Sunday, September 30, 2007

Means of Grace

I want to recommend two lectures to you, the texts of which are available online at Ben Witherington’s blog. They are long, so go look at them when you have time to read them, but they are gotten me thinking about salvation and grace, transformation and trust in new ways.

Part 1
Part 2

These posts are transcripts from lectures by Dr. Joe Dongell. He is discussing the possibility of real transformation – from self-possessed, inward focused sinful creatures to outward focused Christ-like creations of God. He suggests that one of the ways in which we can live in the hope of this renewal is to “wait expectantly within the means of grace. "

What are means of grace? I like how Dr. Dongell defines them. He says that the means of grace are “the pathways the Father himself has given us as the assured and regular channels of his work in our lives.” In other words, he wants us to come to him, he wants to work in our lives, so he has drawn us a map. “Here is the X,” he says. Wait here, and I will come to you.

I am reminded of being lost as a child, or being the mother of a child who might get lost. “Stand still, and I’ll find you.” A means of grace is a path identified by the father for us to take. He has identified this pathway for us, and he will pour out his grace upon it.

He lists several:
  • Scripture – Grace through the word
  • Communion – Grace through the nearness of God
  • Intimate groups – Grace through other people
There is nothing powerful about the means of grace themselves, he says. They are means of grace because of God – he has promised to meet us on these pathways, and we can be confident of his presence.

One of the things I like about this definition is that it leaves the grace in God’s hands. He has pointed out to us these pathways, but he also has allowed himself the freedom to reach us any way he chooses. Communion is a means of grace, but God will reach out and touch us in a field with no bread and wine present. His choice. He knows the way to find us; means of grace are suggestions from God, leading us to find him.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

The tale of two trees

I was teaching class on Wednesday, and we were discussing the idea that one of the important steps in recognizing that God is close is believing that he is – opening our minds to the possibility that he is walking with us. We will not recognize him if we do not have faith that he will be there.

I borrowed a story from JtM as an illustration. JtM was leaving the house one day. He backed out of the garage, shut the garage door and had to wait while something mechanical happened with the door. This unwanted delay lasted just a minute or two, and then he was on his way. On the main road, as he was driving, a tree branch fell and crashed into the road, just in front of his car. If he had not been delayed, his car would have been struck by the branch.

God involved? My point in telling the story was that we can believe that God was involved. We can make that choice.

At the end of this story, an older gentleman in class said, “But what about the opposite of that?" He told us about a young woman in Florida who had been walking down the street on a clear, bright day. A tree fell over, and crushed her to death. They didn’t even know she was missing until they were cleaning up the tree and found her. Why didn’t God stop that from happening? Did he make it happen for some reason of his own?

I have no good answer. I stumbled through the discussion in class, and I’m still thinking about it.

Is God involved in life? Does life just happen, and he lets it?

My husband drove home from training yesterday. I prayed for his safe travel. I have friends flying home from a conference today (JtM and MT), and I pray for their safe flight. My mom is having surgery on Tuesday and is suffering from high blood pressure. I pray for her healing. I pray that my son will be safe traveling to his band competitian today, and I prayed that I would make it home from work and that my aunt who has lung disease will live a long and happy life.

Does God answer those kinds of prayers? Only sometimes? Never? Is it all just chance?

It’s a question as old as Job, and I don’t pretend in any way, shape or form to have the answer. There are, however, a few things that I know.
  • God loves me (and you, too). He cannot NOT love. It is his nature. It is his driving force. He doesn’t just love his creation – humanity. He loves ME with an unending, unimaginable love. And you.
  • He is trustworthy. I will not believe that he is guilty of doing something which I would call horrible sin in someone else. I do not believe – will not believe – that he would drop a tree on a young woman and kill her. It would be contrary to his nature.
  • He has given us freedom of choice. I was listening to a sermon by Louie Giglio, in which he said, “God gives us freedom of choice, but he is always in control.” Think of the cross. Men chose to kill the son of God. Horrible. And yet God brought the most amazing and wonderful act of love into the world through this horrible choice that men made.
  • God understands what suffering is like. He watched his son die on a cross, and he didn’t stop it. He knows.
  • We are made in the image of God. When a mother loses her child and feels the horrible pain of it, God understands. He not only understands, but he is feeling the same pain. She is not alone in her pain; God grieves with her. Remember, he loves us with unimaginable love, and he grieves when bad things happen to us.
I still don’t have an answer, but this is what I believe – this is what I think. What I wanted to say in class, but didn’t, is that sh*t happens. Bad things do happen in the world. I think we make a mistake when we believe that God engineers evil. I think that we try to “sugarcoat” bad things by telling people that the horrible event which just occurred in their lives is the will of God, as if that makes it less horrible. I think we make a mistake when we don’t trust the love that God has for us enough to know that he would not do that which we would condemn someone else for doing. (That’s Weatherhead, The Will of God, and everyone should read that book.)
He loves us, and he grieves when we hurt, he aches with our pain and he is doing everything that can be done to rescue us from sin. He has not abandoned us in this world; his grip is unbreakable. He understands it when we are angry, when we hurt, when we doubt, when we cry and suffer, because he made us in his own image, and he has felt all of those reactions. It’s even OK if that anger is directed at him. He “gets” it.

I continue to pray for safe travels, for healing, for help because God has told me to do that. Is it good and right for me to believe that the JtM’s garage door was delayed so that he wouldn’t be hit by a branch? Yes. What about the woman in Florida, killed by a tree? Bad things happen. Do I have the answer to that contradiction? No. I leave it to God. He is God, and I am not. I will trust him enough to live with the unanswerable questions.

When you come to the end of Job, that was Job’s answer from God.

Images: Sky at VA on Friday morning

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Death of the Son

It was day, but it was night. His son was dead. He sat in a wooden chair and knew the horror of it, the pain, the grief. He had watched the son suffer, ache, cry out in agony. He had counted every drop of blood, every tear, and had felt the cutting disembowelment of the son’s cries of pain. His son was dead, and the father ached unendingly with it.

They had spent years apart, barely able to talk because of the wide distance that separated them. All through that time, the father had taken pleasure in the son – had loved him with his whole heart, his entire being. The son had been sent on a mission – a mission which entailed separation from the father, and years spent in a foreign land – a dry, hot, difficult land. The father had ached when the son had been homesick, ill, confused, angry and alone. He had rejoiced when the son had loved and nurtured those around him. He and the son had celebrated together when the son had made a difference in his world.

The father ran his hand across the polished wood of the arm of the chair. The craftsmanship was brilliant, and the wood had a luster like silk, smooth and warm from his touch. His son had not made it, but the father imagined that his son’s hands could have crafted something this beautiful. The wood of the chair’s arm felt like his son’s cheek when he had been born, held in the arms of his young mother, as the father had brushed his loving finger across the soft, flawless skin.

Now the son was dead, his body tortured and abused in ways unimaginable. He had been beaten, whipped, cut, marched through the village, humiliated. Nails had been driven through his hands, through his feet, and he had hung on a cross until he had suffocated, lacking strength to take another breath. Blood had dripped to the ground, made hot and red with the pain of the death. Night had fallen in the middle of day, as the son had died.

Now they were apart. Now the father felt the pain of the son’s death. Now the son knew what is was like to be separated, completely, from the father. The father slammed his hand onto the arm of the chair, angry that there had been no other way; that it had finally come to this. Choices had been made – choices made by those around the son, choices made by the son. The father heard the echo of the son’s cry, “Father, why have you left me alone!” He felt his heart break, once again. What he thought had already shattered beyond recognition, shattered again. He would never forget that pain-filled cry of the son.

The son was dead. In the father’s grief, he tried to comfort the son’s mother, who had watched the crucifixion from the mountaintop, standing close while the son was taken from her. He hoped she knew that he understood; that he felt her pain because it was his own pain.

The son was dead. It didn’t help that the father knew what would happen tomorrow. The separation, the pain and the death were reality. The birth of hope had meant the murder of his only begotten son. Today was Saturday. Pain and grief are real on Saturday.

Image: The sky this morning at the VA.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hello -- Goodbye

I have an index card in my bag with ideas for blog posts. Right this minute, I don't want to write any of them. It's not that I don't find them interesting; I do -- but I think that they will have to wait. I just don't have it in me tonight.

So instead, how about a Friday 5 from the RevGalBlogPals?

This one is on endings and beginnings:

  1. Best ending of a movie/book/TV show: I'm a sucker for good endings. Movies, books, TV-shows -- in order to be on my "good" list, these must all have happy, good endings. Sitting here, tonight, I'm thinking of the ending of The Bourne Identity, which I really liked. One of my favorite books, Outlander, by Diana Galbaldon, has a great ending (while it's sequel, Dragonfly in Amber, does not). The series ending of Sex and the City (which is actually a television show about friendship) has a great, uplifting ending.
  2. Worst ending of a movie/book/TV show: When we were dating, Steve and I went to see a movie called The Naked Face. Awful, awful ending! Don't rent it -- if you could rent it. She gets shot, right at the end. I read The Great Gatsby this summer -- not a great ending.
  3. Tell about a memorable goodbye you've experienced: Steve and I were in the hospital room as his grandfather died. It was a strange thing to watch. I could pinpoint them moment when it seemed that his spirit left his body. He breathed a few more times, but he was already gone. His wife, Steve's grandmother, said, "'Till death do us part."
  4. Is it true that "all good things must come to an end"? No. Some things are eternal.
  5. "Everything I ever let go of has claw marks on it." --Anne Lamott Discuss. Change is difficult for me. It always has been. I wonder if that means that letting go of things is difficult for me. Sometimes it is, and my claw marks would be evident. Not always, but sometimes.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is He Close?

I was working on a sermon about discerning God’s vision, basing it on the idea that when we work with God, in his will, it is like spreading our wings and flying, kept aloft on the wind of the Holy Spirit. After the idea had begun to form in my mind, and I had bounced it back and forth with a friend, as I was coming back from lunch, three “flying” songs were on the satellite radio – three in a row.

Working on the advent to epiphany devotional, we ended up with exactly the right number of volunteers for the number of devotionals we needed. If I had set the calendar a day earlier, that would not have been the case.

Driving the van, turning around a corner, there is a brilliant sunrise, and my first thought is that God painted wonderful images in nature which remind me of his presence. As often happens, these nature images come when I need them. I am reminded of God’s presence, his hands working in the world, just at a moment when I need to be reminded.

Three moments – three small coincidences – are for me “God-moments.” As my friend MT called them last week, “rainbow moments.” Anyone looking at them, though, could doubt that – could think that perhaps they are truly just coincidences.

Driving to work this morning it occurred to me that one of the main steps that we must all take to realize that God is closer than we think, is to believe it.

We must approach life with an open mind, eyes which are open to see the presence of God. We must make the choice. Will I be willing to believe that these coincidences in life are truly God moments? Will I have the faith to step past doubt, and believe without proof? Or will I only believe that God is close if he makes himself so obvious that I cannot deny it?

Will you be open to the idea that when you are standing in a field on a mountaintop, with a group of youth, and the wind blows past, that what you feel is the touch of God? His Spirit moving past in pleasure at touching you?

Will you be willing to believe that when – for two years in a row – you prepare the exact number of crosses needed for a prayer vigil that it is the hand of God, leading, or will you believe that you are just a good number guesser?

Will you be like Thomas, needing to touch the scars, or will you be like Andrew, trusting that as you come to Jesus, or bring people to him, that God will take care of the rest?

Will you choose to open your eyes to possibility, or will you keep them closed tightly, refusing to risk the possibility that you might be wrong when you say, “I think God is close.”

Image: Grass at the VA.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rainbow Moments

Part of what I do at my church is to help to coordinate our devotional ministry. Members of our church write devotions which we compile into an booklet for the Advent season. Every year, something happens which reminds me that God is involved in this ministry. I was telling a friend about this year’s reminder, and she said, “That sounds like a rainbow moment.”

We had talked in our book study class earlier that week about “rainbow days” – those days when God seems to be right in front of you. He’s easy to see, easy to notice. As we discussed that in class, we came to the conclusion that sometimes rainbow times don’t last an entire day.

I thought my friend’s (MT) description of what happened was perfect – a rainbow moment.

Class tomorrow will be about Chapter 4 of the Ortberg book God is Closer Than You Think. I was re-reading the chapter today in preparation to teach. It is about the sacrament of the moment. I was struck by the idea that if we try to live in the past, we will lose our life. If we try to live in the future, we will lose our life. Our only chance to meet God – the only place God can be found – is in this very moment. God is present for us right now, in this time. This is as much of a rainbow moment as any moment can be.

So why is it that we live our lives waiting for tomorrow? Why do we insist on putting up with the absence of God, waiting until tomorrow to have the time to look for him, to make the effort to join with him in his work? Why do we waste this rainbow moment in the hopes of finding one tomorrow?


Monday, September 24, 2007


I was reading Ben Witherington's blog today. He posted an article about a survey done by "Gary A. Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, who set out to gauge levels of academic anti-Semitism compared to hostility toward other religious groups. He found that only 3 percent of college faculty holds unfavorable views toward Jews."

Another finding of this survey was that 53% of those surveyed admitted to an anti-evangelical bias.

What does evangelical mean? According to Merriam-webster, evangelical means the following:
  1. of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels
  3. emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual

I found an article on the web which says that evangelical is derived from the Greek word "euangellismos" which means: gospel or good news. Evangalism, I think, is to share the Word of God with those around us. If, by logic, an evangelical is a person who does that, then we should all be evangelicals. I hesitate, though, to assume this label.

This same article said that the characteristics of evangelicals are:

Am I an evangelical? I suppose I am, if it is defined as one who believes that we are to share the Word of God with those around us. I don't believe that I am if it is defined using the list above. I think these statements limit our faith, and limit God's gospel. While I do believe, and am grateful for the times that God transforms a person through a moment in time decision, I think he does it in more ways than this. I do believe in the necessity of activism. I also believe that the Bible give us the word of God, but I believe he communicates in more ways that just the Bible. I also believe that our salvation through the crucifixion is bigger than substitution.

Why is there an anti-evangelical bias? I think I leave that for another post. I do believe it is one of those words which causes some people to have an instant negative reaction, and we need to figure out why that is the case.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

New Hymnal

The General Board of Discipleship will be asking the General Conference in 2008 to authorize a new church hymnal. Music is such an important part of worship in our church. Every generation of the last century, we published a hymnal. Hard to believe that that time has come again; I remember when this one was just a little baby.

There is, however, already a little bit of controversy surrounding this new project. There is a group whose purpose is to prevent the publication of hymns which emphasize a feminine view of God. This group sites the supplementary book of hymns -- The Faith We Sing -- which did not have to go through General Conference approval, includes what this group calls "problematic hymns." (read about it here.)

Why is it, do you suppose, that some people object to the idea of expanding our understanding of God using some feminine images? Why do some people insist that God is male? Why do we insist that God is female? Do we not believe that both men and women are created in the image of God? If so, then isn't there something about women that reflects back characteristics of God?

Participate in this process. Go to the GBOD site and take part in the hymnal survey. Good News, the group I mention above, is encouraging people to do this. I encourage you to do this, too. You can find the survey at this link.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Grace of Forgiveness

I was thinking last night about forgiveness. I wondered last night if there is a difference between how society defines it and how we define it as Christians. When we say that forgiveness is a means of grace for the one who has been hurt, why is that?

Merriam Webster says that forgiveness is "to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)." Its origin is Middle English, from Old English forgifan, from for- + gifan. Gifan is "to give." The dictionary says that synonyms for forgiveness are the verbs pardon and excuse.

I think we have this ingrained belief, just like Merriam Webster, that to forgive is the same as to excuse. Do we believe that if we forgive someone, that we are saying, "It's OK."? We think that we have to rationalize the wrong or reduce the sin in our minds. Do we think that when we forgive, we are saying that the consequences of the wrong don't matter?

I think that the grace of forgiveness can be seen in the entomology of the word. "To give." When we forgive, we give it to God. We give Him the pain, the hurt, the resentment and the anger. We release it. God takes it. When we forgive, we allow God to release us from that which is hurting us. In the process, we take control away from the person who has hurt us.

I think we resist this because we think that we are controlling all of those negative emotions, and to give them up to God is to give up that control. Actually, truthfully, when we fail to forgive, we are allowing the one who has or who is hurting us to keep control.

Notice the difference, though. Notice that when we consider that the grace of forgiveness is the ability to give up the pain of the hurt to God, that our actions in forgiving someone do not involve that person at all. Forgiveness involves two "people." The one who is forgiving and God. It is unrelated to the one we say is being forgiven.

Forgive, and release yourself from the power of the one who has hurt you. Forgive, and give that power to God. Forgive, and receive grace.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Poor Molly

Poor Molly. Last night I was petting her neck, and came away with blood on my hand. Somehow, someway, she damaged her ear (or the neighbor dog, the Grim, damaged her ear).

We thought it happened last night, but the Vet seems to think that it happened 2 or 3 days ago. Hard to believe that I missed it that long.

Either way, she had to have the cartlidge in her ear repaired and the wound stapled shut. Aenesthesia. Time away from home. Hurtful ear. Shaved ear! Infection. Antibiotics. Poor baby.

She's home now and very sleepy. Chilly (hence the extra towels). She's hiding under the computer table, where it is dark and quiet.

Hopefully, she'll be back up and normal soon.



Conflict. How do you decide when to speak up and when to just endure? How do you weigh the consequences?

The boys and I (not Steve -- he's at a training class in Ohio) went to dinner last night. Sitting next to us was a group of five young men. G said that they were seniors at his high school -- either football players or wrestlers.

All throughout dinner, these young men were speaking very loudly. Loud conversations are annoying in a restaurant, but that's not what made me angry. The content of their conversations did. Things like the shape and weight of particular women. The length of particular male appendages. Forced encounters. Items which should not be spoken at the top of their very large lungs in a restaurant.

In addition to my 14 year old and my 11 year old, there was a table also right next to them that had two even younger boys eating dinner with their family. This is definately a family restaurant.

I waited a while. I gave them my "mom" look. I think if you are a mom, or if you've had a mom, you know what that look is. It didn't work - I was invisible. Toward the end of dinner I had had enough, so I leaned over, and said, "Hey, guys. It's a family restaurant. You just can't do this. There are kids here." One guy apologized. Another one made a smart aleck comment.

I'm not a prude, and I've taken part in my own share of risque conversations. This was beyond that.

I have to tell you that this is an unusual action for me. Anger and disgust was what propelled me to action. Maybe it was an unnecessary one. I didn't take much time to consider any consequences. G goes to the same school as these seniors; I hope now that nothing comes of that.

Images: Sunrise at the high school. Flower at the VA.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Make a movement

I was trying to capture the look of the sunrise this morning as it came through the trees at the VA. It was really pretty, creating some beautiful sun rays.

It's hard to catch rays of the sun sometimes, and I wasn't having a great amount of luck. Until I moved. Once I moved a little bit down the parking lot, I was able to get the picture of the rays.

Do you notice that sometimes God seems far away? Are there times when you miss his presence. There are for me.

When I moved through the parking lot, and was able to capture the sun's rays, my view changed. The sun didn't move; I did.

Could it be that same way with God? Could it be that we need to move, just a little? Do we need to move from skipping devotionals to making time for them? Do we need to move from rushing through prayer to finding time for prayer? Do we need to move from home to church for worship? Do we need to walk down the street to work in service to others? Does changing our position sometimes mean that we can catch the son's rays?

Sometimes this doesn't work. There are times when we just need to wait patiently for God. But other times, what is needed is for us to make the effort to move, just a little, in order to see God more clearly.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

God's will?

Ben Witherington, on his blog, quotes John Piper. Ben says:

John Piper on his website of course recently had a post about the disastrous collapse of the bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis. His view was that however random it might seem to us, that actually this was the will of God, and in essence we should just suck it up. God is sovereign and he disposes things as he will, and according to his sovereign pre-ordained plan. If you just happened to be on the raw end of the deal, so much the worse for you. Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, actually God has a right to judge the whole world now, if he so chooses. The fact that he spared some shows God's mercy, according to Piper, but he was under no obligation to spare anyone. 'There but for the grace of God go I", so to speak.
How do you feel about that viewpoint?

I don't like it. I think that this kind of logic misrepresents the nature of God.

  • This bridge collapse in Minneapolis wasn't random, but it also wasn't the will of God. I don't know what caused it, but I imagine that it was some physical problem with the bridge. Maybe that's our fault, but it's not God's.
  • Why do we insist that just because God CAN do something, that he will? Why do we assume that just because God could cause a bridge to collapse, that he must have done it?
  • God has the right to judge the whole world. OK, yes. But I don't believe that it is in the nature of God to collapse a bridge in judgement.
God's mercy is that his son died on a cross for us. God's mercy is that he has given us the ability to know him well enough that we know, deep inside, where faith is born, that God is not cruel or mean or unloving, and that he did not cause a bridge to collapse.

Image: Leave and light at the VA.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007


We've talked in one of our book study classes about forgiveness. I tried to convince the class members that forgiveness isn't about the person who is being forgiven; it's mainly about the person who has been hurt. Forgiveness offers grace to the one who needs healed.

So what is the relationship between repentance and forgiveness?

Why apologize?

There's nothing magic about it. There's no golden key that unlocks forgiveness. Why, when we feel that we have done something wrong, do we take the time to apologize, even if the one we think has been hurt says that the pain doesn't exist?

  • Relationship restoration: Sin separates us from God. It's an old Bethel Bible theme. If something is standing between two people, an apology can help to lift that item out of the way, and help to heal the relationship.
  • Healing:If forgiveness can help to heal the one who was hurt, repentance can help to heal the one who has done wrong. Sin brings pain to both parties; both need a means of grace.
  • Growth: There is an element of transformation in the acknowledgment of a wrong. Just like when an alcoholic admits to a problem, he moves farther away from the power of the alcohol. When we admit the presence of a sin, we take a step toward being more Christ-like -- a step away from sin.

So what is the relationship between an apology and forgiveness? Neither one is dependant on the presence of the other. I do think, though, that there is a special kind of grace involved when apology is met by forgiveness, and when forgiveness is enabled by apology. We bring God to each other.


Monday, September 17, 2007

A look in the park

I'm tired and sleepy -- to tired to concentrate, so how about some images?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wishing and Hoping

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are

What is the difference between wishing and hoping? Is there some fundamental difference between “I wish that my life had purpose” and “I hope that my life has purpose”?

I think for Christians that there is a fundamental difference. A wish is just a desire tossed into the sky. There are times that hope is the same way. Do you think that in the normal world, that a hope is just a wish is just a desire?

Christian hope is “the anchor for our soul.” It isn’t a desire; it’s knowledge. It’s a trust that for God, everything is possible. If our hope is in Christ, then there is no wishing involved.

“I hope my life has purpose,” changes to “In Christ, I have hope that my life has purpose.” The difference may be subtle semantically, but in reality, the difference is night and day.

Christian hope has no connection to our desires. We don’t wish it into being. When we see a situation that we believe is “hopeless” by the standards of society, Christian hope is that bone-deep conviction that God can make a difference.

He makes that difference through you and me, equipping us with gifts, ideas, creativity and the means to change the world. WE don’t wish that we could; we know that we can, in partnership with God. It is our hope. It is our gift from God.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

More than you can handle

I heard a devotion today based on a verse from Malachi (3:3).

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

The devotion can be found at this site, and it concerns the idea that God is like a silversmith, watching the silver as it is refined in the furnace.

The point of the devotion is that God must put us in the fire so that we can be purified, to become more God-like. He will never heat us up too much; he will never give us more than we can handle.

Does that sound right to you? I think it places God in the position of being the one who causes bad things to happen to us. I have trouble with that kind of assumption.

I think it is wrong to tell someone that "God will not give us more than we can handle." Sometimes people really do have more than they can handle. If a person believes the logic of that devotional, then how does he explain those moments in time when he does have more than he can handle -- when he is overwhelmed? What explaination is left? Does God not love him? Is he particularly weak and whiny? If none of that works for him as an explanation, then he's left with lying to himself, "This is not more than I can handle."

Yes, I do realize that with God, we can receive the strength to make it through anything in life. I disagree, though, with the idea that God causes bad things to happen to us to strengthen us. I think if we try to encourage people through their problems by saying that "God won't give you more than you can handle," we encourage instead of faith, anger at God. We encourage people to bury their problems inside, rather than dealing with them. We point peole to solitude instead of to reaching out to others for help.

The lady delivering the devotional today at our meeting said to someone else in the meeting, as she gave her the typed page, "Here. This is for you or your sister." This recipient was dealing with her sister's attempted. God will not give you more than you can handle? This person's sister had more than she could handle. Why do we try to convince people that God won't allow this to happen, instead of telling them the truth, and encouraging them to reach out for help -- either from people around them or from God?

It makes us more comfortable to believe that God won't allow us to be overloaded. It's a Pollyanna hope. It is a false hope.

I think this kind of thinking provides a barrier to faith. How can I believe in the goodness of God when I am weighed down by more than I can handle, if I am told that God won't do that? Why would I reach out to God for help if I blamed him for my problems?

Image: The fountain and cross in our prayer garden, seen through the fence.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Meeting Five

The Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals is about meetings. I'm not a meeting hater, although maybe I just go to interesting meetings.

1. What's your view of meetings? Choose one or more, or make up your own:
a) When they're good, they're good. I love the feeling of people working well together on a common goal.
b) I don't seek them out, but I recognize them as a necessary part of life.
c) The only good meeting is a canceled meeting.

My answer would be A. When they are good, I think that they have a real purpose.

2. Do you like some amount of community building or conversation, or are you all business?

I'm fine with some conversation in a meeting. That said, I have been in meetings when I just wanted to say, "Let's get on with it!" There are times, though, when the conversation is the mos important part of the meeting. Our Wednesday evening book study started out of non-agenda conversation at a meeting. JtM said, "We have those Yancey curriculum sets in the library. I would be willing to work on a class using those." And so we have. It has been a blessing. But it was not part of the agenda that night. Just God-touched conversation.

3. How do you feel about leading meetings? Share any particular strengths or weaknesses you have in this area.

I'm fine with leading a meeting. My strength would be organization. My weakness would be cutting off unnecessary conversation.

4. Have you ever participated in a virtual meeting? (conference call, IM, chat, etc.) What do you think of this format?

No, I haven't

5. Share a story of a memorable meeting you attended.Oh, do I have stories about meetings. Some of the stories I wouldn't tell on a public Internet page. I chaired one meeting once, and was also responsible for the devotional. I had read that if we would read 1 Corinthians 13 at the beginning of a meeting, we would be amazed at its effect. So I did. During the middle of the meeting, a gentleman from the street walked in. Our pastor got up to help him. Later he came back and said that this gentleman, whose name was Theodore, had decided to reaffirm his baptism that week at Common Grounds. Amazing.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

What are we worth?

I wrote about the Luke scriptures concerning the lost sheep and the lost coin on Monday. Since then, I’ve read more about it, both in Disciplines and in William Barclay’s Daily Bible Study volume about Luke.

Barclay spends much time discussing WHY the sheep was valuable to the shepherd and WHY the coin was valuable to the housewife. It is very interesting information, and he uses it to paint a picture of God, who rejoices and celebrates when something so valuable is found.

It made me want to ask the question, “Why are we so valuable to God?” I am not a sheep. I am not a lost coin, worth a day’s wages or a coin from a precious head adornment. I am me. What makes me valuable to God?

And why do I want to argue with him about it?

Do you ask yourself these questions?

How do we value people? How do we value ourselves?

Is our value dependant upon how much work we do at church? How often we drive the carpool? How clean our houses are? Does our value depend upon how much money we earn? The prestige of our career? The affirmation of those around us? Do we value ourselves by how well we sing? Play the trumpet? Play golf? Play with children? Raise children? Grow flowers? Does our worth have anything to do at all with what we do?

No. We are valuable to God because he has said we are.

Isn’t that interesting? Our value to God has nothing to do with who we are, what we do, how we do it, or what we don’t do. Our value to God is not diminished by sin, failure or disappointment.

Why do we want to argue with him?

What don’t we just accept grace?

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Do What?

I posted a poem yesterday about 9/11. It was focused on the necessity of praying for one's enemies and on forgiveness. It explored the difficulties involved in doing this, but also in its necessity.

After I posted the poem, I wondered about it. Not many people read my blog, but I wondered if it might upset anyone. And then I saw this sign on the way to lunch. While I wouldn't make such a statement as the one found on this sign, I do recognized the problem -- the difficulty -- associated with forgiveness. I think that part of that stems from a misconception that we have about forgiveness. Do we equate, I wonder, forgivness with excusing? Do we think that when we say, "I forgive" that what we really means is, "That's OK. You didn't do anything wrong."?

If an action can be excused then it, by definition, does not need to be forgiven. One of the things that makes forgiveness so difficult is that the person to be forgiven does deserve grace. Forgiveness is so difficult becuase it does require grace.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For my enemies?

Pray for who?
Dear God, are you serious?
Do you even understand what you are asking?

You have heard that it was said,
“You shall love your neighbor
and hate your enemy.”
But I say to you,
Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,

But God,
I stand here,
I remember the day
When the sky turned to smoke,
And buildings fell to the ground.
I remember the pictures of the loved ones, lost.
The enemy sat in a room
Counting as the planes carried hatred
Into buildings
With fire.

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Forgive who?
Dear God, are you serious?
Do you even understand what you are asking?

But God,
Surely you saw it.
Your heart must have been broken that day
When your children died
Such a horrible death
At the hands of hatred.
I saw it.
I saw the heroes,
The lost ones,
The wives left alone
The children without the love
Of their young lives.
I saw it.
The fear, which still lives.
The hatred, which never healed.
The holes,
In the ground
In our hearts

When they came to the place
that is called The Skull,
they crucified Jesus
there with the criminals,
one on his right
and one on his left.
Then Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them;
for they do not know
what they are doing.”
And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

It is said that forgiveness
That prayer for one’s enemies
means to stand in front of God
And pray for the best to happen
To your enemy.
To pray for that person
As that person would pray
If he were standing there.

As the son died for us
For our sins.
Hanging there
On that cross.
As if we had been hanging there
On that cross.
For our sins.

I think he may be serious.
I believe that he understands what he is asking.

God, grant me grace.

Scripture stanzas: Matthew 5:43-44; Matthew 6:12; Luke 23:33-34

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Logos -- Luke 15:1-10

One of the lectionary readings for the week is Luke 15:1-10. This is the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coins. It contains two of the three "lost" parables -- coin, sheep, and "prodigal son" parables.

According to GBOD/worship, one of the things that these parables have in common is the celebration when the one who is lost is found or returns. The focus is not on punishment for the lost one, but is one the celebration and joy in the face of return.

I was listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley of North Point Ministries today. He says there we often treat people according their value to us. We are kinder, more responsive, and more loving to those whom we value.

We also value those whom we value, value. In other words, an employee might value the son of his boss because the boss values the son. We value the people whom those we value, value.

We need to remember that Jesus died for the person who is the lost
coin or the lost sheep. That person is endlessly valued by God -- so much so that his son died for him. We, too, need to value each person because God values them.

The lost coin. The lost sheep. The lost son. All are valued by God. If we love (value) God, then we will love (value) those whom he values.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Philemon tidbits

The lectionary reading for worship today was from Philemon. As I read along with Carol, a few phrases jumped out at me.

Verse 7b: ...the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. Isn't that cool? Wouldn't you love for someone to say something like that to you? Isn't a great vision to be a "heart refresher?"

Verse 13: I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel. God is like that. God is not a God of force. He insists that our worship be voluntary; that our service and love be our own choice.

Verse 21b: ...knowing that you will do even more than I say. A spirit of generosity. A wish to do more than we are asked to do. Do you know what that brings? Joy.

Image: 5th Street bridge this evening.


Saturday, September 08, 2007


I was watching our hummingbird feeder this morning, and I learned a few lessons in persistence.

  1. One of our first hummingbird visitors this morning understood persistence. She stayed on the feeder for a very long time -- longer than I've ever seen a hummingbird remain at the feeder before flying away. She devoted time to the effort. She would perch, she would hover. A couple of times while she was perching, she would open her wings, and I could see the bumblebee nature of them -- veined and translucent. Light as a -- if you'll pardon the expression -- feather.
  2. This same hummingbird also demonstrated creativity. Creativity is a wonderful tool to have to enhance your persistence. She tried every place on that feeder to find nectar -- underneath, the middle, the finial on the bottom. She was not going to let any opportunities go by because of a lack of imagination. A little bit later in the morning, either the same bird or another one try to find nectar in the red cardinal finial on our seed feeder set up. No "in the box" thinking here.
  3. Even while she was persistent, she was aware of the pitfalls and dangers. She was always on the lookout -- even for other hummingbirds. They are aggressive!
  4. As I tried to get pictures, I learned other lessons about persistence. Be prepared. I completely missed taking pictures of our very persistent female visitor because the camera was downstairs. The ones in the post today are of other birds that visited this morning.
  5. Be expectant. I would be watching, supposedly waiting for a hummingbird to come along, but I would not be holding the camera at the ready. When one arrived, I would have to raise the camera, re-focus it and then snap. If I had been always expectant, then my persistence would have paid off more often.

The author of Hebrews tells us about running the race. This passage is Hebrews 12:1-3:
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!


Friday, September 07, 2007

Lean on me

Do you argue with your kids? Do you spend time trying to convince them that you know best? That with the experience you have gained as an adult that you might know more than a -- say, teenager? Wouldn't it be easier on all of us if the teenager would just admit that his/her parents know what is best for him/her? Is that so much to ask?

I listened to a sermon by Andy Stanley today. We, as children of God, have trouble believing that God knows best for us. Do you believe it? Does it occur to you to think that if you listen for God, and following his leading, that the outcome will be positive for you? Do I believe it?

Take a look at this verse from Proverbs 3 (verse 5):

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

Stanley says that it is a common technique to repeat two words in a proverb. In this case trust means the same thing as lean. To trust in God MEANS to lean on him.

Do we trust in God? Are we willing to lean on him?

Image: Sunset at HHS tonight.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Stop braking

I was driving down the road the other day, on Veterans Memorial Blvd. Coming toward me, in the other lane, was a truck towing a car on a chain. I don't know what was wrong with the car being towed -- maybe it was stuck in park, maybe the brake was on, or maybe the driver of the car being towed had no idea how to find neutral. This car was being drug down the road -- tires not turning at all. It shimmied and squealed all over the road.

Are we like that sometimes when God is trying to lead us? Do we put on the brakes, or insist that we don't want to take our lives out of park? What great experiences would await us if we just listened to God, took our foot off the brakes, and followed Christ?

Amazing developments, I imagine!

Image: Poke berry flowers. I don't know that I've ever seen this before.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Open my ears

I want to take this post to tell the "rest of the story."

Yesterday, I posted about my anticipation of God's touch during the preparation of an Emmaus talk, and how I was wondering when and if it would happen.

To understand this story, you need to understand the reason I like the song The Voice of Truth so much. Without going into the whole, very long story, let me just say that it always reminds me that God is with me; that he will walk with me through any project which he has asked me to undertake.

So yesterday, after I had completed the post I linked above, I walked across the room to the radio. It was 4:30. I should have been headed out of the lab. I stopped at the radio and turned it on. Some song, that I don't remember, was playing. Back at the desk, I was working on something, checking email for the last time before turning off the computer, when the song Voice of Truth came on the radio.

Consider me reminded. Know that I have faith that God will help me with the talk for the Emmaus walk. I am confident of God's presence.

I found this verse on the blog this evening, as I looked for a post I have never written (I've never written about my Voice of Truth experience -- I'm really surprised).

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.

(Open My Eyes, That I May See by Clara Scott.)

Image: I was driving off of the high school hill this morning, entranced by the sunrise. I just held the camera up to the window and snapped. I didn't even aim. Sunrise on the HHS hill.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Anticipation of a touch

I'm thinking about Mother Teresa, and how she didn't always -- for long periods of time -- feel the presence of God.

I'm thinking about the class that JtM and I are teaching on the book God is Closer than you Think.

I'm thinking about a talk that I'm preparing for an upcoming Emmaus walk.

One the way into work this morning, I heard a song that I've never heard before. It's by Chris Rice, and it's called Smell the Number 9. Here is the chorus:

‘Cause I can sniff, I can see,
I can count up pretty high.
But these faculties aren’t getting me
Any closer to the sky.
But my heart of faith keeps poundin
So I know I’m doing’ fine,
But sometimes finding You
Is just like trying to
Smell the color nine.
There are things that happen in life that make me believe that God is very close. Those "things" aren't burning bushes, they aren't tablets handed down from a mountain. I don't hear Jesus speaking to me like Mother Teresa did.

But I have moments of knowing that He is close.

I'm working on this talk for Emmaus, and maybe a few things are starting to gel, but so far it hasn't clicked for me. There comes a moment, for me, in the preparation of a talk, when I can see it. I can feel the structure, I know the illustrations, I am reassured that I can reach out and take hold of it. So far, that hasn't happened with this one. I know I haven't given it enough time, or enough prayer, or enough quietness yet, and I will. It's the anticipation of God's touch that's making me impatient. I need to stop anticipating, and let go. Let God.

My heart of faith is poundin' so I know I'm doing fine.

Let go, and let God. Stop anticipating. And just breathe.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Logos -- Philemon 1-21

One of the lectionary readings for this week is Philemon 1-21. In this letter, Paul is interceding on behalf of a slave named Onesimus, asking Philemon to receive him back, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ.

Verses 15-19:

Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother--especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.

Who in our lives is God asking us to receive, not in a spirit of slavery, but as a brother? Who would we chose to keep as a slave to our anger with them? Who do we need to forgive so that we set them free? So that we set ourselves free?

"If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account." Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. That also means that he has paid the price for our brothers' and sisters' sins, doesn't it? He has set them free from slavery, and us, and he's asking us to do the same.

It's hard to do, isn't it? At times I find it impossible. I struggle with it, and I know it is not easy. I do think it is what God would have us to do.

I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you

Image: Our feeder was goldfinch central today.

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It's one of those nights. My mind is blank -- my thoughts rea a muddle. I'm tired, and it's time to go to bed. So how about some pictures instead of words?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Not a "How" Question

Do you ever feel like, as you teach -- whether a class or your own children -- or as you participate in a meeting or a discussion, that the conversation can be sidetracked by ...

Just one minute -- I'm sitting outside, with our bird feeders, and there is a bald cardinal on one of them. I wish wish wish I had my camera! His head is missing its feathers and its tuft. He must be molting, but he looks so funny -- all red and bright with a bald gray head.

Speaking of sidetracked, anyway....

I think, sometimes, that we as humans can focus on unimportant details, while letting the real focus of the issue go untouched. Steve tells the story of being in a meeting where the topic of discussion was whether to change the order of worship and Sunday school on Sunday -- a big decision. The conversation, for 10 or 20 minutes, focused on coffee cups and lids -- how to prevent stained on the carpet as people went from fellowship time after church to Sunday School.

Sometimes we do this kind of hat trick to avoid an uncomfortable topic. Sometimes we do it to avoid conflict. Other times we are just easily distracted, but I think this conversation derailer happens often.

I'm teaching a lesson in Sunday school tomorrow using the first chapter of Genesis as the text (Adult Bible Studies). Sunday school lessons are about 35 minutes long, and I don't want to spend half of that time discussing Creationism versus Evolution. For me, that's not the message of Genesis 1.

For me the important lesson is that God created the world. He did it in a loving and perfect manner, declaring his pleasure and approval when he was done. He created man and woman -- the first ones and the ones currently getting dressed in our house. All of us...Let there be....

He created the world, the people in it, and he has never left us alone or stopped loving us or stopped creating. Is

it really important how he did it? Personally, I have no problem with evolution -- I believe it was God's means of creation. I think it's a particularly God like quality of creation to be able to adapt to change -- how cool is that? Wouldn't it be great if we were a little more willing to evolve?

I hope tomorrow that God can steer the lesson more toward what he did and why he did it, and help us to avoid the how questions.

God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good! (verse 31)

Images: Deer at Bob Evans, flowers near the parking lot at work.