Friday, July 29, 2016

Child-like Faith: Pray with Honesty and Belief

I love to listen to my older son pray out loud.  He just speaks to God, as if he is certain God is listening; he speaks as if God is sitting next to him; he prays the way he would speak to a friend. There is something honest and unprepared about his prayers. Listening to him pray, you are convinced that he is convinced that someone is listening.

That is the way children pray, I think. With honesty and in belief. That is the last of the 12 characteristics of a Child-like faith - to pray with honesty and in belief.

What if we prayed like that? What difference would it make to our prayer lives if we prayed like a child prays?

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Big Picture

Speaking of Seneca Rocks and our travels through West Virginia, at the foot of the Rocks is a Visitors Center with great view of the Rocks. It is from there that I took the pictures from yesterday.

Inside the Visitors Center is a large (maybe 6 feet in diameter) "map" of the mountains in the area. It is a relief map, so that the mountains rise up, 3D. 

When you drive through the area, you drive up and down mountains, around curves. You see beautiful valleys and imposing cliff sides. There are rivers and streams, winding through the valleys and falling down the hills. It's all wonderful to see. But for me, it has always been hard to get the "big picture." Where is Spruce Knob compared to Seneca Rocks? What are those seven mountains between Elkins and Petersburg?

The relief map helps me. Since we stopped at the visitor center as our last stop, I could see where we had been, and place it all in relationship to each other. It was great.

Sometimes Bible study is like that, isn't it? One year, following my Emmaus walk, I decided to read the Bible from the beginning to the end. I had read much of the Bible before, but never in order. As you read from Genesis to Revelation, you don't have much time to study, but you do get an overview. You can see the big picture, and where each part fits in with the rest. It is all related, and when you can get that kind of overview of the Bible, you can see it.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rock Climbing

At the end of May, Steve and I took Memorial Day weekend to travel throughout West Virginia. This is something we've always wanted to do, but haven't found the time to do it until this year. It was a great trip - you've seen much of it on the blog. We went to several state parks, including Hawk's Nest, Babcock State Park, and Blackwater Falls. We drove a terrible road up to Spruce Knob (the highest point in the state), and we toured Greenbanks National Radio Observatory (inspiring three posts last week). 

Our last stop before heading home was Seneca Rocks.  It's a fascinating place to see from a distance. You can go read about it here .  The only way to reach the top is through technical rock climbing. As I was taking pictures, and saw the rock climbers - and you should be able to see them in the images.

Aren't they small compared to the rocks they are climbing?

Sometimes faith feels like that. We are so small compared to the problems faced by the world. We are so small compared to the problems we face, sometimes. At times the mountains seem - not only seem, but are - insurmountable.

The rock climbers remind me that with God, all things are possible. With God, we can reach where we are going.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Child-like Faith: Read Scriptures

Reading Scriptures doesn't seem like it would be a characteristic of a Child-like faith, but think about children. Do they have a "show me" kind of attitude? There is an innate curiosity in a child.

Our son Josh used to ask questions ALL THE TIME. And I mean, ALL THE TIME. Where are we going? What are we doing? What are you fixing for dinner? Where is Dad? When will he be back? On and on. He had an incredible curiosity.

Do you have that kind of curiosity about the Bible? Do I? Do we yearn to read what it says for ourselves? So often, we take other people's word for what the Bible says. It's possible that there are times when we aren't very energetic about open the book and reading the story for ourselves. We listen to the sermon, we listen to the Sunday school lesson, and we take it for fact. We lack that child-like curiosity to see for ourselves and to ask our own questions of the text.

God speaks to each of us differently through the scriptures. That's why it's called the living word. Get curious, and read it for yourself. I'll try to do the same.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Circles of Grace

At Annual Conference in June, the members and guests participated in Circles of Grace. These were small groups designed to discuss what might be considered either controversial topics or complicated ones.

To tell the truth, I wasn't anticipating these circles with joy. I could easily have skipped them. I think that others do not have the same opinion that I do, and I didn't want to be caught between not speaking and saying too much. I didn't want to offend someone, and I didn't want to not defend my opinion.

But, I didn't skip the conversation; I participated. And I'm glad I did.

The topic that was discussed at the first Circles of Grace meeting was the United Methodist Bishop's "Offering of a Way Forward" This recommendation from the Council of Bishops was to postpone discussion and decisions relating to the topic of human sexuality until a Special Commission can be formed. The questions at the Circle of Grace were related to this topic.

As I assumed, there was a range of opinions in my Circle of Grace relating to this issue. What I found, though, was that while everyone was willing to express their thoughts, the rest of us showed an unusual willingness to listen. Body language was open as people strained forward in their chairs to hear every word uttered by those in the circle. We all didn't think alike, but we all knew we were called to love alike. The experience was full of hope and grace.

The gentleman who was sitting next to me seemed to have an opinion on the matter that was the polar opposite of mine. At the end of the Circle meeting, he stood and shook hands with many members of the group, but he skipped me. I wondered about that, and hated to leave the circle with that "wonder" in my mind. BUT, at the end, he hugged me.

Grace. In God, there is a way forward.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Child-like Faith: Honesty and Humility

In 2006, I wrote a post about humility.  I just went back and read it again because I was struggling to define it for this post.
The secular definition of humility connotes subservience to other people; the theological definition of humility means subservience to God. It may (and probably will) result in acting as a servant to others, but that is a result of obeying the will of God. Sometimes humility will mean standing against injustice – whether in a peaceful protest, on the playground or in the boardroom. Humility doesn’t always mean quiet and meek – sometimes it means loud and annoying – but I would guess that it always means obedience to God and often requires courage.
And then I found this on another post:
Dr. Jarvis says that, "Jesus taught us that children have the qualities necessary to enter heaven: joyful enthusiasm for life and humble dependence."
Compare that to this scripture from Matthew 18:2-4:
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
So, one of the characteristics of a child-like faith is to live with honesty and humility, and perhaps the most humbling act of honesty we can make is to say, "God is God and I am not."

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Our Array

One more radio telescope observations.

The GBT at Greenbanks is the largest moving radio dish in the world, and it is just about as large as can be made and safely operated. Size is important in this endeavor:

The ability of a radio telescope to distinguish fine detail in the sky, called angular resolution, depends on the wavelength of observations divided by the size of the antenna. In other words, to get finer detailed views of the sky, the result of that simple equation needs to be a very small number.

To solve this the issue of needing an even large antenna, scientists place radio telescopes in an array. This group of telescopes can operate as one.

Isn't that like the church? One of us alone cannot get the job done; in fact, God has not created us to work alone. We are created for community, and God has given us the grace-filled gift of church - our array - so that we can do the work God has called us to do.

Is the church perfect? Far from it - it has too many people in it to be perfect. But it does work for God's purposes, and it is the Body of Christ, here on earth. It is our array.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Radio Signals

Still thinking about radio telescopes. They are used to detect naturally-occurring radio light from stars. The website I'm reading says:
Naturally-occurring radio waves are extremely weak by the time they reach us from space. A cell phone signal is a billion billion times more powerful than the cosmic waves our telescopes detect.
There is a denomination that uses the phrase, "God is still speaking" in it's web presence (and perhaps elsewhere). I believe that. I imagine you do, too. Do you ever find that while you believe God is still speaking, and can be a challenge to hear him? This phrase from the telescope page struck me, because this is how it is with God, sometimes - even though I know God's voice is so much stronger than a cell phone signal, I can't hear it.

If you visit the radio telescope at Greenbanks, WV, you enter a quiet zone (at least, your cell phone does). There is no signal to be had in that area of the mountains (which is one of the reasons it was chosen for the observatory. Not only that, but other sources of radio waves are either masked or eliminated. The nearby school's microwave is kept shielded. Digital cameras and spark plugs (in vehicles) are prohibited near the telescope. The scientists are trying to eliminate all distractions from the signals they are recording.

Maybe there is a lesson in that for us. I don't meant that we should live in a quiet zone, free from distractions. We are called to ministry in the world, and we should BE in the world. I mean that there may be times we need to retreat from distractions, and listen for God.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Child-like Faith: Eager for New Adventures

I remember, years ago - 2004? - we took the boys to dinner and told them that we were going to go to Disney World. For them, the possibility was a complete surprise. They had no idea of even the possibility of such a trip.

Were they excited? Yes, yes they were. I realize that the idea of a trip to Disney is exciting just because of the destination, but also, the boys had the sense of a new adventure. They were ready.

With children, there isn't the worries of how will we pack, how will we pay for it, how will we get there, how will we take time off, how will we take care of our pets - none of what bothers adults. There is just an eagerness for a new adventure.

Do we have that as children of faith? Do we have an eagerness for new adventures with God? Do we look forward to where God will take us, without worrying about carrying extra sandals or finding a place to stay (thinking of the 70 Jesus sent out).

An eagerness for a new adventure opens us up to experience it. Thinking of it as an adventure means that we aren't worrying about what it will be or where we will go. The word adventure hints of excitement - and it builds our own attitude towards what will happen.

How would your faith life be different if you anticipated what God will do in your life as an adventure?


Monday, July 18, 2016

Shift of the Axis

Did you know that every 13 years, the world shifts on its axis? I guess in astronomical terms, it's a small shift, and yet, if we ignored it, our clocks would be off - and they would be off by a significant amount over time. At the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, there is a radio telescope that monitors the shifting of the earth's axis, and that data is used to adjust the "official" time kept by - well, by whoever keeps the official time.

A life of faith is like that. Prayer is our connection to God, and by continually connecting with God, we are able to make adjustments to the places where our axis has shifted. Without the continual checking, we would drift radically off the path God has set for us. Our life would be off its "axis." We might not notice the drift, but it would happen, slowly and imperceptibly.

So, God have given us the grace of prayer to reconnect - to re-orient ourselves. Repentance - a turning around - brings us back to a "right" position on our axis.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Child-like Faith: Cry and laugh

Cry and get over it; laugh and not get over it.

This phrase is number 8 on the list of the characteristics of a Child-Like Faith that we're working our way through. This one speaks of attitude (to me). To me it reminds us to let the grief happen and then end; let the laughter soak into our souls and change us.

When children are small, and something happens that hurts them, the tears come. When our boys were small, and they would fall and get hurt, Steve and I would look at each other and say, "Here it comes"! The tears would come easily, and then would easily be gone (sometimes with the necessary application of love and band-aids).

When Josh was an infant and Grant was three, Grant discovered that he could make his brother laugh. It as a delightful afternoon, as Grant smiled and Josh laughed. I see that in their father and uncle. At family gatherings, when Steve and Bob get started, we all look at each other, and say, "here they go!" The laughter is infectious, and it is part of who they are.

Grief does change us, and we need to let the tears come. We can learn from pain and we can move through it - but on the other side is brighter times - happiness. Laughter we can hold on to. Laughter we can not get over, and we are better for it.

And I think our faith can help us to do this - to cry and move on; to laugh and hold on.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Monty's Blessing

The pastor of the church where our offices are located gave the following blessing at an event:
Help us remember that we have chosen to be kind and to be civil, to listen before we speak, so that those who do not know your love will see it shining through us.
I liked it so much, I quickly typed it into my notes app so that I could share it with the blog.

"Help us remember that we have chosen to be kind and to be civil."  Do you ever consider that kindness and civility are a choice? Do you intentionally choose to practice kindness? I think for many of us, kindness is often our response, but we don't always see it as an intentional choice. Sometimes it is difficult to be kind, and our first response is not kindness. It is at that point that it becomes difficult to choose another path. It becomes difficult to choose civility over hurtfulness. We want to lash out; we want to return hurt for hurt. At that point, the word "choose" becomes very important and clear to us. It is at that point that we are called to choose kindness and civility.

Do we listen before we speak? Do we listen at all? Often, I know that I am planning my next words while someone else is speaking - that prevents listening, I think. While I may be able to hear the person speaking, I'm not considering what he or she is saying; I'm automatically countering it. We need to choose to listen before we speak.

And what will be the result? Those who do not know God's love will see it shining through. Amen.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Here We Go!

One morning I read a post on Facebook by a pastor who said, (and I'm paraphrasing), "I have no idea what God has in store for my churches or my family, but God has been working in my life these last couple of weeks and specifically today. Something is going to happen."  His wife posted in a comment, "Oh, my! Keep your hands inside the ride at all times! Here we go!"

It reminds me of a passage in Isaiah that says, " I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert." (Isaiah 43:19)

It reminds me of the Israelites in Egypt who were told to bake bread without leavening and eat standing up, with their sandals on. They did it, even though they have been slaves for 400 years - how could they ever anticipate that God was going to do something in their lives? And yet they did.

Do we believe it? Are we listening enough to God to perceive the new thing that is springing forth? Are we so convinced that we will say, "Oh, my! Here we go!"

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Child-Like Faith: Just as I am

Just as I am - without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

These familiar words were written by Charlotte Elliot after a night of being kept awake by thoughts of her "apparent uselessness."  When she arose the next morning, the thoughts came back to her, and to release herself from them, she wrote, in verse, the promises of her faith - that God called her just as she was, and that in God she would find salvation.

This is a promise God has made to all of us, and it is an invitation to to us - to come, just as we are.

And yet, there are times when we do not offer that invitation to others. We judge, we reject, we gossip, we hate. If Christ is shining within us, how can we not act like Christ? How can we bring people to God if we do not open ourselves to acceptance as Christ has accepted us?

This is part of a child-like faith. "To like everyone, just as they are."


Monday, July 11, 2016

The Open Door

A friend told me that when the Chapel at Drew Theological School was being renovated, a search in the facility was made for wood that could be re-purposed. Heavy doors were found on site that had been used to make the chapel smaller when necessary. Not being used often, they were stored away. When they were found, that were repurposed to craft a cross and the communion table.

I love that - the communion table is made from a door.

We, as United Methodists have open doors and an open communion table.

Do we live up to that? Do we open our churches to those Christ welcomes to his table? Are we inclusive or exclusive? Have we opened our hearts to accept all who Christ calls us to welcome. The table is open. Are we?

In John, Christ uses several I Am statements to describe his purpose and his connection to God. I Am the way, the truth, the life, living water, the bread of life, the gate.

Could is be that Christ is also the open door? And shouldn't we be likewise?


Friday, July 01, 2016

Child-like Faith: Forgive

When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone, he thought he was being generous by offering to forgive seven times. I imagine he was surprised when Jesus responded  seventy times seven. In the story of the person who is forgiven an almost immeasurable amount, we find a person who turns around and can't forgive a comparatively small amount.

Why is it that we, a people who have been forgiven much, are reluctant to forgive? 

Is it that we savor the feeling of being "right?" Do we enjoy the superiority of being in the position of being able to forgive someone? Do we think forgiveness makes us appear weak? Needy? Are we afraid that if we forgive, we will be condoning the wrong? Or are we afraid that if we forgive, we will be vulnerable to the hurt of being wronged again? Can we not bring ourselves to the brink of letting go of how terrible the wrong done to us was?

I think it is all of these reasons - and more.

We are called to a child-like faith. What does a child do? Is a child innocent enough to forgive and move on? To even, at times, to trust again?

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