Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Faith without hope

I attended worship yesterday (well, it's yesterday as I right this) at First UMC in Elkins. Rev. Dallas Forren preached a sermon called "Trust and Obey;" the scriptural basis was the walk to Emmaus passage.

Dallas said that the two people walking were having a "pity party." He said that if he had been Jesus, he would have kept on walking, not stopped to walk with them.

The two companions were walking back to their old lives, and they were walking with a faith that had not hope. Imagine. A faith that had no hope.

Do we ever have a faith that has no hope? I think we do, even when we don't recognize it.

I'm with Dallas. I think if I were Jesus, and I saw us walking down the path, on our way back to our old lives (once again), I would be tempted to keep on walking. Cynicism is so hard to push through.

Instead, Jesus walks with them. He listens to them. He doesn't leave them alone in their pity party. Even in their hopelessness. Even when the don't believe he exists anymore, even less that he was the Messiah. Even in all of that, he walks with them. 

Even in their hopelessness, they are not alone.


Where are you experiencing hopelessness today? Know that Jesus is listening.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Authority

So, if you have time, go read this editorial piece in Christianity Today:

The question that Tish Harrison Warren is asking is this: Who is in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere? Her premise, I think, is that women (especially women, for some reason) are blogging, and no one is granting them the authority to do so. No one is watching them. No one is pulling them back when the "get it wrong." No one is stopping them from leading people astray.

Hmmm.

Now, don't misunderstand my motivation in writing this post. Warren is not talking about me. She's talking about people like Rachel Held Evans and Jen Hatmaker - women bloggers who have very large followings and who are NOT writing in support of the Evangelical/Conservative doctrines. She's talking about them because they are influencing a large number of people.

But the question of the source of my authority is still there. What is my authority in writing this blog post? In writing my blog at all?

I think my authority comes from God. I have a brain; I have the motivation to share my faith. (It's not secret - we all do), and those are gifts from God. I feel a calling to write this blog, and I believe the calling is from God. Believe me, it would be easier to stop doing it than to do it. But I want to do it, and I see from it that I grow when I do it (just like any other discipline).
 
Do I get it right all of the time? If you're reading this, you know that I do not. I'm telling you what I think - I'm telling you the conclusions that I believe God has led me to. (It's not a secret - it's called Sandpiper's Thoughts). I believe you have a brain, and that God is working through you, too, and that between you and me, God will do what God does, and use what I write to speak God's message to you. 

It's not at all flawless. It's not at all perfect. But I don't need anyone else's authority to do it. I don't need another man (or woman, for that matter) to watch me, or to grant approval on what I am doing. 


And if I don't, then neither does anyone else.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Logos: 1 Peter 3:15b-16a

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15b-16a)
I'm not sure why this sentence spans parts of two verses, but when I reassembled it, I was struck by how much power is in it.

  1. Always be ready - Sharing the word of God, whether in voice or deed, is not always something we can plan to do our our own timing. Often, it happens on God's timing, so always be ready.
  2. Make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting - It sounds militaristic, doesn't it? Someone demanding something; you defending your belief? Not everyone we meet will be kind and gentle in their exploration. They may be antagonistic about our beliefs.
  3. The hope that is in you - What are we sharing? Not judgments. Not hatred. Not a list of dos and don'ts. We are sharing the hope that is in us. In you are going to be ready to do that - always - then you had better know about the hope that is in you. Can you tell people about it?
  4. Do it with gentleness and reverence - Even though the person who is confronting us may be antagonistic, how do we respond. With gentleness. Not only with gentleness, but with reverence. With reverence. Imagine. Not so hard to believe if we remember that the person in front of us is a child of God.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pharisees, Walking Away

Reading Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans this morning brought new light for me to a story that I'm most of us are familiar with.

Think about the scripture of the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees bring a woman who has committed a clear violation of the law to Jesus, and they bring the implements to enact the clear scriptural punishment.  It was a test - how could Jesus get around it?

When we look at this story, we are often focused on the woman - we focus on the power of forgiveness. We are drawn to Jesus and his intervention in the execution of the sinner. We give some attention to the idea that "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," but we don't often look at the Pharisees - the righteous.

The Pharisees are saying,"Look at this woman - look what she's done!" I think Jesus is saying,"Look at yourselves - it's you I'm focused on. What have you done? Where is your sin?"

Where are you in this story? Are you the woman who was used as a pawn in this story? Are you the Pharisee, testing Jesus? Am I the one who is so certain of my "rightness" that I can only point fingers at others?

We hear this story, and sometimes the take away for us is, "Go and sin no more." We repeat Jesus as if to use it as a confirmation: "See? The Pharisees were right! She was a sinner."

"WE have sins we delight in taking seriously, biblical instructions we interpret hyperliterally, issues we protect over-vigilantly because it helps us with our sorting system. It makes us feel righteous.

I think sometimes we bring someone else's sin to Jesus, expecting a pat on the back  and an "Attagirl! You're right; that's a terrible thing that person is doing." What we get, instead, and sometimes ignore, is what happened to the Pharisees. Jesus writes our own sin in the sand, and we should drop our stones.

Don't miss the Pharisees walking away.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Perspectives: Lighthouse

See what I did a couple of weekends ago? I climbed a lighthouse. It was great - 10 stories up, and I could see all around the mountains and lakes of West Virginia.

What? Where? Yes, a lighthouse in West Virginia. It's the only one. Imagine that. Who would expect that? It was constructed from the bottom of a wind mill (wind turbine - I don't know - whatever those large wind-powered towers are on the mountains around here). The "poll" was purchased as scrap metal and the owners of the campground created a lighthouse out of it. It has an actual light - from a nearby airport, circa the 20's or 30's - that airplanes can use as a marker. Summersville Lake is nearby, but no boat is in danger of going a ground, here, so boats don't need it. Ha!

It's certainly not something you would expect to see in West Virginia. And I love that.

Read this quote from Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans: "It seems those most likely to miss God's work in the world are those most convinced they know exactly what to look for, the ones who expect God to play by the rules."


Do we miss God's lighthouses because we would never expect God to build one there? May God open our eyes to see his unexpected work among us.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Connected

I am United Methodist. I haven't always been United Methodist; I was baptized a Presbyterian, but I came to the United Methodist church in high school, joined the church, and have belonged ever since. 

What does it mean to belong to the United Methodist church? Now that I do what I do for a living, I am privileged to share the word of God standing in pulpits other than the one in the church where I attend. Every time - every single time - God reminds me that I belong to something bigger than my own local church. We are connected. The church I'm standing in is my own, as much as my own is.

I was reading a Facebook post from Director of Communications of the West Virginia Annual Conference. She wrote that she had heard the head of United Methodist Commission on Relief speak. Dr. Simbo Ige said, "When there's a disaster, a need for hope and healing, there is UMCOR, UMCOR is church, UMCOR is United Methodist, UMCOR is you."  When disaster strikes in Japan, and UMCOR responses, it means I am there. When flooding hits West Virginia, and UMCOR sends help, it means the United Methodist in Japan is there.


This is what it means when we say, "I am the church - you are the church - we are the church, together." We are connected through the Body of Christ, and I think this is something the United Methodist Church does very well.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Wishful Thinking

Christianity is mainly wishful thinking....Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes in on. Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.  (Buechner, Wishful Thinking)
Now you (and I) know where the title of the book came from. Christianity is mainly wishful thinking.

It's the last sentence of the quote that stopped me. "Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it."

This is a great definition of prevenient grace.  We have a yearning - a wanting - dare I say a wishing - for a creator beyond ourselves. We look. We pray. We search. We study. We are hoping to catch a glimpse of that which is beyond ourselves.

Why would we spend so much effort and hope on looking for - wishing for - something we can't see and can't prove, and can only believe is present through faith?

Why? Because that for which we look and wish is God. And God is nudging us, through prevenient grace, to look. It is in the looking - in the desire to search for God - that we can find evidence of God. Because without God, we would not look.


Grace. It is amazing.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Logos: Acts 7:55-57

To set the scene for the scripture I chose today, the person about whom is is written is Stephen.  Remember Stephen? He was a deacon in the new church, martyred for his faith.
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. (Acts 7:55-57)
You know the rest of the story, right? Those listening dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death, while Saul kept their coats.

I chose this scripture because of the image it created in my mind. A man of the church is telling those gathered around of his vision - he saw heaven, Jesus, and God, and he is telling them about it.  They covered their ears.


How often do we chose to not listen when the word of God is spoken to us? How often do we (maybe not literally) cover our ears? What word of God are we missing because we will not listen

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

On Vocation

On Vocation: The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.  (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking).  
Yes, that means I'm in the V Chapter of this book. I will finish it this week.  Maybe tomorrow.

I had to stop and write about this particular quote that I read today. It is the very first quote I ever read from Frederick Buechner, back in 2005. I had been invited to preach for Laity Sunday, and I was looking for something like this - I didn't know who had said it or what exactly it was, so the Lay Leader at the time sent it to me. It became a part of my sermon, and then after the sermon, the Lay Leader gave me a thank you gift - a Frederick Buechner book called Beyond Words. It's still sitting on my bookshelf in my office, and I pull it often for devotional material.

There are sentences that follow you through life, don't you think? In music it's called a "lifesong." I don't know what it's called when it's a quote, but this one has stuck with me for over 10 years.  There are so many tenants of faith for me in this one sentence:
  1. God calls - God calls you. God calls me. Don't forget that you are called to something. Everyone is.
  2. It takes discernment to find that place of calling - you have to work with God to discover what you are to do. If that wasn't true, the sentence wouldn't exist - no one would need encouragement to look for their call; they would already know what it was. Finding it might not be easy.
  3. We are called to deep gladness. We sometimes think that if we are suffering, then we are answering our call. I'm not saying there won't be suffering, but if you are not experiencing deep gladness, then you haven't found your calling. Underneath the hard work, the frustrations, and the muck of doing what you are called to do, there is deep gladness. 
  4. It's not about self-gratification. There is a purpose to your service. There is a need the world has that God is calling you to meet. It's about giving of yourself, not to make yourself happy, but to fulfill a mission you have been given.

The place where your deep gladness and the world's deep need meet is a sacred place. It is the burning bush. It is where you throw off your shoes and say, "Here is where I meet God."  

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Perspectives: Watch that First Step

Take a look at this picture. Do you see the door in the wall? Things like this really get me thinking. Who built this door? Where was it supposed to go? Why is it there? Does anyone ever open it, thinking it leads to the bathroom or a storage room, and get the shock of their lives?

Watch that first step! It's a doozy.

Are there doors in our lives that lead to steps like this? Do we have doors in our lives that we open, not knowing where they go? Do we open them, and then close them very quickly, afraid we might fall? Do we never open them out of fear - fear of not knowing what is on the other side, or fear of knowing what is there, and not wanting to take the risk?

Are we afraid to open them because we might be tempted to take that first step?

This door (the one in the picture) opened (if it ever opened) into the multipurpose room of a church where the United Methodist Women were hosting a breakfast - a great breakfast. Would someone have opened the door and been so interested in breakfast that he or she would have found a way to take that step?

Will we open the door and be so excited about what we see that we'll risk taking the step, just because what is on the other side is so much of what we want?


Will we open the doors God calls us to open, and take the steps God is calling us to take? Or are we too afraid of the first step?

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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Faith to Move Mountains

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
That verse is one of those statements that sounds good, but upon deeper (but not the deepest) reflection seems to be only that. A pretty statement.

There are lots of statements like that – prettily designed phrases that everyone posts on Facebook because they sound profound, but really don’t reflect truth. I wish I could think of some examples – but I shove those pretty (and useless) phrases out of my head once I reject them.

Faith to move mountains. Pashaw! Mountains are very big; I am very small. I have faith, but I’ve seen lots of mountains that never move. Addiction. Cancer. Hatred. Flood waters. Big mountains that don’t seem to move; the best and most wonderful movement of God in that can sometimes be the ability to endure them and move on. Don’t misunderstand me – I do believe that God can move mountains; I’m just not sure the mountain moving is always a reflection of the faith of the person standing next to (or under) the mountain.

But this morning I read the following in Rachel Held Evans’ book, Searching for Sunday: “After all, with enough faith, a person can move a mountain…even a mountain of her own making.”

I’ve never thought of it like that. I’ve never placed that verse next to the truth that we place obstructions between ourselves and God. Those are real mountains, and I do believe with faith, that we can move them.

What mountain stands between you and God? What is it that you – working with God – can move? Sometimes the cement that holds the mountain in the way is of our own doing. Sometimes, allowing God to move that mountain requires that we let go of it. What do you need God’s help in releasing? Don’t give up on the idea of moving the mountain – let go of it and give it to God to lift away.


Faith isn’t measured by the mountains that we can move. Faith is infinite when we realize that it comes from God. If it is a grace that comes from God, then we can open ourselves up, let go of the mountains we create and cling to, and allow God to clear the way. Sometimes the biggest mountain is ourselves, and with enough God, we can allow ourselves to change.

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Monday, May 08, 2017

Means of Grace

From Rachel Held Evans book, Searching for Sunday:
“I was always denied baptism and communion growing up,” Andrew said. “My dad told me I wasn’t manifesting enough fruits of the Spirit in my life. He wanted me to wait until I was good enough, holy enough.”
One of the gifts I received from my Walk to Emmaus is the concept of means of grace (it’s Wesley – taught by Emmaus). There are ways that God has established that help us to know and accept grace. Sacraments are means of grace (although there are countless others). Baptism and communion are ways that God has created as guideposts for us to recognize – to notice – God’s grace.

I was speaking with a woman who was baptized as a child – forced to do so by her parents. She is a woman of faith, but she is uncertain whether the baptism “took.” I want her to have confidence in the presence of God in her life, and who am I to argue with what she feels, but I want to tell her that God is who act through baptism – not us. It isn’t magic – it’s a symbol that God has accepted – adopted – us as children of his own. We can do nothing to change that.

I remember that my grandmother wouldn’t participate in communion because she was angry with a neighbor. The thing is that communion isn’t offered to anyone who is free of sin. If it were, then Jesus would not have offered it to the disciples. It is a means of grace – a way for God to help us remember that we are forgiven, accepted and loved.

There isn’t a magic line we have to reach in order to receive grace. There is a test we have to pass. There is only us and only God. God invites; we accept. We (not me, not you, not Andrew, not his father) are never “good enough.” That’s WHY there is baptism; why there is communion. Because we need it.


Andrew continued, “’I put off baptism because I felt like I was in a state of sin, like I wasn’t good enough or fit enough to be baptized. But then I realized that baptism is done at the beginning of your faith journey, not the middle or the end You don’t have to have everything together to be baptized…You just have to grasp God’s grace. God’s grace is enough.”

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Friday, May 05, 2017

Logos: Psalm 23

Inspired by Psalm 23

The Lord, my Lord
is a shepherd. My shepherd.
I need shepherding.
I need guidance and direction.
If I will listen, I will find all I need.
If I follow.

The Lord, my Lord
offers peace. Silence. Stillness.
When I need it,
whether I want it or not,
in him I will find it.
And my spirit will be restored.
My soul will find living water.
When I walk on the path
where he leads me.

The Lord, my Lord
When night closes in,
when darkness is all I can see,
I am not alone.
The shepherd finds me.
I do not have to be afraid.
The guidance and the protection
of the Lord 
bring comfort.
Bring light, if I will open my eyes.
I need not be afraid.

The Lord, my Lord
is a God of abundance.
Is a God of mercy.
Is a God of steadfast loyalty and love.
Even when I can find no love,
No friendship,
No support,
God provides.
I am healed; I am made whole.
I am not alone.

The Lord, my Lord
is a God of mercy and grace,
Limitless goodness.
I am pursued.
I am surrounded.
I am never lost.
With my God, I am. 

Forever.

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Thursday, May 04, 2017

In-spiring

How about this quote (remembering that the word "spirit," in Hebrew and Greek, means breath):
"...to speak of your spirit (or soul) is to speak of the power of life that is in you.  When your spirit is unusually strong, the life in your unusually alive, you can breathe it out into other lives, become literally in-spiring."  (Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner)
The have that kind of passion for life, to be that in-spiring, is wonderful. To feel alive, to be alive, to bring life to others might be the purpose of life. It might be what Jesus means when he says to love each other.

What about the church? Are we yet alive? I believe that the church can be in-spiring. The church can be so alive, so powerful with the spirit of God - the spirit of life - that it is unusal. It is amazing. It can bring life to others. The church, because of the work of God in the lives of those who make up the Body of Christ, can be in-spiring.

How can we be alive today? How can we invite God into our churches so that we feel SO ALIVE that life and love can't be contained, and have to pour out on those around us.


If we can allow God to do that, then we can stop worrying about numbers. 

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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Perspectives: Light in Darkness

I took this picture as I approached a church building for a meeting one evening. The church is not in a city - it's in an area of West Virginia that has fewer street lights, fewer lights from other buildings. It sits close to the road but set back a little bit, on a rise. It's a beautiful place.

As I approached it, I was struck by the light shining at the door. A light in darkness. I took the picture because I was convinced that this is what a church should be - a light in darkness.

How can the church do that? How can we, as part of the body of Christ, as individuals, shine that light?


Imagine, for a moment, being in darkness - whether real darkness, or the darkness of being lost, being afraid, being hurt, being alone, and finding a light. What does it mean to those in darkness to have the darkness lifted? What has it meant for you? What will it mean for others?

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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Science and Faith

I am a scientist. I have a masters degree in biology and I worked for 20 years in medical research. I loved to snip DNA and reassemble it, to measure the amount of a particular protein in sample, and to design experiments using scientific method to test a hypothesis. 

I am a minister. I see the grace of God in the world around me - in the beauty of the trees, in the laughter of children, in the way one person reaches out to help another. I believe in creator, savior and sustainer. 

On top of that, I believe the theory of evolution is the human's way of describing the miracle of creation, and I see the wonder of God in a test tube of deoxyribonucleic acid. 

I see no conflict between science and faith - unless we place one there ourselves. 

I was particularly struck this morning reading Frederick Buechner's words about science and faith. He said that comparing words of science and faith is like comparing the work of a podiatrist to that of a poet. A podiatrist would describe fallen arches, and the poet would describe how a woman walks in beauty. Both are true - but which you choose depends on the truth you are looking for.


When we try to reduce the words of the Bible to science, we are reducing the word of God to the words of man. Science is our way of describing the natural world. In the Bible, God has given us more than that. We don't need the Bible to tell us about dinosaurs - science can and does do that. We need the Bible to help us to begin to attempt to understand that which we cannot understand - the creator. It may be that poetry or story is the best way to do that; it wasn't meant to be a science book. It is a book of faith - and we need that so much more!

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Monday, May 01, 2017

Righteousness

I watch my son play and piano (or the trumpet) and I am amazed. I am amazed at his technical skill, but more than that, I am amazed by the emotion he pours into the art of music.

The composer of a piece creates a musical score that to me is black marks on lines. To my son (and other musicians, of course), it is a language that speaks art. The composer wrote the music to express emotions - or at least there are emotions that can be expressed through the playing of the music.

When I watch Josh play, I can hear the emotions in the playing. I can see the emotions in the movement of his body. I can watch the emotions play out in the speed of his hands. His playing interprets the language of the music to me.

There are musicians who play music with great technical skill. Every note is correct; the timing is impeccable. And yet, there is no feeling behind the sound. I don't hear the language of the music through their playing.

Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking compares the Pharisees to the technically correct player of music. Everything is correct, but it is not right. It is not righteous.

"Righteousness isn't getting it all right. If you play it the way it's supposed to be played, there shouldn't be a still foot in the house."


Righteousness - alignment with God - isn't about the rules. It's about grace. It's about interpreting the grace of God to the rest of us.

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