Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cardinals


The cardinals finally came back to our yard.
Happy New Year to all!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Place to Live

This arrived in my email today. I've read it before; I've co-taught a class based on the book. Even so, it struck me today as a great passage:


Father Damien was a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. He moved to Kalawao, a village on the island of Molokai in Hawaii that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony. For sixteen years he live in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He build two thousand coffins by hand so that when they died, they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope.

--John Ortberg, God is Closer Than You Think

In a world where we see death, violence, destruction, illness and sadness, the coming of Christ has transformed it as a place of hope. Our world is no longer a place to die; it is a place to live.

Because of Christmas, we do not move from day to day in a world in which we are dying. We move day to day in a world where we live -- living until we live with God.

The world is changed. We are changed. Alleluia.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Giving

JtM was listening to a sermon this weekend concerning stewardship. One of the premises of the sermon was that church members should give in proportion to what they receive from the church.

He mentioned it me, and we both thought, "What?!"

Stewardship is part of what we do, and the concept that we give to a church in proportion to what we receive from the church is a concept we try NOT to promote.

But what's wrong with that statement? I think when one considers the spiritual nature of stewardship, generosity and giving, one see several problems.

  • What if you made a deposit in a bank and then requested a withdrawal only to have the bank -- the steward of your money -- to say, "No, you haven't done enough for the bank to have the money." We are stewards of the gifts God has given to us. A steward doesn't own the gift -- he or she cares for it, stewards it, does with it as the owner wishes.
  • We give of what we have as a response to God's grace. To give in proportion to what we have received is impossible. We don't have enough to match what has been done for us.
  • Church membership isn't on an exchange basis. We promise to give of what we have been given -- with no conditions. We don't vow to give to the church only if we are happy with the programming, or pleased with the preaching or out of approval of the worship services
Giving is a response to the grace of God. It is an answer to a call from God. It is unrelated to budgets or programming. We give to a particular church because we have been called to be a part of a community of faith, but our giving is not done in exchange for what the church does for us.

Image: G and Molly, taken by Steve

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Even in a Foreign Land

I was doing reading for my Disciple class today -- back at it after a December break. Today's reading was in the end of 1 Kings -- the beginning of the "Elijah cycle."

I pulled out my Biblical Atlas to follow Elijah's travels.

A drought comes to the country of Israel. God sends Elijah to Wadi Cherith, near the Jordon -- a location that is south of his hometown. A raven cares for him there. Once that water is gone, God sends him to Zarephath. Zarephath is a city in Phoenecia. I hadn't realized that before, and I hadn't realized how significant that is. Elijah is a prophet during the reign of Ahab in Israel. Ahab's wife is Jezebel. She is the daughter of the king of the Sidon, which is located in Phoenicia. Phoenicia is a hotbed of Baal worship.

Elijah goes to a foreign land where a foreign god is worshipped. He encounters a widow who gives him water and food. He sees to it that she does not run out of food during this drought. Her son dies, and Elijah heals him.

God sent Elijah into a foreign land where there were foreign Gods. Even in this place, God is ruler of all. His power is mighty, and he is in control.

Sometimes we are in a foreign land where we think God's control does not extend? This passage serves as an example that God will be present everywhere, and wherever he is, his power reigns, completely.

Image: Our dog, Molly. Image was taken by Steve.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Stand Alone Story

As we were driving through our neighborhood today, I noticed a Christmas decoration that made me think. It was a cross, wrapped in Christmas tinsel. As we passed it tonight, I noticed that it was covered in white lights.

I may be drawing conclusions the decorator didn't intend, but I don't think that Christmas is a tinsel wrapping around the cross. I know we know the "end of the story" and that Christ's walk led to a cross.

I would argue that we shouldn't allow the cross to overshadow the incarnation. We should celebrate the fact and our faith that Christ came to dwell among us. That's not tinsel -- it's not just something fun we do in December while we wait for Good Friday. It's an amazing and wonderful event that we celebrate.

Yes, we know the end of the story, but the beginning of the story is one of amazing grace, and it stands on its own.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Do what you are doing

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing a sermon. One of the lectionary readings (that I did not use) was from Luke 3:7-18. In it, John the Baptist is speaking to the crowds, telling them what is to come (preparing the way), and they ask him, "What then should we do." So he tells them. His instructions are tailor made for each who asks -- the soldier, the tax collectors.

Last week, reading Disciplines, I ran across a latin phrase, "Age quod agis." It translates as "Do what you are doing." The writer of the devotional said he was told that if we do this, if we live each part of our lives, doing what we are doing for Christ, then our entire lives become a prayer.

No matter what our vocation, no matter what we are called to do, if we do it for Christ, then we are "doing what we are doing."

Image: Shawl I knit, draped across the clock my grandfather made.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, from our home to yours.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas


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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Witnessing Shepherds

I was setting up a nativity scene in our living room this afternoon. The figurines in the set included an angel. I placed the angel in the stable with Mary and Joseph, and then I looked at the picture of the nativity scene that came with the set and saw that the angel was off to the side, with the shepherds.

That reminded me of a devotional I read this morning. The angels appeared to the shepherds, who then told Mary about it; the angel wasn't in the stable, or at least, we aren't told that he was.

Imagine the birth, in a stable, Mary without her family and with only Joseph with her, in a strange town. She's young, almost alone, and facing the scary proposition of raising the child of God. Maybe the appearance of an angel to be reassuring would have been helpful.

Instead, the angel appeared to shepherds, and the appearance prompts them to leave their flocks to go see the baby. They tell Mary about the visitation.

I wonder if that is how life is sometimes. We need a sign; we need reassurance that God is with us. God doesn't appear to us, or if he does, we miss him. Instead, we learn of God's work in the world through a "shepherd." Our faith in strengthened by the words and actions of another.

Who are we called to be witnesses shepherds for?

Image: My church at dusk yesterday.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

God's Love

I read a quote the other day that really stopped me:

God loves me because of who God is, not because of what I do or do not do.
I knew that, but reading it written just like that really solidified it for me.

I don't want God's love of me to be determined by what I do. I don't always do the right thing. I am not always able to resist temptation or to follow the right path. There are things I do that I should not do, and things I should not do that I do. If God based his love of me upon my behavior, then he would not be able to consistently love me, if he could at all.

I believe in the constancy of God. I want God's love of me to be based in his own constant, loving nature, not my own behavior. I can believe that God has a loving, caring nature that never changes, and will not be altered by what I do.

If God loves me because of who he is, then he loves me, and will not stop or change, ever. He is reliable; I am not.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Once more with the applause

Going back to the issue of response to worship...

Are there other observations I can make that help me to believe that applause is actually a response to worship? Yes...


  • Sometimes my response to worship is silence. There are times when I feel no call to applause. If I were clapping as a compliment to a performance, then I would do it every time. To not do it would seem rude.
  • There are times when my worshipful applause response is more enthusiastic when the gift presented is not excellent -- it is a response to the courage of the person rather than the gifts offered.
  • One of the more holy, worshipful experiences at Annual Conference is the response of the candidates for ministry to the historic questions. It's a wonderful, holy moment, and the worshipful response of the congregation, when it is finished, is applause.
Not everyone is comfortable with applause in worship, and that is OK. Not everyone would bring applause to worship, and that is OK, too. I'm not particularly comfortable with raising my hand during worship. I don't think there is a single thing wrong with it; I just don't do it. I feel awkward when I do. I do believe it is a genuine response to worship, though. There are times, when I am listening to Christian music in the car, or even when I'm alone at church, baking in the kitchen, when my hand goes up into the air. I can't help it. It's as if I'm reaching out to touch God's hand. It's a worshipful response that I don't offer in worship. And that's OK.

There are times when I've seen our congregation respond with applause when I knew that it was something they had to do. After the choir's offering of The Requiem during Lent last year, worship was finished, and all was quiet. We were about to leave the Sanctuary, when the congregation stood on its feet and applauded. It was response to the presence of God, affirmation and love for those offering their gifts to God and praise to God for such wonderful worship. We couldn't help it; the response had to be made.

That's one of the ways I know it is worship. I can't not do it.

Image: Pansy in the snow at St. Marks

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Traditions

From RevGalBlogPals -- the Friday Five: So for this Friday Five, tell us five things about the traditions in your family. Think of:

  • Traditions you always do: When I was small, we had a special Christmas Eve dinner as well as a Christmas Day dinner. Steve's family celebrates Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, with a more casual dinner of Christmas Day. I like the tradition because it means that we don't have to cook the complicated dinner on Christmas.
  • Traditions you always cook or eat: I always prepare cinnamon rolls for the family on Christmas Eve. The boys look forward to that; G even mentioned it today as we decorated.
  • Traditions you would like to start : I wish we would get everything done earlier so that we could relax as Christmas approached.
  • Traditions you would like to discard : Related to the previous question, we have developed a tradition of wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve, after our church's Christmas Eve service (that is over at midnight). That's a tradition I would happily discard.
  • Anything about your family ChristmasesI've noticed that as the boys have gotten older (now both teenagers), the time that we start opening gifts, checking stockings, etc, has gotten later in the morning. We used to start earlier than 8:00 am; now we're opening gifts after 9 am or even later. That's not a bad change.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holly


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Friday, December 18, 2009

Applause

Does it seem like I've been building up to a point in the last few posts? Are you wondering if I even have a point at all? I've been slowly, methodically working my way to a point. I promise.

In the previous posts, I've tried to explain my views about worship: (1) It is worship because of our intention, and because it is acceptable to God as such, (2) The elements of worship are sacred because God transforms them -- even when in our eyes they might have at one time been secular. Everything is secular until God transforms it, and (3) God calls us to bring input to worship; we are to be participants.

All of these posts have been written to work my way into a discussion concerning applause. Does applause have a place in worship? I believe that it does. I've heard (and listened to, and thought about) all of the reasons why you might disagree with me.

Everything is secular. Singing, speaking, praying -- all of it is secular. Until God changes it. There is nothing inherently sacred about any of it -- or inherently secular. If music can be offered as worship, then so can applause. When God calls me to this response; when it is the gift I bring with me to worship; when it is part of my participation in the service, then it becomes sacred. It is, in fact, no less sacred than the organ or the laughter during a sermon or the singing of a hymn.
When I applaud during worship, I know God is calling me to this response. It is offered as:

  • Affirmation -- It is not easy to bring your gifts and to share them with a congregation, to lead us in worship, or to offer your gifts to God. My response -- whether it is an Amen, a time of stunned silence, or clapping -- are all offered as affirmation. It says, "You are doing well -- you are being brave and wonderful and are answering God's call. Don't stop."
  • Love -- Applause can be offered as a sign of love -- agape love. It doesn't imply that the worship offered is excellent or above average or without mistake. It says, "I love you." When a middle school choir stands in front of 150 people and sings, I love them. They are worthy of praise, just for the act of their giving. And God calls me to the response.
  • Praise of God -- Sometimes my applause is meant for God's ears. Sometimes it says, "Thank you, God, for the wonder of what you have done through this person. Through your action, I have come to know you better. Amen."
My applause does not decrease the worship-fulness of the service. In fact, it is of as much value as worship as other aspects of the service because it is offered in response to a call from God, and it is offered with the intention of being worship.

I know there are times when it is not an appropriate response. I know that there are times when my silence is more appreciated than my noisy offering. God knows that, too. I believe and trust that he will lead me to what is right and good.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Participants

Something else about worship that I wanted to mention. I think we are called to contribute and participate.

There is a song by Matt Redman called "Heart of Worship." One of the verses says:
I'll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You're looking into my heart
What do we bring to worship? Most importantly, we bring ourselves. Our gifts, our presence, our focus. We bring ourselves so as to contribute to worship.

A member of my Sunday school class said one time that she at a certain point in her life, she came to worship empty. Sometimes, I think we bring our emptiness as an offering to God.

My point is that we are not audience. We are particpants in worship.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What is sacred?


First of all, I can't believe I missed it, but November 29 was the blog's 4 year blogiversary. Every year I write a special post of blog musings on that day, but this year I missed it. Oh, well. Just a few facts. This is post #1588. Wow. I distinctly remember hitting post #300; now I'm at five times that number. The blog has had 45,097 hits since I started keeping track, sometime in 2006. In the past 500 hits, there have been visitors from Japan, Canada, Portugal, India, but with the majority from the United States. It's always fun to look at the visitor map and check those kinds of things out.

Anyway, Happy 4th blogiversary to Sandpiper's Thoughts.

My thoughts this morning were still gnawing on the idea of worship. When I think about a worship service, I see many elements which could be considered either sacred or secular. As I was thinking about it, I can see how almost any element, depending on intention and upon God's intervention, could be sacred or secular.

  • Offering of Money -- Not to be too drastic in my comparison, but consider attendance at a strip club. Money is offered, tucked into g-strings or thrown upon the stage. Secular. When Bishop Bickerton, at the 2007 Youth Gathering, talked about Nothing but Nets, the youth started throwing $10 bills on the stage to buy nets. Over $25,000 was raised. It felt holy. When money is offered in worship, it is a sacred act, inspired by God, and an answer to a divine call upon the worshiper. God transforms the offering.
  • Speaking -- When a politician gives a speech, he or she does so to inspire an action -- a vote, a donation, or something similar. It's not sacred. When a minister, who has conferenced with God throughout preparation and offers the sermon with the intention of it being worship, preaches, it becomes an act of worship. God transforms the offering.
  • Singing -- The rock star, standing in the middle of a field, singing the Star Spangled banner before the Super Bowl is singing, but is not worshiping. When the choir member offers his or her gifts to God through an anthem, it becomes worship. It isn't the song or the action; it is worship because it is offered to God and because God transforms the offering.
  • Laughing -- At the Comedy Club, when the comedian tells a joke that you wouldn't tell your mother, and the crowd laughs, its laughter, but it's not holy. When a minister includes a joke in a sermon, and when it is done to create a relationship with the congregation, or to further illustrate God's word, the laughter of the congregation becomes something sacred. It is joyful, and it is a gift of God. God transforms the offering.
  • Standing -- There is nothing about standing that makes it either secular or sacred. Do it on a street corner, waiting for a bus, then it's just -- well -- waiting on a bus. Do it during a worship service, as an offering of praise to God, and it becomes worship, because God transforms the offering.
  • Conversation -- When you whisper to the kid sitting next to you in class in order to cheat on a test, it's not holy. When you whisper to God, in prayer, it becomes sacred. God transforms the offering.

It isn't the action -- it's the intention of the one offering the action and the work of God that makes it worship.

Image: Holly; taken prior to our board meeting at the John XXIII Retreat Center.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Worship or not?

What makes something worship?

I think that there are several things that don't define worship.
  • Place -- worship doesn't require a sanctuary
  • Order -- While I very much appreciate and am led to worship through a well-planned order of worship, it is not a requirement for worship.
  • Type of music -- The type of music or even the presence of music doesn't define worship. Classical "sacred" music is no more worshipful than contemporary music. Organ music isn't more worshipful than guitar music.
  • Sermon -- Worship doesn't have to have a sermon (although I really like sermons)
  • Liturgy -- Worship can be worship with liturgy or without liturgy (even though I like it).
We had a wonderful musical worship service on Sunday -- A Lessons and Carols service. It was worship; however, if a person who doesn't believe in God had walked in, everything he had seen would have told him that it was a performance. There were musicians, vocalists, an audience, a choir director, microphones, and visual media. Everything that a concert would have had was present on Sunday.

So what made it worship?

I think it was worship because it was offered as worship. Other than intention, there was nothing about it which made it worship. I'm not saying it WASN'T worship; it certainly was. I do think, though, that the only defining element of the worship was its intention to be worship. It was offered to God as worship.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Need?

I heard someone say yesterday that God's plan will happen with us or without us. He gives us an opportunity to participate, but what he wants to get done will get done. This morning, I read that God does not need us.

I think both of those ideas are too simple -- perhaps so simple so as to not be accurate.

I believe that God can do anything he pleases; none of my statements in this post are meant to imply otherwise. I believe that God's will accomplish his ultimate will.*

I think, though, that he offers us more than an opportunity to participate. Part of his ultimate will is that we will participate in his plan, so I think there are missions in the world that will chooses to NOT accomplish without us. He has a desire for us to be partners in his work. And that is a desire he will not compromise.

He doesn't need us to do his work. True. But there is some mysterious element of God that wants our companionship in his work. Does he need it in order to get the work done? No. I think, though, that he loves us enough to need us in order to do it the way he wants it done. He chooses to need us.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Zephaniah


If you can't read it, it says:
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
(Clicking on the pictures will make it easier to read. It is one of the scriptures from my sermon today)

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Joy to the World

The following is the end of a sermon I am delivering tomorrow.

Joy to the world
The Lord has come.

Now what do we do? What is our response to joy such as this? How will our lives be changed?

I think the answers to those questions are in the Philippians passage (4:4-7).

“Do not worry about anything.” That’s easier said than done, but we are called to set aside fear and worry and to live as confidence children of God. Zephaniah says that God is in our midst and that he will rejoice over us with gladness, he will renew us with his love and will exult over us with loud singing. Think back to the image I told you about – my son sleeping on his father. We are called to that kind of confidence and trust in God. He has promised us his presence, and he will not disappoint us. “Do not worry about anything.” Those words were written by Paul when he was in prison, waiting to die.

Joy to the World.
The Lord has come.

Paul tells the church at Philippi to bring everything to God in prayer and thanksgiving. We are called to do the same. I am currently part of a bible study class at my church. It involves a lot of reading. As I sit down each day to read, I start my time with God by listing the things for which I am grateful for that day. I always have a list. And then I pray. And THEN I read. Bring God thanksgiving and praise, and then reaching toward him in prayer opens my eyes and heart to his presence. I have no doubt that he is here. Sometimes I don’t notice him, but if I remember to pray; if I remember to be grateful, then I will see him. And I can say,

Joy to the World
The Lord has come.

Paul also says, “let your gentleness be known to everyone.” What does gentleness or kindness have to do with joy? Everything, I think. It is in sharing God’s love that we receive it. It is in shining brightly with Christ’s presence that we are completely convinced that he is with us. I read yesterday that joy is peace in action. I think that may be the real reason we give Christmas gifts – to demonstrate our love to those around us. We know joy when we give of ourselves and when we allow others to see God shining through our lives. When we do this, we can sing together

Joy to the World
The Lord has come.

And then, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We will know joy
We will know the love of God.
We will be able to declare that the Lord has come.

The hymn written by Isaac Watts, Joy to the Lord, was based on Psalm 98. I’ll close with verses 7 through the first part of 9:

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
The world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
Let the hills sing together for joy
At the presence of the Lord.

Joy to the World
The Lord has come. Amen

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Grain and Chaff

I’m going over the lectionary, planning a sermon for Sunday. My mind is working on the sermon, but also this, which probably won’t end up in the sermon:

His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.Luke 3:17


A winnowing fork is used to throw grain up into the air. The chaff, which is lighter, blows away in the wind while the heavy grain returns to the floor. I think the easy assumption from this passage is that the “good” people are the grain and the “bad” people are the chaff. The “bad” people will burn, while the “good” fruitful people (the grain) are saved.

But I wonder if that is what he meant. Our pastor said something to me the other day about the refiner’s fire that has started me thinking. I wonder if this could be a description of transformation, rather than separation. God will work with us, transforming us, so that the chaff – sin, those things about us that hurt us or others – whatever that might be – are blown away, burned, removed, while our original created purpose, our “Godly” nature (that which was created in the image of God) is kept, refined, strengthened, so that we are changed.

Am I reaching, or does any of this make sense?

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Devotional 12-11-09

The Gift of my Blue Satin Robe

When I was seven years old, my Dad gave me a blue satin robe for my birthday. At that time I attended Mt. Tabor Missionary Baptist Church near Beckley, WV. My Sunday School class was working on our Christmas play. The teacher wanted to know if anyone had a blue robe. Well, up went my hand, and I was picked to be Mary. I also got to sing "Away in a Manger." Three teenage brothers were chosen to be the three Wise Men. They had a large flashlight and had cut out a star and placed it on the light. It shone so bright as they went up to the stage. I can still see that bright star.

I hope all of you can see the bright light of Christmas always and feel the love that came to all of us that special night.Merry Christmas to all,

Joan Garnder

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Strengths and Weaknesses

We went to the high school band concert tonight. This is the jazz ensemble. That tall guy in the middle of the back row -- trumpets -- is G.

I'm sure you recognize him.

The entire concert was done under black light because the stage lights were broken.

I didn't recognize him, either.

Anyway, recently, a friend had to list his strengths and weaknesses. It got me thinking.


  • There are times when your strengths can be your weakness. I'm an organizer, but sometimes, when that becomes the objective, rather than the tool to reach the real goal, organization is a weakness (even though it can be a powerful tool).
  • There are times when your weakness can be your strength, especially when God is involved. If your weakness is time management, then this can become a strength, when you are therefore open to ministry through interruption. It can be grace. God can use our weaknesses to do his work; his strength can shine through.
  • Sometimes a strength can mean that we have a weakness as a result. A person who is very analytical might not be artistic. The lack of artistic skills may be a weakness, but it is not an area for improvement -- a person can't be strong in all areas.
  • Sometimes strengths are an area for improvement -- in fact, they often are. Gifts deserve to be developed and improved, sometimes more urgently than our weaknesses.
  • There are times when a weakness is an area where God will create a strength, if it is necessary. There was a time when I dreaded being called upon to pray without preparation. I wrote out every prayer I was asked to pray "in public." When I became lay leader of our church, and as I taught classes, I realized God was placing me in situations where I needed to be able to pray for group of people, spontaneously. If God was placing me there, then he would equip me. He does. A weakness has become a fertile field for a gift from God.




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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Second Coming....

A few weeks ago, in this post, I talked about the idea of the second coming of Christ, and how the apocalypse scriptures can distract us.

Christ is here, now. We need to live our lives in recognition of that, listening for God -- trusting and obeying his call.

I heard a sermon today that explained this concept better than I had. The minister said that we are waiting for a THIRD coming. The first one was Christ, born in the city of Bethlehem. The third one is Christ, coming again. The second coming of Christ is the one I was talking about -- Christ entering our lives every day, calling us to turn around, to repent. Christ, calling us to live lives in obedience. Christ, walking with us, strengthening us and loving us.

We don't know anything about the third coming; we are called to pay attention to the Christ in our lives, today. He makes a difference -- all the difference in the world. If we do that, then the third coming will take care of itself.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Concert


Great concert, because of how proud we were of one young man.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Freedom

Joyce, in her devotional in our office meeting today, read us the words to a Charles Wesley hymn, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set they people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
She read more than that, but as I listened, I was struck by a similarity to a contempory song I had just listened to as I baked on Saturday morning, Free by Ginny Owens:

So when I am consumed by what the world will say,
It's then You're singing to me,
As you remove my chains

You're free to dance-Forget about your two left feet
And you're free to sing-Even jofful noise is music to me
And you're free to love,
Cause I've given you My love, and it's made you free
I have set you free

Free from worry, free from envy and denial
Free to live, free to give, free to smile
They aren't the same, of course, but as I listened to the one written in 1744, I was reminded of the one written at the just a few years ago. Our desires have not changed. The freedom we are offered through Christ remains the same.

I think that's one of the reasons I like so many different kinds of music. I'm always struck by the idea that we -- both the ones of us born ten centuries after Christ and the ones born 20 centuries after Christ -- have the same desires, the same longings, and the same God.

The words of one song and the words of the other speak to that idea.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Work into Joy

Last week was very busy. We met with a church agency, went to a funeral and attended a business reception. JtM counted the miles on the car last week -- 1200.

It was busy, but it was good.

This weekend, Steve and I helped with a church dinner, which included baking 32 loaves of homemade bread, shopping, and working in the kitchen of a total of 15 hours -- all on our feet.

It was busy, but it was good.

Serving God and each other is a blessing which turns work into joy. I'm grateful.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Snow


Trees on the way to the eastern Panhandle this past week -- snow!

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Christmas Nots

The Friday Five at RevGalBlogPal:

I (not me -- Sally, the "poster" of the question) am reading a wonderful little book for Advent. Its title: "Do nothing Christmas is Coming!"

So this weeks Friday Five is simple.

List Five things you won't be doing to prepare for Christmas.

  • Putting up two Christmas trees -- for many, many years, we put up an upstairs tree and a downstairs tree. We gave up the downstairs tree a few years ago because we just don't have the time to do it.
  • I've already missed one thing I used to do -- many years ago we used to get up EARLY on the day after thanksgiving and go shopping. Now, we sleep late on that Friday, and do not go near a mall.
  • Cooking a turkey. We used to have turkey for both Christmas and Thanksgiving. Why did we do the same menu? Not anymore.
  • Stressing. I used to; not anymore. It will all get done.
  • Buying a whole lot of toys. I kind of miss toys, but the boys are too old. I miss Legos -- picking them out I mean; I don't miss stepping on stray Legos in the house and hurting myself!

As a bonus -- one thing I would LIKE to not do in preparation for Christmas -- wrap presents after the 11:00 PM Christmas Eve service. How great would it be to actually be READY for Christmas morning before going to church on Christmas Eve. It would be great to come home and just go to bed, rather than wrapping into the wee hours of the morning.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Leaving...

I went to a funeral today for a sociology professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. His son was talking about him -- part of what he said about his dad was that he was an Eagle Scout, and that he believed in leaving the camp site better than he found it.

In a previous post this week, I talked about how we prepare the way. Perhaps it's just as important to notice how we exit -- when we look back, are we leaving where we were or who we were with better than when we arrived?

Do the people who come in contact with us leave with a lighter heart, a clearer view of God, or a stronger spirit for having been around us?

Is grace felt with more clarity? Does peace surround those who come close to us with a more loving grip? Does joy enlighten the souls of those who walk with us?

Do we leave the campground in better shape than we found it?

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Forward on Hope

I was reading the Cheesehead in Paradise blog this afternoon. The pastor who writes the blog preached a sermon based on a phrase she picked up at a conference: "Tripping Forward on Hope."

I'm intrigued by that phrase. Tripping forward on hope.
  • Tripping-- Tripping implies imbalance. It is a sense of being out of control. When we are tripping foward on hope, we have released control to something larger than ourselves -- to God.
  • Forward -- The word forward implies looking toward the present and the future -- not the past. When we go forward, we are not going back and hopefully, not judging what we do against what we have done in the past.
  • Hope -- Hope is not wishing. Christian hope is certainty. In hope is joy and grace.
    When we trip foward on hope, we are believing that something in our lives is leading us to where God wants us to be. It involves confidence and trust in God. With it we find joy and grace.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Church

Two thousand years ago, Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi. He begins the letter with words of blessing (Philippians 1:3-11) for this young church. His words can speak to us, as well. Paul’s letter is quoted below in italics, interspersed with my thoughts regarding the dream of church (not italicized). This was my submission to the Advent devotional for today; I'm crossposting it here.

I thank my God every time I remember you,

The church
Created by the love, death and resurrection of Christ
A Body through which Christ is remembered.

Through which Christ embraces the Children of God.constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,

A praying body
Remembering the pain and hopelessness
Of each member
With joy and gladness
Because we are blessed to have the gift
Of lifting each other up to God
In prayer.

because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.

Witnesses for Christ
Telling the story to all those who will listen
Persuading those who believe they do not need to hear
Telling the story.

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Faith. Hope.
We are given the gift of confidence
That God will be victorious
That his ultimate goals will come to pass
And that we are a partner
In the work of God.

It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

Church.
Held in each others’ hearts.
Comforted by comforting arms.
Crying together. Laughing together.
Seeking freedom for each other.
Present for each other
In grief and in terror.
In joy and in new beginnings.

For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

Those whose hearts are empty
Are yearning for Christ
The church can reach out to them
With love, with care, with compassion,
Filling new hearts with hope.

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best,

Imagine, if you can,
The wonder and grace of love overflowing
So abundant that we cannot hold it.
So overwhelming that it can only come from God.
Transformational love.
A gift from God, through us, to all.
Can we imagine it?
God has.

so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Amen. And amen.

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