Friday, September 27, 2013

I'm not changing my mind...

I opened Philip Gulley's web page, and  I thought, in light of yesterday's post, it fits our discussion this week.  Read this:
Several years ago, I was speaking at a pastor’s conference and asked those present if their understanding of God had changed since their childhood. Everyone raised a hand, except for one man, who said, “I was taught about God at an early age and I still believe everything I was taught. I’ve not changed my mind about anything.”
Why would someone choose a spiritual life like that?  I know that we are told to have a child-like faith, but I don't think that means that we should have the same understanding of God that we had as children.  Maturity as a person will open new doors to a new understanding of God.  Other people will bring us new revelations. Study, prayer, worship all add to our spiritual life.  And then, thank God, God intervenes, and works within us to help us to grow.  I can't imagine closing myself off to all of that with the attitude of, "I will not change my mind about anything."

It might be kind of arrogant to think that you've got God all figured out.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Go Deep

Jack's sermon a few Sunday's ago was based on Luke 5:1-5.  In it, Jesus tells Peter to cast his nets on the other side of the boat -- to try again for a catch, even when Peter didn't think it was wise.  Jack said, "It is about depth.  Go deep."

Do we need to go deep in our spiritual disciplines?  Why do we not?
  • Is it a lack of time?  I think I fall into this trap sometimes.  I was at a table in church several years ago.  A church member was talking about something he had read, and another person at the table said, "I wish I had time to do that kind of reading."  I was a smart aleck, and said, "Everyone has the same amount of time."  That's true, but we all prioritize it different -- whether from necessity or preference.  It takes intentional effort to go deep.
  • Is it lack of interest?  As I mentioned earlier this week, I can sometimes get bored with what I am doing.  We need to be willing to change what we are doing so as to stay interested.
  • Is it fear?  Are we afraid to go deep?  In the depth live truths we might not want to face.  Going deep can require courage.
  • Is it unwillingness to let go of our past understandings?  Going deep can challenge what we have been taught or what we think we know - sometimes we don't want to do that.
God's sanctifying grace is always present.  God will give us the desire, the courage and the strength to go deep.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lack of Maintenance

Last Saturday I drove on a road that I used to drive daily, but since my job change in 2008, I rarely use this particular road.

In 2008, the road traveled along the edge of a golf course.  The course has now closed; last Saturday, I was shocked to see that the land is unrecognizable as a golf course.  It's amazing to me that something can change so much when it is no longer maintained.

Our spiritual lives are like that, too.  When we don't strive to follow disciplines in our lives, when we forget to reach toward God, our spiritual lives can become unrecognizable.  Growth as a Christian requires two elements, I think.  The first is the sanctifying grace of God, and that is always available to us.  The second is our intentional effort to stretch and grow.  Without that, we stagnate, or even move farther away from God.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Close the Book; Move Along

Each morning at work, I make a list of what I need to do that day.  It makes me feel organized (I'm debating whether it makes me organized, or not).  The first item on the list each day is Devotional.  I use an old method of prioritizing my list that learned years ago -- A for those items that are important to the goals I've set, B for those that are less important, and C for those that aren't really important.  Each item then also gets a number, so A1 is the most important item for that day, A2 is next, etc.

Devotional gets A1.  In order to check it off my list, I read a daily devotional and then blog -- two daily disciplines.

This morning I picked up my devotional book, and I began reading.  To be honest, this week's writer is not leading me to any new insights or "ah-ha" moments.  Nothing in what I'm reading is bringing me any closer to God.  Do you ever feel that way?  As I tried to read, I remembered something I had read long ago.  "If you are bored with your devotional time, then God probably is, too.  Change it."  So, right in the middle of a sentence, I closed the book and put it back on the shelf.  The Bible Study I am a part of is reading its way through Luke, so I picked up my Bible and read this week's reading.  And there is was -- the ah-ha moment that brought me closer to God -- two of them, actually.

I'm reminded of Jesus' statement:  "Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Luke 2:27)  We are not created to get stuck in meaningless devotionals; devotionals are created for us, to serve a purpose.  If you're bored, so is God, so move along.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Convincing Grace

A pastor friend of mine told me the theme for his latest sermon was this:  God didn't send Jesus to die on a cross as a way to prove to God that God loves us; he did it to prove to us that God loves us.

Think about that for a moment.

There are times when we point to the death of Christ on the cross and consider it to be Christ taking on punishment for our sins in answer to a demand from God that the punishment be given.  Maybe there is a part of the crucifixion that answers this need, but I think there is more.

Who needs convincing that we are loved by God?  We do.  Who has God been following with his previenent grace for AGES?  We are.  Perhaps part of the reason for the crucifixion was to demonstrate to us, in a way that could not be ignored, how much we are loved by our creator.

God died for you.  For me.  How much more convincing do we need?

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Power of Story

Early in September I attended a Convocation at my church.  The guest speaker was Philip Gulley.  During the Sunday evening session, he was asked about the role of story in a sermon.  He responded that he loves stories, and he can sense their impact on his congregation.  A story allows him to ease into an issue (my words, not his).

For example, rather than just expressing his views about homosexuality, he will tell a story about his little brother, and his experiences.  People have friends and family who have dealt with the same issues, so approaching the issue through a story can reach more open minds.

I get that.  It is through relationship that we come closest to people, and I wonder if it is through relationship that we come closest to having the eyes of God.  When we can see an issue through our experience with it, we can see it, perhaps, the way God sees it.

Are we ever really objective?  Is God ever really objective?

Gulley reminded us that Jesus taught through story: we should take a hint from that.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Practical Atheism

Fools say in their hearts, "There is no God."  They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. (Psalm 14:1)

The devotional I read this morning, written by J. Stephen Lang, says that this Psalm is about "practical atheists."  Theoretical atheists are those who believe there is no God; practical atheists are those who act as if there is no God.

I thought that was an interesting distinction.  I imagine anyone reading this (including myself) would never be classified as a theoretical atheist, but how often am I a practical atheist?  How often do my actions fail to reflect my faith in God?
  • When I fail to respond with love to my neighbor?
  • When I try to accomplish the work I do completely on my own, without asking or following the guidance sent from God?
  • When I don't worship?
  • When I don't pray?
  • Perhaps even worse, when I pray and then do not alter my actions to reflect the conversation with God?
  • When I fail to repent?
  • When I am not grateful for the gifts God has given to me?
  • When I ignore the joy God brings to life?
  • When I forget the love of God for me?  For others?
  • When I don't see God in the person in front of me?
  • When I don't use the gifts I have been given to further God's kingdom?
We would never want to deny God, and yet, how often do I deny God through my actions?  How often am I a practical atheist?

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Table Manners

In the scripture passage Luke 14:1-14, Jesus tells his disciples to choose their place at the table carefully.  If they were to sit too high in the "pecking order" they might be asked to move down so that someone else could have their places.  Wouldn't that be humiliating?

The devotional I read about that passage (written by B. John Franklin) said:
So Jesus unapologetically comes to our table, stands in our cultures' customs, and challenges our table manners.  He is the host.  He himself is the living water, the very bread of life.  In him the Love that will not let us go meets us where we are. 
What does it mean that Jesus is the host?  Lots of things went through my mind.  Jesus stands at our tables, in the middle of our worlds, and challenges the way we live.
  • Are there hungry people who are excluded from our tables?  Jesus tells us that this is not the way it should be.
  • Do we claim to be the host, decreeing who can have access to the table? Jesus says that he is the host, and no one is to be kept away.
  • Do we place ourselves "above" other people, allowing others to serve, while we only take the place of the one being served?  Jesus tells us that this is not discipleship.
  • Do we distance ourselves from God?  Jesus follows wherever we go, and will not let us go.
  • Do we attempt to survive on the water and bread that we provide, or that the culture supplies?  Jesus tell us that he is the living water and the bread of life, and that nothing will substitute.
  • Do we try to buy a ticket to our place at the table, either by good works or in exchange for what we own?  Jesus says that the table is free.  He invites us to take our place, as a gift.
  • Do we stand apart, feeling unworthy to step up to the table?  Jesus tells us that he is the host, and he makes us worthy.
The table belongs to Jesus, and he is the host.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Discover, Claim, Utilize

I read the following in an article on the website Photofocus:
I once interviewed an extremely tall and lengthy NBA basketball player.  In the midst of a press conference outside of his locker room, he jokingly muttered a quote to me off the record that I’ll never forget. “God sure didn’t put me here to be a horse racing jockey.  I know what I’ve got, I know my skills and I’ll use them to my advantage.”
Do you know what you are good at?  Exploit the passions and skills that were implanted in you and use them.  Put them to work and utilize them to your advantage.
Photofocus / by MelissaNiu
Do you know what you are good at?  (as Melissa would say)  If we were in the same room, and I asked you that question, could you tell me?  Would you tell me?

If I gave you a birthday present, would you open it?  Or would you ignore  it and say, "I don't have any birthday presents?"  Do we sometimes say, "I don't have any gifts?" while not seeking to discover our gifts, or ignoring them?

If I gave you a new book for your birthday, would you hide it, and not speak about it, in the fear that someone would say you are bragging?  "Look at me; how great I am someone gave me this book for my birthday!"  No, you wouldn't do that, and yet we won't speak of our gifts, as if doing so is to brag on what we have earned.  It's a thin line between celebrating what God has given us and claiming credit for it, but I think if we discover our gifts, and have confirmatory opinions about them, then to say, "God has given me the gift of ..." is not bragging.

So, discover, claim and utilize -- could it be that this is part of our calling?


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Great is God's Faithfulness

A few weeks ago, the sermon was based on Hebrews 11 -- a wonderful chapter about faith.  As Jack preached, he brought some questions to mind.

Do we often consider that God has a great faith in us?  We sing about God's great faithfulness:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been,Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
The hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness is about God's faithfulness to us.  He does not desert us; he will not fail us.  That's wonderful and amazing, but it's not what I'm talking about.  Don't get me wrong -- God is loyal; his love does not change, he will not leave us.  It's not particularly easy to believe, but because it is a characteristic of God, and not based on who we are, we can take steps toward understanding it.  But it's not what I mean.

What do I mean?  God trusts us.  He places his faith in us.  Like a king sending a servant on a mission, he entrusts us with what he asks us to do.  We are sent out to do the work of the Kingdom, and God believes in us, and in our ability to do what we have been sent to do.  Great is God's faithfulness.

God took human form and was born as Jesus.  We often think of God's incarnation as a human as degradation.  He is divine, but took on human flesh to save us.  I'm not questioning that, but Jack called it an act of faith in the goodness of what God had created.  He believes enough in us to become one of us -- like us -- human -- taking on the form of what he has created.  The greatest evidence we have of God's faith in us is the death and resurrection of Christ.

Do we live up to the faith?


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Silent Marks and Spaces

In the work I do, I work on the our Annual Report and quarterly newsletters.  Part of that means using the program InDesign, selecting and arranging images, placing text, and choosing fonts and colors for the design.  To work on improving the skills involved in this work, I'm reading a book called Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton.

In it, she shares this quote:
...although the alphabet represents sound, it cannot function without silent marks and spaces.  Jacques Derrida, French philosopher.
As a simple example of this, tryreadingthislinewithoutthespaces.  We need the silence of the space and the guidance of punctuation in order to effectively communicate.

In the book of Job, after so many terrible things happen to Job, his friends come to visit with him.  They sit with hiim in silence for days.  And then they started talking, and everything goes downhill. They communicated so much more support when they were silent.  (I say that facetiously, but I've always thought it was true.)

I'm not advocating that we never speak in support of friends, but I do think we need to realize the important of the space between the words.  There is a time to speak, and there is a time to listen.  To breath between our words.  To let go of what we might plan to say next, and to just be, listening.

In that silence, we may hear the words our friends need to say, and in the silence, we may hear the voice of God.

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Monday, September 09, 2013

In our weakness...

And the pride of human independence has no room for vulnerability to love.  Love serves as a threat when we are busily making our kingdom come and getting our will done.  Love threatens because imperial Me has to stand aside. B. John Franklin in Disciplines 2013
I have thought of pride as an obstacle to grace.  I've considered the idea that in our pride, we think we do not need God.  I can imagine we might say, "I know God loves me, and I love God, but I can get through this or that on my own.  I don't need God for this."

This quote, though, states that the pride of independence leaves no room for love.  Does that point to the idea that we cannot know or experience God's love because of our independent nature?  Do we only come to know God when we admit that we need God?

I can see a parallel to that in community.  In times when I have finally thrown up my hands in defeat, and admitted that the work I'm doing requires more than just me to get it accomplished, I have experienced the love of the community.  In being loved, we know that are loved.

In our weakness, we come to know God's strength.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Walrus World

Yesterday, I talked about living in a walrus world while trying to understand the metaphor of a shepherd.  How do we understand the Word and Truth of God while we live in a strange land?

Expand that thought.  How do we faithfully explain the world of God to someone who has no touchpoints at all for the faith of Jesus?  What about someone who has never read any scripture at all?  How do we explain that Jesus is the Lamb of God to someone who has never read about the Jewish sacrifices of the Old Testament.  And I only use Lamb of God as an example?  How do we talk about God to someone who has no reference points at all?

I'm not sure.

First of all, we start with God.  We need to remember that it is God who brought us to realization of faith, and we need to rely on God to do the same for someone else.  Pray.  Remember prevenient grace.

That realization should lead us to humility.   We need to remember that even though we understand that God is active in our lives, we are still walrus caretakers.  We have only seen God through a mirror, dimly.  When we speak to someone else, even someone who has no reference points for faith, we are still on a journey together, co-travelers.

Can we drop the idea that we are right and the other person is wrong?  Can we truly believe that God is not only working in our lives, but also in the lives of other people?

I wonder also if we need to be careful with words.  I think I (and other people) use "faith words" pretty freely.  It was years (and years) before I had any understanding of what "grace" means (to use a example), and yet I was surrounded by people who were throwing the word around as if everyone knew what it meant.

As the phrase goes, "The Truth is Out There."  And it's in us, and it's in the person in front of us.  What a wonderful opportunity.

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Understanding Walrus

A question I heard this morning:  have you ever considered how difficult it would be to explain that Jesus is the Lamb of God to someone who is very familiar with a walrus, but has never seen a sheep?

There is a truth in the phrase "Jesus is the Lamb of God" that those who heard it understood -- because they could understand what the metaphor means.  They knew sheep.  The knew Jewish sacrifice.  They got it.

How does that metaphor play in a different world?

How do we understand the same metaphors that a person in 1st century Israel would?  Many people say they take the Bible as the literal truth of God, but it isn't written as literal truth.  Jesus is not literally a lamb.  The phrase is a metaphor that we seek to understand, even though we are living 2000 years later.

If I only know walruses (is that the plural of walrus?), then I might not understand everything about the lamb metaphor.

We need to be careful when we say that the way you or I interpret the Word of God is the one and only way to understand the truth of what is written.  We are as distant from the original setting and hearers of the word as a Walrus caretaker is from shepherds.  That doesn't mean we can't understand the truth - it means we have to work harder, listen to each other, read more than just one verse, and listen to more than just one voice of interpretation.

And we have to admit that we only know the walrus.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Singing in a Foreign Land

Are you familiar with Psalm 137?  Below are verses 1-4:
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
 On the willows there
 we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
 asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
 ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
 How could we sing the Lord’s song
   in a foreign land?
This is a Psalm that laments the exile of Judah into Babylon. Those who are praying the words are far from home, far from the temple, far from where they believe God dwells.  How can they sing their songs?

A few Sundays ago, Joe mentioned this Psalm in his sermon, and he said, "In a strange land, how can you not sing your songs?"

What an interesting question.  How can we not sing our songs in a strange land?  It led me to wonder,  "What is a strange land to us?"

We talk about God in Sunday school; we talk about God in worship, and in other times of our lives when we are in community with believers -- places where we feel safe.  But are we not called to sing our songs in a foreign land?  What about those times when we do not feel safe talking about God?  When we fear rejection?  When we think we will be laughed at?  Shouldn't we sing (not literally, at least for some of us) about God then?

What "foreign" land is aching for God's word?


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Wasting Time

"Take time to stop and smell the roses."

Such a cliché!  Who has time (or desire) to stop and smell the roses?  We spend our time running from one thing to the next, rarely taking time to stop and do anything that might be considered a waste of time.

OK, I'll be honest.  I often waste time, but I hear that there are people who do not.  I understand there are people who never even see the roses.

One of the reasons I started taking pictures was to slow myself down so that I could really look around and see the evidence of God.  You can read about how I began the journey in 2006 here and here.  I'm still doing it -- not as much as I did in the years following 2006, but I still do it.  Using a camera to capture images requires you to look -- at least it does if you want good images.

Holding that thought for a moment, why is it that we are urged to take time each day to study or to read a devotional?  Why stop in our busy day and "waste" time on something like this?

In reading one such devotional, I found this quote from Arthur F. Gafke (in Disciplines 2013):
As we slow down to cherish God's beginnings with us, we can find that the conclusions are transformed because we are transformed by beautiful beginnings.
Why pause?  Why take time at the beginning to cherish God and his work?  According to Gafke, it's because when we pause at the beginning, the end changes.  Somehow, the end is transformed by the pause at the start. He goes on to say that it is because we are transformed by the time with God.

Not a waste of time, at all.  I need to be transformed.

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