Friday, March 30, 2018

Perspectives - Lent

Praying each of you has had a Lent that has brought you closer to Christ.
Praying each of you has a joyful celebration of the resurrection of Christ on Easter.

I am attending a conference next week and will therefore not be posting. I'll be back the week after that.


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Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Next - Sermon, Part 4

Listen to verses 8 and 9: 9 For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it.

I think we might be tempted to believe that we can be good enough – we can do enough – we can be enough – without God. Without Lent, we might be tempted to believe it. Without Lent, we forget that we cannot jump to the moon. We forget we are dead in our trespasses. When we remember THAT – then the really meaning of grace – that is a GIFT of God – sinks into our hearts along with the spirit of God, and the realization changes us.

On October 29, 1972, I read scripture for the first time in church, using this Bible. I was eight years old. As a sidenote, I think when you ask children to read in church, you should give them the bible and let them keep it. This is a treasure to me.

I read John 3:1-16. I still remember it. The word Nicodemous gave me some trouble. It ends with the famous verse: God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Just like the Sound of Music, I thought the story ended there. It doesn’t. There is The Next:

Verse 17: For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.

Yes, God loves us. And that is a priceless realization. But it’s not ONLY that God loves us. God loves us even though we are worthy of condemnation. Even though we live in death. God loves us even though there is no way on this earth that we can, by ourselves, be holy and earn God’s love.

I think sometimes we think grace means that God forgives us when we disobey. And I won’t argue with that, but grace is a God who comes into our lives – who becomes who we are – and who makes us holy, saves us from death and brings us life. That is so much more than forgiveness.

It’s The Next. And we don’t understand it until we understand who we are and where we stand without God. That’s why we need Lent.

To become grateful for Grace.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Next - Sermon, Part 3

But I said Lent is about The Next. What’s the Next? Listen again to verse 4-6.

“But God's mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, 5 that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God's grace that you have been saved. 6 In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world.”

That’s the Next. We are moving toward Easter – toward resurrection – toward the Next.

When I was a young adult, one of the pastors at my church was Chuck Echols. I tell you his name in case you knew him. Chuck taught me lots of things. I’m not sure I would be standing here, doing this, if it hadn’t been for Chuck. For me he was a vehicle of God’s sanctifying grace. One of the things he said was that you cannot experience the tremendous joy of Easter morning worship without Ash Wednesday. Without Lent. Without Maudy Thursday. Without Good Friday. Without that dead and dark Saturday.

We do not understand The Next, without Lent.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Next - Sermon, Part 2

Lent is the time when we take a look at where we are, so, where are we? In verse 1, Paul tells the Ephesians that, “In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins.” I think if we are honest with ourselves, the same can be said of us.

What does that mean?

My mother tells a story of when she was a teenager. She went to a revival at a church near her home. As she tells the story, “The preacher called for us to go to the altar to get “saved” as he called them pigs and swine. She never went back to that church, and rest assured, I’m enough of my mother’s daughter to say, “We are beloved children of God; not pigs.” I tell you that so you’ll know it’s not what I’m talking about today.

But if we look around at the world and we pay attention to our lives, then we know where we are. We know what we do – we are disobedient, and we are sometimes, as the Message version says, “Mired in that old stagnant life of sin.”

We say it – we say it at least once a week when we pray the Lord’s Prayer in worship – “forgive us our trespasses.” Lent is the time when the knowledge of our present state – our deadness – moves from knowledge to preparative, transformative, realization. And truthfully – it doesn’t matter how good we try to be, how hard we strive to be obedient – this is where we are.

There is a description of our need for God’s grace – written either by Philip Yancey or John Ortberg -- that has always stuck with me. To explain it to you, I’m going to frame it in a real story from my time in middle school. This was during the class we called “gym” – physical education – the teacher had split us into two halves and had each half line up on opposite sides of the gym. Each of the lines had girls on one end and boys on the other. We counted off 1 – 2- 3 -4 … etc. Then the gym teacher called three numbers – 1, 2, and 3 – and three people from each line went onto the court to play 3 on 3 basketball – playing until one side scored, and then moving back to their lines. She had arranged this so that girls played girls and boys played boys and she worked from one end of the line to the other and back and forth. At the end, she had one number she hadn’t called – so she called one number – it was for the person in the exact middle of each line. It was me. And the male basketball player from the other line. We went out to play one on one basketball until one of us – ha! Scored. He could play basketball – I so much could not. I was ever so happy to let him run down the court (following him) and let him jump up and score so that we could go back to our lines and end my embarrassment.

There was a vast difference in our ability to play basketball. He could jump up and drop the ball in the basket. I could jump. A very little bit. And that was it.

But – what if the goal of the game had been to jump as high as the moon? Neither one of us could do that. Would the fact that he could jump a few feet higher than me have made any difference? No.

None of us there that day could jump to the moon. None of us here, today, can be sinless. Some of us might be more obedient than others, but all of us are in the same place – dead in our trespasses. And it’s no good to judge others – it would be like my opponent that day laughing at my jumping ineptitude because he can reach a basket when the goal is to reach the moon. None of us reach the goal.

And Lent is the time when we come to terms with that.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

The Next - Sermon, Part 1

Who here has seen the movie The Sound of Music?

Oh, good, Enough people so that my story is going to make some sense to you. Enough people so that if someone is looking puzzled at your table, you can help him or her along.

Anyway, The Sound of Music is my favorite movie, and it has been since I was very very young. Many many many years ago. The film was released in 1965 and by November of 1966, it was the highest grossing film of all time – at that time. Its release in theaters lasted 4 ½ years. I was probably in kindergarten when I saw it the first time. It was in a theater that had rocking theater seats. Like rocking chairs. It was many years later – watching the movie on TV – when I realized I had fallen asleep in the movie theater and missed everything that happened after Maria and the Captain got married. All those years and I thought the movie ended there.

It didn’t. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that there is a whole lot of important plot involving the Nazis after the wedding. What had come next was important – and I had missed it.

The next… is often important.

After Monty and I had decided on a date for me to preach at the Lenten luncheon, I asked him if he had a theme in mind for these noon sermons. He said, “Lent.” Thank you Monty, that’s incredibly helpful.

As I thought about Lent, I decided that Lent is about “The next.” It’s about what’s next. Just like a lot of things in Christianity, that doesn’t make much sense until you read the scripture, so let’s do that. This is from Ephesians 2 – verses 1-10, and I’m reading it from a Bible I’ve never used when I preached before – I’ll explain that later. Paul is writing this to the church at Ephesus:

In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins. 2 At that time you followed the world's evil way; you obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God. 3 Actually all of us were like them and lived according to our natural desires, doing whatever suited the wishes of our own bodies and minds. In our natural condition we, like everyone else, were destined to suffer God's anger.

4 But God's mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, 5 that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God's grace that you have been saved. 6 In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. 7 He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus. 8-9 For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it. 10 God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Perspectives: Spring

It's spring.  Rejoice!


Thursday, March 22, 2018


Our Sunday school teacher a couple of weeks ago asked what we would be willing to sacrifice in order to be obedient to God.  His question was met with crickets.

Eventually, some answers surfaced - time with the television, technology - the list went on and on.

What came to mind - not necessarily as something I was willing to sacrifice, but actually as something I think most of us are NOT willing to sacrifice - our security. Our safety.  I think we are unwilling to allow fear into our lives, even in the service of God. Or if we are willing, then it is a hard step.

This morning I read this quote from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis:  "...when the children first hear of Aslan they wonder if he is safe.  Mr. Beaver replies, "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.'"  (as quoted by James Harnish in Easter Earthquake.)

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018


In his study, Easter Earthquake, James Harnish says, "...a medical dictionary defined stigmataas "cutaneous evidence of systemic illness."  

We think of Christ's scars as stigmata - evidence of his suffering on the cross.  Harnish goes further than that to provide examples of stigmata in our society: starving children, refugees, murder victims....  And if you use the example of "cutaneous evidence of systemic illness," those comparisons make sense.

Where in your community do you see stigmata? How is your church and how are you called to take on that suffering as Christ did? 

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Last night in Bible study, we spent some time with Jesus' promise to the man on the cross that he would "be with me in paradise." Terry talked about the word "paradise."  The word came from an Old Iranian word that meant "walled enclosure" and subsequently became to indicate the walled gardens of Persia.

So, you can see the link to the idea of the Garden of Eden - paradise.

She asked us to think of times in Jesus's life when gardens were mentioned.  The Garden of  Gethsemane was the first, obvious reference  but someone else mentioned the women in the garden with the tomb on Easter.  Think of Mary Magadelene outside the tomb entrance.  She sees Jesus and she mistakes him for the gardener.

For some reason my mind clicked onto that word. The gardener is the keeper of the garden. So, perhaps Mary's first assumption wasn't wrong. She encountered Jesus, who is the keeper of the garden - or the keeper of paradise.

I kind of like the image.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Expecting Resurrection

Last week, I wrote about Abram and Sarai (renamed Abraham and Sarah) who laughed when the angel told them they would have a son and be the beginning of a multitude.  

In his study, Harnish says that when the women went to the tomb to care for Jesus' body, they didn't expect to find a resurrection. They never thought to see a risen Christ. They only worried about the stone, and how to roll it away.

Again, we are on this side of the story, and we know what happened, so our surprise when (in Mark 16) they see a man in a white robe sitting on a rock, and no corpse in site, is dulled.  We aren't surprised.  We aren't shocked.  They are, but we miss it, because God isn't surprising us.

Has our lack of anticipation dulled us to the presence of God in lives? Where is God working? Do we see it? We we believe we will ever see it? Is it something reserved only for the women who come to the tomb? Or do we ever open our eyes to the possibility of resurrection in our every day lives?

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Perspectives: Drive Home

Usually, my perspectives pictures are ones I really like, or that are unusual, or that make me think of something I hadn't thought of before.  Not today. 

Today's image is of my drive home on Tuesday of this week.  Unexpected snow. 

I post it because it reminds me that we are yearning for spring. I think that's why I like St. Patrick's Day so much.  It's green, and close to spring, and hopeful.

We yearn for spring. We ache for God. Both bringing life and hope and beauty.

May your St. Patrick's Day be filled with hope and life and beauty - and some green, too.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Call to Worship

Call to Worship
(inspired by Psalm 107:1-3)

L: People of God, give thanks to the Lord.
P: God is good and God's love is here
L: God's steadfast love endures forever.
P: God is good and God's love is here, among us.
L: Children of God, say so!
P: God has lifted us from trouble; saved us from ourselves.
L: God has gathered us here today.
P: From every corner of the land we come.
All: Together let us worship our God.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Impossible to Believe

In Harnish's Easter Earthquake study, he quotes Frederick Buechner's interpretation of Genesis 17 - when an angel tells Abram and Sarai (99 and 91 years old) that they will be the parents of a child.  Remember the scripture? They laugh.

Buechner paints this wonderful image of the couple laughing at the unbelievability of the whole thing.  And then the Buechner quote says, "They are laughing because the angel not only seems to believe it but seems to expect them to believe it too."

Of course, we have the benefit of standing on this side of history - we know the end of the story - so we take it for granted that what the angels says does come true, but can't we imagine how difficult it would have been for Abram and Sarai to believe what the angel was telling them? And how hilarious it would have been for the angel to EXPECT them to believe it?

And then God does what we would consider to be impossible, and the barren, elderly couple has a son, who they name Isaac, which means "laughter."

What is it that someone would tell you that would be so impossible for you to believe that you would laugh at them? What is it that God is trying to tell you that you think is so hilarious that belief is unbelievable? What is God trying to do in your life or through your life that is so unexpected that you can't believe it?

What would happen if you believed?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Broad Place

Last week, I wrote about James Harnish's explanation and examination of the word merhab. It means both broad place and salvation.

He talked about how, when he grew up, salvation was defined as the moment at the altar when a person gave his or her life to God while "Just as I am" was being sung.  It was a moment.  A particular time of yes.

I can relate to that, even though that hasn't been part of how salvation has been described to me in my faith development. Even so, especially on my Walk To Emmaus experiences, I have heard people describe that Moment of Decision - the Moment of Salvation.

And I haven't experienced that. My experience has been ongoing, with a variety of steps and decisions to follow Christ.  And I think that is just as valid as the Moment.

Harnish says:
Salvation is an ongoing work of grace through which I am being released from the suffocating smallness of life turned in on itself to live in the spacious greatness of God's boundless life and love.
Right there - that is the connection beween broad places and salvation. Salvation is the experience of broadness in life.  Salvation is the broad place in life.

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Friday, March 09, 2018

Perspectives: Troll Rock

What do you see? A rock? It really only is a rock, but I see a troll.

Reality doesn't always dictate what we see.


Thursday, March 08, 2018


James Harnish, in the Lenten study I'm working through, talks about the word Hebrew word merhab. It means "vast expanse or broad place." Interestingly, it can also mean salvation:
  • Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a  broad place. (Psalm 118:5)
  • He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:16)
  • and have not delivered me into he hand of th enemy; you have set my feet in a  broad place. (Psalm 31:8)
  • He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me. (2 Samuel 22:20)
Look at each of those and consider how two definitions, that to me seem vastly different (broad place and salvation) become almost interchangable.

More on this next Monday....

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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Where Christ has Led

Two people
on the sidewalk.
One, in his suit,
with his polished shoes,
and laptop bag.
One, in clothes not his own,
with marks on his arm,
and pain in his eyes.

And the man thought,
Go we now where Christ had led.

One reached out to other.
One touched the other,
relieving pain,
opening souls,
bringing light.

And the other man thought,
Go we now where Christ has led.



Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Our High Priest

Have you ever encountered someone in authority who had no sympathy - no empathy - for the difficulty of the work you are doing? Have you ever had a teacher who seemed to have no understanding of the difficulty of the topic presented?

I had a chemistry professor in college who had no idea how difficult chemistry can be for a student who didn't understand it. He was snotty about it.  Arrogant. And that didn't make it easy to ask questions or to seek guidance.

Read this:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Life is hard. Temptation is even harder. And yet... we have a Christ who has faced tempatation and understands it. A Christ who walks with us.

A Christ who makes it possible to approach God with boldness. It's not boldness that grows from our own self worth, but from Christ.

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Monday, March 05, 2018

Wild Beasts

I'm participating in an e-course called Easter Earthquake: How Resurrection Shakes Our World. It's based on a book written by James A. Harnish and is led by him online. 

Today's meditation was entitled "Wrestling Wild Beasts with Jesus." One of the scriptures to read for the day was Mark 1:12-13:

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan  and he was with wild beast;and the angles waited on him.  

The time Jesus spends in the wilderness is also described in Matthew and Luke, but in those gospels, the specific temptations Jesus faced are described. I've never noticed before that in Mark, they aren't.  

He is tempted by Satan - the Greek verb used is peirazo - and it is used later to describe the action of Jesus' opponents in Jerusalem ("The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him." Mark 8:11 and then again in Mark 12:13-17).  I find that very interesting.

But what about the wild beasts? My study bible says this reference is unclear.  Harnish compares it to the wild beasts we face every day.

I like that image. What are the wild beasts of temptations you face every day? What wild beasts stalk you in the wilderness? When Mark doesn't name them, we are able to name them ourselves. I think it helps us to remember that Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, and that he walks with us in our own wilderness, whatever the wild beasts might be.

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Friday, March 02, 2018

Perspectives: Salvation

"Perhaps one of the most indisious tempations we face is to beliee that salvation is all about us, that the poupose of God's amazing work of grace and death and resurerection of Jeuss is only for indiviudal human souls.In fact, God's svaing purpose encompasses the whole creation, and we are called to particpiate in that salvation."

James Harnish

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Thursday, March 01, 2018

An Appalachian Psalm

Inspired by Psalm 29

All creatures, everyone, everywhere,
Speak of God's power and glory.
Sing of God's strength.
Call on the name of God with reverence.
Worship the Lord.

God speaks over the rivers.
God thunders in the rush of the Kanawha 
and in the mightiness of the Ohio.
God careens in Blackwater,
and pummels the rocks in the Gauley.
The Lord is in the water.
The water belongs to the Lord.

In the trees that rise above Elkins
and in the pines that stand on Spruce Knob,
The power of the Lord rises to heaven.
In the cows that roam the hillside
on the farms in Wood County,
and in the goats on the side of the hills
near Spencer,
the Lord dances.

The voice of the Lord flashes in the fire
that licks the forests.
God echoes across the high places
in Terra Alta.
and shakes the wilderness in Huntington.
God moves the lawmakers in Charleston,
and roams along the West Side.
God echoes in the steel mills of Weirton,
and in the coal mines of Mingo.
God is there.

When the wind bends the oak trees
to the ground, the Lord is there.
When the leaves are gone,
and the trees are bare,
the Lord is there.
Every part of Appalachia says, "Glory!"

The Lord is more powerful than the flood,
more lasting than the destruction,
more sustaining to God's people
than anything else.

May the Lord give strength to the people,

May the Lord bring peace.

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