Stop and see the colors

Sunshine filled the day yesterday, and I drove down the highway watching the colors play along the way.

Today, it is grey.  The clouds cover the sun and there is no extra light to play in the trees; but sometimes grey days make great settings for pictures.

The dry, dry summer months ended with a rainy month.  So often a dry summer means no pretty trees when fall sits in, but somehow, someway, the colors in the trees is absolutely phenomenal right now!  And I mean right now, October 24-25 and maybe–if we are lucky–will last through the weekend.

Memory Garden

 

Today, though, I stopped to see the colors.

In fact, I took out the phone and took pictures of the colors.  When busy days hit during the summer, the cry is to “stop and smell the roses.”  A cliche, I know, but what an experience one will miss this Autumn if they do not stop and see the colors.

 

The tree at the memorial garden where stone kids

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swing. . .

And then to go in close to look at those colors against the dark trunk brings a richer color to light. . .

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As I looked around, I knew I had one more road to take; so I drove through the gates of the cemetery surrounded by woods.  More colors danced in the wind. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the car, I turned around and started to leave–there stood the soldier flanked by the trees.  I backed up the car, got out, walked around, looking for a shot that caught my eye.  Finally, stepping into the door of the car and lifting up as high as I

could, the sight that caused me to stop was captured  . . .

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But wait a moment, a slight shift and the light changed the sight again . . .

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And I closed the car door, and drove on home.  Almost.  As made the turn into the subdivision, one more shot caused me to stop and see the colors, the trees reflecting in the lake . . .

Spring Ridge Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stopped to see the colors, and on a bright blue sky, sunny day, the colors are even more alive.  Who knows, maybe tomorrow.  But today, I stopped to see the colors.

“Then God looked over what he had mad, and he saw that it was very good.”  

–Genesis 1:31 (NLT)

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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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Reflecting on changes since 9/11

 

Yesterday I tried to gather thoughts for sharing, but I just could not find a thread to bring them together. Today, this day especially, a thread begins weaving thoughts together.

 

As an American, one cannot escape the memories of 9/11.  But there are other days that are cemented in my memory that have bound us together: JFK’s assassination, the OKC bombing, the Challenger tragedy, not to mention the natural disasters such as the hurricanes, earthquakes and forest fires that keep us spellbound to the news.

 

Throughout all these historical events, I am constantly reminded about how key a faith system is to the way in which we manage these experiences.

 

The denomination is irrelevant.  The common element is—GOD.

 

I recognize that many of our younger generations—note the plural—struggle to understand the ‘need’ for a faith system, but I also know that there is an underlying curiosity about why faith is so important to their parents and grandparents.

 

On Saturday, the Missouri Methodists held a kick-off event for the three priorities the conference has established for the current year:

  1. Pathway out of poverty: to deepen & grow partnerships between schools & churches
  2. Creating new places for new people: introducing church (faith) to one person not involved in any church for at least one year
  3. Missional leaders: to identify & mentor new leaders in the church

 

Today’s churches are facing the global community that continues to be rocked by disasters whether at the hand of humans or at the mercy of nature.  The challenges each person faces has the potential to destroy one’s security, one’s family, one’s confidence to wake up each morning and start fresh to live a new day.

 

During the kick off event, the question Roger Ross presented sums up the concern the long-established churches must consider:  Why on earth do we start new churches when so many existing ones are struggling?

 

The United Methodist Church is recording losses in membership, but I propose those losses signify a shift in the demographics more than anything.  The denomination has not adapted well to the cultural changes that began in the 1960s when Vietnam was the primary news story shortly after JFK was assassinated.

 

Ross went on to explain why the conference has decided to emphasize the need to reach out to new people in new places:

 

“. . . Over the last 10 years, the Missouri Conference has started 40 new churches—30 of them are still reaching people today.  We’ve found that new people, younger people and more diverse people show up in disproportionately higher numbers in these new churches than our existing ones.  . . . “

 

Today, as we remember the horrific events of 9/11, I cannot ignore the enormous effect that faith has had on the generations that lived through that attack.  Look at all those who raced into the horror to do all they could for all they could reach in any manner that they could—with no regard for their personal safety.

 

These people were images of God incarnate.  They were moved into action by training, yes.  By a sense of purpose, yes.  By an unseen force those in the faith community know as the Holy Spirit, yes.

 

I suggest that every single person has the foundation of faith within his/her psyche.  I suggest that God is within each individual, waiting, struggling, and anticipating to be acknowledged

 

God’s church is not a denomination, but all denominations.  Any church who identifies its purpose and works together to become the arms and legs of God in any way that it can, will shine the metaphorical light to those still searching to know God personally.

 

For Missouri Methodists or any denomination to succeed in making disciples of Christ (remember Jesus’ greatest commandment), the purpose must be defined, and the current disciples must reach out to others to develop relationships with others.

 

The methods to reach out to others should not matter.  Whether meeting at a local restaurant or coffee house or gathering in a cathedral, establishing relationships with one another is the key to others learning about how God operates within their lives.

 

I have walked through the tragedies of life, but I have my faith.  I know that I can manage anything as long as God is my partner in this life. I know that doing all that I can for others—whether in a classroom, within my family, or as I walk in and out of stores.  God is my operating system.

 

This does not mean I am perfect.  I am human. But as long as I keep my eye on God and follow the teachings of Jesus, I should be alert to the power of the Holy Spirit within me equipping me to manage in this life.

 

With my faith system in place, I see glory in the sun’s morning rays shining in my eyes.  I hear the hymns sung by the birds and even the evening insects.  I feel the warmth of the sun, the hug of a friend or family member, or even the warmth of a sweater wrapped around me.  I taste the sweetness of honey created by the bees or the strength of the beef and pork raised by the farmers.  I smell the perfume of the sweet autumn clematis or the spring’s lilacs, the freshly mown grass of summer and even the snow’s freshness as it blankets the grey world.

 

I love God.

 

I love life that God created and gifted to us.

 

I love others, too, and want to love them as I want to be loved.

 

I pray that as we continue to face the evils of this world, that The Church continues to transform into the body of Christ whether it finds a home inside a church or whether it moves into action along the sides of people in need anywhere within our global community.

 

Dear God,

We certainly do not understand everything

     within this enormous world you created.

We certainly struggle to understand the disasters

      that challenge us at any time in our lives.

Open our minds so that we may hear, see, taste,

     smell and touch all that you have created.

Open our hearts so that we may share in the joys

      of our lives and the pain, too, so we move

      to love one another in all the ways we can.

Open our doors not only of our churches but

       of our homes and businesses so others

       may come to know your love above all else.

Thank you for all that you have given to us.

Thank you for continuing to love us when we err.

Thank you for the promise of eternal life

       because you stepped on this earth with us,

       taught us how to love one another,

       and then died so might live eternally.

In your name,

In the name of your son Jesus Christ.

And in the name of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

 

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