Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Climbing trees

Take a look at these verses from Luke 19:2-4:

A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
As I read this, what caught my attention is Zacchaeus' persistence. He can't see over the crowds, so he climbs a tree. He didn't let obstacles block his way.

Do we do that with our faith? Do we put any effort into becoming close to God, or do we just sit around and wait for it to happen? Do we climb any trees to get closer to God?

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Generosity vs Stewardship.

I've written before about the Five Fruitful Practices of Congregations. One of them is extravagant generosity. Today I ran across an article by Robert Schnase, who wrote the book, and is also the Bishop of the Missouri Conference. He is discussing the differences in the terms stewardship and generosity. He visited the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, which is one of the large UM churches in the world, by membership. Their Executive Director of Stewardship recently had a title change to Executive Director of Generosity.

I wonder about that. What is implied in each word? What do we hear when we hear the words themselves? Which is a truer representation of what we are to do with the gifts God has given to us.

First, stewardship. I think it implies that we are stewards and that the "talents" we are managing are not our own. One would never expect a steward to be generous, because generosity implies ownership. If you have a financial advisor and you give him control of a certain amount of your money, you expect him to be a good steward, to use that money as you instruct him to do. When you ask for the money, it is still yours, and generosity of the money manager's part is not required in order for him to return it to you. He is your steward.

I think that there is a benefit of using that word. It does hammer home to us the idea that all that we have belongs to God. We do not have ultimate ownership of it, whether it is our time, or talents or gifts or our service. It all belongs to God, and we are to use it as he instructs us to.

Generosity is something else. We can really only be generous with something that we own. Schnase argues that generosity implies to many people a larger definition than stewardship. He believes that in our society, we have equated stewardship with money, while generosity can still apply to gifts, to time, to talents. He says that generosity is an aspect of character -- we are generous. We can choose to be generous. He also says that this word is more readily understood by "unchurched" people. Stewardship is an "insider" word, while generosity is not.

In truth, whatever it is called, I think giving to God's work needs to be done as a response to God's grace. It needs to be inclusive of more than just our money, but of all that which we have been given by God. I'm not sure which words defines that better, but I do think that we need to work on this concept in our churches.

The word extravagant? That one I like!

Image: Sunrise at the VA.


Monday, October 29, 2007

The Grace of Re-creation

Several interesting questions arose around our table on the recent Emmaus walk I attended.

If you give you life to Christ, go to the altar, and are saved, and then you go out and kill someone, what does that mean?
Answer from a person at our table: It means you were never saved in the first place.

Question: Why bother to be baptized right before you die?

Question: Do you have to be baptized?

I believe certain things, and to me, what I believe connects closely to the larger picture of God and his grace that is presented in the Bible. I was a table leader on this Emmaus walk. I don’t think that a walk is the time to try to convert people to my own particular faith doctrines, so at times I kept quiet about them.

But this is my blog, and I’ll argue if I want to!

There was a general feel on this walk that there exists for everyone a point of justification – a point in time at which one says, “Yes.” I do believe that for some people this is the case, but for some of us there are never been that one moment at which we could point and say, “Here is when I became a Christian.”

I also think that for all of us, saying “yes” to God is an almost daily occurrence. Time after time, God walks into our lives and asks for our trust and obedience. We can say, “yes” or we can say, “no.” Having a particular turning point in our lives at which we said “yes” doesn’t mean that we won’t be tempted later to say “no” to God. I guarantee that everyone says “no” to God sometimes.

Why is it that some people seem to believe that salvation – even if it is a point change in our lives – means that we will no longer sin? What person has ever had that experience? If we could do that, then why did God need to send his son in the first place? We are sinners. We can try to do the best that we can, acting in accordance with God’s will, saying “yes” as often as we can. We will be blessed in the process, but we will not stop sinning. Sin doesn’t negate God’s salvation; it is the motivating factor for it.

No matter what we do, what mistakes we make, or how many times we say “no” to God, he continues to love us. He continues to chase us. He never lets us go. Ever. None of that, thank God, is in our control. We can’t change that. We can only say “yes” or “no.”

Why is it that we limit what we call salvation? Why is it that we equate it to our ticket to an afterlife with God? Why is it that we ignore the fact that salvation is at hand today? Salvation is a life lived with God now. Here on earth. In this moment. To God, death is nothing. Why do we insist that it is moment of truth?

Do we have to be baptized? Methodists believe that baptism is a sacrament, and it is the moment that symbolizes that God has claimed us as his own. By Water and The Spirit explains it this way (from a previous post):

Baptism is not a requirement for salvation. Our salvation is a free gift of God made possible by the work of Christ.* I really like what Wesley said about it: "the ordinary means which (God) hath appointed...and to which God hath tied us, though he may not have tied himself." Baptism is not unimportant or optional, but we limit God if we believe that baptism is the only way that God can can bring people into relationship with Him.
That resonates with me. We try so many times to limit God. Why do we do that?

I really like the word “re-creation.” God created me. So often sin “re-creates” me, pulling me away from God and from the person he created me to be. He reaches toward me, over and over again, re-creating me. Molding me back into the person he designed me to be, erasing the effects of sin. To be perfect, I think, is to be the person that God created me to be. I can’t do that on my own, any more than at pot on a potter’s wheel can shape itself, but God can do it, and he never stops working on me.

That’s grace.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

An Emmaus Walk

Twenty one pilgrims
Twenty seven team members
Countless volunteers
All from different parts of the area,
coming together for one purpose.
To shine with the light of Christ.

Why is it we expect that it will happen?
What leads us to believe
that Christ will be made visible
that the love of God will be made tangible
that the Holy spirit will be present,
just because we are there.
What do we think that 15 talks,
Posters, skits, songs,
Nine meals, endless snacks
Showers taken in a rush
Meditations, communion, prayers
Silence and laughter,
Will combine to become transformational?

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days. *

And yet, it will happen.
God will make this walk
into the experience that each person needs
He will respond to each person
in a way which will create in them
A clean heart
Eyes to see his grace
And ears to hear the whisper of his love.
He has already begun.
The time is now.
The wind is rising.

And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love,
you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus
the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love.
Reach out and experience the breadth!
Test its length!
Plumb the depths!
Rise to the heights!
Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

Prayers are ascending.
Agape is becoming a noun
and Christian has become a verb.
Hands are offered in service,
Feet are walking in dedication.
Words are gifts from God
and grace falls like rain.
God reaches out, touching us
Transforming the ordinary
Into the supernatural.
It is an Emmaus walk.

God can do anything, you know—
far more than you could ever imagine
or guess
or request in your wildest dreams!
He does it not by pushing us around
but by working within us,
his Spirit deeply and gently within us.***

Thanks be to God.

*Joel 2:27-29, **Ephesians 3:15-19, ***Ephesians 3:20

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fill the Whole Hole

“There’s a God shaped hole in all of us
And the restless soul is searching
There’s a God shaped hole in all of us
And it’s a void only he can fill”

These are words from a contemporary Christian group called Plumb. Plumb’s music deals a lot with going from dark to light. To paraphrase the lead singer, “…I want people to know that the hard times, just like a piece of coal, can be turned into a diamond.”

We set our sights on so many things that, until it’s nearly too late, we don’t realize really don’t matter. We have a hole and we want to fill it – with TVs, cars, clothes, toys … stuff. We have dark moments and we want to fill them – with drugs, alcohol, escape.

A quick Bible search on the internet turns up no less than 257 verses answering to the word “fill”. From Genesis through Revelation people are filled with awe, wisdom, fear, compassion skill and yes, the Spirit of God and the Holy Spirit. A favorite verse comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 15 verse 13; May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us fill our emptiness with what is offered from above so that our lives will be a God shaped WHOLE.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Imagine. Believe. Surrender.

Imagine. Believe. Surrender.

Those three words have been swirling around in my head for the last few weeks. I did not choose these particular words to study and reflect on. They were words that were parts of assignments to me. Two of them, “imagine” and “believe” were key words in the scriptures that were assigned to me for our Advent-Epiphany Devotionals. “Surrender” was part of my preparation for our class tonight on John Ortberg's “God is Closer than you Think.”

In preparing to write the devotionals and co-teach the class, I played with the words and took them apart. I looked at the etymology and the words that make them up and words that are related to them.

Imagine. Imagination. Image. God’s image.
Believe. Be and live. Be love. Beloved.
Surrender. Sur (below) and render (give back).

These three have worked on me lately, and I cannot explain it. Is it a coincidence or a God-incident? Is God speaking to me through my thoughts about these words that were assigned to me? Tonight, I wrote the words down and meditated on them. I thanked God for the gift of the Holy Spirit moving within me. And I received a gift. Yes, received! A fourth word that completes the cycle of grace. Now look at this:

Imagine. Believe. Surrender. Receive.

During this week, my thoughts and prayers have involved the Women’s Emmaus Walk taking place this weekend in Ashland. In fact, I am guest-blogging because Kim and Mary are on the leadership team for the Walk. They will help lead other pilgrims who are on a journey to becoming more Christ-like. It is a weekend focused overflowing with grace. The four words describe, in a way, what happens on the Emmaus Walk.

Dear God, by the power of your Holy Spirit, I pray for Your guidance for all involved in the Women’s Walk. I pray that they imagine what You have in store for them, that they believe it is theirs, that they surrender to the possibilities, and that they receive Your richest blessings, beyond what they could anticipate or imagine. Amen.

De colores!

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guest Sandbloggers

Meet two sandbloggers. A sandblogger is a guest blogger on Sandpiper's Thoughts. I'm leaving tonight for an Emmaus walk, and won't be back until Sunday, so Jeff the Methodist (JtM) and Steve the Husband (StH) will be filling in for me. You are in for a treat. Just sit back and enjoy.

The picture to the left is of Jeff and Steve. Jeff is on the left, in green, and Steve is on the right, in blue. I believe I have the left and right correct, but I do know I have the shirt colors right. And stop laughing -- I'm certain which one is which, I just can't tell right from left.

They have both sandblogged before. If you look to the sidebar on the -- um -- left, you will see a list of Guest posts, and you can enjoy their previous work. I recommend it highly.

I think the picture is interesting. It's taken at a recent youth event (Steve and I, Jeff and his wife, Mary serve as youth leaders in our church) at our district camping center. They both look so serious. Usually, hot dogs roasting on an open fire do no elicit such thoughtful expressions from them. In fact, most of the rest of the evening, they were telling jokes. Imagine for a moment, what jokes can be told when weenies and buns are on the menu -- you can see why I am surprised by the picture.

In another way, though, the picture captures a few characteristics of Jeff and Steve that I want to share with you today. They often laugh, with ease and infectiousness, and their humor lightens the load, often. In addition to that, though, they both have depths of spirituality which often leads me and others to see the light of Christ shining in our lives. They are friends, and I am grateful for the friendship which they share.

Steve, who will post on Saturday, is my husband, my companion, and my best friend. He has been at training for many weeks now, and I have missed him with a huge intensity. We're lucky he is able to come home on the weekends. I'm watching that countdown clock on the -- um -- left for when he will be finished, and back home on a regular basis. He is a man of integrity, honesty and faith. He has the gifts of prayer and exhortation, and I am forever grateful that his light, and God's light through him, shine in my life. I dropped his laundry off the other day, mentioned his name to the lady behind the counter, and her face lit up. That's the kind of person he is.

Jeff, who will post on Friday, is a dear friend and a brother in Christ. He walks with God every day, and that is evident in what he does, what he says, and how he relates to people. His gifts are many, but they include proclamation, teaching and vision. He is a blessing to our church and in my life.

Jeff's wife, Mary, who is also a wonderful friend and a gift from God, is going on this walk as a team member as well. Don't ask me what Steve and Jeff will be doing while we are gone, but if they are together, I'm certain it will include laughter and stories told and exchanged.

The four of us are partners in ministry and friends through life. We share meals, gifts, grace, laughter, concerns and prayer. My life is made richer by their presence in it.

So welcome, please, JtM and StH, and their thoughts. Thanks to both of them for thinking highly enough of the blog to spend time writing and to share with me (and all of us) their gifts. Thanks also to Jeff for being Director of Technology while I am gone, and pushing the publish button for me. I can just set it and forget it, knowing the blog is in good hands.


Light the Fire

Light the fire,
in our souls.
Fan the flame.
Make us whole.
Lord you know,
Where we've been.
So light the fire, in our hearts, again.

I leave this evening to go on an Emmaus walk as a table leader. October has been rushed - busy -- one project after another that has needed attention, one report, one meeting, one chore after another that needed attention. I don't regret any of it; I have been blessed beyong measure to have been involved in what I have been doing in October. My time management style, though, is often to deal with that item which is bellowing with the loudest deadline first. Work gets done, but it does mean, that this walk, which is the last October item on the agenda, gets attention last.

I've been moving closer to the walk this week, and feeling less and less prepared. I've had this feeling that there should have been more that I did to create a receptive heart and a willing spirit for the walk. There has been no time.

Last night, though, I received three gifts in my email -- an advent devotional from a 14 year old youth in church that reminded me, with stunning grace and clarity, that God is real. He is present, he is listening, he responds to our needs, and his way is full of grace. This young man knows that, and his devotional was God's light to me, reminding me. Secondly and thirdly, I received in my email the drafts of two blog posts. While I am gone, JtM (Friday) and Steve the husband (Saturday) will be guest blogging. I'm not going to "spill the beans" about what they are going to share with you (you will be wonderfully blessed by their posts), but both of them reminded me that God will complete for us what is missing, and that what is required of us is to give it all to God.

I'm listening. I realize now that it not what I do that will prepare me for this walk. It is what God is waiting to do for me. So, I give it to him, and pray that he will "Light the fire in my soul. Fan the flame, make us whole." And I go on this walk knowing that he has already done it.

Image: Matt's Asbury Woods fire - symbolic of the fire he shows all of us.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We must believe in order to see

Everyone, I'm sure, has heard the phrase, "You have to see it to believe it." I was watching a commercial this evening for a movie about a magical toy store. The catch phrase was "you have to believe it to see it."

Is our faith sometimes like that?

Are there times when it is necessary to believe before we can see?

One of the things we talked about in class tonight was the idea of surrendering our failures. As JtM said, our failures can paralyze us -- either as an individual or as a church. We have to surrender them to God. I think we have to believe that he will grant us grace and restore us to a relationship with him. We have to believe it as an individual, and we have to believe it as a church, in order to see what God is doing in our lives.

In order to feel close to God, in order to develop a relationship with him, in order to see him, is it necessary that we must first believe in him? Must we believe in the idea that he IS closer than we think in order for us to see that he is?

Images: Matt's camp fire as Asbury Woods on Sunday evening.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Deep Longing and Joy

Read this verse from Psalm 84 (verse 2):

My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Have you ever felt that way? Has your soul longed for God? As I read the verse, the word "joy" jumped out at me.

We talk a lot about people having a calling from God. On Laity Sunday, it was a main theme. How do we know when we are hearing God's voice, or someone else's voice, calling on our time.

I like Frederick Buechner method for discerning this. He says that the work we need to do for God is work that we need to do, and that the world needs to have done. And then here's my favorite quote:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.
Is it work that the world needs to have done? Does it bring you deep gladness?

In other words, is it work that answers that longing in your soul? When you do it, do your heart and flesh sing for joy at the thought of it? Search out work and service that makes your heart sing with joy. Search out work that when you aren't doing it leaves you with a deep longing in your soul.

Image: Sky at work today.


Monday, October 22, 2007

The light of Christ

One of the themes of our Laity Sunday was the idea that we are called to be the Light of Christ to each other. To visually demonstrate that concept, I put a votive candle on the altar for each participant in the worship service that morning -- 27 of them. I asked each participant to answer the question, "Who in the church is the light of Christ for you?" We then asked that person to light the candle for the participant during the service.

At first I thought it was kind of a cool idea, but as I continued to think of it, I thought it might be too complicated, that it could be distracting during the service, and that it might not be worth the trouble. But, as we went along, and got closer to the service, the concept stayed in my mind. I felt compelled to do it. So we did.

I learned a few things from this effort.

  • There is great joy in deciding who will light your candle. People thought seriously about this, and picked people I didn't expect them to.
  • There is even greater joy in being asked to light someone's candle. A dear friend of mine asked me to light her candle. What great grace there is in being told by someone that in some way you have shown them the light of Christ. One of the younger youth in our church preached part of the sermon that day. She is the daughter of our friends, and she asked Steve to light her candle.
  • There is great grace in asking someone to light a candle. A few of the participants asked me to go to the candlelighter and ask them to do the lighting. That was a fun thing to do. One person, who is new in the church, said, "I don't have anyone...but I would really like Jim to do it." Jim is an older gentleman in our church who serves like Christ. I had the great grace of being able to ask him to light the candle for this person. He immediately said yes. One of the younger people involved in the service asked me to see if her Sunday school teacher would do it. It was wonderful to ask her, and wonderful to hear her response.
  • How wonderful it was to be standing up front, leading worship, and watching my husband and friends come forth and light a candle for me.
  • What great grace was found in walking up front and lighting someone else's candle.

So, it was definitely worth the trouble to organize this project. I was able to watch candles being lit, and I was able to watch lights come on inside people when they realized that something they had done had shown someone else Christ. How could I not do it?


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pray, now

Today was Laity Sunday. Because I am the lay leader at our church, I planned the service. Today I discovered something -- or made a decision.

As we teach class on Wednesdays, and discuss our gifts and our spiritual pathways, I have used prayer as an example of a gift that I don't have. I have found it difficult to pray out loud spontaneously in front of a group. I think I've written about that before. My problem is that, as lay leader, I've noticed that there are opportunities when I need this skill, so while I don't wish for different gifts, I do feel a call to try to develop that as a skill. I have noticed, also, that when I find that I am in a situation which calls for me to pray with no preparation, I always mention that it is not a skill I have. I think I've been doing it as a means of lowering expectations.

Today was one of those days when I needed to be able to pray without written preparation -- four times! I prayed twice for our group of worship leaders prior to a service. As the second service was about to begin, I noticed that 7 prayer shawls had been placed on the altar rail for consecration. During the early service, the Outreach Committee chairman, whose group was sponsoring an after church luncheon, asked me to pray a grace for the luncheon prior to dismissing the second service with a benediction.

So I did -- I prayed in all four of these situations with no written prep work, and really no prior thought. I was too busy to plan or worry about the prayers. And while the result was not brilliantly gifted, it was me. Each prayer fulfilled its purpose, and it had that feeling of comfort that comes from doing something which God has called you to do.

So, I've come to a conclusion, and made a decision. I've decided that if God places me in a situation that requires this kind of prayer, that I need to have the confidence that he will also equip me to do the job. That being the case, I'm going to quit preluding each prayer with the explanation that this is "not my gift."

If he places me in the situation to do it, then he will make sure I can. To doubt that, and to announce the doubt, is to doubt him and his willingness to help me with what I need to do.

Image: Sun through the trees at Asbury Woods during our youth group meeting tonight.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Laity Sunday

How do you know?

How do you know when God has been at work?

  • When an 11 year old can stand in front of a group of adults, and practice her sermon for the next day, with no fear or worry. When her message is so obviously of God that it leaves no doubt of his presence.
  • When someone who is new to our church can preview a talk that for tomorrow which so perfectly states a lesson that our church so desperately needs to hear that it is obvious who has been leading her in her work.
  • When a man can preach a message which so completely reflects his personality and yet also so wonderfully reflects the image of God.
  • When people who don't normally lead worship can step up, say yes, share their gifts with all of us, and do it in a way which demonstrates their dedication to their God.
  • When friends share their support, their help, their prayers and their presence so willingly that God's presence is made real.
Laity Sunday. God is in this place. God is in these people. I can't wait to see what happens when the dance begins.



Too tired to post -- how about a couple of pictures of my trumpet player (or one of my trumpet players)?


Friday, October 19, 2007

The Circle of Church

I haven't read this book, and I'm about to tell you everything that I know about it.

In the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, by Robert Schnase, he lists these practices:
  • Radical Hospitality
  • Passionate Worship
  • Intentional Faith Development
  • Risk-Taking Mission and Service
  • Extravagant Generosity

What struck me when I read these is that they very closely match the five part mission statement that our church's visioning committee has been working on. We missed extravagant generosity, but included instead embracing people with love -- which, now that I think about it, has something to do with generosity.

I think it all boils down to the idea that in order to be church, we must complete the work of God in a circular manner -- bring people to God, become disciples, and go out in service. As we do it, we worship God and we love each other. Miss any part, and we miss being a church.

Image: Candle on the altar at church.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Spiritual Pathways

Tonight in class we talked about spiritual pathways. We are each created differently, and we each have different ways to reach God. Part of the purpose of the chapter and of the class was to help us to explore which spiritual pathway is our own.

I found a quiz online at the Willow Creek Community Church web site. I haven't taken it yet. I thought I would list here what I think my pathways are, then take the quiz, and compare.

  1. Intellectual -- I think this is one of my major pathways to experience God. I love to read, to study. My books are full of stars and underlines where I find things that say, "YES" to me.
  2. Relational -- I'm conflicted about this one. I do find God through conversations with other people, and I count on certain people to remind me of God -- to help me to find him. This idea conflicts, though, with Ortberg's assertion that relational people do not like solitude and don't enjoy time on their own. I do like time on my own so I'm not sure about this one. Maybe this is just a case of me being different from Ortberg's definition.
  3. Worship -- I have moments of worship when I can feel close to God. It's rarely an entire service - it's usually just pieces of one.
  4. Activist -- This is probably the pathway that I most rarely, if ever take.
  5. Contemplative -- I can do this -- I do like time on my own, and I can feel close to God in this way -- most often in the car or during quiet time at church. I don't crave long time of prayer, but I have experienced them, and can enjoy it.
  6. Serving -- This would be one of my lesser ways to God. I do think service is necessary, and can be joy and closeness to God. I was wondering today how each of the pathways could result in service.
  7. Creation -- I do sense God in nature. I don't crave time outside. This is one of the pathways that I think I have devleoped because of this blog -- watching for pictures.
Off to take the quiz. I'll report back.

OK, I'm back. Quiz results:

Relational: 10
Intellectual: 15
Worship: 7
Activist: 6
Contemplative: 6
Serving: 7
Creation: 11

I'm surprised that contemplative turned out so low, as low as activist. I am not an activist, and I feel that I am somewhat contemplative.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

God's response

I'm still thinking about Jacob.

Here we have a man who is not honest and who has not developed a relationship with God. He tricks his brother out of his inheritance and he has to leave home. Even so, God desires to be in partnership with him. God wants to bless him. God has hopes of him being a blessing.

So at Bethel, Jacob comes face to face with God. God makes promises to him:

13And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Genesis 28:13-15

How does Jacob responds? He bargains with God and practically throws his gift of grace in back into God's face. Does he show evidence of transformation? Would we say that this meeting with God at Bethel has changed him? I'm not sure that we would.

We talk in class about God being close. He passes by, and we feel the breeze. God is closer than we think. Does that always make a difference? When we feel God's breath, are we always changed? Or are there times, when, like Jacob, we recognize God, but close ourselves off from the change.

So how does God respond to this?

How did God respond to Jacob? Did God turn his back in a huff, saying that Jacob deserved whatever he got? No. God keeps his word. He stays with Jacob. In fact, in one of the lectionary readings for this week, God wrestles with Jacob (Gen 32:22-31). God decides that Jacob is worth the trouble, even if Jacob turns his back on God.

Does God do the same for us? I pray he does.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

How close?

I was reading the Adult Bible Series lesson for Sunday. It is based on the story of Jacob and the ladder. You've probably heard the song -- "We are climbing Jacob's Ladder." The scripture is Genesis 28:10-22.

I've read that before, several times. This is the first time I've seen a few points which were brought out in the lesson. In fact, I would never have called this a "God is Closer than you Think" lesson, except that as I read it, I realized that this author is calling on some of the same themes as John Ortberg.

Look at this scripture:
There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. (Verse 14)
Note that God is not at the top of the ladder. Our concern is not to climb the ladder. God is standing down where Jacob is. "God is Closer than Yout think."

Note also that this is not some special place. This is just on the side of the road -- a place to stop when he needed to. And there he found God. He found God at this place because God was already traveling with him.

And next, look at this, Jacob's response to God's many promises.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth. (Verses 20-22)
God has offered Jacob promises. God doesn't ask anything in return. Even so Jacob feels the necessity of bargaining with God. So he makes a vow. God doesn't ask for it. Jacob cannot accept a promise which he perseives as free. It's grace, and Jacob turned it down. "Wait. Let me buy this from you."

Image: Sunrise this morning coming off the high school hill.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Praise God from who all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.*

Thank you, heavenly Father, for today.
Our gratitude is endless.

We thank you
For each and every youth
For their hard work and dedication
For your presence in their lives
For their desire to bring hope to children,
When they are just children themselves.

We thank you that
Children led the way in worship today
That their praise is pure
That their hope is untainted
That their song is sweet to our ears
As we pray it is to yours.

Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.**

Thank you, Father,
For parents who support their children
Who have shown them Your way and truth
For teachers for have led them on your path
And for a loving congregation
Who sat aside their disbelief
The children can lead the way
And stepped aside
To give them the opportunity.

Thank you, Abba,
For voices raised in song,
For instruments singing your praise
For nets, hoops and powerpoint
For those who help,
And those who pray.

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
Praise him with the harp and lyre,
Praise him with tambourine and dancing,
Praise him with the strings and flute,
Praise him with the clash of cymbals,
Praise him with resounding cymbals. **

Thank you God for your presence in our midst
For the wind of your spirit beneath our wings
For the fire of devotion for you
For children who call your son, “Friend.”
For youth who understand what service means
For adults who love them more than enough.

Thank you God for lifting us up
Through the words of your children
So that you are made real to us
And your desire for us to love all of your small ones
Is bigger than our desire to hold back.
So that you are made real to us
Through our youth,
And that we can almost touch your face
In their smiles.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD**

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Being in Prayer

I'm working as part of teams planning two services for the next two Sundays. Tomorrow is Children's Sabbath in our church, and the youth have been planning and will lead worship. As a member of the youth leader team, I have been blessed to play a part in that. Next Sunday is Laity Sunday, and as Lay Leader, I'm working to help plan that service.

At the beginning of this week, I invited our email group to be in prayer for these two services. Over twenty people agreed to do this in a deliberate and planned way.

As Children's Sabbath grows closer, I can see the evidence of God's presence in this service. I was so impressed today by the kids as they practiced their talks and liturgy. God has been walking with them, and I pray he continues to do so.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Who am I?

JtM preached tonight at Common Grounds and raised some interesting questions. I thought it might be interesting (to me) to list the questions here and try to answer them:

Who are you? (in no particular order)
  • Mother
  • Wife
  • Daughter
  • Friend
  • Research Associate
  • Reader
  • Knitter
  • Lay leader
  • Christian
  • Sunday school teacher
  • Emailer
  • Sinner
  • Daughter of God
  • I am Kim

Who is Jesus?

  • Son of God
  • Friend
  • Messiah
  • Christ
  • Human
  • Divine

If I call myself a Christians, how does the "Who is Jesus?" change the "Who am I?" answer?

Right now, I'm falling asleep with the laptop on my lap. More of this later.


What is he being taught?

I worry about my older son. He is a member of our church, and faithfully attends youth group and Sunday worship. He looks forward to it. None of that is why I worry.

He also likes to go friends' youth groups on Wednesday. His friends are members of churches which are what I would call more conservative than our church, in general. I worry that these other churches are more willing to tell him what he should believe than to encourage him to think through his faith and make decisions for himself.

We were driving up to the high school this evening, and he said that the youth group leader at the other church told them that the person that they should be with will be their spiritual leader, and if they are not with that person, God will take the person they are with away and send the right person.

I looked at him more and he explained.

"Like you and Dad. Dad is your spiritual leader,; he mine, too."

My thought, "What are they teaching him?"

So I said, "Who is Dad's spiritual leader?

His reply. "You are. You help each other out and work with each other. It's cool."

Wow. Excellent. Maybe I still do have some influence.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Voice of God

Our "Closer" class is mainly a discussion class. Once the outline is established (thank you very much, JtM), I take it and work on preparation. As part of that, I read the questions, and try to answer them myself.

One of the questions that we discussed this week in class was "Did you hear God in the voices of the people around you?" When I went through the lesson, my answer was, "I haven’t been listening very well lately. I’m afraid I don’t have many examples to share, which just means that I have been inattentive." But later today, I found that I had a different answer.

Starting last night, through the night (although I slept fine), into the morning and through lunch, I was in what I would call a "mood." Have you ever been in a mood? There are different kinds, as I am sure you attest -- angry moods, tired moods, and more positive moods. This one was sad. Not horribly sad (lest you worry). Just sad.

Most Wednesdays, if I can find the time, I take my lunch to church, and my laptop, and spend some time working on the Wednesday evening lesson. Part of my Wednesday routine is to spend a little time in prayer for class -- praying for the class members, for my co-teacher, for me and for the class itself -- that God would use it for his purposes. At lunch today, though, I couldn't do much in the way of prayer -- not in my usual way. So instead, I asked God to lift away this mood.

Lunch was over, so I went back to work. When I got there, I found an email. There was nothing remarkable about the email, but something about it set to work. As I wrote the reply, I could feel the mood lifting. Something about what God had prompted this person to write -- and I'm convinced He had a hand in it -- and the response I was writing lifted my mood. I realized after I sent the reply that I was feeling amazingly better. And better. And better. A little while later I realized that the mood was gone. I was no longer sad -- not in the least -- and I was back to feeling like myself (and I'm usually pretty chipper!).

Class felt right, and on the way home, Josh and I were singing in the car.

Christ, working through one member of the body to answer the prayer of another. Have I heard God in the voices of the people around me? Yes -- often -- but today sticks in my mind.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Do we think that what we see -- that what we believe is in front of us -- is always truth? Do we think that just because we perceive it, then what we remember is always exactly the way it was?

Four images, taken from the same spot, one after another, using four different settings on the camera. The difference is filters and exposure times. The camera changes the image that is saved.

We are the same way. Our perceptions, our history, our memories -- all of those things filter what we see and experience.

If we know that that is true, then how can we say that our beliefs about the world are always right -- is there no room for error, no room for our own influence on what we perceive? I think that we might be better off if we were to open our minds just a little bit to what other people think. We might expand our own filters if we did.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Logos -- Luke 17:11-19

One of the lectionary readings for this week is from Luke 17:11-19. It is the story about 10 lepers who are healed by Jesus. One of them, a Samaritan came back and thanked him. Jesus says to him:

Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."
When I was a kid, I went to a Lutheran church for a little while with a friend of mine. I remember this passage from that time.

At the time I thought that Jesus seemed pretty upset with the 9 lepers who did not return to thank him. Everyone knew that when someone did something nice for you -- helped you in some way -- that you were supposed to thank him. I decided Jesus was angry with them for their ingratitude -- for their rudeness.

As I read it today, a few other possibilities occur to me.
  • Gratitude toward God is more than just courtesy. It is an acknowledgement that God is God, and we are not.
  • I never noticed before that the one leper who returns in a Samaritan -- a foreigner. I wonder if this detail was included to make the point that the chosen people -- the Israelites, especially the most "religious" of them -- had forgotten who God was, and their need to listen and obey Him.
  • I'm struck by the line, "Your faith has made you well." All 10 of the lepers were healed of their physical illness. It seems here that Jesus is telling the one grateful Samaritan that he is healed - more than the others.

Gratitude toward God is a statement of faith. I think it says, "God, thank you. I believe in you, and I am grateful for the blessings you have placed on my life. You have transformed me, and I am healed."

Our faith can make us well.

Image: It was a perfectly beautiful day. No rain, no rain clouds. And yet there was a rainbow.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

God's creation sings

Today is the day that churches around the world celebrate world communion Sunday. In our town, every other year, the downtown churches begin their World Communion services in their sanctuaries, and then at a particular time, the members come out into the street – which has been closed for this particular Sunday morning – and share in a communion service.

It’s always a nice service, and it is one of those events that has great symbolic meaning. We are church, one in the Body of Christ.

We join in the street – God’s sanctuary – and share in the Great Thanksgiving. We sing together, share the bread and the cup, and pray.

Today, a mockingbird was perched on a spire of a nearby building, and all through the Great Thanksgiving, it sat above us, and sang to us. God’s creation, joining with God’s children in song.

I particularly liked the closely prayer that was used today.

We have gathered around the tables with one another and with the world today. Go in peace—and take peace with you – into the world of human need. May God grant us the eyes of Christ to perceive human need, Christ’s hands to heal, and Christ’s heart to love, through the dynamic energy of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Also, this one is from the GBOD worship page, written by Safiyah Fosua:

Jesus prayed that we might be one. One in spirit. One in mission. In union and communion with each other and with You.

Today, God, we confess fumblings and failures in accomplishing unity, as we set aside yet another day to remind ourselves of the task. On this World Communion Sunday, give us eyes to recognize your reflection in the eyes of Christians everywhere. Give us a mind to accept and celebrate our differences.Give us a heart big enough to love your children everywhere. We thank you for setting a table with space enough for us all! Amen.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Because of You

Picking up from yesterday's post -- can we be God-sparks?

Two verses have brought this idea to my mind lately. The first one is the basis of a devotional that went out to our devotional email group last week. (Go read it; it's great). I credit Mr/s. Anonymous for pointing me to this verse:

And they glorified God because of me. (Galations 1:24)

The devotional writer asks the question, "Do others praise God because of you?" It's an excellent question. Do I send off God-sparks? Or am I just light and noise, signifying nothing?

One of the lectionary readings for this week is from 2 Timothy 1:5:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
Timothy lived in a family of God-sparks.

He praised God, at least in some ways, because of his mother and grandmother. Paul could see a living faith in Timothy.

It's evangelism, isn't it? As JtM said in a comment, evangelical means "good angel." Good angel, sending off God-sparks, so that someone else may praise God because of you.


Friday, October 05, 2007


I was driving to work this morning, passing a large machine shop that is near our house. They usually have their garage doors open on the shops so that you can see the work going on. This morning, a man was cutting metal (I think, or doing something with it) and sparks were flying everywhere. Fascinating to watch. Kind of pretty. I wondered, though, how he kept from setting himself on fire as the sparks flew around him. It seemed like they had to be landing on his pants and on his shoes.

Chapter 5 of Ortberg's book God is Closer than you Think is the one that we discussed in class this week. In it, he says, "We all hear voices. … Some of them are distorted and destructive; they speak to me thoughts of envy and resentment and fear. Some of them are healthy and strong they speak words of love and truth. The ones I listen to shape my life.”

He was talking about having a beautiful mind -- a mind open to the whispers of God. Our minds are shaped by what we listen to, by who we are close to, by the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes I think that we think we can be near the fire -- near the sparks -- and not be affected by them. I have a feeling that is a wrong assumption.

I've never been a person who easily uses what people euphemistically call "four letter words." That's not a statement of morality or of judgment -- it's just truth that I don't often think to use them. When I was in college, I was often around people who did, so I started doing it, too. It wasn't a deliberate change; it was just sparks. Now, I work in an environment where I am often alone. The people I do see during the day are working -- the sparks here are different than they were in college. It doesn't mean that I never use those "four letter words," but I'm not picking them up from the people around me. Now, when I do, I can only blame myself.

That's a simple and silly example of what I am talking about. If we are often around people who don't speak about God, we will hesitate to do so. If we are near people who speak of God and faith, who walk with God, then we will be drawn closer to Him. Don't you think that as our faith in strengthened in this way, that when we are around people whose faith is not strong, that we can move them closer to God? Can we be God-sparks?

Image came from here.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

The One True Thing

There is a pumpkin festival going on in Milton, WV, down the interstate from where we live. The festival features -- you guessed it -- pumpkins. This year they have a 1192 pound pumpkin. That's alot of pumpkin.

In Richwoods, WV, they have a ramp festival. Ramps smell nasty, and the only way to survive being near a person who has eaten ramps is to eat them yourself. So I have been told.

Huntington, every spring, has a Dogwood festival. The main component of the festival is an arts and crafts show, which has nothing to do with dogwood.

Do you find that people concentrate on strange things? That our priorities can be skewed at best and completely misguided at worst?

I was listening to a sermon this week about margin. Margin is the space between what we can physically or emotionally do and what we are actually doing. Margin in our schedule means that we are not constantly going from one event to the next, with no free time - or margin -- at all.
When we run out of margin, we become tense and stressed. We worry, and we concentrate on ourselves, rather than on each other.

We need to allow God to set our priorities. We need to allow God to be our priority. When we do, we can stop concentrating on the silly things in life -- giant pumpkins, smelly ramps, and non-applicable dogwood. Instead, we can focus on the one true thing -- God.

Image: Sunrise this morning.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What is Worship?

I was in a meeting at church once, and a member asked the pastor, "What is the difference between entertainment and worship?" I think he was asking the question because he wasn't completely happy with some of the more contemporary services that we had had the previous year. We are a traditional church, with a few more modern services each year. The difference between the traditional and modern is often very apparent.

I don't remember how our pastor answered the question, but I was thinking about it this week.

I have written about this question before. Thinking about the idea of God being the audience, the worship leaders being the prompters and the congregation being the actors, the question of what is worship and what is entertainment becomes more clear.

Worship is a person or a group of people giving themselves to God -- their praise, their gifts, the hearts, their selves to God. It is not defined by the style of the music, the room in which the worship occurs, the articulate skills of the preacher, or the eloquence of the prayers.

The mistake that the gentleman in our church made in his question was assuming that his question could be answered by a statement about the service. Worship is defined by the responses of God's children.

Image: Sunset at football game.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Life of Wonder

1 Timothy 6:11
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (NIV)

But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. (The Message)
These two verses are from one of this week's lectionary readings -- 1 Timothy 6:6-19. As I was reading a Disciplines devotional this week, and reading the passage in my parallel Bible, I was struck by one thing. Look at the line of adjectives and how Eugene Peterson has translated them:
righteousness = righteous life
godliness = life of wonder
faith = faith
love = love
endurance = steadiness
gentleness = courtesy

Most of those translations are pretty easy to follow. It's the parallel between godliness and a life of wonder that stopped me.

First of all, Paul is not urging Timothy to become God. He is telling him to pursue a life in which he is Christ-like -- that transformed life in which we act like Christ in the world. Godliness, not the assumption of God's role. Important, important difference.

How is it then, that a life of godliness is a life lived in wonder?

What then does it mean to live a life like God would live it? I'm going to step back once again to Dr. Dongell's lectures that I've talked about for the past two days. A godly life is one lived with an outer focus, not an inner, selfish focus. When we live life with a center focus, we find that we are selfish. We live a life of greed, of bitterness. We live outside of generosity, because we cannot afford to be generous. We focus on ourselves.

When we make that transformation, and turn from inward focus, to outward focus, we have eyes which will see the presence of God. That actions of God. The beauty of other people. The grace that God offers us, and that he sends us through those outside of ourselves. We live a godly life. We live a life of wonder. We live in amazement.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Reassurance of Love

I spoke yesterday about lectures by Dr. Joe Dongell about holiness. I wrote about waiting expectantly in the means of grace. Another way that Dr. Dongell suggests that we can live in the reality of knowing the transforming power of God is to ask God to completely reassure us of his love.

Do we trust God? Do we believe that he has the best in mind for us? Do we feel that we can place our lives in his hands? Are we willing to surrender all that we are, all that we have, all that we might become to his control?

Dongell says that “we can surrender all we want, but I suspect that it is psychologically and spiritually impossible to surrender fully to someone we are afraid of.”

Are you afraid of God? Am I? I think in many ways, we are brought up to fear God. As children, we are taught that Santa will bring toys to good children and coal to bad ones. We are taught that Santa’s love is conditional on our good behavior.

We make a terrible connection between good behavior and love, and that connection is proven over and over again in our lives around other humans. Treat me well, and I will love you. Treat me poorly, and I will walk away. There are very few people in our lives who “stick,” even through the times when we hurt them. We are raised in a “conditional love” culture.

In church, we are taught to follow the 10 commandments – good behavior, defined. We make a link in our minds that we must be good in order for God to love us. If we are not careful, we teach it to our children.

And then we go to an adult Sunday school class or bible study, and we are told, “Grace is a gift. It is given to you no matter what you do. God loves you, and it doesn’t depend upon anything you do at all.” Is it any wonder that we have a hard time believing that? Fear of God is more comfortable. It gives me some control to try to “be good,” instead of just trusting God to love me no matter what.

The problem is that if we want God to transform our lives, we must change our focus from what is internal to what is outside of us. We must give up that need for control, and just accept the gift of grace. We cannot do it if we are afraid of God.

As. Dr. Dongell suggests, we must ask God to give us a “full assurance of his love.” Only then, once we know God is love and grace, will we let go of “ourselves” and accept a life lived in God. We will then begin that walk of transformation to who God has created us to be.