Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Tear Open the Roof!

Continuing from yesterday, what would motivate a group of friends to cut a whole in the ceiling of a room and lower their friend through it to reach Jesus? The crowd was too big to allow them access.

In our churches, do we ever get between God and the one who needs healing? What do we do to prevent someone from getting close enough to God? How do we keep people out of church?

So often, when we talk about this question, the answer that comes back is blank stares. "I have always found this church to be friendly and inviting."  As happy as I am to hear that, I know that there is probably someone who didn't enter the church, or who did, and who didn't find it to be a welcoming place. We don't ask that person the same question, because that person isn't in church.

So we have to consider the question ourselves instead. What keeps people out of your church? What about your church stands between the lost and lonely and God? What barriers do you (do we) need to tear down to move someone closer to God?

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Open the roof

Our church is blessed to host a Boy Scout troop.  I highly recommend it to you.  Each week more than a dozen young men and their leaders meet in our church. Our sponsorship of the group enables them to have a home, and for the leadership to nurture the group in faith and toward adulthood.

They work and they play, and sometimes something - like a window - gets broken. It's OK, though, because the boys are more important than the window. We can fix the broken window, but failing to nurture the next generation - that's much harder to fix.

I thought of our church trustees when Peter Storey told the story of the four men and the paralytic. He asked us to close our eyes and to imagine that during his sermon, plaster started falling from the ceiling as four friends broken open the church to lower the one who needed healing closer to the "action." He reminded us that even if Jesus had been preaching, the healing of the sick one was more important.

Can you imagine what would happen if four people started digging open your sanctuary ceiling during church?  How would you respond?

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Peter Storey Notes

Early in August, Peter Storey preached at our church. As I listened to the sermon, I took some notes.  Rather than expend on them, I thought I would list them here.  Perhaps something in them will spark something in you, the reader. Peter's sermon is available on our church website.

  • We need to learn the difference between doing church and being the church. It is harder to be the church.  In order to be the church, we need what only God can do.
  • There is a big industry around doing the church.  Is any of it about "Changing the world?"  Most of it is about saving the church - we have become obsessed with the survival of the church.
  • The world only changes when the church gets broken.
  • The paralytic had become the heart burden of his four friends.  We can't be Church until we make that space in ourselves.  Can our hearts be broken enough to let the different one, the needy one, the enemy fall in.  Only then does compassion take up residence in our hearts - only then can we stop doing church and be the church.
  • Church is about learning that you can't have Jesus without his friends.
  • Compassion is rooted deep within our gut.  We have to feel it, deep down in our gut.  When we feel that, we stop worrying about the presentation of ourselves, our possessions and our church, and we put the other first.
  • That's what happened to these four friends, but the church got in the way.
  • Everyone had their backs turned to the man.  This is almost our default position.
  • Even with Jesus preaching, it was time for something more important.  Compassion shouldn't surprise us when it damages church property.  It should push us to act.  Radical hospitality can break open a church.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Can we love each other enough?

This fall, I am serving on an Emmaus team in the prayer chapel. When you work together with a team such as this one, with over twenty members, you come to understand that while we all believe in Jesus Christ, we don't all believe the same way.  I know their faith is genuine, and that they are close to God, and yet I also know that their faith differs from mine, in some aspects.

There is a letter on my desk this morning from the WV Council of Churches.  The tag line at the bottom reads, "Anchored in Faith, Together on the Voyage."  In know that the denominations that make up the Council of Churches do not all share the same faith or the same outlook, and yet they come together for this purpose.

I see so much dissension in the church today - arguments over a multitude off issues, homosexuality being only one of them, but one which has great power to divide us.  I hope that we can be anchored in faith, together on the journey. When I say that, I don't mean that we should water down our faith.  Truthfully, I believe that Christ calls us to inclusion, not exclusion, and it's important to me to be faithful to that.  But at the same time, I am called to love even those who disagree with me.  Can we love each other and strive for different outcomes?  Can we love each other enough to have open hearts to the faith of someone else?  Can we love each other to respect the idea that what someone else believes may have more validity to whom God is that what we believe?  Can we love each other enough to hear God speak through the person with whom we disagree?  Can we love each other enough to change our minds?

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Years ago, I was co-teaching a book study.  I think the book was The Jesus I Never Knew. One of the students in the class was very disturbed by the idea that Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully divine.  The same student was certain that Jesus would never be angry - that anger was a sin.

Last night I attended a seminar led by Peter Wallace concerning his book The Passionate Jesus.  His thesis is that God has emotions - all of the emotions that stem from love.  That makes sense if you think about it.  We believe that God feels love; why wouldn't God feel other emotions?  And isn't there evidence for that in the scripture?

Jesus, who was God, and who was God's son, was fully human (and fully divine).  As a fully human person, as a perfect human, he felt emotions.  In his emotions, he teaches us how to live as emotional humans - how to respond appropriately to our emotions.

We are created in the image of God, and our emotions are part of that image.  Isn't that a lovely thought?

Note about image:  One last image from the beach - my buddy, Ray.

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Monday, September 21, 2015


In the past, I have taken up the practice of listing 3 "things" for which I am grateful.  It's a nice practice, and it is an intentional way to move one's mind away from negative thoughts - it is a way to see those things that are good (Philippians 4:8).

Today, as I sat down with my Emmaus prayer journal, I couldn't find an entrance to prayer.  I wrote the word Grateful, and thought about those 3 things for which I am grateful.  My mind moved the letters, and I wondered if I could change the list a little, so that each item began with a letter from the word.  Which is what I did:


Grapes: the sweet taste of grapes with cheddar and pretzels and conversation with Steve as we fixed dinner.
Rain: not always my favorite weather, but it brought coolness
Amens: the reminder this week of the blessings disciplines can be in spiritual life, and my current practice of intentional prayer time
Time together: early this week with family
Encouragement: the opportunity to encourage others; the experience of being encouraged
Flavor; the joy that taste can bring; the spice that spontaneity brings to life; the joy of friends
Understanding: seeking to learn and understand more of what seems difficult
Love: being loved, loving

Note about image:  This past year at the beach, we watched a thunderstorm on the ocean.  The lightning flashes were almost constant, and I was able to catch this one with the camera.  Another one of those "take a million pictures, and hope one is good" occasions.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Song without speech

I have the blog RevGalBlogPals as part of my Feedly feed.  Each week they have a Tuesday Lectionary post.  I particularly liked this week's - you can read it here.

One of the questions from the post:
Are your ears listening deeply for that song without speech or tune that is sung unceasingly by the heavens and the earth, resonating through our beings until it is sung by our own tongues? (Psalm 19)

I am a card maker.  One of my new stamps is a sentiment that says, "Shine bright."  Ok, the grammar is bad, but I like it - it reminds me of the song Shine, Jesus, Shine.

Jesus shines on us - what will be our response?  God surrounds us, all the time.  What will be our response?  Are we listening for the song of God that is song over us, all the time, without fail?  Are we open enough to allow the song to resonate through us, so strongly that it moves us to speak the word of God?

Do we shine, with our words and with our actions?  It seems like if we are open to the work of God, that we would have a better chance of stopping a tuning fork from singing after it is struck than we would be able to stop ourselves from singing God's song with our lives.  It would vibrate through us.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Two Disciplines

I've picked up two disciplines lately.

First, I'm back to blogging.  To many people that would not seem to be a discipline, but I find to be.  Giving intentional thought to matters of faith, daily, has an impact on my journey.  I've noticed it, even in just the last few days.  I think about God more, I watch for God more, I note God's presence more.  All of that, I think, makes me open to God more.  It might be someone odd to do that kind of journaling online (which is what blogging is to me), but I find it helpful.  And hopeful.

Secondly, as I mentioned a few days ago, I'm serving on the prayer team for an Emmaus Walk.  This is a new role for me - I think I've done every lay role now except for music (which no one would ever want me to do!).  After I said yes to the walk lay director, I started thinking about serving in the prayer chapel. Previously, I had served as media tech, and that position requires much preparation (at least it does for me to be comfortable on a walk).  I wondered what kind of prep work would be helpful for a person serving in the prayer chapel.  Hmm.  Prayer, I think.  So I started a prayer journal for the walk.  I try (especially recently) to write my prayers in it daily.  It's helpful.  And I hope that it prepares me for the task of praying during the weekend.

What disciplines can you pick up that would be helpful and hopeful for you?  It's such an individual decision - you need to decide what is best for who you are.  God's blessings on your decision.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Standing on the Promises

What does it mean to stand on God's promises? There is a famous song that I'm sure you've heard - Standing on the Promises of God.  This morning I read a short biography about Russel Kelso Carter, who wrote the song.  His journey in faith was very interesting. Can it be that standing on the promises means that we can be less afraid?  That we can find joy in the day, and worry less about the future, because the future is in God's hands?

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

What does it mean to stand on the promises of God?  Our devotional in our office meeting yesterday was centered around a quote from one of John Wesley's sermons (sermon #26; hattip to Jeff Taylor and Bill Wilson):
". . .when we pray 'Give us this day our daily bread', we are to take no thought for the morrow. For this very end has our wise Creator divided life into these little portions of time, so clearly separated from each other, that we might look on every day as a fresh gift of God, another life, which we may devote to his glory; and that every evening may be as the close of life, beyond which we are to see nothing but eternity". 
Maybe standing on the promises means that we can worry less about tomorrow, for we have the wonderful gift of today.  Tomorrow is eternity.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Think about the father who lifts up his child and places her on his shoulders.  From that vantage point, she can see so much farther.  She can see long distances and so much more of the big picture.  Can this be part of what it means to stand on God's promises?  Through God, we can place today in better perspective.  Through God we have clearer vision. We know our sins are forgiven, that Christ died for us - for you and for me.  That we are free.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I'm standing on the promises of God.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

A Year of Mercy

Pope Francis has expanded indulgences for the Jubilee year of mercy, allowing all priests to absolve abortion, which wasn't the case before. This is normally reserved for bishops.  My understanding is that when the year is over, this ability will return to being reserved only for bishops.  This is part of a Holy Year of Mercy.

I'm writing because the phrase "Holy Year of Mercy" caught my attention.  One year of mercy. It's not without biblical support - remember the Jubilee year from the Torah (Leviticus 25)?  A year when land returned to its original owners and slaves were to be released.  It's not known whether the Israelites ever observed a Jubilee year, but the idea was so radical when I read it that I remembered it.

A jubilee year is radical. A year of mercy is radical. And yet, when I think about Jesus, I wonder if he would say, "A year?  Only a year?  I call you to limitless mercy, as you have received from the Father." Just as forgiveness is not limited to 7 times, but is limitless (as 70 x 7 would suggest), shouldn't mercy be the same? Aren't we glad that God has not limited God's forgiveness or mercy?

A year?  Probably not good enough.

Note on photo: We were walking on the marsh walk in Murrel's Inlet when we spotted this fellow.  I was so glad that I was able to get a picture of him (her? who can tell?)

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Friday, September 11, 2015

I Remember that Day

I wrote this on September 11, 2005, and found it again today, so I thought I would share a rerun.

I remember that day.
It began just like any other day.
The sky was blue – perfectly clear,
And if I had been watching,
I could have seen the plane change direction.
U-shaped contrails.
At first, no one understood
The hatred that had struck.
And then, as a second jet collided,
A building melted,
Our hearts, our peace, and our security were demolished.

Lord; take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say,
and keep me out of your way. Amen

I remember the disbelief,
As estimates of the dead climbed.
Horrible possibilities, horrible numbers were broadcast.
Buildings collapsed as we watched.
We knew they hadn’t been empty
And that the stench of death crept
Along with the dust and dirt.
The Pentagon burned.
Air traffic was grounded,
Except for the one plane that
Crashed into the ground.

Lord; take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say,
and keep me out of your way. Amen

I remember the heroes.
The fireman, who turned to go back in,
Saying, “It’s what I do.”
The passenger, knowing death was coming,
Who said, “Let’s roll.”
The cell phone calls to family,
Love, the first and last thing on their minds.
The photos – Have you seen my wife?
The doctors, nurses, hospitals,
Standing ready for the injured who would never arrive.
Long lines to give blood.
The prayers, the unity, the tears.
We were in it together.
St. Paul's chapel, near Ground Zero,
Open to nurture anyone who needed it.

Lord; take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say,
and keep me out of your way. Amen

I remember the worry,
When reality finally set in.
What would we become?
Would fear win,
And would we reflect back hatred?
I remember the high school student
Who was slammed against his locker
For looking Muslim.
But I remember the memorial service in New York
Christians, Jews and Muslims,
All praying together,
People, feeling the hatred,
And returning something better.
What would we become?

Lord; take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say,
and keep me out of your way. Amen

I can never forget the change,
Even now, even today.
We live in a world that is post-9/11.
Our 9/10 attitudes are gone.
Long airport security lines,
And we’re glad.
Anything to feel a little bit safer.
Our first question now, when tragedy strikes,
Isn’t “What went wrong?”
It’s “Who did it?”
Even now, on a clear day,
I look at the blue sky,
See a U-shaped contrail,
And wonder.

Prayer between stanzas is the prayer carried by Father Mychal F. Judge, Chaplain, New York Fire Department, who was killed on 9/11 at the World Trade Center.

  1. Image of Father Mychal Judge's body being carried out of the World Trade Center by a police officer, two firefights and an OEM responder. He was the first recognized victim of the attack.
  2. Firefighters on their way to the scene.
  3. Man holding up his blood type as he stands in line to donate.
  4. Wall of posters as people try to find their loved ones.


    Thursday, September 10, 2015

    Talk about God?

    To continue yesterday's quote from Wesley's sermon, Scriptural Christianity:
    Can you bear, unless now and then in a church, any talk of the Holy Ghost? Would you not take it for granted if one began such a conversation that it was either "hypocrisy" or "enthusiasm"? In the name of the Lord God Almighty I ask, What religion are you of? Even the talk of Christianity ye cannot, will not, bear.  O my brethren! what a Christian city is this? "It is tie for thee, Lord, to lay to thine hand!"
    Do you talk about God?  Do you talk about God outside of church? Do you witness to your faith? Do I?

    I think many of us (including me) would answer no, or not often, to this question. The teacher of a preaching class I attended asked us to consider the question: What did life used to be like? What happened to change it? What is it like now?  He said if you could answer those three questions about your faith journey, telling others the change God has made in your life, then you would find it easy to prepare an authentic sermon for when you were called on a Saturday night to preach on Sunday morning.

    I think it might also be one of the keys to speaking about God to other people. Do we know our faith story? Can we tell it? Do we know the difference God has made in our lives? Why is being part of a church important to us? Don't put off answering the questions for yourself so that when you are asked you have no answer. If you are prepared, I think God will lead you to opportunities to tell the story.

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    Wednesday, September 09, 2015

    Thoughts of God?

    In the spring, I read Adam Hamilton's Revival.  In the last chapter, he speaks of Wesley's last sermon at St. Mary's Church in Oxford - it was his last sermon there because he would not be invited to preach there again.  This sermon was given to a congregation of ordained clergy and many students pursuing ordination.  Wesley said:
    May it not be one of the consequences of this that so many of you are a generation of triflers; triflers with God, with one another, and with your own souls?  For how few of you spend, from one week to another, a single hour in private prayers? How few of you have any thought of God in the general tenor of your conversation? Who of you is in any degree acquainted with the work of the Holy Spirit? His supernatural work in the souls of men?
    Do you go to many church meetings? I do. We usually start with a prayer (and its usually the pastor who is asked to pray) - and that might be the last time God is mentioned in the work we are doing.  Do we think of God in the tenor of our conversation? Do we attempt to discern the will of God in our work?  Do we approach a church meeting - for example, the finance committee meeting or the staff parish relations committee meeting - with any attempt to be acquainted with the work of the Holy Spirit in what we are doing?

    My confession is that I often do not, and I don't think I am unusual.

    How do we do it? How do we turn church meetings into work done for God?  With God? How do we encourage others to do that?

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    Tuesday, September 08, 2015

    The Basis of Assertiveness

    If you have a chance, read this article from the Church Leadership Newsletter.  Here is a quote:
    Notice the wording when the apostle Paul reminds us of the primacy of Christ and the cross. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18, italics added). If there is a need for a greater assertiveness about the gospel message, there is also a need for a greater humility that comes from knowing we are all being saved.
    How do leaders practice greater assertiveness and at the same time greater humility? Do those see to you to be opposites?

    Look closely at the scripture.  "...but to us who are being saved."  Being saved.  Not perfect.  Not complete.  Not always right, even when we think our opinions and judgments are biblically based. Our assertiveness regarding this gospel shouldn't be grounded in a belief in the rightness of our opinions.

    Instead, our assertiveness should come from the the very knowledge that God is saving us.  God is changing us. God is at work in our lives, and we know the difference that can make.  From the humility of that knowledge, we can offer Christ, with the assertive knowledge of God's presence and love for all of us.

    That's grace, and it's what we are called to offer to others.

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    Friday, September 04, 2015

    I hold your right hand

    Isaiah 41:13

    The child, new to the world,
    walked starry-eyed through the mall.
    Dangers were all around.
    He could have been lost,
    He could have been injured,
    He could have been afraid.

    His father held his hand,
    walking with him through the crowd.
    The father did it for protection,
    He held his hand to guide him,
    to direct him,
    to ensure his obedience.
    He held the child's hand as an extension of his love.

    And the son knew it.
    He was loved.

    Isaiah recorded God's words,
    "For I, the Lord you God,
    hold your right hand:
    It is I who say to you,' Do not fear,
    I will help you.'"

    God's beloved creature,
    walks starry-eyed through the world.
    Dangers are all around.
    He could be lost,
    He could be injured.
    He could be afraid.

    God holds his hand,
    walking with him on his journey.
    God does it for protection,
    God holds his hand to guide him,
    to direct him,
    to ensure his obedience.
    God holds the son's hand as an extension of God's love.

    And the son knows it.
    He is loved.

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    Thursday, September 03, 2015

    Returning to blogging

    Good morning!

    I'm back after an unexpected blog sabbatical for the summer.  Back in June, I hadn't given much thought to taking time off - in fact I assumed I would continue writing over the summer, but once June started, the blog dropped down on my priority list.

    In our annual conference, early June is when we have our Annual Conference (sorry, if you are not United Methodist, then that sentence will make no sense.  The annual conference is both a geographic area and an annual meeting).  Following that meeting began a time of unexpected busyness at work, as as one employee retired and another one moved to another city.  My work load increased dramatically for a time.

    As is usual, when you are stretched beyond what you know, you find opportunities for growth, and I have.  I've learned more than I ever knew about how the programs in our office operate, and I count that as good news.  We have two new employees who are learning what they need to know to do their work, and my schedule is returning to normal.

    During the summer we took vacation time at the beach (I'll show you pictures in the next few weeks). In May our older son graduated from college and started a new job, and our younger son prepared for his sophomore year in college.

    Steve and I have traveled around the state (pictures, again), helped with vacation Bible school, and spent a weekend in Pittsburgh.  I'm part of an Emmaus team, serving in the prayer chapel, which is a new experience for me.

    All that said, I apologize for disappearing without a trace, but my plan is to return to regular blogging, starting today.