Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sixth Anniversary

I was doing some calendar work today and noticed that yesterday was the 6th Anniversary of my first post to this blog. 

Much has changed since then.  I have a different career -- not just a different position in the same field, but a whole different field of work.  My boys, who were 12 and 9 then, are now 18 and 15.  One of them is in college and the other one will be driving soon. 

When I started the blog, I had just been on an Emmaus walk; now I have been on 7 teams, served as a Walk Lay Director and am just finishing up a term as Community Lay Director. 

The blog has changed.  In the beginning, I wrote more poetry, longer posts, and used more images.  I never missed a day, and would sometimes post more than once.  I thought more about the blog, had more time to take pictures and saw more metaphors for ideas.  I probably read more back then, and during the earlier years of the blog, taught more.  All of that gave me more blog fodder than I have now.  I've been working to intentionally do more reading; that always gives me more to say.

Thank you for reading.  Thank you for commenting.  Blessings to you!

(By the way, I failed to mention the source of the devotional I quoted yesterday.  It was from the Advent devotional program of the First Presbyterian Church of San Bernadino, California.  Like my own church, the members of this church write and distribute devotional readings.  The author of that particular devotional was Dana Babb.)


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

LIfting each other up

Have you ever been singing in church, lost your place, and listened to the choir, the music leader, the person beside you or the person behind you to find your place again?

Have you ever been confused about the interpretation of a passage of scripture and asked a fellow church member, a Sunday school teacher, a pastor or a friend for different perspective on what it meant?

Have you ever been so tired that doing what you are called has become a burden so that you call someone else to help you carry the weight for a short time?

Has life ever been so difficult that you cannot go on -- at least for the moment? 

I read a devotional written by a member of a California Presbyterian church.  This is from an anthem her church choir sang:
“When a man is singing and can not lift his voice,
And another comes and sings with him,
Another who can lift his voice!
The first will be able to lift his voice too.
And that is the secret of the bond between spirits!”
This is a paraphrase of Ecclesiastes  4:9-10.  I like the actual verse, too:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.
We lift each other up.


Monday, November 28, 2011

A Peaceful Advent

This past Sunday I taught Sunday school. The lesson was based on the Matthew 6 passage about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

I have found in teaching Sunday school that one way to ease a class into being discussion-friendly is to begin the class with easy questions, easing them into the more intense discussions as we move through the plan for the day. I started this lesson by writing a countdown on the board -- the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until Christmas day.

We then spent some time sharing hints about how to reduce worry during Christmas. I was reminded of our discussion by a blog post I read today by Ken Carter. (I'm typing this using an iPad app, and I don't know how to do a hyperlink, but Ken's blog is, and the post is on November 27, "Simplifying Advent."). He gives some hints to pastors and lay people for Advent.

Here on some hints out class came up with:
  1. Remember that you don't have to do everything you think you have to do. What happens if you don't send out Christmas cards? Nothing! What happens if you family visits you and there is dust on the ceiling fans? Nothing! (and I know that from experience) Choose those things that bring you joy, and do those.
  2. Consider alternative giving. Make donations to a local ministry in honor of a loved one.
  3. Remember that some things just aren't worth your worry.
  4. Take everything one day at a time, rather than tackling it all at one time.
  5. Go to church. Don't skip it.
Blessings to you this advent season.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bahama Lighthouse

This lighthouse is on Providence Island in the Bahamas.  I took the picture from our ship last summer.  As you dock at Nassau, you pass by this lighthouse. It is an 1817 lighthouse that is still active.  In fact, as we pulled out on the ship that evening, we were able to watch the light.

(The night picture was terrible, but that's how things go...)


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Light and hope

It is the time of year when evening comes early and morning is dark. We yearn for the light, in more ways than one.

We think of the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah.  According to Martha at Reflectionary blog, Elizabeth is searching for a sign of hope in her barrenness.

How can we be light in the darkness?  How can we hope in barrenness?  What is our calling in the winter of people's lives?  How can God bring light and hope to others through us?

Perhaps in Advent, as we prepare the way for the coming of Christ, we can find ways to be the way Christ comes to others.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Free Gifts

This, from today's Friday Five at RevGalBlogPals:

So take a bit of time to think back over the last year and ponder the gifts it has offered to you, then list five of those gifts, in no particular order- there is only one rule- all of these gifts must have been free, neither you nor anyone else should have spent money on them!
Thinking back over this past year, here are five free gifts I have received, in no particular order:
  1. Watching my sons grow a year older....  I have noticed that they are changing, growing up, in many different ways.  It is a gift to watch that happen.
  2. The opportunity to lead a Walk to Emmaus
  3. The gift of time from friends.... In this busy world, it is a gift when others choose to spend time with us
  4. Gifts of encouragement and affirmation from family and friends.
  5. My husband's love.
There are many others.... I am truly blessed.  I'm not sure this was the purpose of this question, but this is what came to mind.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Living into our gratitude

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

How do I give thanks?

It is a trend right now to list an item for which one is thankful on Facebook -- one item each day.  There is nothing wrong with that, and listing our blessings can serve to create in us a thankful heart.

How is it, though, that we can live into our gratitude?

If we are grateful for the job we have, can doing it well be a form of gratitude?  If we are grateful for our church family, can serving God through opportunities at the church be a form of gratitude?  If we are grateful for our family, can spending time with them on Thanksgiving be a form of gratitude?

Steve was telling me about someone he knows who was fussing about calling the holiday "turkey day." This person said he was grateful to God for his blessings, and he wasn't going to take the Thanks out of Thanksgiving.  Is there a better way to show our gratitude than to fuss about small matters such as that?

How can we live into our gratitude?

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanking God for Thanksgiving

I've heard lots of people lately say that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday.   Has that always been the case?  Is there some kind of surge of support for the November holiday?

I wonder if Thanksgiving has increased in popularity because of the way Christmas continues to be an increasingly stressful experience.  There is so much to do, so many lists to check off, gifts to buy, wrap and display, decorations to assemble, cards to mail, meals to prepare ... and money that is required to make it all happen.  Have we reached the breaking point with Christmas?

Does, in comparison, Thanksgiving look appealing because of the lack of stress?  If that is the case, what do we need to do to bring back Christmas?


Monday, November 21, 2011


I'm still working my way through my notes from Bishop Carder's book, Living our Beliefs. Read this quote from Chapter 9:
The church is treated as another voluntary organization that people join as they do a civic club or a political party. Loyalty is measured by frequency of attendance, payment of pledges, service on committees and participation in activities. The church is considered to be something we belong to rather than someone we are. Membership and participation are viewed as optional, depending upon personal preferences and satisfaction. The church, then is seen as another institution among many institutions competing for our times, energy, and financial resources. Its distinctiveness as a called people of God committed to being a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s presence and power is lost amid institutional survival and personal satisfaction.

How do we measure the success of a church? Do we use the same criteria that we use to measure the success of a civic club? At Rotary today, we talked about a membership drive. The hope is that we can recruit 25 new members so that the club's vitality continues into the future. Do we have the same goal for the church? Do we recruit new members to maintain our budget? Our roles? Or do we have a higher calling?

Are we a choice among choices for financial giving, for volunteer services?

Or are we something else? Is church something outside of who we are, or is church something that we are?

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Faithful God

Today in Sunday school we read one of the lectionary readings for today:  Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24.  In it is an image of the shepherd and his sheep:
34:12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
We talked about how God, the shepherd, is looking for us.  Do we look for the shepherd?

Image being lost as a kid (Mike's comparison).  Did you feel that panic at being lost?  Did you look for your parents?  Do we look for God when we are the lost sheep?

And how do we know that God is faithful?  How do we know that God looks for us?

If I were to ask you that question - Is God faithful -- I imagine you would answer, "Yes."  But if someone asked you, "How do you know?" then how would you answer him?

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Feeling Forgiven?

What do you think about this quote from Bishop's Carder's book, Living our Beliefs?
One person said to me, “If you don’t feel forgiven and saved, you haven’t been.”  Or, behavior is often justified with a simple explanation, “It feels right.”  Feeling of certainty, optimism, excitement, serenity or “peace of mind” become of the goals and tests of religious devotion.  While valuing and affirming feelings and emotions, Methodism has never defined Christians discipleship as subjective feeling. 
Have you been forgiven?  Do you doubt the power of God's grace?  Haven't we heard the words of assurance that we have been forgiven?  Do we doubt those words?

And yet, I understand.  In my life, I have often sinned against God, against family, friends, people I don't even know, and people I love dearly.  I know that God forgives me, and I know that other people have forgiven me.  And even so, I still feel guilty; there are times when I do not feel forgiven.

Why would I ever think that my ability to feel forgiven has any bearing on another person (or God's) ability to forgive? 

There are those who have hurt me (or those I love) who I have forgiven, and they don't even know about my forgiveness, or even that I have been hurt.  The forgiveness is real, but it doesn't depend at all on someone else.

Feeling forgiven has nothing to do with being forgiven.  Feeling forgiven has to do with our own sense of guilt, and our relationship with other people and with God.  It's an issue we need to deal with, but it doesn't mitigate how much and how often we have been forgiven.  It certainly doesn't change the power of Christ's death and of God's grace.  We are forgiven

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Thursday, November 17, 2011


I taught Sunday school last Sunday.  Since it is stewardship "season," I decided to tackle the concept of stewardship.  I used some of the introductory material from Dan Dick's book Beyond Money.  He talks about the idea that the "so that" of discipleship is stewardship.  Discipleship is learning about God, creating a relationship with him, following in his footsteps, learning to live a life that is shaped by God.

Stewardship is putting all of that into action.  It's using our gifts and our talents, our time and energy, in the way God has taught us for the tasks God has given us.  Stewardship puts feet on discipelship.

And the other way around.  As we act as stewards, we learn more about God, follow him more closely, and come to be more Christ-like.... so that we can act more Christ-like.

Near the end of the lesson, a person in the class asked me, "I don't understand how anyone can call himself a disciple if he hasn't been born again."

I think "born again" might be one of those terms that has been corrupted, just like "stewardship" has.  I don't argue with the idea that we are and will be born again.  I just argue with the idea that it must be at one particular moment, with a blinding flash of light (metaphorically speaking).  We can be justified by God in a moment, in a month, in a year.  We are justified once and then again and again.  Daily, I must make the decision to follow God.  Daily, he provides the grace to create in me a new heart, justified. 

I am troubled by the judgement in the question, "Are you born again?"  Sometimes I feel as if my answer is requested so that my worthiness for God can be judged by the person answering the question, and I don't like that feeling.

God has brought me to the point where I can say, "yes" to him, and he continually moves me on to perfection.  I have nothing in it in which I can brag; it is the work of God.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011


A few years ago I co-taught a class based on Philip Yancey's book, What's So Amazing About Grace.  I remember as we talked in the class that there seemed to be a perception that grace = forgivness.  I'm not here to argue that; it certainly does mean that.  I think, however, that forgiveness is grace in the same way that a square is a rectangle.  There is so much more to grace.

I read this paragraph from Bishop Carder's book (Living our Beliefs):
According to Randy Maddox, Wesley was deeply concerned to hold together the two traditional emphases on grace.  The Eastern Church has historically placed the accent on grace as God’s healing, while the Western Church has emphasized pardon as the principal work of grace.  John Wesley incorporated both healing and pardon as inseparable expressions of divine grace.
Think about the idea of healing.  I think in this discussion healing is more than the restoration of health.  It's the restoration of the image of God in us.  It's the restoration of our relationship to God. 

Grace is love.  It's forgivness.  It's pardon.  It's healing.  It's restoration. 

It's grace.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

God's suffering

Yesterday, I wrote about the image of God, and how our relationship with God moves us closer and closer to reflecting the complete image of God.

Carder, in the next chapter of Living our Beliefs, talks about how sin is the opposite of this.  Sin is the reflection of something other than the image of God.  When we sin, we fall short of our potential -- short of what we were created to be.  If you look at yesterday's list, sin means that we fail in our ability to have understanding and free will, to be good stewards.  It means we fail to discern right from wrong and that we fail to be holy.  When we sin, our actions and thoughts reflect something other than the face of God.  We fail to be what we were created to be.

Now read this quote from the book:
The consequence of persistent denial and betrayal of the divine image is suffering – the suffering of God.  God so closely identifies with the human family that God assumes the suffering and death inflicted upon it.  The cross of Christ, then, represents sin’s tragic consequences upon humanity and upon God.
Have you ever thought of your sin as bringing about the suffering of God?  So often I think we believe that our sin doens't really hurt anyone else -- or at least we fool ourselves into believing that about certain of our sins.  But what about the idea that our sin brings suffering to God?

Of course, obviously, our sin brought about the suffering on the cross, but what about today?  Think about God suffering today because of your sin.  My sin.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Image of God

What do you think it means to be made in the image of God?
  • Does it mean we look like God?  I don't think so....
  • What do you think of the idea that men are made in the God's image, so obviously, God is male?  Kind of leaves me out in the dark.  I, too, am made in the image of God, so I don't think that image has anything to do with gender.
  • Does it somehow reflect in what we can do?  Our abilities?  I hope God has much much greater abilities than I do, so that can't be it?
  • What else?
Bishop Carder says in his book, Living our Beliefs:
Our identity lies in the One to whom we belong and in whose image we are made, nor in how we look, what we know, or what we can do.
He also said:

John Wesley saw imago Dei – image of God – in three manifestations:
  1. The natural image, in which the human capacity for understanding, freedom of will, and love are expressions of God’s image;
  2. The political image, in which human beings exercise stewardship over creation and share in God’s ongoing governance of the earth; and
  3. The moral image, in which the human potential for righteousness, true holiness, and happiness are signs of the divine image
So, our capacity for understanding, freedom of will and love are from God. Our ability to be good stewards is from God, and our ability to discern right from wrong, our holiness and happiness are from God.

One other quote from the chapter that I really liked:
In many ways, human identity is formed by relationships.  We take on the values, qualities, dreams and goals of those to whom we relate in significant and ongoing ways.
Because we relate to God, because we have a relationship with him, we move closer and closer to reflecting his image, and to being able to share in the imago Dei.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


The Parable of the talents comes between two other parables in Matthew 25 -- the parable of the bridesmaids and the story of the sheep and the goats. We had some discussion today in Sunday school about what the parable of the talents means.

Is it about risk? Is God calling us to leave a passive faith and pick up an active faith.

One person in Sunday asked what the master in the story would have said if the first servant had taken a risk and lost it all - all 10 talents. Is it correct and believable to say that the master would have been more pleased with that servant that with the one who did not risk at all.

Do our lives honor the Christ who risked everything for us?

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Friday, November 11, 2011

A Modern Parable

Inspired by Matthew 25:14-30 (The Parable of the talents)

One day, God was sitting in the parlor of the church with three of the church members.  God had been working with this group of three for many months, teaching them about himself, leading them in the work of his kingdom.  He had called them together for a meeting – these three disciples were very good United Methodists, and God knew that a meeting was what was necessary to get them organized.   He even had asked one of them to bring donuts and coffee, so that all of them would realize how serious he was.

He told them, “I will never leave you alone, but for the next couple of months, I have to go across town and work with another church.  While I’m gone, I want you to use what I have given you to do the work that I have taught you.”

All three of them agreed. 

To the first disciple, whose name was Peggy, God had given the gift of preaching.  Peggy worked very hard to spread the good news of grace, planning her sermons with care, praying for God’s leadership, and preaching with every ounce of talent she had. She preached at her church and she said yes when other churches asked her to preach.  God’s word was known through her.

To the second disciple, whose name was Stan, God had given the gift of service.  Stan’s heart burned with the need to help people.  He volunteered at the local food bank, he drove the van on Sundays so that the neighborhood children could come to Sunday school, he would surprise the older members of the congregation by mowing their lawns.  Stan tried to love people with a love like God had shown him, and even though at times he made mistakes, people in the community began to know the grace of God better through Stan’s service.

To the third disciple, whose name was Mark, God had given the gift of music.  Mark found great joy in singing.  He agreed to sing in worship one Sunday morning, but couldn’t decide which hymn would be best to present, so he delayed his offering for a week.  He tried to practice, but he worried that he would damage his voice by using it, so when the time came in worship for him to present his solo, his voice was timid and his song was unsure.  People squirmed in their seats, and felt sorry for Mark.  No one really paid attention to his message of grace.

Just in time for Christmas, God returned to the Church.  He called his disciples together for a Volunteer Luncheon, preparing for them three kinds of soup and pimento cheese sandwiches.  “So, tell me, my beloved, how has it been going?”

Peggy said, “Master, I have shared your good news using the gift you have given to me.  After several of the worship services I led, people would approach me and tell me stories of how your word had touched their hearts.  I am so thankful to have been able to do this.”

And God said, “Well done, my child.  Continue in your ministry.  Perhaps you shall soon hear my call to ordained ministry in the church.”

Stan’s report came next.  “Master, I have tried to spread your love throughout the community.  I have been blessed to see that as people are loved, they begin to love others around them.  In fact, one night I prepared a meal for the youth group, and I watched as they made plans to take the left-over baked chicken to the homeless shelter.  It is amazing to me how your love spreads through each of us.”

And God said, “Well done, my child.  Continue in your ministry.  I believe that soon you will be called to join others of my children on a mission trip.  And what about you, Mark?  How has it gone with you?”

Mark, who had sat without speaking throughout the meeting, said, “I know, Master, how precious this gift is that you have given to me, and I know how important your message is to the world.  I tried to use your gift to me, but I was afraid I would make a mistake.  I worried that I would proclaim your word incorrectly through my music, or that I would damage my voice if I used it too much.”

And God said, “You were right to believe that the gift I gave you is precious, and you were right to think that the message is important.  It is urgent that the message of my love is shared with those around you.  You were afraid because you chose to work without me, and because of that, you were alone.  You will continue to be alone until you turn and follow me.  Others will have to do the work you are too afraid to attempt.”

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Thursday, November 10, 2011


Thursday's devotional this week in the Upper Room Discplines book, contains the following quote (by Paul L. Escamilla:
"Ascending" to retreat, or in some other context, is a practice of both heightened expectation and surrender of expectation.  For two things, above all, are true when God's people gather in devotion:  God will grant mercy, and we know not how.
Anticipation.  Expectation.  When one goes on a Walk to Emmaus, one is advised "not to anticipate."  I've watched as participants feel that there expectations are not being met during the walk.  They have anticipated what their reaction will be, what will happen, etc, and they are disappointed.  Until God breaks through their anticipation with his grace.

How often do we do that?  How often are we surprised by God because we haven't anticipated what he will do?  Sometimes, I think, the surprise is grace in and of itself.  We just can't guess or understand how he will work in our lives. 

I like this quote, because I think it is good advice for how to live in relationship with God.  Expect his mercy, and realize that you can't anticipate how it will arrive.  Thanks be to God.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Tools for Discernment

Question from my Certified Lay Minister training material: Read “Our Theological Task,” Part II, Section 4, The Book of Discipline and Chapter 10, “Doctrinal Faithfulness and Continuing Exploration” from Bishop Carder’s book. Four “tools” – scripture, tradition, reason and experience – are proposed as a way of engaging in theological discussion for the twenty-first century while maintaining sound doctrine. Discuss these tools. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?

There is a somewhat trite saying expressed often on t-shirts and posters that reads, “God isn’t finished with me yet.” The saying has become trite and overused because it contains a grain of truth. God is still active in the world, and God desires us to be in mission with him. Since that is the case, we need a way by which to discern truth in a modern world. Wesley offers us a method that employs four tools for us to use in our attempt to discern the will of God and in our theological discussions: scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

“The primary source and criterion for determining doctrine and engaging in theological exploration is the Bible.” (3) Our Articles of Religion state that “the Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation….” This is an echo of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. It is necessary for us to undertake a serious study of the Bible, both individually and in community, so as to allow God’s grace to work through the Word. We do so taking care to interpret scripture in its many contexts, including historical, cultural and biblical. Citing a single passage in isolation can lead to dangerous misuse of the Word of God. According to Bishop Carder, “scripture does not yield its divine secrets carelessly or casually.”(3)

Because “the theological task does not start anew in each age or each person,”(4) we are instructed to recognize the role tradition can play in our theological explorations. It is important to use the light previous theological thought to illuminate our interpretation. The dangers in the use of this tool are an overreliance on tradition – allowing it to negate our own experience and reason as well as a reliance on a narrow traditional source instead of a broad range of interpretations.

Our use of experience is twofold. We are called to rely on our experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the confidence that we are becoming a new creation through God. Our relationship with God should aid us in discerning God’s will. Our life experience is the second facet of this tool that is important. We gain wisdom and understanding throughout our lives. The drawback of this tool is that we can elevate our personal experience above the guidance we receive from scripture, resulting in rationalization or distortions of God’s word.

As United Methodists we are called to bring reason into play. “The human mind is one of God’s most precious gifts and an important means of exploring, discerning and sharing God’s truth and mission.”(3) According to Wesley, religion and reason go hand in hand, and “an irrational religion is a false religion.”(3) As with any of the other tools for discerning God’s will, reason can be misused and abused.

3 - Carder, Kenneth L., Living our Beliefs, Chapter 10 (Doctrinal Faithfulness and Continuing Exploration).
4 - The Book of Discipline, Part II: Doctrinal Standards and our Theological Task, Section 4: Our Theological Task.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Bowl's Purpose

A potter works with a lump of clay. She molds the shapeless form into a form that can be placed strategically in the middle of the bat, and then she begins to turn the wheel. Her hands expertly find the center of the ball of clay -- that point at which the friction of the clay in her hands is reduced. Here, she begins the process of skillfully opening up the clay to her hands, widening the bowl, beginning the formation of the finished product.

Her hands caress the clay, continuing to shape and mold the raw material into the object she dreams it will be. Once the bowl is before her, justified in her mind, she removes it from the bat and takes it through a process to harden the clay into pottery.

Glazes and paints complete the dream.

And then the test. She pours water into the bowl. What if it doesn't function as a bowl should? What if it leaks? What if it disintegrates? What if it doesn't fulfill the purpose for which is was made?

In Carder's book, Living our Faith, he says:

The Methodist emphasis upon “practical divinity” or holy living, therefore, recognizes the integral relationship between beliefs and behavior, faith and works. It is not a diminishing of the importance of beliefs; rather, it is a declaration of the importance of beliefs in shaping who we are and our relationship with God and the world. (p27)

There is a relationship between being shaped by grace and the works to which we are called. Our works do not earn us grace, but grace prepares us for works. If there are no works, then have we allowed grace to do its job?

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Monday, November 07, 2011

My Territory

A few years ago a book came out based on the Prayer of Jabez:
Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!’ And God granted what he asked.   I Chronicles 4:10
Enlarge my territory.  At first reading, this phrase always bothered me.  I know there are ways to interpret the passage that don't make it sound like a prayer for MORE MORE MORE, but still.

On Sunday, Joe mentioned this prayer, but he made a change.  What if we were to pray, "Inhabit my territory"?  Inhabit my heart, my life, my words, my actions.  Inhabit all that I am. 
Then, the prayer can become "enlarge my territory."  If God will inhabit who and what we are, then expanding the reach of God becomes the goal of the prayer.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011


We were driving by the Civic Center the other day and noticed lots of teenagers in line for a concert.  They were all dressed in black.  I said to Steve, "They are hoping to look different from everyone else, but they all look the same."

Do we have a goal of being normal?  What is normal?  And is it such a great goal to have?

Joe's sermon today talked about how the the Greatest Commandment calls us to love God with everything we have and everything we are.  He said that isn't really normal -- normal would be to love God, yes, but not with everything.

Christianity is radical, not normal.

And then Joe said what I thought was the most profound sentence of his sermon.  "If Jesus had been normal, they wouldn't have crucified him."


Saturday, November 05, 2011

Shaka, when the walls fell

There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Captain Picard is trying to communicate with a species that only speaks in images.  Metaphor.  Historical myths.  In order to understand them, one must have a background in the stories that form the basis of their language.

It started me thinking.  What would our communication be like if we only spoke in metaphor and images?  For instance:

In West Virginia --
  • Devil Anse and his neighbors
  • The football team, dead in a field
  • Buffalo Creek dam, broken.
In our country --
  • Native Americans on a trail of tears
  • Independence, declared
  • A railroad underground
  • December 7, 1942
  • Two towers falling
If I made a list like this for a country or a world you didn't know, you wouldn't understand what I was saying, but if you are part of the culture from which they arose, the phrases mean so much more to you that just words.

The same is true of our faith --
  • A woman with a tent peg, standing over a commander
  • Two in a garden
  • Isaiah and a coal
  • Daniel and the lion's den
  • The virgin and the angel
  • Jesus on a cross
  • Saul, blind on the road
  • John, revealing God's love
Read those phrases as if you have never seen them before, and remember that we are called to spread the news, not just to those who already know about it and are part of the faith from which the stories arose.  If we speak these phrases to those we are called to convince, to those outside of the faith, they will not understand.

So what do we do instead?  I wonder if the place to start is with our own faith story.  Can you tell the story of how God has encountered you on the road and opened your eyes?  Can you tell of an instance when you were made clean through God touch on your lips with fire?  Is there a time in your life when you took a step of faith, only because God called you to do it?  Can you relate to someone else how God has saved your life through the death and resurrection of his son? 

Can you tell your own faith story to someone who only would understand your language, and not the language of our faith?

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Friday, November 04, 2011


Part of my training for CLM asked me to discuss the idea of the Connection based on a reading of the Constitution and part of the Book of Discipline:

We are one universal church, “a community of all true believers under the Lordship of Christ.”1  We are one Body of Christ, and from that belief stems our connection.  “The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world, and its very dividedness is a hindrance to its mission in that world.”1

The Book of Discipline defines the connection as “a vital web of interactive relationships….”2  It is part of our identity as United Methodist, and it is a tangible outgrowth of our belief in the Body of Christ.

The connection is experienced in almost every aspect of our organization, including clergy service, property ownership, and our organization for mission.  The United Methodist Church is organized in a manner to take advantage of our connected nature.  Our connection serves three purposes: (1) to enable a more effective method to carry out God’s mission in the world, (2) to organize the whole Church for the benefit of ministry in the local church and (3) to allow for the administration (connection) of the whole church to be faithful to our calling.2

For me, being a Connectional Church means that when I offer a presentation or a sermon at a church other than my own, I am still in my church.  It means that when there is a tornado in Kansas or a hurricane in Florida, I am there because my church is there, acting through UMCOR.  When there is a shooting at Virginia Tech, I am there, because the Wesley Foundation is there.  When my local church feeds 150 people on a Thursday, the entire United Methodist Church is there.  We are a Body of Christ, connected.

1.       Preamble of the Constitution of the United Methodist Church.
2.      The Book of Discipline, Administrative Order.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

People of the Red Cord

When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb.  While she was in labour, one put out a hand; and the midwife took and bound on his hand a crimson thread, saying, ‘This one came out first.’ But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother; and she said, ‘What a breach you have made for yourself!’ Therefore he was named Perez. Afterwards his brother came out with the crimson thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah.  Genesis 38:27-30
In the story, the first bay to appear during the birth has a crimson cord tied on his hand, but his brother is born first, and is given the name Perez, which means "a breach."

A breach can be an infraction of a law, a break in something, like a barrier or a relationship, or a gap.

So why was he named "breach"? Did he break with tradition? Did his birth foretell a broken relationship with his brother? Did he break through expectations?

And where else have you seen a scarlet cord in the Bible?   Remember the story of Rahab?   The Israelite spies gave her a scarlet cord to mark her home so that no one would hurt her when they conquered the city.

I'm reading Reading the Women of the Bible by Tivka Frymer-Kensky. She calls Rahab a "barrier-breaker" and says that the red cord places her in the company of David's ancestors.

Rahab was an outsider. To the Israelites, she was a foreigner. To the Canaanites and the Israelites, she was a woman and a harlot (if I use the real word, I'll trigger some unwanted search engine results). In everyone's eyes, she was outside of desired company. And yet, she has a large role to play in the keeping of God's promise to the Israelites. She helps to bring them into the promised land. Even God, who has told them to destroy everything; leave nothing that could contaminate the fledgling nation, seems OK that Rahab and her family are saved.

She has a faith in God, and that seems to be her motivator. She believes that God will conquer Jericho, and she works a deal to keep her family safe. She keeps the two spies safe. She does the unexpected, doesn't she? And she becomes an agent of God's desired plan because of her barrier-breaking.

Should we be people of the red cord? Should we be barrier-breakers? And should we be more aware of the likelihood that God will use "outsiders" to do his will?

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The True Beast

The following is a quote from the book A Horse and his Boy by C.S. Lewis. It is spoken by Aslam:
"Now Bree," he said, "you poor, proud frightened Horse, draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast."
There was a question in the comments yesterday about the phrase I used as an inspiration for the post. It was from the above book, and here it is quoted correctly.

Do we dare to move closer to God? Do we dare not to more closer? Do we realize that the closer we move to God, the more we will come to realize that he is God? From far away, we can fool ourselves into believing that we can put God in a box, that we can talk ourselves out of faith, that we can limit his power. But the closer we get, the more we come to understand that he is "a true Beast," as Aslam says.

Do we dare to have our faith strengthened by that understanding? What difference will it make in our lives? Do we dare? Or do we dare not to?


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Dare not to dare not.

 I was reading this weekend and came upon this phrase -- You dare not to not dare.  Sometimes faith requires that you step out, ad we dare not to dare not step out.

Service exists in the place God calls us to.  We dare not go.