Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Covenant with Creation

Sunset on Kanawha River
Yesterday, I talked about the Noah covenant in Genesis 9.  Look at this again:
Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.  I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. (8:9-12)
Something I hadn't noticed before is that the covenant is not only with Noah; it is also with creation.

What does that mean?  If God values creation enough to include it all in the covenant, then we have a model for what we should value.  How does the idea that creation is valuable to God impact how we interact with creation?

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Model of Grace

The Sunday school curriculum for this quarter provides several lessons from Genesis.  We spent a Sunday reviewing the story of Noah.

In Genesis 9, God says, "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, ....  I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all fresh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.  (8:9-12)

The Sunday school curriculum pointed out that this is a one sided covenant.  God is actually making no demands of Noah.  He doesn't ask Noah to behave any differently than he had before.  He offers relationship with no repentance.

Are we willing to offer relationship without repentance?  Are we willing to move forward with forgiveness without repentance?  Will we offer grace without repentance?

I think we often don't.  We often think, "I forgive when he says he's sorry."   We withhold grace until an apology is offered -- until the other person admits the wrong.

It's not the same situation as found in the Noah covenant.  I imagine we don't measure up to the one person God could find on earth who was worthy of salvation from the flood.  Still, though, God's covenant with Noah is a model for us of grace.  And it's a great model.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013


I'm still thinking about Luke 7:36-50.  As I mentioned yesterday, this is the story of Jesus' visit to the home of Simon the Pharisee.  His feet are anointed by a woman whose name we are not given.

We make several assumptions about this story.

  1. In my class on Sunday, the assumption was made that the woman is a prostitute.  Why is that assumption made?  It doesn't say that.  Jesus tells a story comparing great sin to less sin, and from that we assume that the woman has sinned much, but why do we assume she is a prostitute?
  2. My class didn't make this assumption, but we do often say that the woman was Mary Magdalene.  None of the four anointing stories in the Bible name Mary Magdalene as the woman who does the anointing.  In one of them, the woman's name is given -- Mary of Bethany (Martha's sister), but that story is different from the one in Luke.  The Lukan story is probably not Mary of Bethany.
  3. Because we connect Mary Magdalene with this story, and we assume that the woman in the story is a prostitute, we call Mary Magdalene a prostitute.  The Bible never says that.

I wonder what it says about how we see women that we assume the anointing woman in the Luke story is a prostitute.   We should be careful about our assumptions about people, reading both the Bible and other people with care.

I wonder what it says that we combine what we think we know and assume it is the truth.  We need to examine what we think we know and compare it to what we really know.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013


In Bible Study this past Sunday we looked at the story of the anointing of Jesus as told in Luke 7:36-50.  In this passage, Jesus has been invited to dinner by Simon, a Pharisee.  While he is there, a woman comes in and anoints his feet with costly ointment.  The Pharisee remarks on this, and Jesus talks about forgiveness.  Who will love the one who forgives more -- the one who is forgiven little or the one who has forgiven much?

We spent a lot of time in class talking about forgiveness and the difficulties surrounding it --  good use of our time, don't get me wrong.

I couldn't help noticing, though, the vast difference between the faith of these two people.  Simon, the Pharisee, invites Jesus to dinner.  It feels like he did it out of curiosity -- to see what Jesus had to say.  He didn't treat him as a real guest; he didn't give him the hospitality that he would have offered other guests in his home.  It seems to me that if he had believed in Jesus, who would have been more welcoming.  It seems to me that he had little faith.

Compare that to the woman.  She has so much faith that she is compelled to come into Simon's home, possibly without an invitation?  She not only offers what Simon did not -- but she also does it out of faith.  In fact, at the end, Jesus says, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

The two people who separated by their sin, but also by the differences in their faith.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Unreasonable Grace

West Virginia Mountains in September, East of Elkins
One more post about the Father and his two sons.

If you look at the 15th chapter of Luke, it is actually three parables.  I think we miss comparisons like this because we so often focus on one part of scripture, without looking around it in the bible.

Right before the "Prodigal son" story are two others:

  1. The Parable of the Lost Sheep -- The shepherd leaves behind 99 sheep in order to go and find the one that is lost.
  2. The Parable of the Lost coin --  A woman stops everything she is doing, lights a lamp and searches the entire house until she finds one coin (even though she still has nine of them).
  3. The Parable of the Father and two sons -- The father welcomes back the lost son.

Is it reasonable for the shepherd to leave 99 sheep and look for one?  Is it a wise use of time for the woman to spend all day searching for one coin?  Isnt' it foolish for the father to welcome back the son after everything he did?

Perhaps Jesus is calling us to this kind of unreasonable, unwise foolishness in our own faith.  There are those who will judge you as foolish as you pursue those who are lost.  It is an unreasable command from God.  It is probably unwise, but do it anyway.

This is grace.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

It's not fair

I'm still thinking about the Parable of the Father and his two sons.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I imagine that the Father had to sell some of his legacy land in order to satisfy the younger son's demand.

Where does that leave the older son?  He's probably his father's heir, entitled to receive a double portion of his father's estate (according to Deuteronomy 21:17).  Think about that for a moment.  I assume that means that the younger son would have been entitled to 1/3 of the father's property, and the older son, 2/3.  I was having a moment of "It's unfair to give the younger son 1/2 of the property -- he's only entitled to 1/3!"  Then I reread the parable - he asks for "the share of the property that belongs to him" - not half.

Once I called down from that, I started thinking more about the older son.  The sale of the property probably devalued what would come to him -- creating a smaller farm, less land for the family's use.  And just like us (I imagine), the older son is wondering why the younger son GETS WHAT HE ASKS FOR.  Why did the father say yes?

So, time passes, and the younger son returns.  It's no wonder the older son was disgruntled.  The father is now giving to the younger son what rightly belongs to the older son.

Are we like that sometimes?  Do we resent the restoration of someone because we see it as unfair?  The truth is, grace can be unfair.  It isn't meant to be fair.  It rankles us, because we grow up believing that fairness is the goal.  We slice the brownies so that everyone gets the same amount.  We make sure everyone has the same number of gifts under the Christmas tree.  We take turns.  We are brought up to expect (and demand?) fairness.

Grace isn't fair.  It's grace.  Undeserved.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Unbelievable Grace

This morning I've been thinking about the Parable of the Father and his two sons -- we often call it the Prodigal Son Parable, but it's more than that, don't you think?

Consider for a moment what the younger son asks the father to do.  "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me."  (Luke 15:12)  What kind of property?  Don't you imagine that much of what the father owned was land?  And in order to give the younger son half of what he owns, he must sell at least some of the land.  I imagine, although I don't know, that this property has passed through generations in order for the father to own it.  So, what does this mean for the father?  In order to do what the younger son asks him to do, he has to sell land that has been given to him as a legacy, and land that he had probably hoped to pass along to his sons as their legacy.

And what does he do?  He sells some of the property and gives it to the younger son.  Why would he do that?  Doesn't it seem foolish to you?  Would you do it if your child demanded it of you?  I imagine I would not.

I think sometimes we look at grace in the same way.  Forgive someone who doesn't deserve it?  Love someone who is unlovable?  Why would we do it?  Why would God do it?

And yet, God does, and calls us to do the same, as foolish and as unbelievable as it sounds to us.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013


During Children's Sabbath last Sunday, Joe pointed out something that caught my attention.  He said that it is not enough to save people.  We must bring them safe to sanctuary.

Consider a lifeguard.  When someone is drowning, he swims out to rescue them.  Rescue doesn't just involve stopping the person from drowning; it also means bringing the person to the sanctuary of shore.

Years ago, when I was helping with the Youth Group, we took the kids to a Christian concert.  Part of the agenda of the concert arrangers was to bring youth to Christ.  Don't get me wrong; that is a fine goal.  It seemed to me at the time, though, that "saving" them and then leaving them with no support was rather like rescuing someone from drowning and then not bring them to shore.

How else are we called to provide sanctuary?

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013


In worship the other day, the parallel between two scriptures provided an ah-ha moment for me.  Look at Luke 5.  In this passage, Jesus calls Peter to be a disciple.  It's the story when Jesus tells Simon (later to become Peter) to put his nets out again.  Simon agrees, although is skeptical.  When the nets become overladen with fish, Simon is overwhelmed, and says, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."

Now look at Isaiah 6.  In this passage, Isaiah is having an encounter with God, and he (Isaiah) says, "Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips..."

In both cases, a man has an encounter with God, and the reaction is one of humility, and of an awareness of self.

What happens next?  Jesus tells Peter, "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people."  A seraph touches coal to Isaiah's lips, and Isaiah's guilt departs him.  God sends Isaiah to do God's work.

I think it is interesting that in both cases a man has an encounter with God, and the reaction is one of humility.  The person has a greater awareness of who he is.  This leads to transformation -- and usefulness to God.

Jack in worship said, "When God reveals himself to us, he reveals us to ourselves."  That seems to make all the difference.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Room of the Holy

Also in Philip Gulley's sermon, he talked about the idea of a "room of the holy" inside each of us.  For example, the person who is alone, feeling lonely and abandoned, would find the presence of God and God's companionship in the room of the holy.  The person who has been abused and injured, would find loving kindness.  The pastor who is stretched beyond herself, would find peace.

He asked, "What would be in your own "room of the holy"?

From his examples, I would deduce that that space inside of us, where we encounter the Holy Spirit, would be a room where God provides what God knows we each, individually, need.

It reminds me of a Walk to Emmaus.  It's very difficult to explain to someone what happens on a Walk to Emmaus.  It's not that the agenda is secret -- it's that no one knows what God will provide.  I can easily explain what happens on a walk, but I cannot predict what God will do in the life of the pilgrim.

It's grace, isn't it?  God provides grace, whatever the need may be.  God knows what we need, and it is God's grace to provide it to us.  Our rooms of the holy are filled with God's grace.

And that's amazing.


Monday, October 14, 2013

A Soul with a Body

Pumpkins at Capitol Market
Philip Gulley, at his Convocation sermon at our church, quoted C.S. Lewis:  "You don't have a soul.  You
are a soul.  You have a body."  (As a sidenote, I don't think C.S. Lewis said that, but it's still a good thought.)

Think about that for a moment.  Too often, I think, we consider our spiritual lives to be something separate from ourselves.  Our "soul" (to think Greek) is something that will live beyond our deaths, moving to heaven to be with God.

What are the implications of thinking of ourselves as "soul."  We are living in a temporary covering - our bodies - and what we are essentially is an eternal creation, striving to live up to our potential to be in the image of God.

What we do, how we act, impacts our eternal lives.  How we interact with other people impacts their eternalness.

Not only that, but when we consider ourselves to be soul, rather than to have one, we change our "link."  As a body with a soul, we are linked to the present time.  Our understanding of ourselves is tied tightly to our earthly being.  If we are a soul with a body, then our tie is to where God dwells.  This life becomes temporary.  Important, because it is a gift from God, but still temporary.

How does the idea of being a soul that has a body strike you?

Note:  A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through Capitol Market in Charleston.  I was struck by how colorful and interesting the flowers and pumpkins were, so I snapped several images with my iPhone.  I had just finished watching a YouTube video about recording images in this kind of forum, so I was inspired to try it myself.  All of this week's images will be from that day in the market. 

If you are a West Virginia who travels to Charleston, stop by the market.  In spring, they sell flowers, in summer, they sell produce and in the fall, the flowers (mums, mostly) and pumpkins are beautiful.  


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

One bread

Last Sunday was World Communion Sunday.  Every third year in Huntington, the Downtown Churches Association plans a World Communion Celebration in the streets.  We all start worship in our own buildings and then at about 11:30, we leave the building and join together for a shared celebration.

This year, as we stood in line to receive the elements, a little girl near me said to her mother, "Is this the same kind of bread that we have in our church?"

I didn't hear the mother's answer to her daughter; I was too busy trying to make sure I remembered the question to blog about it!

Yes, sweetheart, this is the same bread that is offered at communion in your church.  It might look different or taste different, but it is the same bread, the same body, offered by Christ to us.

It was a great question for World Communion Sunday, and I hope that as we were all gathered as one Body of Christ, we were reminded that it is the same bread.

(...even thought there is a grape juice line and a wine line, it's the same blood, too....)


Friday, October 04, 2013


Lord, in some areas of my life I should be content and, in others, contentment is carelessness. Guide me as I learn the difference. Amen (Ullas Tankler, Disciplines)
The prayer above was at the end of the devotional I read today.  I hadn't thought before that there are times in our faith when we should be content, and times when we should not.  How do we tell the difference?

When is contentment careless?  When is contentment thanksgiving?

I think there are times in ministry when we feel content, satisfied, pleased with what we are doing and how we are doing it, when we might be ignoring God's call to move forward, to stretch, to take chances.  There is a women's circle in my church that had every reason to be content.  They like each other, they enjoy getting together, they are a support to each other.  They were content, until one day, when one of their members talked to them about the children in the school down the street whose only meals are the free breakfast and lunches they get at school.  These children don't eat on the weekends.

How can we be content when children are hungry?  I think in that situation, contentment was carelessness.

Now, the circle has started a backpack ministry.  Each week they pack enough food into 15 backpacks to feed 15 children throughout the weekend.  The backpacks are delivered to school and distributed to 15 specific children (chosen by the principal for the program).  Those children aren't hungry on the weekend anymore.

The women's circle was afraid to start.  This is not an inexpensive program -- how would they get the money?  How would it be staffed?  Who would deliver the bags?  How would they do it at all?

But they did.  And this year they've increased the number of children they serve from 10 to 15.  And God continues to supply the needs of the program.

In that, they can be content -- in the idea that God is with them.

Maybe we tell the difference by measuring our contentment against God's will.

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Themes of Luke

Our church has started a new Bible Study, and our first curriculum is an examination of the Gospel of Luke.  I taught for the first two Sundays.

The material stresses three themes in Luke:
  • Luke writes to illuminate the idea of God’s redemptive plan for the salvation of all of humanity.  
  • Luke, more than any other Gospel writer, is interested in stressing Jesus’ concern to extend God’s mercy and grace to women as well as to men.
  • Luke is interested in focusing on the poor and the outcast.  
Two Sunday's ago the lesson was focused around Luke 20:1-20.  I asked the class to keep the three theme above in mind as they read, so I did the same as I read the passage to prepare to teach.  It is interesting to me that I can find all three.

The story begins with a sentence concerning a census that had been ordered by Caesar.  It was a symbol of Caesar's power over Palestine, and was done as a tool for taxation.  Contrast that with Joseph and Mary, and a baby born in a stable.  Shepherds, low in society's rankings, come to the birth.  Luke's emphasis on the poor and outcast is clearly seen in the nativity story.

In addition, (and according to the notes in my Bible) "A multitude of angels appear on a farm, making this (and not the Jerusalem Temple) the meeting lace of human and divine and providing a heavenly perspective on these events.  Good news is for all people..."

And then I love how the passage ends, with Mary pondering all of these things in her heart.  Why bother to tell us that?  Who cares about what a woman is "pondering?"  Jesus does, and so Luke includes the sentence.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Do Not Be Afraid

One last thought about the challenges of "going deep"  and growing in our faith.  I'm still thinking about the pastor Philip Gulley talked about , who was unwilling to ever change his mind about what he believed in.  Why would we do that?

As I wrote in my planner this morning, this quote was across the top of the page:  Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.  (Philip K. Dick)

Our desire to grow in the faith can be hampered by the fear that changing our beliefs can be a rejection of what we have been taught -- a rejection of God.  I think we need to remember that it is God that is moving us along this path of growth.  His sanctifying grace is moving us from what we were to where God needs us to be -- to our potential as his children.  We may go astray, but our stumbles off the path do not change the reality of who God is.  God will not change, and God will not go away.  The reality of God's grace will continue to nudge us and move us along the right path.  I think as long as we are genuine in our desire to move closer to God, God will move us closer to him, even when we trip and fall.

Do not be afraid.  Go deep.

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