Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Risking for Freedom

One weekend this month, Steve and I took a trip into Ohio on a self-guided lighthouse tour.  The first lighthouse we visited was the one at Fairport Harbor.  The original lighthouse in this town was built in the early 1800s.  It was later replaced by the present stone structure.


As I read about the history of the lighthouse, I learned it was a final stop on the underground railroad.  This source ( http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=285) says, " Not by accident did the lighthouse act as a beacon of freedom to escaped slaves—the townsfolk actively made it one."  The people who lived in the town so firmly believed in freedom that they "colluded" to keep escaped slaves safe from slave masters who hunted for the slaves.  The town hid them in the tavern and in the lighthouse until escape could be made to Canada.  And the town fought to repeal the Fugitive Slave Law.


What do we believe in so much that we will work together, risking ourselves to help others to freedom? What will we risk to transform the world? 

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Perspectives: Helping


This is Steve on the beach.  We were walking along the water that evening, and we saw a family with one member taking their picture.  My husband, being the person he is, went up to them, and offered to take the picture so that everyone could be in it.

Where can you offer a helping hand today?

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sharing in the Inheritance


Read these two verses from the first chapter of Colossians:

Verse 3: In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

Verse 9: For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord., fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

Years ago, when Steve and I were first married, Gloria Peak approached us after worship.  She told us that she had been praying for us.  I'm not certain, but I think she was part of a prayer group in the church, and maybe we had been assigned to her as people for whom to pray.  Being told by someone that she is praying for you is a memorable moment.  I thanked her, and asked her to not stop.  

How do you feel when you find out that someone is praying for you, specifically, by name? I imagine we all feel a sense of gratitude.  It is a gift to know that someone is remembering you, and is praying for you.  It is an act of steadfast love, reflecting the grace of God.

Years later, I was attending a meeting at West Virginia Wesleyan College.  It was the month before Grant, our older son, was to start school there.  On a break, I walked across the campus and sat on a wall across the street from his dorm-to-be.  I spent some time in prayer for him, thinking about his future college years, praying for him as he left home to do something new.  When we dropped him off to start school, we left him with a care package.  Among the many items in the box was a note from me, telling him of my prayers for him.  I hoped it was one way to help him understand how loved he was (and is) - by his family and by his God.

Who are you praying for right now? Who in your life needs to be reminded that you love them, that you care enough about them to lift them in prayer? Who needs to be reminded of the love of God, and that they are not alone? 

I invite you to take a seat in a pew, or find a quiet wall, and spend some time in prayer for that person.

And for you, I pray verses 11-12:

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. Amen

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Prayer from Pslam 25


A Prayer from Paslm 25:1-10
 
Oh, God, my God,
To you I lift myself,
My heart, my life, my breath.
 
Oh, God, my God,
In you I place my trust.
My faithfulness.
My hope.
Stand by me.
Stand by all of us.
We are nothing without you.
 
Show me the way to go.
Make the path one that I can see.
Clear the path so that I can follow you.
Teach me, tell me, help me
To know what to do.
 
Show me your truth.
Fill me with your truth so that
My version of truth is gone.
My beliefs are self centered,
Self serving
Selfish.
Fill me with your truth.
You are who saves me from myself
I wait for you.
 
Remember your mercy, Oh God.
Remember your love,
Remember me.
Remember us.
We forget, but we pray you remember.
Forgive our forgetfulness.
 
Do not remember all of the ways
I have sinned against you.
Do not remember how often
I forget about you.
Do not remember.
Remember only your mercy
Remember only your love.
 
You are good.
You are merciful.
You are righteous.
Only in you will we find our way home.
Only in you will we find the Way.
Only in you.
 
All of your paths are mercy and love.
You are steadfast and faithful,
Beyond anything we deserve.
Beyond anything I deserve.
 
Lift us up, Oh God.
Oh God, my God.
Oh God, our God.
Amen.

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Monday, July 08, 2019

Born into the Faith


In her book Faith Unraveled, Rachel Held Evans wrote about her experience as an evangelical in the later part of the 1900's:
To experience the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we didn't need to be born again; we simply needed to be born.  Our parents, our teacher, and our favorite theologians took it from there, providing us with all the answers before we ever had time to really wrestle with the questions.
I'm not sure this is a symptom that is unique to evangelicalism.  Aren't we all tempted to take the easy way? To assume that what we have been taught is the "way it is?"  It doesn't require struggle or doubt, questioning or thought.  Just assume the way we heard the stories as a child are true.  Simple.  Easy.  No questions.

And yet, we are called to more, don't you think? To think.  To question. To struggle. To find answers that are honest and true to our faith.  To have a close-minded faith means that we are never open to change. Never open to growth.  We remain - not child-like in our faith - because children question everything - but we remain childish in our faith.  

Christianity is a faith of change and growth.  That's what sanctifying grace is all about.  That's what moving on to perfection is about.  It isn't easy. It takes effort. It requires confronting what we believe in the light of the truth of God as experience through the holy spirit.  It doens't mean rejecting scripture. It means really, truly, struggling to understand it.  It means respecting scripture.

And then, instead of being born into the faith, we are re-created into who we were made to become.  Grown up - or growing up - Christians. 

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Thursday, July 04, 2019

Happy Fourth!


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Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Core Beliefs


And one more thought about the quote from Wednesday of last week.  

At first, when I read the quote, I thought, "YES! This is a defining characteristic of fundamentalism."

Then, as I thought more about it, I think all of us have core components of our faith.  In my mind, a belief in the divinity and humaneness of Christ, and the belief in God's grace are (to name a few) defining characteristics of my faith.  These I hold on to. 

We should think about this for ourselves. What defines your faith?  What is it that if you had to let go it, would either destroy or irrevocably change your faith?

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Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Culture and Faith

Continuing on from last Wednesday regarding the faith we hold and how it remains "unchangeable".  

I also see this in the way people approach culture and faith.  I don't believe culture should define what we believe, but I know that we need to adapt the way we tell our story in order to reach people in the culture.  

And I also believe that the Bible was written to a particular culture in a particular time.  We need to investigate how that culture (2000 years ago) shaped the words of the writer at the time.  We can't just plop words written to a particular community 2000 years ago in our time and expect them to apply to our own culture and time.  

This doesn't threaten our faith.  It is a way to remain true to it.

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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Perspectives: Hammers


If I  had a hammer...

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Fundamentalism

I'm reading Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans.  Near the very beginning of the book, she writes:
I was a fundamentalist not because of the beliefs I held but because of how I held them: with a death grip.  I would take God himself to finally pry some of them out of my hands.  The problem with fundamentalism is that it can't adapt to change.  When you count each one of your beliefs as absolutely essential, change is never an option.  When change is never an option, you have to hope that the world stays exactly as it is so as not to mess with your view of it.
I can see that viewpoint.  I was listening to the radio on the way into work one day. The story was about a person who believed in a literal interpretation of the Creation story.  He defended it against any assault and believed that if this interpretation was wrong, then his whole faith would be threatened.

I was shocked by that.  How can that be? How can the loss of a seven day creation belief threaten an entire faith system?

And why do we hold so tight to a belief? Do we think that belief is God? 

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Experience under a tree and in a cave


One of the lectionary readings last Sunday was from 1 Kings.  It's a passage I've always liked.  Elijah is running away, worn out, dejected, and exhausted.  Angels come and minister to him, and then God appears to him in silence. 

One pastor I know posted this one Facebook:
In 1 Kgs. 19:1-15 Elijah falls into a crippling depression and loses all will to live. Depression and suicidal thoughts are rarely discussed openly in church, especially from the pulpit; tomorrow is different.  No matter where you are spiritually and emotionally, I pray this sermon provides both insight and hope.  (Rev. Darick Biondi)
I realized as I read his post and as I listened to the scripture as it was read in worship, that I always focus on the care given to Elijah.  I focus on God's visit, and not on Elijah.

But focus on Elijah for a moment.  Verse 4b says, "He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my  ancestors.”

Darick is right.  Now focus on the response.  The angels don't tell him to "buck up" and stop feeling sad.  The angels minister to him where he is, and provide what he needs.  Not platitudes.  Just acceptance and caring.

And then he goes to the cave.  God doesn't judge Elijah, or tell him that "everything happens for a reason." God doesn't diminish what he is feeling or experiencing.  What God does do is bring Elijah into God's presence in silence, and then sends Elijah out in ministry again.  Elijah is still worthy.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?


In Sunday school a couple of weeks ago, an article about a Mennonite family was discussed.  You can read about it here..  

A Mennonite man has sexually abused his children.  When his wife did not welcome him back into their home following his probation, she was excommunicated from the church for failing to forgive him.   The article is much longer, and provides more details.  The discussion in Sunday school sparks some thoughts in me about forgiveness.

The Mennonites in this story demanded that she forgive and forget.  Once the person has confessed, and has been forgiven by the church, then the sin is to be forgotten - never spoken of again.  

I think it is reasonable that this man, who may be forgiven, should not have access to his children.  Forgetting the sin would put them in danger.  

What does forgiveness look like?  I have many discussions in Bible Study that explored the idea of forgiveness requiring that the sin be forgotten.  The Mennonites in this article, I think, would say that forgiveness is radical, and that it much include forgetting the sin.

I think that forgiveness looks different for every circumstance.  In some, maybe it does require forgetting the sin, and recreating the person being forgiven - so that we don't see the sin when we see the person.  In other circumstances, forgiveness is given, but accountability is required.  In other circumstances, it may mean that forgiveness is offered, but that the relationship cannot be restored. In others, a person who has hurt someone may be forgiven without the knowledge of the person who has sinned - the forgiveness is offered so that the person hurt can heal.  All of these, and others, can be within the will of God.

Forgiveness, like grace, is offered and created in many forms.  All of them, though, with the help of God.

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Friday, June 21, 2019

The New Covenant's Sacrifice - Sunday school, 4

Annual Conference Sunday School Lesson, Cont.


Conclusions

In what way does the new covenant initiated by Christ’s sacrifice create a new life in you?

Christ’s sacrifice gains us forgiveness of our past sins – and it opens new life for the future.

Quote from Elizabeth Forney:  this changes everything.  No longer does the community need to keep track of offenses against neighbor and God, nor report to the local priest for intercession or atonement.  Instead Christ becomes both the mediating presence and sacrifice.  Sin is still a reality, but so now is forgiveness.  We no longer belong to a fear-based community.”

Peter Wallace has a three fold statement that I like:
  1. First – we are part of the redeemed body of Christ today, and that changes how we worship God.  We now have a deep, spiritual vitality – meaning prayer and meditation, and energetically serving others.  We are in the Holy of Holies – in the presence of God.
  2. Christ’s sacrifice was eternally effective.  We are set free from worry that it is impossible for us to relate to God by not measuring up, not being acceptable, not being good enough.  Our relationship with god is no longer an issue – it is an eternal reality.
  3. Christ will come again, and we will be engaged in expectant waiting that “is throbbing with Christ-like service” instead of fearful waiting.  We have already been made right with God.

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

The New Covenant's Sacrifice - Sunday school, 3

Annual Conference Sunday School Lesson, Cont.

Application

How is Christ as a high priest differ from other high priests?  How does the sacrifice differ from the animal sacrifices described in the Hebrew Bible?

  • Christ offered himself willingly – the animals life was taken from it; Christ gave his life
  • Jesus was the flawless sacrifice – he was human in every way we are, and yet he was without sin
  • Jesus was both the high priest and the sacrifice
  • This sacrifice is once and for all – it does not need to be repeated
  • This sacrifice was one of love.
  • William Barclay says Christ’s sacrifice changes a person’s consciences – releases a person from the burden of sin – it frees us and brings us into communion with God.

Take a look at the idea of blood as life.
What is blood?  It is life.  For the Israelites, blood was a precious gift that symbolized the essence of life.  God prohibited the Israelites from consuming blood.  Blood is life – and when our life is over, the blood of Christ continues to bring us life.

Think about Holy places
We’ve talked today about the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.  Christ’s sacrifice brings us into the presence of God and expands the Holy of Holies.

Can you tell about a holy place for you? Where are the thin places where you meet God?
What does all of this mean when we look at it in connection with the building we call Church?

Talk about our need for the rituals

  1. Why do you think there was a system of sacrifices for the Israelites in the first place?  Did God need them? Or did the Israelites? How hard is it to accept the idea that we are forgiven?  
  2. We read in John “For 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.  Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  I believe that.  I believe God sent his son.  But I also believe – although I do not understand it – in the trinity. In sending his son, God came, and became human, and died for us on a cross.  
  3. And in a faith that is full of contradictions (human and divine, now and not yet), could it be that the sacrifice of Jesus was not a requirement of God’s to cleanse us, but a requirement we placed on God in order for us to be convinced.  Heb 9:14a (CEB) says, “how much more will the blood of Jesus wash our consciences clean from dead works in order to serve the living God.”
  4. What more effective demonstration of love could there be that God suffering and dying for us – does that not convince us that we are loved and forgiven?  Could it be that the crucifixion was necessary in order to convince us of God’s love for us?


Talk about the cost of forgiveness
How easy is it to forgive someone else? I’m not talking about when someone does something that can be explained away.  For example, your friend misses your birthday party because she got stuck in traffic.  Or there is a misunderstanding between two people due to miscommunication – those don’t need forgiveness.

How easy is it to forgive the young boy who bullies your son?  How easy is it to forgive the person who breaks into your car and steals your radio?  How easy is it for a woman to forgive her rapist? How easy it is to forgive someone?

Forgiveness is costly.  It brings tears, anguish, and a broken heart. William Barclay says, “Forgiveness is never a case of saying, ‘It’s all right; it doesn’t matter.’  It is the most costly thing in the world.  Without shedding the heart’s blood, there can be not forgiveness….Where there is forgiveness, someone must be crucified.”  And there are times when we must do it in order to be free – and yet we cannot do it alone.  The fact that we are forgiven opens up for us the relationship with God so that God can give us the power and strength to make the sacrifice ourselves to forgive someone else.


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