Friday, May 30, 2014

Know, Share, Retire - Part 4

Next, we introduce him.  We tell people about God.  Remember, as we think about this step, that telling doesn't always mean using words, but we'll get back to that.

Peter, in his epistle, gives us some guidance (1 Peter 3:15b-16a):
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
What does Paul do first?   He walks around Athens.  He learns about the people who live there.  I imagine he talks to people.  He not only sees all of the idols to other Gods, but he reads what is inscribed on at least one of them.  "To the unknown God."  He must have seen that as a marvelous opening into the spiritual thirst of the city that was around him, and that opportunity was open to him because he opened himself up to know the people in Athens.

Think back to the story of Job.  Job has had this horrible experience, losing almost everything that was important to him, and he is sitting in an ash heap, covered with sores.  His friends come to him and they sit with him.  For seven days, they said nothing.  It was a wonderful, grace-filled act of love.  It wasn't until they started talking that everything turned south.  Listening to people is a demonstration of the love we have for our neighbors and of God's love for them, as well.

Steve and I were invited to lunch once by a gentleman and his wife.  It was a nice lunch and there was a lot of conversation, but as Steve and I were driving away, I said, "I know a whole lot about that man and his life, but I bet he doesn't know a thing about me at all, even after spending an hour and half together."   Don't let those words be spoken by people you are trying to reach with the light of Christ.  Love them enough to listen to them; to understand their life stories.

Then, share the Good News of Christ as Peter instructs - with gentleness and reverence.  Fit the story to their circumstances.  Maybe that will mean telling your Dr. Bob story - how Christ has made a difference in your life.  Maybe that means not saying anything at all, but instead telling the story with your actions.  Feed people.  Give them clothes or shelter or care.  Transport someone to a doctor's appointment or sit by their bedside as they are dying.  Be Christ for someone else, and do it all in the name of God.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Know, Share, Retire - Part 3

First, to know Christ.  It is impossible, I think, to talk about Christ - to share the love of God - unless you have a relationship with God.  Paul certainly knew Christ - he met Christ on a road to Damascas and was struck blind.  His life and mission changed forever.  Dr. Bob would be very happy with Paul's answer to the three questions!

I don't think many of us have an expectation of an encounter like Paul's.  So, if we are not going to meet him walking down the road like Paul did,  how do we come to know God?  Hear these words from John 14, verses 16-17:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
We are blessed that God doesn't leave the “Know God” step up to us alone.  God pursues us.  God reaches for us.  God, through the holy spirit, dwells within us.  We know God because God has made it possible for us to know him.  This is grace, and without it, we would be lost.

We also come to know God through the model of the life of Christ.  Through reading the gospels and discussing them with the other members of the Body of Christ, we come to see Jesus.  We learn how Christ lived, we can follow the way of the life he spoke about.  In Christ, we see the very nature of God.

And then, as if that all weren't enough, we are given the awesome privilege of being in communion with God through worship and prayer.  Have you ever thought about the idea that the very creator of the universe, the one who knit you together, invites - even expects - you to speak to him, to listen to him?

We come to know God because God has made it possible.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Know, Share, Retire - Part 2

If you back up a little bit in the 17th chapter of Acts, you'll see that Paul is alone in the city of Athens, Greece.  He is walking around, waiting for Timothy and Silas to join him.  Athens was the greatest university town in the world.  People came from everywhere to study there.  It was a city of many gods; in fact, there were more statues of gods in Athens than all the rest of Greece combined.  You can imagine how much this made Paul itch to tell his story!  The scripture says he argued in the synagogues and even in the marketplace every day to anyone who happened to be there.  The philosophers in the city heard him, and they took him to the Areopagus - the Hill of Aries - the Hill of the God of War.  This is where the judicial council of the city met.  It's unclear whether they took him to this council, or only to the place it met, but verse 22 – which says, Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus -- seems to indicate the council was there.  And this is what he said (from verses 22-32):
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent,because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
Here, Paul is telling his story, and I think he is calling us to tell ours.  I want to explore that with you, using the framework of a model set forth by Dr. E. Stanley Jones.  Dr. Jones was born in 1884.  He spent 70 years traveling the world, and was a spokesperson for peace, racial brotherhood and social justice.  He was a constant witness for Jesus.  In 1938, Times Magazine called him the "world's greatest missionary evangelist." Dr. Jones wrote that the elements of evangelism are to know Christ; to introduce him; and then to retire.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Know, Share, Retire - Part 1

I preached at Winfield United Methodist Church this past Sunday.  Over the next few days, I'll share my sermon.

I mentioned (as I introduced myself) that I am a certified lay minister, but before that, I was what used to be called a certified lay speaker - now a certified lay servant.  There aren't many places where you can use the word certified three times in one sentence.  Anyway, part of that process is the participation in district leadership classes.  That is how I found myself in Dr. Bob's preaching class.

Dr. Bob told us that there was an easy way to put together a sermon, and that we could do it quickly if we were called in the middle of the night on a Saturday to preach the next day.  He said that we needed to know and be able to explain the answers to three questions:
1.  What was your life like before you know God?
2.  What happened to change it?
3.  What difference did it make?

If you can do that, then you can tell your own faith story.  I've known for weeks that I would be coming to Winfield to preach, so this isn't a substitution for a sermon, but here is my story:

I am blessed that I can remember, even as a small child, knowing about God, thinking about God, wondering about God.  I grew up in a household of faith; I've never had that revelation moment when I suddenly believed – I’ve always believed.  As an adult, I've been involved in church, and have given my time and energy to the work of the church.  Even so, in October of 2005, my faith was changed.  In October of 2005, I participated in a Walk to Emmaus.  During that three day experience, God convinced me that he is always with me - that he will be with me throughout my life, and that he will walk with me through whatever he calls me to do.  My faith was expanded and deepened.  And that gift of faith has lasted, even to today.  I don't know if my actions always show it, but I do believe that God is with us right now, even in this room, and that has made a tremendous difference in my life.

This is my story.  We all have a faith story.  I don't know where mine will go next, but I trust God will be with me.  I tell you my story, because today I want to talk about sharing our stories - sharing not only our stories, but sharing the good news of God with those around us.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Living Sacrifice

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:1-3)
What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?  How does this differ from sacrificing?

The phrase 'living sacrifice' often stops my reading.  What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?  That's different from offering a sacrifice.  I can sacrifice my time or my money, but that's not offering myself as a living sacrifice.

My first thought when I hear it is that the sacrifice is what dies.  Think about a battle.  The commander may know that his plan means that 1,000 soldiers will die, but that is an acceptable sacrifice because of the greater cause.  To sound like Star Trek, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

It all comes down to trust.  In order to offer myself - me -  not my time, not my gifts, not my money - as a living sacrifice, I have to trust God.  I have to believe that I am loved by God.  If I trust God enough, then I can say, as Wesley did:
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Henri Nouwen writes in Here and Now:
Faithfulness means that every decision we make in our lives together is guided by the deep awareness that we are called to be living signs of God's faithful presence among us.
Think about that for a moment. I wonder if too often the decisions we make are guided by what we perceive as obligation or duty - "this is what I am supposed to do."  What is the results of decisions made with that in mind?  Bitterness?  Perhaps a sense that someone now owes us something?

What if, instead, we made decisions guided by the awareness that what we do is to be a living sign of God within us?  Do we believe God dwells with us?  If we do, then shouldn't that make a difference in the lives we lead?  Should someone be able to look at what we do and see the influence of the God we love?  Who lives with us?  What we do then becomes an expression of God's presence within us, and the result is grace. We don't feel like anyone owes us anything because we did it out of love - love of God, love for someone else, God's love flowing through us.  There isn't bitterness, there is only joy.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Our Choice

Yesterday, I wrote about the idea of faith.  Do we live out our lives as if we believe what we say we do?  Have we allowed the Easter story to transform us?

Another question:  do we accept the idea that God is involved in our lives, or do we explain God away?

Have you ever sat in a room with someone who is sick or hurt or angry, and just not known what to say, and then you do know what to say, and it is just the right thing to say?  Was that your fast acting mind or was that God?

Have you ever stood in front of a group of people, teaching or preaching, and all of a sudden realized that you are telling a story you never planned to tell, but you believe it is the right story to tell, just at that time?  Is that you or is that God?

I remember one day - and I may have written about this before - I was praying.  I asked God to put in my mind who might need a prayer or a word of encouragement.  A particular person who lives a few hours away came to mind.  I prayed for her and then I wrote her a card and sent it to her.  Little did I know (and I didn't know this) that she had been ill.  The day she received my card, she was coming home from the hospital.

When things like that happen, is it us or is it God?  I choose to believe that it is both.  We must be open to the prodding of God, even when we aren't aware of it.  And God is very much involved in our lives and the lives of all God's children.  Do we see it or do we ignore it?  I think it is our choice.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Too Hard to Believe

Adam Hamilton wrote in his book 24 Hours that Changed the World, that Easter is both the most powerful and most challenging Sunday on which to preach each year.  I thought that was an interesting statement.  He says it is "challenging precisely because the events we celebrate are difficult to believe."  Think about that for a moment.

For those of us who grew up in the faith, it is easier to accept that Christ was raised from the dead.  It's an amazing thought, but we grew up believing it. Dare I say we take it for granted?  If not that, then at least we don't have to convince ourselves of it - we already believe.  The mission of Adam Hamilton's church is to reach the unchurched.  Imagine for a moment that you never believed any of of it.  I think it would be a challenge to convince you of the truth.

Hamilton goes on to say that scholars sometimes try to explain it away.  They use explanations such as: he wasn't really dead, or the tomb wasn't really empty.

I don't think we routinely do that, but I do wonder if we do something that is related.  Are we so entrenched in the faith that we forget what it means? When the disciples saw that Christ has risen, and when they encountered him after the resurrection, their lives were changed.  Before, even though they knew what was going to happen, I don't think they really believed it.  Even though Christ was with them, alive, before his death, it was after his death that their faith was solidified.  Before, they had deserted Christ; now they stood up for their faith, most of them to the point of their own deaths.

Do we allow the resurrection to transform us?  Is it easier for us to recite the Apostles' Creed than it is to live a life as if we believe what we say we believe?

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Power in Music

I have been traveling for the past couple of days.  On one of my flights, to block out the sounds of the engines, I was listening to music on my iPod.  I found a playlist called 'Mom" so I chose it, wondering what songs might be part of the list.  They were contemporary Christian songs from probably 2006 and 2007, just after my Walk to Emmaus.  As I listened, I remembered driving in the car with that playlist going, windows rolled down, singing in joy to the music.

Listening to that music again, that I hadn't heard in so long, not only brought back memories, but also echoes of the closeness I felt to God at the time.  Music has power to do that.

In my reunion group, we've talked about how we don't always feel as close to God as we might have in the past.  I've shared that I think our feelings of spirituality ebb and wane, like waves.  And that's OK.  Notice that I have used the word "feel" pretty often in this post.  I don't think we will "feel" close to God all the time, but that doesn't mean that we aren't close to God, or that God isn't close to us.  It is a gift at times to recognize that the veil is thinner.  Even so, during times when God's presence isn't felt, we can know that God is near.

Even so, we are not pingpong balls floating on the ocean.  We have the capacity to open ourselves up to God, and to be ready for God-encounters.  How do we do that?  There are many spiritual disciples that we can do, and they are called disciplines, I think, because we are to do them even when we don't feel like it.  Think of the word discipline as translating to "routine."

How does that relate to music?  It might be that if you are looking to have a few moments of "feeling" close to God, you might want to listen to music that has been part of your spiritual moments in the past.  Like the scent of baking bread, those songs have the power to trigger memories and feelings from higher worship moments in the past.  Secondly, listen to music that you haven't heard before, or that you don't associate with those moments - yet.  See if the music itself can draw the experience of God closer.

Music has power.

*The playlist was called "mom" because one of my sons, probably Grant, set it up for me because I didn't yet know anything about iTunes.  

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Friday, May 09, 2014

These Five Minutes

I remember a holiday dinner many years ago.  My husband and one of the boys, I think, were in the kitchen.  The rest of us were in the dining room. Steve was getting drinks for everyone and something happened to the 2 liter of Diet Pepsi - something explosive, and Diet Pepsi went everywhere.  It was on the ceiling, the walls, the floor and the husband.  Judy, his mother, who was in one of the stages of Alzheimer's at the time, could see the whole event from her chair in the dining room, and she just grinned and laughed.  I wish I could have seen the explosion - I imagine it was funny!

She might not have remembered the hilarity later, but for those moments, she did - and they were moments of joy.

A friend reminded me the other day that life can change in an instant.  You might be driving down the road one moment and be in a life-changing car accident the next moment.  I think we all know that is true, and it's why we worry when a family member is late or a telephone rings in the middle of the night.  We know how life can change.

How we react to that knowledge is our choice.  Realization of the fragility of life can bring us fear.  We can worry all the time about it - obsess, almost.
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  (Matthew 6:27)
Fear robs us of the precious life we have been given.  Instead, let the knowledge that your world can change in the next moment bring you gratitude.  Let it bring you joy.  Stand in the knowledge that where you are and the life you are living is a wonderful gift from God.  I stand in the joy of my family, in the laughter and presence of friends, in the love shown to me and that I am able to share with others, in the gift of the work I do and the pleasure of the rest I take.  I am grateful for the beauty of the world around me and for the gentle beating of my heart.  Worry can deafen all of that.

Choose to stand in the blessings of your life, knowing how grateful you are and how precious life is.

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Thursday, May 08, 2014

Intimacy and Ultimacy

I told you yesterday that I only had one more story from the Conference I attended.  Well, maybe I had two more.

The keynote speaker said that beyond food, shelter, clothing - beyond the basic needs - people have a need for connection and meaning.  She called it intimacy and ultimacy.

It reminds me so much of what we do in church. We try to connect people - to each other and to God. We hope to provide meaning to what we are doing by reaching out and making a difference.  We strive to be the hands and feet of Christ.  Our hands can connect us to each other and our feet can take us to those who need help.  Connection and meaning.

Are we doing that?  Are we reaching out to connect and to provide meaning?

The next time you see someone sitting along in a pew, ask yourself what God wants you to do to connect that person to God and to other people and what God wants you to do to help that person find meaning.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Facts and Emotions

One more story about the Conference I attended a couple of weeks ago.  It's funny to me how much listening to my lunch neighbor complain about the keynote speech the night before has solidified my thoughts about the keynote.

(There is a side lesson in that for all of us.  Don't just listen to those who agree with you.  Listen to those who don't agree with you - not to argue your point, but to come to a better understanding of your own thoughts.)

My lunch neighbor said the people he encounters in his own planned giving work don't want to hear stories.  They aren't interested in emotion.  They want to know how the money is managed.  They want to know returns and facts about diversification.

Again, I think he missed the point.  Do I think donors want to know about how the money is managed? Absolutely!  Being passionate about what I do doesn't mean that I'm not smart and knowledgeable about what I do.  It's my responsibility to know about returns and the security of the money being managed.  It's my job to understand how the tools of planned giving work and how they can help the donor in front of me.

Emotion doesn't make me stupid or uninformed.  It makes me better at all of the above.  And I would be fooling myself (as I think my lunch companion is) if I ignored the need the person I'm serving has to make a difference.

Stories show the other kinds of returns - the impact of the money.  It's all about making a meaningful difference.

In the work you do in your church, are you involved in stewardship?  Do you only share the budget and the shortfalls of the income?  Do you believe that is all the congregation wants to know?  If that is the case, I think you might be wrong.  Tell the stories.  Show the passion.  Help people understand that the gift of money they give to God through God's church does God's work.


Monday, May 05, 2014


A couple of weeks ago I talked about being passionate about the work we do, whatever that work is.  Emotion turns on certain pathways in our brain that share space with pathways for creativity and problem solving.  Emotion makes us better at what we are doing.

In our office we have a weekly staff meeting.  It's never very long or conflicted, and the time together is an important tool of communication for our team.  It keeps us all on the same page.  We begin each meeting with a short devotional, and sometimes that involves sharing a story about an encounter we've had with a donor or a church.  The stories are inspiring to us when they happen to us, but a few weeks ago I realized another important reason for them.  For those of us who were not involved in the encounter, the story can increase our connection to what we are doing.  It inspires our passion for the work we do, and it makes us better at what we do.  All of us.

Last year sometime we visited the General Board of Pensions of the United Methodist Church.  Coincidentally, we were there on the day when a person who is served by the Board is invited to share with the employees who he is and how he has been served by the work that they do (or she - the day we were there is was a he).  It was great, and I'm sure it connects those who work there to the people they serve.

Are there ways in your life that you can share the stories of your encounters with God or your blessed moments with other people?  Can you share them with the people you work with? I think there is value in that beyond what we think for strengthening each other in the work that we do.


Thursday, May 01, 2014

How could he do it?

How could he do it?
Sitting before him
preparing to go to the Jesus leaders
and betray him
to his death,
to tremendous suffering and pain,
to crucifixion,
was Judas.

Jesus knelt near his feet,
dirty from the travels on the road,
and washed away the grime.
For Jesus, it was about love.

How could he do it?
How could he keep loving this man
who would betray him?

Did he think
that one more expression of love
would change Judas' mind?
I don't think so.

Did he think
that one more expressin of love
would lead Judas to self-forgiveness
once it was done?
I don't know.

Did he think
that one more expression of love
would change this man's heart?
Only God knows.

What I know is this.
Jesus could be no other way.
Jesus could not fail
to love one more time.
He could not fail
to wash the feet of Judas.

How could he do it?
He could not not do it.

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