Wednesday, July 31, 2013


This really isn't a great picture -- in fact it is probably a less than mediocre image.  I took it because as I was watching the ducks congregate in the creek that runs through our local city park, I was thinking about community.

Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  Galatians 6:2

Ducks know it.  They gather together into community.  I don't know what a group of ducks is called -- a flock? -- but they come together in the park for the betterment of all.

We, too are created to be in community.  Steve rode in a bicycle ride from Huntington, WV to Washington, DC.  It was all about community.  From the pace lines to the fund raising to the cause for which they raised funds to the support vehicles, it is all about community.

We are created by God to be in community.  It is in helping others that we grow.  It is in allowing others to help us that we strengthen them.  It sounds trite, but together we can do more than we ever dreamed of apart from each other.

Go forth and find your duck group, if you haven't already.

By the way, a group of ducks is called a raft.  A group of flying ducks is a team and a group of ducks on the water is a paddling.  What amazing stuff you can find on the internet.  I leave it up to you to determine its veracity.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013


In Sunday school this past Sunday, the teacher compared life to an Etch a sketch.  Do you remember that toy?  Is has a red frame and two white knobs.  As you turn the knobs, a drawing appears in the frame.  Finished with the sketch?  Then just shake the toy, and the picture disappears.

Is life like an etch a sketch?  When we are forgiven, do our sins disappear?  

I don't know.  I think we have a hard time believing that because we see that the affects of sin do not disappear.  Sin leaves a mark in our lives and in other people's lives.  That marks doesn't go away when the sin is forgiven.  Consequences and scars remain.  

If life were like an etch a sketch, then we could do whatever we wanted to do, and know that tomorrow, when we shake the frame, and ask for forgiveness, that everything would go back to a blank slate.  

I truly believe that God forgives sin -- any sin, all sin.  No sin is beyond his reach to forgive.  Given that, we can't shake our lives and return to life as if the sin never happened.  We have to deal with the consequences.  We have to try to bring healing and wholeness to what we have broken.  

I don't think life is like an etch a sketch.

Swamp Walk at Murrell's Inlet


Monday, July 29, 2013


It isn’t for God’s sake that we confess. When we hold on tight to things that are not good for us, we suffer.  (Martha Spong, Reflectionary)
I read that in Martha's post, and was struck by it.   Does it speak to you?

Do we ever think that God requires us to confess in order for God to grant forgiveness?  Is that really the way it works?  I don't think so.

I think the necessity of confession is that if we continue to hold on to our sins, we suffer -- we are not able to receive the grace of forgiveness that God offers to us.  God doesn't withhold the forgiveness, but we refuse to take it.  For grace to be freely given by God, then it must be freely given.  Freely given is freely given -- without requirement or hoop-jumping.  Who is their right mind would refuse a free gift?

We do.

Do we place strings on our own forgiveness of others?  Do we demand confession and apology?  Do we ever wish that someone would confess / apologize because we believe it would be a good choice for the other person?  That it would lead to healing?  Or are we just withholding the "grace" of forgiveness until the other person humbles him or herself?  Who would do that?

We would.

Think for a moment of a time when you offered an apology to someone else, freely given.  Or a time when you confessed to God.  Did you feel that lightening of burden?  Do you remember the freedom that was received?  When we hold on, we suffer.

Also from that same post -- A sin is a sin is a sin. The truism is actually a truth. For God, any sin we confess is a sin forgiven. They are all alike.  We often say that a sin is a sin is a sin, but I think we are telling ourselves that they are all bad.  Martha is pointing out that are sins is sin is sin -- and all can be forgiven.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Prayer: Connections

Myrtle Beach from a helicopter
Someone I know posted the following on Facebook:
I've been thinking about the plurality of the Lord's Prayer today - specifically the use of the word "us" instead of "I."  I want to be just as connected and concerned about the people around me as I am for myself  So, my prayer today is that we all receive forgiveness, that we all find deliverance and that no one goes without their daily bread.  Amen.  Hattip to Josh Webb

Think about that, and think about the Lord's Prayer and how that outlook changes it:
  • Our Father, who art in heaven...Not just my Father, but the Father of us all -- all of us children of God, brothers and sisters.
  • Hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...  God's will for all of us, not just me.
  • Give us this day, our daily bread...  As Josh says, may no one go without food.  That might motivate me to provide bread to someone else, even at the expense of my own "share."  And it eliminates the thought that I have a "right" to a portion -- all must be fed.  
  • Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us...  We're all in this "sin state" together.  Forgive us all, and help us to forgive each other.  
  • Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil...We travel together down this road.  May God guide us all to the himself, and maybe we will realize that while one of us remains away from God, all of us are impacted.  Deliver us all from evil, O God.
  • For thine in the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.  Amen.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prayer: The Shema

I was listening this morning to a lecture that mentioned the Jewish morning and evening prayers, so as I was starting to write this post, I looked up the prayer of Shema online.  The source that is linked in the previous sentence says that this is the core prayer.  It has emphasis on the words, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one."  There is a six word response which is followed by a reading of Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  
Imagine for a moment what it would be like to recite these words twice a day, every day.  The post yesterday talked about how the primary purpose of prayer is formation.  Imagine how praying these words twice a day would for formative.  I feel like this would really be a way to strengthen faith.  I think we need these kinds of reminders.  And I think that what we repeat every day becomes our faith, and influences the way we live our lives.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Prayer: To be properly formed

Intercoastal Waterway at Calabash, NC

The primary purpose of prayer is not to get God to do what you want God to do but to be properly formed.  (Brian Zahnd, Out of Ur)

Do you agree with this statement?  Do we think of prayer in that light?

I wonder sometimes if we think of prayer as a gumball machine - put in our request and out pops our wish. Don't get me wrong, I do think there is a part of prayer that is lifting up our concerns and asking for God's intervention.  Sometimes, though, I wonder if we (if I) only use prayer for this purpose.

According to Brian Zahnd, this isn't the main reason God has given us the gift of prayer.  Prayer is a means by which God can form us, can transform us.

I have heard people discuss the idea of what to bring to God in prayer.   I hear comments like, "I wouldn't  take that to God -- it's too small of a concern."   or "No one should pray about things like parking places and test scores."  I think we should bring to God our hearts.  If a parking space or a test score is heavy on our hearts, we should bring it to God.  We should do so, though, knowing that God may form us, changing what is important to us.  We may not get the parking space, but we may start to notice the homeless person who is standing next to it, and be moved to help.

The primary purpose of prayer is formation.  Knowing that, go now and pray, in grateful anticipation of what God will do.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Wearing the Mantle

At Annual Conference this year, one of the worship services was a Ministry Night.  The focus was, in case you can't tell from the name on ministry.  Six people were asked to share their experience in "wearing the mantle."  Each of the six people was from a different "type" of ministry -- lay, local minister, associate, provisional, deacon, and elder, and each spoke for about three minutes.  I was asked to speak as a lay person in ministry.  This is what I said:

There is a story told of a mother and her young son.  It was a dark night, and she needed the son to go to the barn to check on something.  The son looked out the door and said, “Mom, I can’t see the barn, even with this flashlight.”  She answered, “It’s OK.  Just keep walking to the end of the light.”

My name is Kim Matthews, and I am a certified lay minister in our Annual Conference.  I, and those who will follow me this evening, have been asked to speak to you about what it means to put on the mantle of ministry.

To me, wearing the mantle often means that I can’t always see where God is leading, but I have learned enough to – most days – walk to the end of the light.

I am a child of God, who on a Walk to Emmaus, heard my call to love more and trust more.  The mantle feels like grace.

I am a biologist, who spent a very sleepless night struggling with God, and who got up the next morning and applied for the position of Associate Director of the United Methodist Foundation of West Virginia.  The mantle feels frightening.

I am the Associate Director of the Foundation, and I have the opportunity to meet with churches and individuals to speak to them about ministry.   I’m asked to preach and to teach and to share with others how God works through the Foundation’s ministry.   I use gifts I have been given by God to do work that has been placed in my hands by God.  The mantle feels like joy.

I am a sinner, who every day has to decide whether to listen for God or not.  Every day I am asked to say yes to God.  Sometimes I say no.  The mantle feels undeserved.

I am a lay person in our church.  Four years ago I felt a call to pursue certification as a lay minister.  I told God that I couldn’t see where that path would lead – I couldn’t see how I could be of use to my church as a certified lay minister.  God told me to trust and obey.  God reminded me that when I do that, God does not leave me alone.  The mantle feels like the presence of God.

We are the church, and each of us – clergy and lay – has a call to God’s ministry.  What does the mantle feel like?  It’s different for each of us.  I do know this – for me, to wear God’s mantle of ministry creates in me a response of gratitude.  It is with incredible thanksgiving that I can say I am called to the ministry of God.  Each day I walk to the end of the light, and on days when I am very blessed, I am called to shine, and to be the light.

May it be so for you as well.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Pedal Faster, Gilligan, Part 4

Continued from yesterday...

Steve is the rider on the far side
There is an urgency to the mission that Jesus has given the 70 he is sending.  He is turning his face toward Jerusalem, and he knows he is running out of time.  The idea of a harvest implies a need for immediate action.  Act now before winter comes and it is too late.  Jesus tells those he sends to “greet no one on the road.”  In other words, don’t be distracted from what I am sending you to do.  And when they fail in what they are doing, they are to shake the dust from their feet, and move on.  Don’t spend time regretting what has happened, or trying to fix it – move on.

Do we sit on the side of the road and play in the dust?  Is there dust in our churches?  One church had a meeting where they spent an hour developing a Table Cloth Policy – if you are going to use the church’s tablecloths, then there is a policy for what to do with them afterward.  Do we spend too much time on this kind of non-ministry, so that we miss the urgency of what we are called to do?  The 70 are going out in the world to bring healing and to provide news of the kingdom of God.  That is our mission, too, and we need to understand the urgency of it.  People are hurting, they are hungry and they need to hear about God, and we can do something about that.

Pick up your bicycle, Gilligan, and pedal faster!

At Annual Conference last month, I served on the Worship Team.  Part of what that means is that we hang around before worship and are assigned last minute tasks that we didn’t anticipate doing.  One morning I was doing my job of hanging around before worship when I was asked to be an anointer for a healing service.  I had never done that before, and in fact, had to ask how to do it.  Long ago, I discovered that if God calls me to do something, God will help me to do it, so I picked up the oil and walked without worry to my station.  I was “without worry” until a group of three women came up to where I was standing.  One of them was obviously ill, wearing a cap to cover her loss of hair.  She was being helped to where I was standing by her two friends.  All three were crying.  I felt totally unable to do what I was being asked to do – to anoint the three of them for healing.  I felt that way until I remembered that it was not at all about me.  I was the one sent, but God was the one doing the ministry, so I did what I was called to do and anointed them, praying that God would bring healing.  I don’t know what form that healing will take in their lives, but I believe the healing will come.  God is at work in the world.

We are called, each and every one of us, to be a part of the ministry of God – the Body of Christ.  There is plenty of work to do, and God will provide the means to do it.  We are called to step out in faith, hands empty of everything except the love of Christ, and reach out – right now, today – to make a difference in the world for God – to allow God to make a difference in the world through us.

Are you ready?  Pick up your bicycle, Gilligan, and start pedaling.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pedal Faster, Gilligan, Part 3

Continued from yesterday...

What else can we learn about ministry from this passage?  God calls us to a Christ-like vulnerability.  The 70 Jesus sends go out with practically nothing.  They are not armed, even though Jesus tells them they go out like lambs to face wolves.  I don’t know about you, but if I’m going out to face a wolf, I don’t want to be vulnerable.  They don’t take food or money.  They don’t make hotel reservations.  I always make hotel reservations.  They are told not to take a purse, so they can’t accumulate money as they travel.

Truthfully, it’s just not the way I would choose to travel.

This vulnerability means that they must depend on the people they visit for food, for shelter, for hospitality.  They have to depend on each other.  They, most of all, have to depend on God, who will supply what they need to accomplish their mission.

As Steve’s bike team traveled across two states, they mainly stayed in United Methodist Churches that would host them for the night.  When a church would volunteer to feed them, they accepted, gratefully.  That might mean someone coming down to the church in the morning to fix them breakfast or the church having pizza delivered to them in the evening.  Otherwise, they would all load up in their two vehicles and drive to a nearby restaurant for dinner or bike to breakfast the next morning.  Showers were in people’s homes, the nearby fire department, the YMCA, or, for one evening, at the nearby pool, where there was only cold water.   When they needed bike parts, they shared what they had or they called for help.  They changed tires, tightened spokes, adjusted seats, fixed flats.  They worked together as a team to get everyone from the beginning, near the Ohio River, to the end, at the Vietnam Memorial.

As the Body of Christ, are we willing to depend on each other?  Will we be vulnerable, as Christ was vulnerable?  Will we risk failure?  When we reach out to tell others about Christ, will we risk dismissal?  Are we willing to give up control, to rely solely on God?  Will we offer peace in places where we would rather respond with anything except peace?  Will we be Christ-like in a world that might completely reject us?

Pick up your bicycle, Gilligan, it’s all you get to take with you, and pedal.

Continued tomorrow...

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pedal Faster, Gilligan, Part 2

Continued from yesterday's post...

What can we learn about ministry – our ministry as the Body of Christ – from this passage from Luke’s gospel?

First of all, look at who is called to go forth in ministry.  The Lord appointed 70 others – that’s 70 other people than the 12 disciples.  Why 70?  Is that just how many people were standing around that day, listening to Jesus preach?  I don’t think so.  In Genesis 10, there are 70 nations of the world listed – in other words, 70 is symbolic for everyone.  Luke, who was very determined that we would all know that Jesus came for everyone, uses a number to convey a universality to who is called.  We are all called to ministry.  Jesus didn’t just call the 12 disciples, or just the priests – he called everyone.

The bicyclists didn’t wait for professional Tour de France riders to come to West Virginia and ride.  They saw a need, knew their skills and went to work.

I am a lay person in the United Methodist Church.  I am not ordained – I am not clergy.  Even so, I believe I am called to what I do, and I believe God is calling each of us – clergy and lay – to be God’s church in the world.  All 70 of us.

So, and I say this metaphorically, pick up your bike, Gilligan, and pedal.

We are told in the gospel passage that the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.  There is work to be done.  Have you ever been sitting in a church meeting, maybe looking at the budget, or at the list of volunteers, and felt a sense of hopelessness?  There are times when all we see is scarcity.  God sees abundance.  God sees everything that can be accomplished, and God has set that before us as a mission.

Many years ago, my church decided that we needed to reach out to the college students down the street who attend Marshall University.  We started a Thursday evening service designed for young people.  It included a meal, free internet access and coffee as well as alternative worship.   We called it Common Grounds.

It was a failure, at least if you look at what we tried to accomplish.  We are located 10 blocks from the school, but only one block from the city mission.  Instead of college students, we reached those in our community who are homeless.  Now, every Thursday evening, at least 100 and sometimes 200 people come to our church and are fed – dinner, because they are hungry and worship, because they are hungry.

When Common Grounds started, we would never have believed we could do what is now being done.  We would have said that we didn’t have the money and we didn’t have the people to make it happen.  God knew otherwise.  The ministry has evolved to where it is supported financially in ways we didn’t anticipate.  Those who cook and serve have multiplied so that now they are transformed by this ministry – we even have college students from down the street who come in to help.   There is abundance where we saw scarcity.

Pick up your bike, Gilligan, and pedal.

Continued tomorrow...

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pedal Faster, Gilligan, Part 1

I preached the Sunday before last.  Over the next four days, I'll post my sermon

I want to start today by telling you a story of ministry that doesn’t involve me, but involves my husband, Steve.  He is part of a group of nine bicyclists who worked together to raise awareness of the Homeless Veterans Resource Center in our town – and more than awareness, they raised money.  As of today, they have raised about $24,000 just this year that will be used to help Veterans who are transitioning from being homeless to having a home and will help those who are on the edge of losing their homes.

How did they do that?  They worked for months to hold fundraisers and to communicate about the needs the Resource Center has, but their work culminated in the nine of them, along with two support drivers, riding their bicycles – did you catch that?  their bicycles -- from Huntington, West Virginia, to Washington DC.  That’s over 425 miles, and it’s over the mountains that create the Eastern Continental Divide.  Up the mountains that create the Divide and then back down them again, at what I am sure were speeds beyond what I want to contemplate.  On a bicycle.

If you asked any of them why they do it, or how they stand the heat on 95 degree days, or if it is hard to do, any of them would tell you the same answer – they do it to help those who need help – to help those who have served our country to have a place to call home.

Picture the old television series of Gilligan’s’ Island.  Remember the scenes of Gilligan pedaling on a bicycle to run a generator?  “Pedal faster, Gilligan!”

Pedal Faster, Gilligan.

When I think about Steve’s bike ride, and I look at today’s gospel lesson, I believe we are given a model for what ministry is about.    Hear these words from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verses 1-11 and 16-20:

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.  He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.  Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.   Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!'  And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.  Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.   Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;  cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,   'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'

Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."  The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!"   He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.   See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.   Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
Continued tomorrow....

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Monday, July 15, 2013


This one is for Birdwatcher
One of the lectionary readings from last week was  Amos 7:7-17.  It is a passage that begins with one of Amos' visions.  The Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, measuring the actions of Israel against God's will.  God was not pleased with what he found -- the life of Israel was not plumb with the will of God.

What do we use to measure if our lives are plumb?
  • Our own self interest?  Are we satisfied with our the way we live our lives because we are measuring against what we want?
  • Society's standards?  Do we use society as our plumb-line?  
  • What everyone else is doing?  Do we think we must be doing OK if we are doing better than how we perceive everyone else is doing?
  • What our church says?  Do we abdicate our morality to what the church tells us is right without examining it ourselves?  
Measuring our lives against God's plumb-line isn't easy -- at least it isn't easy for me.  First, discerning what is God's will is not an easy task -- if you think it's easy, then I urge you to dig deeper.  Secondly, reaching the plumb-line is impossible to do.

Thank God for grace.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

A Modern Samaritan Parable, Part 2

... Continued from yesterday.

Meanwhile, back at the bar, the two policemen paid their tabs and said goodnight to Ike.  He was glad to see them go as they were his last two customers for the evening.  He locked the door behind them and turned to close out the register and clear up the tables.

Joe and Pete, the two policeman, walked across the parking lot to their cars.  "See you in the morning," Joe said.

Pete pointed out a dark shape in the parking lot that seemed to be half under a car, near where Joe was standing.  "Hey, Joe, what's that?"

Joe, who had worked all day, and was anxious to finally get home to bed, said, "I bet it's Sam is sleeping off the scotch."  They both shrugged and drove away.

By this time, Sam had made it back to the bar's parking lot on his long walk home.  He, too, saw the shape near the back of the car.  He walked over and squatted down to see what it was.  Reaching out, he turned the shape over and realized it was a person.  In the dim light that puddled in the parking lot from the bar, he could make out the Nick's features.  "Shit," he murmured.  Nick was unconscious, and blood was flowing from a gash on his head.  Nick's open, empty wallet was thrown into a puddle on the ground near the back tire of the car.

Everything in Sam's being urged him to stand up and walk away.  He hated this man.  Who knew where the punks were who had stolen Nick's money and credit cards after hitting him in the head?  They could come back.  Sam stood up, looking around the parking lot and then back down at Nick again.  He slammed his hand onto the trunk of the car in disgust, and then dropped to his knees next to Nick.  He was using his shirt to try to stop the bleeding when he heard someone approach him from behind.

"Sam, what the hell have you done!"  Ike yelled, running the last few steps to where the two men were in the lot.

"I didn't do this!  I found him here."

"Right.  Sure you did."  Ike's disbelief was more than apparent in his sarcastic reply.

"Come on, Ike, open up the bar.  I need to get him out of this rain and call for some help."

Ike looked back at him, and the fear that appeared in his eyes was barely visible in the dim light.  "Maybe that's not such a great idea, Sam."

"Open the bar, Ike.  I didn't hurt Nick; I won't hurt you."

After a full minute of indecision, during which Sam stripped off his sodden shirt to better use it to stop the bleeding, Ike finally said, "I'll grab his legs.  Let's get him into the bar."

Two hours later, Sam opened the door to his apartment.  The ambulance had finally arrived at the bar to transport the groggy Nick to the hospital.  The only thing that had kept the responding police officers from arresting Sam had been Nick's barely coherent statement describing his attackers.

Nothing had really changed in Sam's life -- he was still on the road to bankruptcy and divorce, he still couldn't see where his future was leading.  Somehow, though, he felt that he had turned an important corner, and that somewhere, there was light.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Modern Samaritan Parable, Part 1

For our office meeting devotional this week, Jeff talked about the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which is a lectionary reading for the week.  He focused on teachings of Amy-Jill Levine.  To read some of those reflections, go here.  It's an excellent article.

His discussions about the parable started me thinking about it.  I wrote the following as a modern nod to the Parable.

Sam sat on a bar stool, his mood as dark as the sticky surface of the black laminate covered bar.  Another half-empty glass of scotch sat beside his hand.  Hopelessness flooded his soul as he struggled to come to terms with the reality that his business was gone - bankrupt.  The contracting firm had been started by his grandfather, nurtured by his father, and treasured by him, and now it was gone.

Ike, the owner of the bar, walked by, serving the few customers who occupied the other bar stools and tables.  Sam grabbed his arm, and barked, "Another scotch."

"Forget it, Sam.  You're drunk and you're broke.  Go home."

"Car's gone.  My wife took it when she left."

"Walk home.  You'll be better off, anyway."  Ike shook free and walked away.

In disgust, Sam pushed away from the bar, and headed to the door.  As he did, Nick walked in.  Hatred, unlike anything Sam had experienced before, welled up inside him.  Here, in front of him, stood the man whose business had taken away Sam's last remaining clients.  Here, in front of him, stood the man who had blabbed to Sam's wife about the woman he visited in the next town.  Here, in front of him, was the one responsible for all of it -- for all of the pain and loss that had descended on his life.

The hatred that Sam felt was reflected in Nick's eyes.  Sam planted his feet and stood his ground, growling, "I should kill you.  I want to kill you."

Nick stepped forward, toe to toe with his enemy.  "Try," was all he said.

Ike yelled across the room, "Sam, I told you to go home.  Get out of here."  As Sam turned to glare at Ike, he saw the two off-duty policemen seated at a table, watching the pair of them.  He turned back to Nick, stood for a moment and then shoved by him, leaving the bar.

The night was miserable.  Rain fell in steady rhythms against the pavement, blurring the yellow light that shown forth from the few windows that faced the street.  Sam trudged away, stewing in his pain and hatred.   As he stepped off a corner, several blocks away from the bar, a passing car honked at him, the driver yelling an obscenity as he barely missed hitting Sam.  Started, Sam looked up as the car drove away.  The neighborhood was unfamiliar -- he was not at all where he expected to be.  He looked up at the street sign, squinting to make out the writing.  His muddled brain finally realized that he had turned the wrong way when he left the bar.  With a loud curse, he turned around and started walking back down the street, trying to find his way home.

To be continued tomorrow...

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Models of Grace

Yesterday I wrote about the Naaman passage in 2 Kings 5 -- how I think it tells us something about the nature of grace.

I also think the passage models for us how we can respond with grace to those around us.
  1. Think about the servant girl for a moment.  What would it be like to be her?  She has been abducted from her home by the enemy and is now serving the wife of the Commander of the army who took her from her home.  Not only that, but Naaman had leprosy, which would have ostracized him in her society.  Why does she respond to him with grace -- offering a way for him to be healed?  She didn't have to.  The scriptures don't mention that he even asked her for help.  I think she is a model for a way to respond to someone -- even someone who is the enemy -- with grace.
  2. What about Elisha?  No one really asked him to help - he offers help.  He does it "so that he (Naaman) may learn that there is a prophet in Israel."  One could read that several ways, but I think Elisha is offering to help so that God may be glorified, rather than himself.  Do we offer help so that God may receive the praise?
  3. And then there is the Naaman's servant.  I wonder if speaking out to Naaman was risky?  Was it easy to contradict him or did the servant step out a little bit onto thin ice to offer his opinion.  We don't know, but sometimes offering grace does involve risk.
Are we willing to be like the servant girl?  Elisha?  Naaman's servant?  Will we offer grace?

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Model for Grace

I preached on Sunday.  The sermon was based on a Luke 10 passage -- I'll post it over a few days next week.

However, there was a sermon that wasn't.  The sermon I preached was not the sermon I planned on preaching; the sermon I preached was only born on Friday.  For at least three weeks prior to preaching, I had a whole different sermon in mind, based on a different scripture.  There is no dramatic reason why I switched.  I changed my course prior to writing because the one I wrote seemed to flow better from thought to sermon.  That's usually a God-thing.

Anyway, I thought I would resurrect the sermon that wasn't into a blog post.

One of the other lectionary readings last week was 2 Kings 5:1-14.  This is the story of Naaman.  I really like this story, and I still think it would make a good sermon.

Naaman is a commander in the army of the king of Aram - in fact, he was the commander of an army that defeated the Israelites.  He has leprosy.  On one of their raids into Israel, a young girl had been taken captive, and she served Naaman's wife.  This young girl suggests to Naaman that he go to Israel and seek healing from the prophet Elisha.  Naaman told his king what the girl had suggested, and the king sent him with a great fortune and a letter to the king of Israel, asking for him to cure Naaman.

The King of Israel is distraught, because he can't cure Naaman and thinks this is a trick from the Aramean king.   Elisha heard about Naaman, he sent a message to the king, telling him to send Naaman to him.

Naaman goes to Elisha's house bringing all of his horses and chariots and wealth.  The passage says that he halted at the door to Elisha's house.  Can't you just picture that?  A great commander, bringing much wealth, stopping at Elisha's door?  Elisha doesn't even come out and see him!  He sends a messenger to tell Naaman to go wash in the seven times Jordon,  in order to be healed.

Naaman is not happy.  Who is this prophet who won't even come out and see him?!  To wash in the Jordon is so below him.  One of his servants, who must have been rolling his eyes behind Naaman's back, convinces him to try this simple thing.  What does he have to lose?  So, Naaman does it, and is cured.

It's a great story.  I think it tells us some things about the nature of grace -- how we approach it, and what it really is and does.
  1. We think grace can be purchased.  We might not try to buy it with gold and silver (although sometimes we do), but we think the better we are, the more God will love us, and the more grace he will bestow upon us.  Grace isn't for sale.  
  2. Do we think we can go it alone, without God?  The servant girl tells Naaman to go see Elisha, a prophet of God.  Instead, he seeks out his King and then the King of Israel.  Is it his pride?  Lack of faith?  Whatever it is, it prevents him to receiving grace, because he keeps asking the wrong person for it.
  3. We think we can control grace.  Naaman wanted to control how the healing would happen.  Washing in the Jordon River wasn't the way he wanted to be healed.  I think it was just too humbling for him.  In verse one, the word gadol is translated as "great" and in verse 10 as "difficult."  "Thus Naaman is said to be a 'big man,' and he expected his cure to be a big deal.'" (Feasting on the Word).  The problem is that we are not in control of God.  God is in control.  God will bestow grace when and where he chooses -- how he chooses.  
  4. It is easier for us to accept grace when we let go and trust God.  Trusting God was hard for Naaman, and it is hard for us.
  5. Grace is transformational.  We miss verse 15 because it is not in the lectionary, but after his cure, Naaman comes back to Elisha and says, ""Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel..."
Are we like Naaman?

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Monday, July 08, 2013

Elisha's story and Ministry

The lectionary reading two weeks ago was 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14.  If you have a chance, go read that passage.  When I read it last week, in preparation for an Office Devotional, lots of questions came to mind.

It is the story of Elijah and Elisha, when Elijah is about to be taken up in a chariot.
  1. First of all, look at a map as you read it.  They travel from Gilgal, then almost due west to Bethel, then almost due east to Jericho (not quite all the way back to Gilgal), and then further east to the Jordon River.  Why did Elijah travel so circuitously?  
  2. Why does he keep telling Elisha to stay put?  
  3. Why do the prophets keep asking Elisha if he knows what is happening, and why does Elisha tell them to keep it quiet?
I wonder if Elijah is testing Elisha.  Elijah knows well that this ministry is not easy.  Does he want to make sure that Elisha is committed?  Is that part of the reason they travel all over the place?

One source I read said that when Elisha asks for a double share of Elijah's spirit, he is asking for what the oldest son receives - he is asking to be Elijah's heir.  He is asking to follow in Elijah's footsteps.  So, even after all of the travel, and all of the questions, he (Elisha) is committed.

Another devotional I read said that Elisha can't be sure that he is doing God's will until he actually does it.  Elijah gives him a sign to watch for, but until Elisha chooses to pick up the mantle and to strike the river, he won't know if the water will part for him or not.

What can we learn from this?  Ministry isn't easy, and it requires a commitment.  Sometimes we don't really know if we are doing God's will until we actually step out in faith and do it.  Sometimes it takes action, not just listening, to hear God's word.

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Friday, July 05, 2013

Opening with the light

Since I started focusing on taking pictures (haha), I've wanted to get a picture of the this type of flower.  Growing up, I always called it Bachelor's Buttons, but doing some research this morning, I actually think it is Chicory.  (I guess I'll have to keep searching for Bachelor's buttons).

I have been thwarted by the fact that these flowers grow along roadsides. Getting a picture of one would have meant pulling off the road and parking, possibly in hazardous conditions.  Not worth it.

One morning, I had my point and click camera with me as I walked the dog.  I found some of these plants at the end of our street.  Eureka!  Unfortunately, the camera focused on the background instead of the flower, and all I brought home was blue blur.

So, that evening, Steve and I were walking the dog, so I took a different camera (our Nikon 5100) with us.  We arrived at the end of the road -- no flowers!  I found the plants, but I had no idea that the flowers closed up in the evening.  They must need the light to open.

Are we like that?  Do we encounter people like that?  Do we need to remember that sometimes people also need light to open up, and share their beauty? Do we remember that we can be that light for other people?  Do we need to remember that God calls us to shine for others so that they can reach their potential?

(BTW, found the flower next day with the Nikon).


Thursday, July 04, 2013

Red, white and bluish

Have a great Fourth of July. (The flowers are as blue as I could find.)

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Lord's Name

Have you ever been in a Sunday school class that was examining the Ten Commandments?  What happens when you get to Exodus 20:7?  "You shall not take the Lord's name in vain."

For me, in classes in which I have participated and that I have taught, the discussion often degrades to a judgmental rant about "kids today" who swear.  Or "media today" that is full of cursing.  Is that what the Commandment is really about?  And should the study of this word of God bring us to judgmentalism?

I read this the other day in a blog called Out of Ur:
If the opportunity doesn’t work, we throw God under the bus and say, “It wasn’t God’s will.” And God says, “I didn’t have anything to do with that. I told you to volunteer or work at Starbucks before you mortgaged your house and started a coffee shop of your own. Don’t associate me with that horrible idea. Don’t put faith flavor on that.”
Please don't misunderstand me.  I'm not advocating the use of the Lord's name in anger.  I just think the commandment is much bigger than that, and we are missing the most important parts.  I think this commandment comes into play when:
  1. ...we do what we want and say it is what God wants us to do.  When we look at someone else, and make a judgment, or act righteous, or condemn them, in the name of God, we are taking the Lord's name in vain.
  2. ...we use the Bible to support our own opinion without placing the scripture in context, or admitting that sometimes our own interpretation of God's Word is colored by our own history, viewpoint, or teaching.  We can act so very certain that we are right, and as if we speak for God.  When we do that, we are taking the Lord's name in vain.
  3. ...we fail to follow through on what God has called us to do, and the enterprise fails, we are apt to fall back on the handy excuse that "it is God's will."    Sometimes it is just that we didn't do what we were supposed to do, or called to do, or able to do.  
I think these times that we use to the Lord's name in vain are much more detrimental to God's purposes than the use of a curse word.   Looking at this list, do we really have the firm ground to stand on in judgment of others?

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Tuesday, July 02, 2013


The devotional I was reading yesterday (by K.J. West) said:
The fruit (singular) of the Spirit that Paul mentions is a communal gift, and only God can give the growth needed for this fruit -- by way of the life-giving energy of the Spirit.  Paul says that a church being led by the Spirit will be marked by the presence of these gifts.  
Hmmm.  A church being led by the Spirit will be marked by the presence of these gifts.  That makes sense.  Is the opposite true?  Does the absence of these gifts mark a church that has wavered from its purpose?  That is not following the leading of the Spirit?

When division and disunity prevail, and there is no kindness, no compassion, no patience, is that a symptom that should tell us more than the idea that everyone is not getting along?  When hatred and distrust prevail, even when those involved feel a sense of righteousness, is that a warning?

Can we, as church communities, work through our differences while also following God?  Of course we can, but it's harder.  It means that  love prevails, and we have to be intentional about it.  It means we must continue to focus on the idea that the person in front of us, with whom we disagree, is a child of God.  The person is still a person you love, and not an object.  (Sounds like The Anatomy of Peace.)

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Monday, July 01, 2013

To choose to be a slave

For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.  For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  (Galatians 5:1, 13)

Do you hear any contradictions in this passage?  You are free - do not submit to the yoke of slavery, and yet, become slaves of one another?

I was thinking about this today.  Could it be, that even if we don't recognize it, we are all slaves to something?  Are we slaves to material gain?  Our schedule?  Are we slaves to our own selfishness?  Our pride?  What rules our lives?

Christ calls us to the freedom he offers -- freedom to leave all of that behind and serve each other in love.  To choose to be a servant or slave to each other.  To choose it.  For truly, love must be chosen - there is no other way.

We have the choice to love ourselves more than we love the person next to us.  We have the choice to be blinded to the needs of others by our own self-centeredness.  I ought to know!  I find myself there quite often.

Christ offers us a different way.  Voluntary servanthood.

What difference does is make if service is voluntary?  All the difference in the world.  In this is freedom.  To offer service freely is to offer grace.

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