was -- and am -- so blessed to have been able to watch him do it. Great job, Steve.

After the talk, he was "prayed out" in a time of thanksgiving. Gratitude was abundant.

We then walked to the main church building to talk while he changed back into his casual clothes. Right in the middle of a walk, 15 minutes of alone time. One more unspeakable gift to round out the afternoon.


Monday, April 16, 2007


On Sunday I substituted in an older Sunday school class. We talked about worship, and a couple of members made comments about silence.

"I find God in the still, small voice."
"I was raised that the sanctuary is a place of quiet (or something close to that)."

Their comments lead me to believe that they feel that they can ONLY find God in the quiet.

I find God in the quiet. Being a "bear of very small brain," at least when it comes to prayer, I need the silence in order to pray. I need an absence of distraction. Music in the background during prayer bothers me if I'm talking to God. It's that lyrics problem. I hear the lyrics more readily than the music, so the song's words drown out my own. If I'm sitting quietly, without trying to form words to God, then the music is usually OK. Ironically, prior to teaching the class yesterday, I went in the sanctuary to pick up a few bulletins. Our choir director was practicing a song for the prelude (on the organ). It was beautiful, so I just sat in the quiet room and listened.

The organ is not a particularly quiet instrument.

I do find God in the quiet, but I also find God in the noise. The Hallelujah Chorus on Easter is not quiet, and yet it is full of God. When I drive along in my car, with the music turned up loudly and the windows down, God visits. When I turn off the music, and have no sound in the car, God visits.

Is it really a function of the noise around us that calls God to our worship? No (and we all know that.)

What God is waiting on is for us to actually worship -- to place him first. We hesitate to do that because we want ourselves to be first.

I agree that God can be found in the still, small voice, but to say that that is the only place he can be found is limiting him (or at least our discovery of him).

And, I'm sorry to say, but there really isn't anything holy about the Sanctuary. It is a beautiful place, but it is only a part of a building. And when that room becomes more important to us than God, or than following his will, then we are worshipping something other than God.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

What moves us to worship?

I taught Sunday school today based on the the scripture of Revelation 4. I wasn't thrilled when I first heard that the Sunday school curriculum for the next several weeks would be coming from Revelation -- I certainly don't feel equipped to teach from Revelation.

Chapter 4 of this book is the descirption of a vision John has of worship. It lead the author of the curriculum to write a lesson based on worship. As I was reading it, and wondering how to approach the lesson, I was impressed with the idea that the vision of worship in Revelation is of a "congregation" that is very diverse.

What is our response to diversity in our congregations?

At first look (and at many other looks) our congregation is no very diverse. But as one examines it, diversity in age, diversity in talent, and diversity in economic status make themselves known.

If we believe that God is worthy of worship, and we believe that that means that we work in obedience to him, then what is our response to diversity in worship?

I think that it means that we love God and that we love each other. I think that that means that we place the needs of another person ahead of our own.

So when the youth are moved to worship by music which does not appeal to us, we still support the effort, because the youth are placed in our minds ahead of us. By supporting the youth in our worship, we are showing them that we love them. Notice the picture above. It's from a beautiful sanctaury, but notice where the organ is located. The organ has been built above the cross. We should not let our comfort in a particular type of music override our ability to love others -- over our ability to be Christ-like.

Image: Altar area at First UMC, Ashland.

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In the arms of God

Something amazing happened this evening.

I was in Ashland, serving as help for the Emmaus walk that Steve is participating in. It was about 6pm or so. Dinner had been served, so I didn't have much to do. I was hot (if you know me, that's no surprise), I was tired, so I slipped out of the room.

I don't know why I went where I did. I climbed the stairs to the third floor of the church, and went to the very tiny Franklin Prayer chapel. I've prayed in that room three times -- twice on Emmaus walks and once before a Gathering. Each time in the quiet, tiny room, I have encountered God.

This evening I went in, and just sat on the pew. I didn't pray -- at least not in the conventional way. I prayed no words, but sat there, listened to myself breathe, felt my heart beating. I cooled down. I calmed down. I rested. I became convinced that God had drawn me to this room.

At the end of around 20 minutes, I did pray, for just short time, in thanksgiving.

As I got up to leave, I stopped at a little table by the door. It's a prayer table, and it interested me because I would like to have something similar at our church. On this table were a few candles, some papers, and four pink sticky notes, on which people had written prayers or prayer requests. I read them.

The last note said, "I have rested in the arms of God."


Image: Green, spring leaves at the VA.


Saturday, April 14, 2007


One of the lectionary readings for Sunday is the story of Thomas in John (John 20:24-29). We have all probably referred to Thomas as “Doubting Thomas,” as if Doubting were his first name.

Have you noticed that when we name something, that that is the only characteristic that we remember about the person named?
  • When we refer to a judge, we often call him or her Judge Smith (or whatever the person’s last name is). That is custom, so that we will remember who is in charge, and whose judgment matters in that particular courtroom.
  • When we refer to our parents, we don’t use their name at all. We use our name for them – Mom or Dad – or any of the derivatives. We are reminded of the role they play in our lives. It is a role that has a name.
  • A baby was born last Saturday to the son and daughter-in-law of a member of our Sunday school class. This little boy is named Thurston. What comes to mind when you hear that name? “The professor and Mary Ann…” To his parents, who aren’t familiar with Gilligan’s Island, the association is not made.
I could list many more, all of my acquaintance – Joshie-bean, Bear, Chef Jeff, Jimmy Ray, King of all…, Red Ronald, and Uncle Bob. All of them nicknames for different people. None of them completely defining who the person is, but when the name is heard, one particular facet of the person is brought to mind, ahead of all the others.

When we think of Doubting Thomas, we only remember his doubt. I think that’s a shame.

All of the disciples are in despair. Their beloved leader has been killed, and he is dead. Dead. No doubt. Someone at worked, a Fellow from Yemen, asked me if I believed that Jesus had died. “Yes, he was dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Deader than a doornail (whatever that means). No doubt.

So the disciples are gathered in the Upper Room, and Jesus walks through the door. Literally. Listen to John 20:20b – “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Overjoyed. That’s not just joy – that’s “overjoy!”

The problem is that Thomas ran out to pick up milk at the local grocery store or something, and he missed it. He is still living in the certainty of death.

He comes back to the Upper Room, and is greeted by 10 overjoyed friends. Not only is the Lord risen, but he missed it. How disappointed he must have been, while at the same time, elated. Can we blame him for his confusion? Haven’t we felt those kinds of conflicting emotions?

But Jesus doesn’t leave him that way. Jesus doesn’t say, “I'll call you Doubting Thomas.” He comes back. He chases Thomas with his grace. Jesus will go to any length to convince Thomas – “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Jesus recreates Doubting Thomas into Thomas, the Disciple. He transforms him. He chased him, reappeared in the Upper Room for him. Offered Thomas exactly what he needed in order to believe. He did not give up on him, but instead “re-named” him.

What happened to Thomas? He went on to do God’s work in most likely India. “Indian Christians from the west coast Kerala area claim they were evangelized by Thomas, who was later speared to death near Madras on the east coast.” (quoted from here)

Jesus removed the name Doubting from Thomas 8 days after the first Easter. Perhaps we could learn from from Thomas if we did the same.

Images: I'm not sure if you can tell, but the tree has an orange cast. That is reflected light from the sunrise in the picture on the right.


Friday, April 13, 2007

To love and to serve

What is servant leadership? We’ve all heard the term, and we probably agree that it is a good thing, but what is it? And what is it not?

To me, servant leadership is not:

  • Leadership in the same style that one would usually find in a work or business environment. Business leadership is about motivating those whom you are leading to achieve more – produce more – contribute more to the goals set by the leadership of the organization.
  • Leadership which places personal achievement at a premium.
  • Leadership which in which a heirachary is established, so that those at the top of the “pyramid” are more important than those “under them."
But what is servant leadership?

I was watching the Today Show this morning, and a guest told Matt Lauer, quoting a religion professor, something close to “to lead, one must love well. To save, one must serve well. So to be a good leader, examine your love and service.

Love and service placed at a premium. Personal achievement is not important to a servant leader, and the priority is placed on God. The priority is placed on the other person – Love God and love each other.

Servant leadership is picking up the towel.

Image: Cross in yard of First United Methodist Church, Ashland


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Breaking the Bread

Steve's brother is going on an Emmaus walk this weekend, and Steve is his sponsor. Steve is also serving on the walk as a table leader. Part of the send off on Thursdays is a sponsor's hour in the chapel. Since Steve is on the team, he was with the pilgrims in the conference room, so I got to be the "substitute sponsor" during sponsor hour.

That service includes communion. The communion devotion was based on the idea that communion has four parts:

  • Taking the bread
  • Breaking the bread
  • Blessing the bread
  • Giving the bread

The minister serving communion compared this to what happens to up -- we are taken by God, broken, blessed and then given by Him in service to other people.

I have to admit that that idea bothers me. Is it wrong of me to be bothered by the idea that God "breaks" us? I know that I've heard it before, but I don't like it.

Matthew 7:9-11: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
I think about my children, teaching them and raising them. I have no desire to "break" them. If I know how to be a parent, then I'm certain that God does. He will transform me, recreate me, change my heart, change my mind, melt me, mold me, and love me, but breaking connotes destruction. I think that it is the wrong word for how God takes his children and moves them toward perfection and wholeness.

Image: Broken bread from prayer vigil

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

God's many facets

Think of a diamond. What makes it beautiful? What makes it sparkle? A diamond is faceted -- cut to create many surfaces.

The lectionary reading that I read this morning was Revelation 1:8 --

I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The Disciples devotion that I read this morning, written by Barbara Bate, says that there are 7 different words for God in this one sentence.

She lists them as:

  1. I am -- Rememeber that one from the burning bush?
  2. alpha
  3. omega
  4. Lord -- which she says is "often used in the Old Testament to denote the personal deity, ruler of the Hebrews, with sometime capricious qualitites "
  5. God -- a more transcendent diety
  6. who is and who was and who is to come -- God of past, present and future
  7. The Almighty -- an Old Testament word for God
John is presenting a God who is multifaceted -- he is presenting God to his readers in a way that will "strike a chord" for many of them, even though it might be a different "name" of God for different hearers.

Do we do that? Do we present the various facets of God to people, or do we limit him to what it is about him that speaks to us? For example, if God to you is a Father, do you insist that other people relate to him as a Father, and as nothing else -- not as a brother or a friend or even a mother?

God is much bigger than any of us can imagine, but God will speak to each of us differently. How do we go about presenting the many names of God?

  • Ironically, an uncut diamond -- the rough crystal -- is called a habit. Traditionally, the diamond habit was studied for its natural formation, and then cleaved with a hammer. Perhaps the best way to begins to present God to others is to break our habits. We need to stop and remember that the God we know is smaller than the God who is.
  • Diamonds are the hardest substance that is known. Maybe. Sometimes I wonder if we are the hardest substance known. Perhaps if we take the time to soften our hearts -- to become more accepting of another's viewpoint, we can move forward to present God to others. Our softness -- our love for others -- is vital.
  • The only thing which can cut a diamond is another diamond. It takes one human to present God to another -- We have a role to play in God's mission.
  • When diamonds are cut with a saw blade, it can take several days of cutting to get the job done. Sharing God with someone else is not instantaneous. It takes time, and most of all, patience.
  • The large facets on the top of a diamond are called a crown. Perhaps that will remind us that the largest part of the job is done by the King himself. Don't leave God out of the equation.
  • When a diamond is cut correctly, from the bottom, it creates a heart pattern. When we share God with each other, and do it well, when the other person looks at God, he will see love.
  • Do you know what faceting accomplishes? It creaes a stone of great brillance -- brillance is the return of the light which enters the stone. It takes acknowledgement of the many facets of God for us and those around us to see the light.

God is God, and he is bigger and has more facets than anyone can image.

Images: Diamond; A rough crystal, called a habit; a diamond from the bottom, showing its hearts.

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God as Father

Last week in class (and I forgot to post it then), I asked the class two questions.

Do you think of God as father?
What adjectives do you use to describe God as your father?
What was your image of God when you were growing up?
part of everything
always answers prayers
knows your heart
knew what I was up to and he writes it down in his book


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Grace of Prayer

I'm co-teaching a class about grace. I just finished working as a member of a team of four that planned and implemented a prayer vigil. Steve is getting ready to go on an Emmaus walk as a member of the team, so that is on my mind -- Emmaus walks are all about the grace. I've just started a new book -- Prayer by Richard Foster. I just finished a book called In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado. I'm feeling a calling to try to emphasize prayer in our church. I'm thinking about a first person monologue I'm doing next week at church, and grace just seems to be running through it (even though it's about Delilah).

Is it any wonder, then, that prayer and grace are intermixed in my mind?

The very small amount of Foster's book that I've finished so far explores the relationship between grace and prayer. Isn't it an amazing, wonderful, grace-filled idea that the creator of the universe is eagerly waiting for us to approach him in prayer?

Foster explains that we often hesitate to engage in prayer because we are waiting to be perfect in prayer. We won't do it until we've read about prayer, until we've learned a technique to make it great, until we can approach it from a spiritual foothold.

The grace of prayer is that God doesn't want us to hesitate. Foster says that "the truth of the matter is that we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives." We arrive with altruistic AND selfish attitudes, with mercy AND hate, and with love AND bitterness. If we waited until we could approach God with only spiritual and grace-filled motives, we would never pray.

"This is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it."
God receives us just as we are, and listens to our prayers just as they are. We should bring him anything -- we should not self-edit what we pray so that it is only about "lofty" ideals or God-inspired blessings. God wants to hear it all. We doesn't want us to edit, he only wants us to pray.

The beauty of it is that it is THROUGH prayer that we can find grace. Through prayer we can work toward the perfection that we think we need to have. We can find altruism, mercy and love. We can find them in a way that we never would be able to find them alone.

That's grace. That's God.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

The Great Communicator

As I was preparing the Sunday school lesson for last Sunday, I was struck by a phrase in one of the books. The author called God "The Great Communicator." Think of a couple of scriptures:
  • In Genesis, God created the world by speaking it into being. And God said "let there be...and there was...and it was good."
  • In John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
  • In Revelation, John's vision begins with him hearing Jesus speaking.
We just finished a prayer vigil at our church. Forty hours of prayer. Why is that important? It really seems to be a special event in our touch -- touching those who participate.

Why is it important that we pray? We pray, I think, because Jesus prayed. If prayer was important to him, then we can rest assured that it should be important to us.

God is the great communicator. We are called to be like God -- we are made in his image and we should strive to share the same priorities that he has. If prayer was a priority for Jesus, and he is a reflection of God's nature, then we need to make it important in our lives.

How do you develop a relationship with someone? How do you maintain a relationship with someone? I've been close friends with people in the past, and as time goes by, we lose touch with each other. If we don't talk, or don't write, then it becomes difficult to maintain that connection.

The same is true with the Great Communicator, I think. Prayer is the best way to develop and maintain a relationship with God. When we stop doing it, we find that we lose touch.

We pray because he tells us to. We pray because he shows us how. We pray, because without prayer, we lose touch.

Prayer changes things. Most of all, I think, it changes our relationship with God. It creates that relationship.

Image: The altar during our church's prayer chapel.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

What is our vision?

Do we get it?
On Easter, when we sit in the pews,
Enjoying the light scent of hyacinth,
The sense of pleasure at a full sanctuary,
Do we get it?

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Is it reality to us?
Resurrection -- new life.
What it all means?
Do we grasp its majesty,
That we are no longer creatures of death,
But that we have been changed
By an emtpy tomb
To beings of immortality?
Is it reality to us?

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Do we see it?
Are we blind to the truth?
Or do we have moments when the reality of what God has done for us
Sinks into our souls,
Lifts our spirits,
Guides our hearts?
Do we ever see it?

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Are there moments on Easter
Or on any day
When grace is so alive
And our doubts are so overwhelmed
That we can see what it is like
To be children of God?

Images: Tulips from the "garden" in our sanctuary plus the Sanctuary on Easter with the bell choir. The acolyte is J.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Between Snow and Easter

It's April. It's spring. And it's snowing. I can't believe it. Tomorrow's Easter, and it's an Easter in April (not in March!), and it's snowing.

This weekend at our church is our prayer vigil -- 3pm Good Friday to 7am Easter morning. Steve and I were leaving church last night to take G to an event near our house, and it was snowing. We wondered if we were going to be able to get back down our hill in the morning to fill our time slot in the vigil.

This morning I read the devotional from Disciples. The scripture really struck a chord with me, especially on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter -- a snowy Holy Saturday:

Job 14:14-17:

If we humans die, will we live again? That's my question. All through these difficult days I keep hoping, waiting for the final change—for resurrection! Homesick with longing for the creature you made, you'll call—and I'll answer! You'll watch over every step I take, but you won't keep track of my missteps. My sins will be stuffed in a sack and thrown into the sea—sunk in deep ocean.
I wonder sometimes if we live on the Saturday before Easter. We don't live on Good Friday, with its death without hope, we don't quite live on Easter yet, with its hope fulfilled. We live in between. We live on the edge of Easter, with snow all around.

What do we do? How do we fulfill God's will for us when we live in the in-between. We have hope, we have faith, we have community, but we live in the now and the not yet. I think the other scripture for today answers that question:

1 Peter 4:7-11 -- This scripture really speaks to me, especially today:

  • Stay wide-awake in prayer -- On the day when I'm involved in a prayer vigil!
  • Love each other as if you life depended on it -- What a wonderful command.
  • Be quick to give a meal to the hungry (Common Grounds), a bed to the homeless -- cheerfully -- Sometimes we aren't very cheerful about it, if we do it at all.
  • Be generous (!) with what God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it.
  • If words, let it be God's words -- I'm teaching tomorrow; these are words to remember.
  • If help, let it be God's hearty help -- Is that a play on words? Hearty help?
And then it ends with, "That way, God's bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he'll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!"
Amen. I just think those versus are an excellent way to spell out what we should be doing in this in between time -- between the now and the not yet -- between the snow and the bright light of resurrection.

Images: Thanks so much to Jeff the Methodist for the images today -- they were just what I needed. Snow on dogwood, and a cardinal and goldfinch on the T's family bird feeder.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

For Them

John 8:1-11, Mark 10:17-22
Matthew 27:45-50, John 19:28-30

The two of them stood
At the foot of the cross
Watching the man named Jesus
The clouds in the sky
Were boiling, like black oil.
The world cried out in protest.
And yet the man hung on the tree,
Nailed to the wood.

She stood, and watched and remembered.
The day was branded into her memory
The day when she had met Jesus.
The “wise ones’ had stolen her from her home,
After they caught her in adultery,
Caught her in her sin.
She had been so ashamed.

“My God, my God,
Why have you forsaken me?”

His words from the cross pierced her heart,
And stole her breath.
She had felt forsaken, abandoned.
Then she had stood, head bowed,
In front of this man.
He had searched her,
And knew her.
He had saved her.

Without him, she would have been stoned.
Suffered justice for her sins.
Instead, she had been transformed
By his love.
And had returned home,

He stood, watched and remembered.
He thought again,
As he had so many times,
Of the time he had spoken to the man.
“What must I do to have eternal life?”

“I thirst”

The words of the one dying
Echoed his life.
He had thirsted,
For everything,
And his yearning had never been quenched.
He had always wanted more.
More treasure, more money.
Nothing else had mattered.
Certainly not the request of this man.
Not even the young wife who stood beside him now.
None of it had been important.

Until that day,
When he had walked away,
The words of the savior
Echoing through his mind.
“Then come, follow me.”
When he reached home,
He told his plan to his wife,
And together, they had made a new life.

Without this man on the cross,
He would never have been alive.
He would never had found what he
Had sought everyday of his life.
Treasure beyond imagining,
A gift of grace,
Given to him when he let go.
When he surrendered all.
He had been transformed.

“It is finished.”

Their savior died,
And their hearts broke.
And somehow they knew
That it had all been done for them.

Images: From the stained glass in our sanctuary

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter Humor

I can't resist. My favorite Easter cartoon. Thanks to MT for sending it to me.


In the Baking of the Bread

Our church is having a Maundy Thursday dinner and service this evening. As part of that, we will have communion. I was asked to bake the bread for the service. I've mentioned before how amazed I am that God would take something as ordinary as baking bread and turn it into a gift -- a gift for me and a gift of service to the church.

This week, though, I learned some lessons in the baking of the bread.

I needed to bake three loaves. The recipe I'm routinely using results in two loaves, so I needed two batches. I had the bright idea to try to do two batches at once -- doubling the recipe. What I learned from doing this is NOT to do it. First of all, our mixer didn't like it. As the dough formed, it crept up the dough hook, and got twisted around the connection that the hook has with the mixer. A little bit of grease from the connection got mixed into the dough (Don't worry, JMer's, I threw that part away). I also learned that I cannot knead a double batch - it's too big. My lesson? Don't take on too much ministry at once. We aren't made to do that. Know your limits. One batch at a time.

The dough for all four loaves raised well, was formed into loaves, and put in the fridge for its second rising overnight. The next evening, I baked. Our oven is small, and having learned my lesson about knowing my limits, I only baked two loaves at a time. The first two loaves were beautiful. I put the second two loaves in the oven and headed downstairs, thinking that I would remember to come back up at the proper time, and remove the loaves from the oven.

You don't need me to tell you what happened next. Very dark, hard bread. Some might call it burnt bread (although it wasn't quite black -- not yet). Certainly it wasn't bread that could be used for communion.

These two loaves of bread were as hard as rocks. That's what happens when you forget Jesus' command on Maundy Thursday to love one another. When we neglect each other, or our ministry, the result is hard and unusable.

Or so we think. Curious, I broke this bread. It wasn't easy. The crust was hard to break. But inside was perfectly good bread. Soft. White. Bread. Sometimes what or who we judge to be hard and crusty -- unusable in ministry -- is really warm and soft inside, if we take the time to look. I was going throw this bread away, but I'm thinking now that there is something that I can do with it that would be useful -- bread crumbs? Bread pudding?

Last night, still needing more bread, I made another batch. This morning I baked it. With the attention the bread needed, it came out perfectly.

Well, mainly perfectly. Not every loaf is picture perfect, but God doesn't need us to look as beautiful as bread in a painting. We all have our imperfections, just as my bread does. Even so, this bread is destined to be used as a means of grace, and it will be the main course on God's table tonight -- a lesson in love from God to us. Hopefully, we will all learn of God's love for us in the breaking of the bread.

Images: First, broken, rock-hard bread and next, communion bread.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spring into being

It happens to me every year. At some point in the spring, I will turn around, look at the trees and woods near where I am standing, and realize that spring had come. The trees that were bare what seems like the day before, will be covered with fresh green leaves.

Obviously, those leaves didn't actually appear overnight. I must not be paying attention, and all of a sudden, I look around, and POOF! there's spring. The leaves are popping out, the dogwood is blooming, the redbud has appeared, and I have almost missed it.

In fact, redbud is Steve's warning that spring is coming. He'll be driving around (as he does, lots) and he'll notice that the redbud is out -- this bright purple spot in the winter woods. It seems to appear overnight.

One of the lectionary readings this week is from Isaiah 49. Take a look at verse 9:

See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.

Are there times when we miss God? Are there times when we turn around, and POOF! God is there? Someone in class tonight mentioned that we miss grace -- we get so busy that we fail to turn around and see the grace that God has given to us.

What can we do about that?

  • Be confident that spring is coming -- be faithful in our knowledge that God is at work, and that he has given us grace.
  • Pay attention to what is around us. Assume that grace is always present, and be open to seeing it.
  • Do you see grace? Point to it for other people. I think that is one of the values of community. We point to grace for each other.
  • Share grace with each other -- don't just point at it, deliver it. Perhaps if we deliberately share it with each other, we won't be miss it -- we'll be watching.

Images: Dogwood, new leaves and redbud.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The gift of repentance

There was a member of the What’s So Amazing About Grace class last week who was very insistent that God’s forgiveness is only available for those who repent – and to this gentleman, repentance is begging for forgiveness. I believe, from his part in the discussion, that he’s not really even sure that a repentant heart is enough – I believe that this gentleman would tell you that following the law is a requirement to be in the presence of God.

Is there a requirement for repentance in order to receive forgiveness from God? Is there a requirement of “good behavior” in order to receive grace?

What is repentance? One of the definitions in Merriam-Webster is “to turn from sin.” I like the image of repentance being a “turning around.” We turn around and turn to find God. He’s not far, because he’s chasing us.

I found a few verses this afternoon about repentance:

Acts 5:31: God exalted him (Jesus) at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”

Romans 2:4b: Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

2 Timothy 2:25b: God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth.
Does anything strike you in those three verses? As I read them, I was struck by the verbs – give, lead, grant. None of those verbs assume that we can do this “repentance” on our own. None of them intimate that we must “come so far” down the road of repentance toward God. In fact, to me, they seem to suggest that repentance is a gift of grace.

We can’t make God love us any more than he does, or love us any less than he does. He loves us. He grants us grace. And one of the fruits of that grace is repentance of sins. It’s not a requirement; it’s a gift – a gift that perhaps we cannot reach on our own. A gift that is given without strings, but at great price to God. Repentance is grace.

But what about the law, my friend in class would ask? What is the greatest commandment? Love God and love each other (if I may paraphrase). Just as when we accept grace, we are given the gift of repentance, when we accept grace, we are given the gift of obedience to God.
Luke 5:31-32: Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Sinners? That’s us. We are sinners because we disobey God. If it were solely up to us to live in obedience to God, then we would fail as miserably as the Pharisees did. Living in humility – placing control in God’s hands – is a gift of grace. We tried for 2000 years or more to do it ourselves, and it didn’t work. We need God. We need grace. Without it, we are lost.

So, it is backwards to assume that we have to be obedient in order to receive grace or that we must be repentant to receive grace. All we must do is accept the gift. The rest is a fruit of the gift, a fruit that we cannot reach on our own. It is impossible.

But with God, all things are possible.

Images: The front of our church in the frame of a flowering tree (Friday). Palm branches from last Sunday's service. The image yesterday was taken on Sunday, after youth group -- the sky was spectacular, and that image only catches a tiny portion of its majesty.

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