Category Archives: Religion

Thinking out loud . . . Noah and the flood

 

The day after the mid-term elections and my focus is a mess.  Thankfully I no longer have to listen to campaign ads, and I was excited to see the new Sonic ads, the Christmas ads, and any ad that had no mention of the election.

 

I realize that this is not a typical reflective entry for my blog, but I cannot help but have a brain that is jumping all over the place with ideas.  I admit to being a news junkie (remember I do have a journalism degree), and I do analyze the ads and struggle not to be too political.

 

This morning, though, my brain feels almost like it fizzled out.  Certainly this is a common state for humans at different times in our week—or month or year.

 

Yesterday I was fully engaged and even worked on a project that has me reading the Biblical story of Noah and the flood.  Found in Genesis 6-11, the story fills the kids Bibles and Sunday school curriculum. It catches their attention.

 

But my project has me using John Wesley’s quadrilateral approach to studying the scripture.  First you read the scripture, next you evaluate the historical data that surrounds the scripture, and then turn to the human experience.  Once the data is collected, one thinks.  What does the story tell us?

 

The process is structured, and for me that is a good thing.  My brain wanders easily and I can be interrupted by who knows what causing me to fail completing the task.  So, I created a worksheet and began working through the story looking for the lesson that makes sense in today’s world.

 

The story tells us that God told Noah to build an ark, even providing the dimensions.  And Noah builds the ark despite no knowledge that a flood was imminent.  And Noah did build the ark despite all the ridicule of the community.

 

What does this tell us today?

 

First, I am reminded that God does speak to us.  Sadly we have a hard time hearing him.  If we were told to do something as odd as building this enormous ark, would we accept that as an honest message from God?

 

The story tells us that we must listen for God to speak with us.  In our world today, the flood is all the media that pour over us in so many different ways—billboards, print media, audio broadcasts via the airwaves and the visual plus audio of television and now the input through our electronic devices—phone, tablets, personal computers, and televisions.

 

We are experiencing a flood that can drown us much the same as a physical flood of water can drown us. We lose our individualism, even our independent mental acuity especially if one is addicted to media access.

 

But back to the story of Noah and the flood:  Put yourself in the story as a family member.  Noah built this enormous ark with the help of his family—surely.

 

The social structure at that time would imply that this project was not just Noah holding a hammer, picking up lumber, and creating this ark all by himself.  The reality is that Noah, as head of his family, would have enlisted his sons and all the servants and/or slaves that made up his household.

 

What does this tell us today?

 

As a family leader, we are responsible for others.  How we live our lives is how we teach others.   Noah’s story seems outrageous to us; yet, as a leader in his family, he modeled living an obedient servant of God.  The family dynamics was strong enough to build an ark and trust that God did tell Noah to get ready.  The family believed.

 

In today’s society, the head of a household struggles to teachfamilies about listening to God and following a lifestyle that incorporates faithfulness to God.  This is not easy, especially when the flood from social media brings so many outside influences into our homes—just like the evil that flooded the world around Noah and his family.

 

The symbolism of the flood cannot be ignored.  I am not going to argue whether or not the Biblical flood was real.  A search about floods reveals a wide range of horrific floods and lists the estimated deaths from them.  Floods destroy.

 

Yet, floods can be something other than water rising up from the land to cover roads, fields, homes, buildings, and more:

 

  • Floods can be tears that seem never ending.
  • Floods can be evil, as the Bible tells us God watched destroy the world.
  • Floods can be addictions that take over one’s independent will.
  • Floods can be the influx of ideas from the media.

 

Certainly the symbolism of the Biblical story can be developed into a lesson for us today. Discipline one’s life to read scripture, to study it, to meet with others doing the same, and then practice the lessons the stories teach us.

 

Noah’s story may seem outlandish, but the message—no, make that plural—message are there for today just as much as they were there for over 5,000 years.  Share the story so others can learn, too.

 

My project is not done. I have so much more to add; to learn. I continue to look at Noah’s story for more messages.  Today, though, the flood from the social media has exhausted me. I need to stop listening for a while and get back to my project so I can learn more what the Bible teaches us, and I can pay attention to what God is telling me.

 

Dear God, all knowing, patient and forgiving.

 

Speak to me through the words of scripture.

Speak to me through the Holy Spirit.

 

Give me the skill to defend myself from the floods.

Guide me in sharing the messages from scripture.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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God’s time constantly amazes me

 

Consider this:  Every night I read a devotional that is published annually.  The writings must be done at least two years prior to my reading the entry.  Such is the publishing process.

 

Now, consider God’s timing. Over and over I am reminded that God’s time does not match my since of time.  There is no way to explain it, but my experience keeps telling me to just accept it.

 

On Saturday, October 27, 2018, the Jewish faithful joined together in worship at their synagogue in Pittsburg.  With no warning, the Sabbath was interrupted as hate spewed upon the faithful.

 

The senseless act of hate certainly is not part of God’s timing.  I am sure that the venom that lead this one individual to attack these faithful is not part of God’s plan; rather, it is an example of how human choice can become twisted by evil.

 

And as a Christian, I empathize with the pain that the Rabbi and his members, and the community of Pittsburg.  I do not know such hatred it my life nor do I ever want to.  But, as one who believes the classic line—love always wins—I hurt for those affected by this tragedy.

 

Why, then, do I find God’s sense of timing so amazing?

 

Back to my personal practice of reading the Guidepostdevotional each evening—remember these words must have been written two years ago:

 

Romans 12:18(NIV):  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

 

As I read that introductory verse, I realized that God’s timing was in place again.  And I continued to read.  The devotional, which I am including here, was needed to help me understand how to manage the hatred of the day’s events, even though it was several states away:

 

“I grew up in a politically aware family.  Political arguments were a part of life in our household, especially between my liberal mom and my conservative dad.  We debated everything and were never afraid to say what we believed, loudly and proudly.  We subscribed to three daily newspapers and two news weeklies.  My parents never went to bed until after the 11:00 p.m. local newscast.

 

“Lately, though, our national discourse has grown increasingly rancorous, even toxic.  People are’nt just wrong or misguided—they’re evil and nefarious.  We vote our fears rather than our convictions.

 

How did we come to this?  It’s not altogether new.  Jesus joined the human race at one of its great boiling points.  Jerusalem was a hotbed of political strife.  Imperial Rome was an oppressive occupier of Jewish lands and ruled from afar with a merciless hand.  Herod and his family were ruthless and corrupt.  Revolution was in the air and violence was ever far. Nazareth was poor and overpopulated an crime-ridden.  The Zealots were already plotting insurrection. 

 

It was into this roiling political cauldron that Jesus deliberately came, had planned to come at this exact moment since the very beginning of time.  His message of peace for all humankind was a rank political contradiction.  His command to love one another was an historical absurdity.

 

Yet it was the message that endured through the ages, the gospel of love and not hate, of peace and not strife.  The word of Jesus still prevails, then as now.  I have to listen closely to hear the eternal message of a peace that surpasses all understanding.  (Written by Edward Grinnan)

 

Not only did God’s timing provide this devotional on a day that was racked with emotional pain, it is at the end of the week that political strife continues to build in our country.

 

God’s timing will never be understood within my human lifetime, I suspect; but I do think that God’s timing is a reality.  I struggle to turn over my sense of timing to God.  I struggle to accept blindly the power of God.  But, I continue to follow John Wesley’s acts of piety—worship, pray, study scripture, and partake in the sacraments.

 

The accompanying prayer with the devotional also deserves repeating:

 

God, Your peace is beyond human comprehension.  Teach us not to hate, but to disagree as brothers and sisters, not enemies. 

 

Thank you to Edward Grinnan, to Daily Guideposts 2018, and to God.  Your words are timeless and so needed at these difficult times.

 

None of us has any idea when another violent act will interrupt our lives, but God’s law remains the simplest, most comprehensive law:

 

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”  –Matthew 22:37-40 (the Message)

 

And from the NRSV, Matthew 22:36-40

 

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

 

The version one reads does not change the message.  One reads the words that speak to them.  For myself, I read several, and one I like is the NLT:

 

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[f] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

 

The message or the lesson or the direction that is provided in this passage never changes.  Love God.  Love one another.  If all our decisions are made and checked along these two premises, there would be no need for the violence, for the political strife, the man-defined boundaries between our neighbors.

 

Sadly, evil exists. And humans do have free will, free choice, and ability to make decisions for themselves.  All of us, then, are living in a world that hinges on the decisions of one and another.  We must make decisions the best we can, but I believe God’s laws are the filters through which I chose to make decisions.  I, too, join in Grinnan’s prayer:

 

God, Your peace is beyond human comprehension.  Teach us not to hate, but to disagree as brothers and sisters, not enemies.  – In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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How come we don’t get it?      Faith is simple:           Just four steps.

Special note:  This is a brief summary of the sermon I heard on Sunday.  Just a reaction, almost, to a simple idea.  Faith can be developed, I believe, and the hymn seems to show the four levels of grace that John Wesley has identified:  prevenient (born into God’s grace), justification (learning how God’s grace works), sanctification (knowing the Holy Spirit is with you in all that you do), and perfection (truly assimilated into the Christian lifestyle).  Now those are not the formal definitions, but they are in my words.  The hymn, Spirit of the Living God, almost boils it down to just the four verbs:  melt, mold, fill & use.

For years, the question has cycled through my brain: Why is developing one’s faith in God so difficult? 

 

Sunday’s sermon by Rev. Jim Downing was titled, Faithfull.  Simple, right?  No, we have a way of making something simple, complicated.

 

God did everything he could to make it simple to be faithful; and we tend to do everything we can do making our lives faithless.

 

Rev. Downing began Sunday’s sermon with a review of a classic hymn, “Spirit of the Living God,”(United Methodist Hymnal, #393):

 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

 

One verse.  Simple.  Direct, and often overlooked, certainly in today’s contemporary Christian music. But the words carry the message in classic simplicity, and those in the Celebration Center could join in the words with little trouble as it is deeply etched into memory.

 

Those four lines serve as a prayer asking God to fill us with the Holy Spirit; but in that third line comes the simple steps to living life faith-filled:

 

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

 

Granted, there are many who still do not know the story nor the significance of Jesus Christ and his life

 

One must hear the story of Jesus Christ and how his ministry taught us to live in relationship with God and with one another—loving others as we want to be loved.  Hearing the story is the first step, then we begin duplicating the loving behaviors of Jesus—at this point we are meltingthe old self and the old behaviors away.

 

Accepting Jesus Christ as our savior and beginning to live the lifestyle of loving one another above all else, the Holy Spirit fills us up and we become moldedin the faith. People see a change in us as we model the behaviors Jesus lived.  The Holy Spirit, God within us, now molds us.

 

The third verb listed is fill.  One might think that anybody who is modeling Jesus’ lifestyle of loving one another is already filled with the Holy Spirit, but the process of fillingone might indicate the emptying that happens when one tries pouring out love to others.

 

One of the best qualities of the Holy Spirit is that as long as one pours out unconditional love to others, the Holy Spirit keeps fillingone up with more love to give.

 

This leaves one verb left: useThis is the challenge level of faith.  Our lives can be very comfortable just accepting God’s love, yet Jesus told his disciples that we are to dolove.  Loving one another is not a noun, it is an action—a verb—it is how God usesus.

 

The hymn calls for God to renew us (me); to fall afresh on us (me).  The idea of being refreshed indicates that as humans we can be emptied or worn out.  Jesus did not tell us that living in our earthly world would be easy; but he knew that when Jesus was not physically present, we were alone, we needed the Holy Spirit, God’s very presence, within us.

 

The Holy Spirit renews us, stays with us and keeps usingus to serve as the hands and feet of God in a world that needs so much.

 

The message from the hymn seems so simple.  We only have to meltfrom self-control to God-control.  God will then moldus into the Christians Jesus teaches us to be. This will fillus with the Holy Spirit (or God within us) to live a life loving one another.  As we turn ourselves over to God, we then ask that he useus in any way that he can to do all we can in any way we can to love one another.

 

Dear Heavenly Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

 

Thank you for loving me despite all my flaws.

Thank you for understanding I am worn down

     and need refreshing.

Thank you for showing me how easy it is

     to be refreshed.

Thank you for melting me from my old self,

     for molding me into a loving Christian.

     for filling me up with unconditional love,

     and for using me to do all that I can

     in any way that I can so others, too,

      are refreshed by they Holy Spirit.  –Amen

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Activate prayer any time, any place, anyway you can

Last week, I was fortunate enough (maybe I should say, blessed) to attend a Ruby Payne conference, attend a Passion City Church worship service, and bond with two passionate Christians seeking to learn more about how to make pathways out of poverty—more specifically how our churches can make pathways out of poverty.

 

Certainly that is a great deal to list in the first paragraph of a blog, but I needed to jump in and get started (that helps me when I have departed from a routine).  Please allow me to continue.

 

The Missouri UMC Conference established an initiative for the 2019 year: to increase the church-school partnerships from 10 to 40% in an effort to create “pathways out of poverty.”  This is a lofty goal, indeed; and an educational task force is operating to assist this effort.

 

At least that is the structure that is currently established.

 

Three of us attended the Ruby Payne conference, Addressing the Challenges of Poverty,in Atlanta on September 23-25.  The focus was on how to work with the multiple agencies that provide resources for those in poverty, aka the under-resourced.

 

About 20 years ago, I attended a Ruby Payne conference that introduced me to her framework of poverty.  That experience taught me so much about the hidden rules that exist not only for the socio-economic poverty class, but also for the middle class and the wealthy.

 

The knowledge base made me much more accepting of others who were in different life circumstances than my own.  In fact, I had to reassess my own background and figure out my own hidden rules.

I firmly believe that it made a tremendous difference in my teaching and continues into my ministry.  I have not one doubt that this information is a key to the conference’s initiative, too.

 

But, I am wondering way too far from my blog’s opening title.

 

Our small team was asked to use prayer as we stepped into the conference: Prayer for guidance.  Prayer for understanding.  Prayer for the conference.  Prayer for the churches.  Prayer for the people in our communities.

 

Growing up, prayer meant a formal set of words offered at specific times with specific purposes.  Prayer had a visual appearance of head down and hands folded.  I was a kid, learning.

 

Prayer was given at each meal in our household and even today, I yearn to hear my dad’s words.  I cannot remember them all and my family has tried to rebuild it, but we can’t.

 

Prayer was used in church and we all had to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. The minister, aka pastor or preacher typically offered prayer.  Sometimes lay people prayed, but I never really felt like prayer was used all the time, any time, or anywhere.

 

Then, I grew up.  I begin realizing prayer was a tool, a connection with God.  I participated in a small study group about prayer.  I began hearing about prayer differently.  And even through the discernment process and the training to become a licensed local pastor, I continued to learn about prayer.

 

And I used prayer—officially.

 

And I used prayer—personally.

 

Then this summer I read the book, Talking with God by Adam Weber, and I became comfortable with prayer in an even deeper manner.

 

Prayer is a tool but it is even more.  Prayer is a conversation with God, one that never has to cease, that can change on a whim, that can be tears or laughter.  Prayer is essential in our Christian lives.

 

Prayer is any time.

 

Prayer is any place.

 

Prayer is anything.

 

Throughout the days of travel, conversation, presentations, meals, walking, and more, prayer is all that you do when living as Christians.

 

The Missouri Conference has a dream, and that dream can involve every individual through prayer.

 

The work that Ruby Payne has done is prayer in action as the educators, the agencies, the legislators, and the interested citizens work to address the difficulties in life that come through the barriers created by the hidden rules of socio-economic classes.

 

There is no reason to believe that any church denomination has an answer to the problem, but there is a reason for each Christian—regardless of denomination—to join in prayer that we can do all that we an for all those we can in any way we can wherever we can and whenever we can (yes, John Wesley said it and we should continue to say and do as the same).

 

Prayer is the first and most essential task we all can participate in doing. We can pray regardless of age, gender, or race.  We can pray alone or we can pray in groups.

 

Yes, I did mention attending a worship service while in Atlanta.  I was not familiar with Grace City Church, but when I started learning about it I wanted to go.

 

What an experience!  The church was an old Home Depot store transformed into a worship space.  No stained glass windows.  No pews, just padded chairs.  No alter.  No typical appearance associated with the traditional church in which I grew up or am accustomed attending.

 

But there was Jesus!  There were people—everywhere.  There was music.  There was a sermon.  There was an offering.  There was PRAYER!

 

And I know that God was pleased.

 

I walked away from that setting and discovered that I had witnessed just a miniscule picture of what true Christianity can be.  The congregation was not what I have witnessed before.

 

The people were all one:  No race mattered.  No age mattered.  No gender mattered.  No social class mattered.

 

Only one thing mattered:  God’s unconditional love.  Prayer was alive and witnessed.

 

Dear Loving Father,

 

I am with you always, and I pray always.

Use me in ways I may not understand

So that I can share your kingdom with others.

 

I pray when I struggle, and I know you listen.

May my unconditional love of others

Provide a prayer for them in their struggles, too.

 

I pray in order to hear you, and yet I am unsure.

Let me continue to pray and to do all that I can

In any way, for all, in any way, at any time I can.

 

Thank you, too, Father, for all those who join

In prayer to do the same wherever they are

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Fresh Expressions means church anywhere, any time: Live faith out loud to make disciples of Christ anywhere, any time, any way you can.

Yesterday I participated in a webinar that featured Rev. Luke Edwards from Kings Church in Boone County, North Carolina.  Wow!

 

My brain has thought of so many possible ways to have church, and I have talked about my ideas with others in the church.  But I am a cradle Methodist.

 

Cradle Methodists are born into the church via their parents, and have attended a Methodist church throughout their life.  I am a product of that.  But I am also a product of John Wesley.

 

The mantra that runs through my head, through my work, through my faith is the classic Wesley quote:

 

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

Rev. Edwards is Methodist. Listening to his talk about Fresh Expressions, how it is implemented, and how it functions echoes that basic Wesleyan thinking.

 

The key to bringing others to Christ is relationshipswhich Wesley knew.

 

Being raised Methodist, I was also raised to be quiet about my faith.  Now that seems counterintuitive doesn’t it?  But being raised during the 1950’s through the 1960’s and graduating from high school in 1972, one’s faith was simply one’s business.

 

Still being quiet about one’s faith does not mean I did not rely on my faith.  Our life centered on the farm, much less our farm was surrounded by cousins living on small family farms.  We all were Methodists and no one argued about going to church on Sunday morning. We lived faith.  Every meal began with a table grace.  We knew to pray.

 

Fresh Expressionsis a movement and going to the website for the United States, one finds this explanation:

 

     A Fresh Expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of those who are not yet part of any church.

     Fresh Expressions is an international movement of missionary disciples cultivating new kinds of church alongside existing congregations to more effectively engage our growing post-Christian society.

     Beginning in 2004 as an initiative of the Church of England and the British Methodist Church, the movement has resulted in the birth of thousands of new communities in the UK alone and brought renewal to scores of established churches. The movement has spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Germany. In 2010, the movement began taking shape in the US through the vision and generosity of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and a growing number of partners committed to a new era of missional ecumenism, a unity around the mission of God the Father through the resurrected Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. [Accessed on October 17, 2018 at https://freshexpressionsus.org/about/%5D

 

Rev. Edwards is passionate about the movement and openly explains that his work is Methodist.  I believe Wesley must be doing handsprings for this movement.

 

The problem:  I have lived my life as a quiet Methodists, not someone who goes around openly sharing about my faith whenever I run into others. But I should.  I have to some extent for those who know me and that I have been trained as a licensed local pastor or who may know me personally. But I am so accustomed to and comfortable being a quiet Methodist, that I do not automatically testify about my faith.

 

I know, that is almost diametrically opposite of my professional life:  trained journalist, English teacher, and pastor.  I am good at talking/writing so why shouldn’t I be able to share openly about my faith.

 

Step in the internet. I am learning to do better.  I do believe that we should live our faith “out loud.”  And over the past ten years, I have.

 

Serving in the pulpit forces one to be open about one’s faith, but that does not mean we are comfortable outside the church walls.  I am learning, and working to do better and the internet allows me a vehicle to live my faith out loud.  Now I see that Fresh Expressionshas the potential to be a second vehicle.

 

Rev. Edwards referenced Jesus’ style of ministry:  outdoors, walking with others, talking with others, sharing with others, teaching others about God.  He was establishing relationships: Fresh Expressions encourages that.

 

We are tasked as Christians, regardless of denomination, to make disciples of Christ.  We are to love God and love one another, as we want to be loved.

 

Those are foundational principles to being Christian.  Being Methodist, Wesley’s definition of being a servant is foundational, too.  Whether we are quiet Christians or loud Christians, we must do whatever we can to develop positive relationships with people in all types of settings.

 

I cannot predict what my spiritual journey will move into yet, but I have ideas that I want to work through in an effort to share the value of God in our lives.  Whatever task I am called to do, though, hinges on Jesus’ commandments and his commission.

 

Today, I am opening up my quiet Christian, Methodist mind to the ideas that Rev. Edwards shared about Fresh Expressions.  I am looking around my community and wondering where and with whom can I be out loud about my faith.

 

Maybe it is through the internet.

Maybe it is simply through written words.

Maybe it will be back in a traditional church.

Maybe it will be at the local library, restaurant, or beauty shop.

 

Whatever God calls me to do, I pray I hear him clearly and answer that call to the best of my ability. I may be quiet, yet I still am willing to learn to live my faith out loud.

 

Please join me in prayer:

 

Dear loving Father,

I know it is so easy to be quiet,

     But all Christians are called to be loud.

I know your call to serve is private,

     But be loud enough for me to hear and follow.

I know there are those who are quiet

     But are seeking answers how to find joy in life.

I know there are leaders who are breaking out

     And I pray that their Fresh Expressionof faith

     Makes new disciples of Christ,

     Filling their lives with joy and hope.

Make me an out loud Christian who joins

     In any movement, any venue, any effort

     That brings the lost to discover Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Hearing God speak really difficult when life interferes with listening

Last week a sudden realization walked through my brain:  summer break was over.  Now for many that might really seem like an epiphany, but for me it answered the state of mind I found myself dwelling.

 

Having lived all my life on an academic calendar until I retired from teaching in 2015, my psyche functioned along the year beginning in August, ending in May, and then taking a three-month break.

 

The last three years of serving as a licensed local pastor on a part time basis should have erased that internal time clock, but last week I realized it had not.

 

Stepping out of the pulpit as of July 1, I was mentally thinking I would take the break to refresh myself and return to work.  But, that is not what my internal time clock understood.

 

Last week it occurred to me that my ‘summer break’ was over.  Three months have passed and my year is not resuming as my brain thinks it should.

 

This realization has caused me to stop and reflect on why I feel so scattered, so unorganized, so lost—so to speak.

 

I need to listen more carefully for God to speak to me.

 

Listening for God is not easy.  Our humanness wants to be in control, and all that is going on around us easily distracts us. It interferes.

 

This pushed me to consider all the different factors that seem to deafen my hearing and I propose that this is a common trait that is interfering with our ability to fulfill God’s greatest commandment as Jesus answered the Pharisees:

 

35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

Consider the setting in which the Pharisees were talking with Jesus.  They were the powerful and the ones who thought they knew everything. They were feeling threatened by this newcomer, so by trying to find a flaw in his teachings that would discredit him, they themselves were no longer listening to God.

 

We do the very same thing. We live being in charge of our world. We live without thinking about the Golden Rule.  We live without spending time studying the Bible.  We let . . .

 

There is the problem. We let the world around us step in between God and us.  How in the world can we possibly hear God to speak to us personally when we listen to so many other influences?

 

Just like my personal calendar has long operated on an academic calendar and taking a break from teaching for three-months, I had taken the last three months and refreshed.

 

Or so I thought.

 

Last week I realized that my need to refresh really is defined as a need to listen to God.

 

Listening for/to God is not something that can be done in a pre-packaged time frame, neither is it a singular event.  Listening for God is part of the Christian lifestyle.  My time to refresh must become a time to realign with the practices that refresh my Christian lifestyle and encourages me to listen for God’s direction in my life.

 

John Wesley has a method for improving one’s piety or living as a Christian who is listening for God to direct one’s life.  The United Methodist Church’s website provides a list of Wesley’s works of piety:

 

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

[Accessed on October 10 2018 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

 

I must confess that I know these Wesley’s works of piety, but I do not always center my life on them. I do fair, but I must do better. We must all do better.

 

With no need to prepare a sermon each week, reading scripture is easy to put aside—especially on a daily basis.  My personal discipline needs improving.

 

Admittedly I do read, and since July 1, I have already completed thirteen books—eleven novels and two church-related.  The choices have been fun, and they do lead me into reflecting on how God can be found even in our literature choices.

 

Participating in a small group who reads the Common Lectionary is part of my weekly routine, too. But, I keep thinking of how I could study even more with other small groups.

 

I do try to live healthy especially in terms of food choices and exercise, but I can do better with this too.

Probably the most difficult part of Wesley’s works of piety is fasting.  I am not good with this practice.

 

I have long struggled with dieting and finally realized that fasting can be done differently for instance, eliminating a specific food or an activity for a set time.

 

Time to rethink fasting as a way to step away from the thingsthat interfere with my focus on living as God asks me to live.  I need to think about this, so I can use more time to listen to God.

 

Prayer is certainly one area that I continue to improve.  I have studied prayer.  I have come to realize that prayers fill my thoughts when no one is talking to me. Prayer is thinking aloud with God as the listener.  Now I need to listen for him.

 

Maybe you, too, need to improve your prayers.  I offer this one that may be helpful, tool:

 

Lord, God,

The world around me is so loud that I cannot hear you speaking to me. Guide me in making better choices so that I can silence all the interference that separates me from you. Thank you for the encouragement of others who knew I needed time to refresh; but as the months slide by, help me to hear your next call.  May what I do reflect the work you ask of me now and on into the months and years ahead. –Amen

 

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Reading, learning all the time: All the time reading, learning.

 During the past week, my focus has waivered.  I started off on Sunday facing a medical emergency with my pet, Possum (really my 4-year-old Havanese).

 

For the first time, I had to take a pet to a vet and leave him not knowing what would happen. Luckily, 48 hours later, he came home—exhausted.  Today, you would never know he had been so sick.

 

This experience has made me think about how much unconditional love we experience with our pets and I cannot miss the lesson that gives me about God’s unconditional love for us.  There is no better example of unconditional love of a pet and for a pet.  Why, then, do we even question God’s unconditional love for us?

 

The more I read, the more I learn.  I was on line reading all I could on Sunday trying to understand the problems Possum was having.  This equipped me with the best words to share with the vet on the phone.

 

I learned a lot and I am reminded that we all have much to learn about God, too.  I ended Sunday studying the lectionary to prepare for the lectionary discussion on Monday.  Always reading and always learning even though the verses are familiar.

 

This week the reading from James seemed to echo words I read in the late 1980s while working to establish a dyslexia program at Wentworth Military Academy.

 

During that time period, I was fortunate to be guided by alumnus and co-workers to learn more about the business leadership structures.  As the 1990s passed, I also learned about educational leadership. The common denominator was the concept of democratic leadership.

 

No, this is not a political issue; this is a leadership style.  Reading James 3:13-4:10, I discovered that even James, Jesus’ brother, shared the same principles of leadership:

 

True Wisdom Comes from God

13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.[a]

Drawing Close to God

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

You adulterers![b] Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.[c] And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”[d]

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

 

If all leaders, in all phases of our culture, used these principles, one might only wonder at the changes it would bring to our world.

 

For years, my reading was limited to professional materials and curriculum demands of the Course of Study. Yes, I was reading all the time in an effort to continue learning all that I could.

 

But my learning was to streamlined, that I was in a tunnel.  Since stepping away from the pulpit, I have broadened my reading.  I am also broadening my learning through the reading.

 

Just like God expects us to read scripture (as well as John Wesley does), we also need to see how it is applied in the real world.  Joining the lectionary group has broadened my learning by sharing and listening to others ideas.

 

Reading is how we learn things that interest us, to entertain us, and to educate us.  With the base of knowledge and ideas and skills that we develop, we still need human interaction to take that information into our real world.

 

My reading during these past two months have included following the KC Star’s opinion pages—stepping beyond the front page news; and I have picked up books again.

 

I am reading and listening to the ideas and experiences of others.  I am reading and learning to think beyond my own immediate life experiences. The reading leads to learning. The learning leads to reading.

 

Even the fiction reading I have jumped into has shared themes that I find in scripture.  I learn how these themes affect our lives and continually intertwine with the themes in scripture.

 

Whatever denomination to which we chose to align ourselves, the scriptures continue to drive our lives forward. John Wesley knew this.  The theological instructors know this.  The believers who read scriptures know this.  Why, then do we continue to ignore reading scriptures?

 

Reading a historical fiction novel about the Biblical figure Sarah is teaching me to think about Sarah differently.  It triggers a desire to learn more about the ancient cultures that are woven together in the book.  It makes me want to read the Biblical story again, along with study notes and analysis.

 

At the same time, the novel brings up the same principles of leadership in James and in the business and education materials concerning democratic leadership I had read 30 years ago.

 

Read to learn, but also learn to read.  We have a huge responsibility to make sure that we are doing that for ourselves, but also that we are imparting that skill to the following generations.

 

Dear God,

Thank you for the words so many have written

Creating the scripture through which you speak.

Thank you for the words authors continue to write

Creating books to share ideas in new ways.

Thank you for the ability, the gifts your provide

Creating the learning we gain from reading.

Guide us through the words, but also through the power of the Holy Spirit.  –Amen

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