Friday, November 30, 2012

Salvation Story

Seven years ago yesterday I started this blog.  I don't have anything monumental to say about seven years of blogging except that in some ways that feels like a long time, and in others it doesn't.  I feel as if I have been doing this forever, and yet it is hard to believe it has been seven years. 

Thank you to those of you who are out there who keep reading.  Blessings.

I'm just beginning The Meaning is in the Waiting by Paula Gooder.  I imagine over the next few weeks I'll be writing alot about waiting. 

In the introduction she mentions that one of the difficulties of Advent is that we feel as if we are waiting for something that has already happened.  Christ has come.  Christmas (the first Christmas) has come and gone, and yet we spend December waiting for it. 

Gooder encourages the reader to think about time and the Bible in a different way.  As we think about God's salvation work in the world, we are tempted to think about individual events -- creation, Noah, Abraham (blessed to be a blessings), Jesus, Paul -- the list of individuals and individual events can go on and one.  Instead, she says, think of it all as one big event.  God at God's salvation work.  Then, creation and the work of a prophet become part of one purpose -- layers of an onion (my own week analogy).

With that in mind, read this quote from the introduction:

...the Gospel writers are standing in this same tradition of biblical salvation history that sees Jesus' presence on earth as yet one more -- even more wonderful -- example of God's intervention in the world.  Thus Jesus' presence is creation, Exodus, return from exile (and much more), all rolled into the one glorious snowball of salvation.

I remember when I was working my way through the Bethel Bible series.  At the end of two years of study, one of the revelations to me was the view of the Bible not as a series of perhaps unconnected books, but one book -- the story of God's work of saving the world.

What does that mean for us?  We aren't waiting for something that has already happened.  We stand here in the midst of it -- we stand here waiting for what happens next in God's salvation work, hoping to be allowed to take part.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

You Can't Handle the Truth

On Sunday, Joe based his sermon on John 18:33-37. The last line of that passage is this: "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

He compared the idea of "belonging" to the truth and following the truth or knowing the truth. Belonging to the truth has an inescapable nature to it. If we belong to the truth, the truth will pursue us, never letting us go. Even when we turn away from the truth, we still belong to the truth.

I am the way, the truth and the life.

As Joe told the children about belonging to the truth in the Children's moment, my older son wrote something on a piece of paper and then turned around and showed it to me. It said, "You can't handle the truth!" He meant it as a joke; it's the famous line from the movie A Few Good Men.

You can't handle the truth.

In the movie it means that we don't want to accept the truth; we aren't prepared for it; we would rather not hear it. But as I think about it, I think it has another implication, one that Grant didn't mean in his joke. We can't handle the truth. We can't control God. We can't manipulate him or trick him. All of our regular "tools" of handling something -- of maintaining control of our lives -- don't work with God.

We can't handle the truth. And that is another frustrating part about waiting. We aren't in control. We wait upon the Lord.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advent 1 Lectionary Resources

I'm playing around with writing for worship and the lectionary.  The following are based on the Lectionary Readings for the First Sunday in Advent.
Call to Worship: Jeremiah 33:14-16

Leader: The day is surely coming when God’s promises will be fulfilled.
People: The Lord is our righteousness.
Leader: In this day, in this hour, let us lift up our voices in praise and worship.
People: The Lord is our righteousness
All: And God’s promises have been fulfilled.

Collect: Luke 21:25-36

Almighty God, who breathes life into us even though we were created from dust, keep us ever watchful for your presence and guidance so that we may recognize that your kingdom is near; through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Prayer:  Psalm 25:1-7

In you, O God, I place my trust.
Keep me in your care.
Keep me in your presence.

At times the world feels like it is full of enemies.
At times I feel as if the world schemes against me.
In you, O God, I place my trust.

Draw me close.
Open my eyes to your nature.
Show me which way to go.

Lead me in your truth.
Teach me your ways.
In you, O God, I find my salvation.
In you, O God, I place my trust.

Remind me each day of who you are.
Let me not forget your love and compassion.
May who you are be remembered in who I am.

I confess that I have not loved you.
That I have not followed you.
Forgive my sins.
Erase my errors.
See me with your eyes of love.
Cover me with your goodness.
In you, O God, I place my trust.

Benediction: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

May the Lord whose very nature is love, increase your love for each other and for the world.
May the Lord who is holiness itself increase your holiness so that you may be blameless.
And may you step out into the world as a beacon of faith and hope.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

To Wait -- Hannah

1 Samuel 1:17

The night was still thick and heavy
across the land. 
The sun was only a hoped for light.
Hannah couldn't sleep.
She traveled with her husband.
They were returning home.

In the darkness, she touched flame
to kindling,
encouraging the fire to burn again
in the dark.

Her life had been hopeless, empty,
but now, the spark of Eli's words
burned small and tiny in her mind.
"Go in peace,
God will grant your petition."

She blew gently on the flame
to keep it alive,
as she prayed for the hope within her
to continue to burn.

Was it better, to wait now in the midst of hope,
fearful that the hope would die within her?
Or was the security of hopelessness better,
without the fear of loss?
She blew the gentle breath of prayer on the flame within her.
"Please, God..."

To wait.  To hope. To fear.
To fear even to believe.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Goals for Advent

Standing on Coopers' Rock

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  Mine was restful and peaceful, followed by much cleaning and re-organizing.

Advent is the beginning of a new year.  A new liturgical year.  I feel as if I have follow out of many of the habits I find fruitful, spiritually.  My commitment today, near the beginning of Advent, is to pick them back up.

1.  Daily devotionals
2.  Spiritual reading
3.  Daily prayer.

I think that by picking these up again, I will, once again, enjoy their fruit, which includes most importantly, a closer relationship to God.

Another result will be, I hope, more frequent and better written blog posts. 

Today's question in the devotional I read was, "As you move toward Advent, where will you find your space for self-examination and for mixed emotions?"  (Disciplines 2012)  My goal, as I move toward Advent, is to find the space for spiritual discipline.  I think if I can do that, much of the rest will take care of itself.

By the way, if you are looking for an Advent devotional, emailed to your inbox, our church produces one.  You can find it at 


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation; This is my resting-place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it.  Psalm 132:13-14
Where does the Lord dwell?  Are there places where we feel his presence more keenly?  Is that "sacred" place really a place where God dwells more often or is it a place of memory of God's presence? 

In other words, are there places where God chooses to dwell, and we notice him there, or do we notice God more often at places where we have found him before?

I knit.  I was at the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference this summer and sat behind a woman who was knitting.  I asked her about it, and she told me it was a prayer shawl.  We were there during worship, so I said, "I know this sounds strange, but I feel like when I knit in worship that I'm knitting into my project the praise and power of the feeling of worship -- I'm knitting in the worship."

She agreed with me.  She also told me that a friend of hers was knitting a prayer shawl during a contentious meeting at her church.  After it was over, the friend unknit the portion that had been completed during the knitting because she didn't want the anger and fighting to be part of her completed shawl. 

I get that.  I also know that the knitted project is just yarn and that worship and anger can't be knitted into it.  Even so, I know that when I pick up a pair of socks I knitted on vacation, that I remember the vacation -- the relaxation, the company.  The object triggers the memories.

Is it the same with a location?  Can the memories of an encounter with God inhabit a location so much that we believe God dwells in that place?  Does God make himself known more often in a certain place because he knows we are listening more in that place?

What makes a place sacred?

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Better than a Hallelujah

Road to Cooper's Rock

In reading a devotional today, I read a quote by Rodger Y. Nishioka.  He tells us that we have a foundational security that buildings are not supposed to collapse, floods are not supposed to happen and the earth is not supposed to shake, but as we live our lives, we come to know that that foundational security is not true.  We know floods happen, that the earth quakes and that buildings fall.  People die.  Friends leave. 

When that happens, we wonder about the ways of God.  We ask questions.  We doubt.  We struggle. 

I remember a pastor telling a story about his roommate who would yell at God at times like this.  Don't you think God can take it?  Don't you believe that God would rather hear your struggle, for in that struggle with God is the recognition that God exists.  It is a function of relationship to seek answers.  It strengthens who we are and it strengthens our connection to our creator. 

As the song goes, it's better than a hallelujah.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Love builds

Last Sunday, Monty, who preached for our consecration Sunday, used this verse to focus some of the message:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.1 Corinthians 15:58
He explained that work done in love, here, plants seeds in heaven. 

Consider that for a moment.  We often wonder if the love we share -- the work we do -- has any impact at all.  There are times we are gifted to know the effects of what we do, but there are times when it seems as if no good has come of hard work.  We lack the hope to believe that what we cannot see even exists.

And yet, we are kingdom workers.  The care given to someone today has an effect in heaven.  Has an effect in the Kingdom of God, which is now and not yet. 

Staggering when you think about it.  Love builds. 

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Pedestal Problems

One of the lectionary readings for this week is Mark 12:38-44 which includes the story of the widow's mite. She, who has very little, gives much. I bring today two quotes from Emilie Townes in Daily Feast:
Sacrifice is a dangerous notion. It is dangerous because we often ask those who are the most vulnerable to give the most.
At times, it seems that sacrifice is best when someone else is doing it. We marvel at such figures as Mother Teresa....We lift them high on the pedestal with the poor widow, keeping them distinct and distant from our daily lives. The focus is on their giving and the inadequacy of ours -- but nothing changes. This is one of the problems of things we put on pedestals. We do not imagine ourselves alongside them because what they represent for us is often more than we can give or more than we can imagine we are capable of giving.
Is the story about the widow being a model of giving? Or is it more about our inadequacy of giving? Do we put the widow on the pedestal, comparing our giving to hers and coming up short, but never imagining we could do any differently?

A pastor I heard preach once said that the story isn't a model of giving. Why is the widow expected to give at all? She is so very much in need of help from those around her who are watching her give. Why aren't they working to change her life circumstances? Why have we placed her on a pedestal when we should be giving to help her? Reaching out to her?

What is the story really about? What does it mean to you and me?

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Who goes to heaven?

Someone told me the other day that the idea that everyone would go to heaven was sad.  She thought the idea made her life futile.

This is what I believe.  Everyone is a beloved child of God.  His ultimate plan, I think, is that everyone would join him in the Kingdom of God.  Far from it being sad that everyone would end up in heaven, it would actually be a time of rejoicing, as God's purpose and love for the world would be somewhat fulfilled.


Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Have you thought about how important it is to listen?  I had an experience today with a doctor who did not listen.  He was trying to take a history, but he didn't listen to the answers to any of the questions he asked, he didn't listen to any thoughts that were volunteered.  He just didn't listen.  He acted as if he did not have the time.

Listening is a form of agape love.  When we listen -- really listen to someone, we say to that person that their words are important enough to matter -- to make a difference.  We say to them, though our active listening, that they themselves matter. 

We matter to God.  We should matter to each other.  We should matter enough to each other that we will listen to each other.  Who knows what we might discover.

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Friday, November 02, 2012



I mentioned a couple of days ago that I would post images of my office.  It's a little bit messy, but not too bad.  We've been, and remain, happily busy.

One of the lectionary readings for the week is Psalm 146.  It is a Psalm of praise.

I was reading a devotional out of Daily Feasting, and read this quote by Louis Stulman:
At its core the psalm is a meditation on what it means to praise God throughout life.  it addresses sustaining life commitments that shape attitude, behavior, worldview, and character; in other words, it attends to the building blocks of spirituality.
And then this one by the same author:
Accordingly, praise is more than an isolated act that takes place quickly and over a very short time.  It is durative and continuous, and envelops the continuum of life.  To be sure, praise of God is a fundamental commitment of life, no less essential to the faithful than oxygen is to the lungs.
That brought to mind a part of the training for CLM I read last year.  In the Worship module, it says:
If prayer is the primary means of Christan worship, the praise of our Triune God is one of the primary forms our praying takes.  Our praise of God is not flattery.  We do not praise God to gain something for ourselves,  neither is our praise simply a cathartic outpouring of positive emotion.  Rather, praise is our fully mindful and fully embodied response to our own and the world's experience of the presence and goodness of God.
I don't remember where I heard this or who said it, but I was in a meeting with a pastor (not mine), overhearing a conversation.  He said (something like), "They asked me if we could have a praise band.  I said yes, if we can also have a lamentation band."

So, some questions for our consideration.  I know "praise band" has come to mean a musical group that specializes in contemporary music.  Shouldn't all of our music praise God?  If you read the third quote, then you'll see that I don't mean that all of our music should be an outpouring of positive emotion, but couldn't all worshipful music be thought of as music that reflects our experience with the presence and goodness of God? 

And following that same thought (sort of), if praise is not the outpouring of positive emotion, then shouldn't our music, just like the scriptural psalms, reflect the whole range of our experiences with God, including the lamentations?  And can't lamentations be an expression of the our experience of the presence and goodness of God?  And if the definitions above are correct, then in some ways, couldn't lamentation be considered praise? (We wouldn't need a second band for that.)

Isn't the Sanctuary Choir, singing its traditional music, a praise band?  And isn't the trumpet voluntary at the end of a majestic hymn sounds of praise?  Why do we, in mainline, traditional churches, shy away from the word praise?  Isn't it our main purpose in worship?  And in the same vein, those who say that only contemporary music (and only contemporary music) is praise music are probably wrong.  As wrong as those who shy away from the "praise band."

We should all be praising God.

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Thursday, November 01, 2012


While we were in Sacramento, we visited the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.  It was beautiful -- very ornate. 

Can you see the crucifix in the middle of the room with the circle above it?  The circle is engraved with a scripture from 2 Corinthians. It says, "This is my body that is for you."

As we sat there, I was bothered.  It's a Catholic cathedral, and I knew that I wouldn't be welcomed there to take communion.  I was made even more grateful for the United Methodist belief in an open table --Christ's table, open for everyone.  I didn't like the idea of being excluded from it.

At one of the seminars the next day, the professor talked about the necessity of bread to have a home.  That, in my mind, seemed to be related to my feelings of the day before.

I always feel welcomed in church -- as if I am home, and I didn't like the feeling of being excluded.  How do we -- how do I -- make others feel excluded in the household of God?

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