Friday, August 31, 2007

Faithful Distance

As I've mentioned, I'm working with JtM to teach a class about the book God is Closer than You Think. Wednesday, as we were preparing for class, my brother-in-law sent me a link to a Time magazine article about Mother Teresa. I'm betting that you've heard of this -- I saw several blog articles across the web about it.

Much of the lesson on Wednesday was concerning scriptures in which God could be scene to be very close to someone. The article above was a great counterpoint -- reminding us that even the most "saintly" of us can feel far from God.

In case you haven't read the article or heard about the story, Mother Teresa's personal communications have been released. When she first began to know that God was calling her to serve the poor in India, she records conversations with Jesus, where she could write down what he told her and what she said to him. She wrote, as she began her ministry, “My soul at present is in perfect peace and joy.” Shortly after that, she begins recording decades of loneliness, when she did not feel this personal presence of God. In writing to Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, she says, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” In August 1959, “Tell me, Father, why is there so much pain and darkness in my soul?” She didn’t “feel” Christ, but she served Christ. What surprised me the most: “If I ever become a Saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness.” I will continually be absent from Heaven – to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” The “sacrifice involved is infinite”. She would suffer through eternity to serve others, if that is God’s will.

Does it bother you that Mother Teresa expresses that she could not feel the presence of God? I think it is incredibly sad that she would feel such loneliness, but the idea that she experienced such distance from God while continuing to serve him, comforts me. It says to me that those times when we feel distant from God are not to be taken as unusual or an indication of something that we have done wrong.

I also wonder this -- she had such a close and intimate relationship with Jesus as she began working with the poor in India -- close enough that she could record conversations. Could it be that from the time when she began to stop feeling God that she was actually experiencing a relationship with God similar to what we have? Could the contrast between the blessing she was given early in her life and her experience with God after that was so dramatic that she interpreted life similar to ours as a desert of God's absence?

I don't know. But I do think it is amazing that she continued in her ministry even as she felt God's absence so keenly. Our faith is not to be based on our emotions. There will be times when we do not feel close to God. But he is there, and we cannot stop believing in him when we don't feel his presence.

This evening was J's birthday. My baby is eleven today! He has begun band in Middle school. Tonight we handed him the trumpet, and he made a trumpet sound. He wanted to play the trumpet (his dad and his brother play the trumpet) and we worried how he would do it with the limited movement he has in his right arm. But Steve just handed him the instrument, told him how to hold it, and poof -- he did. Trumpet noises began.

Images: Shrek birthday cake and a new trumpeter.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lucky Isaiah

What stands between us and God?

If our goal is to move closer to God, what prevents us?

Do we sometimes think that our sinful nature, the mistakes which we have made, our guilt, or our sense of guilt are enough to keep us out of God's presence?

It works that way with people. When we do something wrong, when we hurt someone, it can be painful enough that the other person would not want to be around us. It makes sense, doesn't it, that our relationship with God would be the same? It makes sense that perhaps if we behave better, if we try harder, that God would desire to be near us more than if we sinned.

Makes sense. Except it's wrong.

Read this:

And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ Isaiah 6:5-8
Isaiah knew that he had sinned, but so did God. God doesn't send Isaiah away from Him, telling him to go practice being less sin-ful and then to come back.

Instead he does something which purifies Isaiah. God takes an action to remove the soon to be prophet's sins.

Great! Lucky Isaiah.

He does the same thing for us. He has done the same thing for us. When Christ died on the cross, he removed our sins. The ones we have committed already, and the ones we have yet to commit. The things that have not yet done wrong are already forgiven.

And we are invited, every day, to come into the presence of God. He moves to make us clean, to take away our sin.

That's grace, and no wonder they call it amazing.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007


JtM and I were working on the class outline for this evening. One of he scriptures he pulled to include in the lesson was the ending of the walk to Emmaus passage. First, look at this verse:

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:30-32)
They recognized him in the breaking of the bread. That has always reminded me of communion. See this verse:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." (Matthew 26:26)
But, even though it does remind me of communion, there is another scene in the Bible when Jesus breaks bread:

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. (Matthew 14:19)

What is it that brings us closer to God? When do we feel his presence most clearly? Could these two instances of breaking of bread, which are echoed in the Emmaus passage, offer us a clue? We will encounter God in Communion -- when we are loving God, and in service -- when we are loving our neighbors.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Grace comes first

We talk about stewardship. We talk often about returning what God has given to us to the work of his Kingdom. We seem to realize that he gives us spiritual gifts and talents, and we feel a responsibility to return them to him. We know that we build barriers between God and ourselves when we value our money or our time more than we value him or his children.

I was thinking today, though, of something else.

JtM and I were emailed today about a class we are teaching which starts tomorrow. He mentioned a line from the song, Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus -- O for grace to trust Him more.JtM went on to say, "Grace comes first, then trust." That's true. It's also true that grace comes first, and then faith. Grace comes first, and then the awareness of our need of God. Grace comes first, and then forgiveness. Grace comes first, and then our ability to love others.

All of these gifts we think that we offer to God -- our trust, our obedience, our faith, our prayers -- are made possible through God. Without grace, we would not know of God. We would not be aware of him, or ever sense his presence. Without grace, we would not believe.

Even our responses to God are a gift from him to us, before we ever think of offering them back.

In The Silver Chair, by CS Lewis, Aslan says, “You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you.”


Images: The moon the other night as we were driving home, and a weed at the VA.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Logos -- Jeremiah 2:3-14

One of the lectionary readings for this week is Jeremiah 2:4-13. It not an inspiring passage -- it's not one of those scriptures that you would quote to make you feel closer to God. It's an indictment of Israel by God -- and of us.

I thought the last two verses were particularly interesting:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
I thought it was interesting that God tells the people, through Jeremiah, that there sins are two-fold -- they are turned their back of God, but they have also tried to replace him with something else.

I think that the image of God being living water is of the New Testament. Here, God refers to himself as the fountain of living water. Sometimes I think that the God of the Old Testament is very different from the one of the New Testament, but doesn't the phrase, "fountain of living water" sound Ike something that Jesus might have said?

What do we do that is a replacement for God? What are our cracked cisterns that will not hold water? This is the question that the GBOD asks about the passage. Do we put our hope in money? In other people's approval? In security? In the church? What our own cisterns that we use to replace God? Cisterns that are cracked and will not hold water?

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

What's that Smell?

As part of the Sunday school lesson today, we watched a scene from the film Bruce Almighty. During this clip, God was telling Bruce that someone who does hands on work , and goes home smelling high heaven is in service to God.

When we do work for God; when we follow the calling he has placed on our lives, we end up doing many things that we would not have anticipated.

Does the odor of what we do reach all the way to heaven? Is the aroma pleasing to God? Or do we just stink?


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cultural Questions

The Friday 5 at RevGalBlogPals -- they do ask some interesting questions:

Name a book, piece of music, work of art, film, unusual engagement with popular culture that have helped/ challenged you on your spiritual journey.

  1. Book: Pick one? Just one? I think the small book The Will of God by Leslie D. Weatherhead really clarified some ideas for me. As I read the book, I kept saying to myself, "Yes! Exactly!"
  2. Piece of Music -- That one is easy. The piece of music that has helped me the most on my spiritual journey is The Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns. Without going into lost of details, I can tell you that this is the song that reminds me that God is close and is involved in my life.
  3. Work of Art -- I used to sing with the high school choir at our church. We would sing from the altar steps, and looking out toward the crowd, the very large stained glass window over the balcony very much inspired me. A few months ago, our youth hung paperdolls in the sanctuary to symbolize the number of children who die in an hour from preventable diseases. We called them faceless, because the dolls have no faces, and sometimes the children seem to have no faces to us. I took a picture of the stained glass that day, and the way the light hit the window, Christ was faceless.
  4. Film -- I just can't think of a spiritual movie that I have seen, and I'm falling asleep at the lap top. I've always wanted to teach a lesson based on the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. I think it has a great lesson about legalism and where we store our treasures.
  5. Unusual Engagement in popular culture -- I'm not sure if this will answer the question, but there have been, over the past year or two, a few times when popular culture has lead me closer to God. Several concerts -- Mercy Me, Casting Crowns, Michael W. Smith, Chris Tomlin -- have reminded me that worship doesn't just happen in a sanctuary.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Remind us

Oh, Heavenly Father, we forget.
Remind us

Remind us,
as we stand in your sacred sanctuary,
that you love us.
We look around the huge space,
set apart,
and we see light passing through beautiful stained glass,
we see a magnificent organ,
whose music can fill the air,
we smell the melted candle wax from the altar,
and we wonder why you even notice that we exist.

We forget, Father.
Remind us.

Remind us that you sent you son
to show us how to live,
to show us how to love,
and most of all,
to show us how much we ARE loved.

We forget, Father.
Remind us.

Remind us that we are a Holy People,
set apart,
made sacred,
made acceptable to you,
through your own action,
as you once and for all
removed the weight of sin from our lives,
freeing us from its crippling grasp.

We forget, Father.
Remind us.

Remind us that you give us freedom,
and that because of your love,
we are able to go out into the world,
as reminders to others of your freeing grace.

We forget, Father.
Remind us.

Remind us that the man on the street corner,
the child playing in the mud,
the unwed mother,
the angry boss,
the careless neighbor,
and the mourning widow
are Holy People,
set apart,
made sacred by your love of them.

We forget, God.
We forget God.
We forget, Father,
and we need to be reminded.

Note: A few people, very few, will notice that this poem was the anonymous prayer contributed to this week's devotion in our church's Devotional Ministry. I would ask those people to note that this is the first anonymous contribution I have made to our Devotional Ministry; all other anonymous contributions have NOT been mine. Lest their be confusion.

Image: Sunset from the bleachers at the football game.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

God with Skin On

Why was it, is it, important that Jesus was the incarnation of God? Why is it important that Jesus was 100% human AND 100% divine? Human AND God, as paradoxical as it sounds.

That's not a simple question. In fact, I imagine it has been debated and considered for over 20 centuries, and my musings will certainly not answer the question. As I read through the Disciplines devotion this morning, a couple of ideas occurred to me.

First of all, and I've mentioned this before, I think it is vitally important to me that Jesus was human because he was able to experience what it was like -- what it is like -- for me to be human. Because he was human, he knows what temptation is like, from the human viewpoint. We are assured that he has felt grief, joy, sadness, and frustration. We know that he has, because to be human, is to have these experiences.

But, this morning, another reason occurred to me. There is a saying that sometimes people need other people to be "God with skin on." Sometimes we need to become close to God, to feel his presence, through another person. That other person touches us in a way which is actually God touching us, whether we know it or not. We experience God through that other person.

I am eternally grateful that Jesus was "God with skin on." Because he was incarnated, because he was human and divine, I can get an idea what God is like. I can get an idea of how God would want us to behave, because I can watch Jesus, who was human, walk through the world as divine. Does that make any sense? If that hadn't been the case, then the question, "What would Jesus do?" would be silly. We can asked "What would Jesus do?" when what we really want to know is what God would have us to do. By looking at Jesus, we know God's will and nature.

What does it mean to be made in God's image? We are all made in the image of God. Looking at Jesus -- God with skin on -- we can see what it means to be a human who is made in the image of God. I know that might sound wrong, but hang with me for just a second.

Jesus was not made in the image of God; he was God. But by looking at him, how he acted, how he responded to people, how he loved people, by looking at everything about him, we can determine what it is about us that has God-like characteristics. We are not God, but we are made like God, in some ways. Looking at God with skin on, we can try to figure that wonderful, amazing promise.

If we are children of God, then what did he pass along to us? If I have my father's face, my mother's eyes, my grandmother's hair, then what about me is like my heavenly Father?

I was teaching a class once, and I was wondering what it must have been like to go from being the son of a carpenter, to being a man who spoke to thousands of people. I imagined that it must have been difficult. "But he was God!" came the reply from a member of the class.

"I know, but he was also human. I know I would find that kind of transition to be difficult."

"But you are not God."

No, I'm not, but God has been like me, and I was made to be like him.

Images: Two bugs at work.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Strong Tower

Is there a time when it is OK to withdraw from ministry, to leave your calling behind for a time, and just rest in God? Does God plan for that? Does he approve? Or does he think that we should continue to rely on him to give us energy and motivation, so that we never take time away from what he wants us to do?

I particularly like the story of Elijah resting under a broom tree in 1 Kings 19:1-9. God sent angels to care for Elijah. He could have told Elijah to pick up his backpack and get back to work, but he didn't. God cared for his prophet.

One of the lectionary readings this week is from Psalm 71. Read this verse (3):
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.
What do you think it means for God to be our fortress? Kutless has a song called Strong Tower, and until this moment, I've never really looked at the words.

When I wander through the desert
And I'm longing for my home
All my dreams have gone astray
When I'm stranded in the valley
And I'm tired and all alone
It seems like I've lost my way
I go running to Your mountain
Where your mercy sets me free

[chorus]You are my strong tower
Shelter over me
Beautiful and mighty
Everlasting King
You are my strong tower
Fortress when I'm weak
Your name is true and holy
And Your face is all I seek

In the middle of my darkness
In the nidst of all my fear
You're my refuge and my hope
When the storm of life is raging
And the thunder's all I hear
You speak softly to my soul

God is our fortress, our protection, our rock. He is fine if we take some time to rest in him. He knows our needs, and he is willing and eager to meet them.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Remembering the Sabbath

What is a sabbath? What does it mean for us to remember the sabbath and keep it holy? Do you do that?

Think about the Luke 13 passage that I discussed on Monday. Jesus heals on the Sabbath. He takes a women who is "broken" and heals her, returning her to wholeness.

I was reading the RevGalBlogPal's Tuesday lectionary musings today. One of the commenters listed the things that she "does" on the Sabbath. She admitted that this wasn't resting, but that it made her feel whole.

Do we use sabbath time to make us feel whole? What kinds of things bring you wholeness? To be perfectly honest, sometimes it's a nap. Other times, it's hard work, but the sense at the end of it is wholeness.

Worship? Does that bring you wholeness? Times of prayer? Reading? My needs are often different, and different practices can be my sabbath.

What about working on Sunday? I don't mean at my job, but what about those of of who volunteer on Sundays at church? During the school year, I am on the youth leader team at our church. That's far from resting, but it does bring me wholeness. I am also an adult Sunday school teacher -- there are times when that brings me wholeness.

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes the best thing to do is to rest -- just rest. Sometimes that is what is needed to bring wholeness. I read in the Ortberg's Closer book that getting enough sleep can even be a spiritual discipline. Maybe that's one that I need to practice.

My point in this rambling is that not-working is not the only way to keep the Sabbath holy. Sometimes it can be doing something which makes us whole. Or at least a little closer to it.

Images: Pictures of weeds. I have no idea what they are. They were near the VA parking lot, but I really like these pictures.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Logos -- Luke 13:10-17

One of the lectionary readings for this week is Luke 13:10-17. Knowing that this is Monday, and wondering what to write about, I went to the Worship helps at GBOD -- great resource.
Reading that site's information about Luke 13 led me to see things in the passage that I hadn't noticed before.

We shouldn't forget that this person who was healed was a woman. In our day and time that might not have made much of a difference in the passage, but in Jesus' time it certainly did. She would have had at least two strikes against her -- she was a woman, and would have had to stay in the back of the synagogue, silent, if she had been admitted at all. She was unclean, because of her disease. She was definitely "one of the least of these."

Jesus is up front, teaching, in the place of honor, but what does he do? He spoke to her, touched her and healed her. He elevated her, from the least of these to the place of honor, healed by God. It just illustrates once again, if we need to have it pointed out to us, that Jesus didn't care about "station" or standing.

What happened once she was healed? She began praising God. She spoke, and yet she was not allowed to speak in the synagogue. Don't you know of churches where women are not allowed to speak in the sanctuary, lest they be accused of teaching men? And haven't you heard that this is supposedly supported biblically? Perhaps in this passage, we see how Jesus would react to such misguided legalism in our churches. Can't you just imagine him, smiling at the healing of this woman, celebrating with her, being pleased in her reaction of praise? Don't you think such praise is instructive to all who were present, men and women alike?

The religious men who were present accused Jesus of breaking the law and healing on the Sabbath. Do you think that was their only concern? I don't. As pointed out by the worship helps at GBOD, they were probably also upset because Jesus had upset the status quo -- not just healing when they thought it shouldn't be done, but also speaking to the woman, valuing her, touching her, approaching her, and leading her to praise. "Don't bother me, Jesus, I'm perfectly happy to be in this place of honor. I don't even want to acknowledge the 'least of these.'"

I was struck by the legalism in the passage. So many rules, and the mixed up priorities of the leaders in the synagogue. Do we do that? Do we allow our own priorities to override those that Jesus would have us to follow? Do we value what people wear on Sunday more than the people themselves? Would we choose to be less than welcoming to someone if that person sat in our traditional spot in the pew? Do we value our traditions -- the way we have always done things -- over the way God wants us to do things now? What are the laws that we place before grace?

How are we the woman who needs healed? What cripples us in service to God? Jesus says to us, "Come here."

He will touch us, and cure us, if we let him. We will hear him say, "You are set free." Hopefully, he will smile at our praise.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Christian in Disguise

Today I was a Christian in disguise.

Today was our annual church picnic (click here to read about last year's picnic). I am no longer chairman of the committee that plans the event (which was kind of cool), but I am a member of that committee, and Steve is a member of the men's group that did the cooking, so we went out early -- not as early as last year, but earlier than most people.

Anyway, before we left for the picnic, I took the van, as the kids got ready, and drove down the street to pick us up some breakfast. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt -- not the "normal" going to church kind of clothes. I realized that to most of the "church" people in the town, I looked like a non-church person. A Christian in disguise.

It got me to thinking -- do we treat the people we perceive as unchurched any differently than those who we think are headed to church on a Sunday morning. I only "interacted" with two people on my way to pick up breakfast:

  1. There is a "start-up" church down the road from us that seems to be doing well. It's a small re-purposed grocery store (very small). As an aside, they have a nice church van, and a bus. One gentleman, dressed in a suit, was crossing the road as I drove by. He just looked at me until I waved. Once I waved, he waved and smiled right back.
  2. The clerk at the restaurant where I picked up breakfast treated me just the same as I think he would have otherwise.
Not a very large sample size, but I didn't notice any difference.

I still wonder, though. Are we nicer to unchurched people? Less nice? Do we ignore them? Are we hospitable? Are we friendly? What do they think of us?

I hope that we, in our Sunday clothes, are not true Christians in disguise. I hope people who don't know us will see God shining through our actions, no matter what we are wearing.

Picnic was great, by the way. The men did an outstanding job with the food, the new Nurture chairman did a wonderful job with everything else. Great day.

Image: Cattails from the parking lot at the high school.


Saturday, August 18, 2007


I was walking in the park the other day and noticed this growing on a tree near the path. Can you see it, about halfway down the picture, growing out of the trunk? I took the picture, thinking at the time that someday I might use it on the blog -- I wasn't sure for what, but I often don't know what will be an image's final destination when I take a picture. I just collect them.

Yesterday, the Disciplines devotion was about Hebrews 12:1-2. Take a took at verse 1:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
As I read that, the idea which stuck with me was laying aside the weight and sin that clings, so that we can run the race with perseverance. No one wants to run a race carrying extra weight. We are blessed that God has provided a means by which we can lighten our loads.

I thought back this morning to that abnormal growth on the tree. I think, after doing some reading this morning, that this is a burl. A burl is wartlike growth on a tree. It is the tree's reaction to an injury or infection. I wonder if our weights and burdens have anything in common with tree burls.

  • Sometimes, those weights and sins which weigh us down are the result of either our past mistakes or hurts that we have experienced. Our burls are our reactions to that pain. God offers us a way to relieve ourselves of those weights -- he has already forgiven either us or the person who hurt us. He also gives us the grace to extend forgiveness to others, and even to ourselves.
  • Most trees live for years and years with burls. In some cases, a burl can become so heavy and can be such a burden, that it can cause the tree to die. I think that we walk through life with our burdens, trying to ignore them. In the worst case, when the weight is too big, it can bring us to spiritual death. We shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that just because the weight isn't so large that it brings us to death that it has no effect at all. It does. That's why God is telling us to rid ourselves of it, and why he helps us to do that.
  • The growth pattern in a burl on a tree is circular, twisted -- not the normal growth pattern in the tree. The tree expends energy creating this burl which could have been used to create a taller, more productive tree. We do that -- we allow our burdens to distract us from the plan God has for us; from our God given purpose.
  • A burl is after all, just wood, but it isn't a strong wood. It's weaker, more prone to breakage. So are we, when we continue to carry our own 'burls' around with us.
  • The most interesting part of what I read about burls was that woodworkers love them. The wood grain patterns that the tree creates in the burl are prized for the decorative aspects. People use large redwood burls for veneers, because of their patterns. I saw vases and other decorative objects made from burl wood. This is the happy ending of the story. God can take our pain, our hurt, our scars, and use them in loving ways. Think of the recovering alcoholic who leads people through healing from the disease. Consider the victim of spousal abuse who convinces new victims to escape. What about the one who has been able to give someone the gift of forgiveness and has changed both their lives? Our burls, amazingly enough, can become, through God, means of grace.

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

Experience healing. Lose your burdens, and run your race, feeling lighter and free.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Without us...

One of the lectionary readings for this week is the second half of Hebrews 11. The father of a friend of ours says that the reading of the bible is not for children – in parts it should be x-rated. Read the second half of Hebrews 11, and you might agree.

I never really pay that much attention to the bulk of that chapter. It usually fades into non-existence under the shining light of the first verse: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Once I read that, the rest is just blah blah blah.

But today, thanks to the Disciplines devotion, I took a better look at the chapter, especially the last half. I noticed that it can be divided into three parts:
  1. The first section speaks of the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, the defeat of Jericho and Rahab’s faith. All three of these are examples of victory at the hand of God, delivered to God’s faithful servants. Wow, we say. Great.
  2. Lest we become too complacent, read the next section. Here you realize that the faithful have been mocked, flogged, chained, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two (!!!), killed by the sword, and went around destitute, persecuted and tormented, living in caves and holes in the ground. Oh.
  3. These last few verses were the ones which really struck me. Verses 39 and 40: Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
When we trust in God, he can use us for glorious purposes – for advancements in his kingdom here on earth that will be remembered through the generations. I think also, though, that this scripture speaks against the currently popular prosperity theology – God will grant me wealth if I have faith in him and ask for it. His faithful are rarely the most comfortable people around, and sometimes we will suffer for our stand with God. He does not desire it; he does not make it come to pass, but our fellow human beings can be horribly cruel. As can we.

But the most interesting part of the scripture, for me, was the last part. All of these – the Israelites, Rahab, the faithful in the early church – have been promised something better. And so have we. Our participating in God’s plan is necessary to make the plan whole. Perfect. Our lives are written on the same page by God. Just as he used Rahab, he uses us. Just as he had plans for the Israelites, he has plans for us. Just as the early Christians were necessary in the building of the church, so are we.

Apart from us, the plan will not be complete – will not be whole – will not be perfect.

Images: MY BATTERIES ARE BACK! Windows from the Ashland Sanctuary this evening with the sun shining through. White flowers from Ritter Park.


Thursday, August 16, 2007


I was walking in the park the other day during lunch. It was a nice day, I had some time for a short walk.

After eating at a picnic tale, I tucked my keys in my pocket, grabbed my camera and headed to the walking path. I use my camera to remind me to see things around me. I keep my eyes opening, looking for moments with God in what is around me.

I had taken a few pictures, and was poised to take another one, when my battery died. Just stopped working. Annoying. I had missed the little warning signal on the screen, and was completely surprised by the camera with no batteries.

Do we do that? Do we run around so much, that our battery just dies a quick and unexpected death. Our eyes close to God, our ears close, and our spiritual connection feels like the dry creek bread I wanted to take a picture of. Sometimes it sneaks up on us, even though there were warning signs that we could have paid attention to.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Is the Technology the "Thing?"

One of the blogs on my Bloglines account (my list is in the sidebar) is Out of Ur. This is the blog of Leadership magazine.

Their latest article is called The Tech Effect. When does the use of technology is worship become a competition to the message instead of an enhancement of the message?

Consider first the Star Wars trilogies. Hang with me; I'm going somewhere with this. I loved the first three movies, that came out in '77, '80 and '83. They are three of my favorite movies. I love the characters and their relationships with each other. Even though they are science fiction movies, with special effects considered ground breaking at the time, the human element is center. It is what we are watching when we watch the movies.

Compare that to the newer trilogy. In those movies, the main character is the technology, in my opinion. The special effects are fantastic -- glorious, but the relationships and the characters sink into oblivion in the glare of the fantastic.

Does that ever happen with our projection systems and screens? The questions asked in this article are:

With our increasing ability to produce "visual delights," can we forget what matters most? How can we use technology to help, not hinder, the proclamation of God's Word?
Media is not neutral. Images are not neutral. They make us feel something, bring us a message, function to either enhance or distract from the message. Who is declaring the message? If it is the worship leader (and it should be) then the media used in the service should not be the center of attention. I think images should be carefully chosen to enhance the message which the worship leader is proclaiming.

One of the ministers quoted in this article says the following:

I occasionally use visual media and technology as a crutch to help keep what I'm saying interesting. But when an 80-year-old woman who lived through the Great Depression stood up in my congregation and told a story, she didn't use any technology, and everyone was on the edge of their seats listening to her suffering and what she lived through.

As the medium, she was infinitely more powerful than any technology I could bring.

I think that screens and projection systems in worship can be powerful tools for the enhancement of the proclamation of God's word. When used badly, they detract from worship. I think we need to be very careful in that balancing act, choosing images wisely, which will add to the worship experience.

What do you remember when you leave worship? The message proclaimed by the worship leader? The images projected on the screen? Your experience in a closer relationship with God? Let's not forget the role of the worship leader -- to lead the congregation to God. That's a heavy responsibility that needs to be taken seriously.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Circle Continues

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season
A time for every purpose under heaven.

A time for us to begin
When God breathes life into us
We are born.
And a time for us to join him again
We die.

During our lives, we plant
We leave ideas behind us
We whisper of God’s word
And eventually, God returns for harvest.

At our hand, thing end
At our hand, people are healed.
At our hand, we tear things down
Sometimes that is what is necessary
So that
At our hand, we build God’s kingdom

And the circle continues
Every purpose, a season.

Sometimes God is so close
Sometimes God is so far away
Either one may bring us to tears
In the joy, we find laughter.
God brings us to both
And we find that sometimes
they are almost the same.

Our hearts ache,
And we grieve what has been lost
What might be lost
What should be lost.
Our souls are drawn toward God
And we dance.
Our spirits touch another
And we dance.

In the dancing, we embrace
In the mourning, we embrace
At times we find that
To stand apart is impossible.
Other times it is all that is possible.

And the circle continues
Every purpose, a season.

Stones are all around us
Do we gather them together,
Or do we ignore them.
Can we use them to build?
Or will all we find is a wall,
Once we are finished?

There is a time to search,
To never give up,
To grasp tightly in protection
And there is a time to let go
To release
To risk all
To walk away empty

In the seams of our lives
We run the needle
Making connections
And then there comes the moment
When the seam is stretched beyond its purpose
And it must be ripped apart.

And the circle continues
Every purpose, a season.

The most difficult decisions confront us.
Is it a moment for courage?
A moment to stand and speak God’s word?
Or is it a moment for silence?
A time to allow God to speak past us,
Instead of through us.
Silence can be a tool of God
Or it can be avoidance.

Is there ever a time for hate?
Is there ever a time when God’s love
Is not to be offered, freely and with grace?
Or is there a time when
What might be seen as hate
Is love in disguise.
What might be seen as cruelty
Is really compassion?

Is there a time for war?
When battle lines are drawn?
When God says, “Stand up; be my body.”
Walk forward for justice.
So that peace can descend
Like an everflowing stream.
And is there a time
When peace is just calmness
In the presence of God?

And the circle continues
Every purpose, a season.

A time to be and a time to do.
A time to shout and a time to whisper.
A time to convince and a time to move past.
A time to forgive and a time to forget.
What time is it?

For everything there is a season
A time for every purpose under heaven.

For two days in a row now, as I have gotten to work, the song Turn Turn Turn has been playing on my XM radio. Different artists, but the same song.

Thanks to JtM for the phrase (actually for the different view of it) "What time is it?"

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Logos -- Jeremiah 23:23-29

One of the lectionary readings for this week is
Jeremiah 23:23-29. Take a look at these verses:

Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.
I was reading Ortberg's God is Closer than You Think. He says that one of the ways that we miss seeing God is through spiritual hiding.

Two of the most famous spiritual "hiders" were Adam and Eve. Think back to the beginning of Genesis. After Adam and Eve ate of the tree that they were supposed to leave along, they became aware of their nakedness, and they hid in the garden.

How do we hide from God when we sin?

  • Are we hiding from God when we try to deceive ourselves? Are we hiding when we rationalize, make excuses, blame others for what we have done wrong?
  • Are we hiding from God when we avoid prayer? Are there times when it is easier to not pray than to encounter God in true conversation?
  • Do we ever avoid the other people in our community of faith because we know that God will speak to us through the other members of the body? Do we avoid accountability measures when we sin?
  • Someone said to me once, "I don't understand why people keep the radio turned up loudly -- when I do that, I can't think." I told her that there were times when I didn't want to think. Most of the time, when the radio is turned up, it's because I just want to "experience' the music. Are there times, though, when we distract ourselves from self-examination when we know that the results would not be pleasant to encounter?

    Why do we fool ourselves into believing that we can hide from God? Do we not understand how big God is? How he surrounds us, lives with us, and is never far away? I wonder if we remembered his continual presence, if we would avoid these hiding traps.

    Image: Squirrel from the park today. These are very brave squirrels. They walk right up to you, glaring at you, and trying to convince you that you should give them your snack.

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    Sunday, August 12, 2007

    Life or Death

    JtM taught our Sunday school class day, using the Adult Bible Series Curriculum. The lesson was based in Ezekiel 18. Take a look at these versus, in the Message version (Verses 26-28):

    If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die. But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die.

    What does that mean? At first glance, we read it, and it says that those who sin will die, and those who do not sin, will live. But we know that, from our experience, sinners live or die and the same can be said for the righteous. It's not always the case, but usually length of life is not related to our relationship with God.

    But JtM said that Ezekiel only spoke when he was speaking the word of God. As a sidenote, this is a pretty interesting Rule of Life. I would like to invite some people I know to follow it. Anyway, if Ezekiel only spoke the Word of God, then this word, above, must be true.

    I was sitting in class thinking about it. The Word of God, spoken through Ezekiel. What does death mean to an eternal God who offers his children eternal life? We talked in Sunday school that life and death in this passage most likely do not mean physical life or death, but spiritual instead.

    We worry alot about physical life span, and not so much about our spiritual life status. To God, though, do you think that a physical death is not very important? In the grand scheme? To God, spiritual death -- separation from his created children -- us -- might be a much larger and more important matter. Ortberg, in his book God is Closer than You Think, says that "The story of the Bible isn't primarily about the desire of the people to be with God; it's the desire of God to be with people."

    God has struggled through the millenia to bring us life. Not the breathing, heart-beating kind of life, although surely that is a gift as well, but the kind of life which is abundant. Which is joyful. Life live close to God, so that his breath becomes our own.

    I don't think God pulls away from us when we sin. I think when we sin, we pull away from God. We die a spiritual death. Grace is the fact that God chases us when we leave him. Grace is the fact that God offers us release from spiritual death.

    Grace is that God is closer than we think, and that he offers life.

    Image: We had lunch at the Boston Beanery today. Our sons and nephews were climbing on the train, and G was climbing a little too much, too high, so I gave him my camera, set for close ups and said, "Go find a flower and take its picture." That's his photo above.

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    Saturday, August 11, 2007

    Gather us in

    We went to church in the west end of town last week. Their opening hymn was Gather Us In by Marty Haugen. I had never heard it before, and I really liked it -- both the lyrics and the tune.

    JtM mentioned it tonight, in conjunction with something else, so I pulled out The Faith We Sing and read the words again. A communion post was forming in my mind, so I "googled" the song, so that I could copy and paste the words for the post, rather than type them.

    One of the entries I found was on Beliefnet -- it is one of the hymns referenced in an article called "Heretical Hymns? Sacred songs gone wrong? You Decide."

    The lyrics in question are:

    Not in the dark of buildings confining
    Not in some heaven, light years away,
    But here in this place, the new light is
    Now is the Kingdom, now is the day...

    The Beliefnet article had two objections to these lyrics -- they seem to "dis" church building and "even the afterlife." Do you get that impression from these lyrics? I don't.

    The point of this verse, I think, can be found in the last line -- "Now is the kingdom, now is the day." The kingdom of God is now and then. It is in the future and in the present. The kingdom of God cannot be confined to a church building; it cannot be found only sitting in a pew. God will not be trapped behind our closed door. He is everywhere.

    The kingdom of God is not only to be found in some heaven, far away. God is here, now, with us. He is not sitting, far away, in a place we cannot touch or cannot even imagine. He's with us now. Here and now.

    I don't think the song shows disrespect, either for church buildings or for heaven. The lyrics just point out the God is bigger than a church building and closer than a far off place.

    Images: Crepe Myrtle from Mom's yard.


    Friday, August 10, 2007

    Needle and thread

    I was in a meeting the other day, and the chairman of the committee read a prayer which compared life with God to that of the work of a tailor.

    We are the thread; he is the needle. We follow him like a thread follows a needle.

    I thought that was a terrific analogy.

    I'm just too tired to think too much about it, so enjoy a beach picture, and consider -- we are the thread; he is the needle.


    Thursday, August 09, 2007

    You stand closer

    Continuing on yesterday's theme, as an illustration, Bill stood at the communion table, as if he were crowding around Jesus himself. He was literally blocking the way of anyone who dared to come near who was not invited. Please do not put dirty shoe prints on the floor, either. This is Jesus.

    And then Bill ran a few feet away, and talked about the man who was being blocked from approaching God. These people had to stand far away, and were prevented from approaching God.

    It reminded me of a story that Chuck Echols told us once. He said that his vision of heaven was that all of the saints, who had been such a part of the church, and had perhaps earned the right to be close to God, would be reaching back, behind them, and pulling those who had just come to the faith closer. "Come here, hon. Move up closer, I'll move back. You need to be closer to God than I do." It was a great picture of heaven (I've talked about it here).

    If we believe that the kingdom of God is at hand, and that we can live with God, here and now, then I love that how we can be in community together as a church reflects what heaven can be like. Isn't that the way that it should be?


    Wednesday, August 08, 2007

    What is a crowd?

    The facilitator of our Visioning Retreat last weekend delivered a message in the opening worship service based on the text of the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. His message pointed out interpretations of the scripture which I had never seen before, but which were so "true," if that makes sense.

    If you remember the story, Jesus is at home. People come to hear him speak, crowding into the house. A paralytic is brought to Jesus by four of his friends. The friends,who can't get the paralytic to Jesus, refuse to give up. They carry him up to the roof, dig their way to Jesus, and lower the man down through the hole.

    Verse 2: So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.

    Verse 4: And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.

    Bill pointed out that we often think of the house as being physically SO crowded that no one else could enter. That's an image that many of us hope for our church --that it would be so vital, that there would be standing room only. But what if, instead of being physically crowded, our churches are gathered so closely around Jesus, that we are blocking the way of anyone else entering. What if what we do, what we say, who we are is a hindrance to people reaching Jesus? It throws the story into a whole different light for our churches.

    Do we crowd around Jesus, hording him, "protecting" him (or ourselves) so that no one can reach him? When our purpose should be to share Christ with others, do we instead keep them from him?

    And when verse 5 says, "When Jesus saw their faith...", referring to the men dropping through his roof, could he have known that the faith of those crowded around was much more weak than the faith of those climbing or being carried up to the roof? Does he say to us that our faith is so much weaker than those we would keep from God by our insistence those who approach God through our church look like us, think like us, and believe exactly like us?

    More on this tomorrow....

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    Tuesday, August 07, 2007


    The blog RevGalBlogPals, which I read, has a regular posting called Friday Five -- five questions that the members of the ring can choose to answer. I'm not a member of the ring, but I liked these questions:

    1. Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? (however you choose to define the term) Share a bit about it. If not, what's your reaction to the idea of pilgrimage? I wouldn't say that I have a been on a pilgrimage, if you define it as traveling to a far off land to visit a religious location. I have been called a pilgrim, though, and that experience might be considered a pilgrimage. Those who go on an Emmaus walk are called pilgrims. The best description of it might be found on a JtM's guest blogging post. It's a great experience -- transformational.
    2. Share a place you've always wanted to visit on pilgrimage. I'm not sure that I have a place in mind for a pilgrimage. One of the most spiritual experiences I have had lately -- as a trip -- was when Steve, JtM, MT and I took the youth group on a spring retreat to our Annual Conference Retreat Center. It was relaxing and quiet and close to God. Does that qualify as a pilgrimage? I would want a pilgrimage to have that kind of feeling.
    3. What would you make sure to pack in your suitcase or backpack to make the pilgrimage more meaningful? Or does "stuff" just distract from the experience? Camera. My camera is one of the tools that I use to see God in the world. If I have my camera, I will keep my eyes open. I miss it when I don't have it.
    4. If you could make a pilgrimage with someone (living, dead or fictional) as your guide, who would it be? (I'm about this close to saying "Besides Jesus." Yes, we all know he was indispensable to those chaps heading to Emmaus, but it's too easy an answer). Do I want a guide? I think I would rather just have friends.
    5. Eventually the pilgrim must return home, but can you suggest any strategies for keeping that deep "mountaintop" perspective in the midst of everyday life? (don't mind me, I'll be over here taking notes). No, you can't. By definition, the mountaintop is only a place to visit. Jesus went to the mountaintop, but then even he came back down to the valley. It's not that "feeling" that makes the difference, once you are back in the world. It is instead the transformation that occurs. The transformation can be permanent, while the emotions are not.

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    Monday, August 06, 2007

    Logos -- Genesis 15:1-6

    One of the lectionary readings for this week is from Genesis 15:1-6.

    He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be."
    And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
    verses 5 and 6
    This is God speaking to Abram, trying to get him to understand the vastness of God's plan for him -- the extreme nature of God's gift for him.

    How often are we like Abram? How often do we fail to even come close to an understanding of how radical or extreme God's plan and God's gifts to us are? Count the stars, if you are able to count them...

    We are not able to count the stars or to begin to imagine the love that God has for us. So we make up rules, we misrepresent what God will do, we judge him, we fail to attempt to reach out in relationship with him.

    We won't even come out of the tent to turn our eyes heavenward and acknowledge the present of God or his gifts. We just stay under the canvas and kick the dirt around, thinking that we know all that there is to know, since we can describe the color of the tent.

    Look up -- see the wonder that is God.

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    Sunday, August 05, 2007


    What is the meaning of membership?

    In the secular world, when we become a member of group, we gain access to special privileges. Join a golf group, and receive a monthly magazine. Join a country club, and be given access to the dining room. As American Express says, "Membership has its privileges."

    Membership in a church is a different matter entirely.

    When my son was born, he was welcomed into our church. While it may not take a village to raise a child, a community makes it much easier. They bought him a high chair his first week of life. They welcomed him at his baptism, they have nurtured him in the faith. They applauded when he sang with the kid's chorus, and they affirmed him when he took part in worship. They have loved him as part of this body of Christ.

    A couple of years ago, he went through a confirmation class. At the end of that class, he became a member of the church. After that happened, did they love him any more? Any better? Did their responsibilities to him increase? No. His membership vows did not change the way he was seen as a part of this body.

    Then what is the purpose of vows of membership? A membership vow is an opportunity for a member of the body of Christ to state his commitment -- his commitment to God. Does that really affect his standing in the body of Christ? No. He was made a part of the body by the death of Christ.

    We are called to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Does a membership vow make a person more of a neighbor? No.

    You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

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    Saturday, August 04, 2007


    We had a visioning retreat today. Read these two phrases that I wrote down today during the retreat:

    From the song, The Summons, by John Bell: “Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?”

    From the Benedictine Rule of life: “…so that you may be peace to all.”

    I think both of these phrases look at life in Christ in a different way, just through the change of a word or two. It is those small changes that alter the meaning for me.

    “Will you let me answer prayer in you…” We think of God as answering prayer, I think – something God does for us or to us. This phrase turns that concept around. Will you be the answer to a prayer? Will you allow God to partner with you to answer prayers?

    “So that you may be peace to all.” Read that again. It doesn’t say, “so that you can bring peace to all.” This is a benediction that was read today which asks us to BE peace to all. What does it mean to BE peace? I wonder if it means this: will you be so much like Christ, so much like God, that others will know God through you? If peace is the contentment of living in His will, of knowing God-given joy and being in God’s presence, then to be peace to someone would seem to mean that we are the presence of God to them.

    Can you be the answer to a prayer? Can you be the presence of God to someone? May it be so.


    Friday, August 03, 2007

    Leadership: Summary

    To summarize the Leadership posts, and to place all of the links in one place, I'm going to list them one more time. All of these leaders in our church are my heroes. I described one small aspect of each of them -- they are share all of these characteristics.

    Loyalty: Linda
    Energy: Jeff and Mary
    Availability: Jim
    Dedication: Shelly
    Enthusiasm: Scott
    Risk: Patrice

    There are others I could have listed (I purposefully avoided family members), and I'm sure as I think about it, there are others who would fit each characteristic. That's it for now, though.


    Leadership: Risk

    Are you tired of these posts about leadership? Are you ready for me to be done with this already?

    The sixth and final letter of Leader is R -- Gilbert and Zoller use this letter to talk about risk -- a characteristic of a good leader.

    When does a leader demonstrate the willingness to take risks? When he listens to the call of God, even when he doesn't believe that he is equipped to answer it, he is risking failure. When a leader takes a step in faith -- tries something new -- he is taking a risk. There are times when we are afraid or uncertain, and it takes risk to take that leap of faith.

    I want to tell you about Patrice.

    Patrice is a Sunday school teacher in the elementary program at our church. When I left the position of chairman of the Nurture Committee, Patrice stepped in and took it. I don't think she wanted to, but she did anyway. She didn't seem to believe that it was something she would be able to do, but she has done a wonderful job.

    She is dreaming dreams about the Sunday school program -- dreams I never would have had. I hope she is able to see them through, because I think the effect on our program could be big - we could reach many more children with the Word of God. I hope that our church enables her to continue taking risks.

    Patrice is a model of risk taking for me, for our Nurture Committee, and for our church.

    I thank God for Patrice.

    Images: Same photo, different zoomed images of Queen Anne's lace.


    Thursday, August 02, 2007

    Leadership: Enthusiasm

    The fifth letter of Leader is E. The fifth leadership characteristic that Gilbert and Zoller discuss is enthusiasm.

    We've already talked about energy, but they make a distinction between energy and enthusiasm.

    Energy is what the leader possesses to do her or his task; enthusiasm is what the leader conveys to the people to engage them in the vision.
    A leader has the ability to make other people feel enthusiasm. He or she leads in such a way that those involved in the project not only are engaged, but they have an attitude that they WANT to be involved.

    I want to tell you about Scott.

    Scott is a member of my church. He is always smiling, always appears pleased to be serving God in his church. Scott greats everyone at the door on Sunday morning, shaking hands and dispensing hugs liberally. He makes all those entering the door glad to be there. Scott does tons of things at church, and he does them all with the an attitude which inspires others to become involved, as well.

    Scott is a model of enthusiasm for me, and for the members of our church.

    I thank God for Scott.

    Image: Tiny daisy at the VA.


    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Leadership: Dedication

    The fourth leadership characteristic that Gilbert and Zoller discuss is dedication. They define it this way:

    When we are dedicated to the call and vision of God, we can lead people in the right direction, not just in any direction. Loyalty (which is really dedication to the people that a leader leads) must be coupled with dedication to a greater vision, and that vision must have its genesis in God and God's call on our lives.

    I want to tell you about Shelly.

    Shelly is the chairman of our Celebration Committee at church, and she does a great job. She is also the moderator of our Sunday school class. I want to focus on that. I think Shelly has a vision of what the Sunday school class should be, and that vision is from God. I haven't asked her about this, but the wonderful work she does as moderator reflects God's vision for our group.

    Shelly is dedicated to the idea that we will be a supportive community. I watch her when we have a visitor in class. She always stops and speaks to him or her and takes the time to make sure that the visitor is welcome. We share prayer requests and concerns in class. She writes them down and then emails them out to everyone each week. Each week our inboxes are blessed with an email from Shelly with plans for the upcoming Sunday, announcements about class and church and the list of concerns about class members. Every week.

    When we have get togethers or when we work on a project for church, Shelly make sure that all of the details are taken care of -- she even does this when she knows that she cannot be there. She remembers to ask about illnesses or problems that class members might have.

    Because of Shelly, we, as a class, come closer to the vision that God has for community. She is an example to all of us.

    I thank God for Shelly.

    Image: LOVE this new camera. This is a close up of thistle, near the parking lot of the VA.