Friday, June 28, 2013

Only in the quiet?

Many years ago, I listened to a sermon based on 1 Kings 19:8-15a.  Do you remember the passage?  In it, Elijah doesn't find God in the earthquake, fire or great wind.  He finds God in the quiet.  The preacher that day said that from this we can gather that God is to be found in only the quiet.  Forget loud music like Amy Grant's Emmanuel (the example he used) -- God isn't in that kind of music.  God is in the quiet.

I always resented that sermon.  I still remember it today, and I still think he was wrong.  I do find God in the noisy music of Amy Grant (and Mercy Me and Reliant K, and the list goes on and on).  Call me a heretic, but last wekend I even heard God in the music of Bob Dylan.

This past Sunday, Jack preached on the same passage.  His message was that God can be found everywhere.  God could have chosen to be in the earthquake, the fire, the wind, but he chose, for Elijah, the quiet.  Elijah needed God in the quiet.

Don't box God in.  We can't.  God can be found everywhere -- wherever God chooses to be.

We are the ones who must open our eyes and ears -- waiting for God.

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Will we be grace?

I was reading a devotional this morning based on Psalm 77.  The writer talked about how there are times when we need encouragement, comfort or support.  It is not a weakness to "cry aloud to God" when we need to do so.  What is sometimes trickier is to be open for the help when it arrives.  Are we open to the help that God sends, whether it is in the words of a friend, the actions of neighbor or the support of a stranger?

And how can we be that help?  Are we open to being used by God as encouragement for others?  Will we say yes to putting feet and hands to our prayers for others?  Will we provide support for the stranger?

Are we prepared enough to be that support when we don't even know that is what we are doing?

Will we be grace?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Science and Faith

Have you ever encountered the idea that belief in God and acceptance that the theory of evolution hold some truth are diametrically opposed?  Have you ever spoken to a scientist who seemed to be "above" faith in God?  Do you think science and faith are mutually exclusive?

I love exploring the world through the eye of science.  I enjoy playing with the math of physics as it calculates the force of an object striking the ground.  I stood in awe of the possibilities of snipping genes in a bacteria and sequencing their make-up.  How fascinating is it that cells in our eyes can detect light and transform the photons into electrical energy to travel up a nerve to the brain -- and then! - and then our brains turn the electrical energy into thought as we marvel at the blue of an ocean while listening to the sounds of the waves.  Science is fascinating.

I love digging into my faith, reading biblical texts and then enriching my understanding of them by reading what others have written and engaging in conversations about the texts with other believers.  I relish handing someone a piece of communion bread and telling him that it is a gift of God.  I am strengthened when I listen to others speak about their encounters with the living God.  I believe in God, and am nurtured by expanding my faith.

I don't compartmentalize those two aspects of myself.  They are entwined together, each part of myself enhanced by the other.

I'm still reading Ortbertg's book about the Inescapable Jesus.  Did you know:
1.  According to Konrad Burdack, the Renaissance was not in opposition to Christian religions but instead grew out of the "vitality of religious revival"?
2.  Technology was developed because Jesus taught there is a difference between work and toil.  Using "creative reason to liberate people from toil is part of the redemptive work of Jesus."
3.  Science fundamentally arose because of a belief that God is a rational God.  Why study something that is a random accident?

Jesus told his disciples to love God with all they are, including their minds.  Kepler wrote, "God, like a Master builder, has laid the foundation of the world according to law and order.  God wanted us to recognize those laws by creating us after His image so that we could share in His own thought."  The study of science is pursuing the thoughts of God.

When we look at evolution, we see God's road map for creation.  We are seeing God's work in the world, and it is indeed fascinating.

I am a biologist.  I am a theologian.  I am a child of God.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Pretend Letter

First, a word of explanation....

I read on Facebook and the internet about pastors who are encountered by comments from parishioners about their sermons -- negative, non-constructive comments.  I can tell by the pastor's posts that they worry about these criticisms and want to respond to them in a positive way, but also in a way that leads to understanding.

I've never encountered this kind of challenge, but I wondered what I would say if I had, so I wrote this letter.  Truthfully, I can't see that sending it would be a constructive move, but it helped me to define what I believe a sermon should be.  The names are all made up, the situation is a pretend one.  This is a fictional response, but it reflects what I think a sermon process should be and my understanding of preaching.

Dear John:

Thank you for the letter you wrote to me yesterday.  I can see that my sermon wasn't what you expected when you came to worship.  I wonder if it would help if I explained my understanding of what a sermon is and should be, and maybe a little bit about my process for crafting a sermon.

I begin the process of writing a sermon not by writing but by reading.  I read the text and let it live in my mind for a few days.  I'm counting on God to distill my thoughts into the message God would like to have delivered to God's people.  I take some time to separate myself from daily distraction and spend time in prayer.  My goal is that the message delivered is not my own, but is God's.

A sermon, I believe, should forward God's purposes to create change.  What response is God hoping for in the people?  I pray that I will discover that hoped-for response, and that I can craft a sermon that moves people toward it.

A sermon should also remain faithful to the scripture.  I pray that God will illuminate God's word for me and that I will see clearly what the message is, and that I can shine light on it for all of us.

The resulting sermon is not always comforting and in fact can very often be challenging.  It is almost always about change.  Its purpose is to illuminate where we are standing, and how far we have to go in order to be closer to God's image for us.  The purpose of Christianity is change -- transformation -- from sinner to saved.  From who we are to who God wants us to be.  The journey can be uncomfortable, as can be the sermon that points to that journey.

If it helps, I didn't find the sermon yesterday to be very comforting, either.  God's message challenges my life and my decisions as much as anyone else's.  My hope is in God, and in God's love for all of us.  I'm grateful God is trying to move all of us closer to who we were created to be.

Thank you for your thoughts. I'm grateful you sent them to me, and I'm grateful that we are on this challenging journey to Christ-like holiness together.

Blessings and grace,


Monday, June 24, 2013

A Life-transforming Decision

What difference has Jesus made in the lives of women?  In the way women are seen?  Treated?  These questions came to my mind as I read the next chapter of Orberg's book, Who is this man?.

Consider the story of Mary and Martha in the Gospel.  Martha was doing all of the work while Mary sat at Jesus' feet, listening.  Martha gets upset, but Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen the better way.

We read this story and make it about busyness versus learning from Jesus.  We make it a comparison of a woman who is doing housework versus one who is stretching her faith, and we nod wisely and say, "Yes, one must take time to sit at Jesus' feet."  In our interpretation, we see it as some kind of balancing act, certain that when Mary is finished with her daily devotions, she'll go back in the kitchen and cook.  We don't see Mary's choice as life changing; instead we see it as wise time management.

But that's not what it's about.  Mary's decision was radical.  Mary decides to not be who she was and to be someone else -- to be a disciple, sitting at Jesus' feet and learning from him.  Ortberg writes, "Marthda did what the culture valued in women: cleaned the house and cooked the food.  Mary did what the culture valued in men: became a disciple".

It's a life transforming decision.  And Jesus approved.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, June 21, 2013

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

In one of this week's lectionary reading -- 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a -- Elijah is exhausted.  He's afraid.  He travels a long way and sits down under a broom tree, ready to die.    An angel comes and ministers to him.  Elijah gains strength and then travels for 40 days into the wilderness.  He ends up in a cave in Horeb, the Mount of God.

God says to him, "What are you doing here?"

It made me wonder.  Has God led him to this place?  Is it God's leading that brings him to this wilderness place for an encounter with the divine?  So that he can have a better understanding of God?  If so, is God asking him this question to see if Elijah is ready for what is about to happen?  Aware of God's plan?  Prepared?

Or, even after revival under the broom tree, has Elijah continued to run away from ministry?  Is God exasperated with him?  "What are you doing here?  Why aren't you back at work?"  Is God frustrated?

Whichever it is, are there times when you wonder "What am I doing here?"  Whether God has led you to a place, and you are looking around, perplexed, or you have led you to a place, and you are looking around, wondering why you are where you are?

What are you doing here?

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 20, 2013


What does forgiveness look like? What does it feel like?

If I say that I have forgiven someone, or even myself, do my words have truth if I continue to take out the incident that is at the root of the matter and hold it in my hand?  Is it forgiveness if I turn it over in my mind and pick at it?  Is it forgiveness if I just shove it back in the recesses and pretend?

Who do I need to forgive?  Myself?  Someone else?

I've never really thought that forgiveness required forgetting.  In my experience, forgiveness doesn't walk hand in hand with forgetting, and I don't mean to imply that it does.

Is someone forgiven if we keep pulling out the hurt and reexamining it?

I do think forgiveness and healing walk hand in hand.  When we say things like, "I can never forgive that person," what we are really saying is, "I can never let myself be healed of the hurt.  I relish the re-examination of the pain too much."

Please don't misunderstand me.  I know how hard it is to forgive, and I know that sometimes the intervention of God is all that makes it possible.

But still, if I keep pulling out the hurt and looking at it -- if you do -- then perhaps we need to accept that we and God still have work to do.  Perhaps we should recognize that forgiveness is necessary.

I think forgiveness feels like wholeness.  It doesn't feel like amnesia, it feels like new life.  There is much in life for which I need forgiveness and for which I need to forgive, but I think God and I can move further if I recognize the necessity.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Standing up against injustice

JtM's sermon today was based on the story of Naboth the Jezreelite, who has a vineyard that King Ahab wanted.  It is a story of power and control.  Naboth refuses to sell it to Ahab.  The King, pouting, refuses to eat.  His wife, Jezebel tells him that she will get the vineyard for him.  She arranges for the death of Naboth.

It is murder by distance.  It is injustice from far away.  It is, nevertheless, even if "hands-off," murder and injustice.

Elijah stands up and declares the injustice of it all.

How often do we sin from a distance?  How often to we ignore the injustice of what we are doing because we can't see the person who is being hurt by it?  It's pretty easy to turn a blind eye and ignore what is not right in front of us -- sometimes even what is right in front of us.

There are times I an overwhelmed by the thought of it.  There are some issues that seem so large that I have no idea how to correct them.  There are other issues that I could change, but I choose to ignore.

When in my life am I Ahab?  Jezebel?  Naboth?  Elijah?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Something Frightening

I was in a meeting today listening to a pastor from Dallas talk about his start up church.  It's called Union Coffee House.  You can go to this website ( to learn more about it.

He said starting a church like this was frightening.  it has never been done before.  It's so new that the Annual Conference can't assign him a coach because no one is prepared to offer him advice -- there is no tried and true advice.  Every decision he makes has to be his best guess - and they are critical  ministry decisions. Every plan is for something new. It's frightening and exciting.  You can tell he is passionate about it.

I think about ministry, and I wonder when the last time was that decisions were frightening because there was no precedent.  Are we inventing new ways to reach people?  Are we relying on what has been done previously to reach people, remembering that what has been done previously hasn't actually reached new people?  If it had, they wouldn't be the unreached.

Do we need to go out on a limb?  Do something unprecedented?  Do something frightening?

Labels: ,

Friday, June 14, 2013

Unbidden and Unwanted?

"The first person to write about him (Jesus) -- who would become known as Paul -- said that Jesus appeared to him unbidden and unwanted. And he had a strange way of continuing to show up where he was not always sought or even welcome." John Ortberg

A few years ago I was attending a meeting of the Board of Directors of our local Walk to Emmaus Community. We were discussing whether to loan out part of our equipment to an unrelated entity that needed it. We went back and forth, looking at pros and cons. Finally, one of the pastors in the room, brought up the idea of ministry and serving. I said, "Oh, alright, if you're going to bring Jesus into it." I was kidding, but there was a grain of truth in what I said. We, as a Board, had placed Jesus off to the side so that we could look at the issue outside of Jesus' perspective.

Do we do that? Do we move Jesus out of the way sometimes? Does Jesus enter into our lives unbidden and unwanted?

In some ways that is disturbing. We want to remain in control -- we want to say when Jesus walks into a situation, and when he doesn't. Jesus doesn't work that way, though. He is always there. We can choose to try to ignore him, but since we are the church, and dependent on each other, someone will notice him, and bring our attention back to him. We don't always want that, but Jesus continues to show up.

On the other hand, it is comforting. When I forget to look for him, when I close my eyes to God-possibilities, Jesus can show up anyway. I'm glad his presence isn't dependent on my permission. I need him to show up even when I don't ask.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In the Image

I just started a new book. It's called Who is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus by John Ortberg.

Image what it was like to live in the time of Herod the Great. Read this quote:
"The king was divine, or semi-divine. The king was understood to be made in the image of the god who created him. Only the king was made in the image of the god....This is the Dignity Gap."

And then this one: "Imagine what it did to the hearts of the dregs of humanity to be told that not just the king but they too were created in the image of the one great God."

What happened? Jesus happened.

"There are gradations of talent, strength, intelligence and beauty. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, 'There are no gradations of the image of God.'"

What does it do to our lives to see all others as made in the image of God? What did it do to society -- this influence that the inescapable Jesus had? Women became human beings. It became wrong to leave unwanted children on the dung heap to die. The downtrodden were finally seen as having worth -- the same worth as the king.

That worth is not gained because of the family into which we are born or by the amount of money we have or by our gender, race, faith, orientation, age or career. We have worth because God has given it to us. Each of us. All of us.

How does that change how we see each other? How should it change how we treat each other?

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 03, 2013


“Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

I know I've blogged about that quote before, but I read it once again today.  

Do we believe that every common bush is afire with God?  What would that mean?  It would mean that even in the mundane routine of life, every action is afire with God.  Do we believe that?  Do we believe that every person who crosses our path today will be a child of God?  Afire with the presence of God?

My husband's uncle's father (keep up, I know it's getting complicated) would tell people that radio waves were everywhere.  They are even in your pocket.  I wonder what he would have thought of wireless Internet?

Anyway, do we perceive of God's presence like that?  Everywhere?  That everything is afire with God?

And do we like that?  Or, like fire, would we rather back aware for fear of being burned?