Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yellow Flowers


Friday, September 28, 2012

Weeds and Wheat

I was reading a sermon today by Barbara Brown Taylor based on the parable found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.  In this passage of Matthew, Jesus tells a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven with a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while he was sleeping, weeds began to grow among the wheat.  His servants ask him if he wants them to go weed the field, removing the bad plants.  The man tells them to leave the good and bad plants alone.  He worries that in "gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them."

Taylor says the plant that is named in the bible is darnel -- Lolium temulentum It is a plant related to wheat, that looks like wheat, but is actually poisonous if the black seeds end up in the bread produced. Usually, it was weeded out so that after the reaping, the brown wheat and the black darnel didn't have to be separated.

I've never really noticed the idea that the man tells the servants not to weed the field.  You would think, if the weed is poisonous in the end product, that the risk of picking a little wheat when the servants get rid of the weeds would be worth it.  Apparently, though, for the owner of the field, the risk is too great. 

Does it speak to us today?  Does it remind us that we are not so great at telling wheat from weed -- sinner from saint?  Does it remind us that our job is not to worry about telling the difference?  We are not to judge. 

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Fog to me echoes mystery.  It is as if the clouds are masking some part of the landscape from view. 

Isn't faith like that sometimes?  I believe there are parts of our faith -- our belief system -- that we just cannot understand.

What is God like?  What will heaven be like?  How can the son be both human and divine?  How can the creator, the son and the Holy Spirit be one God?  How can God know every inch of me when I am one of billions?  How does he hear all of our prayers?


The scriptures, the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament seek to answer those questions, but can't do it.  These are mysteries beyond our understand.  Jesus can say, "The kingdom of God is like ...," and we can seek to grasp the comparison, but we will not get it.

We see through a mirror darkly.  Mystery. Fog.

So, we must be careful.  We must never assume that we've "got" it.  We can't stand on our "high horses" and judge others, because we don't get it, either.  We just can't. 

It's God.  It's beyond us.  Mystery.

The grace of it is it doesn't matter.  God loves us.


Sunday, September 23, 2012


At our staff meeting devotional last week, JtM read a passage about faith. It said that faith is gate, goal and bedrock.

Think about that. Faith is the gate. It is how we enter the kingdom of God. It is the gate to becoming a part of the body of Christ. How else is faith a gate?

Faith is the goal. Does faith come to us complete? I don't think so. We begin our faith journeys through prevenient grace, with God leading us to faith. God matures our faith through sanctification. Faith is the goal.

Isn't it interesting that faith is both the gate and the goal? It is the way and it is where we are going.

Faith is the bedrock. It is the ground upon which we stand. It is the firm support for our lives.

Faith -- gate, goal and bedrock. The way, the truth and the life.


He takes away

At the Emmaus Gathering on Friday, we sang the song Blessed be Your Name."  It's a song that Matt Redman sings.  I like it alot, and enjoyed singing it, until we got to the bridge.  The bridge has always bothered me.

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

"You give and take away."  I've never liked that line.  It reminds of of some people's belief that God brings pain and suffering to us -- he takes away.  So as we would get to that line, I would stop singing.

But last night, as I was listening, I was thinking.  Can I trust God?  Can I trust that if he takes something away, it is in my best interest?  That he doesn't take away to cause pain?  Can I believe what I've told people is my belief?

And then I started singing.  And as I kept singing, I thought of all the things God does take away.  He takes away sin, pain, hatred. He takes away those things that keep us apart.  He takes away our unbelief.  He takes away our fears, if we will let him.

You give and take away.
You give and take away.
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be your name.



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Peppermint Flower


Thursday, September 20, 2012

God's Favor

Does God favor you?  What are the signs of God's favor?  Is it your health?  Your wealth?  Your job?  Your home?

I'm not sure any of those are signs of God's favor.

I think God favors all of us.  The signs of his favor include his presence and the awareness of his presence.  One of sanctifying grace and the other is prevenient grace.  We realize we are in God's favor when we experience love.  When we feel the warmth of God's sun on our face.  When we experience those moments of worship when we are absolutely sure of God's existence and his love for us.

What are the signs of God's favor in your life?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012



Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I was taking our new camera for a walk in the park a week or so ago.  I was trying to get a picture of a squirrel.  As I was standing there, a dog ran by, greyhound-speed, chasing a squirrel up a tree.  I snapped the picture.  I was working on manual settings, so, with no thought, the exposure was terrible.

I'm also working on learning Photoshop Express, so the dog and squirrel became a project. 

We are God's project.  He can see the value behind the dark light and the dim views. 


Monday, September 17, 2012

Not racing

I was reading Facebook today, and ran across a story about the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. Katherine Switzer signed up to run, at a time when only men were allowed to participate in the race -- in 1967.  She signed the entry form with her initials, so no one knew her gender. 

During the race, a race organizer chased her down and tried to take her number away, trying to expel her from the race.  You can watch an interesting video of her at this link (it's short). 

It was beleived that if women were to run in a marathon, they would lose their femininity.  I think we believe we are far away from attitudes like that, but we have only taken baby steps.  I'm grateful for the progress that has been made, and try to remain vigilant to keep the wheels turning.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Picking up a Cross

The scripture for today was from Mark, and concerned picking up your cross.  Joe's mediation for the day asked us to consider this:

In the past, in Jesus time, and when the gospel was written, picking up a cross meant something -- it meant that being a Christian -- declaring oneself to be a follower of Christ -- could mean death or torture.

We forget that the cross was a means of execution. 

We, when we declare ourselves a Christian, don't expect death.  What do we expect?  Do we expect risk?  Do we take risks because we are Christan?

What is Christ calling you to risk?  Where do you need to step out in faith?  What cross are you willing to risk for Christ?

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Potentially Dangerous

New River as seen from Grandview State Park

This evening, an asteroid is passing within 7 lunar distances of earth, traveling at about 30,000 miles per hour. It's the size of a 14 story building. It's named "Potentially Hazardous Asteroid 2012 QG42." Catchy name, right?

One of the interesting things about it is that it was only discovered as an object in the sky on August 26.  In other words, we've only known about it for 18 days.  The object will miss earth, but as you can tell by its name, it is potentially dangerous.  And I find it interesting that we have only known about it for a couple of weeks, which is less than the blink of the eye, cosmically.

Isn't life like that sometimes?  We are moving along with our lives when all of a sudden, with no warning, life turns upside down.  It's amazing to me how quickly it can happen.  We have not time to get ready or prepare.  Life just changes.

The thing is, though, that we do have time to prepare.  Now.  It is during the times that are not a crisis when we can move closer to God, closer to each other, so that when those potentially dangerous turns in life happen, we are prepared.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Young People

At the Convocation I recently attended, there were several comments about "young people" including:
  1. Young people need images in order to learn because of the technology they use.
  2. Young people have short attention spans.
Based on these "observations," in order to reach young people in church, one must use visuals and keep them entertained.

I don't agree with this.  I think about my two sons.  If they are engaged, they have very long attention spans.  They are more sophisticated than perhaps older people were at their age -- they have heard good speakers, and they expect good speakers.  They know about technology, so perhaps they get impatient when it is used poorly.

I wonder if the better assumptions are that we must do worship better.  I wonder if we use the "small attention span" and "must use visuals" as excuses.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Park Benches

I attended our church's Convocation today.  Dr. Tom Long from Candler was leading a day long session about preaching. 

He talked about how some people experience a sermon as a series of isolated episodes -- park benches.  Sometimes they find one that interests them, and they sit down a while and explore it.  Other people experience a sermon as a series of thoughts leading to a conclusion. 

One of the goals of a preacher is to try to teach listeners to follow the complete line of thought, all the way to the end, rather than taking breaks along the way.

Are then benefits to park benches?  Is it sometimes good to take a break during a sermon and wander off to explore our own thoughts?  I can see how God would work through both of these experiences.


Sunday, September 09, 2012


I have no idea if the caterpillar in the upper picture will eventually be a butterfly like the one in the lower picture.  I took the two pictures, both near the New River, but one day apart. 

Both are beautiful creatures in their own way.  The caterpillar has potential that isn't obvious.  One day, if all goes well, it will be transformed.

So will we.  Our potential is not always obvious.  There will be an ultimate transformation, but along the way, during our lives, God can transform us.  He can use us as agents of transformation. 

Glory be to God. 


Friday, September 07, 2012

Risking Failure

We brought a new camera last week.  It's a Nikon d5100.  With the camera I used before (which has now gone off to college with our son to be his equipment for his photography class), I relied on the Program button to take pictures.

Since we brought this camera, I've been doing some reading. I've been using the camera's manual setting, choosing aperture size and shutter speed. This rose image was taken using the manual setting.

I've never really tried that before.  Are there things we don't try because we fear failure?  Even though I like this image, there were lots I took that I didn't like.  Even so, I'm doing it, and I am learning more and more. 

Stepping out to do something new risks failure, but the rewards might be worth it.


Thursday, September 06, 2012

Home, Part 6

End of sermon from John 6, "Home."

It is a Eucharistic moment. God, through his son, is offering us everything.  He came to abide with us, leaving his home so that we could find our home.  He became human, dwelling among us, offering us the choice of abiding with him – coming home.
Next week, when you celebrate communion together, remember this passage.  Remember that Christ has opened the door, is offering you the bread of life, so that you can enter a relationship with him.  Remember, when you offer words of confession, all of the times you have stood at the doorway to home and chosen to turn away.  Remember, as the bread is broken and the cup is lifted in thanksgiving, that Christ is offering you a homecoming.  Remember that Christ is the bread of life – everything you need.  He took on flesh and lived among us, abiding with us.  He died for you, so that this door offered would be open to you.  He rose again, and lives with you through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Next week, when you celebrate communion, do it in remembrance of all that has been done for you and all that is offered you.  Take the bread, take the juice, and come home.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Home, Part V

The passage goes on to say, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’” In verse 66, many of the disciples – not the twelve, but others who had been following Jesus – turned back, and no longer went about with him. The word that is translated as difficult doesn’t mean “hard to understand.” It means “hard to accept.” Why is that? Think back to the beginning of the chapter. The crowds had been fed – thousands had seen the miracle two loaves and five fish feeding everyone. Why, when they are standing on the threshold of home, do they turn away? Why do we?

Amy Howe, in the book Feasting on the Word, says this:
We prefer religion to God. We, like the disciples, are offended by Jesus’ offer of spirit and life. We feel good about serving in the soup kitchen, but we refuse to forgive our pew mate for his addiction. We feel righteous when we teach Sunday school, but we are annoyed by the coos of the baby in worship. We make religion about the rules because we can control the rules.”

Our call from God is radical. It’s an “I surrender all” kind of call. It touches everything about our lives – how we spend our time, our money, our gifts. When God abides in us, everything changes. We change. And we resist that change.

We, too, stand on the threshold, and we back away.

At the end of the passage, in verse 67, Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Maybe he remembered the miraculous feeding of the 5000. Maybe he was picturing the baskets of bread he and the other disciples collected – leftovers of abundant grace. Maybe he was remembering an encounter with the divine on the water, but at that particular moment, he can’t deny what we try to ignore. Our home is with God. There is nowhere else we can go. We yearn for that place.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Home, Part IV

Part IV of sermon, Home

Have you ever felt homesick?  Have you ever been on a trip, or working hard away from home, or even when your family is gone, and you are alone at your house – have you felt homesickness?  That yearning to be where you belong? 

The first year my son went to college, he called home every day.  He was fine – he sounded fine – but he surprised me by needing to speak with us every day – to tell us about what was going on.  I was so used to him only calling me when he needed permission or money or transportation, that when he called home that first Saturday, my first instinct was to think, “What does he need?”  What he needed was just to talk, and we talked for an hour about school.  In a way, he was homesick.  When we move far away from God, or maybe even before we come close to God, we are homesick.  We yearn for what can complete us – fill us.  I think in this passage from John, Jesus is telling us that what we yearn for is a relationship with God – we yearn to abide in Jesus – abide in God.

Listen to how the Psalmist says it, in Psalm 84:
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!

My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.


Sunday, September 02, 2012

Home, Part 3

Part 3 of my sermon
What does it mean to abide?

There are a lot of dictionary definitions.  It can mean to tolerate – we usually hear it in the negative, as in, “I can’t abide people who are judgmental.”  It can mean to wait – as in biding one’s time.  It can even mean conform, as in “I will abide by the rules.” 

None of that seems to fit.  In this case, I think it is more related to the definition of “to remain.” 

The best metaphor for abide I’ve ever heard involved a sponge and a bowl of water.  Think of a sponge – dry and hard.  The sponge is placed in the bowl of water.  The sponge is now abiding in the bowl of water – completely surrounded, covered.  We abide in God. 

But the water soaks into the sponge.  The sponge is transformed into something that is full of water.  God abides in us – fills us, changes us. 

Abide is about relationship.  It is about presence.  Think of a word that is related to abide – the word abode.  It means home.  This place – this relationship – this dwelling with Christ – living in the presence of God, and God living in us – this is home.  This is where we are meant to be.