Thursday, January 31, 2008

Come to the Cross

I have a habit -- maybe it's a discipline -- of praying before our Wednesday night classes. I did that last night. This is not the prayer that I prayed, although it may be its essence.

The actual poem was inspired by the shadows in the picture to the left. I turned on the front lights in the sanctuary, and as I was walking down the aisle, I noticed these arrows -- shadows on the carpet, pointing to the altar. I wasn't sure if you would be able to see them. If not, click on the image; it will get bigger. I've also outlined one of them in aqua to try to make them more obvious. In real life, they were hugely apparent.

Pointing to the altar, the cross; pointing to God. Thanks to JtM for the phrase on Sunday, "Come to the cross" and the image of the altar rail area as a cross.

Oh, God, come by here.
Hear my prayer.

Are you sure that you've called the right person?
Are you sure?
To teach about prayer?
I'm far from an expert,
And I think I have much more to learn about prayer
before I could teach anyone about it.
Help me this evening, God.
Lead me.
Thank you that I am not teaching alone.
Lead Jeff.
I turn it over to you, God,
and ask you to care for each class member.
Help us, God.
Teach us, God.
Lead us, God.
I place it in your hands.

And God says,
Come to the cross.
Come to the source of grace.
Know that I will always help you.
Know that I will always sustain you.
You can do all things
Through me.
Come to the cross.
Come to me.

Oh, God, come by here.
Hear my prayer.

They're looking for dishtowels
In the kitchen, God.
Jim would know where they are,
but he's not here.
He's gone.
I never imagined this church without him.
I never imagined how much I would miss him.
I never imagined.
The only time I ever told him how much he meant to me
Was the night before he died.
I doubt he heard me.
I regret that.
Did he know?
Will you tell him?

And God says,
Come to the cross.
Come to the source of grace.
Know that I will always help you.
Know that I will always sustain you.
Nothing will separate
You from me.
Come to the cross.
Come to me.

Oh, God, come by here.
Hear my prayer.

So many tonight are sad.
More than me.
Harder than me.
Walk with them, God.
Comfort them.
It is with unending gratitude
That I thank you
For your timing
For your plans
For your Word
For your rainbows
For your promises
For you shadows on the floor.
Heal this church.
Give us life after death.
Carry us through without Jim.

And God says,
Come to the cross.
Come to the source of grace.
Know that I will always help you.
Know that I will always sustain you.
In me you will find
Everlasting life.
Come to the cross.
Come to me.

Come to the cross
Come to me.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What's the View?

If you had 20 children, could you love them all? I'm not asking if you could buy them all cars or spend endless "quality" time with them -- could you love them all? I think we could. I think love is limitless, and we have an unending supply of it.

We're teaching from Yancey's Prayer book on Wednesday evenings. The premise of the first session is that we need to step back and realize that God sees the world from a God's eye view. Imagine the looking at the ground and seeing tiny little ants crawling around. The God's eye view of us is kind of like that -- tiny, small people in a huge universe.

I get one of the purposes of his analogy. We are not individually the center of the universe. And that's a lesson that I think we often need to remember.

However, we are all God's children, infinitely and perfectly loved by God. To him, to his God-sized heart, we are not specks or ants. We are his children. We are each important to him, and the tiny details of our lives matter to him.

A friend from church sent me a link to a mural in the city of Cochrane in Canada. Go see it at this link. When you do, click on the horse's eye. Yes, I know, it sounds silly, but go do it.

The eye, which to me looks just like an eye in the mural, is actually an individual piece of art, which doesn't look like an eye at all. Carry this analogy out to these conclusions:

  • God sees the whole mural of life. We can't see it, but he does.
  • To God, each individual piece of it is important. He values the beauty of each little one.
  • The individual images are done by different artists -- each with his own style and artistic talent. We are all different.
  • Together, we are a church, assembled by God.
  • The name of the mural is Trust. That says a lot, doesn't it?
While we may be small in the universe, and the world certainly doesn't revolve around us, we are important and valued by God.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jim's Goodbye

Today's post was written by a guest blogger -- my husband Steve. He didn't write it for the blog, but he is letting me publish it here. It is a goodbye to a wonderful friend, Jim, whose funeral was today.

It sounds funny said in this direction – but God – Fear not. The sounds you hear in the kitchen are Jim getting acclimated to where you keep everything. He will soon learn where the wooden spoons are supposed to be, where the biscuit pans are kept and have a handle on the sharp knives. He will, no doubt, have a better system soon. Has he told you yet that when you wash an iron skillet you MUST put oil on it or IT WILL RUST? If not >> it’s coming. It won’t be long, and he will orchestrate the happy work in that room. Do you hear the laughter and giggles? Those are the kids. Jim carries gum and loves to make the children smile. Hear that softly spoken prayer? The one coming from bended knee? “Thank you Father for the life you gave me, for the friends that loved me and that I loved back.” That’s Jim too. While here on this earth, your earth, he loved you and strove everyday, every moment to serve. Jim was at his happiest and best when he was serving someone else.

I carry a key to this church. I come in here at various times to do various things. I came here on the Thursday that Jim died to help move furniture for an event happening Saturday. As I located my key and opened the 10th Street door the thought zoomed through my mind, “I would like to have Jim’s key.” I could swap mine and carry a constant reminder of my friend. I worked my way on into the church and soon found myself in the kitchen. A lot of my ‘Jim time’ was spent cooking, cleaning and sharing meals. I was not prepared for the flood that overtook me, and all of the sudden I found it hard to breathe. It was then I knew - I am not big enough to carry Jim’s key. It would be too heavy for this novice Christian. Every time Jim opened the door he opened himself. He came here with a trueness of purpose and pureness of heart. I doubt he never thought it, and he certainly never spoke it, “Why doesn’t someone else make the coffee, wash the aprons, mix the punch, clean the dishes.” Jim loved to serve.

When we lose someone there is often a place where the memory of them is the strongest. With Jim, he did so much that it will be difficult to take a step in town or drive very far before you think of him. In the church, walking on 10th Street, Gino’s 2 for Tuesday, the bus depot, the mall, Ashland Emmaus events, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is very close to our house. Several times after shopping, while heading around the back towards Norway Avenue, I would see Jim in the bus shelter. I would pull near and ask if he wanted a ride home. “Where are you headed?” he would ask. “Downtown.” I would answer matter of factly. Well, I wasn’t headed downtown but as my friend Jeff said on Sunday, “you couldn’t say no to Jim.” We wouldn’t go very far and he would look over and say, “You lie – you’re not going downtown.” So I got found out – it was still a great chance to help out the great helper. I look at these as a multitude of opportunities to remember and be thankful for Jim.

In a poem written the day Jim left us, my wife Kim wrote these words. (this is only part of the whole)

But here, in this broken world
We are left without him.
There is a hole in our hearts
And time has stopped.

We thank God for Jim.
For his gift of service to others.
For his song, for his way.
For his dance through this life
We thank God for Jim.
And we have no idea what we will do
Without him.
As we move through our lives we study and learn about the grace given to us by God through his Son. We read and we try to imagine. We put faces to the stories and the parables. Jim Ray was a real life, ‘in our time,’ walking around image of grace. Picture Jim and remember, picture Jim and smile, picture Jim and help someone, picture Jim and show grace.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
On this earth Jim’s earthly body could no longer sustain him. He is now healed and whole and living with his Father.

Good night my friend, good night.


Monday, January 28, 2008


I remember, when I was on my Emmaus walk, back in the fall of 2005, a specific moment in time when I felt that God was using the walk to prepare me for something. It was a realization that he was drawing me closer in relationship to him in order for me to be prepared for something in the future.

I also remember thinking (silly me) that it must be something bad. For a few moments I thought that if he were pulling me closer to prepare me for something "bad" then I would rather NOT be closer, thank you very much.

God had his way, anyway, and I believe that I am closer to God because of that walk - that I have more of a relationship with God now than I had before. My life, my experience of God, changed that weekend -- and that weekend was part of a couple of months of change.

Was God preparing me for something? I don't know. Maybe.

This Sunday in the lectionary calendar is Transfiguration Sunday. Jesus takes three of his disciples to the top of a mountain. This event happens just about a week after Peter declares who Jesus is, and it happens shortly before Jesus turns his eyes toward Jerusalem. On the mountain the disciples witness Jesus meeting Moses and Elijah -- he is changed before their eyes. The author of this sermon, called Transfigurations, says that prior to crisis in our lives -- prior to our need -- God will provide transformation. We will be given the gift of grace, and we will know that he is present -- that he does not allow us to go through crisis alone.

Jesus received the grace of tranfiguration prior to his crucifixion. Do we notice that God equips us to face whatever comes along our path? Does God prepare us? If we allow it, we enter into times of challenge with the sure knowledge that we are equipped to meet them, and that we never travel solo.

Whatever the challenge is -- whether it is crisis or a stretching of the use of our gifts for the work of his kingdom, I believe he will prepare us, and he will will travel with us. Through it all.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Glory and Grace

I was at a meeting last night as part of the responsibility of a church committee of which I am a member. At the beginning of that meeting, we were asked to list times when we have seen glory lately.

We took the youth to visit some of our older members today. Here is my list of the times I saw Glory and Grace today at Woodlands.
  • The youth leaders had planned last week to arrange these visits. our pastors compiled the list, MT called the youth so that they knew the time, all was planned. We are all dealing with the loss of Jim, but I never, in my mind connected the two events. As we were leaving Mrs. Core's room, Carol asked her if she needed anything. "A ride to the funeral," she said. As she and Carol arranged for that, two things occurred to me. First, that a 100 year old would plan to leave her health care room to go downtown to a funeral was grace. Secondly, what a perfect weekend for us to take the youth to Woodlands to visit these members. Of course, all of them knew Jim. All of them are mourning his loss. It was God's own timing that we took our youth group up to see them.
  • Mrs. Hensley shared with us the stories in her room -- carvings her husband had made, the stories of her "critters" on her bed, including one which was a gift from another resident of Woodlands upon the death of Hanni (and I may not be spelling it write, but it was what she called Hansford Welch), her "Amen" corner, her "show and tell shelf," and her "We are Marshall" plaque, signed by Red Dawson.
  • She goes to visit other JM members at Woodlands, and then goes out in the hallway to cry. Their illnesses touch her heart.
  • We saw Mrs. Wiley walking the halls. Mrs. Hensley told us that she goes to "take care of" one of her friends in the Health Care side.
  • Helen showed us where Jim would sit when he came to visit her, along with her other friends. She "entertains" in her room.
  • We were able to pray with all of the women we visited.

I'm glad we took the youth to visit Woodlands. I think all involved were blessed, and I think we taught the youth something about service.

I also think the timing was planned by God. I think that we went today where Jim would have wanted us to go.

Today the youth were part of church, in every sense of the word.

Image: Icy trees on Friday morning.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

More of Himself

It has been a very long day. I'm too tired to really write anything, but I will share one through from today.

The choir sand at our worship service today. They sang the same song as they did last Sunday, called Come and Build Your Church. I may not have the words exactly right, but there was one particular line is that God will building his church, not out of wood and stone, but out of people (the real line is much more poetic).

That line made me sad -- it reminded me of Jim. Jim was church -- in Jim, God built his church.

You would think that becoming part of a larger group would decrease Jim's individual identity. What is interesting to me is that even though Jim was part of the church, his inclusion in this Body of Christ didn't decrease his identity - it increased it. Being part of the church -- following God -- made Jim MORE of himself. It's Christ-like, and it is the opposite of what we would guess.


Friday, January 25, 2008


Cold. It's really cold here. It's seems even colder when you are compelled to stop and take pictures of how cold it is before you can come into your lab.

How cold is it?

It's so cold that I could see ice crystals floating in the air. I couldn't capture them digitally, but they were there, floating like diamonds in the air.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Time Has Stopped

Time has stopped.
Birds may be flying in the air
Snow is drifting softly to the ground
As the wind whispers through the bare trees.
But time has stopped.

A hush has fallen over heaven
As the saints and the angels gather around the gates
To welcome one of their own.
God pulls him close
Holds him tight,
And says,
Welcome, son of mine.
Welcome home.

But here, in this broken world
We are left without him.
There is a hole in our hearts
And time has stopped.

We thank God for Jim.
For his gift of service to others.
For his song, for his way.
For his dance through this life
We thank God for Jim.
And we have no idea what we will do
Without him.

Time has stopped
Snow drifts softly to the ground
As God whispers through the trees
And our tears drop to the ground.
But time stands still.
Halted, stunned
By a world without Jim.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Steve told me that his men's group this morning talked about "words of encouragement." It started me thinking about encouragement and the words we use to communicate it.

What words speak of encouragement to you? What specific words lift you up? Words like terrific, wonderful, amazing, and great all bring to life affirming thoughts in my mind.

There are words, though, which I hear one way, and I imagine that the person who says them means in them in a different way. For instance, the word "nice" is usually spoken as a means for affirmation. I don't hear it that way, though. To me it speaks of mediocrity. Words like "kind," "good," and "fine" do the same thing. It's interesting to me that words spoken in encouragement are heard as discouragement in my mind.

When I am called a friend by some, it warms my heart. When other poeple say it, and I know that they are tossing it around, I hear their insincerity.

Communication is a strange and wonderful thing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Music and Prayer

I'm wondering about something.

Have you ever been in a worship service where music was played during a prayer? Does that increase your involvement in the prayer or distract you from it?

I first noticed my problem with music during prayer at our Common Grounds service. Music is usually played as we pray. I realized that as the music played, I was hearing the words that were not being sung or hearing the tune instead of the prayer. I cannot hold two strands of thought in my head at one time, so it was hear the music or hear the prayer.

Last Sunday, during a prayer for our visioning process, the organist played "Be Thou My Vision." I could pray the words of the song as it was played, but could not form my own prayer, unless I kept it very simple.

Am I unusual in this?

On the other hand, I prepared a ppt prayer for Sunday school last Sunday. I flashed names from our prayer list on the screen while I played Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I noticed that as the names began to appear on the screen, the words of the song faded away.

I spent some time (a little bit) in the Sanctuary with my iPod on Saturday, praying about the upcoming beginning of the unveiling of the vision to the congregation. Instead of forming my own prayers, I listened to certain songs on the iPod. Praying music instead of praying with background music. It brought me close to God.

So, all of that really tells me nothing and is probably not interesting to you at all, but I wonder if other people have this problem with music during prayer or not.

Image: Our church in the unexpected (by me) snow this morning


Monday, January 21, 2008


I was reading a post by Beth Quick (you can find it here). She asked if anyone reading the blog was using the NOW system of committee structure in his/her church. NOW is an acronym for Nurture/Outreach/Witness. Our church uses that structure, so I began a comment to leave on her blog. It (the comment) got longer and longer, so I deleted it, leaving her a message that I would write a post instead. So here it is (the post, I mean).
Our church does use the NOW system. We instituted it over 10 years ago; during that time I have been a member of the Nurture Committee. For about 7 1/2 years of that time, I was chairman of that committee, but I currently serve as lay leader.
I would recommend the structure to other churches. I think we have learned its strengths and weaknesses over the years, and I'll try to share what I think in this post.
  1. After the first year, we decided that the responsibilities for Nurture were too large -- too many. We were meeting monthly, and only were really able to address education issues. Worship (another part of Nurture) was being ignored. Because of that, the Celebrations Committee was created. It oversees our worship and receptions ministries, relieving Nurture of those jobs. Nurture still has a huge plate of things to do, but in our church, this made it more manageable.
  2. I believe that the structure simplified our committees. We had work areas on everything you could think of prior to this change -- now it is easier to understand the committee structure.
  3. With any new organization, training and communication become of paramount concern. Everyone needs to understand what each committee is to do. Personally, I still think this is an issue in our church, even after all of these years.
  4. All of our committees -- the four programming committees and the administrative committees -- report to our Ministry Leadership Council. I think it is vital that this larger, oversight committee become a center for communication. We all need to talk about what is happening, share ideas, support and celebrate ministry in our church. It needs to happen at these meetings. We are still working on this. One of the major changes we made (and it doesn't sound big, but it translates into better communication) is that we moved the meeting from the chapel, where we sat in pews, to a room where we sit at a large table, facing each other. Big impact - it opened up discussions that didn't happen before.
  5. Committee chairman need to understand that part of the committee's job is to involve everyone in ministry. Give them the freedom to pull people onto their committees as needed, to invite members to ministry. Give them freedom to form teams to tackle problems, to form task forces.

Our visioning committee just completed a vision / mission process for the discernment of a vision for our church. As we completed it, and stepped back to look at it, we realized that our mission statement parallels our committee structure. We didn't plan that. It just happened. What it says to me is that the NOW (or our amended NOWC) structure provides for the circular running of ministry in a church -- bring people to God (Witness), help them to grow in faith (Nurture (and Celebrations)) and reach out in service (Outreach). It is a complete church.

Image: Sky one morning at the high school.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008


Did I mention before that I was preparing to teach a lesson in our class about prayer? The scriptural basis was Luke 11:5-13. Take a look at this parable from the lesson:

And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
As I was preparing for the lesson and reading the material, I gained an new perspective on this parable. I think I had always considered it to be about the host who is hoping to pick up some bread from his neighbor. The literature for the lesson today shined a new light on it.

Consider the friend, asleep in his house, surrounded by his family, tucked in. It is a huge inconvenience to him to get up and answer the door. His neighbor (the host) is about to face shame in the light of his guest for his (the host's) lack of hospitality. Despite the problems and the trouble he has to go to, the friend answers the need of the man at his door.

The parable is more about the nature of God than the nature of the one who is praying. God is good, all the time. He will always answer the door when we knock; he will always provide what we need.

I think to be perseverant in prayers doesn't mean to keep nagging God, hoping to get what we want. Being perseverant in prayer means to continually realize the goodness of the one in the house. It means to not give up on prayer; to not give up on God. Even in situations that we think are hopeless, we are never without hope; we always have God. So we should keep on praying -- keep turning to God to be in relationship with him.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

From Steve's Camera

It's late, and I'm too tired to write tonight. I've got some pictures to show you, though. These are not mine -- they are Steve's.

By the way, I must have fallen asleep writing yesterday's post, so I've gone back and fixed it. Sorry for the weirdness!

Welcome to Steve's camera:


Friday, January 18, 2008

To Count or Not

I mentioned before that I am reading the Ortberg book "When the Game is Over, it all Goes Back in the Box." The chapter I am reading now talks about living richly toward God -- giving of ourselves to God. He also talks about how we keep score in life, just as we do in the games that we play.

He mentioned that people keep score in golf, and it reminded me of a statement that a friend made once -- that when he plays poorly at golf, his response is to be disappointed in himself. On the other hand, Steve and I learned a wondeful lesson from this friend and his wife (our other friend). When they play miniature golf, they don't keep score. We tried that this summer, and it was wonderful. Steve (who is our score-keeper) is releaved of that duty, the boys aren't depressed when they don't do well, and everyone's attitude is much more pleasant.

I wondered if this friend ever plays golf without keeping score. Radical idea, isn't it?

JtM and I are once again co-treaching a class, this time on Yancey's Prayer book.

Sitting at lunch, thinking about this, my mind wandered to our class. Usually, I am the one who keeps attendance (or Steve does), and I count the number of people who attended each Wednesday, who had been there this week but not last. I've been worried about this class. Registration has been smaller than for previous classes.

I wondered what would happen if I did not take attendance. I realized that I use counts to judge the vitality of the program. I decided today, in Wendy's, that I would not record attendance for the class. This is hard for me, but I think I've been relying on the count too much, so no counting. Just gratitude for who joins us on this journey.

I think this might be one way to live richly toward God -- to give him my trust.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008


I working on a Sunday school lesson for the end of the week which is centered on prayer. As the opening prayer for the session, I've taken some of my pictures and created a powerpoint presentation using Jennifer Knapp's version of the Lord's Prayer, Hallowed.

I rarely do this, but I've decided to tell the class that the images in the presentation are mine. I'm going to explain that a camera can be a tool in prayer. God's creation is all around us, and yet we walk on by, not paying any attention to it.

My camera allows me to capture the beauty and wisdom of God's grace in creation. There's nothing special about me or about my tiny digital camera, and yet our very special God points my lens at evidence of his love and creation.

Prayer, in some ways, is the same way. Around us is the Holy Spirit. He is always talking to us, always trying to guide us and to comfort us, and yet we ignore him.

Prayer is the pactice of trying to get close to God, andthe camera catches glimpses.

Image: High schol hll this morning


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What is important?

Our church, I may have mentioned, is working on discerning and implementing God's vision for who and what we are to be as a church, so I've been thinking alot about that lately.

I'm struck by the idea that the vision that we have discerns as a committee is very much in line with the biblical teachings of what a church should be and do. I've been wondering if a vision isn't just God giving us a glimpse of what our future could be, but if it is also meant to be God's means of opening our eyes to what he has been trying to communicate to us as our purpose since we began as a church.

I've started John Ortberg's new book, "When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box." I haven't read much of it, but the quote on page one, at the beginning of chapter one, struck me:

This is our predicament.
Over and over again, we lose sight of
what is important, and what isn't.

-- Epictetus
What is important? What is our priority as a person, as a church, as a denomination? I think we do lose sight of it, and that God must continually remind us of it.

And perhaps that is our job as we attempt to implement a vision statement in a church. I also picked up Andy Stanley's book, "Making Vision Stick." I haven't read much of it, either, but at the very beginning, he says almost exactly the same thing. In order for a church to keep sight of its vision, it must be constantly reminded of what is important.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Today was our monthly research conference. A resident in the department delivered the presentation. His talk was based on an abstract that he is submitting to a scientific meeting.

I noticed that on one slide, he stated his hypothesis. A hypothesis should be a statement of theory. It is the "tentatitve assumption" that one is trying to prove. His hypothesis was not a statement, such as "The adminstration of the drug antielfvanize will cause recipients to grow faster," his hypothesis was a statement of purpose, such as, "We are attempting to discover the results of the administration of antielfvanize."

Can you see the difference? One is an hypothesis; the other is an objective.

It's almost like he didn't want to make a statement that was wrong.

Later in the same meeting, one of the attendings tried to explain his normal operating procedures in a certain treatment situation. He was trying to use the results of non-invasive test to discover the diagnosis. One of the other attendings said, "Yes, but you don't want to be wrong."

Believe me, I understand the need of a doctor to be right, and the fear of doing something wrong.

Do we do that in our lives for God? Are we ever paralyzed by the idea of doing something wrong? I'm sure that we do, and I imagine that I could list several examples. Do we ever realize that the mistake of doing nothing can sometimes be more damaging than the outcome of action?


Monday, January 14, 2008

Joyful worship

We had a discussion at our Ministry Leadership Council meeting tonight about the phrase "to worship God joyfully."

What does that mean?

I think we limit the definition of joyful. I think we walk around believe that joyful means happy -- that it means loud and fast. I think we labor under the presumption that joyful worship is always happy, louder than we want it to be, and non-traditional.

For me, joyful connotes rejoicing. It means celebratory. Why would our worship ever be other than rejoicing?

I think, even when the tone is quiet, even when it is contemplative, even when worship is solitary, it must be joyful. To me, to be joyful is to stand in the presence of God, and to know his will.

A funeral is very rarely happy, but I think that they can be joyful.

Communion is usually quiet, but the best communion services are joyful.

Time spent in God's presence cannot help but be joyful. If our worship is not joyful, then we need to move closer to God. In his presence, we will feel joy.

Image: The sky across the street the other night.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hold my Hand

One of this week's lectionary readings: Isaiah 42:5-9

Our wonderful, amazing God,
who painted the heavens with the deepest blue
and flicked them out,
to spread over the earth
like a satin cloth;

Our wonderful, amazing God,
who engineered the earth,
the trees which spring from it in green canopy,
the animals who hide among its crevices,
and the wind,
blowing across its surface carrying the breath of God;

Our wonderful, amazing God,
who crafted his children to carry his image
who breathes life into them,
and sets them into motion,
pacing across his world,
carrying his Holy Spirit
so that whenever we turn around,
we can see God;

Our wonderful, amazing God
speaks to us, and says,

I am the Lord,
I have set you free
from the sin which enslaves you,
I have set you free
and called you to come to me.
I take your hand, like the child you are
and lead you to safety,
I have created among you,
something more wondrous than the trees
than the sky
than the clouds above or the sea below.
I have placed your hands together,
and created community.

In your clasped hands
you carry my covenant.
My promise to never leave you alone.
My presence and my grace,
I have left with you,
so that you can be a light
to all who live in darkness,
reaching for their hands
and pulling them into the circle.

With my power and my presence
you can open the eyes of the blind,
so that they can see me,
even if they never have before.

You can release prisoners from darkness
and give them life,
even if they have never breathed in freedom before.

I am the Lord.
Hear my name.
Let it echo through your spirit
and fill your heart.
I am the Lord your God.
There is no one and nothing like me.
Are you listening?
Do you hear me?

I am the Lord.
Open your eyes.
I am walking on the earth,
in your lives,
I stretch from one clasped hand
to another.
I am the Lord your God,
and I share with you my plan.
Open your eyes, and see my vision.

The old is passing away,
the new is taking its place.
I am the Lord your God,
and I am whispering in your ears
of the new world.
I'm telling you about it
before I release it,
and it springs into place.
Hold my hand.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The shape of the rules

I mentioned earlier that I have been listening to a series of sermons by Andy Stanley called The Sinai Code. The sermons are about the Ten Commandments.

To summarize the sermons/commandments:

  1. God is to be our ONLY God (#1)
  2. We are not to attempt to reduce God to something smaller than he is (#3).
  3. We are not to misuse the name of God for our own purposes. (#4).
  4. We are to take a day off so that God can remind us weekly that we are dependent upon him (#5)
  5. We are to respect each other -- each other's bodies, property, marriages, ....(#6-10)
These are not rules meant ot create a barrier between God and us if we disobey them. They are rules established so that we will create a relationship with God.

In fact, if you look at them, they are rules which were created to help us to put in place that which Jesus said was most important -- Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Do you know what that is? The Ten Commandments are cross-shaped.


Friday, January 11, 2008

He Became on of Us

I was reading the Disciplines devotional the other day. The author for the week said that many religions and mythical stories involve the idea of a human trying to become God-like. Success in this scenario involves the human becoming God.

Christianity, once again, demonstrates the opposite. Christ turned the world upside down. Success for him -- success for God -- was for the divine son to become human. The incarnation certainly wasn't so that Jesus could become "more" than he was -- he gave up divine credentials and life with his Father to come to this foreign land.

But what about the opposite -- what about the idea of man becoming divine?

We do believe that we are to strive to become Christ-like. I don't think that means that we are to set a goal of becoming God-like. I think we are to emulate Christ in the way he lived as a human. He not only came to earth to show us what God was like (which he certainly did). He also came so that we could see what humanity was created to be. He showed us what is should be like to be human.

So as grace flood through us, and transforms us, it doesn't change us into gods. Grace changes us into humans, as God intended us to be. Grace frees us to become the person God created us to be.

Success for God was to become one of his created ones, so that he could show us what he created us to become.


Thursday, January 10, 2008



I just finished watching Grey's Anatomy and ER. Both of the shows tonight talked a little bit about faith. What is it? What can it do?

On Grey's Anatomy, there was a faith healer. She healed by light and color, or something like that -- not important. What I thought was interesting was that one of the doctors said, "I have faith, but faith is not science. Faith cannot heal."

I beg to differ. Now, I don't believe that holding hands to eliminate bad colors (or whatever) is going to heal the heart rhythm of an ill patient, but I do believe that faith can heal. We don't see physical healing very often, but I think that we see emotional and spiritual healing all the time. God will heal us, if we allow it.

On ER, the chaplain said that faith was necessary for truth, for love (and for some other things that I can't remember). Faith is necessary, I think, for the ultimate truth, and it is necessary for agape love.

Faith, I believe, is a continual path to spiritual development. What is spiritual development? Healing. Healing from our sinful self to the person God created us to be. Healing from our brokenness to wholeness. Faith does heal, thank God.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Heaven sent

I've been thinking about yesterday's post, and about Andy Stanely's take on the Ten Commandments. He believes that the first three can be interpreted as:
  • God wants to be the center of our lives
  • He does not want us to minimize him
  • He does not want us to misuse his name to get our own way, thus missing him.
When we misuse the name of God, we use God's name as the "stamp of approval" of what we want to do, when our desires have no relationship to what God wants to have done.

It occured to me today that we also do the opposite. We become so convinced that in order to be close to God, we must be "good," that we falsely state that God wants us to be "good." Once we do that, we set ourselves up to try to transform ourselves, from the bad people we think we are to the good people we are convinced God wants us to become.

And we fail. We fail to change ourselves, and we fail to get close to God. We fail to get close to God, though, not because we aren't "good" enough, but because we have failed to trust him.

We try to save ourselves, because we have convinced ourselves that this is what God wants us to do. That's not his command. He sent us savior not to make us "good" but to make us free. He sent a savior not because we are trying to be "good," but because he knows that we are sinners.

He sent us a savior because he knew that we could not save ourselves. So why to we keep trying?

Image: Another sunrise at the VA.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Don't Misuse my Name

What comes to mind when you read this Commandment -- the third of ten:

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7
I listened to Sermon #3 in Andy Stanley's Sinai series today. In it, he talks about this particular commandment, and he makes a point that I have never considered. I like his view on this scripture.

If someone had asked me, I would have said that this scripture is about cursing -- using the name of God an in inappropriate manner -- hit your thumb with a hammer, and cry out a gosh-durnit, but more colorfully. I did wonder why God would make that prohibition a commandment, because it certainly didn't seem to rank as high as murder on the "sin-0-meter."

Stanley has a whole other take on this commandment. Read the NIV translation above again. It tells us not to misuse the name of the Lord. How would we misuse God's name?

I was on the phone one day, talking to a salesman (against my will -- I used to be much more reluctant to hang up on them). The man was trying to sell me a membership in some kind of club. He said, "I talked to your husband the last time I called, and he said he wanted to do this." Of course, I know my husband way better than he does, and I knew that he was wrong. I said, "Doesn't matter. We're not doing it." The salesman tried to misuse Steve's name to get me to do something that he wanted done.

We do that with God's name. We misuse it.

  • "You have to wear nice clothes to church in order to show respect to God." We make people think that, so that they are uncomfortable in church, and we make them think that it is the will of God, when really, the will of God is for people to feel welcome in his church.
  • "In order to be a part of this church, you must give a certain amount of money." We tell people that, making them feel bad if they cannot donate a large amount of money. That's not God's will.
  • "God hasn't equipped me to do that ministry" when really, God may have equipped us, but we just don't want to do it.

Stanley goes on to say that this commandment is to prevent us from creating our own religion. When we try to do that, we miss God. We miss a relationship with God.

That makes much more sense to me than a simple, "Don't take my name so lightly that you scream it out when you bump your head."


Monday, January 07, 2008

Logos -- Matthew 3:13-17

I was reading one of the lectionary readings for the week this evening:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17)

I was struck when I read it by John's first response to Jesus' request -- "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"

I feels to me as if John is feeling unworthy to do what Jesus is asking him to do. Really, it's not just that John FEELS unworthy -- he IS unworthy to baptize the son of God. It's not just a self-concept problem.

What does John do? When Jesus tells him to do it, John does it. He baptizes Jesus.

I've been listening to a series of sermons by Andy Stanely about the 10 Commandments. He spends the second sermon in the series talking about Commandments 1 and 2. He calls them the more important than any of other ten. If you look at the first one:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. (Genesis 20:2-3)
This is a call from God for us to place him at the center of our lives. Stanley says that if we do that, everything else will fall into place. I think he may be right. I also think, that if we place God at the center of our lives, as John did, then when we are called by God to do something for which we feel inadequate, or for which we ARE inadequate, we go ahead and trust God enough to say "Yes!"

Look what happened when John said, "Yes." God himself made an appearance.

Image: Luminaries at our church on Christmas Eve

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Sunday, January 06, 2008


We were talking in the Youth meeting tonight about Epiphany. We centered the discussion around the Wise Men scenes in the movie The Nativity.

If you've seen the movie, you may remember that the Star over Bethlehem is explained by the conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and a star, making a bright star appear. That started me wondering -- Do I like that kind of explanation? Is it comforting to have miraculous events explained to us? Does it make faith easier or harder?

Is it easier to believe that the 5000 were fed with meager loaves and fishes if you believe that the miracle was that everyone shared what they brought rather than Jesus causing extra food to spring from scarcity?

Is it a shorter leap of faith to think that the parting of the Red Sea for Moses was some kind of climactic change rather than miraculous parting of water?

Are we more likely to believe that Peter escaped from prison because the locks were rusting?

I think that I don't want the miracles explained. I think I want to continue to believe in the mysterious. God does work throught the natural world, and there may be some easy explanation to what we think are miracles, but I don't need the explanation. I like the mystery.


Saturday, January 05, 2008


Too tired to write, so let's just look up.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Law or Relationship?

I subscribe to a podcast of Andy Stanley's sermons. I was listening to the first one of a series this afternoon in the car. It is a great sermon! It's so good that I had Steve listening to it in the car on the way back from dinner.

The sermon is called Rules of Engagement, and it's about the 10 commandments, but it takes a different approach than I've seen before.

If someone were to ask you, "Are you going to heaven?" what would be your first response? Would you wonder if you have been good enough? Would you count how many times you had obeyed God? Would you hesitate, unsure of your answer?

Stanley's premise in this sermon is that the laws of God are not conditions set forth by God to make us "good" enough, but are confirmation of his love of us.

Don't you think it is a norm of our religion and our society to believe that we earn our way to heaven? That God has given us rules, and told us to obey, and then once we die, he kind of checks his tally book to see if we did "well enough" to get in? As Steve was listening to the beginning of the sermon, he said, "But that's the way life is. That's the way it is at work, in society -- that's the way life is."

And he's right. It's exactly the way life is, but God turns it all backwards. In Exodus 20:2a, God says, "I am the Lord your God,..." He doesn't say, "I am the Lord God." His statement implies relationship. The only requirement for us is trust. We belong to God -- we are his people, and he is our God.

I said yesterday that sometimes I am only sorta a Christian. I was wrong. I am always a Christian. God made me that way; Jesus made sure of it.

The next time someone asks, "Are you going to heaven?", answer an immediate and unequivocal "yes." God has made you into an immortal being, so trust him.

Image: Pine and sunrise at the VA.


Thursday, January 03, 2008


I was at our Common Grounds service a few weeks ago. While I was out wiping down the counters, someone asked me if the coffee was decaf. I didn't know, so I went into the kitchen to ask. One of the guys who works in the kitchen told me that the gentleman who makes the coffee makes it half decaf, half regular. In the meantime, someone else told the curious coffee drinker that the coffee was decaf.

It was, sorta.

Steve, a few days ago, had a sorta cup of decaf, and ended up being awake from 1am until morning.

Sometimes sorta doesn't cut it.

Are we ever sorta a Christian? Do we sorta love our neighbor? Do we sorta participate in worship? Study? Pray? And do we then wonder why we are only sorta close to God?

Sometimes I'm sorta a Christian.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Follow those men!

I was reading this evening about the lectionary passage from Matthew this week. It is the story of the Magi visiting Jesus. I noticed a few things in the GBOD/Worship information.

  • The magi left home without knowing how far they would have to travel. Would we do that today? When we travel, I take maps with the journey planned out. I know how long it will take us to get where we are going, and along the way, when Steve says, "How far?" I can calculate the answer. We never leave home without knowing how far we will travel.
  • They didn't know what the Messiah would look like -- his age, his appearance, or his financial status. They really knew nothing, except to follow the star.
  • They didn't know when or if they would return home. Isn't that information that we always know prior to leaving home?
  • They brought gifts. Do we bring gifts to God? One passage I read suggested that the Magi's gifts enabled Joseph to finance the trip to Egypt. Wouldn't that be cool?
  • The trip was not easy, and yet they did it anyway. Do we attempt to do "hard" things?
  • They were gentiles, not Jews. Perhaps they foreshadowed the future in this way.

Do we follow the example of the wise men? Perhaps we should.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Moments of Closeness

I'm flipping through my calendar, thinking about 2007. I thought it might be interesting (to me) to make a list of moments in the past year when God seemed closer -- when the space between us was thinner than usual.

  • Breakfast with the Wise Men -- This was a new program in our church that I worked on with the Nurture Committee back in January. We raised toys for Ebeneezer Outreach and funds for the Ministers' wives Love Fund. On that day, God seemed close, as our church brought the verse in James concerning widows and orphans to life.
  • Friends of ours and we took two trips -- just the four of us -- last year. Once in February and again in November. The trips were fun, full of laughter, but also, there has always been a sense that this friendship is a gift from God.
  • At the end of February, Steve and I helped to chaperone our youth group's 30 Hour Famine. There is a worship service at the end of Friday, when the group stands in silence for 5 minutes, blowing out a candles in memory of the lives of children who are lost in that time. Candles and silence -- a time with God.
  • We worked on our church's 40 Hour prayer vigil throughout Lent. There were several times during those weeks when God felt close.
  • In April, we helped with JesusQuest 07. There were many moments close to God, but I especially remember the early service, with Portal singing "unplugged."
  • In May, we took the Youth to Spring Heights for a retreat. Again -- many God moments, but I especially remember standing in the field, at the very end, praying.
  • Annual Conference is also full of God moments -- in sermons, but especially, for me, in music.
  • We took the youth to Ichthus in June. I remember Chris Tomlin singing Amazing Grace.
  • At the beach, swinging in a hammock, listening to music.
  • SPLAT -- Who couldn't find God at SPLAT, but I particularly saw him late at night, when we had special devotional times with our own youth group.
  • I planned and preached at a Visioning service at the end of July. God walked with me through that.
  • I was involved in planning two services in October -- Children's Sabbath and Laity Sunday. It was amazing to watch God walk through those services.
  • At the end of October, MT and I were part of the Emmaus walk team. I especially remember knowing God was present right before the talk, sitting on porch steps, waiting to be prayed in, and then again, praying with friends before the talk. Then, there is something about giving the talk which brings me close to God.
  • The whole experience of teaching on Wednesday nights felt close to God for me.

I know that there were more -- perhaps some even bigger than these, but these particular ones come to mind looking at my calendar. Hopefully, I will have a list like this at the end of this year.

Image: This one is the apple tree in our backyard, with a cardinal, taken by Steve.


New Year Re-runs

It's so late it's early, and it's too late to write a post. So how about some re-runs:
  • My devotional for the JM Advent book last year on New Years Eve can be found at this link.
  • Speaking of time, and because the Eccesiasties passage (3:1-8) is part of the lectionary this week, the poem The Circle Continues can be found at this link.
  • Praise -- the post from December 31, 2006.
  • One more -- The poems that started it all -- After the Angel's Visit.
Tomorrow, the writing strike is over, and we're back to original posts.

Happy New Year!
Image: Fireworks from beach last summer, words added.