Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Use of a Window

Regarding reading the Bible: If you look at a window, you see flyspecks, dust, the crack where Junior's Frisbee hit it. If you look through a window, you see the world beyond. (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)

Do you look at the Bible or through the Bible when you read it? I think looking through the Bible (like looking through a lens) is the way we see God (as clearly as a human can, which isn't particularly clearly) and the way we attempt to understand God's message (again, as clearly as a human can). How do we do that? These are some ideas I have:

  1. Remember that what was written was written in a particular time and place. Do some research to see what that context is because it is important. One needs to understand the circumstances in which something is written to understand what was written.
  2. Remember that verses and chapters are artificial and were not present when the word was written. Also remember that you steal something from the word when you lift out a verse and separate it from the rest of what was written. For example, you can lift verse Genesis 31:49b out of what is written, and it says, "The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other." It sounds like a beautiful benediction, but it isn't - it's a threat, which you see if you read the rest of the passage.
  3. Remember that knowing the type of writing that you are reading is important. A poem is best understood if you know it is a poem. A parable is best understood if you know it is a parable.
  4. There are some who will disagree with me, but no one actually "takes the Bible literally." No one. If you did, then you would return all of your property every 50th year of Jubilee, you would never touch pork or a dead animal or person, you would believe that Jesus is ACTUALLY a literal lamb, and you would believe that the parables Jesus told were not in fact parables, but were stories of people he knew. 
  5. The best way to attempt to understand God and God's desire for our lives is to view the word through the Word of God - Jesus, himself. Jesus is the standard - higher than the Bible itself - against which we measure our interpretation of the Bible.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

5:00 Workers

I remember physical education ("gym") in Junior High (and beyond). I was not and am not, very athletic. The gym teacher would form teams for volleyball, etc, by having two team captains pick their teams - one person at a time. That's great if you are chosen first. Or second, or even 15th. But I wasn't. I was chosen dead last. 

Have you ever had an experience like that? Imagine how it would make you feel.

Think about the parable of the workers who were hired to work for the landowner. Some were chosen first thing in the morning. Some were chosen at midday. Some weren't chosen until the very last hour. Imagine how those chosen last would have felt.  An Upper Room devotional called those chosen last the "5:00 workers."   Remember the rest of the parable? All of the workers were paid the same wage - the one promised to those who worked a whole day. It made those who had worked the longest angry, but imagine for a moment how it made the last ones chosen feel.  That is the experience of grace.

We are all the 5:00 workers.  We've been chosen and called to work by none other than God.  The creator of heaven and earth has called us to work for God's kingdom and to share in the riches of God's grace - not because we deserve it, but because we don't.  That's not fair; that's grace.  (Michael Vaughn (Tennessee)).

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Because of our Undeserving

Have you ever loved someone so much that you wished you could take that person's place in suffering? If you child is sick, have you thought, "I would be sick so that he could be well."? 

As Christians, we believe that Christ took on our pain and suffering and sin so that we could be whole. He suffered and died, and then was victorious over death - in a way we could never have been without him.  That being said, I've never thought of it like this:
The New Covenant means that "God's love becomes a suffering love: a love that suffers because it is not reciprocated, a love that suffers because we who are loved suffer and suffer precisely in our failure to reciprocate  By giving us the cup to drink, Jesus is saying that in loving us God "bleeds" for us - not "even though" we don't give a damn, but precisely because we don't. God keeps his part of the covenant whether we keep our part or not; it's just that one way costs him more." Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
If God were fair, then when we disobeyed, God would stop loving us - our disobedience would break the contract with God. But God loves us so much that he suffers in our disobedience, becuase God knows our disobedience brings us pain. We understand that - when our children disobey and are hurt because of it, we suffer with them. 

It's grace - not love in spite of our undeserving, but love because of our undeserving.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Living the Faith, Part 5

Secondly, I want to invite you to share your plans with your family. The obvious reason for that is if you do, your family will understand your wishes, and that’s important. The less obvious reason to talk to your family is that through the discussion, you can witness to your faith to them.

I met with a retired pastor and his son. The pastor had lived his life in service to God. When he retired, he told God that he had no idea what he would do next. God assured him that he would continue to serve, and to start visiting people. So he did – he visits hospitals and nursing homes, he serves in churches when asked. And this is my favorite part – funeral homes call him to do funerals for people who don’t have a pastor, so he does several funerals a month, ministering to those families. He lives his faith.

Part of living his faith, for him, means that he has always tithed. He gives 10% of his income to God. We met with him because he wants to continue that through his death. 20% of his life insurance policy is directed to go to a trust that benefits the mission projects of the Annual Conference.  We met with him to review the paperwork for that plan with his son present.

You can tell by the way I talk about him that this pastor has been a witness to me of how to live your faith. I can only imagine the witness he has been to his son, through that conversation and beyond it. Talk to your family about your plans so that they will see God through your actions.
Third, consider using your estate plan as not only a way to plan how your estate will be distributed at your death, but also as a way to testify to your faith. We call it a testament, don’t we? Transform it into something more than a legal document.  You can do that in words and in actions.

You can include what is called a Christian Preamble in your will.  A preamble is a paragraph that comes before everything else that explains WHY you are doing what you are doing with your will.  In it, you can talk about the love you have for your family, for your church, and about how God has worked through your life. A lawyer may not ask if you want to include the reasons for what you are doing, but you can ask to do it. You can go to our website or call our office, and we can provide an example of a Christian Preamble to get you started.  If you don’t want to include it in your will, then I encourage you to write a letter to your family and store it with your will. Pass your faith on to them as many ways as you can, and this is one way. Through what you say.

Follow that with your actions. Include the ministry – such as your church - that is close to your heart in your estate plan. There are many ways to do that; a bequest in your will is probably the most common.  You and I are stewards of what God has given to us – stewards of the material possessions we have, and caretakers of our family.  Your will is the document you use to give final instructions in your role as steward. Most of us use it to provide care for our families. When you include a bequest to ministry, you, through your actions, demonstrate the importance that faith and the church has had in your life. If your church has been like family to you, you may want to demonstrate that through your will.

One final story about a woman I have never met.  Dr. Roberta Rice was born in Minnesota in 1917 in the Methodist parsonage.  As a young adult, she graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School. When I read that about her, I loved her already – imagine how hard it would have been to be a female medical school student in the late thirties and early forties.  As a doctor, she served veterans at various VA Medical Centers. After the Korean War, she was sent to Korea as a United Methodist medical missionary educator, and she serve there from 1956 until 1975 as a surgeon. After that, she joined the faculty of the new medical school at Marshall University. After her retirement, she served as a volunteer with Hospice and as a literacy tutor. She sang in the choir and played the organ at her United Methodist Church her in Huntington and later in North Carolina.  She died in 2014, and her obituary said, “Dr. Rice made the world a healthier and happier place.”

I say that Dr. Rice lived her faith. And you should read her will. It was a witness to her faith. It included several bequests to ministry, including to her church and to the Foundation. There is now a Trust at the Foundation in her name that provides funds each year for ministry with children.
While I am not here to provide a commercial, I am here to serve, so if there is any way I can help you as consider how to live your faith, please let me know.

We are commanded by Jesus – commanded, mind you – to not let our hearts be troubled. Set aside fear, and live your faith. Do as Paul did – live your faith all of your life, pour out your life to God, now, and even in the way you meet the end of life here on earth, knowing that, as Paul wrote in his last testament, the Lord stands by you and gives you strength, so that through you the message might be fully proclaimed and everyone might hear it.

And be careful on the stairs.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Living the Faith, Part 4

In case you aren’t familiar with what the Foundation does, I want to share with you that our main focus is planned giving – helping to match the need people have to give with the best tool to use to achieve their goals in their circumstances. We help people to find that sacred space where they can live their faith, through their lives and into their deaths.  I can tell you that it is a great joy for me to sit with a family at their kitchen table and talk to them about their dreams of giving, and help them to find a way to accomplish them.

I can tell you that I never have to convince people to be generous – they are already living a life of generous faith. All they need from me are the concrete means to do what they want to do. I am convinced that is because of God’s grace, at work in their lives. They are witnessing by their actions, to the generous God who has created them (and us) through the way they live their faith, even through their death.

Because of the work I do at the Foundation, Lynn asked me to come today to share the word of God with you and to share the spiritual nature of estate planning and planned giving. I’m not here to provide a commercial for the Foundation, but because of what I have experienced in the work I do, I can share with you some concrete ways to live your faith even to the end of it.

First of all, I want to encourage you to not be afraid to think about it. I think it is natural to want to avoid thinking about our own deaths and therefore, to avoid thinking about having a will.  Our plan, rightly so, is to live, just like my plan for the Monday of this week was to go to work and start checking the items off on my list. What we all know is that life on this earth is not forever; what we know as Christians is that God walks with us through this life, and through our deaths, and into life eternal. I hope you know that God has changed your life; and I know you know that God has changed your death. Because of that, we can rest in our trust of God, and we can live without worry of death.

So, think about your death, without fear.

Jeff, who is the President of the Foundation, worked with a couple in the southern part of the state to complete a charitable bequest in their wills. He met with both the husband and the wife, and once everything was complete, the wife told him that she had been having nightmares about dying without completing their plan. Even if we don’t admit it to ourselves, we worry about our wills and our plans until we complete them. I know she found relief in getting it done; I imagine we all do.  So, I invite you to trust in God, set aside any fear you have of facing the issue, and move toward the relief of having it done.  And please remember, it doesn’t matter if your estate is large, or small – everyone is a steward of what God has given to them, and everyone needs a will.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Living the Faith, Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts that are together a sermon I delivered to Milton UMC.

The scripture today is from the lectionary. It’s the very end of the second letter to Timothy. Tradition holds that it was written by Paul to Timothy, but scholars think that tradition might be incorrect. For our purposes, and for our understanding, however, I’m going to place the pen that wrote the letter in Paul’s hand and we’ll assume the recipient is his successor, Timothy. It will give us a concrete framework to hear the words; just know that the setting may be incorrect.

Hear these words from 2 Timothy, chapter 4, verses 6-8 and 16-18:
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.   I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

This letter was written from prison. Paul wrote it knowing the end of his life was coming. In fact, the letter has the tone of a last testament.  In some ways, we are reading words from Paul’s Last Will and Testament.

He writes, “I am already being poured out as a libation, and time of my departure has come.” Remember that Paul was a Roman citizen. At the end of every Roman meal, a sacrifice of a kind of made – a cup of wine was poured out for the gods. Paul is saying that the end of his life is coming; he has given his whole life to God, all through his life, and he sees this as one more opportunity to pour out all he has to God. His death is a continuation of his life.

And then come the sports metaphors. I have a friend who, when he teaches Sunday school, loves to use sports metaphors, and in this case, Paul is just like him. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  The word he uses for fight means a contest in an arena; and Paul can be satisfied that he has done all he could in this life. He says, “I have finished the race.” For Paul, I imagine this race as a marathon, and we can imagine (I can ONLY imagine, having never run a marathon) what it must feel like to reach the finish line of a marathon. That’s where Paul is. And, he says, he has kept the faith. Paul, as a Jew, would have been familiar with the idea of covenant. I think he means that he has been faithful to the covenant between himself and God. William Barclay says, “If Paul used it this way, he meant that through thick and thin, in freedom and in imprisonment, in all his perils by land and sea, and now in the very face of death, he had never lost his trust in Jesus Christ.”

Paul not only kept the faith; he lived the faith. His life was a witness to his faith in God. And the way he approaches death is no different than the way he lived his life – in it, he is living his faith.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Living the Faith, Part I

This week I'm going to share a sermon with you that I delivered at Milton United Methodist Church.  

I’m going to start this morning by telling you a story that will make you cringe – it makes me cringe – but it has been running through my mind as I prepared for this sermon. It’s a story about how my Monday started this week.

 Do you have mental lists? Do you look at your day and plan in your mind what you need to do that day? Or maybe the coming week? I have mental lists – until I create paper lists – I like lists. I like plans – at least where work is concerned.

On Monday I had a plan for the day in my mind. I had been out of the office for the last four days of the previous week, so I had some work I wanted to catch up on. Jeff and I were going to visit a church that evening, so I wanted to prepare for that, and we had another presentation during the week that I needed to complete plans for. I had thoughts about this sermon that I wanted to solidify – and my list goes on. I was about to walk out the front door of our house and jump into the car when I realized I had forgotten something upstairs, so I went to retrieve it. Halfway down the stairs, something happened. Even though I remember every second of what happened next, I’m not sure exactly what started it. I either caught the heel of my shoe in the cuff of my slacks, or I misplaced my foot, but whatever it was, I found I wasn’t standing on anything. You know those moments when you are starting to fall, and you catch yourself? I tried that, but it didn’t work. Instead, I fell down the stairs. I didn’t roll; I flew. I remember flying through the air, and landing at the bottom – on my face. The only reason I’m standing here smiling at you today is that two very kind and compassionate dentists worked me into their schedules on Monday morning to fix my two broken teeth.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Living the Faith, Part 2

This is the second in a series of five posts that are together a sermon I delivered at Milton UMC.

One of the reasons I’m telling you this story is because there was a moment, sitting at the bottom of the stairs, literally holding a piece of my tooth in my hand, when I thought to myself, “OK, I’ll get cleaned up and go on to work, and get started on my list.” I think we are resistant to change. I had my plans, and I couldn’t imagine – for just that moment – that something was going to get in my way that would prevent me from carrying them out.

The other reason I’m telling you this story, is that after the visits to the dentists, I was on my way to work, and I called to talk to my mom, to give her an update. We were talking about the fall, and she said, “You were lucky. You could have broken your neck.” I think that was very unlikely, but the truth of life is that we never know what comes next. I’ve thought about that as I prepared for this sermon (when you hear the scripture, you’ll see why). We have our plans, and we plan our lives, but the end of life is reality for all of us.

We rarely talk about death in church; in my church, we rarely even talk about change, and how to successfully navigate it. It’s a shame, really, because Christianity is a faith that is centered on transformation – how we change in life, and how we change through death. And mainly how God is at the center of all of that.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Logos: Words this week

I try not to be the kind of person who just lifts verses out of scripture without context and holds them up as words we need to hear. Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn't, and we need to be aware of that.  But this evening, I was reading the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, and I was struck by the number of verses in those passages that remind of that God is in control, that we should not fear, and that we are not alone.  Take a moment and read these verses, pulled from this weeks lectionary readings:

  • I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.  (Jeremiah 23:4)
  • Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.  (Luke 1:68)
  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; (Psalm 46:1-2)
  • The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46:7)
  • "Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth." The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (Psalm 46:10-11)
  • May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.  (Colossians 1:11-12)
  • He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1:17)
  • Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."  (Luke 23:42-43)

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Psalm 145

I speak for the moment.
I speak in the time I have available to me.
I pray that my words of praise to God
would last forever.

My gratitude stretches across time,
into eternity,
My thankfulness is for today,
for it is all I have,
but I offer it to you, and
and I praise your name forever.

Great are you,
my God and King.
My creator,
for without you I would not live today.
My redeemer,
for without you I would not live tomorrow.
My sustainer,
for without you, I would not live at all.
Great are you,
and worthy to be praised.

You are unknowable,
and yet you hold my heart
in your hand.

I pray my generation,
my children's generation,
and those who come after me
who I cannot even imagine,
know you,
and declare your work
in their lives.

My mind,
my heart,
my breath
are full of your grace and mercy
and I pray I will never forget.
I pray that my words of praise
would last forever.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On Confession

On Confession: To confess your sins to God is not to tell him anything he doesn't already know. Until you confess the, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the Golden Gate Bridge. (Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner)

Have you ever done something (or not done something) that you kept to yourself? Have you ever stopped short of confessing a wrong to someone else? That's a rhetorical question; I think we all could answer yes. What happens when you run into that person? Do you feel the gulf between you? Maybe, if it's a "small" thing, that gulf doesn't last very long as the failure to confess fades into the background of your memory, but I think we feel it.

What if the person already knows? Have you ever known what your child did, but waited for the child to tell you? You both know the sin, and there is a division between you.

Do you think that division is caused by a lack of honesty?

Could it be that we need to confess our sins to God, who already knows what they are, to rid ourselves of that feeling of dishonesty with the divine? The God we hope to have a relationship with? 

I know that I can forgive people without their confessions of the wrong to me. I can forgive them, and they may not (probably won't) ever know that they have been forgiven. Because I know that, I believe that God forgives us, without our confession of sin. And yet, how do we know? How will we repair that gap between us? Confession brings us back together - and we need it, not to earn the forgiveness, but to become aware of it. Confession is not for the benefit of God; it is for our own well being, and to strengthen the relationship between the divine and us.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Notes about Worship

I attended a Diversity Summit a few weeks ago. The last session was a panel of people discussing worship. These are my notes, not organized in any particular way, but still containing some good thoughts from the discussion:

  • Why consider inter-cultural worship? We are preparing for the church that we want to be. (isn't that true in so many ways?)
  • When we pray, we pray with the whole world in mind.
  • Worship should represent the voice of the people who are there.
  • The worship leader should be listening to the worshipers in order to represent them genuinely and authentically.
  • Worship should make us feel a tad uncomfortable - examining how it is with our souls - movements of the mystery of God.
  • Diversity in worship can make it fresh and revitalize the worship experience.
  • Music is a divine gift that can make the Word more beautiful and break down barriers.
  • Liturgy needs to be brought into the language of 20 year olds - use words we understand.
  • Worship is always contextual.
  • If it is not transformational, then it is a waste of time.
  • There is a fluidity - a flow - to worship. Go with the flow. Don't be afraid to adapt plans to the flow.
  • Have a deep commitment to intentionality and thoughtfulness - it seems to be the opposite of laziness
  • Have courage to take ownership of the leadership position.
  • Minor keys allow the heart to cry.
  • In times of crisis, stand in it with your people.  Your actions don't have to be perfect - just be in the midst of it with them.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Choosing to Love

I few weeks ago, I wrote about our experience with the loss of our dog.  I wrote about being heartbroken, angry and grateful.  At about the same time, I went to a Diversity Summit. The worship leaders sang a song with these words:

In the midst of pain, I choose love
In the midst of pain, I choose love
In the midst of pain, 
Sorry falling down like rain
I await the sun again.
I choose love.

It reminded me that love while love is an emotion, it's more than that. Love is an action. Because it is an action - a verb - we can choose to do it, or not. We can choose to love, as we are called to do, or we can choose not to love.

I don't mean to imply that forgiveness is as easy as saying we'll do it. I don't believe that feeling love (or not) toward someone is as simple as making the decision. What I mean is that we choose how to act. We choose to act with kindness or not. Acting with love, even in pain, is a choice. It's not always an easy choice, but it is a choice.

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Sunday, November 06, 2016



It's me, popping in, to say that I won't be posting this week. We are in the middle of a big software transition at work, and I'm pulling and working on data at work and at home to get it done.  It will be great when it's finished!  But I need to devote time to that.