Friday, December 21, 2018

Merry Christmas

 Hello, all,

I'll be taking a blog break for the rest of the year.  See you in 2019!  Merry Christnas.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Open My Eyes, Part 6

The following post is the sixth and final in a series of posts based on a sermon I preached in October.

What difference does it make to see life with eyes like God’s? Eyes that see how our cup overflows? What difference does it make to see everything that is worthy of praise? I can tell you the difference it made for me.  When I stopped seeing the scarcity of Josh’s injury and started seeing the abundance that is our son, I approached raising him into adulthood differently. I realized I didn’t have to be afraid for him – I could be confident in the abundance of God’s presence in his life, and in the gifts God has given to him.  Josh’s arm did heal, but not completely.  Even so, he is whole and wonderful.  Even if I am biased.  His joy is in music and his gifts are in teaching.  Last year he finished his degree in music education at Marshall – studying in both the trumpet and piano studios.  He’s now working on his Masters degree in music education at the University of Alabama.  He plays, he conducts, and he teaches.  He has abundant life.

Wolfgang Stahlberg wrote, “Transformation is liberation from being stuck, change from being self-centered to being God-centered.  It is the giving way of blind eyes and a closed heart to the freeing perspective of compassion and hope.”

Seeing with eyes that see abundance makes all the difference in the world.  What do you see? Scarcity or abundance? And what difference does it make for you and for your commitment to live as a steward?

I invite you today to ask God to open your eyes to the abundance that is around you.  Will you let gratitude inspire the generosity of a life that reflects the image of God in which you were created?  Will you let gratitude move you beyond discipleship to the stewardship of what God has given you?  Will you live into who you were created to be? A generous steward who gives in response to the grace that surrounds us?

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Open My Eyes, part 5

The following post is the fifth in a series of posts based on a sermon I preached in October.

The definition of stewardship in echoed in verse 9 of what I read to you from Philippians, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Now, this is Paul talking, and he’s telling them to continue to live a life that exemplifies what he has taught them, but he has taught them about Jesus, so if you imagine that Jesus is saying it, it tells you what stewardship is.

We are disciples - that means we walk behind our teacher, Jesus, and we learn from Jesus who God is – we see God most clearly in Jesus – and we learn from Jesus how we should live our lives. We are disciples – or students – of a master.  Stewardship follows from that. Stewardship is the “keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.”  Stewardship is the doing – its living the life.  From Christ we learn what God is like, and from Christ we learn how to live into the image in which we were created.  It’s not enough to know who God is; we have to live the way God calls us to live. We have to be disciples to learn; and we have to be stewards to live the life.

So what is it that we learn from Jesus about God? What do we know about God?

You know the answer to that - it's so popular that it's on t-shirts and key chains. God so loved the world that he gave…..

God gives. God gives love, God gives presence, God gives gifts, grace, forgiveness. God gave us the world; God gave us life. God gave us God's son. God is generous.

And in Genesis, we learn that we were created in God's image. So not only do we learn what we should do from Jesus, but we also learn who we are from Jesus. We are beloved children created in the image of God. Amazing, isn't it? Created in the image of the one who created the universe. Who set the stars in motion and started our hearts beating. We are not only called to be like God; we are created to be like God. Extravagantly generous.

How do we become extravagantly generous? How do we live into that image of God? It’s starts with gratitude. It starts with seeing what we have been given. It starts with recognizing the abundance we have as children of God and as a church.

Once we see it – once we recognize it – THEN nothing will stop us from stewardship – living the generous life God has called us to live, living a life that is being transformed into God’s image.  But we have to see the abundance of what we have been given. Instead of living a life blinded by fear so that all we see and live is scarcity.

Beloved, once we see all in our lives that is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise – once we recognize the abundance of gifts we have been given by God, then we will see the presence of God in our lives – we will see the abundance of God’s presence around us – we will see that our cup overflows.

Nothing will stop of us from responding to God’s gifts with our own generosity. Nothing will stop us from being generous with our time, our gifts, our prayers, our service and our witness. We will not be afraid; we will be generous; we will be joyous. We will have moved steps closer - though God's sanctifying grace - of living into the image in which we were created. And when we do that – and when we, the church, do that – God will transform the world through us.

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Open My Eyes, Part 4

The following post is the fourth in a series based on a sermon I preached in October.

On October 20, 1996, we were in worship. The lectionary reading for the day was from the epistle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi.  These are the words from Philippians chapter 4, verses 4-9 that I heard that Sunday morning:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
In that moment, God, through this scripture, told me to stop looking only at the injury. Look at the child. This child, who is honorable and just and pure and pleasing, who is commendable, excellent and worth of praise. Think on these things, too.

I didn’t, of course, stop worrying or stop working to help Josh recover. But I did realize that I hadn’t been seeing anything except the injury. I was missing the gift of the son. I had been seeing through eyes of scarcity, and God opened my eyes to the abundance before me.

I think all of us are guilty of what I was doing 22 years ago – seeing only scarcity. We miss so much because we will not see.

I am grateful that Mark has invited me to share the word with you this morning – and that the invitation was for a return visit – I preached at this Church last year at about this time, and spoke about Stewardship.  I’m grateful to be asked to do that again - it’s my favorite topic.

Last year I told you that stewardship is the word that no one wants to talk about.  I feel sorry for the word. It’s such a great word, and we have relegated it to the back closet. If it’s a stewardship sermon, we don’t want to hear it. A stewardship Sunday school lesson? Nope. Maybe a workshop on Wednesday evening about stewardship? We would never do it.

It’s too bad – it’s a great word. But we can only understand it if we learn what I started to learn that day 22 years ago – we have to start seeing who we are and what we have been given with eyes of abundance instead of scarcity.

And I can guess what you’re thinking. Maybe. Some of you. “No wonder she’s taking about abundance – she wants me to give my money to the church – or at least more than I am – and she’s saying ‘Look, you have lots – give it to the church!’”.

Nope. That’s not my message today, not at all, and no matter what anybody tells you, that is not a stewardship message. But I do think that’s what we think stewardship is, and it’s no wonder we don’t want to talk about it.

If stewardship isn’t me asking you for money, then what is it?

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Open My Eyes, Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts based on a sermon I preached in October.

August 31, 1996, 4:44 p.m. It was a momentous moment in my life, and in the lives of my family. At that moment, our second son was born. People may tell you that the birth of a child is a miraculous moment - they might speak of that moment as if angels sang and all the loved ones gathered around - a Norman Rockwell moment. It may be that way for some people, but it wasn’t a moment like that for me – it wasn’t a moment like that for those of us who watched our son Josh enter the world.

Don’t get me wrong – we approached that moment with great anticipation and joy, and we rejoiced at his birth. But that moment – at that moment, I was afraid. I’ll back up so that the story makes more sense.

In the late morning on August 31st, everything was going as expected. The doctor told us our son (who didn’t officially have a name yet) would arrive before noon. By noon, we realized that he was stuck. His arrival wouldn’t be as quick as we thought.

With much work – they don’t call it labor for nothing – he finally arrived at 4:44 in the afternoon. Immediately, the doctor said, “Well, he didn’t like that very much.” Our beloved son was purple, not breathing, and I was afraid. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Before August 31, 1996, at 4:44 p.m., I didn’t understand that. At that moment, the Holy Spirit prayed for me, because I could not. The prayer was “Please.”

Lest you forget, this story has a happy ending. Josh did start breathing, and his condition improved dramatically very quickly, and he headed off to the neonatal intensive care unit. We found out later that day that at birth he weighed ten pounds, eleven ounces. I’ll stop right there to let that sink in. His shoulder was what had gotten stuck as he was born, and the nerve bundle called the brachial plexus in his shoulder - right here - had been torn.

A few days later - still in the NICU - we noticed that he wasn’t moving his right arm, but they reassured us that he was fine, and that movement would return soon. But at six weeks old, he still wasn’t moving his arm. By about seven or eight weeks, he could shrug a little. By that time, we were taking him to occupational therapy three times a week.

You can imagine how worried we were for our son. During that time I learned a lot about brachial plexus injuries – even then, the internet was around, plus, I was working in medical research, so I had access to medical journals. I knew his APGAR score at birth, and what it had been 10 minutes after his birth, and what that meant. I knew about the exercises we needed to do at home to try to stimulate his very young nerves to regenerate, and what to do to maintain his range of motion in the meantime. I knew probabilities for recovery. And I worried. I worried about this beloved child of ours who wasn’t able to move his arm.


But there was more God wanted me to know.  Much more that God wanted me to see.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Open My Eyes, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts based on a sermon I preached in October.

What is interesting to me in the story is that the man “sees” Jesus.  Even though others are ordering Bartimaeus to be quiet, to stand back, to just leave Jesus alone – Bartimaeus won’t.  He is persistent in his faith, and in his desire to be healed.  Through his faith, he sees Jesus.

Jesus heals his blindness, and says, “Go; your faith has made you well.”

So what does that man do? He followed Jesus toward Jerusalem.  Bartimaeus is healed, and his life is transformed.  He changes his life’s direction and follows Christ.

When I picked up my camera all those years ago, I think that is what I was looking for – the ability to be aware of God in the world God has created.  My experience is that God is always trying to help me to see – maybe that’s your experience, too.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Open My Eyes, Part 1

The following posts are part of a sermon I preached in October.

Many years ago – it was after my Emmaus Walk in the fall of 2005 but before I started working at the Foundation in 2008 – I was trying to find ways to follow Christ more closely and I did it with a camera.  I had a small point and click digital camera, and I carried it with me everywhere.  For me, trying to find pictures opened my eyes up to the presence of God around me.  As I walked from my car to the research building at the VA, I took pictures of weeds catching the morning sun.  As the sun set behind WalMart as I went to go grocery shopping, I took the picture.  My family and I would be walking from one point to another, and everyone would have to stop and wait for me because I had found an interesting bug and I had to take its picture.  To me, these weren’t bugs and sunsets and weeds – they were evidence of the action of God in the world – beautiful to behold, and I only saw them because I was purposefully looking.  I opened my eyes, and what I found was the abundance of God’s presence around me – presence I had been blind to before I looked.

One of the lectionary readings today is from the gospel of Mark.  As it begins, Jesus and the disciples are walking to Jerusalem.  If this were a movie, there would be the foreshadowing of menacing music in the background.  Walking toward Jerusalem – we know what is coming, and so does Jesus – the incident described in the passage is a brief interruption to the journey. Hear these words from Mark 10, verses 46-52:
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you."  So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.  Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again."  Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
This story is in three of the gospels, but only Mark tells of the man’s name - Bartimaeus.  And not only his name, but his father’s name.  ‘Son of Timaeus’ – Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus, so there was really no need for Mark to say “son of Timaeus” but he does. I wonder if Mark does this so that we will see Bartimaeus as a man – not just a blind beggar.

Jesus sees him.  When everyone else is urging the man to be quiet, Jesus sees him.  All through the story, Jesus sees him.  Jesus sees Bartimaeus when he hears him, when he starts talking to him, when he asks him questions, when he listens to the answers, and when he loves him and heals him.

Jesus sees the MAN – not just the blindness, not just that he is a beggar – Jesus sees Bartimaeus.

If we know anything about God, we know it by looking at Jesus.  God sees us, and loves us – in every way there is to love.

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Thursday, December 06, 2018

Perspecptives: Complicated tasks


When I saw this cockpit at the Boeing plant museum in Seattle, I was impressed with how complicated it looked.  And yet it works - the pilot can fly the plane.

We can do hard things - complicated things - if we work hard and learn.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Fire


Yesterday, I wrote about a Meme I found on Facebook and my response to it.  Among the comments that were added to my post was this one:

I agree with you that the fires were not caused by God over a vote, but I do understand where the  confusion may come from. The Bible does say that God won't destroy the earrh by a flood again, but  that it will be by fire. Even the little rhyme reflects it: "God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water,  fire next time." There just needs to be some education.

That, combined with Monday's posts about apocalyptic writing, encouraged me to find what she was talking about in the Bible itself.  I'm not sure if this is her reference, but I found this in 2 Peter 3:7:  "But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless."

So, does this mean that the world was destroyed by water (in Noah's time) and will some day be destroyed by fire?  The notes in The New Interpreter's Study Bible say this about that thought:
Reference to the destruction of the world through fire (3:7, 10, 12) is rare in the NT and is usually a metaphor for punishment of the unjust (e.g. Matt 13:40-42).  This may also indirectly reflect the influence of the Stoic belief that the universe would endlessly cycle through destruction by fire, followed by the creation of a new universe.

In that I am not a Stoic, I feel free to ignore their belief in fire and re-creation.  The idea that the verse is a metaphor for the the punishment of the unjust fits very well with Monday's post about apocalyptic writing.  I'm more inclined to believe that.

And, I don't see how anyone could confuse wildfires in California with the destruction of the unjust - or the apocalypse, so I don't agree with my comment-er.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Truths


As I was browsing Facebook the other day, I found a Meme that said:

As California works to ban the Bible, the state is on fire.  Let that sink in.

For me, this was terrible.  It was an irresponsible and untrue post.  I rarely respond to items like this on Facebook, but I couldn't let this one stand and say nothing.  Rather than post on the wall of the person who quoted it (and embarrass her), I wrote on my one wall the following:

I read a Meme on Facebook today that claimed the wild fires in California are because the state is  trying to ban the Bible. Time for some truths. Truth #1: The people of CA may be voting on a law you  disagree with, but it has nothing to do with books of any kind, including the Bible. Truth #2: God would  not cause a wildfire anywhere, and to say that God would is to take God’s name in vain. Truth#3:To  use the deaths and loss of homes caused by the fire to make any kind of point is horrendous. Please  stop.

One other truth to learn from this post.  Please check your sources.  Be sure what you are posting is true.  Will it hurt anyone? Will it spread the love of God to those who need it?


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Monday, December 03, 2018

Apocalyptic Comfort


In her book Inspired, Rachel Held Evans says:
"The point of apocalyptic texts is not to predict the future," explained biblical scholars Amy-Jill Levine in the meaning of the Bible; "it is to provide comfort in the present.  The Bible is not a book of teasers in which God has buried secrets only to be revealed three millennia later." Rather, she argued, apocalyptic texts "proclaim that a guiding hand controls history and assure that justice will be done."
If you consider that John wrote The Revelation to John to an audience of marginalized Christians in the Greco-Roman culture, then the book makes so much more sense.  At least, I think so.  To me, to consider that John was writing to encourage the Christians around him rather than provide a prediction of the end of the world that we are to read as if it were a puzzle is so much more believable.

The book of Daniel was probably written during the religious persecutions of the Green ruler of Palestine and Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  


I think we can see the general theme - justice will be done, even though it doesn't seem that it is possible right now. That's a message for the target audiences of the apocalyptic works, but also for us.

*Information about biblical texts from The New Interpreter's Study Bible.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Perspectives: Dead Tree



Amid all of the lush, green life, is a dead tree.   It just struck me.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Women


Last Sunday I taught a Sunday school lesson based on Genesis 30.  This chapter and the ones around it are concerned with the story of Jacob, Laban, Rachel, Leah, Billhah, and Zilpah.  

You probably know the story.  Jacob goes to Haran and his uncle Laban, brother to his mother, Rebeccah.  He first meets Rachel (Laban’s daughter) at a well.  He falls in love at first sight.  He makes a bargain with Laban to work seven years keeping his sheep in order to marry Rachel.  We know the story that Laban tricks Jacob, and he marries Leah, the older daughter).  He marries Rachel one week later, and works 7 more years.  In those seven years, Leah has four sons, Rachel gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob, and the maid (and therefore Rachel) had two sons.  Leah sent her maid to Jacob, and that maid (Zilpah) had two sons.  Leah had a two more sons and a daughter, then Rachel finally had a son (Joseph).  Rachel had one more son, Benjamin, and died in childbirth.

We often only see the story with the perspective with which we were taught about it, but I think it is important to see it differently - through the eyes of the women.

What about Leah and Rachel.  They have no say in who they marry and when. They have no control over their future - whether they go with Jacob when he leaves or stay with their father (this is part of the bargaining that Jacob does with his uncle).  Their worth is determined only by the birth of sons - Rachel is shamed until she eventually has Joseph.

And think about the maids.  They are truly property.  Their mistresses give them to Jacob, they get pregnant, but their own children do not belong to them.  Maid is probably not a correct word - slave would be a more descriptive one.

How does this change how we see the story? When we read it with traditional eyes, do we see the rape of Bilhah and Zilpah?  Do we see the less-than-human standing of Rachel and Leah?  Do we really SEE the women at all?

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Gratitude

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend (Melody Beattie).

What do you notice about the above quote?

As I read it during our office meeting for a devotional, it occurred to me that gratitude turns a meal into a feast, a house into a home, and a stranger into a friend.

The meal, the house, and the stranger did not change.  The way the person is looking at them has changed.

Do you know people who are always experiencing problems? Who only have complaints to share? Who never seem to have a good day?

And do you know people who don't complain, who have lots of good days?

Could it be that they are looking at their lives differently?  And could the way we look at the world change our experience of it?

Gratitude.  It's not magic, but it is transformational.

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