Friday, September 29, 2017

Perspectives: Grass is Greener

Some pictures just don't need words.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Lectionary Challenge: Matthew 21:28-32

Matthew 21:28-32

"What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Earlier in the week I asked us to examine which character in the Exodus story best fit who each of us is. That is a question we could ask ourselves as we read this passage, too. Are we the son who said he would do the will of the father and then didn't? Or are we the son who refused to do the father's will, and then did?

The deeper question is this: are we willing to see God in the world around us? Are we willing to believe? We say that we do. We go to worship, we recite the words of our faith. We say we are Christians? But are we atheistic in our actions? Do we act as if we believe in God?

A few weeks ago, the preacher in our church said that agape love is a choice. We decide to love. This isn't the emotion of love; it is a love of action.

In the same way, do we chose to follow Christ? Do our actions demonstrate the words of our faith? If a person couldn't hear what we say, but could only see what we do, would that person call us a Christian, or an atheist?

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lectionary Challenge: Phillipians 2:1-8

Philippians 2:1-8 (Full lectionary reading is 1-13)

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.

Think like those who were reading (or hearing) Paul's words from this letter. "If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy..."

What do you mean, Paul? Are these trick statements? Of course there is encouragement  Of course there is consolation and love, sharing and compassion. These are the very nature of God, Paul. YOU'VE TOLD US SO.

And Paul says, "Ah ha! If that is true, then show it. Demonstrate it. If this is the nature of God, and you were created in the image of God, then this should all be in you, too."

Our call from God in this passage is to demonstrate agape love by choice. To be loving. The call in this passage is to see others with the eyes of God, seeing the God in other people. We aren't called to take pity on the poor and offer them the worst that we have, if we offer them anything. We aren't called to be grudging in love. We aren't called to see ourselves as better than anyone else.

We are called to humility. We are called to a humble nature before God, accepting the commands of God, and offering loving compassion through our actions to others. This is what Christ did. This is what we are to do.

If we are made in the image of God, and we have the best model of what God is like in the life of Christ, then we need to be like Christ, obedient to the point of death. In this way, others will see the encouragement, sharing, compassion and sympathy of God in us.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lectionary Challenge: Ezekiel 18:1-4

Ezekiel 18:1-4

The word of the LORD came to me:  What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge"? As I live, says the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.  Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

Do we have a habit of trying to find reasons for the bad things that happen in life? Is this one that is sometimes used? "The sins of the father will be visited on the child."  I do think that what we do in life impacts those around us, especially our children. I don't see that as the work of God; to claim that a baby who is addicted to heroin is suffering punishment from God for the sins of his parents is heresy.  Our sins do effect more than ourselves, but that is our doing, not God's.

God is grace, offering mercy and love to each of us, even in our sin. If that is the case, then who could ever believe that God would refuse to offer mercy to the one who did not sin? Or as punishment for the sin of another.

And yet, this might be a radical thought for the readers of the writings of Ezekiel.

When we try to cast blame, we should stop. We should stop judgment, and remember that we do not have all the answers. We do not know why, but that's not our job. Our job is to love. We should get busy.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Lectionary Challenge: Exodus 17:1-7

Exodus 17:1-7
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.  The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?"   But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"   So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."   The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.   I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.   He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

My challenge for myself this week is to consider four lectionary readings and write about them for the blog. Before reading any of the scriptures for the week, I selected the week I would do this, so that I didn't choose "easy" scriptures on purpose. These are the lectionary readings for the week I chose.  Each day I will post the scripture with the thoughts I have, so I hope you will take the time to read the passage.

As I read the story, I wondered who I related too the most. Which character am I most like?

Am I like Moses? Imagine for a moment, the frustration that he must have felt. This is certainly not the first time that the people have complained. They saw God part the Red Sea, lead them in the wilderness, and yet they still complain.  You may be involved in church work - as a volunteer, perhaps, or as a staff member. Do you get frustrated with the people around you? People who complain all the time, no matter what?  He brings his frustration to God, and God answers him, with a solution (pardon the pun). There could be a lesson in that for us.

Am I like the people who are complaining? Am I so blind to the work of God that I miss what God is doing? Why am I like that? Do I get so focused on the details that I forget to notice the presence of God? Do I get impatient with God's timing? Why do I give up on God so easily? How often do I say, "Is the Lord among us or not?"

Am I like the elders? Do I ever stand in the presence of one anointed by God, and watch the work of God? Do I learn anything? Do you think that is why God told Moses to take elders with him? Is it so that they will be witnesses to God at work? What do they do next? What do they learn? What do I learn from those whom God has appointed?

My favorite take away lesson from this passage is that God was there. God did not abandon his frustrated, complaining children. God answers. God provides. I pray I may be like the one who remembers that.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Perspectives: Hope

Posted on Last Sunday was The Day of Hope in West Virginia. It's an initiative of the WV Council of Churches to celebrate and support a drug free lifestyle.

Hope can be a difficult concept to grasp when you are addicted to drugs, or when a family member is addicted. How can you find hope when the addiction keeps clawing, pulling you or your loved one back into the lifestyle that defeats life? How can you find hope when addiction is the wall that stands between the addict and hope? 

One of the songs we sang in worship on Sunday had the title "Christ has Broken Down the Wall."
Christ has broken down the wall, Christ has broken down the wall.
Let us join our hearts as one, Christ has broken down the wall.

What is impossible is possible for God. That is the hope.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Radical Prayer

This is what I read this morning, from Henri Nowen's little book, The Spirituality of Fundraising:

To pray is to desire to know more fully the truth that sets us free. Prayer uncovers the hidden motives and unacknowledged wounds that shape our relationships. Prayer allows us to see ourselves and others as God sees us. Prayer is radical because it uncovers the deepest roots of our identity in God.

Do we see prayer that way? Do we want to experience prayer that way? 

I remember years ago (why do so many of my stories start with the words "years ago." I wonder if it is my version of Once Upon a Time).  Anyway.... I was attending an Emmaus Gathering, and the Community Spiritual Director used Psalm 139 as the basis of his communion mediation. It's a great Psalm until you get the last verses, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." When you get to that verse, a Psalm that seems like a wonderful poem becomes personal. You realize the meaning of the whole thing. Who wants to be known by God like that? 

Do we pray for that kind of relationship with God? Do we see prayer as a way to achieve it? Or do we only see prayer as a time to ask God for what we want done in the world?  Do we really want God to know our hidden motives? Truthfully, do we really want to know our hidden motives and do we want to face up to the unacknowledged wounds that shape our relationships?

If we thought that was the purpose of prayer, would we ever pray? Are we brave enough?

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fundraising and Relationships

One of the challenges I have encountered when I was involved in the stewardship campaign at my church is that some programs required that we contact every person on our membership list and invite each of them to a consecration dinner. It's a wonderful idea to call everyone on the church's list to invite them to an event, but because this was a stewardship event - even though we weren't asking them to make a financial commitment - it was perceived as the leadership contacting those who were not attending only to ask them for money. All of us realized that we should be calling them more than just one time a year during the stewardship campaign. Visitation programs sprung up from this experience.

Nouwen says, "Asking for money is a way to call people into this communion with us. It is saying  "We want you to get to know us." Gathering together by our common yearning, we begin to know this communion as we move together toward our vision."

Anyone who has had any fundraising experience knows that fundraising is about relationship. You have to build, strengthen, and maintain relationships in order to be successful. If we get the order wrong, though, it feels manipulative. 

Spiritual fundraising is inviting people into a relationship with God - with their neighbors (us) - so that they can experience the communion of the kingdom of God, and participate in the work of the kingdom by giving of themselves - their time, their gifts and their possessions - to the work of that kingdom. It isn't asking for money so that the church we love and function. It's inviting people to be a part of something larger. It's knowing that our own lives will be enriched by their participation, and knowing that what we offer - Church - will enrich their lives through the presence of God.

It is about relationship - about communion. It's not relationship for our own profit. It's relationship for the building of the kingdom of God.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Relationship with Money

No servant can be the slave to two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money." (Luke 16:13)

What is our relationship with money? Henri Nouwen asks that question in his book, "The Spirituality of Fundraising." Is it something we are comfortable talking about? Was money something your parents talked with you about? Do you talk about it with your children? Why is money so secretive?

The United Methodist Church passed a new rule in the discipline (Paragraph 340.2.c.(2)(c)) that the pastors will have access to giving records of members. Why do you think the person who is essentially the CEO of a church wouldn't have access to giving records? And why did we need to pass a rule that provides for that access? Why are giving records a secret from pastors who have a responsibility in fundraising? And why is it that there are pastors to don't WANT that information?

The most common response I hear to that question from pastors is that he or she is afraid that information will lead to the pastor treating people differently. Could it be that they are already are, based on what they think they know? 

Why are people afraid for their pastors, who know everything about them, including their addictions, their family issues, their grief, their medical complaints - to know about how much they give to the church?

Why is our relationship with money? Do we see it as security? Do we equate money with personal worth? How does God enter into that equation?

Nouwen's thesis is that we, as church leaders, will be uncomfortable inviting people to give if we ourselves don't know how to relate to money. That's true, but it impacts much more than that, don't you think?

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Monday, September 18, 2017


Have you ever served on a Stewardship and Finance Committee  Have you had the meetings where the committee talks about what "stewardship" program to use for the coming year in order to raise funds for ministry? Have you been a part of the discussion that includes worries over expenses, and the resulting "letter of appeal" to the congregation outlining the dire circumstances of the church's finances and how everyone must give now? Have you been in the congregation on "commitment Sunday" and heard the whispered groans (or made them yourself): "I hate it when the paster talks about money."

Read this from Henri Nouwen's book, "The Spirituality of Fundraising":
Fund-raising is precisely the opposite of begging. When we seek to raise funds, we are not saying,"Please, could you help us out because lately it's been hard." Rather, we are declaring, "We have a vision that is amazing and exciting  We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you - your energy, your prayers, and your money - in this work to which God has called us."

The truth I've read says that appeals for money based on scarcity ("Pay now, or the electricity will be cut off.") are less successful than appeals that are based on abundance. (We're having Vacation Bible school - look at the good is will do in our neighborhood! Please come be a part of it.)

One of the best "fundraising" talks I've ever heard wasn't about money at all. It was a mission project director describing the situation in the area his mission project serves - the circumstances and challenges faced by those who live there (and they were desperate circumstances). He then went on to describe what the mission project was doing to help people face the challenges. At the end, once the vision was declared, there was an invitation for people to help. And by that time, I would have given him my shoes if that was what was needed to help people. He never talked about how short their supply of funds was, or about how they struggle to meet ends meet, or even how frustrated he can get in the running of the mission project. He declared the circumstances and explained the ministry to meet them.

Fundraising is ministry. It's inviting people to give all they have (including their money) to the work of the kingdom of God. 

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Perspectives: Growing in a rock

All week long I've been posting images of ferns. These are from Bear Town State Park. The park's amazing attraction are interesting rock structures - walls and pathways winding through them. You can read about it here.  See some googled images using this search.

Today, I want to focus on this particular fern, growing out of rock. How does it do that? How is is nutured? How is it rooted? Facinating.

What excuses do we use to avoid growing in grace? Do we say we do not have enough time? Enough resources? The skills to learn more? Are all of these excuses? Or are they actually reasons?

Is the growth worth the effort? Do we think getting closer to God, knowing God better is worth the effort?

If it is, then what is stopping us? Do we need to examine our excuses and remove them? If the obstacles are genuine, then what do we need to do to clear the way?

Are we afraid of what God will call of to do if we listen too closely?

Time to grow.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Acts 8: Faith Story

One more post about the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch...

As Mike taught this lesson in Sunday school, he asked, "Do you wonder what Philip said to the Ethiopian that convinced him, right that moment, to be baptized?"

What was the faith story that Philip told? Do you have a faith story? Do you know what it is? Will you share it?

What would you say to someone who asked, "Why should I go to church? Why do you go to Church?"

We need to know our answer. In order to convince someone, the answer can't be that you see your friends at church. It can't be that there are donuts there every Sunday. If going to church and going to a meeting of my sorority offer me the same thing, then why would I go to Church?

Why do you believe in God? What difference does it make in your life? What difference does God make in your life? 

Maybe we need to tell people that when we serve others through the Church, we find grace and fulfillment. Maybe we need to tell people that at Church, we are able to connect with other Christians in a way that helps us to see God better. If those statements aren't true, maybe we need to invite God to make them true in our lives.

What is your faith story? What would you tell the Ethiopian that would convince him to offer his life to God?

And, as a sidenote, how was the Ethiopian reading Isaiah, anyway? He didn't have a Bible (or a kindle). Imagine reading from scrolls in a chariot.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Acts 8: The Marginalized

Continuing thoughts about Acts 8 - the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.

Consider for a moment the Eunuch. He has a thirst to learn about God. He has traveled all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem - a pilgrimage, but because he is a eunuch (and a gentile) he cannot enter the Temple. I don't know if he knew that or not when he decided to make the journey, but perhaps he was stopped from entering, or perhaps he traveled, knowing he would not be able to enter. Either way, imagine how marginalized he felt.

Do he meets Philip on the road, and Philip tells him about what he is reading. He is so convicted, that he says n verse 36, "'Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?'"  Apparently, nothing is. Philip baptizes him, right away.

The beauty of this to me is that this marginalized, unaccepted person is accepted. He is baptized. He is allowed to come before God, and God says, "You are mine. I love you and claim you." There is nothing that stops this from happening.

What do we do? Do we enforce rules like the ones that kept the Ethiopian out of the Temple? Or do we respond the way Philip did? Extending the grace of God to whoever will accept it?

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Acts 8: Answering God's Call

A few weeks ago in Sunday school we looked at the passage from Acts where Philip meets and speaks with an Ethiopian Eunuch.  (Acts 8:26-39). In this story, Philip follows a call from God and encounters an Ethiopian eunuch who is riding in a chariot, reading the prophet Isaiah. Have you ever noticed how rich this passage is?

I want to focus today on how obedient to God both Philip and the Ethiopian were. 

Verse 26 says, "Then an angel of teh Lord said to Philip, 'Get up and go twoard the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.' (This is a wilderness road). So he got up and went."

That sounds simple. "So he got up and went." But imagine how much power is packed into that sentence. He heard God, so he did was he was called to do. It might as well have Mark's favorite word in it: immediately. No hesitation. No pondering. No wondering why God would send him on a road no one probably travels. Go. So he goes. 

And then there is the Ethiopian. He has traveled all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to learn more about God. He's reading Isaiah (have you ever read Isaiah? Argh!) as he travels. He hears the word revealed to him, and then he jumps out of the chariot and is baptized. Just like that.

Their actions change the world. Christianity is spread. Faith is changed.

Do we do that? Do we hear God's call and respond? 

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