Thursday, March 21, 2019

Curious about the Light

Sprocket, our cat, is curious about the candle.  Are we that curious about the Light?


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Holy, Perfect, and Clear

I'm currently reading Peter Enn's book, How the Bible Actually Works.  I picked it up because I very much enjoy (and learn from) his (with Jared Byas) podcast, The Bible for Normal People.  If you can follow that weirdly constructed sentence, then , go , now and subscribe to that podcast.

In the very beginning of the book, Enns writes, "The spiritual disconnection many people feel today stems precisely from expecting (or being told to expect) the Bible to be holy, perfect, and clear, while in fact after reading it they find it to be morally suspect, out of touch, confusing, and just plain weird.  As you read that sentence, what is your reaction? Are you thinking, "Yes, I know what he means?" or are you thinking "Sacrilege!  Why is she reading that book?"

I want to approach the Bible the way God intended for me to approach it.  I want to be prepared to hear the Word of God through it, and not what other people tell me I should hear.  I want to respect this gift we have from God and not misuse it.  

When I hear someone say that the earth is 6000 years old or so, because the Bible told him so, I cringe.  When I hear that a Southern Baptist Church can be removed from their convention by appointing a woman as senior pastor, because the Bible told them so, I cringe.   And when I hear that a loving gay couple is rejected because the Bible says their love is an abomination, I cringe.  And all of these actions are taken because people say the Bible is holy, perfect, and clear.

I believe the bible is holy.  I have never found the Bible to be clear.  Ever.  It is wonderfully complicated and contradictory.  And if it is perfect, it is perfect in its depth and wisdom, not in its infallibility. And there are those of you who have stopped reading now, and doubt my connection to God. That's OK.  I love  you anyway, because the Bible told me so. Which it does.

Enns talks about the Bible as a book of wisdom, leading us to God.  It is a book (or several books, stories, letters, poems, etc) that speak to us of God, and through which we can find God, and because of which God can reach us.  It is a book that leads us to an understanding of who God is.  

It is complicated and contradictory and lovely.  It is full of people's experiences of God.  It contains a depth that none of us have yet to completely understand or explore.  It is holy.

And for me, when we call it simple and clear, we disrespect it.  And when we use it to support our own beliefs instead of allowing to be a conduit of grace and a means to wisdom, to take the Lord's name in vain.

We all need to stop doing that.  

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Why church?

Why church?  Why come together on Sundays (or any other day) to worship God as a community? Why be part of a community at all? We had this discussion in Sunday school, and I had some pushback to the idea that we need to be in church in order to ... well... be church.

A person once said to me, "I can experience God better in my back yard than in 'church.'"  I get that. I understand that in the quiet and peacefulness of nature, our souls are more quiet, and we can see God more.  I've talked about that alot on this blog, and I have certainly experienced it.  God is present right now, as I sit at my computer and type this post.  I can hear - discern - God more easily in the quiet, without the organ or the distractions of watching other people or hearing the comments in the pews behind me.  I can see God in a tree rustling in the wind,  or in the sunrise on a mountain, or in the beauty of a flower.  

But, how does that help us to be the church other than prepare me to be a part of the church? Other than prepare me to fulfill the mission I've been given and that the Church has been given?  How does me finding God in a bird help anyone else?

Yes, there are ways, but aren't there other ways we cannot ignore? Ways that God intended for us through the Church?

If God is present in a rose or a sunrise, then isn't God present in me? In you? And if I stay home from worship, how will others know God? That sounds very self-righteous, but I don't mean it to be.  Let me turn it around. If you stay home and enjoy your garden, how will I come to know what God needs me to know through you?

There are means of grace.  Some are can be very private and  individualized, such as contemplation, study, fasting, And then there are those that are corporate, such as communion, visiting the sick and those in prison, feeding the hungry, holy conversation, and communal worship.

In our gathered worship, we are Christ to each other.  If we stay away, we miss that experience, and we withhold it from those who would gather with us. 

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Afraid of Grace

In Sunday school a few weeks ago, the question arose,  "Won’t we just sin if the slate is wiped clean?"  If grace is grace, and God forgives and removes sin from our lives through sanctifying grace, then doesn't that encourage us to sin again? If there are no consequences, then won't we sin?

It's a logical question.  It's a parenting question.  We realize as parents that if we remove consequences for wrong doing, or if we never set boundaries or implement discipline, then will a child ever learn right from wrong, and won't the child make the wrong choices again and again?  We know we have to be the parent and enforce discipline to teach our children.  In addition to that, we have an sense of fairness - we can't imagine that wrongdoing can be forgotten or forgiven.  It doesn't seem fair.  

And then there is this: if God forgives sins - without grudges or points lost - then we have to do the same.  We don't want to.

Paul said this in Romans 6:1-4:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Forgiveness isn't meant to be a "get out of jail free" card.  Forgiveness doesn't remove consequences.  What we do has consequences, and even as forgiven people, we have to work through them. 

We sometimes equate forgiveness as "washing away our sins," as if we threw a towel in the washing machine with bleach and if came out clean and white.  The purpose of forgiveness isn't cleanliness - it's change.  It is part of sanctification - grace that moves us closer to the image of God.  It doesn't reset us to where we were - it should change us.  As a person made new in Christ, our desire to sin is changed.  

Don't misunderstand what I am saying. I don't mean that once forgiven, we no longer are tempted to sin, and that we have a magic sin-resistance field around us.  What I do mean is that as we are experience sanctifying grace, we are changed by love. Changed so that we might say as Paul says  in Romans 7:19, " For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."  I believe our desire to sin decreases because our love of God and gratitude towards God increase.  Forgiveness doesn't motivate us to sin more; forgiveness, because it is love and grace, changes us so that we do not want to sin more.

And, as we are changed by sanctifying grace, our willingness to forgive others, without grudge, increases. That doesn't mean we can forgive without the help of God, but our desire to do so will increase.

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