Friday, February 28, 2014

You have all you need

Order of Worship, Prayer beads,
pens, Emmaus Cross
(from when I was Walk Lay Director)
Tuesday I prepared for a gathering of the committee of which I am now the chairperson.  The plan was to hold a worship service during which we would attempt to discern God's mission and will for the work we are to do.  Knowing it was worship, I spent a few minutes in prayer in the chapel in our building.

The day was dreary when I went into the chapel.  One wall has several stained glass windows that face the street, but they were rather dim when I went into the room.  As I was praying, mainly just being silent, I could tell that the light level in the room was increasing.  I opened my eyes; sunlight was streaming through the stained glass, reflecting off the shiny wood floors - white light, colored light.  It was absolutely beautiful, and it truly felt like I was surrounded by God.

The words - not my words -
in my head as I prayed were "You have all you need."  That's the message I took to my committee.  In a time of tightening budgets and decreasing membership, we have all we need to do what God is calling us to do.

I think that's a message for more than just one committee.  (And for those who are veterans of the Walk to Emmaus and are part of a reunion group, that was my "moment when I felt closest to Christ.")

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

At the Fringes

Joe preached a great sermon this past Sunday. He talked about how the Church has lost its place in the center of influence.  We look back at past glory days and yearn to return to that, but is that really our place anyway?

There is much talk among Foundations about being fringe organizations.  United Methodist Foundations are separate, legally, from the Church.  We are told, and we realize, that from this place in the fringes, we can do transformative ministry that can help the Church.

If that is true, then isn't it just as true that if the Church is on the fringes, we have a great opportunity for ministry?  If we are not the center, then what wonderful influence can we have from the fringes.

If you consider the life of Jesus, didn't he minister from the fringes?  And didn't he minister to those who were at the fringes?

Perhaps we should stop yearning to be at the center and realize that this is our place, here on the fringes.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How Blessed You Are

Later this spring I'll be serving as the Media person on a Walk to Emmaus team.  Part of the preparation for that event is team meetings when we preview talks.  One of the previewers this past weekend said that someone told her, "I can see how blessed you are."

The phrase struck me.  How wonderful is it that someone could see how God had blessed the person in front of her?   Do we live our lives so that someone else can see how blessed we are?

How do we live that kind of life?  As I think about it:

  1. Do we recognize our own blessings?  I think in order for someone else to see how God has blessed us, we need to see it ourselves.  Are you thankful?  Am I?  How have you been blessed?
  2. Does my complaining and ranting overshadow the visibility of my blessings?  How will someone ever see how blessed I am if all I ever do is complain about my problems?  I think this one relates to number 1, because if we become aware of our blessings we might be less vocal about our problems.
  3. Does Christ shine from my life?  That one is harder to define and to answer.  I think if we move into and stay in a relationship with God, the God will take care of this one.  God will shine forth; it's inevitable.

So, go shine and show those around you how blessed you are.  Today, I'll try to do the same.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Choosing to Believe

Yesterday I talked about a woman who had been missing last weekend.  As I mentioned, the congregation was praying for her. In fact, we were in the middle of praying during worship, holding hands across the sanctuary.  We said, "Amen," and Steve's phone buzzed.  It was an email from the woman's daughter that said, "We found her.  Details to follow."  It was a wow moment.

We found out later that the woman had driven her car up a one-lane road on a mountain, parked and spent the night there, in her car.  She was found by three men who were on the mountain. They reacted with compassion and called for help.  The ambulance that came to get her had to back down the mountain because there was no room to turn around.  Once plans were in place to bring the woman home, her daughter called a towing company to see about getting the car off the mountain.  She found out that the mountain was so snowed in that that Fire Department had advised the towing company that it was too dangerous.

I have two choices.  I can believe that the woman was lucky.  I can choose to believe that God had nothing to do with it.

Or I can choose to have faith in God.  I can chooses to believe that somehow, he was able to keep her safe during her drive, to prevent tragedy on a mountain, to motivate three men to find her and to be compassionate, and that God used the timing of an email message to remind us all that he is involved in our lives.

It's my choice.  I choose to believe.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why Pray?

Yesterday, I talked about prayer, and how the environment in which we live and work can impact our prayer life.

Last weekend, an older member of our congregation was missing.  To make a long story short, she was found, on a snow-covered mountain in North Carolina.  She had driven there, by mistake.  All weekend, the entire congregation was praying for her - that she would be safe, that someone kind would help her, that the police would catch up with her, that she would call home - anything to bring her safely back where she belonged.

Three men were on this snow-covered mountain, and they found her in her car, sleeping.  They called the police, and an ambulance came to take her to the hospital for observation.  She was fine.  It is the best outcome.

In bible study that evening, one of the members asked, "Why did we have the prayer vigil?  Other than the impact it had on those gathered, what difference did it make?"  Before you jump to an answer, consider the question.  I certainly don't think that God was waiting for us to compile enough prayers to motivate him to action.  I believe if no one had prayed, then the woman who was missing would still have been in God's care.  So why pray?

I think we pray because God says to pray.  I don't have to have all of the answers - and I certainly don't, but pray because we have the blessed privilege of being in communication with the creator of the universe, and God wants us to communicate.  I used to think about questions such as the one that the class member asked, but I don't anymore.

I think we pray because it can change us.  I think we pray because God can work through us to change the world.  I think we pray because it opens up the relationship we can have with God.  I think we pray because God says it is the best thing we can do.  Pray.  Pray about whatever is on your mind.  Don't filter your prayers, don't communicate only what you think God wants to hear.   Pray, and expect change.

Pray because someone, in a way I don't understand, prayers can help the lost.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Place to Pray

We are invited - or would you say commanded by God - to pray.  So we should pray.  But how does the environment in which we are living impact our prayer lives?  How do we impact others' prayers?

Henri Nouwen, in Here and Now, says this:
It is very heard to live a life of prayer in a milieu where no one prays or speaks lovingly about prayer.  It is nearly impossible to deepen our communion with God when those with whom we live and work reject or even ridicule the idea that there is a loving God.  It is a superhuman task to keep setting our hearts on the kingdom when all those whom we know and talk with are setting their hearts on everything but the kingdom.
So, what do we do?  If we are in an environment that makes prayer difficult, what do we do?  For many, changing that environment is impossible - we can't leave it, and we can't change the people in it.  Can we find time apart from that milieu (as Nouwen calls it) to pray?  Can we move to be in contact with more Christian friends?  I'm grateful for my accountability group (Emmaus Reunion Group) because it a place that nurtures prayer.

And what about our activities and their effects on other people?  Can we create a place that is more nurturing for the prayer lives of other people?  What do we do that discourages them?  What do we need to change?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Moving on

If you look closely at the picture, can you see the walkway between the two buildings?  It high up, at the top of the one in the distance, and it is angled from one level to the next. Steve and I were walking through Minneapolis, and this tiny set of stairs stopped me in my tracks.  I can't even imagine walking on this stairway to reach the other building.

I wonder if we are like that sometimes.  Are we ever in one place - standing on solid footing - but have a need or desire to move to another place?  Does our path seem frightening and disorienting, to the point that no matter how much the other, newer place is calling our name, we refuse to go, because the short stairwell is too frightening?

On the other hand, would there be a better way to move from one building to another?  Why not take the elevator down and walk on the ground to enter the second place?  Do we sometimes insist that the only way to move from one place to another, metaphorically, is by the shortest possible way - a way that is full of danger?  Does our stubbornness sometimes keep us from moving on because getting where we need to go requires patience and hard work?

Still - no way am I walking on that stairwell.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 17, 2014

What do we mourn?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (MT 5:4)

Who are those who mourn?  In a recent sermon about the Beatitudes, Jack explained that those who mourn could refer to those who are leaving their old way of life and turning to a new one.  In the process of changing - of repenting - we leave behind our selfish desires and turn to a new way of living.  In the process, we may mourn what we have lost:  our self-centered existence, our attachment to material objects, our former existence.  We may mourn that loss, but those who mourn will be comforted.

I think that when we change our lives, when we are transformed, not only do our lives change, but our desires change, too.  Do we mourn the loss?  Maybe not.  Maybe our priorities change so much that we do not regret the loss at all because we have gained so much in the change.  Is that comfort?  I don't think so; I think that is a change in attitude.

Before I joined the church where I am a member, a young man died.  He was killed in a military accident.  When discussing his death in church, the pastor said (I am told) that God was crying with those who loved him.  I am more convinced that those who mourn refers to those whose are suffering losses that make God cry, too.  Losses like the death of a baby, the fracturing of a relationship, the witnessing of the destruction of a life through addiction, or the suffering caused by illness.  When we move through these types of losses, we will be comforted.  God will hold us close, our church will surround us with grace and love; we will be comforted in mourning.

It just seems too ... um... contrived to say that when we mourn the loss of our selfish desires, we will find comfort.


Friday, February 14, 2014


They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

This is Monty Brown's dog.  Monty sometimes brings him to the office - Monty's office is across the hall from ours. One day, Monty was out, and the door had been left open. Rooney (I think that's his name - it has to do with the Pittsburgh Steelers) came by our office and wanted in. Such a cutie.

Who in our communities is like Rooney?  Who wants to come in?  The door doesn't have to be literal - who wants into our fellowship, into our mission work, into our lives? Who is watching instead of participating?


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Prayer and Connection

Outside my office window today
Henri Nouwen, in Here and Now, speaks of the impact of "the attentive repetition of a well-known
prayer."  He writes of praying Psalm 23 over and over, even though he doesn't feel at peace, and even though the world around him is busy and ugly.  He prays the prayer anyway.
The deeper these words enter into the center of my being, the more I become part of God's people and the better I understand what it means to be in the world world without being of it.
What does it mean to be in the world, rather than of it?  Yesterday I spoke about isolation, and how I believe we have to be part of the world in order to shine our light... to be in the world without being of it.

What is our source?  What is our origin?  Where are our roots?  Are we rooted in the world?  Or are we rooted in God's kingdom?

I go to work every day, and I feel as if I have a purpose and mission in what I am doing.  I'm using the gifts I have to contribute to the ministry of which I am a part.  Sometimes I get to go on the road, and visit with other people and other places.  And yet, none of that is where my roots are. My roots are at home, with my family.  I am called to go out, and yet I am connected to home.

Could it be that that is what Nouwen was talking about?  We are called to go out into the world, to use our gifts, share our time, contribute to God's ministry, and yet we are to be connected to God. We are to be  "of" God.  In God we find our home.

And so, prayer, even though it sometimes feels as if it is not connecting us to world, its purpose is to strengthen our connection to God.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shining in the Light?

Not real - but still cool
I found this image on Pinterest, and liked it.  It's not actually real - it's photoshopped.  The island is real - it's in Thailand, but it has no castle on the top.  Read about it here.  But, when I wrote this post, I saw this picture, and they seemed linked to me.

I was listening to an interview on a photography podcast.  The photographer being interviewed conducts photography seminars for "Christians."  He said he does this because there are people - Christian people - who want to be part of a seminar to learn about photography, but they want to be with people who are like them.  After he explained what he does, the interviewer said, "You told me that you would say things in the interview that I wouldn't like, but I find this fascinating."

I'm glad she liked it, but I found that I didn't.

Are we called to isolation?  The gentleman was right.  It would be nice to spend a weekend learning about photography with people who believe the same as you do.  I suppose there is nothing wrong with it at all, and if that is a choice someone makes for a weekend, then that's fine.  I wonder, though, if it is a choice we make everyday.  All the time.  Do we only surround ourselves with people who believe as we do?

We are called to shine, and it is certainly nice to shine together and to feel the love shining from someone else.  I don't think that's why we are called to shine, though.  We are called to shine in the darkness.  We are not called to isolation, but to the world.

Are our churches isolated sanctuaries of people who believe as we do?  Do we venture out at all?

And what would happen if someone else came in?  Would that person feel included?  Wanted? Would that person be wanted even if he or she was different than everyone else?

Do we go out, face the world, venture forth from our isolation to shine a light in the dark world, or do we only shine in the light, because it's better, easier, safer?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Yesterday, I talked about a post I read on Facebook:  "Women don't need to be rescued; they just need someone to listen to them."  My post was about rescue.  Today I want to look at the other half of the post - listening.

I've written before about listening (you can find my posts at this link.

Listening is a form of love.  It's not just women who need listeners; everyone needs the attentiveness of a listener.

Haven't you been sitting in a conversation, supposedly listening to someone who was talking to you, and found yourself drifting in and out of the conversation?  I've done that.  And I've been the one talking to a mind drifter, too.  Listening, really listening, is difficult, because it requires us to place the person in front of us ahead of our own thoughts and priorities.  When we don't listen, we make the person in front of us invisible in a way.  When we listen, really listen, without hearing through our own needs and suppositions, we see the person who is speaking.

Listening is a form of love because it affirms the sacred worth of the person who is speaking.  I disagree with the poster - it's not women who need someone to listen to them, it's everyone.

Go, today, and listen more than you talk.  Listen more than you think.  Just listen.  And I'll try to do the same.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 10, 2014


Posted on Facebook:  "Women don't need to be rescued; they just need someone to listen to them."

That started me thinking.  Do women need to be rescued? I have to say I agree, in some ways, with the poster.  Women don't have a larger need to be rescued than anyone else.  We are as capable, skilled and gifted as men.  I am shorter and less physically strong than most men I know, so there are times when it's helpful to have jar opened, a dish brought down from a high shelf, or luggage carried.  That doesn't mean I can't do it on my own, but even so, none of that is rescue.

I think the traditional viewpoint of women needing rescue and men being heroes comes from a few sources.  The "damsel in distress" and the "rescuing hero" model has been seen as romantic.  I wonder in the past if the "type" woman had a need to feel loved, and to be rescued meant that she was worthy of rescue.  For the "type" man, to be the hero made him feel worthy as well - stepping up as a man, into his expected macho role.  But that's not the way life is, and we are not the "type" of yesteryear.  Our worth is not defined by what someone else will do or by how we meet others' expectations.  God has defined our value, and we are of sacred worth.

What does it mean to be rescued?  Merriam-Webster defines rescue as "to free from confinement, danger, or evil (save, deliver).  That's not a state that is unique to women.  We are all in need of rescue.  God, loving us with an unlimited love, has determined our need of rescue and has provided it.

The hero was Jesus, dyeing on a cross, providing rescue for all men and women, who were equally in need of it.  It is an ultimate act of love, and should create in us an overwhelming gratitude.  So, what do we do?  How do we respond?  We become the rescuers.  We shine with the love of Christ, so that all will know their sacred worth and their place in the kingdom of God.

We love like God has loved.   Go rescue somebody today.


Friday, February 07, 2014

Judgment and Humility

In Sunday school a couple of weeks ago, Joe said that we often (and I'm paraphrasing) see the sin in someone else because it makes us feel superior.  We enjoy looking down at other people.

Henri Nouwen wrote
We always say again:  "What about him?  What about her?"  What Jesus says to us, as he said to Peter who wanted to know what would happen to John:  "What does it matter to you.  You are to follow me." (John 21:21-22)
How much time do we spend evaluating and judging other people?  What does that create in our heart?  What does that create in my heart?  I know it leaves me bitter and unhappy.  Is it because we think it makes us feel superior?

Nouwen goes on to say
God does not ask us to define our little niche in humanity over and against other people.   God's question is: "Are you reading the signs of your times as signs asking you to repent and be converted?"  What really counts is our willingness to let the immense sufferings of our brothers and sisters free us from all arrogance and from all judgments and condemnations and give us a heart as gentle and humble as the heart of Jesus.
The image we should have of humility isn't one of a sad dog who has been scolded so often that he's timid and obedient, out of fear of punishment, but instead, our vision of humility should be Christ, dying on a cross, not out of fear, but out of love.  He was humble in his obedience.

To have a heart as gentle and humble as Christ, as Nouwen phrases it, means first to repent, seeing our own sin, naming it and asking for forgiveness.  Then, out of the overwhelming love we experience from God, we can offer the same love and forgiveness to others - not arrogantly and not with judgment, but with love.

And that's easy to type, but hard to do.  May we all have grace.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Spirit of Love

This morning, I read:
The spirit of love says: "Don't be afraid to let go of your need to control your own life.  let me fulfill the true desire of your heart."  Henri Nouwen (Here and Now)
Are you one of those people, like me, who wants to be in control?  Is it hard for you (like me) to let go of steering the ship, to allow anyone else (even God) to guide what is happening or where you are going?

Why are we afraid to give up control to God?  Nouwen says,
"Maybe we still distrust the Sprint, afraid to be led to places where our freedom is taken away.  Maybe we still think of God's Spirit as an enemy who wants something of us that is not good for us."
Are we like that?  Are we afraid that we will be led where what happens to us is not good for us?  Are we afraid we will be the sacrifice to make the "big plan" come together?  Are we afraid that God does not love us?  Are you afraid that God does not love you?

God loves you.  If you had been the only person to be saved by the death of God's son, Jesus would have died, just for you.  You are worthy and sacred, and God loves you.  He cares for you, and he will only lead you to goodness.


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Hope, Part 2

Yesterday, I talked about hope.  Henri Nouwen says that the opposite of hope is fatalism.  He says that fatalism is the attitude that makes us live as passive victims of exterior circumstances beyond our control.  If you've been in a church meeting lately, then you might have experienced fatalism.  How do we avoid that?  How do we grasp faith and hope instead of fatalism.

I think we have to remember from where our hope comes.  Our hope comes from Christ.  God is in our world, and in our lives, and in our churches.  Our job is to recognize and follow God.

I think we forget..  I think we habitually move through life blind to the presence and hope of God.

And I think as we work in ministry, as we go to Church meetings, as we walk through our days, we need to remember that God is with us, and to point out to others that God is there.  That God is involved.  In this is our hope.  We are loved. God gives us grace enough to love each other.   And we are a church that can make a difference in the world.  We have to make sure that we don't forget it.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Hope, Part 1

Three stories to talk about hope:
First story - Have you ever watched the television show Castle? The main character's name is Richard Castle.  He grew up as the son of a single mom; they didn't have much money, but they got by.  He grew up to be a rich author who follows a homocide detective around for story inspiration.  During one episode, he's trying to explain to her why he loves Christmas - why it is so important to him.  As he was growing up, even though he and his mother didn't have much money, she made each Christmas special.  She is an actress, and each Christmas, she put on a production of the Nutcracker, right in their cramped apartment. It gave him hope that something better would be coming.

Second story - The President of the Foundation where I work has a habit of responding to the question, "How are you?" with "Better."  For someone who works with him and hears this often, it can get just a little annoying.  The usual response from the unsuspecting questioner is a concerned, "Oh, were you sick?"  No, I'm just better.  A couple of Sundays ago, our associate pastor used this as an example of what sanctification is.  For me, it turned something that is usually a little annoying to a light of hope.  I'm being sanctified.  I'm better than yesterday.

Third story - Last Sunday was the Sunday each year when we remember our baptism.  For me, it was an especially moving morning of worship.  Water - symbolized by fabric - flowed from the altar to surround a urn that was a fountain.  Moving, living water.  People brought bottles of water and placed them around the altar as a response to a chemical leak into the water supply in the Kanawha Valley.  During worship we talked about how we can be a more welcoming congregation - to everyone.  We sang about wading into the water, and how God will trouble the water.  It was a morning of hope.

So, what is hope, and why do we have hope?  Hope is not wishful thinking - hope is not, "I hope we have ice cream for dessert.  Hope is certainty.  Hope, I think, comes from our faith that Christ is with us.

Ephesians 4:1-6  I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

For someone like the character in Castle, there is hope in the knowledge that he is loved so much that his mother would make Christmas a special time in their lives.  There is hope in the idea that God loves us so much that God doesn't give up on us.  Each day God works in us so that we are better.  There is hope in the idea that a group of people can be a church - not just a gathering of people, but a body of Christ, making a difference in the world.


Monday, February 03, 2014

Book Review: Who is This Man

Time for another book review.

Information about the book
Title:  Who is this man?:  The unpreditable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus
Author:  John Ortberg
Publisher:  Zondervan (a division of HarperCollins)
Copyright:  2012
Links:  I read the book as a kindle book, so Amazon was my source.  When I went to get the link from Amazon, I saw that the kindle version is priced (today - who knows what it will be tomorrow) at $2.99.  That's much less than I paid for it.
Website for author:  I can't find a site for Ortberg, but he is a contributor to Christianity Today, and they have a nice page about him.

The forward to this book is written by Condeleeza Rice, who says, "In Who is this Man? John has written a powerful testament to the impact that Jesus has had on human history, on the human condition, and on our understanding of the obligations of one human being to another."  

In this book, Ortberg explores the difference Jesus has made on humanity and life here on earth. For example, how has humanity's treatment of women been changed by the life and example of Christ.  Topics explored include how Jesus changed the treatment of the oppressed, the value of a person, the struggle to understand truth, the concept of greatness, our treatment of our enemies, the idea of power and authority, the definition of goodness, the limits of our mission in the world, marriage, and art.  Suffice it to say, Jesus changed the world -- every aspect of it.  Ortberg's book explores that change.
I bought the book solely because Ortberg wrote it.  I have read several books by him and have taught a couple of classes based on his books.  I've liked all of them, and this one was no exception.

For me, the books was full of ah-ha moments.  Do you know those times when you are reading, and you read a sentence or paragraph and know that something you didn't know before has been revealed to you?  Or that something you believed has been exquisitely phrased by what you have read?  Those are ah-ha moments, and for me they are the special gifts that a book can bring when you read it.

Ortberg has a wonderful voice in his writing.  His books, including this one, are engaging and interesting.  They are well researched, but don't feel like a text book.  He is funny - surprisingly so - the laughter will sneak up on you.  He is insightful, and he is a "truth-teller."

The great thing about a kindle book is that I am able to highlight those passages that "speak" to me as I read.  It's great for blogging, because I can go back and write posts from what I marked.  The Kindle software compiles these highlights into a notebook.  I was going to tell you how many highlights I have from this book, but it is truthfully too many to count.  There are probably at least 150 passages highlighted.

I would recommend this book as a good one to read on your own.  I would also recommend it a book for a book study, and I think there is material available to help facilitate that.

This link will take you to the posts I have written on the blog inspired by this book.
Also, over the years I have written numerous blog posts based on other Ortberg books; you'll find links to those in the sidebar.

Labels: ,