Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hide and Seek

Do  you pay attention to the Children's Moment in worship?  It's always more interesting when the children have a conversation with the person who is leading worship.  Sometimes, it's fun to watch the worship leader struggle to keep on topic while the kids tell him their stories.  Other times, what the kids say is incredibly theologically wonderful, and in it is the gem of the lesson.
I was listening to the Children's moment in worship the other day. The lesson was about Psalm 139.
Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.
(vs 7-12)
Can we play hide and seek with God?  One little girl said that if we try, we will find that God always knows where we are.  In fact, she said, God is there before us.

That's a great definition of prevenient grace from a 9 year old.   We should all remember her wisdom.


Monday, August 25, 2014


I've never sold a house, but I imagine, when the time comes, you inspect your house.  You discover where the flaws are - where you might need to do a repair or an improvement, and then you start working to fix the problems.

Do we sometimes need to do the same things for our spiritual life?  Do we need to step back and do an inventory?  List our problems and confess them to God, so that God can repair us?

What is the benefit of confession?

  • Is it one way that we can be rid of the idea that there is nothing wrong with us?  Are we sometimes blind to our sins?  Can self examination and confession open our eyes to our own problems?
  • Does confession make us more grace-filled toward others' issues, and less judgmental?
  • Could it be that by discovering our issues that we open ourselves up for improvement?  Transformation that wouldn't happen otherwise?
  • Does confession offer healing? I've seen people who are so convinced of their flaws that a sense of unworthiness stops them from opening themselves up to their capabilities.  Is confession to God incomplete without acceptance of forgiveness and openness to transformation?  I think we need to remember that God meets confession with grace and love - and with healing.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Give Thanks

I mentioned last week that I spent some time in prayer after communion just thanking God for all of the wonderfulness in my life. It's am amazing practice, because thanksgiving builds a way of looking at the world.

Kalas, in the book I am reading, asks, "Why express your gratitude to other people?"  He answers the questions, and here are my answers (some of which are the same as his):

  • We are called to spread light.  Remember yesterday when I quoted the idea that gratitude is love with a memory?  Sharing gratitude for a service given is sharing love, and that is light.  We do it because we are called to do it.
  • What if the other person doesn't seem to care about our words of thanks?  First of all, you don't really know what effect your words and actions will have on another person.  Secondly....
  • Being grateful transforms who you are.  When we are grateful, we see more for which to be grateful.  
  • And to put it bluntly, life needs more grace from you and me that it needs silence, or even grumbling.  

So give thanks.  Kalas, in the first half hour of each day, lists those things from the previous day, for which he is thankful.  I've done that for periods of time.  It's helpful to me to have a "rule" to list at least three. Specifically.  I can look at the blank sheet of paper, and think, "Yesterday was terrible; there is nothing to be grateful for."  But if I must list three, I can find them.

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Monday, August 18, 2014


I really do have some new pictures to show you; I just need to spend some quality time with my laptop computer first.  Anyway...

I just started a book I've had on my shelf for a while called I bought a House on Gratitude Street by J. Ellsworth Kalas.  I think I'll write today's posts with just a few one liners from what I've read so far (Introduction and half of Chapter 1).  Maybe some of these will be future posts; maybe they will only serve as springboards for your own thoughts:

  • Gratitude is love applied...gratitude is love with a memory.
  • If you insist on holding on to the conviction that you're a self-made person, you'll never buy property of Gratitude Street.
  • When we rise above deprivation, it can easily make us small and mean inside...
  • Gratitude that is not expressed is meaningless.  Gratitude is not complete if it is simply a feeling within one's bosom.  Unfortunately, however, we often leave gratitude in that unfinished state.  That is because gratitude is such a warm and fuzzy feeling that we think the feeling is the essence of gratitude when in truth the feeling is just the beginning.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Jesus in it all

I am not a person who believes that God micro-manipulates every aspect of our lives, and I don't believe that everything happens for a reason.  Some things just happen, and it can be awful and terrible or wonderful.

Very often, people make things happen, and sometimes people make horrible things happen.  It seems very unfair (and dishonest) to place the causality on God.

And sometimes a tornado strikes or a flower blooms - and it's random.  We want to have a cause, but often there is no cause, and it is very often not part of God's plan.

Watching this video reminded me that in the randomness of life, we often see God.  Just because I believe that God doesn't cause horrible things to happen to us, it doesn't mean that I would ever deny that God is in the midst of all that happens to us and around us.  In these times, when life is turned upside down, we can often see God.



Thursday, August 14, 2014


The other day I was watching a Ted Talk for Youth.  The presenter was helping teens to understand what sexual objectification is.  Warning:  I will use the word sex in this post.  If this bothers you, skip this one.  If you came here via a search engine, looking for something else, you might be disappointed.

I think the presenter was right when she said that we don't have a firm grasp on what sexual objectification is. I'm glad she was teaching teens how to recognize and avoid it.  It also occurs to me that I am glad she clarified my own thoughts about it.

As Children of God, we are people of sacred worth.  We are not objects, and we should not treat each other as objects, or allow ourselves to be treated that way.

How do you recognize sexual objectification especially in the media?  These are five questions that the presenter used to explain the concept, and I have found them in various locations across the internet.

  1. Does the image show only parts of the sexualized person's body? - In this kind of image, perhaps we would only see her legs and his behind.  Maybe her face would be covered, removing her humanity, so that we only see her body.
  2. Does the person stand in for an object? - Think of a woman's legs standing in for table legs, or barely clad woman begins used as a table.
  3. Does the image show sexualized persons as interchangeable?  The image that comes to mind to me is Robert Palmer.  His band was all women, and they looked exactly alike.
  4. Does the image affirm the idea of violating the bodily integrity of a sexualized person who can't consent?  That one is kind of self explanatory without me drawing you a word picture, don't you think?
  5. Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristics of the person?    Picture a beautiful woman with the catch phrase, "Used, but you don't care" to sell pre-owned cars.

Why did I feel compelled to write a blog post about this?  I think too often we forget to see the person in front of us; instead we see an object, sexual or not.  We become so immune to it that we don't recognize it in the media, and we say nothing about it.

Actually, the trigger that caused me to write this post was a very innocent beautiful baby contest in our newspaper.  Should we be voting on the visual beauty of infants?  Please don't be offended by this - It is where my mind travels after listening to this talk and then seeing the contest.  We just need to be aware, and teach our children.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Communion Joy

Think about Luke 24:28:35.  This is the end of the walk to Emmaus story.  The disciples Jesus met on the road have invited him into their home for a meal.  Jesus breaks and the bread, and they recognize him.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ (30-32) 
Imagine for a moment their joy.  The Lord they thought had been crucified and was dead and buried is alive. I can't imagine it.  What wonderful joy.

In this story, for me, are the echoes of our communion ritual.  Sometimes we think of that as a "do this in remembrance of me" act.  Remember Jesus.  It is that, but it is more.  Jesus isn't just being remembered; he is present.  We are at a table with our Lord, in communion.  What joy that should bring to our hearts!  Christ is alive!

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Communion Thanksgiving

We shared communion in worship yesterday.  Part of our routine is that we are given the opportunity to spend time in prayer at the altar rail.  While I like this, I find it difficult to pray during this time because the congregation is signing. Cross signals in my brain:  I listen to the music instead of being able to pray.

During this prayer time yesterday, I decided to only pray thanksgiving. I think having that focus enabled me to pray, and the purpose of praying thanksgiving loosed gratitude from my heart into my prayer.  It was uplifting and joyous to remember all the ways my life is full of God's blessings.  

I recommend it to you, for any moment, not just communion.

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Wax and Wane

This morning I watched this video by Sandy Allnock.

She is an artist who does paper-crafting - mainly cards.  In it, she is talking to her future self.  She is currently experiencing a very creative and productive time in the work she does, but remembers that previously, she had about an eight month period of low mojo - a less than creative and productive time.  Creativity, naturally, I think, experiences sine waves of intensity - there are times when we are more creative than other times.  In the video, Sandy shares three things she wants her future, not-as-creative self to remember.  As I listened to her, I thought what she was saying would apply to our spiritual lives, as well.  My experience, and the experience of others I have spoken with, is that there are times when we feel closer to God than other times. Do we just wait for the distance to end, or is there something we can do about it.

  1. Sandy advises her future self to "just do something, every day."  Doodle, make something (anything!), color, play with art - even if she doesn't feel inspired or if the product isn't any good.  Just keep practicing.  I think we can do that spiritually, too.  Spiritual disciplines aren't designed for when we feel God close close close.  They are designed for when God isn't close.  Just do something, everyday.  Read, pray, praise, worship, fast, meditate, listen to music, speak with other Christians, feed the hungry - just do something everyday, even if you don't feel inspired.  Practice, even if it doesn't seem as if anything good is coming out of it.
  2. Secondly, Sandy tells herself to be ruthless.  Her discipline is to put the cards she makes in a box, and when the box is full, to throw the worst one away.  It's a reminder to her that there are standards. The is a level of proficiency below which she will not accept.  This means that sometimes she makes a card, and she won't put it in the box because she knows it isn't good enough.  She'll work on it some more, or she'll toss it before it makes it to the box.  I'm not sure how we can apply this to our spiritual lives, because we don't often produce something that we can add to a box, but I think it speaks to us about how we accept the times of distance; perhaps we tell ourselves that this is not acceptable.  As a Christian, there is a line of spirituality that we will not cross; we cannot just give up on wait for things to get better.  There are things we can do to improve our relationship with God, even when we don't feel like it, so we can't just give up.
  3. Sandy's third piece of advice is to try something new.  Make something different.  If painting isn't working, then do fiber craft.  If card making doesn't inspire, then go write a poem.  Do something new that you didn't think you would like.  We can do that, too.  Inspiration for teaching Sunday school not there?  Then go volunteer at a homeless shelter.  Having trouble getting up and going to worship?  Try writing cards to homebound people.  Go visit them.  Stretch yourself and try something you don't think you will like.  Your devotional time in the morning feeling flat?  Throw out your resource and find something new.  Go on a retreat!

How close we feel to God can wax and wane, but God is always there.  We don't have to accept the distance as unavoidable.  Even if what we do isn't immediately effective, perhaps there is something we can learn about ourselves or about God during these quiet times.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014


The other day a friend was talking about a television show he and his family had watched.  It included one of those seemingly impossible obstacle courses.  His comment was, "What seemed to be impossible, these people were doing."

Yesterday, my son shared this video on Facebook.  I don't know whether it is real or not, but it looks impossible.  

Sometimes we assume we know what is possible and what is not possible, and we make judgments based on those conclusions.  The joyous news (and complicating factor) is that God turns impossibilities into possibilities.  Do we forget that sometimes?  I do, I'm sure.



Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Echo Chamber

The other day I heard the phrase, "living in their own echo chamber."  I quickly typed it into Evernote to remember it.  The person who said it was referring to the idea that we surround ourselves with people who agree with us, so that our thoughts and opinions are echoed back to us.  Our focus becomes narrow because we never hear any opposing thoughts.

Do you ever experience this?  Do I?  Do we only listen to the news station that shares our political beliefs?  Do we only read books we agree with?  Do we isolate ourselves among those who believe the same way we do?  Do we ever speak with people whose age is different from ours, whose experience is different than ours?  Do we closely listen to the thoughts of our children?

And when we are outside of our echo chambers, do we only listen to other people with an ear to arguing with them?  Do we only strive to point out where "they are wrong?"

Are our hearts and minds open enough to hear opinions that stretch us?  Do we ever have the opportunity to hear such an opinion?