Monday, March 31, 2008

Win with grace

Another one of Ortberg's criteria for being the kind of player that other people want to sit next to -- also known as living with grace -- is learning to win with grace.

He tells a story of Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln one the presidential election, he placed his political rivals on his cabinet -- an unheard of move today. One of those men, Edwin Staton, had been the Attorney General. Lincoln, who had many reasons to particularly dislike the man, appointed him as Secretary of War. Lincoln set aside his pride and his hurt feelings, and not only appointed the best man for the job, but learned to depend on him. When Lincoln died, Stanton was crushed.

Lincoln won, but did it with grace.

Do we do that today? Are we more prone to feel self satisfied, proud or self righteous when we win? Or do we win with grace? Do we place loving the person in front of us over the everything else?

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,

To win gracefully means to love our "enemy."

Image: From Jesusquest 08

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

JesusQuest08 Images

I've been busy all weekend, so rather than writing, I thought I would tell you about the main event this weekend - JesusQuest08 -- through pictures.

You can find them at this web site.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

JesusQuest 08

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Why forgive?

I'm reading, and about to finish, John Ortberg's book, When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box. Chapter 19 is called, "Be the Kind of Player People Want to Sit Next To." He explains that monopoly experts say that the number one key to winning the game is to be that kind of player -- the one that other people want to sit next to. Even the smartest players will lose if they do not develop a relationship with those with whom they are playing.

In life, this is called living a life of grace. Ortberg breaks it into three components. Learn to lose with grace, to win with grace and to forgive with grace. I think each of those might make a post, but I'm thinking today about forgiving with grace.

Why do we forgive?

He says that when we stand at the foot of the cross, we become aware of how much we ourselves are in need of forgiveness. "At the cross, I remember that for me to expect to receive ultimate forgiveness purchased at the ultimate price from heaven yet withhold it from someone who has hurt me, is the ultimate contradiction." I agree with that, and certainly a realization of my own sins will motivate me to forgive the sins of others.

I started thinking about that, though. I'm not sure that it would speak to someone against whom a huge sin has been committed. Now, before you start, I know that sin is sin, and there are no gradations. Certainly, though, there are differences in the earthly consequences of sin. My harsh words to a friend are sin. The murder of a child is sin. Comparing their earthly consequences, though, shows that the pain of one is so much more than the pain of the other.

If I commit the first sin and am the victim of the second sin, when I stand at the cross, am I going to be motivated to forgiveness?

Why do we forgive?

I was reading an article in Christianity Today written by Philip Yancey called "Ongoing Incarnation: Would Christmas have come even if we had not sinned?" He says, "Those who root their identity in Christ have a holy mission to reclaim territory that has been spoiled. The Christian ministers to the poor and suffering not out of humanistic motives, but because they too reflect the image of God; insist of justice because God insists on it; ..."

Why do we forgive? Because God insists on it. It is a response to the idea that we are recreated in Christ -- that we reflect Christ to the world -- to the idea that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. We do his will -- forgiveness -- because he insists on it.

When I teach classes, and we talk about grace and forgiveness, two of the most difficult concepts for people to believe is that God forgives even the most horrible, terrible sin -- and in fact has already done so, and that we are capable of doing the same. He has forgiven the murderer, and we are able to do it, too, because Christ is incarnated -- because he has given us his spirit.

Why do we forgive? It's not because we realize how terrible we are. It's because we realize how glorious God is, and that through Christ and his spirit, we have been made sinless and blameless, and not only that, but we are given the power to forgive. God insists on it.

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.

Note: Hymn lyrics from "Speak, O Lord."

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Breaking of the Bread

We were talking last week at church about communion. Just like there are many different ways to serve a meal, there are many different ways to serve communion. Wafers? Pita bread? A loaf of bread? I've even heard of communion served using goldfish crackers. When we went to Ichthus last year, communion was served as "take out" containers. The juice was in a sealed plastic thimble-like cup topped with a wafer sealed in plastic. It was distributed by passing plastic bags down the row, and everyone taking one.

If we use a loaf or flatbread, do we tear it ourselves or have it broken for us?

I was reading an article today on the United Methodist Reporter about how ministers are using blogs to help with their sermon prep and in their ministry. Beth Quick said that blogging had changed the way she served communion.

Last year, Ms. Quick blogged about watching people take bread from the Communion loaf. “Some people would take huge chunks, and some would take teeny-tiny pieces. I wondered on my post if this correlated to how we feel about taking grace offered to us by God.

“I got several responses from other pastors and lay folks who emphasized the celebrant tearing the bread and giving it to each parishioner. Like grace, the bread is a gift to be given, not something a person should have to take. I immediately started serving Communion in this way. I found the change to be powerful and significant.”
I like this, and experienced it the last time I served communion. I never would have made this connection or expected the power of it.

Image: Sunset on the way home today.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On the Loose

I was serving as a prayer host last weekend. We have a 40 Hour Prayer Vigil at our church from Good Friday until Easter morning. During half of that time, the church is open for prayer. So that no one feels the loneliness of an empty church, we recruit prayer hosts. These volunteers spend time in the church parlor, reading, snacking, enjoying the calm of a quiet place, while the pray-ers spend time in the chapel.

Since it is me, and since our church has wireless Internet signal, I was reading blogs as I served as a host. I found the following quote on Songbird's Reflectionary blog.
Walter Brueggemann says, 'Life is on the loose and cannot be restrained."
I added that to my Google Notebook for my own blog ideas, along with the question, "What does that mean?"
What does it mean that life is on the loose and cannot be restrained?

  • We talking tonight in class about God's ultimate will. He has a goal for his children, and despite our sin and mistakes, and even through them, he will not be stopped.
  • True life, lived in Christ, is loving. Love is on the loose and cannot be restrained is a wonderful vision of the church. We should strive to become unrestrained love in the world.
  • Even death could not stop Christ. He is on the loose, and what we think is the most powerful, inevitable force in the world could not stop him.
Image: Tulips from our Easter garden at church.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Leaning against God

Consider John 13:21-25 (from The Message):

After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. "One of you is going to betray me." The disciples looked around at one another, wondering who on earth he was talking about. One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder. Peter motioned to him to ask who Jesus might be talking about. So, being the closest, he said, "Master, who?"
As I was reading this last week, I was struck by the line "was reclining against him." That phrase creates a vision of John leaning against Jesus in my mind. The other versions don't phrase it that way.

Our beagle is a pack dog. She likes to be close. She'll jump up on the couch when I'm sitting on it, find a spot, and start walking in circles. Once she has massaged the couch into submission, she plops down, right against me. It doesn't matter if she has the entire couch as a resting place, she chooses to shove herself against me.

Shouldn't we be that way with God? Reclining against him when we have questions?

Consider Thomas, one of the lectionary readings for this week. He had doubts, and he gets a bad name because of it. Really, though, he did what we are all to do -- he asked Jesus for help. He leaned against God. Sometimes I think I am too slow to remember to do the same thing.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Birthday image

Yesterday was my birthday. It was a very wonderful day. Unfortunately, I didn't sleep at all on Sunday night, so blog time on Monday evening was spent asleep. I post this image to make up for that (and I'm back dating it, as a gift to myself.). I took it on Monday morning, on the way to breakfast


Sunday, March 23, 2008


Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sweet Hour of Prayer

Heavenly Father;

Forty hours of prayer. One hour of prayer. Either way you describe it, it sounds daunting and long. Until we try it. Until we join you for an hour and realize that the time is too short. What joy you bring us when we pray.

Thank you, God, for the inspiration for this ministry. Three years ago, you led us to try -- to take the risk of believing, for giving us the audacity and the courage to believe that we could fill forty hours with constant prayer. I confess that we are so often not a church that prays, but for this time you transform us into a church of prayer. Thank you for that.

Thank you, God, that I am given the blessing and the grace of be included as part of the team that plans this ministry. I thank you for Steve, Mary and Jeff, and for the grace of working together to organize this ministry once again this year. I thank you for friends who pray.

Thank you, God, that for a 40 hour prayer vigil, you inspire 50 people to pray for a total of 63 hours. Some of these people return to the vigil, knowing of the sweetness and wonder of an hour of prayer. Others are experiencing it for the first time. I prayer for those who are returning, that they may find new joy, and I prayer for those who are brave enough to try it for the first time, and ask that you encourage them and grant them a positive experience, so that they will return.

Thank you, God, that you breathe you breath on this vigil, that you bring it to life, that you use it to change us, and that you make your presence so obviously known.

Thank you, God, for these 40 hours of prayer and for the grace-filled privilege of helping to make it a reality.

In the name of your son, Amen.


Friday, March 21, 2008

The Cup

On a cold and desperate night
he wrestled with God.
His friends slept in the garden,
Keeping watch.
He struggled and fought
with his father,
praying for a different path.
"Let this cup pass from me."
In the awe of the ultimate obedience
Sometimes we forget
The blood-soaked desire for something else.

And yet he was the son of God.
Obedient. Trusting.
In love with us.
Beyond anything else.
Greater love has no one than this,
that he lay down his life for his friends.

So he picked up my cup
and he drank from it.
All of it.
The sin, the hate, the pain.
The wrongs that I have done.
The pain that I will bring.
He drained my cup,
and the blood flowed down his side.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

And now, my cup runneth over.
Blessings and grace abundant
Have filled my life.
I am set free for joyful obedience.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me
All the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Now he invites us to the table.
He takes the bread, breaks it.
"Take, eat, this is my body,
broken for you."
He takes the cup,
Gives thanks for it,
and gives it to us.
"Drink from it, all of you."
It is a cup of forgiveness,
Not condemnation.
Because he did not allow
the cup to pass from him.

Do this in remembrance of me.

Sources: John 15:13, Chorus from Jesus Paid it All, Psalm 23, Selected Lines from Matthew 26:26-29. Inspiration from the hymn the choir sang last night (Thy Will be Done) and the communion ritual.

Image: The sky on Wednesday, as I was stuck in a traffic jam on I-64.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

It Never Fails

I was blessed to be invited to serve communion tonight at our Maundy Thursday/Tenebrae service. It never fails -- every time I do this, I am overwhelmed by it.

First, I realized this evening, as we went through the very familiar ritual, that I was sinking into it. It had the comfort of a story, told over and over, until the words ring with warmth and family love. I anticipated each part, longing to hear the poetry of the words. I was grateful to hear the truth of the ritual.

I walked up front when those who had been asked to assist were invited to do so. I was served the bread and the juice. I ate the bread; I spilled the juice. It never fails -- always, whenever I participate in communion, the juice either drips on my hand, or I spill it. Once again, I served communion with blood on my hand. Perhaps it is meant to remind me of the blood spilt for me; it never fails to do so.

I was asked to serve the bread, which surprised me. I wonder if I have ever served the bread before.

I usually try to say the person's name as I hand him or her the element, "John, the blood of Christ, spilt for you." I am a terrible name person, and usually as I do this, I get nervous -- I worry that I will get someone's name wrong, forget a name, offend someone because I did not use her name. Who knows? This time I released myself from that pressure. As I came to each person, I tore the bread, placed it in his hand, and covered it with my own, holding his hands. I said, "The body of Christ, broken for you." It was personal because of the touch of hand to hand. I was able to relax into it, and not worry.

I was blessed by the privilege of serving communion. I am grateful to have been given the bread to serve, because it allowed that personal touch and contact. It's contact that I never would have known would have been important to me, but it became holy and wonderful -- a blessing unexpected and overwhelming for me.

For me, there is something unexplainable and sacred about serving communion to my friends. For just a moment and in a very small, minuscule way, I am given the grace of being Christ to them -- to offer them the bread or the wine -- to be for them a means of grace. God never fails to make his presence known to me as he uses me to join with his church in communion.

It is a grace immeasurable to be of service to my friends, to my church in this way.

Praise be to God. Amen.

Image: Communion cup from Ichthus last year.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Be Still and Know

I said, in a previous post, that I would come back to this image. Here I am, again.

I've been thinking today about the phrase, "Be still and know that I am God." What does that mean? As I was thinking about that question, I came across an blog post which says that today is "silent Wednesday" in Holy week, because the scriptures are silent about what happened to Jesus on Wednesday.

What does it mean to be still? Does it only mean to be quiet? I think it means more than that.

Chris Tomlin writes:

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there.
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait, Only for You,
'cause I want to know You more;

As I prepared to write this post, I was trying to think of an image which portrayed the idea of a quiet place. And then I remembered this image. God invites us to know him more. He invites us to this quiet place. To be still, and know that he is God.

Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10a)

My mind, my heart, my spirit
Is anything but quiet, God.
Worries, stress, unanswered questions
Race through my thoughts.
What do I need to do to answer the question?
Where do I need to go to be the answer?
What's next God?
Where next?

And God answers,
Be still and know that I am God.
Rest in me.
Quiet your thoughts, and listen for me.
Stop relying on yourself so much.
Rely on me.
Find peace in me.
Be still and know that I am God.

But, God, there is pain.
There is hunger, there is loneliness.
How can I possibly answer all of this?
I am frozen. Lost in possibilities.
If I do more, God,
If I make more lists,
Finish more tasks,
Am I doing your will?
If I do more, God,
I can fix it.

And God says,
Be still, and know that I am God.
Quiet your busyness.
Listen for direction.
Find the joy of service
Where I send you.
Be ready to love
Be open to me
And I will send you.
Be still and know that I am God.

But, God, I don't have time for quiet.
I don't have the place or the minutes.
I have so much to do.
Stop talking to me God and listen!
I have all of these prayers,
All of these concerns.
If you would just do what I ask,
then I might be able to fix all of this.

And God says,
Be still and know that I am God.
Stop trying to BE God,
And just be YOU.
Who I created you to be.
Be still!
Stop moving,
Stop talking,
Stop worrying,
Stop demanding,
Stop judging,
Stop trying to be me,
Because you will fail.
Be still. Know that I am God.

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" Luke 24:18
And finally, they knew that he was God.

Edited to add: Found this after I wrote this post: Henri Nouwen on Listening -- worth the time to read.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Memory of a scent

I was reading Reflectionary, a lectionary blog, and Rev. Songbird was talking about perfume and the sense of smell. She was thinking about the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume. She wondered if the smell of that ministry was a memory that the woman (Mary?) carried with her for the rest of her life.

The sense of smell creates indelible, unforgettable memories. Are there scents and odors which recreate sacred moments in your mind?

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel. Proverbs 27:9

Are there certain smells which bring a rush of memories to your mind?

  • I will always remember the smell of the paper mill at Covington, VA. It's not sacred, but it is distinctive. And nasty.
  • Sam's (the store) and Target have very memorable smells, to me.
  • Funeral homes, with the flowers
  • The candle we burn at Nurture meetings
  • My husband's cologne
  • My local yarn shop, and any yarn from it that I buy.
  • Easter morning at my church, with the flowers.

Image: Flowers from the grounds of West Virginia Wesleyan at annual conference last year.


Monday, March 17, 2008


How has your Lent been?

In the past, I've tried to either "give something up" for Lent or to "pick something up for Lent."

I've given up chocolate, more than once. One year I gave up elevators. Every time I climbed the stairs (and I have to go up 3 double flights to get to the floor where my lab is) I would think about God and Lent.

I've tried to "pick something up" for Lent, although I think that is harder than giving something up. One year I tried picking up prayer for a very specific matter. I was the chairman of the committee at the time, and I was trying to figure out if I should continue in the position or not.

This year, I must admit, that I've made no move to make Lent a particular time of spiritual growth. I think perhaps I've missed it in more ways that one. Lent has almost snuck by me, unnoticed. I'm sure that has something to do with being busy, and something to do with the how early the season was this year. Perhaps it mostly has to do with laziness.

Whatever the reason, I think I've missed an opportunity.


Sunday, March 16, 2008


Sunday school today was about 1 Chronicles 28:5-21. It's a scripture passage concerning David and Solomon. David is passing his kingship onto his son. At the same time, he is preparing Solomon to build the temple to God.

David has been told by God that he is not to build a "house" for God -- that his son will do it. David ends up giving Solomon the plans and all of the materials to do the job.

The writer of the curriculum says that when he taught this passage to his Sunday school class, they accused David of being a control freak. The actual authors says, in oppostition to that opinion, that David is preparing his son to take over the father's responsibilities.

If you think about the future of Solomon, you will find that at first he does well. As time goes on, he pulls away from God. Eventually Solomon, to help to please his many different conculbines, invites different kinds of worship in Israel.

It made me wonder this -- what if David had spent MORE time actually preparing the son instead of providing him with plans, gold and building materials? Would Solomon has been a different kind of ruler in David had been more focused on leading the man to be rather than giving him nails?

Image: Window in chapel.


God walks with us tonight

The man sat huddled in the doorway,
Wrapped in a ragged blanket,
Cold in body.
Cold in spirit.
His stomach empty
but his mind filled with regret.
He had no home but this doorway,
No friends,
No hope.
He cried out to God.

Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold
I have come into deep water,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying
My throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
(Psalm 69:1-3)

The woman crouched beside her car
leaning on the fender
as if proximity to the flat tire
would bring it back to life.
She was alone, at night
She was alone, in life.
She couldn't call her husband,
because the scent of another man
hung in the car,
and she knew it.
Cold in body,
Cold in spirit,
She cried out to God.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
(Psalm 51:1-2)

The woman jerked as a hand
Cold and heavy
Landed on her shoulder.
He said, "I'll fix the tire for you."
Desperation won out over fear;
she opened the trunk,
and he set to work.
He found peace in finally making a difference
in someone else's life.
She found grace she had never experienced
because some else cared.

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and
the God of all consolation,
who consoles us in our affliction,
so that we may be able to console
those who are in any affliction
with the consolation with which
we ourselves are consoled by God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

When he was finished,
she thanked him,
and gave him a blanket
that had been stored in her trunk.
She offered him money,
which he took.
As he did,
he touched her hand,
and said, "Stop crying;
go home.
God walks with both of us tonight."

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

For Whose Glory?

Another thing bothered me about WinterJam. If you go to their web page, today, you will find that 47,417 decisions/rededications have been made by youth and adults at these concerts (we were stop #33 out of 36, I think).

There was time in the middle of the concert for Tony Nolan, their guest speaker, to do an evangelism presentation. He was calling youth to Christ.

I worry that the way in which he did it was scare tactic. He told a story of a young woman who had committed herself to Christ at a WinterJam concert, and then two hours later, was killed in a car accident. He had those in the audience recite a prayer to themselves. "If you really meant it, raise your hand!" then "If you really meant it, stand up!" As the many of those present stood, they were asked to complete response cards, carried by volunteers at the end of their row. "You don't even need to go anywhere; just walk to the end of your row."

Don't get me wrong -- I think accepting Christ can be as simple as believing. I think walking with Christ, day to day is another matter. I asked our congregation the other day what would have happened if Andrew had brought Simon to Jesus, and then Jesus had never said a word to him. Would Simon have become Peter?

I felt like the "decisions" made at WinterJam were shallow, and I wonder if lives were changed at all. I wonder how lasting these decisions will be. I almost believe that these cards were collected and counted for the glory of WinterJam -- not for the glory of God.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Glory Sightings

Last night we took our youth group to WinterJam. Several bands shared a few songs each -- Mercy Me was the final band, and they were great, as always.

New Song (pictured to the right) at one point, asked the crowd to stand and to sing with them the phrase, "The world holds nothing for me." I look at MT, and she looked at me, and we siad, "But I don't believe that!"

I'm sure -- I hope -- that the meaning of that phrase, repeated over and over by that crowd, was meant to impress upon the youth that God's kingdom offers so many more treasures and such a full life, that we can let go of what seems important in this world.

I hope that, but I'm not sure that's what they meant. I worry that what they were teaching the youth "Wait until you get into heaven! God is there! Everything on this world, which isn't heaven, is nothing."

As I said last night, I don't believe it. God is here. He created this world and us; surely we are meant to live in God's presence HERE AND NOW. Today!

So, this came to mind last night:

The world holds nothing for me?
But what about….

Crisp autumn days
Ocean waves
Rainstorms viewed from porches
Sunrises tinting the sky pink
Full moons
Tiny buds promising life
Laughter heard across a room
Colors and music
Glory sightings

This world holds nothing for me?
But what about….

Singing the praise of God
Scratching the dog’s velvet ears
Smiling at stupid jokes
Driving with the top open
Hugging a child taller than me
Reading the devotion of another
Talking with friends over coffee
Playing with words
Glory sightings

This world holds nothing for me?
But what about…

To care for my family
To make God visible to youth
To serve in ways I can’t imagine
To raise my children
To teach the word of God
To bring grace to my friends
To grow in faith
To love my husband
Glory sightings

This world holds nothing for me?
This world holds the kingdom.
This world holds God.
He’s here, not just there
Praise God, I don’t have to wait.
Praise God, love is here
The day is today
And the time is now.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Does He Punish?

I'm still thinking about class last night and some comments made about God's will.

One class member said that God sometimes sends us trials and that he punishes us. I know that this is a common belief, and who am I to contradict it. It does bring to mind a question, however. Consider this....

We are comfortable with the idea of God punishing us -- and by comfortable, I mean that we think it must be true because we see God as a father. We have children of our own. We know that there are times when it is necessary to discipline them -- even to punish them -- so that they will grow and learn. We consider it to be our responsibility. I don't know about you, but I would not appreciate interference in that "job" of mine.

When G was small -- three, maybe? four? -- we were at a restaurant. He kept standing up in the booth, and, in my mind, annoying the people in the booth next to us. Several times I asked him to sit down. He kept ignoring me. In my experience as G's mom, I knew that if I removed him from the situation and talked to him with firmness and a "mom voice," that his behavior would change. He would "get" that I was serious. This "removal" procedure, to work, had to be sudden, fast, and firm. So I picked him up and carried him out of the restaurant. I was surprised, unhappily, to see that the man from the next booth was following me, trying to convince me that G had not been bothering them, and to stop me from punishing G.

My child. My call to make. I wasn't pleased with the interference.

So consider that. How is it that we think God punishes us? Does he send "bad things" our way? Poverty? Illness? Does he leave us abandoned? Does he desert us?

How would he feel about interference?

If we see someone "down on his luck" or sick or hurting, if we follow this logic, then who are we to interfere with God's punishment? Who are we to feed the hungry, heal the sick, or comfort the hurting? In fact, if God punishes us, then the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan story SHOULD have walked by the injured man on the side of the road. The Samaritan interfered with God's will in helping the man.

Obviously, I don't believe that to be true. I don't believe it because Jesus told us to "go and do likewise" -- to love our neighbors as ourselves.

If that's the case, then either we are to disregard the idea that God might be punishing someone and help them anyway, or perhaps God doesn't punish us. Perhaps God is God, and he has found a better way.

Perhaps he has has found (and teaches us) the most excellent way.

Image: Sunrise this morning.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is it God's will?

We started looking at the Leslie Weatherhead book The Will of God. We discussed tonight the idea of how people use the phrase, "It's the will of God" to try to provide comfort to those who are hurting. For example, your child dies, and you are told, "It was the will of God."

Why do people say that? What do they think it will provide comfort? It's a serious question, and I think there might be several different answers.

  • Maybe people who say that believe it. Maybe they have been raised to believe that every little thing which happens in this world is completely God's will. I've even heard or read of people who think that.
  • Maybe they think it is comforting to believe that God is completely in control -- that nothing happens on this world that he doesn't permit or sanction.
  • Maybe they think that having an explanation -- a reason -- for an horrible event makes it easier to bear.
  • Is it possible that they don't even think at all? Steve said, at dinner tonight after class, that he thinks if someone who says that were challenged, that he/she wouldn't be able to defend the thought at all -- that it's just something that people say.
  • Could it be that there are just times when we don't know what to say, so we say things that we don't mean?
I think that this platitude -- "It is God's will" -- if we believe it, does damage to our faith. It leads us to not trust God. If our understanding of God's will is affected by our image of him as a loving, caring God, then doesn't it make sense that our understanding of God's will can alter our perception of him as our God? If we believe that he will bring horrible things into our lives, then what does that do to our belief that he is loving? Doesn't it make it hard to ask God to give us strength to persevere through hardship if we believe that he brought the hardship into our lives in the first place?

Image: Budding tree in the park. Took a walk today at lunch. Not that much interesting to photograph, but I thought the blog was getting kind of bland looking.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Worshipping with joy

Worship God joyfully.

It's one of the phrases of our church's new mission statements. What does it mean? I know I've written about joyful worship before, but I keep thinking about it. If we can agree that joyful when paired with worship doesn't mean happy, or loud, or exciting, then what does joyful mean?

I found a quote by Leslie Weatherhead today:
The opposite of joy is not sorrow. It is disobedience.
If that is true, then to worship God joyfully, means to worship him obediently. Could it be that to worship God joyfully -- to worship him obediently -- means to recognize that he is God. It sounds obvious, but I think that to approach God in obedience means that we recognize his authority -- we worship God in the knowledge that he IS God.

Simone Weil says
We know then that joy is the sweetness of contact with the love of God that affliction is the wound of this same contact when it is painful and that only the contact matters, not the manner of it
I don't pretend to understand what all of this quote means, but I really like the beginning of it. According to Weil, joy is the "sweetness of contact" with the love of God. We experience joy when we come close to God -- to the sweetness of contact.

So, joyful worship is worship that is obedient, recognizing that God is God. Joyful worship is worship which is spent in contact with God's love.

To worship God j0yfully is a big order. It doesn't mean that we bring happiness to our worship. It means that we approach worship in a way which allows God to create joy within us.


Monday, March 10, 2008


When you have time, take a look at this article from the UMC web site: Interviewing Pastors is an Awful Job.

I particularly like two points in this commentary:
  1. The two definitions of "awful" -- "causing fear or dread or terror," but also "inspired by a feeling of fearful wonderment or reverence." It seems impossible to believe that something could meet both of those definitions, but I like the counterpoint of them. I think, as our church goes through an appointment process, it can be both fearful and full of wonderment. Perhaps more often than we think, when God is involved in a process, we find it to be awful, in both senses of the word.
  2. I like this quote:
    Because do you know what I want from my pastor? I want him/her to be a good person. That's it. Genuine, caring, and concerned. Hard working and involved. I want a smile when they look at a child and warmth in their tone when they talk to the old guy who smells bad.
Wht do any of us want in a pastor? A good person. It's hard to determine that from a move profile. I think that I am grateful to not be a member of any Board of Ordained Ministry or part of a cabinet responsible for moving pastors from one place of service to another.

It could be just awful.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

What does it say?

I went up to the balcony during worship today while the choir and bell choir joined "forces" to offer the anthem together as one unit.

I took this image as I was leaving the balcony to return to worship. Ilike it. I think it says something. I'm just not too sure what it say.

You may see it again as a blog post, but for now, I'm just tired.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Roll the stone and set him free

One of the lectionary readings for the week involves the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I think that this may be one of the clearest examples of Jesus using a miracle to increase the faith of those around him. He says, "For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him" (John 11:15).

We talked in the Wednesday Night class this week about being in partnership with God. Yancey explains in his book "Prayer" that we are in partnership with God. God could certainly do all of this on his own, but he chooses to work in the world with and through us.

Take this story, for example. Jesus has the crowd roll away the stone. He doens't just lift it out of the way; he calls on the community to move the stone. Then, once Lazarus has been raised, Jesus tells those who are gathered, "Unbind him, and let him go." The miracle is participatory.

We are called to do the same as we nurture each other in the faith. We are called to open doors for people -- any way that we can. We are called to unbind others -- freeing them from what keeps them from life lived in God. It's a broad ministry, but it's our job.

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Friday, March 07, 2008


In the sermon I delivered last Sunday, I talked about our thirst -- what yearnings does God place within us? I think our thirst for God is cross-shaped. We desire a closer relationship with him -- the vertical element. We long to become that which God has created us to be. When we are at the intersection of the crossbeams -- at the place where God meets humanity -- we meet God, and we are transformed by his grace. We also desire community as God created it to be -- the horizontal element -- reaching out toward each other.

I found a quote in my email today, sent by Verse and Voice:

Most of us have to taste our need in a fierce sort of way before our hungers jar us into turning our lives over to God.... In the Divine Arms we become less demanding and more like the One who holds us. Then we experience new hungers. We hunger and thirst for justice, for goodness and holiness. We hunger for what is right. We hunger to be saints. Most of us are not nearly hungry enough for the things that really matter. That’s why it is so good for us to feel a gnawing in our guts. by Macrina Wiederkehr in A Tree Full of Angels

I wondered, as I read it, if what Wiederkehr describes as our hunger is cross shaped, as well. Our new hungers, she says, are:

  • We hunger to be saints, for holiness -- I think that is the transformational part of thirst. We hunger to be changed.
  • We hunger and thirst for justice, for goodness -- isn't that the horizontal element? We hunger for God's kingdom to come for those around us.
  • She says that we will experience this hunger from God's embrace -- the vertical element -- our relationship with God.

It's good to be hungry for what is really important.

Image: Sunset on the way to Common Grounds last night.


    Thursday, March 06, 2008


    I'm thinking today about vulnerability. Is it a requirement of a relationship with someone else? Christ came to the world as a human, and placed himself in a very vulnerable position so that we would come to know the love of God -- to be in a relationship with him.

    I've always considered that vulnerability -- the position in which we place ourselves that opens us up to hurt -- is the result of a deeper relationship, not a prerequisite to one, but maybe I've been wrong, or maybe it can work both ways.

    I remember about a year ago I shared a personal story with a friend via email. It wasn't a huge vulnerability, but wasn't something I would tell someone walking down the street, either. I saw him that evening at an event, and was almost embarrassed by what I had shared. We're closer friends now than we were then, and I wouldn't think twice about telling him that story now.

    Someone else told me a story the other day -- it was a hard thing for him to do, I think, and it was done as a means to affirm me. It was a moment of vulnerability for him, but I wonder if in this situation, it was a sacrificial moment.

    Is all of this making sense at all? Christ became vulnerable for us so that we could develop a closer relationship with him. I think of Peter, walking on the water -- an act of trust and vulnerability which he did because he was already in a relationship with Jesus. I also think that vulnerability can be a cross we pick up sacrificially -- as a means of grace.

    It's all about trust, isn't it?

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    Wednesday, March 05, 2008


    Steve has a habit when he is talking to the boys, trying to tell them "no" to something that they want to do. He wants the boys to make the decision on their own -- he wants them to understand the "no." It is frustrating for them, because usually all that they can see is what they want to do - not the bigger picture.

    I was listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley yesterday. It was one of a series of three sermons designed to convince his congregation to read the Bible. He uses part of Psalm 119 as one of his texts. These are the words of King David:

    Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. (verses 97-100)

    Stanely defines the word "insight" as the ability to connect unrelated thougths into a relationship that others cannot see. He compares it to one of the dot-to-dot puzzles. Someone with insight can see the picture that the dots form.

    I have always thought that David was pretty arrogant to say the things that he does in the Psalms like this one, but when you read it more closely, he isn't really taking credit for his gift of insight. He credits it to God and to the time he spends reading and thinking about God's word.

    He says something else that Stanley pointed out as important. David claims that his understanding comes from obedience. David is obedient. He doesn't wait to understand God's command before he agrees to do it. He is "blindly" obedient; he trusts and acts, and then he understands. To quote Stanley, "on the other side of obedience is clarity."

    It's always backwards. Why don't I come to expect that?


    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    Open Discussion

    I ran across the You-tube video today. It's a segment of a program I've never heard of before (which says nothing about the program and everything about me) called Mental Engineering. A panel of four reviews one of the Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds television spots. A few thoughts based on the panel's discussions:

    • One panelist says that she believes that this is a political ad which aims to position the church in contrast to right-wing evangelical movements. Is it political? I think it does strive to define our church as a place of broad acceptance. I wouldn't call it political because I think that we use the Igniting Ministry program to help solidify our identity as a church with those who don't know anything about us -- not as a means to say, "we aren't a conservative church."
    • One panelist thought it was evidence of the conflict in the UM church -- our conservative and liberal wings, and that these ads are a triumph of liberal wing over conservative one, AND that the ads are evidence of the rupture. I do believe that there are a huge variety of beliefs in the UM church, and that we do not always
    • Is the "open" used so that listeners would have the idea that the church has broad base? The panelist asked if the UM church is doing this to portray themselves as open even though she perceives us as not being open, and in fact suggests that we do not admit gay or lesbian people to membership. Is it a suggestion that other churches are "closed?" I wish I had a simple answer regarding our "openness." I do believe that the Open phrases portray a church as we should be. I think we have more ground to cover in this field, and I have heard questions like this from people I know. I would like to say that gay and lesbian people are freely admitted to membership, and I would have thought that to be the case before the incident a year ago.
    • Humility -- does it mean being quiet? One panelist suggested that, and I don't agree. Humility to me infers obedience to something (God) who is higher than you are. It does mean not "increasing" yourself at the expense of others, but it doesn't mean to be quiet.
    • Is the publicity push only a membership drive? Are we doing it because to increase membership is to increase our revenue stream? I hope not. I hope we do it because we have a mission to "go forth and make of all disciples," and we will use the tools we have to do so.
    • Is it branding? I think the ads do strive to create in the mind of the listener a perception of what it means to be a United Methodist -- who we are. Is that branding?
    • "Find your path." What does this mean? What does that say in contrast to the idea of "one right path." I think, in my experience, one of the basic tenets of the UM faith is that God calls to us each in a different way. There is no "one right path." The only right path is the one that leads to God, and that is different for each one of us.
    • Path to what? Social Justice? The Methodist church? An embracing community? All of these are suggestions from the panel as to what the "path" leads to. I think in some ways the paths in the video lead to community. In the final sense, though, I think the "find your path" phrase refers to a path to God, and I'm surprised the panel didn't recognize that.
    • The panelists were asked to name a famous Methodist? I was disappointed with the names they mentioned (Ted Bundy?), so here are some of my own: Walter Reed, Rosa Parks, Geronimo (there is a whole list here.)


    Monday, March 03, 2008

    Grace like Spring

    How is grace like spring?

    • It comes, even when we don't deserve it, or earn it.
    • There is nothing that we can do to stop it, or even to make it arrive earlier.
    • It arrives sometimes just when we most need it, even startling us with its beauty, when we have been so used to winter.
    • It can seem delicate, but it is really very hardy -- it can withstand cold snaps, unexpected rains, and even the late snowfall.
    • It can be counted on to arrive.
    • It is always a reminder that God is present, and that he hasn't given up on us.
    • In the middle of winter, we might not imagine that it could ever show up.
    • Its arrival pokes through the bleakest, dreariest scenes, but it brings beauty with it. It might even show us the beauty in winter.

    Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
    Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
    In the bleak midwinter a stable place suffice
    The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

    Note: The lyrics above are quoted from In the Bleak Midwinter, by Christina G. Rossetti (1872). I brought a hymnal to work today to leave here; how great was it to just pull it out and turn to the song that was on my mind!

    Images: Crocuses in our front yard.


    Sunday, March 02, 2008


    Along with the sermon today, I did a children's moment. One of the points I tried to make with the kids was that we can't always tell by looking at something, what it might become. Sometimes we are surprised. I showed them basil seeds and how different is is from a basil plant; gladiola bulbs and how different they are from the flowers. We are not always good predictors.

    I tried to teach that to the kids today, but I forgot it myself.

    The youth leaders went to a meeting today of several church's youth leaders to plan the 30 hour famine for April. After the meeting, we took the information back to the youth group and presented it to them. I really thought that the information about the event would entice the youth, but it didn't. They decided, unanimously, to continue to do their own youth famine and to not join in with the one sponsored by the downtown churches. We got the feeling that there is a unity among them that they don't want to loose in a larger crowd. (I'm not sure I'm expressing that well). Perhaps God has built a "small group" unit here that we didn't understand the depth of previously, but which they all realize. They weren't willing to give up their 24 hours spent together -- just them -- for the lure of a large group and larger activities.

    The program that they participated in this evening was a cute idea -- they dug through a tool box to find a tool which represented a spiritual gift that they believe that they had. What they told us were their gifts was amazing. A few examples:
    • I choose a tape measure because I can usually tell how far someone has come
    • I choose a square because I always to the right thing
    • I choose tape because I can usually patch up a situation.
    • I choose a hammer because I can usually hammer a point home and convince people.
    Depth that I didn't expect. What a terrific surprise.

    As a final exercise, we asked them to share some of their ideas and thoughts about our church. They did a great job.

    Sometimes it's a great thing to be surprised.


    Saturday, March 01, 2008

    Beach images

    Two tired to post, so how about some beach pictures? Let's ignore the cold weather for a while and enjoy these...