Thursday, May 31, 2007

Never Beyond Reach

The following is a poem which I submitted to our church's weekly devotional project. It was emailed to subscribers this evening. I am cross-posting it here because I like the idea of the poems all being in one place.

Quoted below are portions of this week’s lectionary readings:
*Psalm 8
**John 16:12-15
***Romans 5:1-5

When I look a your heavens,
The work of your fingers
The moon and the stars
That you have established
What are human beings
That you are mindful of them?
Mortals that you care for them?*

So many times in life
We feel small.
We carry the burden of our sins
Of our problems
And feel like an ant
Heavy laden
Sometimes lost
Other times alone
Why would God care about children --
Children such as we are?

Yet you have made us
A little lower than God
And crowned us with glory and honor.*

Sometimes, dear Father
Our problems are like lead
Tied around our necks
Weighing us down.
Our grief and our sorrow
Seem unrelieved
Our worries insurmountable
Our questions unanswerable.

And the son said
Words which still comfort us,
“When the Spirit of truth comes,
He will guide you into all truth;
For he will not speak on his own,
But will speak whatever he hears,
And he will declare to you the things
That are to come."**

We find grace, for you offer us hope
You offer us wisdom
You have given us your presence,
Your spirit has been breathed upon us,
Into us,
And we are borne on wings
Until we can see only your love
Feel only your support
And our flesh tingles
As the air from your sigh
Rushes by us.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith,
We have peace with God
Through our Lord Jesus Christ
Through whom we have obtained access
To this grace in which we stand
And we boast in our hope of sharing
The glory of God.***

Our prayers, our dreams,
Our groaning and our pains
Are relieved
Because we know that you hear them.
You lift them on the wind
As you carry us into your arms,
And we find peace.
Peace beyond understanding
But never beyond reach.

And hope does not disappoint us,
Because God’s love have been poured
Into our hearts
Through the Holy Spirit
That has been given to us.***

O Lord,
Our Lord,
How majestic in your name
In all the earth!*

This is a poem which I submitted to our church's weekly devotional project. It was emailed to subscribers this evening. I am cross-posting it here because I like the idea of the poems all being in one place.

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A hypothetical situation

A hypothetical situation, made up only for purposes of illustration:

An elderly gentleman stopped at the local gas station to fill up his tank, and to grab a cup of decaffeinated coffee. The "real stuff" keeps him awake, you know. He "paid at the pump" -- he may be up in years, but he's still a modern gentleman, and then went inside to buy the coffee. While he was standing at the cash register, counting out the correct change, a young man entered the store. This man looked frantic, angry and mean. He pulled out a gun, pointed it at the clerk, and demanded the contents of the cash drawer. The clerk hurried to comply.

The young man didn't like the look on the face of the elderly gentleman. Maybe it was pity - maybe it was disbelief - maybe it was just fear, but the young man leveled the gun at the older gentleman, and shot him in the chest. The criminal then ran out of the gas station.

The clerk, while not ready to tackle an armed robber, was quick to call 911, and an ambulance arrived within minutes, transporting the elderly gentleman to the hospital. He received prompt and effective care which barely saved his life. For the rest of his life, though, he will be unable to walk, to drive his car, to dance with his wife or to stroll through his garden. He is angry, and it will take many years before he is able to begin to set aside the hatred that he feels for this young man who shot him.
Before I start my questions, understand that I have every sympathy for the older man, and hope that that younger (hypothetical) man meets justice.

At the end of this story, who is a sinner in the eyes of God? Both of the men. One, the younger man, who shot and almost killed a fellow human being, robbed a store, and fled, unrepentant. The other, the older gentleman, who carries hatred in his heart for an enemy. Believe me, I don't stand here as a judge, but as a fellow sinner, recognizing the illness of sin.

Which sin is bigger? Neither of them. Sin is sin.

Which has larger consequences? The sin of the younger man, I think. While I do believe that sin is sin, I also believe that some consequences of sin are more costly than others.

Which man has God forgiven? Both of them have already been forgiven by God. This was a discussion last night in our last Grace class. My belief is that forgiveness and grace are gifts. Free. They are not earned by repentance. They are gifts, waiting to be received. For the grace to have a transformational effect on a person's life, then it needs to be accepted, and that may require the healing process of repentance. But repentance is not the cost of forgiveness. Forgiveness has already been granted. Can the elderly gentleman forgive the young man, even if the young man is not repentant? Yes, he can. And he is urged to do this by God. If we believe that, then why can't we believe that God himself will follow this advice. The sin is forgiven. Just because we do not accept the love of God, does not mean it does not exist. Just because we don't ask to be loved by God, doesn't mean he isn't loving us already.

Does God grant more grace or more love to the elderly gentleman than to the younger man? No. God loves them both. This was another discussion from last night. God wants both of them to reach healing and wholeness. He sent his son to die for both of them. We don't want it to be that way. We want God's love to be fair, because we think we deserve it more than an armed robber. We do not. We continually say, "hate the sin but love the sinner." If we espouse that, if we think that that is the way that God wants us to live (never mind the arrogance of the statement), then why can't we believe that God is capable of doing that?

God love us all -- we are all sinners -- we are all already forgiven. It's grace, and it's amazing, and why can't we seem to grasp it? To believe it? Why do we insist that God is less capable of loving than we are?

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

God in the Ordinary

JtM sent me a quote from the John Ortberg book God is Nearer than you Think:

Garrison Keillor says God speaks in "ordinary things like cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music, and books, raising kids -- all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through
God is in the ordinary. I'm sure that I will pick up that theme for a larger post later, but just a short story for this evening.

I was out in our backyard on Memorial Day, doing something unusual. I was sitting on our patio swing, watching the bird feeders. We had two blue jays sitting on our brick wall. That's rare -- we usually only have one of them at a time. On of the blue jays hopped up on the bird feeder and picked up a seed. He (or she) hopped back onto the wall and handed that seed to the other blue jay. Just gave it away.

It was grace. It was a gift to have the time to sit outside on a perfect morning and watch one bird share his breakfast with another.

God in the ordinary.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


One of the lectionary readings for this week is Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31. It's a good passage -- it you have the time, go read it. Take a look at this verse (22):
The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.

This passage is about wisdom, and it paints a picture of wisdom, created by God, living with God, learning from God. Think about that. Think for a moment of the image of wisdom learning from God, along side of God.

Doesn't that image create in your mind a wonderful characterization of God -- a God so wise, so powerful, that he can teach Wisdom how to be wise? Why is it that we, who are his children, fail to trust him?

Who do we learn from? We do we stand beside? Is it God? Do we take the same lessons that he granted to Wisdom? Or do we stand beside other teachers, ignore the God who loves us, and who taught Wisdom herself how to be wise?

And do we realize that we have access to this God? Do we remember that the Spirit of God inhabits us -- lives with us -- and makes accessible to us all that Wisdom has to offer -- all that God has to offer?

Sounds to me like we could stand to 'wise up!'

Images: from the VA hill. I have no idea what those plants are.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Bird Images

More bird pictures, anyone?


Logos -- Romans 5:1-5

I'm sitting outside this morning, on a rare, quiet day off, and enjoying our patio. The birdfeeders are a blessing. How wonderful to be able to just spend some time sitting on our porch swing (which is actually a patio swing), watching the birds. So this blog post this morning is brought to you from outside (wireless internet is also a blessing).

This is Monday, and today the blog post will be based on a lectionary reading. For reference, all of this week's readings can be found at this link. Today I chose Romans 5:1-5.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Three points to remember become evident to me as I read this text this morning.
  1. We have been granted access to grace. I think that we sometimes take that for granted. We don't often realize the difference that it can make in our lives. Because of Jesus, we -- even me, even you -- have access to the grace of God. It's incredible.
  2. The fruit of that grace is not always something that we expect. In the midst of suffering, do we really expect to find hope? This passage tells us that grace will bring us hope through suffering. I truly don't believe that God brings us suffering so that we can have hope or develop character and endurance, but I do believe that God has promised that we will not experience pain alone. He is with us. And when he is with us, he can create the unexpected -- hope.
  3. I found one reference this morning which stated, in speaking about this passage, that "God is not finished." We forget that sometimes, too -- God is not finished. He has not given up; in fact, one of the blessings of grace is the realization that transformation is not only possible, but expected. We will be transformed. That promise is not dependent upon outside circumstances. God will rain grace upon us.

We have been given access to God's grace, and the gifts of that grace are vastly beyond our expectations. God is not finished with us, and the work that he is doing, out of love for us, is independent upon circumstance. Even in suffering, we are not separated from God.

Images: Two from our birdfeeders - a tufted titmouse and a nuthatch.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Water on Fire

Our associate pastor today planned a wonderful Pentecost sermon. As an illustration for the Children's moment, she (somehow) set the baptismal font water on fire.

How cool is that?

I have to say that I've never thought of the connection between baptism and Pentecost.

In baptism, we are claimed by God. In that claiming, he says, "You are my child. I will equip you to answer my call, and be my agent in the world.

That's what happened at Pentecost. You are my children. You are now blessed with the Holy Spirit.

We need to remember that when we are baptized by water, we are also baptized by fire -- we are inhabited by the Holy Spirit. If we allow it, that fire will energize us and equip us -- bring the word of God to us in a language we can understand.

Come, Spirit, Come!


Saturday, May 26, 2007

The blessing of community

Tomorrow is Pentecost. The "expected" scripture for Pentecost is Acts 2:1-21. Take a look at the first verse:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

The Discipline devotional yesterday talked about this passage -- specifically the first four verses. Notice where the disciples were -- they were together in one place.

I think it is appropriate that they were in one place. Community. I've heard it said that we were meant to live in community -- that we need each other, and I think that is true.

There is a member of our church -- a very spiritual man, who prays and studies. An older gentleman who comes regularly to Sunday school but doesn't feel a need to attend worship. "The tabernacle is not in there," he says, pointing toward the sanctuary. "It's in here," and he points to his heart.

I think one of the points of our celebration of Pentecost is that we know that God dwells in us. He is always with us. He is able to guide us, to comfort us, to strengthen us because he lives with us. Does that mean that we have all we need?

I don't think so. I think that we need community. In order to do what God would have us to do, we need each other. We need the force of combined efforts, combined gifts and combined support in order to do God's work. Worship is magnified with many voices. Praise is echoed from one to the next. Service is possible in community. We can grow in faith when we are able to put others first.

If we are blessed to be a blessing, who shall we bless?

Image: Clover on VA hill

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Infinite Hope

G is starting 9th grade in the fall. One of his classes in honors English. Because of that, he has a summer reading list of three books, and assignments to match them. The first of the books is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I picked him up a copy of the book today. I actually picked up two copies -- I told him that I would read it along with him. I can't remember if I have read it before; if I have, I didn't understand it. I know I've seen the movie, so I do have an idea of the plot.

I've started on my copy, and immediately ran into this sentence:
Reserving judgement is a matter of infinite hope.

That sentence struck me, especially in the light of our Wednesday evening class a couple of days ago. It was based on the parable (Matthew 13:34-30, 36-43) of the farmer who plants clean seed. Overnight, the enemy sneaks in and plants weeds. The hired hands ask, "Should we weed out the thistles?" The farmer answers, "'No, if you weed the thistles, you'll pull up the wheat, too." It is a parable about not judging other people -- allowing God to be God.

I think this quote from the Great Gatsby applies to this parable, in two ways.

  1. We looked at this parable during The Jesus I Never Knew. The class members wanted to know if weeds could ever become wheat. We decided that transformation is possible. That is a basis for hope and a reason to reserve judgement.
  2. This time, in What's So Amazing About Grace, the class focused more on the idea that we are unable to tell the wheat from the weeds. We are not equipped. We can't see into someone's heart or search their souls, while God can. So in this case, perhaps we reserve judgement out of the hope that our own judgment is poor, while God's is not. God can see the good in someone; while we can only hope that it is there.

Images: Cover of the paperback and scene from the movie of the same name, 1974, Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Inside and Outside the Walls

A couple of days ago I wrote about the purpose of a church. I talked about how Christians mature in the faith, moving from seeing God and coming to church, hearing God as they learn about their faith and their gifts, listening to God as they begin to use their gifts, and serving God as they go out in the world to be disciples. A church, to function as an agent of God, needs to enable all of those steps.

It occurs to me that this is yet another example of the Greatest Commandment. Listen to it, but listen to it as it applies to a church -- a body of Christ:

You, my church, shall love me, the Lord your God with everything that you are and can be. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You, my church, shall love those outside the laws of your building as you love those inside of your building.”

That's what it's all about, isn't it? We are to love God. If we love God, we will keep his commandments. We will love each other -- those inside our church walls and those outside the walls.

The reading for today in Disciplines was John 14:8-17. Look at these verses:

Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. (John 14:9-11)
The devotional this morning said that we are an incarnational people. I like that. We can see God in Jesus. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If we are an incarnational people, that means that when people look at us, they will see God. It means that if people want to know what God is like, they should be able to see him in us.

Image: From our stained glass at church.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Grace amid disagreement

Class tonight was about showing grace to those with whom we disagree, especially in the political realm. What is it, I wonder, that makes politics such a divisive issue?

Today was the funeral for a member of our church. JPC had been a member of JM for longer than I can remember -- longer, certainly, than I have been a member. I remember him the most when when he served as the chairman of our staff-parish relations committee. I remember him saying at a meeting that he had promised Emerson (our pastor at the time) that he would say on as chairman of SPR until Emerson retired.

Emerson, though retired, delivered a large portion of the funeral service. He spoke of JPC lovingly and with grace. He said that the two of them have very different political views, but that they became friends anyway -- that they became brothers in Christ. That's a wonderful image to take to this class. He said that they disagreed, but that they were never disagreeable to each other -- dispensers of grace

We all have acquaintances -- we have very few real friends. Emerson obviously spoke of JP as one would speak of a friend.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Purpose of a Church

What is the purpose of a church?

Our pastor told us yesterday that 90% of clergy believe that the purpose of a church is to reach out to people outside of the membership and that 90% of laity believe that the purpose of a church is to take care of each other.

I don't know about those numbers. I don't think that they reflect the viewpoint of our church in particular, but what I want to write about today is the necessity of the purpose of a church being BOTH of those functions.

In preparation for our first Visioning meeting yesterday, several of us were "internet hopping," looking for vision statements -- not to copy, but to help us define what a vision statement is. In the course of this research, JtM came across a page on the church web site for Wesley UMC in Morgantown, WV. The page is called Growing in Faith -- it's a cool page -- check it out. If you do, go all the way to the bottom of the page, to a section called, "The Primary Task and Basic Flow of the Church, The Body of Christ."

For the purposes of this blog post, I'm going to summarize what it says, but it is a good piece on its own.

  1. First, people respond to some kind of call and come to a church, where they should be welcomed and made to feel at home.
  2. Next, people begin to establish a relationship with God, learning about God as well as ways to become closer to God. They grow in grace and discover their gifts.
  3. People, as they begin to share their gifts, enter into ministry. They learn to witness to their faith and to continue on their faith journey.
  4. Children of God become lifelong disciples. They move into the world as Christ's ambassadors, becoming his hands and feet in the world.

It's a circle. People hear God, see God as they learn about him, follow him and then share him with the world. Once they go out in to the world, they become Christ to the next person. That person then sees God because of the one who is the disciple.

None of that happens in a vacuum. We are a community. We care for each other so that we all grow in faith, heading out into the world to serve God. If we only reach outside of our church, how are those who hear God going to grow in the faith? If we only take care of each other, how are we to show Christ to the world? The circle must be complete for the church to fulfill its purpose.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Dancing Frogs

One of the goals I walked away from lay speakers' training with was a commitment to dig into scripture more. I think in my teaching efforts I may be becoming a little lazy, relying too much on the curriculum and not enough on my own efforts.

So, as one step to help combat that, I'm starting a new project on the blog. Each Monday this summer, I'm going to try to take one of the lectionary readings, and build a blog post from it. I can't think of a clever name for this -- the last "blog project" like this that I did was Beatitude Tuesday, which I just liked to say. I want to do this on Mondays, so that reading the Discipline devotions doesn't influence me. All I can think of right now is Lectionary Lundi (Lundi is French word for Monday). I'm not crazy about that. Anybody got any ideas?

The lectionary reading I chose for today is Psalm 104:24-34, 35b.

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; ...These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. (verses 24, 27-30)
Have you ever heard of the acronym FROG? It's been a couple of years since I first heard it. It stands for Fully Rely on God. For Mother's Day, Steve bought me a gold enameled frog charm to remind us of it. That's what came to mind when I read this passage. Nature, all of God's creation, is depicted in this Psalm as FRingOG (figure that one out). It occurs to me that saying it is much easier than doing it.

FULLY -- Fully means completely. I think that in this instance, it means to hold nothing back -- to trust without hesitation. When we give everything to God, we will find that we are the beneficiary of all that God offers. It's not a trade -- you give to me, and I'll give to you. It is a gift. It is a gift the requires empty hands.

RELY -- Merriam Webster online gives two definitions for rely:

  1. to be dependent
  2. to have confidence based on experience
I think that might harder than the Fully part. Do any of us want to be dependent? I think we all value the opposite adjective -- to be independent. We think less of ourselves when we are dependent. To have confidence based on experience is to trust (there's that word again!). Do you have friends upon which you can rely? I do. How do I know that I can rely on them? It is confidence based on experience. How wonderful is it to have that knowledge? Why is it that we sometimes think less of God? From the Psalm: "when you open your hand, they are filled with good things." That's trust. That's a God upon whom we can rely.

ON -- Did you think I would skip that one? We have a picture of Steve and G when G was 10 days old. It was Father's Day. Steve is stretched out on our bed, and G is ON him -- stretched out, asleep. He's tiny, and he's trusting and protected -- his entire body fitting in the space between Steve's chest and his belt. No part of G is hanging off or left unsupported. He is completed ON his father. We are like that -- we can be like that with God.

GOD -- Well, who else, you might ask? There is so much more that we rely on. There are so many other things than God that we place our full trust in. Things which are not God. The commandment -- "You shall have no other gods before me" is broken every day, in so many different ways. We need to keep checking, to keep watch, so that the god on which we rely is God.

Do you know what happens when we FROG?
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. (verse 33)
Do you know what happens when we FROG?

We dance!

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Am I right?

As I mentioned yesterday, I drove to Point Pleasant for a lay speaker training session. Pt. Pleasant is a little less than an hour from here. I have, of course, been there before, but yesterday was the first time that I have driven it on my own.

I knew the way -- it was straight up Route 2. I knew what to do when I got there -- I had good directions to find the church. What I had failed to do was to find out how many miles it was to Pt. Pleasant from home. It wasn't that important -- I knew if I kept driving I would get there. Steve had told me to allow 50 minutes for the trip, and I knew that I had left Starbucks in Barboursville at 8:10 -- 50 minutes earlier than the class was to start.

What occurred to me as I drove was that I had no way to gauge along the way how I was doing time wise. I didn't want to be late, but all I could do was to keep driving, and hope that I would make it on time.

I wondered if this were a good comparison, in some ways, to life. We travel the road. God has pointed out to us the right directions and the right Way, but we don't have any idea how long the trip will be. We have a vague idea of our destination, but no real grasp on what it will be like. We don't know what will happen along the way -- what stops might be necessary or called for. We just trust that God is with us.

I taught a lesson today in Sunday school based on Revelation 21:9-22:5. It is a section of scripture dealing with heaven -- what will heaven be like. I wish I had written down the list we made in class. I may try to reconstruct it for the blog.

We got to this verse (21:27):

Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
I asked the class if that verse made them uncomfortable. One class member said that he wondered just how big the abomination had to be to prevent entry. When I read it, I worry that same kind of thing. I have a picture of heaven growing up that had gates, with a gatekeeper, and a book of life. If I've not done well enough, then I don't get to enter. That's a pretty common image, isn't it?

I told the class today that no abomination was too big to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. I told them that we had nothing to worry about. We had already made our choice to follow God. He has given us grace, and he will keep his promise. We have ALREADY entered the kingdom of God, and death has been made inconsequential. I've told this same kind of reasoning to our Wednesday evening class.

I look at the Wesley quadrilateral, and I feel as I'm relying pretty heavily on the "reason" part of the 4-square. I wonder tonight if I am right. I wonder tonight if I've been leading them in the wrong direction. If it is the wrong direction, it's a huge mistake to make on my part. I say that I am relying on the "reason" portion of the quadrilateral because if seems right to me. It feels like the God that I think I know.

This being a teacher is tough.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Driving Oddities

I went to a Basic Lay Speakers Training today in Point Pleasant, which is a little less than an hour drive from Huntington. It was a great day for a drive. Sunroof open, music loud, joy in driving.

A few years ago, when I was in Denver, Colorado, we took a tour through the Rocky Mountain National Park. At one point, the drive stopped the bus at a red light and told us that we were at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. He said, "Straight ahead are the Rockies. Behind you, the closest mountains are the Appalachians. I had the feeling today, driving through the Ohio Valley, that I was driving on the opposite side of that statement. To my left, the Appalachians. To my right, flat land until the Rockies.

I disappointed myself to find that I did not have my camera. There were so many things that I would have liked to have taken a picture of -- Green Bottom Swamp, the river pockmarked with fog, the horse that was so close to the car.

Instead, I brought back word images of the oddities that I saw today.
  • There was a sign for a Scenic Campground. Would they really advertise any OTHER kind of campground? Come stay at our Ugly Campground.
  • Ditto for the sign which advertised "Fresh Produce."
  • There were a series of signs congratulating Ashley Dye for graduating from college. They were sweet, but I wonder if Ashley is about to Dye of embarrassment.
  • There was a school that I passed, that was missing walls and windows. It was in horrible shape. When a building looks like this, tear it down. If I had had a camera, this school might have become a blog post of its own.
  • I passed one of the fire danger signs which stated that the possibility of forest fires was currently low. Just up the road, I passed another one which said that it was high. The one which said the possibility of forest fires was high was in the yard of the fire station. I wonder if it was there for job justification.
  • There was a tiny, dirty fenced in area of cows near the road. One of them had huge horns. Where did it get those horns?
  • Tara's Pub was in a trailer.
  • Trinity UMC, which is in Point Pleasant, is beautiful from the outside.
  • I passed an antique store which advertised that they sold "Pretty things." Ditto numbers one and two. "Please come into our store and buy ugly things!"
  • A train crossed the road in front of me. It was an engine and a caboose. What is the point?
  • Saw a hawk. No camera!
  • Passed Selby Lane. I only know of one other person with that name, so I was surprised to see it.
  • How about a sign which said, "Phone. 1/2 mile." You don't see many of those anymore.
  • How about Hereford Lane? Isn't that a kind of cow, and why would you name your road after a breed of cows.
  • Along the side of the road were telephone or power or cable polls. One of them was broken, holding up its wires from this broken position. How did this happen and the line not break.
  • I saw a house which looked like it had been built of Lincoln Logs.
  • Near Huntington, on the way back, I saw a little building near the railroad tracks. It was labeled "Cox Landing Fault Detector." I think it is a good idea for all of us to have a Fault Detector!

It was a great trip, and an easy drive. Other than the occasional car speeding toward you at high speed as they passed slower cars on this two lane road, it was fun!


Friday, May 18, 2007

It's for the birds

Last Saturday we bought a couple of bird feeders. The bird-feeder lady told us that it might take some time for the birds to find the feeder. Just be patient! The little book she gave us to read said that it might take months -- months! -- for the birds to find the feeders. We didn't want to wait months. The bird-lady sold us seed, but didn't have any patience in a bottle that she could sell to us.

On Thursday morning, Steve looked outside and found birds! Less than a week. So far we've seen tufted titmouses (titmice?), cardinals (both male and female), nuthatches, blue jays, woodpeckers, doves, plus some kind of little brown speckled bird and a red and brown bird with no crest.

There is almost a constant amount of traffic on these two bird feeders. A couple of birds will arrive, eat, fly off and be replaced by other birds. A couple of times I've seen birds sitting on a nearby wall as if waiting their turns.

This is my question. Were all of these birds around before we got the feeders? Did I just not notice them? I'm a biologist, but I don't think I've ever even HEARD of a nuthatch, and now I've seen oodles of them. Did you know they walk down tree trunks head-first? Did you know there is something called a hairy woodpeckers? A downy woodpecker? I'm not sure which kind or kinds we have, but I've seen them every day since the birds arrived.

Have these feeders attracted the birds from far around the neighborhood, or have these birds been in our woods all along? Am I only noticing them now because I'm watching for them?

Is God like that sometimes? Is he hanging around, waiting for us to notice him? I wonder if in his love for us, he gets impatient, wishing we would turn and notice him.

Now that we have these birds in our backyard, I'm thinking up ways to see more of them. Do we need more feeders? A birdbath? Maybe a birdhouse for blue birds? A hummingbird feeder?

Once we find God in our backyard or in our heart, do we feel that kind of excitement to see more of him? I read this morning that we should spend almost enough time each morning in prayer to feel satisfied. If we can walk away from devotions and prayers each morning, with just a little bit of yearning left, then we will search for God all day.

I go to work, wishing I could stay home and watch the birds. Do we feel that kind of yearning to find God? Sometimes we do, and I think we can attribute it to grace.

Images: Dew on clover and honeysuckle this morning at the VA.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Older Son

One of my favorite parables (if God will grant me the grace of choosing a favorite from among his stories) is the one in Luke 15: 11-32. We often call it the story of the Prodigal Son, but really, it is SO much more.

It is a story of a family – a story of two sons. One leaves home, in effect telling his father that he wished the father were dead. He is lost. The other son stays with the father, and while his physical location is known all the time, he is also lost. Who among us is not lost?

Someone in class a week ago said that while the older son worked hard for the father, he only did it out of selfishness, out of a desire for recognition. Is that true?

It is true that when the older son saw the radical love lavished on the returning younger son, he was jealous. He didn’t keep that jealousy to himself; he told his father about how he was feeling. Is there a lesson there? Can we tell the father how we are feeling, about anything? Do we trust him that much? This older son is an example of how we should be in prayer – honest, trusting. This is a lesson that the older son can teach us; God wants our honesty.

But is it true that the only motivation that the son had for his good works is a selfish desire for what he could achieve from the father? I don’t think so. There is nothing in the parable to indicate that the older son was that selfish. In fact, by saying that, we are jumping to a conclusion that is not supported.

Why would we make that statement? I think that we often see ourselves in the older son. We see a “church-going,” faithful child who works hard for the father, and yet is still lost. We want to believe that there is something else wrong with him; otherwise, if he is lost, then so are we.

What can we learn from the way the father reacts to the older son? First of all, he goes out to him. God doesn’t wait for us to approach him. He comes out to us. Even when we’re not ready for him, or not prepared for him, or even if we haven’t asked him to visit with us. He comes anyway.

Even when the son wasn’t listening, the father was talking. How humbling is that? God is not waiting for us to pay attention; he’s talking to us now, and we’re ignoring him.

What did the father not do? He wasn’t angry with the older son, even though the older son was angry with the father. God can take our anger. It’s OK.

I really like the phrase, “everything that is mine is yours.” Everything. We have nothing to fear. We have no reason to be jealous of the younger son, even though the father lavishes everything he has on him. God’s love is radical, and one of the ways in which it is radical, is that it is limitless. Limitless. Just because God gives all of his love to one lost, returning son, the love he shows to us is not depleted. Why do we seem to want to hoard the infinite to ourselves? One of the radical characteristics of God’s love is that every bit of love he has he gives to each of us. He doesn’t cut it up like cake. It rains on us in limitless quantity.

The father celebrates when the one who is lost, returns. We don’t see the end of this story, but if it were written, when the older son walks into the house, no longer angry, but returning to his father, his father is as happy to see him as he is to see the younger son.

We are all lost. We are all loved in a radical way. God celebrates each time one of us returns to him.

Image: Yellow weed flower from Spring Heights, May 2007

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Is that it?

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-2)

Moses died in the Old Testament, and yet here he is, standing on a mountaintop, talking to Jesus. I like the twist that brings Moses into the promised land when God had refused to let him enter when he was alive. Standing on that mountaintop with Jesus, he was finally where he had longed to be after crossing the wilderness.

I know this question is going to surprise some people, and other people might find it to be heresy, but do we only get to death to make a decision to believe in God? Or is God able to chase us with prevenient grace even after death?

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24)

When we make the decision to believe in Christ, then we pass from death to life. That judgment, which is our own, is our acceptance of grace. We stand at the door (as I talked about yesterday), and decide to enter. We are now in the kingdom of God. I don't believe that we have to wait until we die to make that decision. We do it during life. So when death does arrive, it is nothing. It has lost its sting. Jesus defeated it for us.

Death no longer has any power over us. Could it be that it does not have power over God either? Does grace chase us even into and past death? Can we pass through that door after we die?

How did Moses get up on that mountain?

Thanks to JtM for asking the question.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

We close the door

One final post (well, maybe, and maybe not) about freely offered forgiveness. When I told the class last week that I thought forgiveness was freely offered to anyone and that we did not need to earn it, one member asked the following question:

If forgiveness of sins is offered to everyone, but I am not repentant, and do not accept it, then what happens when I die?

It’s a good question, and I stumbled over the answer. The answer I offered is true, but I’m sure that it did not satisfy the one asking the question. My answer was that who receives salvation is not for me to judge – that’s God business. I certainly cannot say what will happen to anyone after death.

I’ve thought about it since then (and I had thought about it before then), and while I am still not God, and cannot say, I have developed an opinion. I’m sure you are not surprised.

First of all, it is a good question. If everyone receives grace, and everyone receives forgiveness, freely given, without restriction, then wouldn’t everyone go to heaven – no judgment, no hell? In other words, do I believe in universal salvation?

I believe that God believes in universal salvation. His goal is to bring everyone – every person on earth – back to him. He has worked toward that goal since Eve took a bite of the fruit in the garden. He has not changed his mind, and he will not give up. God is love, and he cannot leave us behind.

The block for universal salvation is not God. It is us. We refuse to accept it.

Jesus died on the cross for every sinner. He died for you. He died for me. He did not die for sin; he died so that sin would die and that we would live. If the consequence of sin is death, then the consequence of his death is life for us. All of us. It is a gift, freely given.

Just as if you were to buy a friend a birthday gift, and the friend does not accept it, the gift is still a gift. The recipient does not receive it, but it does not change the nature of the gift. Forgiveness and salvation are gifts of grace, whether we accept them or not.

Thinking about this question is what prompted me to write the poem that I posted yesterday. It’s a metaphorical statement of what I am trying to say more concretely today. Think of the kingdom of God as having a door. The spirit of God ushers us to the doorway. The son prepares us to enter, opening the door. The Father invites us, yearns for us to enter. The only thing stopping us is OUR OWN judgment – our own resistance to a gift freely offered.

Repentance is necessary because it is what heals us. It is what will turn us around so that we can see God. God desires it for us, because otherwise we will miss the door altogether. Even repentance is a gift of grace – God will grant it to us if we allow him to do it.

I think we get into trouble with this issue when we set up what we think are laws to enter the kingdom of God. Can I get in if I do this or don’t do that? The door isn’t controlled by laws. It is opened by grace.

Truly, perhaps my answer at the beginning of this post is the correct one. It is up to God. It is certainly up to God. We should stop worrying about it. We can trust God. He loves us. He will do what is right for us. He will not let us go! Knowing that, go out and show other people the door. Show them the nature of God – be God’s face and hands and feet for them. Let God be God.

We need to (I think) become agents of grace, and stop trying to set up locked gates – secret passwords – criteria. Instead, we need to point to the open door and let God convince people to enter. That job is hard enough without us making it even more difficult.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Porch decision

I was walking toward the house.
My friend walked with me, holding my hand.
He was always there.
In fact, I couldn't imagine
what life would be like
if he were not there.
It would be emptiness.

We walked toward the house.
The destination, the map, the excitement for arrival
were all the ideas of my friend.
He wanted me to go to the house so much,
that his desire seemed to propel me.

We didn't rush.
In fact, my friend urged me to take my time,
to enjoy the view,
to help other people along the way.
But when I mentioned that I might like to travel
in a different direction,
my friend urged me to keep on the same road.

Finally, the house came into view.
It was large, white, and had a wide front porch.
As we came closer, I saw two people waiting for me,
Obviously waiting just for me.
One, the older one, sat in a rocking chair,
smiling, glad to see me.
The younger one sat on the front steps.
I knew them, even though I hadn't seen them before.
All that I knew about them
I had learned from my friend.
They were so much alike that they were one.

The younger one, the son, stood up
and offered me a glass of lemonade.
It was cold, sweet and tart.
It cleaned the dirt from my throat,
quenched my thirst,
and made me feel as if
I would never need water again.
"Come up on the porch,"
said the son.

I couldn't.
The steps were whitewashed so brightly
that I was sure my shoes would sully them.
My friend urged me forward,
the son reached for my hand.
I saw the scars on his palm,
and knew that they were for me.
The Father smiled, and made me feel welcome.

Standing on the porch
I noticed that the door to the house
was open.
Bright light, so bright it hurt my eyes,
shown forth through the door.
The son put his hand on the doorknob,
ensuring that the door stayed open.
The Father walked through
standing across the threshold,
inviting me in.

"You must make the choice,"
he said.
"You must choose.
I want you to come in more than I can say,
but all I can do is invite you.
My son has made you clean,
given you living water.
My spirit has guided you here,
Made sure that you knew the way,
and that you knew my will.

This is the point of judgment.
Your own judgment.
Will you come through the door?
Or will you stay outside.
In the cold. In the dirt. In the rain."

The welcome mat is set.
The door is open.


Sunday morning prayer

Just because this is where I put many of the things which I write, here is the prayer that I used yesterday in church. As you may know, I often write prayers before delivering them.

Morning Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
Heavenly Father;

With your Word you created us. We are creatures of your imagination, breathed into being. Today we come before you, and in one voice, united as a family of God, we bring you praise.

Our hearts full of gratitude, we lift our prayers to you as we remember our mothers. Thank you for the mothers in this family who have loved us into maturity, and thank you, God, for the fathers, who have been partners on this journey.

May we remember that you hold us close, like a parent with a new infant, surrounding us with love and care. Awaken in us an awareness of how much you love us, and help us to respond to that love, sharing it with those around us.

We lift to you this morning those children among us – inside this room and outside this building – who don’t feel loved -- who feel hungry or hurt, who need to feel you embrace them through us. May we reach out to them with open arms and open hearts.

Forgive us, God, when our efforts to nurture others fall short of your grace. Enable us, through your forgiveness, to reach out, again and again, blessing others with your presence.

We remember, Father, your son, who showed us your nature, who taught us how to live, and through dying, granted us life eternal. Hear our prayer, God, as we lift to you the prayer that he taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Role of Repentance

If forgiveness is available to all of us, and if there is nothing that we need to do to earn it, then what about those who claim that we must be repentant in order to be forgiven?

First of all, do you require that the person you are forgiving be repentant? Does your forgiveness of another person rest on that other person's attitude? If we understand that forgiveness will heal us -- the one who is hurt -- then why in the world would we give the power of that healing -- the power of forgiveness -- to that person who has hurt us?

I think forgiveness is done independently of the person who has hurt us. It may (and often does) require God's grace in order for us to forgive someone, but God asks us to forgive so that we may be healed of the hurt.

Don't get me wrong. I think forgiveness can be a powerful means of grace for the one who is being forgiven, but it must first be a means of grace for us.

So if forgiveness does not depend, for us, on the person who has hurt us, why would God's forgiveness of us be dependent upon us? It is not. It is offered by God, free, like grace.

Do what about repentance? Repentance means turning around. Truly, repentance heals the one who has done the wrong. Repentance enables us to accept the gift of forgiveness. God knows what is best for us; turning toward God is what is best for us. God offers of grace to accomplish this, as well.

Can we be forgiven for those things for which we are not repentant? Let me ask the question another way. Have you been truly repentant for every sin you have committed? I have a feeling that the answer to that question is no.

We are sinners. We live in sin, and God saves us from that. He loves us so much that he rescues us, even from ourselves.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Why Obey?

I can’t find my copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. If you could see my bookcase, you would not be surprised. Imagine packing for a 2 month voyage in an overnight bag. That’s my bookshelf. It overflows.

Somewhere, though, is Mere Christianity. We read it as a Sunday school class years ago, and I thought it was (and still think it is, even though I can’t find it) a wonderful book. One of the ideas which really stuck with me was Lewis’ idea that we have an inborn awareness of right and wrong. For him, it was this awareness which is one of the hallmarks of God’s creation and his presence.

I wish I could quote him.

Yesterday, I wrote about the availability of forgiveness. According to that post, forgiveness is available for everyone for everything. If that is true, then the question becomes “Why obey?” What is the motivation to do what God tells us to do? As one of the gentlemen in the class said, “Where is the moral code?”

One of the scriptures we studied on Wednesday was from Romans 7:5-7 – this is part of it:

The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. Apart from the succinct, surgical command, "You shall not covet," I could have dressed covetousness up to look like a virtue and ruined my life with it.
The law exists so that we have a moral guideline; I agree with Paul. I also agree with Lewis, that we have an inborn, God-given sense of right and wrong. We ignore it, but it exists. One of the members of the class said that we know right from wrong, deep down, where the “ought” lives.

The problem with the law is that times we become legalistic, when we need to be grace-filled. Jesus told us that the greatest law of all was to love God and to love each other. If we do that, I really believe that the rest will take care of itself. As one person in class said, we will obey the law, and treat each other as God wants us to, because we wouldn’t treat people we love otherwise.

Just as our love for each other should motivate us to treat each other in a Christ-like manner, our love for God should create in us a response to do as God would have us to do. We are motivated by a need to please him, because we love him.

God tried it the other way. He gave us the law in the Old Testament, but we were not able to “get” it. We disobeyed. We still disobey. To leave us without forgiveness, or to give us only a forgiveness that we must earn, would be to lose us. So God took a risk. He gave us grace. He opened up his heart, and showed it to us, and said, spreading his arms wide, “I love you this much – more than you can even imagine. I will not lose you, so I will take the risk that you will love me, too. You are forgiven.” And he awaits our response.

Image: One I found on my hard drive this evening - I may even have posted it before, but I like it.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Does he forgive EVERYTHING?

This week’s session in class was based on Chapter 14 of Yancey’s Grace book -- “Grace Abuse.” I didn’t think that this would be a topic which would generate very much discussion, but apparently it flies in the face of what are taught to believe.

The question is this: If forgiveness is always available – if God’s grace is just ours for the asking, then what is to keep us from sinning? If the fear of an unforgiving God is removed, then why “be good?” If the law is not all-important, then where is the moral code? Does God forgive EVERYTHING?

Here is my theory. In fact, here is my faith. Jesus died on the cross so that I (and you and that guy over there) could be reconciled to God. That means that all sin is forgiven. The “little ones” that we don’t even realize that we commit and the “big ones” that we know we should never even consider. All of them. He did it – sent his son – because he loves us. He loves us with an overwhelming passion that we cannot even comprehend. He chases us through the muck and mire of our sin because he cannot – CANNOT – not do it.

If this is my faith, then how do I answer the questions I’ve listed above?

Is forgiveness always available? Yes. Not only is it always available, it has already been granted to us. God’s forgiveness of us is not based on anything that we do. Yes, I know, that is going to cause some people heartburn, but just as I can forgive the person who hurts me without them asking to be forgiven or without them showing any remorse, God can, too. His forgiveness of me doesn’t depend on me, the one who has wronged him. At Jesus’ death, my sins – the ones I’ve committed, and the ones that I am yet to commit, have been forgiven.

Does God forgive ANYTHING? EVERYTHING? Yes. We go around saying that sin is sin – that there are no gradients of sin. If this is true, and I think it is, then God doesn’t forgive in “gradients.” If he did, then I guarantee, that no matter how wonderful we think we are, we would be unforgiven.

Does God forgive deliberate sin? This is a question that came up in class on Wednesday. Does God forgive me if I look at the law, see it written, “Do not steal,” and, fully knowing it is wrong, steal anyway? Can I – will I – be forgiven? Yes. Even deliberate sin will be forgiven. In fact, the deliberate decision to sin is a sin in and of itself, and it will also be forgiven.

I’ve only just begun – there are many more questions which will be addressed in the coming days. What about repentance? Are we forgiven even if we do not ask to be? If any sin can be and will be forgiven, then why shouldn’t we sin? What motivates us to obey the law? What role does the law play in Christianity?

Image: Geese and goslings at Bob Evans this morning before breakfast. I won't even go into the problems I had getting a picture of them, but suffice it to say, this is the best one that I have.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Pool and a Miracle

If you’ve read this blog (you three people) very often you may remember that last fall and into the early winter, JtM and I taught a class based on the book The Jesus I Never Knew. One of the most difficult chapters for me to “get comfortable” with was the one about Miracles. I had a lot of questions about that chapter and about the class discussion.

I was browsing the internet the other day, and ran across a blog post, which asked, among things, if miracles still happen today. That was one of the questions that the lesson asked. My answer to that question is yes, but it leads to so many other questions:

Why do miracles happen to some people and not to others?

Read this scripture from John 5: 1-9.

Think about the scene for a minute. Jesus walks into the area around the pool and finds a man there. He knows that this man has been there for a long time – 38 years. He’s not the only person there. “In these (porticoes) lay many invalids – blind, lame and paralyzed.” (verse 3a)

Why did Jesus chose this man to heal? Was it the length of his illness? That seems too simple. Was it that this man was “extra good?” No, because later he advises him to stop sinning. Is this the first person Jesus encountered at the pool? No idea.

The same questions occur to us. If a miracle doesn’t happen, then is it because we didn’t pray enough? Not enough people were praying? We aren’t good enough? Maybe there is a purpose in our suffering?

I just don’t think any of these reasons sound like God. I also hesitate to believe that God is haphazard, so I am left with the idea that God is God, and I am not.

I do think that Jesus performed certain miracles for certain purposes – it gave “proof” of his claims and it gave us examples of what God wants for us – wholeness. It gives us a glimpse of what the future kingdom will be like, and it shows us that God cares about our suffering. Jesus, however, did not come to earth to heal every physical illness, but instead to heal all of our spiritual illnesses.

Does he still do miracles. Yes. When? Whenever, wherever, whatever he chooses. Is it a sign of love? Yes, but not a sign that he loves one more than another.

Then how do I answer these questions? I can’t, but God can.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Value of the Person

I was reading a post today at a blog called "Out the Door." John Battern wrote a post about an article published on the UM Reporter. It is an interview with Dawn Eden regarding her new book, The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping your Clothes On. (The article is written by Mary Jacobs, and you can find it at this link).

What bothered me about John's post and the interview with Eden is the supposed link between feminism and sexual freedom. Let's look at a few statements:

From John's post: Eden points out that contrary to what the sexual/feminist revolution tried to pass off as the way to liberation and self-fulfillment,... I haven't included the end of the sentence, because it's not the focus of this post. What I want to point out is that the sexual revolution and the feminist revolution are not the same thing. I think that feminism -- or at least the battle for equal standing in society for women doesn't begin and end with sexual freedom. To me it is essentially about the idea that women are not second class citizens. In the eyes of God, men and women are all children.

Also from John's blog: For where do people turn when they discover that the promises of the sexual/feminist revolution are lies; consumerism. The theory is that by "keeping" women single, business interests benefit, because, to quote Eden, "You don't see a married woman with kids blowing her Christmas bonus in the shoe department at Macy's." First of all, if anyone thinks that mothers (and fathers) don't spend money in our society, they are just crazy. Secondly, the fruit of feminism is not necessarily a single life. In fact, marital status has nothing to do with equal rights for women -- at least not in our modern society. I can be married and have my own identity -- have my own equal status to men. One of the goals of feminism, I believe, is that I have that choice. I can be single. I can be married. My marital status does not define me.

What do I believe?

  • Men and women are children of God. In His eyes, one gender does not have a higher value than the other. In battling for equal status, I am fighting for others to see me as God sees me.
  • One of the forces contrary to that goal is generalizations. When others see me through the filter of what he or she believes women to be, then that person is not seeing ME. This is a danger not only for women, but for men as well. We all need to be approached and dealt with as individuals -- not as stereotypes. To do less -- for either sex -- is to devalue us.
  • The sexual revolution and the feminist revolution have become intertwined because of the double standard which has and does exist for men and women regarding sexual freedom. This article once again highlights that double standard.

I haven't even approached the idea of promiscuity, chastity, intimacy or extra-marital sex. That's actually the focus of the article, and I must say that there are points which Eden makes which I agree with. However, I do not think that we can discuss these issues until we separate them from the idea of feminism. At least, I can't.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Carry You

As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, we took the youth on retreat to the WV Methodist Retreat Center -- Spring Heights. It was a terrific event, and I can't say enough good things about it.

As part of the programming for the weekend, we gave each youth a rock. They were asked to hold it, to think about what worries them, distracts them, or stand between them and God. We asked them to shove those worries into the rock, and to remember that God is our rock -- our help -- and is willing to take our burdens and lighten our load.

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4
Toward late afternoon the next day, we took a hike to a creek, where we talked about the rocks again. The youth had been carrying them all weekend. At the creek, we talked about letting go, and asked the youth to throw their rocks into the creek, symbolizing letter go of their worries.

It was a beautiful spot in the woods -- green canopy of trees, creek, wind, presence of God. I wonder, though, are children and youth more able to let go of worries than we are? I wonder if that is part of trust -- if that is part of what Jesus means when he says, "become like little children."

I find that I have trouble doing that. I think it takes an element of trust -- belief in God. I don't mean believing that God exists -- I mean faith that God will do the best for me -- a belief in God -- that he is trustworthy. Is that something that a child is better able to grasp?

Lay down your burden,
I will carry you
I will carry you, my child
Lay down your burden, I will carry you
I will carry you, my child, my child

If I can walk on water
And calm a restless sea
I've done a thousand things you've never done
And I'm weary watchin'
While you struggle on your own
Call my name, I'll come


I give vision to the blind
And I can raise the dead
I've seen the darker side of Hell
And I returned
And I see these sleepless nights
And I count every tear you cry
I know some lessons hurt to learn

Lay down your burden, I will carry you
I will carry you, my child, my child

Image: Youth on retreat at creekside

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Are you loved?

How important are you to God? how much does he value you? How much are you loved? How aware is he that you hurt or that your burdens are heavy?

Does he walk with you through tough times? Does he ever leave you alone?

Is it possible that he looks the other way? Could it be that he is not focused on you or that you do not matter to him?

Are you loved by God?

For the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
he will lead them to springs of living water
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Revelation 7:17
You are remembered.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Live like that

On the way back from retreat today, we stopped at Central United Methodist in Charleston for church. The photo to the left is of the banner that was in their sanctuary today.

What do you see when you look at it? I see a cross. Look again -- there is actually no cross on the banner. It is only lilies. I like the symbolism of that for a couple of reasons.

  • The banner is not of a cross, and yet what you see when you look at it is a cross. The lilies are arranged in such a way as to appear to surround a cross -- a cross that isn't there. I think God hopes that we will live our lives like that -- living them in a such a way that those around us can see Christ, even though we are not Christ.
  • Notice that the banner is hanging in front a cross. The non-existent cross is lined up exactly in front of the real cross. Does that perhaps remind of that we are to align ourselves so that those around us can see Christ?

We are Christ on the road to Emmaus. He died on a cross so that we can live; we need to live so that others can see the cross.

Images: First on is of the banner at Central UMC. The second on is the stained glass of the rotunda in Central UMC.


    Saturday, May 05, 2007


    As I mentioned on Friday, JtM, MT, Steve and I took the youth group on retreat this weekend. To make up for my missed post, here are some photographs of the retreat site.


    Friday, May 04, 2007

    He is our Rock

    We leave this evening for a retreat with our youth group. At the beginning of the retreat, we will be giving each youth (and us) a rock. The idea for this “exercise” came from Group Magazine.

    Each person will carry the rock around for the rest of Friday and Saturday. We will ask each youth to think about what is bothering him – what his worries are – what his distractions from God are. He will be asked to think of the rock as a sponge. Hold it. Allow it to absorb his worries. God is our rock, and he will never leave us alone with our worries. He will lighten our loads.

    I’ve been asked to explain this exercise to the youth. I was looking around on the Internet for a devotion to use – just a one or two sentence story to give the concept a concrete – ha ha – rock-like foundation.

    I found this at Portals of Prayer. That’s significant to our youth group, and to us, the youth leaders. We just finished a youth event called JesusQuest – the theme was doorways, and the band who lead us in worship was Portal.

    Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
    Matthew 11:28
    A lady was driving down the interstate, on her way to work. She had a flat tire. She had never changed a tire in her life, although in theory, she knew how it was done. She struggled with it, trying to lift the tire off the car. Before she realized someone had pulled up behind her, hands reached out and lifted the tire, laying it on the pavement. The man changed her tire in no time.

    God is like that. He takes our burdens - -things which are too heavy for us to carry, and he helps us with them. He even has taken away sin and death through his son. “His strong hands and arms lighten the load of our crosses in ways we do not even realize. He gives us comfort and rest in all our troubles and burdens. He does it all simply because He loves us.” He is our rock.

    Be my rock of refuge,
    to which I can always go;
    give the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.
    (Psalm 71:3)

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    Thursday, May 03, 2007


    In class last night we got into a discussion about evangelism. Does our church evangelize? Do we do it enough? What kinds of activities can be called evangelism?

    The word evangelism comes from the Greek word euangelion.
    It originally meant a reward for good news given to the messenger and has the same origin as the word "angel." In fact, if I look at euangelion, I can easily see something that I would translate as "true (eu) angel."

    So what is it? We often narrowly define it as the process of going out and convincing other people to come to God -- to believe in God.

    Can there be a wider definition? I wonder if the verse which tells us to "Go forth and make disciples" is a good definition. I think that in this work -- in this service to God -- we absolutely need to be working in partnership with God. We can certainly go forth without him, but I have a feeling that we cannot make ANYONE a disciple. Essential ingredient = God.

    So, if we are to evangelize, and if we must have God with us to do it, then maybe evangelism is just pointing to God. "Look! See God?"

    How do we do that?

    Have I told this story? At closing of the last men's Emmaus walk, one of the new community members said that he wanted to go into the world and act so much like Jesus that no one would recognize him -- that instead of seeing him, they would see Jesus.

    I loved that analogy, and maybe that's what evangelism is. Maybe we truly evangelize when we act so much like Jesus, that we are not recognizable -- that what the person in front of us sees is Jesus.

    Can our Thursday night service to the homeless and marginal be evangelism? Yes, absolutely. It will be if we act so much like Jesus that they can see him. We evangelize when we feed hungry people, when we our words in worship are God's words, when we sing with such enthusiasm that those listening can hear true angels. We evangelize when we listen to the people in the room, when we see them for the person God intended them to be, when we lift their concerns to God in prayer.

    We evangelize when we point to God for someone and say, "Look." There is a real blessing when we don't have to point at all -- when God is so obvious in what we are doing that no one could miss him.

    And when that happens, we will find that we see God, too. Being a blessing can result in being blessed.

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    Wednesday, May 02, 2007

    An Uncomfortable Truth

    Two days ago I wrote about Holy Ground. How do we know when we are standing on Holy Ground? Could it be that we are always on holy ground?

    It's a concept we like. We might forget that God is near, but when we are reminded, we like the grace of it. There is a corollary to that idea, though, that isn't so easy to take.

    In Yancey's Grace book, he says:

    All of us in the church need "grace-healed eyes" to see the potential in others for the same grace that God has so lavishly bestowed upon us. "To love a person," said Dostoevsky, "means to see him as God intended him to be."
    We take for granted that God is near; we feel showered in grace to be reminded of his presence. It's not so wonderful to be reminded that each of us is God's holy ground. We are each children of God, designed by God, equipped by God, loved by God.

    That's great for me; what a blessing to think of myself as a child of God. I'm glad to see you that way. But him? No, thanks, I would rather not see that other guy that way.

    I re-read Psalm 23 and the devotion in Disciplines this week. Remember this line:

    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

    I always thought of that line as meaning that God would provide me protection, even in the presence of my enemies, but think of that line along with the word 'communion.' It takes on a whole different meaning, doesn't it?

    It is an uncomfortable truth.

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    Tuesday, May 01, 2007

    Turn the corner

    Take a look at this picture. Can you see it? I'm not sure if you can or not. On the way back from lunch today, I saw this cloud formation. Can you see the color in it? It was a perfectly sunny day with some white clouds. In this particular cloud, there was a strange rainbow -- I have never seen anything like it before.

    I was hoping to get a good picture of it was I was walking toward the building, but once I got out of the car and starting walking, it was gone. Both of the images above were taken from the car, so I wondered if it had something to do with the polarization in my windshield. Silly me, I walked back to the car and drove it through the parking lot again -- nope, gone.

    Sometimes I think finding God is like that. We try every trick in the book. We use strange filters, particular rooms, special prayers. We do everything we can to get close to him.

    In the Foster Prayer book I am reading, he tries to answer the question of how to do a Prayer of Tears -- that prayer in which we offer our repentance to God. His first step to suggest in the process is to "ask." Ask God to bring you to repentance, because we certainly cannot get there on own.

    We try and try to make it happen, but all of our tricks -- getting back in the car, looking through sunglasses -- none of it works. But sometimes, we turn the corner, and there he is. Like that rainbow. Unexpected and breathtaking.

    Images: Rainbow in clouds (click on image to see better, and put on your sunglasses). Open door at church during JesusQuest.

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