Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What's the story?

I preached at a church this Sunday that had a cemetery on the grounds.  This is one of the headstones.  The colorful bits on the top and around the edges are small glass flattened marbles.  They are laid on the stone, not attached.  Just loose.

I wonder about these.  Why are they there?  I can see a pattern in their arrangement -- were they placed there one at a time with the pattern developing?  Or were they all added at once?  Is each one a visit?  Is each one a prayer?  Or are they just there to be pretty?

What's the story?


Monday, May 30, 2011


The RevGalBlogPals Friday Five last week (or the week before) suggested listing five words that the author likes.

Five words I like -- either for their sound, their associations in my mind, etc;

So, five words:

  1. ocean
  2. sandpiper
  3. grace
  4. Alleluia
  5. joy


Sunday, May 29, 2011


In worship today (away from home), the leader of the children's moment asked the kids to think if they had a particular blanket or stuffed animal that made them feel secure and safe -- a security blanket or a special toy. A couple of them did.

She told them that God has sent us a special comforter who lives inside of us. One of the kids knew it was the Holy Spirit.

In some ways, I thought it was a good analogy -- something small children could grasp -- that God is with them, comforts them when they are frightened or alone. In other ways, of course, it falls very short of describing the role of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, no analogy is adequate to explain the wonder of God.


Friday, May 27, 2011


I read this post today (http://www.thisisreverb.com/2011/05/feeling-so-small.html). (I'm posting today with BlogPress, and I'm not sure how to do hyperlinks -- sorry. Just copy and paste into your browser. Go ahead -- it's worth the trouble.)

The author is talking about what makes him feel small. Experiences such as listening to a friend who is a missionary telling him about baptizing someone. Talking to friends who are going to Spain to "love Muslims as Christ calls us to." The images in the post are beautiful.

What in life makes you feel small? What experiences remind you that we are created by an enormous God who loves us, even though we are tiny in this endless universe?

Do you feel small as you watch a sunrise? As you listen to laughter? Will I feel small in the presence of God tomorrow when my son graduates from high school? What about when my husband and about 20 other intrepid individuals ride bicycles from Charleston to Buckhannon (150 miles) to raise money for relief efforts in Japan?

Sometimes feeling small is a bad thing, but when the creator of the universe shows you his majesty and glory, feeling small is victory, because we know we are loved by a God too complicated and immense to describe.

Here's to feeling small.


Thursday, May 26, 2011


I read today (thanks to JtM) that the Greek word used to describe Jesus' compassion at least one time in Luke is a word that means more that just empathy or sympathy. It was compassion from deep within - not a shallow, "I understand what you are going through" compassion, but a heart-felt, gut wrenching compassion.

If we are to know God through Jesus, then this kind of love must be like the love of God for us. He doesn't just watch us from far away and feel sorry for us. God is in the middle of us, with us, and loves us with a deep compassion.

We are called to that kind of compassion for others. It's a compassion that calls for action, not just an emotional response, but action that can change the situation.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I ran across a new word today. Have you ever heard of the word indaba? It is a word whose origin is from the Zulu language in South Africa. Originally, an indaba was a meeting of the "principal men" of the Zulu and Xhosa people of South Africa. In the Zulu language, the word means business or matter.

The use of the word has expanded. From Wikipeida:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, used the expression when he announced, in April 2008, a move away from plenary meetings voting on formal resolutions for bishops attending the 2008 Lambeth Conference. He introduced "middle sized groups for discussion of larger issues"...
One page I read said that the word means "a gathering for purposeful discussion."

I know that sometimes we stop using a word because of its negative connotation. Meeting might be a word that has baggage that effects it negatively. A gathering for purposeful discussion gives more meaning to what we hope to do in a productive meeting.

Sometimes I am in a meeting whose purpose seems either to discuss non-important (in my view) issues to death OR on the opposite end of the scale, to move through business in a non-productive, but speedy rate. Neither of those are very helpful. Sometimes when I'm in a meeting, what I consider to be purposeful discussion is seen as adversarial or challenging. I don't mean it to be; I hope it isn't, but I often enter a meeting promising myself that I won't provide input, for just that reason.

Oh, well, rambling. Anyway, I like the word indaba. A gathering for purposeful discussion.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Only purpose?

I was reading an article in Time Magazine yesterday about Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins.
There are so many things I could blog about, that started me thinking, but for today’s post, I’ll share one.

Read this quote from the article (R. Albert Mohler Jr. is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary):
The traditionalist reaction is understandable, for Bell's arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation. "When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world," says Mohler, "then you don't need the church, and you don't need Christ, and you don't need the cross. This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism, and it's Rob Bell's tragedy in this book too."
It seems very strange to me that we would see the only purpose of the church to convince people of the coming judgment and the necessity of conversion. I can see where a universal salvation theology would of necessity change some of what we do in the church, especially churches whose focus is primarily on this aspect of faith. I just don’t understand, though, how anyone could believe that conversion is the only purpose for the church or even more so, the only purpose for faith in Christ and his love as expressed through the cross.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Many Birds


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pie Charts?

In Sunday school today a guest presenter told us about what he believes concerning salvation, the spirit and our connection to God.

He said that we are made up of three parts (and that anything, to be complete, needs three parts).  He drew our three parts on the chalk board as a pie with three slices:
  • Body -- how we communicate with the environment.  As an example, some people, when they have joint pain, can predict the weather.
  • Soul -- how we communicate with each other.  Our soul is our mind, our personality, our emotions.  Our soul is what makes decisions. 
  • Spirit -- how we communicate with God.
He believes that when Adam sinned, his spirit died, and that we have inherited a dead spirit from Adam.  We are born cut off from God.  Being "born again" is what brings life to the spirit within us. 

And when we die, we are going to hell, unless that spirit has been brought alive in us -- only then can we be with God.

Isn't that all neatly tied up in an easy to draw package, and, wow, it sounds like it ought to be true, but I don't believe it.  It is too gnostic for me, with who we are separted from our bodies.  It also eliminates, for me, the work of prevenient grace -- grace at work even before we know God.  It our spirits are dead, then how is it that we feel this connection to God, even before we know who he is?  And what about children?   Are they not connected to God?  Are they lost?

He sounded so very certain, and he even had literature he was willing to give us.  He had scripture to support his theories.  I imagine to argue with him would have resulted in scripture arrows, sent in defense of his interpretation. 

I think, though, when we believe we have everything figured out, when we can draw pie charts and speak of everything in our faith as if it is tied up in a neat bow, then we can be rather certain that what we believe is wrong. 

Faith isn't simple -- God is more complicated than we can even imagine.  Describing him boxes him in and will be definition be incorrect -- in some way, in some part.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Grace defined

So many of the words that have a sacred meaning have been diluted by non-sacred usage. Words like hope, faith, love and belief have lost some of their meaning through common usage. According to Philip Yancey, grave is the one word that has not entered popular usage, yet.

This eveening I was watching TV. I saw a commercial for a bank that has instituted "24 hour grace." Overdrawal your account and you have 24 hours to "make it right before you have to pay the overdraft fee.

That's not grace. Grace isn't a delay in consequences until we can make it right. Grace is God's gift given in the sure knowledge that we will never "male it right in our own." Grace is God's response to our inability to ever make it right.


Friday, May 20, 2011


I didn't really want to go. I was missing my husband, missimg my friends, and I just really didn't want to go. But responsibility called. I was the one who was chairing the meeting, making the announcements and leading worship. I had to go, so I went.

I didn't think I was running late, but when I got there, everyone was waiting for me. I had thought I would have time to collect my thoughts, but no such luck. Into the meeting - pass out agendas and pray. Pray without breathing first. Go.

Rush through the meeting. Dinner next. Potluck is always fun. It can be the best kind of cafeteria with a little of this, a little of that. No balance, no plan, but fun. Surely there is an analogy there for life.

Upstairs for worship. Like dinner, I was out of balance. Kindling, but too damp to burn brightly, just smoldering. God shown like the sun through the stained glass as the pastor's wife sang of one day in his courts. She spoke of sinking into grace and reminded us how we are loved by a God who has a great affection for us. Oh how he loves us. It was a grace-filled reminder.

A man spoke of his days lived in Christ, and how God has expanded his world view. He told of experiences with God, and how the Lord has used him to heal others with his words - words straight from God. He spoke of the loss of his brother, about making life-ending decisions, and his grief at the loss. God called him to service on a walk and then touched him with grace as he touched others.

Communion. Worship. The presence of God. Heal me, God, from my sins. Thank you for your light, your song, and your flooding grace.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

A dinner of Vegetables

Today I read Genesis 30.  This is a chapter with two parts -- one about Jacob's two wives and the other about Jacob's plan to leave his father-in-law and return home.
Deceit and jealousy run through Jacob's story.  He and his father-in-law make a deal with the livestock, and both of them strive to work their ways around it.  Laban had deceived Jacob with his daughters; Jacob had deceived his father.  This is not a pleasant household.

The wives battle each other to see who can give Jacob more children.  I wonder if either of them knows Jacob's love and is secure in it -- not even Rachel.

I also read Proverbs 15:17 -- Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.  Without the Genesis story, I might have missed the point of the Proverb, but I see it now!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Let's Make a Deal

What does it mean to be the gate?  What does it mean for a church?
When I was growing up there was a game show on TV – maybe you remember it, too – called “Let’s Make a Deal.”  Monty Hall was the host, and he would offer deals to audience members, who could trade what they had already won for the possibility of a better prize.  At the very end of the show, players were given the opportunity to trade what they had already won for a chance to win the “Big Deal” – a valuable prize hidden behind either Door #1, Door #2 or Door #3.  The choice could be hard, and it was based only on chance.

Imagine how different the game would have been if the Door concealing the Big Prize had had a gatekeeper, and enthusiastic shepherds pointing the way – “This door!  This door!” 

I think the gate passage in John 10 is a call to us to that kind of response.  We are called to be the Gateway – to point the way to the Gate – to Jesus – to God – so that all of us can be a part of the Big Prize behind Door #1 – abundant life.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

His Voice

When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers. John 10:4-5
Have you ever been in this situation?   Someone calls (and you don't have caller ID) and starts talking to you, as if you know who he/she is?  And yet you have no idea -- you can't recognize the person by the sound of the voice?   It's happened to me, and I don't want to just say, "Who is this?" because obviously the person believes I know who he or she is.  To admit differently would embarrass either me or the other person.  So I keep listening, hoping to catch some kind of ID clue.

The sheep know his voice.  And yet, do we?  We spend a whole lot of time wondering what God is telling us to do, where he is leading us, if the voices we are hearing are really his or someone else's. 

Do we recognize the Voice of Truth?

I love the idea of it -- that we are so close to our loving God that we recognize his voice.  It's comforting and it feels secure.  And yet, I know how difficult it is to discern his message, and I know how confusing it can be.


Monday, May 16, 2011

To come in and go out

As I read John 10:1-10 for sermon preparation last week, the line that really jumped out at me was verse 9: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” William Barclay says that verse 9 was the Jewish way of describing a life that was absolutely safe and secure. Quoting Barclay, “Once anyone discovers, through Jesus Christ, what God is like, a new sense of safety and security enters into life. If life is known to be in the hands of God like that, the worries and the fears are gone.”

We often think our job is to invite people to church—to bring them in so that they become a part of the church, but that’s not our calling. Look at that verse 9 again – “to come in and go out….” We, as a church, are to invite people to both come in and GO OUT. Churches don’t have one way doors – churches have revolving doors.

We invite God’s people to come into the church – to become disciples of Christ. To be a disciple is to be a learner – a follower. The best description I have ever heard of discipleship was by John Ortberg. He’s a pastor and an author of some great books. He says that to be a disciple is to walk so closely behind the master – Jesus – that as Jesus walks, we become covered by the dust the passage of his feet stir up from the path. We, as a church, invite people to live the life of a disciple and to walk that closely with Christ.

But that’s not the end of the story. The door revolves. We are called to send people out of the church.

Being a disciple is not the end goal – it is the means by which the world is transformed. We, as part of the church – as the gateway – invite people to discipleship so that they can change the world. We don’t learn all we can about God through discipleship just to know it. We don’t come into relationship with God just to experience it. We are called to be stewards of what we have been given. As a church, we are called to lead people out the door to use what they have been given through stewardship.

It’s too bad stewardship has come to be so closely related to money, because it means so much more than giving of our money. If discipleship is the sacred act of committing to follow God and to learn about him, then stewardship is the sacred responsibility of putting into action what we have learned. Stewardship is the going out. It is the action in response to the discipleship. Stewardship is how we change the world – transform it for Jesus Christ.

As a church – as the gateway – our calling is to lead people to Christ and then to send them out to change the world – to come in and to go out.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

We are the Gateway

I am the mother of two sons – 17 and 14 years old. Two teenagers.

We live in a raised rancher style home. If you can picture it – the front door enters the lower level, and to the right of the door is our family room. You go up a flight of stairs to the main floor where the bedrooms are. When our 17 year old comes home at night – after work or a track meet – whatever – he knows he must stop by the family room and check in. We will have waited up for him, and he is to stop, tell us he is home, say a few words about his evening – touch base. Then he can go up to bed. By the same routine, when he leaves to go out, he stops by the family room – checking it – telling us where is he going, when will he be back – you know the story. We are the gateway for his going in and his coming out. My husband and I have heard about many of the major events in his young life as he stood in the doorway to the family room – when his “prom date” changed to his “girlfriend,” when he ran off the road and got a flat tire (It’s just a flat, dad – really, it was a flat tire AND a lost wheel well liner, and damage that meant the wheel might fall off). G stood in that doorway and told us about his first speeding ticket, and we talked about his scholarship to West Virginia Wesleyan as he checked in one evening. We are the gateway. And we are the shepherds.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

From the road


Friday, May 13, 2011

Moments of Grace

I read a piece of writing a few days ago in which a person asked if the reader could list moments of amazing grace and beauty.  Here are some of mine (in no particular order):

  • Standing in front of family and friends listening to the man who would very soon be my husband promise to love me for the rest of our lives.
  • Holding my sons for the first time.  I particularly remember holding Grant, hours after his birth (for the first time).  As I talked to him, the wheeze he had had since his brith went away.
Those are giant ones.  Here are some lesser ones, but still moments of beauty:

  • Sunset at the beach, walking with my husband, on the last day of our vacation in 1992.
  • Sunrise many many years later over the ocean -- so beautiful that I couldn't stop looking at it.
  • Riding a boat through Misty Fjord in Alaska -- an area shaped by glaciers -- and seeing a bald eagle up close for the first time.


Thursday, May 12, 2011


Tag from a knitting bag I bought the other day.  I wonder if this is what we, the people of the Church, sound like to those who never attend Church, but come one Sunday to "try it out."


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I was at Stonewall Resort last week, playing with our camera.  I notice, as I stood beside the lake, this lure caught in a tree.

It reminded me of something Tyrone Gordon said at Commission Possible.  How are we fishing for people?  Are we fishing with a rod and line, trying to select the fish we bring in?  Or are we fishing with a net?  A net catches everything; a fishing pole doesn't. 

Are we only fishing for fish like us?  Or do we use a net?


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Today I read Genesis 27.  It is the story of Isaac's blessing of Jacob and Esau.  If you remember it, Rebekah plans the deception of her husband.  She hears that Isaac has sent Esau hunting and to prepare food so that he can then bless his older son.  She has Jacob get food, she prepares it and then disguises Jacob to trick Isaac into blessing him, thinking he was Esau.

The study Bible I read brings up some interesting points.
  • Rebekah had no authority to determine who would be heir.  She was a woman.  Her younger son had no claim in his father's property.  She did, however, have power, and she used it to manipulate the outcome to reach her goal -- an interesting comparison of authority and power.
  • Some scholars see deceit and lies in her plans and Jacob's actions, and judge them for it; others see this as a an illustration of how the disadvantaged -- second class citizens -- took power over the privileged.
  • Is she bringing about God's will, or is she not trusting God to lead the way?
What do you think?  When I read it, I see a whole lot of lies and manipulation.  Is all of that washed away in the light of the disadvantages the two of them faced?  Is it OK to use lies and manipulation to bring about God's will?

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    Monday, May 09, 2011

    Communication from my point of view

    Be aware.  I am not an official communicator.  I do not have a degree in Communications; no one has certified me as having any skill in the field. 

    I'll be arrogant enough, however, to tell you that this is what I believe.  I write these words as if I am the object of your communication efforts:

    1. If you want me to know something, then you have to make the effort to bring it to my attention.  I won't see it otherwise.  Whatever it is that you want me to know probably matters more to you than to me, so you need to be proactive about it.  Don't just sit around assuming I'll find out what you want me to know on my own.  I won't.
    2. Please do not assume that telling me once is enough.  You need to tell me 10 times for me to hear it once.  Don't assume I'm not listening if you tell me once, in one particular way, that if I don't act on it, I'm not interested.  You haven't worked hard enough for me to find out what you are trying to tell me.
    3. You need to tell me in more ways that one.  Use lots of different methods to get my attention.  Don't assume that because you are using the easiest method or the one that you listen to the most that I am like you, and will be listening.
    4. If you are communicating, it is your job to communicate in a way that I will understand.  Don't be angry at me if I don't understand you; it's your job to make yourself understood.  Remember, it's more important to you that to me.
    5. If you have told me, and I acknowledged that you told me, remind me anyway.  I may not remember, but you are remembering, so remind me. 


    Sunday, May 08, 2011


    So Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar and settled there. Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the names that his father had given them. (Genesis 26:16-17)
    There are two ways (and probably more) to look at this passage.

    Sometimes I worry that we dig wells just because that is where our forerunners dug wells. The only thought given to the action is, "This is what those who came before did, so this is what we will do." It doesn't necessary follow that just because a well yielded water in the past, that it will do the same in the future.

    On the other hand, Isaac is following his fathers' lead. Our forerunners have already demonstrated how to reach water. They a have taught us who God is and how to follow him.

    How do we make sure that we are not digging wells for just the sake of digging them? How do we know that our goal is to find living water, and that we are learning faith from those who came before us and not just traditions for the sake of "we have always done it that way"?

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    Saturday, May 07, 2011

    Yellow Flowers


    Friday, May 06, 2011

    Word Association

    It has been a busy week!  To give myself a break this evening, how about a FridayFive from RevGalBlogPals:

    From the web site:  It's been a busy week for me, trying to get back into the routine after a post-Easter vacation. (How did it get to be Easter 3?) So to keep it simple, here's a Word Association Friday Five, with a bonus twist for those feeling creative. First, for each of these five words -- all of which remind me of my *most* excellent vacation -- share the first word that comes to mind when you read it.

    1. Airport -- Travel, waiting, flying (so, three words)
    2. Baseball -- Cincinnati Reds (The only time I really watch baseball was when I was a kid.  Reds games would come on TV (and we only had three channels), so you watched, hoping they played quickly with no tie-breakers so regular TV would come back on.)
    3. Art -- color.  Love color
    4. Chocolate -- These are a few of my favorite things! (OK, not a word).  Chocolate -- Hershey
    5. Grill -- Steak.
    Bonus: Tell us a story that comes to mind based on one of the word pairs. -- See above.


    Thursday, May 05, 2011


    We have a Canon EO5 Rebel XSi and two lenses.  I almost always use the 18-55 one, but on Thursday, I played with the 55-250mm lens.  Much fun!  The daisies in the top picture were far away (for daisies) as can be seen in the bottom picture, and yet the lens brought them up close and personal.  I'll play more with this lens.


    Wednesday, May 04, 2011


    Go take a look at this article from the United Methodist Reporter:  Brother, Can You Spare a Vowel?  It speaks about the habit in the United Methodist church  for using acronyms for organizations and divisions. 

    It brings to mind the question, "Do people really understand what we are saying?"

    And I think this goes farther than whether people get what UMCOR stands for or VIM.  Do people understand when we talk about sanctification?  Justification?  Maundy Thursday?  Grace?  Do we use words in a such as way that they communicate the story of God?  Or are we just using words that no one outside the church would understand?


    Tuesday, May 03, 2011


    "I hope you have a happy birthday -- you deserve it!"

    Well wishes like that always bother me.  Before you accuse me of an exaggerated sense of humility, it would bother me if someone wished you a happy birthday by telling you that you deserve it, too! 

    What do I deserve?  I'm pretty sure I haven't done anything to deserve the blessings that have been given to me.  They are grace, and I don't deserve them. 

    One of the basic underpinnings of servant leadership is that we don't deserve what we have.  I'm actually grateful that I don't get what I deserve -- that I am instead of victim of grace.


    Monday, May 02, 2011

    God will provide

    Still thinking about Abraham and Issac and testing.

    How does that relate to the idea that God will provide?  That God will take care of us?  The book I am using for Bible study through Genesis asks if it is easier for us to accept the idea that God will test us or that God will provide care for us.

    We want God's protection and care to mean that we are kept safe and healthy, but when I look around and see faithful people who are not kept from harm, I find that kind of faith hard to accept.

    How do they link together?  Are we unwilling to be obedient because we are unwilling to believe that God will provide?

    Considering the parallel between Isaac's non-sacrifice and Jesus' death, is Jesus' obedience to the cross not only an illustration of his submission but also of his trust that "God will provide," as he does in the resurrection?

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    Sunday, May 01, 2011


    Consider "testing."  Think about Abraham and Isaac again.  Is God testing Abraham?  Does God do that?  Does he test us?

    I recoil at the idea that tragedies in our lives are brought about by God as a way to test us.  I do understand that circumstances and events can test us or our faith, but is God the causative agent?

    And if he is not, does that still leave the door open to the idea that God brings us to the brink of a decision in order to test us?  That would shed a whole new light on the idea of "lead me not into temptation."

    Either way, we will be tested in life.  Our faith an our obedience will be tested.  How do we prepare for it; how do we react to it?  Perhaps those are the most important questions.

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