Monday, March 31, 2014

The Power of the Cross

I've been singing in church choir since I was about 10 years old. I've done junior choir, senior choir, county choral society, GNJ Conference choir, etc. If you go to St. Paul's, you've probably noticed I sing in the Archangel Choir and play keyboard for the praise team.

You know all those Bible verses that people know by heart, like John 3:16, Psalm 23, etc.? I know them all set to music. Sometimes when I'm trying to quote a verse, it comes out in music, like from Handel's "Messiah:" "For unto us a child is bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-orn." :)

A couple of Sundays ago we sang a song in church that was new to our congregation. It was "The Power of the Cross," by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend, the same composers as "In Christ Alone," a favorite of mine.

Since then I haven't been able to get that song out of my head. If you have time, here is a powerful version of it:

If you don't have time to watch the video, here's the final refrain:

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

During this season of Lent, I hope you will find or make a few minutes to listen to this song and reflect on the words. "Death is crushed to death; life is mine to live, won through Your selfless love."


Friday, March 28, 2014

What are we missing ? Part:1

We often hear of God working in places where people have so little. Kristen shared Katie Davis's story and encountering God in conditions most of us would abhor. Well her story and countless other stories like this got me thinking, with all the accumulated wealth and excess we have, what are we missing?

We live in a society where as soon as a problem is identified, someone somewhere is working hard on a money making solution they can shove into a bottle, pill or app for the web . There are companies out there marketing solutions that cause more problems than we start off with, bombarding us with the thought we need, rather than want. These companies operate with the sole goal of making the consumer feel as though they must have said solution or some how they are being cheated. We are left adding constant irritations to our lives in hopes of one day being satisfied, so we just keep adding.

As an artist I know a little something about creating. I know the thrill an excitement of seeing something being born from the pure inspiration of thought. A lot of times when creating one might stand back in an attempt to soak up the entire piece, pondering what does this need. Sometimes it's a little more blue, sometimes it's adding a few accent pieces here and there. Sometimes in the process of creating one can spend many long hours to find out in the end it isn't what else can I add, but what should I take away. A lot of times an idea can become muddled and lost with all of our meddling and one must sacrifice a lot of hard work to bring out the beauty we were aiming for in the first place.

After finishing creation on the sixth day God stood back, looked at all He had done, and said" It is very good." The idea here is God as cleaned up His brushes, put away all His paints, and easels, He was done, the picture of perfection as far as He was concerned was finished.

The Bible tells us that God created us in His image, creation wasn't destroyed because of  some unforeseen stray accident of creation, God's most prized creation (man) had gone rouge and added sin into His picture of perfection. As a result of Adam and Eve's cursed brush strokes of sin, they added shame, guilt, murder, greed, lust, envy, strife, your favorite and mine disobedience. Seeing what the two of them had done God  added animal skins to their shameful naked bodies and escorted them out of the Garden.

We find ourselves on this wicked cycle of adding things we never needed in a vain attempt of achieving godly perfection, all awhile all we are really doing is covering up the damage sin is creating. Somewhere underneath the many generations of sin and filth we've all acquired is the original beauty God created, but until we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and allow Him to chisel our lives to model His Sons', all we will ever be are lifeless forgeries. What are we missing?

P.S. If you like what you read Please Share, Multimedia and social networking are great ways to spread the faith amongst others. Keep the Conversation going.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Blind but can see clearly...

Last week I wrote about “Unopened gifts from God” and the story got me thinking. (That is the point right?)
A few years ago Michele and I were in Lancaster County PA. on a little vacation. We spent one day just looking through some of the shops that featured hand-made items by people in the Amish community. One of the shops we enjoyed was a quilt shop. As we were looking around we came across a couple of quilts that really stood out. They were a little more colorful than the rest and the patterns were somewhat unusual.  As we were admiring the intricate hand stitching and wondering at the patience it took to craft something so beautiful. The shop owner came over to us to see if she could be of assistance.  We said how much we admired a particular quilt and she told us that the woman who had made it was blind.  BLIND? Really? How?

Of course, at the time we were astonished that a blind woman was able to create such beauty and a little sad that she would not be able to enjoy her creation in the same way we could. Now I am thinking a bit differently. Now I am thinking that she had received a gift from God and she opened it. I am thinking that her gift had many layers and she was much richer for peeling those layers away.
That unknown Amish woman had patience. Having sewn a few quilts, albeit with a sewing machine, I know the patience it takes to make those little pieces of fabric work together. She had fortitude. Being blind it must have been frustrating at times not to be able to see how her quilt was coming together but she kept putting those pieces together.

We never met the blind woman with the amazing talent; however, I like to think that being Amish she lived within a loving family within a caring community….all gifts from God. Since she was already older when we came across her quilts I hope she is with God now and has been rewarded by Him in heaven with the gift of sight and that she is finally able to see people enjoying her handiwork.
Gifts from God are not rare and the results are not always immediate…..we just have to recognize them, open the box and have a little patience that the pieces will come together.

God Bless You.  Marge

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bumper Sticker Reflection: Faith

Bumper stickers, and the virtual equivalent (Facebook memes), are ultimately about identity.  People share these quips most often because they identify with the message.  The message can be humorous, thought provoking, etc.  But often they are skin deep.  Theology in this format generally strikes me as incomplete.  One might say, of course it is incomplete--its a picture.  However, the problem is when we become too lazy to consider what would make the message more complete.  If our understanding of God is lacking, so too will the resources of our faith be lacking when we most need them.  Therefore, I will occasionally be inviting more thought and conversation about the types of things you likely come across on your Facebook wall and your daily commute. 

Here we have a definition of FAITH: Forwarding All Issues To Heaven...

This acronym can powerful because it touches where we often find ourselves--holding onto anxiety about a host of issues in our lives.  The suggestion is that if we walk by faith we forward those anxious issues to God, or rather, to heaven--where it is presumed God resides.

The word "faith" is from the Greek pistis (n.), pisteuo (v.), or pistos (adj.).  I share these three to show that they really are all the same root, and mean everything from intellectual belief, trust, convinced, to being trustworthy, displaying confidence, etc.  So if I have faith, I could simply believe something to be true, or entrust something to someone, or behave in a way that inspires trust in me.

"Forwarding All Issues To Heaven" captures a partial picture of faith.  Indeed, the ability to let go of what is bothering us and entrust those things to a God who has offered to carry our burdens is quite appropriate.  However, to suggest that by doing so we send the issues away to a place called heaven would imply that Christians simply do not and should not worry about things going on in our immediate context.  The neighbor across the street can't provide food for their child (do we forward the issue to heaven?). 

Jesus seemed pretty clear that by walking in faith we may find ourselves taking on issues we otherwise did not have.  On Sunday we will discuss the scripture where a scribe proclaimed to Jesus that he would follow wherever Jesus would go (surely a demonstration of faith), but Jesus warns "foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20).  In other words--if you are serious about faith, you will be inheriting issues you do not currently have.

We do not serve an aloof God who is in a far away safe place where we can simply send our cares away never to meet them again.  Rather Heaven seems a two way street--we may entrust our cares to heaven, but God sends them back down that we might have heaven on earth.  By faith we entrust our burdens to God, and by faith we walk with the Holy Spirit to stare down those very burdens that threaten to separate people from God. 

So yes, let us forward our issues to Heaven; but with the expectation that heaven is coming to us.  By faith we need not face life alone, but by faith we will face it, and in Christ overcome.

In What Ways are you learning to walk by Faith?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Encountering God

When Katie Davis was 18, she took a year to go do mission work in Uganda.  She was from an affluent family in a very nice community.  She was homecoming queen.  Drove a cute car.  Dated cute boys.  Had doting parents.  Regularly attended a good church.  And there she was in Uganda...

"It is pouring.  It is freezing.  The power has been off for days and the water lines are down.  Yet I stand in the middle of twenty-five children praising and thanking the Lord... Some stand with their hands in the air.  Others, like me, overwhelmed with awe, have fallen to their knees on the cold cement floor.  The beautiful sound of twenty-six voices lifted in prayer drowns out the beating of the rain on the tin roof.  God is so in this moment; I feel so full of His love that my heart threatens to burst.  This is not something I can explain.  This is not something words can capture.  This feeling is bigger.  The splendor of God in this room takes my breath away.  We all pray out loud and our voices mix into one, all different words, but the same message.  Thank you.  Thank you.

"... I've had people ask me why I think Africa is so impoverished, but these children are not poor.  I, as a person who grew up wealthy, am.  I put value in things.  These children, having no things, put value in God.  I put my trust in relationships; these children, having already seen relationships fail, put their trust in the Lord.  This nation is blessed beyond any place, any people I have ever encountered.  God has not forgotten them.  In fact, I believe He has loved them just a little bit extra.

" I sit here freezing and wet in this pitch-black room as the rain beats on the roof, and God is so close I feel I can touch Him.  My deepest prayer is that I could know the Lord as well as the first grader next to me.  All my senses are full of His greatness.  God's glory has fallen down into this place and is soaking us even deeper than the rain.  I never ever want to be dry."

**This excerpt is from Kisses from Katie, by Katie Davis.  You can also visit Katie's blog, where she writes about her ministry.**

Monday, March 24, 2014


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. (Matthew 4:1-2 NRSV)
I was raised in an Episcopal church, and one of the things we were taught is fasting. The Bible has a lot to say about prayer and fasting. Click here for some verses. Fasting and praying are Biblical disciplines that are supposed to bring us closer to God.

Fasting isn't really an emphasis in the Methodist church, but I still always give up something during Lent. I've given up sugar, drinking alcohol, coffee, but most often sweets because that is my greatest weakness.

Last week a friend gave us an apple pie. As I dished up pieces for my family, I just couldn't help myself. It started with licking my fingers. Delicious! Then I ate a couple pieces of apple that fell out of the pie. It's fruit, right? But as that pie called to me over the evening, I eventually cut off a small slice and gobbled it down.

Fasting fail.

As soon as I finished eating the pie I felt guilty, and my prayer to God was, “I love you, Lord. I'm sorry. Please help me resist temptation tomorrow.”

The following evening when it came time for dessert I walked out of the kitchen, saying, “If anyone wants pie, they'll have to get it themselves.” And I managed to resist by removing myself from the temptation. Cheating? Maybe a little, but hey, whatever works. And my prayer was, “Thank you, Lord.”

What's your greatest weakness? What is separating you from God? Is it food? Coffee? Social media? Television? Smoking cigarettes?

Whatever your weakness, whatever your sin, during this season of Lent try praying and giving it up for just one day. Through prayer and fasting, God can speak to us. All we have to do is listen.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

In God's Place

If God had placed a small wooden idol in the middle of the Garden of Eden, someone would've covered it up.
If God placed a giant gold statue in his place for us to worship, someone would have tried to bury it.
If God carved a mountain in his image to remind us of his unending love, someone would surely have tried to defile it, implode it or explained it all away.
God in his infinite love grace and wisdom said “Let there be light!" and from there he proceeded to create the wonderful beautiful cosmos that we see before us. He created every creature large and small that scurried across the Earth. He created man in his image. He created star after star and out did himself with a flurry of Galaxies of every shape and color. So long as this place is our home there will be people who say there is no GOD. As for me I look at all there is to see and hear and I can hear God say "Let them try to bury that!"

P.S. If you like what you read Please Share, Multimedia and social networking are great ways to spread the faith amongst others. Keep the Conversation going.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Store Room

When Pastor Eric asked me if I would like to participate in sharing God's word on this blog I agreed with not a little trepidation. I had no idea what to say.

I have struggled with what to write and what might be of interest to someone reading what I have to share. This morning I remembered a short story that I read a few years ago in a book by one of my favorite authors.    Debbie Macomber has been a source of inspiration to me on several occasions and the following has stuck with me ever since I read it.

     A woman arrived at the gates of heaven to be met by St. Peter.  "You may first want to join the others at the throne, " he said to her "and then greet those you loved on earth. But when you are ready, I'll take you on a tour of heaven."
     When the time came for her tour, she could hardly take it all in. It reminded her a little of her earthly home, but she could see that earth had only been a pale shadow of what she was seeing now. They explored every nook and cranny of heaven - waterfalls, fields of flowers, exquisite buildings, and streets of gold.
     As the tour drew to an end, she noticed one massive door they had not yet explored. A gold padlock secured it. "What's in that room?" she asked.
     "You don't want to see that room," St. Peter said, steering her away from it. "It's only a store room."
     "But I do. May I see inside? I want to see every bit of heaven."
     St.Peter didn't answer. Instead he took a large key out of his pocket, put it in the lock, and turned it. The tumblers clicked and the padlock opened.He took the lock off and opened the door. The woman had to blink several times to take it all in. Inside the cavernous room were stacks and stacks of gifts, wrapped in all the colors of the rainbow and tied with all the colors of heaven.  She clapped her hands with delight. "Is this where you store presents for everyone in heaven?"
     "No. These gifts are not for heaven, they were meant for earth."
     What do you mean 'were'?  She walked through the stacks and came to a pile marked with her name. "Look, these gifts are for me." She fingered the paper and ribbons. "May I open them?"
     "No. You don't need them now."  St.Peter put a hand on her shoulder, guiding her toward the door.
     "But if I don need them now, does that mean I needed them on earth?" She couldn't take her eyes off the pile. To think she would never get to enjoy all those beautifully wrapped gifts.
     He nodded his head. "Yes, you needed them on earth."
     She looked around the room, realizing that there must have been millions of gifts. Maybe more, since she couldn't see an end to the room. "Why weren't my gifts sent to me on earth?" As she looked closer, she could read names on all the gifts. "Not just my gifts; why haven't any of these gifts been sent?"
     St. Peter sighed. "You don't understand. Every one of them was sent."  Moving his arm in an arc that encompassed the whole room, he said, "All of these and more. These are the ones that were returned unopened."  He moved her toward the door. "Many people on earth don't recognize God's gifts and fail to open them."

In real life God's presents don't always come gaily gift wrapped, and they are not always easily recognized. When we do recognize His gifts we are never disappointed, even if that gift presents itself as a challenge. I hope one day God will need a smaller store room as more and more of us will recognize His gifts and open them.  Don't let your next "present" be sent back un-opened.

God Bless You.  Marge

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Fullness of God's Word

I like so  many other disciples, occasionally have had  a hard time understanding the fullness of Gods word. Often times I find  I am good on one verse, but it can be frustrating understanding how one verse relates to another. I know that every word of the Bible is God breathed and inspired, so I never want to go the way of taking out the bits and pieces I don't understand.

A few years back my son was given a Rubik's Cube for Christmas. After initially breaking the perfect colored sides he quickly went to work twisting the cube trying to solve the puzzle. Every couple of days he would come up to me having one side finished, to which I would remind him that he had five more sides to solve. He responded back by saying it was impossible. He would shake the cube in my face saying every time I work on another color it messes up all the work I did on the first side.

Just because we don't understand something at first doesn't make that thing impossible, some times it just takes a little illumination.

In the case of the Rubik's Cube not only is it not impossible, it can be done by some people in a matter of seconds. With a professionally greased cube and a whole lot of practice, children and adults around the world can solve the cube in less time it would take me to bend down and pick one up off the floor.

Seeing my son's frustration over the madding cube reminded me of my frustration in scripture. It's easy to get upset and resort to picking the stickers, or breaking the pieces to put them back in the solved position, like one might be tempted to pick and choose what he or she wants to read in the Bible. If we follow the Rubik's analogy we can also see why some people fail to properly present the fullness of God's word. While some folks have garnished a lot of media attention for their Church with their loud, crude protests, what they fail to see is that they only have given one side of God's word. They have worked so long and hard on a single message laced with their agenda they have completely ignored the fact the cube of truth they present is actually all out of whack.  

Obviously God's word is much more impressive than a six sided cube, but the point is unless all the sides match up and are in completely harmony with each other, you don't get to say look what I  solved.
P.S. If you like what you read Please Share, Multimedia and social networking are great ways to spread the faith amongst others. Keep the Conversation going.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Trying the Keep The Customer Satisfied

I grew up listening to Simon & Garfunkel when the family would be headed somewhere.  One of my favorites was "Trying to Keep the Customer Satisfied."
I get slandered, libeled, I hear words I never heard in the Bible, and I'm one step ahead of the shoeshine, two steps from the county line. Just trying to keep my customers satisfied. 
When I first swapped  my major from Biology to Religion and my minor from Religion to Biology, my dad was not pleased--"What are you going to do with a religion degree?"  When I announced that I had begun the process toward ordination in the United Methodist Church, he changed his tune.  He was very proud.  "That is a very respectable profession.  Doctors, Lawyers, Clergy, etc."

How times have changed!  I suppose there is some respectability to religious leadership, but the way of the future seems to be a shift away from religion being important.  Increasingly religious people are broadly considered too ignorant or too weak to recognize the folly of religion.  It doesn't seem long before Pastors and Christians in general will be considered "one step ahead of the shoeshine," and trying to keep the small and ever shrinking pool of "customers satisfied."

Last week we saw new reports that increasing numbers of Americans do not find religion to be important to them.  The numbers were particularly high among men, those making more than $75,000, and people under the age of 35.  In some ways this is not surprising.  Jesus said he came
"to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed" (Luke 4: 18, CEB)
 It should be no surprise that upwardly mobile, free, empowered, seeing people would find the gospel irrelevant.  If we cannot embrace ways in which we are poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed--there is no need for the gospel. The gospel without brokenness is like a shoeshine where everyone wears casual shoes.

However, the church is not a store, and a Christian ministry is not sales that depends on a viable market.  There is always brokenness whether it is recognized or not.  I'm not convinced ministry was ever intended to be classy or "respectable."  For we are not called to go to the clean, classy and respectable places.  The gospel becomes relevant when the proud, clean, and respectable, become so convinced of their need for a wash in baptismal waters that the gospel once again makes sense.  People who today believe they see, may one day realize they are blind.  People who today believe they are free may one day be convicted that they are held captive, or have become part of a system of oppression.  And if we do not lose our focus as a Church--we always have a mission and it is always among those who recognize their hurt and pain and brokenness, and we will be ready to meet them with the story of Christ's love and power to redeem.