Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Henri Nouwen was a professor at Harvard, a prolific author, and a priest.  Over the course of his life he wrote over 40 books, and there is even a Henri Nouwen Society devoted to perpetuating his legacy.  But toward the end of his life, he began to feel as if all of his success was destroying his soul.  After some serious prayer, he heard God whispering to him, "Go and live among the poor in spirit, and they will heal you."  So he moved from Harvard to a L'Arche community for the mentally ill, where he served as their pastor for 10 years.

Concerning this move, he wrote: "This experience was and, in many ways, is still the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity.  These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self - the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things - and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments."  (Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership [New York: Crossroads, 1989], 28).

We spend so much of our lives trying to stay in control of our circumstances, to be competent at what we do, to be people who seem to have it altogether.  But Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).  It is when we draw near to the people who don't have it altogether and who can't even pretend to do so (the mentally ill, those who are grieving a terrible loss, those who are new and strangers to everything around them...) that we get to see the people who are vulnerable enough to receive God's blessing.  And then, just maybe, we recognize our own vulnerabilities and open ourselves to receive God's blessing, as well.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Last Train

Guest post from Rich Grossman.

A few weeks ago, Carol's cousin Bob took us to visit his son in Perkasie, PA. After the visit, we went to a restaurant in Schwenksville, PA, Moccia's Train Stop, an old train station. Neat place! I am usually the first person ready to order, so when I had made up my mind, I looked over the rest of the menu. On the back of the menu was the following...


Some day you will climb aboard one last train, and you'll be in for the ride of your life! You won't be traveling the Pennsylvania Railroad or Amtrak out of Philly. This train is, shall we say, "Out of this world."

Once you arrive at the train station, you won't need to purchase a ticket. Your fare has been paid in full. No one will ask for your destination. Your point of arrival has already been decided. And you won't be carrying any luggage. This train has no baggage car.

If you don't like where you're going once your train leaves the station, you can plead with the engineer, but he'll just mumble quietly, "No switching tracks."

A conductor will be responsible for delivering you to the depot at the end of the line, where a bright sign hangs over the station entrance. It says, THE GATE OF NO RETURN.

If you want to know which gate you're at, you can determine your location by the direction the train was traveling. If your train climbed steep tracks up towards the sky and on past the clouds, prepare to enter the light. If your train rolled downwards, way down below the earth, prepare to enter darkness.

Beloved friend, on which track will you be riding?

Where is your final destination?

Remember these words, for they can direct you to the right train for eternity.





Rich Grossman

Friday, April 25, 2014

Biblical Truths

The next time you're sitting in church, take a quick look over your shoulder. Just because you are sitting in a Methodist church doesn't mean that everyone present was raised as a Methodist. Some of us were Catholic, some maybe grew up Baptist, a few Lutheran, some may have never had any church up bringing what so ever. That makes any congregation a melting pot of sorts as far as what makes up some of our beliefs.
 On this side of Heaven there will be things we just don't know, some of those unknowns should be held in faith as true and not held as true as part of our faith. Core Christian belief is that Jesus is the Son of God part of the trinity died for our sins as risen and offers forgiveness to whosoever believes in Him. This is part of our foundation, the unchangeable part of all our faiths.
I can only speak of my up bringing, but some of the things I grew up believing made coming back to God very difficult. Whenever something I held as biblical truth wasn't true, I had a tendency to stumble. My fear is that far to many of us are building on truths that may or not be there, when they are being shown as not true our spiritual lives crash and burn. For example I think it is safe to say the Earth is round, not flat. The Church is scared for life because many people built their faith on a truth that simply wasn't there. Many people thought they were defending the faith by standing on a flat Earth, how many of us are defending the faith when we build on one side of the debate of young Earth or old? 
I am not taking a stand for either as true or not, I am only saying our core Faith should be in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, part of the Trinity , died for our sins, as risen and offers forgiveness to whosoever believes in Him, this will never change. This is what defends us, not vice versa. If we build on the debate of evolution, something that makes headlines as true, untrue we will waiver with it. Our faith does this weird magic act, dependent on something we may or may not be able to prove as true it just disappears, abracadabra.
As Christians and disciples of Jesus, faith becomes a huge part of lives. It sustains us through the thick and thin , feeds our families, comforts us in our time of need. No one in their right mind would get behind the wheel of a car that was known to have a faulty tire that may or may not hold up driving on the highway. Your cruising along going 65 MPH and suddenly one of your tires just disappears, abracadabra. A faith like that is a flying death trap.
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, April 24, 2014

Planting A Seed

There is much emphasis throughout the leadership of the Methodist Church these days of demonstrating fruitfulness.  We used to call it statistical reporting, but now it is "meeting the metrics of fruitfulness."  It is more scriptural language, but very similar in design and purpose.  Don't misread that as cynicism... I don't mean for that.  We are called to bear fruit, and there must be some accounting for what is and is not working.  However, it is sometimes hard to tell.

Often in ministry, we use the expression, "Planting a seed."  At times I feel like it is a cop out.  We have done good work, but can see no results... "Well, we've planted a seed."

Kristin, the kids and I planted some seeds this week.  It is our first real crack at gardening, so we tilled up a spot in the yard, added good soil and some plant food, then planted some seeds.  The tilling was hard work.  We did not splurge on any machinery, so I did it by hand, then when I was exhausted Kristin went in and hand pick leftover dead grass, roots, weeds, and rocks.  We spent the better part of a day making the garden, and only a the end of the day did we finally plant the seeds (the easiest, least time consuming, and most rewarding part).  Now we have a garden.  We are happy with the way it looks, but currently it is bare.  We have completed the hard work, and yet it is just dirt waiting for water, sun, and time.

There is a lot of hard work in gardening, the fruits of which are not quickly seen.  But the fruitfulness happens in the waiting.

Much of what we do in the church is about waiting.  That is not the abdication of hard work, the waiting is in addition to the work.  I don't like to wait.  I like to see results--I like to see and hear stories of fruitfulness.  But I think God makes us wait to see fruit so that we do not forget that we are not alone in the work.  Yes, the work is ours to do, but the results are not entirely up to us.  We must wait for fruitfulness--it is a gift.  The writer of Ecclesiastes said, "A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted."  In the middle is waiting, reminding us that fruitfulness is the result of our work along with the work of God.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Finding God in tough times

I had a bad week last week.

My mom got sent to the hospital after a couple falls in her assisted living apartment, and she ended up with one of those nasty infections. And she wasn't happy about it. I had to go to the hospital and sit with her for hours every day, and getting her to accept that she had to go to rehab to help her walk again was an ordeal.

On top of that, I caught a cold and felt yucky all week.

Plus it was Holy Week and there were special church services and some extra church work I had to do.

Okay, it could have been a lot worse. Nobody died or came down with anything fatal. We had food on the table, heat in the house for those chilly nights, and my sister came for several days to help with my mom.

But overall, it wasn't one of my better weeks.

I've been reading Isobel Kuhn's books, and one thing that struck me about this early 20th-century missionary to China: she always saw God's hand at work in everything that happened, good or bad. In her book, "In the Arena," she considered that times of trial are not given for our punishment, but rather so that God might be revealed. Without difficulties in our lives, how could we know how faithful and almighty our God can be?

God got me through the week with cold pills and Nyquil. My mom got out of the hospital and settled into a rehab bed on Easter Sunday. And the risen Christ brought joyous song and the thrill of the resurrection after days of darkness.

Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Line is Drawn

How many times have you been in a conversation about possible sinful behavior and somewhere, someone comes up with a yeah, but I think God knows, insert excuse here. There are multiple versions of the excuse or the but being used, but it comes down to some people think they are exempt. It's as if they are arguing they are able to bend or curve the line of wrong and right , just so they can squeeze their way in. 
Simple truth is I didn't draw the line of wrong and right moral an immoral, God did. What's more, I believe some people mistake the line God as drawn as some how meaning it is the line that separates Christian from non-Christian. While it's true one could draw an imaginary line that divides saved and unsaved, Christian or not we don't have the power to move the line God as set before us. People can and will say what ever they want, but the second we attempt to move the line, we are erasing God, and penciling ourselves in His place. I know what God said , but I am just going to leave an asterisk next to this line here.   
Say that anyone of us could or were able to move the line of wrong and right sin or righteous. Ok, what do you say to the person behind you waiting his or her turn to move the line? Will you be the hypocrite who says no, I can move the line but you can not? What about a few generations of people waiting patiently to move the line, does anyone here remember where this line was when it started? Who cares, just move the line and get out of the way so we can move it over here.  
The fine line scripture uses to say all have sinned, all have fallen short the glory of God, can not be touched by human hands, minds or hearts. The line or separation of Holy an unholy can not be used to barricade ourselves in or to fence others out. The line isn't curved didn't evolve, it's never been amended or ratified , the gateway to God's Kingdom is the straight and narrow.  Anyone who says otherwise may be trying to blur the line, or tossing you a curve.
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, April 16, 2014

Listening to God

When I was in college, my campus minister encouraged me to listen to God for his direction upon my life.  I wasn't sure how to do that.  I mean, I read the Bible.  I went to church every Sunday.  I sought out godly counsel when I had decisions to make.  God speaks through all of those things, right?  But my campus minister meant something more.  "When you are deciding who to eat lunch with, ask God.  There might be someone could use you to touch.  When you are deciding how to spend your rest time, ask God.  He might have some special blessing for you if you will seek it.  When you are deciding where to live, ask God..."  But how would I know God's voice when I heard it?  How would I know it was God and not just my mind making something up?

A lot of people have wondered about that very question.  AND a good number of people have written very good guidance for answering it.

  • When God speaks, you usually don't have to worry about whether or not it was God.  You just know.  God's voice quite often leaves an impression.  If you don't just know, then be skeptical.
  • At the same time, Scripture encourages us to "test the spirits" to see if they are really of God.  Here are some good tests:
    • Have you resigned your will completely so that you are ready to hear whatever God would say to you?  If you haven't, you will confuse yourself.  For example, if you are buying a car, and you really want this particular car, and you can afford it, and everything seems good, but then you pray and you hear, "Don't buy that car," you will find yourself thinking, "Was that really God?  Surely not."  You have to FIRST let go all preconceived ideas and listen from that place of openness that is resigned to God's will BEFORE you start putting together your own thoughts about it, or else you can get really confused.
    • Is it consistent with Scripture?  God NEVER says anything contrary to what he says in Scripture.  A young man once began sleeping with his girlfriend, and when confronted about it by his youth pastor, he said, "Well, I prayed about it, and I have peace that this is okay with God."  That peace wasn't from God, and had he been willing to hear God's "No," clearly stated in Scripture, it was there for him.  Also, Scripture points us to the church to guide and protect us, and those people (his Christian friends, parents, his youth pastor) were telling him that he was wrong.  In every way, Scripture itself disclaimed his "peace." 
    • Does it produce good fruit?  Scripture says that the word of God is a "double-edged sword, able to divide joint from marrow."  When you hear his word, and when you repeat it to yourself and others, it has great power.  For example, one day at a worship service, a man was praying, and he suddenly heard God speak his name to him.  It was not just some odd hearing of the syllables of his name.  It carried such great power that he spent the rest of his life drawn to the God who spoke his name at that moment.  The word led to worship, obedience, and a life of godly love, joy, and peace.
Of course, God also speaks through circumstances and people.  And saturating our mind with Scripture IS saturating our minds with God's word, by which we will often just know exactly what God would want us to do in any given situation.  However, Christians throughout all centuries will attest that God does speak directly to his people, too.  Since no one keeps on talking to someone who won't listen, let's all make sure we are open.   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Noah—A Review

Davey, last Thursday morning: "What are you doing this afternoon?"

Me: "Nothing. Why?"

Davey: "Do you want to go see Noah? I can reserve us nice reclining seats. And it got pretty good reviews."

Me: "Okay."

So we went to see Noah. I was completely unbiased, having read no reviews or heard anything about the movie other than what Dave told me. I was expecting some kind of Biblical epic movie, à la The Ten Commandments.

Was I ever disappointed.

Rather, it was more like a Lord of the Rings fantasy, with giant rock-like fallen angels (the Nephilim from Genesis 6:4?) fighting off a scary horde of bad guys. Not faithful to the Bible story, although Noah, his wife and three sons were there.

The good thing about the movie: some of the performances. Russell Crowe as Noah was just so-so, but I loved Jennifer Connelly as Noah's wife. Anthony Hopkins was awesome, as usual, playing Methuselah. I also loved Hermione... I mean Emma Watson... as Shem's young wife, and Shem and Ham emoted all the angst of youth, no problem.

The special effects were also good. The setting was bleak and barren, symbolic of the sinful world. I was impressed by the CGI animals teeming into the ark and the rains, pouring from the sky and geysering from the ground.

But I can't endorse the movie because it plays so fast and loose with the Bible story we know. If you plan to see the movie, think of it fiction or fantasy, not Christian or Jewish, and definitely not Biblically accurate.

One final good thing about it: I came home and re-read the Noah section of Genesis (chapters 5-9) to see if my impressions were accurate. I guess anything that makes me read the Bible can't be all bad.

Overall, the best thing about Noah was the reclining seats. :)

My grade: C-

Has anyone else seen Noah? What did you think?

What is Impossible?

Sometimes understanding God's Kingdom is simply a matter of perspective. A lot of Jesus's three year ministry centered on changing our perceptions. Talking to Nicodemus Jesus said, unless a man be born again he can not see the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus replies how can a man be born again? Can a grown man enter his mother's womb to be born a second time? What Jesus was teaching wasn't impossible, understanding what He meant in this case was simply a matter of perspective.

While giving quite possibly the best sermon ever, Jesus taught His disciples and the crowd below to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect. Most people I've talked to on this subject will say this is something we strive to be, it's a life long journey, but it is simply impossible for man in his fallen condition to be perfect. While this may seem impossible, I'd like to argue, I think it is more a matter of perspective.

Say there was a life long spool of string God lays out for each us to walk. This is the hypothetical line of perfection. Most of us would stumble off the line within the first couple minutes of our morning routine. The line God lays out for each of us can not be changed, but what happens if we get closer? The line is unchanged but due to our new perspective the line is much bigger. My argument is that when we learn to keep digging into scripture like one would use a microscope, the very thin line God would have us walk is not so small or an impossible line to walk at all. In fact under this kind of magnification, the line we are walking suddenly becomes a brand new world of endless hills and valleys, with room to run without fear of falling off.

If I told you that my foot could cover the entire canyon you see here, you'd think it's impossible. But I am saying it's all a  matter of perspective, because the canyon you see is nothing more than a picture taken by an electron microscope of a micro fracture in a steel plate. The enormous breath taking view you see here isn't possible until you get super close. Just imagine the breath taking view God has waiting for us the closer we can get to His living word.
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, April 11, 2014

Over the Rainbow

A lot of the Spirit lead insight I get from reading the Bible speaks to the artist in me. I can't help it, I think God the creator and I look at all His handy work and I think  Alpha, Omega, Ultimate Artist Extraordinaire.

One of the first artistic insights I received is the rainbow first seen in Genesis. The beautiful light
show a little rain and sunlight can produce is amazing to me. What's even more amazing, is  all those colors we see broken up , refracted and reflected into red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple are what make up the natural wavelength of light. Even when we can't see it, that full spectrum of light is always there.

Pastor Eric spoke of denominational in fighting, and it reminded me of an idea I've been holding onto for a while now. We are all supposed to be instruments of God's light here on Earth. Shinning bright for all the world to see, giving glory to God and leading people to the Lord. But, currently, sadly there are exaggerated issues dividing us. We're all broken up, refracted and reflecting,  instead of being united in the body of Christ we're trying to outshine one another for authority over God's word. That full spectrum of wonderful light is always there, whether we see it or not. It is only when everything is in harmony that all those colors slip into each other and work seamlessly together as one light.
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, April 9, 2014

From The Hunger Games to the Church: Remember Who the Real Enemy Is

Katniss, along with other peasants from the districts stands ready to kill for no reason other than having been put in the position of kill or be killed by the oppressive capitol.  Before she can let her arrow do its job, in the midst of her fear, she is reminded by the target of her arrow what her mentor told her before the games began, "Remember who the real enemy is."  The Hunger Games are designed to make the participants view one another as enemies, but the true enemy must be the ones who have created the games and forced participation for the purpose of continuing their oppressive control of the people...  "Remember who the real enemy is."

Too often, the church (both locally and globally) can forget who the real enemy is.  We spend so much time and energy in our relationship with one another, we forget that the reason we are in relationship together is to be united with Christ in mission and fighting an enemy that is something beyond fellow believers in the church.  We can become participants inside a kind of "Hunger Games" intent on destroying one another, losing sight of the shared mission.

As the most "liberal" and most "conservative" wings of our denomination scheme over the best way to divide the church into two denominations that would be more ideologically homogenous and less theologically diverse, I sense that we have forgotten who the enemy is. 

I intend for this blog to be primarily geared toward the local church.  The local church is the primary front on which the love of Christ is offered to the world.  At St. Paul's we connect with people through the food bank, and community garden, family promise, our various ministries in Camden, etc.  We have a ministry of worship and teaching that is connected to our community, and when we are at our very best we are much more focused on the way our mission extends into the world, and is not overly inward focused.  For this reason, I hesitate to jump into denominational issues.  Talking too much about denominational issues strikes me as unnecessarily internally focused.  It feels a little like taking our eyes off the target.  However, at the same time, the truth is the conversations happening in the global church profoundly affects our local churches, and sets a tone that can cause all of us to lose focus.

So I want to encourage my colleagues who are denominational leaders to be sure not to forget who the enemy is.  And I want to encourage our lay people--don't become obsessed with the national conversations that are happening.  We have been called to desire the full image of God, which is characterized by the loving unity of three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).  We have been called to be united in sharing that love with everyone in our community and beyond.  There exists in our community and the church real differences about which we must humbly listen to one another.  However, these differences do not need make us enemies with one another; let us remember who the real enemy is. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Three Little Pigs

There once were three little pigs who went out into the world to seek their fortunes.  The first pig built his house out of straw.  Along came the big, bad wolf, and he said, "Little pig, little pig, let me in!"  The pig replied, "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin."  And so the wolf said, "Then I'll huff nd I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in!"  And he huffed, he puffed, he blew the house in, and he ate that little pig up.  He did the same thing with the second pig, who had built his house out of sticks.  But the third pig had built his house out of brick, and though the wolf huffed and puffed, he could not blow that house in.

I was recently reading this story to my preschooler, and it occurred to me that the spiritual battles we fight are a lot like this.  First the darkness sends us temptations to try to get us to open the door to it.  The temptations are custom-designed for each one of us.  I am not especially tempted by, say, drugs.  But the enemy knows full well what can tempt me, and, dangling the temptation in front of me, I know the voice, "Kristin! Kristin! Let me in!"

Thankfully, if we have gotten to the point in our spiritual walk with Christ that we would want to read and/or write a Christian blog, we have had victories over that voice.  We have looked some temptation square in the eye and we have said, "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!"  But that isn't the end of the story, because, as we all know, the enemy doesn't give up there. 

"Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in!"  If the enemy can't get us to open up our lives to him, then he will try to destroy us from the outside.  I have a friend who is a missionary to Uganda.  Her family is currently here raising funds and mission awareness within the States.  One Saturday evening, she posted on Facebook, "Please pray for us tonight.  Our new baby is very cranky every Saturday night, which makes for a sleepy missionary mommy standing before churches on Sunday mornings to speak about God's work in Uganda."  So lots of people commented that they would pray for her.  The next morning she commented, "Thanks for the prayers!  We all slept well last night.  But then this morning our car door was frozen shut, and I couldn't get it open, and so I missed the first worship service.  Hoping to make it to the later service.  Thankfully, though, my husband left earlier in a different vehicle, and at least he got to that service." As a pastor's wife, that sounds familiar to me!

I have another friend who is also missionary in Africa.  Two years ago her family had a horrific experience of accidentally hitting a child with their van on the road in Uganda and killing him.  The little boy was the age of their own small sons, and as they carried that dead boy to his mother, it just about completely broke them emotionally as missionaries.  Part of them really wanted to pack up and go home.  But as they prayed they realized that to go home would be a victory for darkness.  So, instead, they kept praying, God brought some clarity and hope to them, and they were able to continue in fruitful ministry there.

When we won't let the darkness in, it will fight us from without.  It will huff and puff and blow against us, and I think that, in the end, this shows just what we are made of:  straw, sticks, or solid brick.  Just how far can the darkness push us before we cave in?  If we are wobbly, if our defenses are in our own strength, in pop-psychology, in things going well, in the approval and favor of other people, in a steady job, in a healthy family, in the capacity to pay the mortgage, etc., then how are we going to stand when the darkness blows straight through all of those things and knocks them down?  But if our lives have been built with the sturdy brick upon the rock of Jesus, trusting him completely, obeying him, believing in the power of the resurrection over all of the crosses in this world, then we can stand against any attack. 

However the enemy approaches you today, whatever he dangles in front of you, however he blows against you, remember the lesson of our Lord Jesus:  "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell- and great was its fall!" (see Matthew 7:24-27). 

Praise be to God for Jesus, in whom alone we have a sure hope and a sturdy, unconquerable, eternal home.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bookworm for God?

The Bookworm by Ninidu
Okay, I admit it. I'm a bookworm.

I've always loved to read, and for the past few years I've been reading mostly romances. They may not always be realistic, but I find those guaranteed happy endings make me happy, too, at least for a time.

I wrote a blog entry titled "Addicted to Love" back in 2009, citing an article  in the Washington Post. The article concluded that when times are tough, romance novels are a comfort.

This is definitely the case for me. Romances are an escape from real life, from boredom, from the terrible, heartbreaking stories on the news.

Then last week, Kristin's Lenten devotion told a story about Isobel Miller Kuhn. Kuhn was a devoted Christian and missionary to China and Thailand from 1928 to 1954. She loved romances, too. Here's what she said in her book, "By Searching."
I was a voracious reader of romantic fiction. Novels gripped me and were my favorite mental escape from trials and difficulties, or from an evening which had to be spent alone. ...
[One evening] I was deep in the excitement of the book, ... and it was one o'clock in the morning before I finished the book and took up my Bible for evening devotions. But I got no blessing from it. Never had the Bible seemed so drab and dull. When I tried to pray, the Lord seemed far away. It's just sleepiness, I told myself, and curled up for slumber.

But the next morning things were little better. God still seemed far away and the Bible stuffy and uninteresting. ...

Traveling into town by bus gave me time to think. What has happened to me, that the Lord seemed no longer real? ... Why had the Bible become insipid? I was alarmed. Sitting in the bus, I talked to the Lord about it in my heart.

"Oh Lord, what is wrong with me?" I prayed. "Why can't I sense Your presence now as I have lately? Why has the Bible become dry?"

"When a child fills her stomach with ice cream and soda pop," the Lord seemed to answer, "why does she lose her appetite for meat and potatoes?"

"Lord, do you mean the novel did that to me? ... Lord, if I promise to give up novel reading, will You come back to me? Will the Bible come alive to me again?"

"Try it and see."

From that moment, the Lord was real and present once more, and the Word took on new meaning. ... Did I find it hard to make this self-denial? Does one miss candlelight when morning sunshine is pouring in the window? No, I was richly repaid for this self-discipline.
This made me think. Maybe instead of giving up desserts for Lent, I should have given up reading romances. Even though I've increased my Bible study and devotional reading this year, imagine how my faith could grow if I read the Bible for hours every day instead of trashy books.

What do you think?

The Lens of Life

God speaks to many people in a multitude of different ways. I honestly believe that He has gifted each of us with enumerable ways of understanding Him. For some God may choose to reveal Himself or His word through the gift of music. For others it maybe the gift of writing, some are gifted to be great nurturers so God might choose to speak through the children they are raising.

One of the ways I enjoy listening to God is through what I've learned as an artist. I noticed one day while I was wearing my tinted driving glasses, most of the time I cant tell I have them on till I pull back from them. This got me thinking, sometimes when we try and paint how wonderful God truly is some people tend to resist our depiction. I noticed with some people, even if they agree with my main points, the second I inject God or scripture into the picture they become argumentative.

We all go through life seeing things as we think they are. Sometimes that entails seeing things as we are told they are. While some who can read scripture and begin to see all the colorful ways God as expressed His love for us, others maybe looking at the very same thing, but through different lenses. Anything and everything that can alter ones perception is going to affect how they see things. So while I am waxing about the bright yellows and forgiving hues of blue, the person I'm talking to is seeing orange and purple. That's not the picture I was going for, why are they seeing it this way?

Wait, every time I mention God or Jesus they see red, a person wearing heavy tinted glasses will never see the true color of scripture as you and I see it, so long as they are wearing those lenses. Just like my tinted driving glasses, most people aren't even aware their vision is askew. In fact because they are so use to seeing the world this way, most will assume it is you with the vision problem. It isn't until the Holy Spirit enters a willing person that are they able to pull back enough to say, now that Jesus as entered my heart do I truly see.
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.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Drop in the Bucket

We live in a world where most people judge themselves as a pretty good person, undeserving of eternal judgment. So then to what, where or whom do we attribute all the evil we see. The only thing in this world capable of being inhumane are, human beings, right? Animals can be vicious maybe cunning, clever or brutal, but never evil. If we truly lived in a world full of good people, it stands to reason, we shouldn't see as much evil as we do. So what gives?

Some would say, yeah ok but there are evil people out there, Ok, lets go with that. Do you see yourself better than everyone else? While most people are unwilling to judge themselves as evil, it's just as likely they aren't going to see themselves as completely righteous either.If you and I are just as capable of sinning, yet we all see ourselves as good, again how do we explain all the evil we see.

I've talked to enough people to feel fairly confident in saying, people as a whole aren't as delusional to say evil doesn't exists. It's everywhere, and it spreads like a plague out of control. The biggest problem I see is that we live in a world where people judge the evil they do in the smallest increments. Most people see the wrong they do and quickly dismiss it as just a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the world.

To the best of my knowledge I've never intentionally put myself above anyone else. I've had my fair share of adding to the bucket. The next time you are sharing the gospel with someone, if that person can admit to his sin being just a drop in the bucket. Ask them, if they know how big the bucket is. Then as you make the case for Jesus, ask them what would this world look like when that bucket begins to spill over?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Tantrum

Whether you have children, know children or been a child yourself, we've all seen a child loose it with a full blown temper tantrum. Feet stomping, breath holding all out war of disobedience. It just so happens that I have children, so yes, I have witnessed this for myself.

I have one child, in whom keeping her anonymity shall go nameless, wink, wink. known for her epic tantrums. I love both of my kids, for real, I think it's a law that I have to or something. Anybody who has been coming to St. Paul's for awhile and having heard my Father's day message a few years back knows my son lead me back to Christ. Not to be outdone by her brother, my daughter is responsible for showing me a lot as well.

I honestly think God meant for our children to learn from us, so that in turn they mirror our behavior. Seeing ourselves in them, the good and bad, one can have a new self awareness, enough to know, half the reason you have to punish them is your fault. If your honest enough to admit it, that kind of awareness is life changing. For all parties involved.

My daughter developed this habit of throwing a big emotional tantrum to avoid being corrected. Right in the middle of me asking her for the umpteenth time not to do something, she would tear up and demand that I hug her. Keep in mind, she's not hurt, I wasn't rude or over exhaustively shouting at her. She would just start hollering I stop correcting her and hug her. I'm standing right next to her, and she would repeat over and over I want you, I want you. Broken as I was over her plea for my hugging her, I stood firm. I'm the dad, this is my job, she cant stop me or alter how she's going to be reprimanded.

I would comfort her as best as I could while maintaining as much control as I could. I'm right here, let's calm down, lets do what I ask, an I'll hug you as much as you want, I would respond. I just want you, was her answer. Now if this looks bad, keep in mind I went about many different ways to nip these tantrums in the bud, and I never punished her over the tantrums themselves.

Delivering mail, sitting in my truck affords me plenty of quiet time. This as been both good and bad. Good in that I get to spend a lot of time driving and pondering scripture, life, love and family. Bad is when any one of the above starts to take a nose dive, and I have no one in the truck to talk to. There are times when those dives accelerate into crashes, I get one of those melt downs. I have this habit, everyday before I hit the street to deliver, I say a little prayer. Nothing major, just a tiny little prayer like you might hear before a meal. I remember this one week, nothing was going right, it was one little thing after another. Well, I felt you know instead of this little stock prayer that I do I'm just going to go all out with a plea to God.

Thank you God for the work before me.
I pray that I can deliver it quickly, safely, accurately
and as painlessly as humanly possible.
I know I ask you for a lot, and you have never
denied me anything you felt good for me.
I know you watch over me because I've felt you.
I've felt your presence. Please help me. Help me
have the faith I should. Help me straighten my
doctrine. Help me I ask, though I know you are there, I need you.
Not in a little sign, I need you. I don't want a fleeting moment, I want you.
Touch me , move me. I want you, if nothing else, I want you. I just want you.

For those honest enough to admit they see the good and bad they've put in their children, it will change their life's. We've all done things we need to be reprimanded for. We all have lessons to learn, things to make amends to. Sometimes in the emotional chaos of it all, sometimes being touched by the one we love makes all the difference in the world. Even, when we're in the wrong and potentially underserving. It doesn't make the wrong we do right. It's just the nature of a really good Father.

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, April 3, 2014

What's all the Fuss about ?

As a Christian growing and learning we can expect to face all kinds of trials. Some trials we bring upon ourselves with our wilful disobedience, while others are more or less designed to help us grow and strengthen our faith. Some lessons are learned quickly while others may take us a lifetime to get through.
Going through this one particular lifetime kind of trial, I knew something was wrong, because my whole walk was out of sorts. Try as I may I just couldn’t put a finger on the cause. What was worse was the emotional pain associated with the trial.
During my bewilderment I started to compare my confusion, to what a newborn goes through. While some babies take to a routine or a schedule, a newborn’s world is very small and easily thrown off balance. Unfortunately the only form of communication they have is crying. Most often it is as simple as being wet, tired, hungry or just needing to be burped. Without a level of understanding on their part, every situation they face becomes highest priority.
As a Christian growing and learning, though my world is much bigger now, does God look upon me any different than a newborn? Compared to the mind of our Creator, my world is very small, I have a routine and I’ve grown quite comfortable with a schedule, but being this new creation in Christ, what do I do when I feel off kilter?
When our faiths are poked, bumped or we are exhibiting growing pains, it can be frightening; the not knowing, like a newborn might feel. Without that level of understanding that only God possesses, we hit the alarm and cry out in a panic. I am not going to tell you not to freak out because it happens to all of us at some point. I write all this to tell you God as gone through great lengths to set all these things in motion. As a newborn bonds to his or her caregivers and slowly learns what all the fuss is really about; so should you and I  grow to learn and trust in the love of God, our Father.
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.

The Old Rugged Cross

 Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me

Growing up I always assumed I understood this verse. I mean it seems so straight forward, right?

After hearing this verse, my first reaction was shock and fear, is God asking me to die this kind of horrifying death? After contemplating what I thought this meant, I went forward assuring myself incorrectly I wouldn’t want to, but if , insert big if, God asked me to die upon a cross I could do it. I mean it’s a onetime thing, over and done, right? Even Jesus’s disciples thought much in the same manner, when Peter said he would lay down his life for Him.
 Make no mistake, Jesus commissioned each of us to make disciples of all the nations, He makes full disclosure of the risks and personal cost to each of us, in a world that rejected Him first. While some will have most of all their cost up front in a onetime act of self-sacrifice, the cross a majority of Christians will carry or even lay upon to their own deaths is built one splinter at a time.

Every moment, every action, reaction and interaction we have is a choice. Will we act in the flesh; will we react with our old selves? In our interactions, will we, do we deny self, where is the cross you carry. The passion of Christ was to die on the cross in our place. His love for you and I was so complete, the idea of hoping down to catch His breath was nowhere to be found.

Being a witness can be painful. Forgiving others can be painful, so can letting go of grudges. On any given day we may be confronted by a whole host of evils, it’s unfortunate that our reaction to these splinters is to pull back, and set the cross down, as if we've done our part. Most of us side with Peter in saying we would lay down our life's for His, but do we have the strength to face all of those tiny little things he asked us to do? When the Christian walk breaks the skin and draws a tinzy bit of blood, do you scream bloody murder? 
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, April 2, 2014

Recovering Sympathetic Ears

A friend in college used to respond to counterarguments by repeating his previous points louder and with more verbal emphasis.  We used to joke with him that being louder did not make his argument more convincing or his position more correct.  But when we stop engaging in thoughtful dialogue with conversation partners who disagree with us, there is no option but to dig into our own argument with greater intensity and wit.

Such is the state of much modern communication, that we often shout and hurl insults, apparently having lost any sense of true dialogue ("dia," meaning 'between', and "logos," meaning 'words').  There is very little "words between people" anymore--at least not in public discussions.  Rather, we tend toward monologues that overlap one another.  We have become culturally formed to surround ourselves with "like-minded" people and to develop strong talking points.  We don't so much as share ideas as take sides with ideas that are already out there.  To look at the exchange of ideas in our world, and unfortunately in the Church, one could easily become convinced that clever and spiteful wit = true.

While learning how to develop convincing arguments in college, a mentor and professor of mine, Warren Smith, taught his students that the first step in learning and developing arguments is engaging in all thoughts and arguments in the most sympathetic way possible. Regardless of what we were reading, he would often say, "Remember to read sympathetically the first time you read it."  This requires great humility.  When we think we already know the answers, the temptation is to dismiss ideas that do not already resonate with what we think we know.

Recently, as I read news stories about divisions in the United Methodist Church, and as I read pastors and church leaders give voice to their various sides of the different debates, I feel driven toward cynicism.  What makes the Church different than any other organization with various caucuses of activists and interest groups? I speak of the denominational church, and am blessed to currently serve a church that is not characterized in this way, but it does happen at the local level too.  If this behavior drives me toward cynicism, what is it doing to our congregations?  What does the inability to model loving sympathetic dialogue do to our ability to witness to a Savior who refused to argue on the terms of Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees and Herodians?  Can we recover sympathetic ears that are quick to listen, and disciplined tongues that are slow to speak (James 1: 19)?  What would it look like for everyone who calls themselves Christian to be known, not by their angle, their method of interpretation, their view on politics, but their love--and more specifically their love for one another (John 13: 35).

While we are called to love the outcast and downtrodden among us, this is not how Jesus said we would be known.  While we are challenged to be pure in belief, thought, and deed, this is not how Jesus said we would be known.  At the core of Christian identity is love for one another.  If we neglect love for one another with the angry, witty, loud arguments that have become so common, I wonder if the content of our disagreement even matters--for we will have lost our core identity, no longer representing Christ.  We lose the ability to offer a new way when we merge our voices with the prevailing competing voices in society.  Can sympathetic dialogue be recovered by the Church, and can it work in our diverse local congregations?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Saying "Yes" to God

Last week I wrote about Katie Davis, a young girl who went to Uganda right out of high school because she loved Jesus.  From her journal:

"I am twenty years old and have fourteen children and four hundred more who all depend on me for their care.  Who are all learning to love Jesus and be responsible adults and looking up to me.  The reality of it all can be a bit overwhelming at times.  However, it is always pure joy.  There is a common misconception that I a courageous.  I will be the first to tell you that this is not actually true.  Most of the time, I am not brave.  I just believe in a God who will use me even though I am not.  Most mornings, before I even get out of bed, I am overwhelmed with His goodness, with His plan for my life; I stand in awe of the fact that He would entrust me with so much.  Most days, I don't have much of a plan.  I might have to take a friend to the hospital or I might have a meeting with the principal at school.  One of my children could wake up with a fever and I might be in pajamas all day cleaning up vomit.  My dog might have puppies in the bathtub or I might have to perform minor surgery on a neighbor.  We could have some extra people in our home or maybe just a monkey that my children insist on nursing back to health.

"I don't always know where this life is going.  I can't see the end of the road, but here is the great part: courage is not about knowing the path.  It is about taking the first step.  It is about Peter getting out of the boat, stepping out onto the water with complete faith that Jesus will not let him drown.

"I do not know my five-year plan, and even tomorrow will probably not go as I have planned.  I am thrilled and I am terrified, in a good way.  Some call it courage, some call it foolish, I call it faith.  I choose to get out of the boat.  Sometimes I walk straight into His arms.  More often, I get scared and look down and stumble.  Sometimes I almost completely drown.  And through it all, He never lets go of my hand.

"Lord, may we choose you every moment of every day.  We want to be fully committed to You.  We want every day to become a day we say 'yes' to You.  We repent for lukewarm-ness, from mediocrity, from normalcy.  We want to shine so brightly for You that others can't help but see and feel your love.  Let us look at every encounter as an opportunity to show your love.

"Lord, on the days were helping just one more person seems like too much, help me to choose You.

"On the days when Satan whispers: 'You can't save everyone, why are you trying?' let me choose You.

"On the days when it would be too easy to pop in a movie for my children instead of reading Scripture with them, let me choose You.

"When harsh words are easier to find than kind ones, let me choose You.

"Father, like Paul, I know what I want to do, what I should do, and yet I find myself failing and discouraged.  Thank You for your grace.  Thank You that You who sit so high would look low upon people like me and use us as a vessel for you.  How blessed we are to even be called servants, to be able to share in your kingdom and share your love with others.  Thank you for the cross, where you have given us peace and holiness.  Father, we long to say 'Yes' to You."

- From July 20, 2010.  Published in Kisses from Katie (Nashville: Howard Books, 2011) 246-249.