Tag Archives: God

Have you ever been so afraid to read a book that you fail to?

Ok, I admit that is what happened to me in relation to an entire genre—fantasy.  And I had my reasons to avoid them.

Primarily I am dyslexic and reading books with created language does not work well for me.  First, I have to decode the language and then I have to create a new vocabulary just to read the books.  

Then there is the problem that develops with long-term memory.  Created language has to be relearned several times before it is committed to long-term memory and can be efficiently recalled so as not to love the comprehension necessary to keep the story fluid for the reader.

These logistical issues have caused me to put down books repeatedly.  Over the course of my life, I have avoided some of the most acclaimed books and I have wondered what I may have been missing.


Oddly enough, the determination to read the Bible in one year has triggered a nagging question:  Why does everybody rage about C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia?  

I had little knowledge about the series and only knew that C. S. Lewis wrote them and that he was a widely read theologian. I felt guilty that I had not read it and so I have decided to tackle the chronicles.

As of this writing, I have completed the first two books in the singular volume of the seven books in the series.  I was surprised that the first one was not The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobebecause that is the one I remember first learning about.

So as I sat down with the book and looked at the copyright, I discovered the secret in the copyright years:

1950—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

1951—Prince Caspian

1952—The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

1953—The Silver Chair

1954—The Horse and His Boy

1955—The Magician’s Nephew

1965—The Last Battle

Granted, this did surprise me as the first one I read was The Magician’s Nephew, because it is the first in the one volume collection I am using.  Yet, I can understand why it was first at this point and I dare not reveal the secret.

That means the second one I just finished is the first one Lewis wrote, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And I am fascinated with the autobiographical note that is included stating the Lewis wrote this as a child’s fairy tale for his own granddaughter Lucy.

But to return to the premise of my own fear of reading this series:  The language is not as created as I had thought it would be but I do know it helps to understand the time context and the language in which it was written. The English language is not American, it is British and that could trip up the reader who is unfamiliar or unprepared to know some of the colloquial references.

Secondly, it is important to remember that it was written at the close of World War II.  For the British, the proximity and the reality of that tremendous war played a role in the culture which even explained how the children are relocated out of London to a country estate.

These factors can make a difference for me in even picking up a book as I prefer reading American historical novels.  The setting and the language are comfortable and do not take additional work for my comprehension.  And I like to read, so that comfort makes reading more efficient as I do not have to learn something unfamiliar to pick up the nuances of the literature.

And I am wandering around in this conversation because there is so much to explain as I dive into this reading challenge.  I think there is one more huge piece to add to this background of my reading:  my personal familiarity and study of the Bible.

After completing The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I am in total awe of the theological base of the story.  I simply cannot imagine how Lewis could so inventively develop the story of Narnia to explain or to demonstrate the immensity of the Gospel story.

Admittedly when I become engrossed in a book I become captured and struggle to put the book down.  My initial decision to read the chronicles was coupled with a desire to have a very special reading companion in the process—my own granddaughter. 

As I read, every once in a few chapters, I text her a comment or share a piece of information with her.  She reacts, even though usually in one word replies.  I cannot be sure of her own reading and/or progress in the book, but there is something unique in having the ability to share in the process with someone who is hovering in that tween state of mind.

Let me explain some of my own emotional reactions. When Edmund first connected to the Witch, I could hardly stand it.  I wanted to yank him out of the castle and make him quit eating the Turkish Delight. Why in the world could he not see the deception!

I had to text my reading partner that I did not like Edmund.  At the same time I explained the literary term foreshadowing.  Her reaction, “Cool.”  Needless to say, I do not know any more than that concerning her comprehension or anything, but it is enough to keep me going.

Then yesterday hit.  I kept reading and when I finished chapter 14, I hurt.  In fact I had to tell her that, and no reaction. But then I know that I hurt because I knew the full connection to the Bible.

Chapter 14 ends with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 

How could I explain that to her without crossing the line of trust that I am suppose to allow her to discover whether or not she wants to know about faith? 

How could I add how knowing the Bible I know that the rest of the story has so much more and that there really is hope?

So, I kept reading.  Somehow I knew that I needed to add something into my text messages so she had hope, too.

I finished the second book later in the day, and I know the beauty of the story as it continues.  Therefore, when I finished it, I had another text for her: 

“By the way, I cold not quit reading.  The end of the books is so exciting.  Let me know what you think once in a while.”

No response yet, but she is not suppose to have her phone on during the school day.  We will see, but until then I continue in my own challenge to read the chronicles and continue my Bible study.

I know one thing more, now I want to read Lewis’ theological books, too.  There is so much more to learn through my own independent study and so much I want to share with others.  

Conversation always helps when reading, and I always look for others who have read the same material so I can add more depth to my own understanding.  

Thank goodness the Holy Spirit does provide me assistance as I read and study the ancient words of the faithful.

And thank goodness I have overcome my fear of reading not only the full Bible using a new approach, but to reading Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.  I am sure that as all good books do, I will want to read even more.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for wordsmiths

who have taken your story

and created new ways of sharing.

May my own words reflect

the truth of the scriptures

and the story of Jesus Christ

who died for our sins

and taught us how to love one another.

Guide us during these days of Lent

to continue reflecting on our own lives

and seeking to be closer to You

through what we learn of Jesus Christ

by the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Just one word makes all the difference

Continuing on my year-long Bible study, I find that my thoughts are so full of ideas that it is difficult to isolate a clear statement. Today, it took me all week to locate what I had read and find a way to state what I learned. I pray that it makes a difference for you, too.

How often does one’s Bible reading reveal the phrase “fear the Lord” or “fear God”?  I always struggle with the word choice of ‘fear.’  

During my reading, I may have unlocked the mystery of the word ‘fear.’  I may no longer fear understanding why that is used over and over in human’s relationship with God.

What I uncovered during my study time came in the study notes in the Wesley Study Bible(p. 762) connected to Proverbs 1:

“In Proverbs 1:7 (and in 2:5; 9:10; 15:33; 31:30), the fear of the Lord refers to moral obedience, the acknowledgment that everything worth knowing and all moral guidance comes from God.  Elsewhere in the Old Testament the fear of the Lord refers to the trembling of the human being in the presence of the divine (Isaiah 6) and the covenant loyalty the nation needs to show the Lord (Deuteronomy 10:20).  Theologically, each of these three biblical postures before God—the obedience of Proverbs, the awe of Isaiah, and the loyalty of Deuteronomy—is a response to God’s prior, gracious activity. . . . “

The term fear in today’s culture typically does not conjure up those images:  obedience, awe and loyalty.  Instead, fear has extremely negative connotations.  Therefore, as I read through the study notes and found this paragraph, I had to stop and reread the earlier note:

“We today do not like the concept of “the fear of the Lord,” assuming it means a fear of imminent punishment.  But, though there are several meanings ascribed to the term in the Old Testament, none of them refers to fear of imminent divine punishment.”

Wow!  For years I have struggled to fully comprehend why the Bible uses “fear of God” if God is love.  My tendency is to read scripture replacing the word ‘fear’ with the word ‘respect’ and move on.

The explanation in the Wesley Study Biblethat I have inserted makes more sense to me than any other word or analysis I have found. 

By looking up the word ‘fear’ in the Oxford Dictionary On-line [accessed on April 5, 2019 at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fear] , I can see why the meaning of fear has evolved into the negative connotations that cause me problems:

As a noun:  An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.

As a verb:  Be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful.

No where in these definitions is any reference to ‘awe,’ ‘obedience,’ or ‘loyalty’.  Even when I checked the origin of the word, I could not find a connection to these Biblical definitions of ‘fear’:

Old English fǣr ‘calamity, danger’, fǣran ‘frighten’, also ‘revere’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gevaar and German Gefahr ‘danger’.

Granted the word ‘revere’ shows up, but that does not lessen the negative connotations of the words ‘calamity,’ ‘danger,’ and ‘frighten.’

Thank goodness the study notes has introduced this new viewpoint of the word ‘fear.’  I can read the Biblical use of ‘fear’ differently now.  I can stop feeling guilty because I do not ‘fear the Lord.’  I now can see that fear is awe, obedience, and loyaltyto the Lord.

Please  join me in prayer:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the wisdom of Biblical scholars

who can translate your words in ways

to clarify ancient literature for me today.

Thank you for the sense of awe, 

the desire to be obedient, and

the sense of loyalty my faith provides.

Thank you for your unending presence

through the power of the Holy Spirit,

so I may continue to grow in faith.  –Amen.


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I know. Ash Wednesday over, Lent begins. I’m not ready.

The long, cold winter has so consumed my psyche that I was unprepared to accept the arrival of March.  We seem so far away from the typical spring images that usually accompany March. 

And accompanying that, I was surprised when I realized that Tuesday was Mardi Gras, which meant that Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and today is the first day of Lent!  Oh my goodness, how the time flies.

This has caused me to struggle wondering why Lent has snuck up on me.  I suppose one reason is the weather, but a second is that I have not had to prepare for the season as I have the past 10 years.  This is a season as a parishioner, not as a pastor.

I admit to feeling a bit guilty because I have no plans, no identified fasting plan or any 40-day practice.  The 40-day period of giving up something or doing something as a spiritual practice has always been a challenge for me.  This places me in an awkward position:  Is it too late?

Committing to the year-long Bible reading plan, I have already implemented a very structured practice.  This is not just sitting down and reading a novel, this is study.  My 40-day challenge is realistically a 365-day challenge.

Therefore I should not feel so guilty, should I?

Add to this study, though, is an additional reading I have just completed.  Based on a friend’s recommendation I have read through Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms(2006).  

The nine chapters take one through a process to establish the spiritual practices that develop–or maybe a better word is enriches—one’s spirituality.

Barton offers a personal viewpoint on the practices while providing the rationale, the scriptural basis, and the encouragement needed to reorganize one’s life to be more mindful of one’s own spirituality.  

The chapters outline the various practices as solitude, scripture, prayer, honoring the body, self-examination, discernment, and Sabbath.  

John Wesley also identified the individual acts of piety as means to strengthen one’s spirituality, also.  The United Methodist Church’s website lists these as “. . . reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others” [Accessed on March 7, 2019 at umc.org].

There are differences, I realize, but Barton confronts the problems that our culture faces in this 21stcentury that Wesley could not have imagined.  Wesley’s acts of piety do still apply, but having Barton explain how today’s technological world and demanding family life do not have to interfere with these practices.

Therefore, as I continue working through the year-long Bible reading plan, I am going to reread Barton’s book with a pencil in my hand to make additional notes.  My Lent will be to review, release today’s world, and to work on developing a 21stcentury plan, or as she calls it, rule of life for myself.  

I may still be unprepared for Lent in the traditional sense, but I must forgive myself and acknowledge that whenever and however I work to improve my personal spiritual practices is the ultimate goal. Isn’t that what Lent is?

Please join in prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are my teacher.  

You are my healer.

You are my redeemer.

Forgive me for letting the world step in the way.

Forgive me for worrying that I am not perfect.

Forgive me that I procrastinate in growing spiritually.

Thank you for the words of others who teach.

Thank you for the words of those who help me heal.

Thank you for the words of scripture that are timeless.

Guide me in my understanding.

Guide me in making better time for scripture.

Guide me in adding scriptural practices

     that work for life eternal.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit,

With Jesus Christ your son,

And you, our Lord, I Am.  –Amen

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Needing sunshine, true; but that is no comparison to needing SON-shine


N

No doubt that when the meteorologists are warning us that life is “brutal out there” as NBC’s Today Show’s Al Roker just said; we look for any help we can.

Today we are in the midst of the Polar Vortex that is slamming our country with bitter cold.  Here in Missouri, the cold is bad and only to be much worse tomorrow, but we have hope—sunshine is also predicted.

These are the days that I just want pure sunshine coming in the patio door warming my dining room table.  I watch the birds, feel the warmth on my skin, and anticipate the first signs of spring.  

I thrive in sunshine.

The meteorologists tell us that we have not had a polar vortex like this in 20-25 years.  I had to stop and think about that and try to remember what I remember from 20-25 years ago.  

The memory that floats to the top is moving from one house to another in bitter cold.  The snow was cleared from the drives and walks, but it was cold.  So cold in fact, that the water line was frozen to my new house—and we were moving in.  Not a good start.

But in spite of the negatives of that winter day, I realize that there was sunshine, especially in the form of my cousin. My cousin had driven across the state with a stock trailer to help me make the second move in four months.  

Now here is the metaphor:  a polar vortex is just one more example of real-life challenges and the warmth of the sunshine makes it possible to get through the roughest cold times to be rewarded with the warmer temperatures on the other side of the vortex.

Our lives are filled with challenges that can freeze us up as quickly and completely as the polar vortex.  We need sunshine to keep us warm, to thaw us out, to lighten our days.

I realize now that Jesus Christ is our “SON-shine” for managing our lives on a daily basis—regardless of the weather forecast. In the darkest and coldest times of our lives, we need to turn our face to Jesus, the Son of God.  He is the link to weathering our life storms.

Where do we find this “SON-shine”?  The typical answer our preachers might say is in scripture. Certainly the Bible is filled with examples of how faith carries one through all kinds of storms, but I add another answer:  turn to our Christian peers.

My cousin did not have to give up his time, tow a trailer across the state, and then physically help us load and unload all my goods making the move from one house down the block to another house. But he did.  He and his family did.

My cousin and his family were the arms and legs of Jesus helping me to warm up in his “SON-shine.”  Loving one another is God’s ray of “son-shine” in the polar vortexes of our lives.

I continue to read the scriptures and this week I have been reading Isaiah and Mark.  The prophecies in Isaiah certainly provide examples of polar vortexes in the lives of the ancient faithful who were still waiting for the Messiah. 

Then Mark shares how faith in Jesus healed so many facing life challenges, too.  Remember the story of the religious leader’s 12-year old daughter who died?  Remember the story of the woman who was healed of a life-time of hemorrhaging?

These are the verses from Mark 5:21-43 from the New Living Translation:

Jesus Heals in Response to Faith

   21 Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22 Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, 23 pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”

   24 Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him. 25 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. 26 She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. 28 For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” 

   29 Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.

   30 Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”

   31 His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

   32 But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

   35 While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”

   36 But Jesus overheard[d] them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

   37 Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James). 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing.39 He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

   40 The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying.41 Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” 42 And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. 43 Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and thenhe told them to give her something to eat.

Yes, it is cold outside.  But with the warmth of sunshine coming in our windows, we can manage the bitter temperatures.

With Jesus Christ, though, we have “SON-shine” that goes beyond the physical warming of the sun and reaches into all the storms of our lives.  All we have to do is to have faith and to love one another in all the ways we can at all the times we can for all those we can.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear God, father of Jesus Christ,

Thank you for sending your son

     to shine in our lives.

Thank you for those who believe and serve

     as your Son’s ray loving one another.

Give me the strength to face 

     the polar vortexes in our lives

     with the faith of those who walked with Jesus.

Guide me in doing all that I can 

     to be your “Son-shine” in someone else’s life

     so they are warmed by your love, too.  –Amen.

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“What goes around, comes around.” Believe it or not, I found the source: Isaiah 3:11

Isn’t it interesting how we tend to pick up a phrase and use it over and over.  Often the phrase is one we learn from our own family while we are growing up, and many times we have no clue where it originated.

The phrase, “what goes around, comes around,”is one such phrase.  I remember hearing it some growing up, but in the last several years, it has been used and heard repeatedly in my own home.

First, I admit that that phrase has personally helped manage frustrations when something does not seem fair or when something we hear upsets us and we feel the action is not ethical.  

During the past couple of years, we utter the phrase almost every night as we listen to the daily news.  Oh oh, there it is again—someone did something that is against our belief system—“what goes around comes around.”

Now remember, I was working on reading the Bible—Old and New Testament—following a daily plan.  This week finished up Genesis and Romans, and now the plan focuses on Isaiah and Mark.

The reading for January 22 was Isaiah 3 & 4, plus the final section of Mark 1.  Admittedly I was surprised to jump from Genesis to Isaiah, but I am getting used to just accepting the plan as published and see where it takes me.

And so yesterday I am reading Isaiah 3 when I stumbled into verse 11.  Immediately I thought so that is where the old saying comes from:  “what goes around comes around.”  I had to stop, reread it, check the Wesley Study Bible Notes (NRSV) and reread it again:

Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them.

Doesn’t that read like the phrase we use so often today?  Well, I decided I should check into this a little deeper so went on line and googled the origin of the phrase “what goes around, comes around”to see what is the phrase’s origin.

Checking a number of sites, I finally located one that seems to bring all of them together:  https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/415499/is-what-goes-around-comes-around-african-american  

One thing I learned is that most believe the quote first appeared in Paul Crump’s book, Burn Baby Burn, written in 1962 about a man on death row.

Yet another entry indicates what one reader remembers her mother, in 1950s, saying, “You get what you give.”

An interesting addition to the page on this quote comes from three different dictionary entries:

  • Merriam-Webster defines it as: “if someone treats other people badly he or she will eventually be treated badly by someone else” 
  • Dictionary.com confirms and adds the ominous foreboding, “Retribution follows wrongdoing; justice may take time, but it will prevail” and suggests the proverb dates from the 1970s. 
  • Oxford Dictionaries simply states, “The consequences of one’s actions will have to be dealt with eventually.”

A final reference comes from the use of the phrase in the African-American culture.  This is the best summary of the comments from the website:  

Finally, Lewis King, Vernon Dixon & Wade Nobles, African Philosophy: Assumption & Paradigms for Research on Black Persons (1976) has this to say about the expression:

This point is well demonstrated by one of our more common proverbs. The Black child who is told that “what goes around comes around” may be receiving a specific admonition with regard to the consequences of his behavior, but he is simultaneously experiencing a reinforcement of the African world view, namely, that there are vital connections among events and experiences. Both the specific admonition and the general philosophical perspective are synthesized in the child’s developing conception of the world. …

It is no accident, then, that “what goes around comes around” is a common African-American proverb. As suggested above, the concept of continuity between events and experiences that is so fundamental to the African world view is clearly expressed here.

Certainly today’s language includes influences from all around the world and the discussion as to the origin of the phrase, “what goes around comes around”indicates an attitude that exists when something bad, wrong, unethical, illegal, etc. happens, somewhere along the line there will be an accounting for that behavior. 

I believe that the true origin of the phrase is in the book of Isaiah where the prophet is warning the people that they must remain faithful to God and to follow the Law of Moses.  Sadly, the prophecy did not cause the people to stop and correct their behaviors.  (God had to send Jesus, his son, to join us on earth so he could model how to live the commandment.)

Read Isaiah’s words and consider the meaning of our often-used phrase:


The look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom,
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
    For they have brought evil on themselves.
10 Tell the innocent how fortunate they are,
    for they shall eat the fruit of their labors.
11 Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are,
    for what their hands have done shall be done to them.
12 My people—children are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
    and confuse the course of your paths.

13 The Lord rises to argue his case;
    he stands to judge the peoples.
14 The Lord enters into judgment
    with the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.

I ask, does that now sound just like what we are saying when we use that phrase, “what goes around comes around”?  What are we to do about it?

We know that we cannot judge, only God makes the final judgment; but we can remember that we are responsible for our actions and God tried and tried to get the message across that there is one simple law to follow:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

When I hear the saying now, “what goes around comes around,”I now will hear the words of Isaiah trying to warn the people that God will do whatever he can to teach us how to love one another.  I must remain faithful and not give in to what I know is against God’s commandment to love one another.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Patient Father of All,

Thank you for the words of warning,

for the work of your faithful,

and for opening my understanding 

so I can learn from scripture 

how to live in today’s world 

loving one another.  –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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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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