Tag Archives: John Wesley

My confession: Valentines Day makes me cringe

     Before anyone clicks off and does not listen to my reasoning, let me say that this is strictly my opinion after years and years living through all the hype that comes with Valentines Day—from teen years, through college years, through dating, marriage and parenting, as a teacher, as a wife, as a mother, and as a parent and now as a grandparent.  

     Valentines Day is a commercial creation but it has so colored our world with the demand that everybody has someone to which they are romantically connected and should honor with some tangible manner that one lovesanother.

     In a way, Valentines Day has diminished the all-powerful concept of love that God has deemed we should demonstrate to one another.  Love is a lifestyle for me.  Love is a driving force for my day.  Love is living.

     Years ago I adopted a mantra for myself:  Love God.  Love life. Love one another.  Love is the fuel that gives me energy, moves me into action,  filters the world that I observe day in and day out whether in person or through the various screens that brings the world into my frame of knowledge.

     God loves us.  We are to serve as his arms and feet here in this earthly world in which we live.  God shows love to all that lives and breathes in this world.  Therefore, we are to do all that we can to share that love in any way that we can whenever we can with all we can in all the places we can—yes, John Wesley’s mantra, I know.

     Each time I sit down to compose another blog entry, I do it because I love God, I love life, and I love others.  This is unconditional love.  I may not love the actions or the situations or the manner something is handled, but I love the people, the living beings, the earth and all it houses for us—mountains, rivers, plains, deserts; weather of all kinds; flowers and trees, birds, animals and so much more.

     Valentines Day says, “I love you.”  But all too often Valentines Day narrows the focus of love into one small definition—romantic love for one other person.

     Therefore, Valentines Day makes me cringe.  

     This morning I am home bound thanks to the nutsy weather (yes I do love the weather even when it can be scary); so I watched my Sunday morning worship service on line.  Thank you to Rev. Jim Downing, Sedalia’s First UMC, for his Valentines sentiment to me—and all the others who were able to hear his message today (it can be heard on line at http://firstsayyes.com/worshipand search for today’s sermon, February 10, 2019).

     God’s love is the ultimate Valentines Day sentiment, but Downing artfully spelled it out through his explanation of the expansive term of love through C.S. Lewis’s four types of love (which can be further explored at http://www.cslewis.com/tag/the-four-loves/) and then took it even further by reviewing and even demonstrating Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages(located at https://www.5lovelanguages.com).

     For those who reading a printed version here is a very brief summary of these two views of love:

C.S. Lewis’s four types of love:

  • Affection
  • Friendship
  • Romantic
  • Charity

Gary Chapmanthen develops the five languages of love to help us understand how we perceive love from someone or how we demonstrate love to others:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

     Downing also returned to one of the most recognizable scriptures concerning love. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he provided a definition of love (I Corinthians 13:4-8, CEB):

 4Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

     The full chapter I Corinthians 13 is often referred to as “The Love Chapter” and often used in weddings, but looking at these four verses through the filter of Lewis’s four loves and Chapman’s five languages of love, the full extent of love is much more than the simple expression of saying “I love you” on a Valentines card.

     After listening to Downing’s sermon and reviewing the types of love and the languages of love, I can better articulate why Valentines Day makes me cringe.

     God asks us to love one another and the fact that for one day a year we are socially pushed to demonstrate that love through some tangible manner just makes me cringe.  We should not be limited to how we share love as Chapman reminds us; nor should we be led to think that only gifts are the way to demonstrate love.

     And another point that causes me to cringe:  love is not just romantic.  Love is so complex that it colors every relationship that we experience—even relationships that are in passing, that are work-centered, that are random, that are outwardly established by forces that we have no control over.

     God has established only one commandment that he personally demonstrated through the life and ministry of his only son Jesus Christ.  That commandment is a Valentines to all humanity:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

     I cannot express a better sentiment to the world in which I live.  I love you!  I love you as a friend, as a mother, as a spouse, as a grandmother, as a teacher, as a pastor, as a human, as a pet owner, as a bird feeder, as a gardener, as a neighbor, as a fellow Christian, or as any other identifying label that I can fill.

     I love God.  I love life. I love one another to the very best of my ability.  I want to share whatever I can with anyone else that I can so they can experience the joy of living in this glorious world with all its crazy weather, all its various climates, with all the nations.  

     Maybe I cringe at the cultural hype of Valentines Day, but I hope that through this you know that I love you—each and every one of you.  I hope that you know I want to do all that I can in all kinds of ways to make sure you know that you are loved.

     Thank you for being part of my world and for letting me love you.  I pray you know love.

Please join in the prayer:

Dear loving God,

Thank you for loving each and every one of us.

Thank you for all the emissaries through which you send messages of love each and every day.

Guide us in finding ways to love one another each and every day including Valentines Day.

Guide us in accepting sentiments of love from you: 

–like the crystal world of ice shining in the

   warming sunlight;

–like the sounds of the birds as they gather the

   sunflower seeds put out on top of the ice;

–like the warmth of a puppy placing a chin

   on a knee in complete trust;

–like the taste of a warm cookie cooked with love.

Open our hearts as we walk through these crazy, earthly-bound days so we experience your love.

Open our minds to all the ways we can say love to one another.

Open our doors so we can welcome love in to stay.

May we share your love by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is You within us, when we accept your love, sent us in the form of your son Jesus Christ. –Amen

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Brrrrr, it’s cold out there. Better stay in and read.

During the past week, the sun has remained hidden. We had a huge snowfall Friday through Saturday, well even into Sunday.  Add to that the low temperatures hovering around 32 for a week, and my brain seems frozen.

For a long time, I have known that when winter moves in and the sun disappears, I can easily fall into a mental slump, and I have to admit I am there right now.  

And I have worked not to be stuck inside:  I shoveled snow.  I took the dogs out with me while I shoveled.  In fact, I realized they needed a path to walk around the yard—so I shoveled.

Now here is the thing:  that physical work keeps my body moving, but the brain is still struggling.  Last week I explained that I dove in to a year-long Bible reading plan.  And I can now say I am caught up and on schedule.

As of today, I have read through 42 chapters of Genesis and 14 chapters of Romans.  It is a discipline, and for these dreary winter days, I find myself escaping from the foggy days when I pick up my pencil, open the journal, and tackle the reading.

I can understand why John Wesley insisted that Christians read the scripture.  There is so much to understand, and having read as much as I previously have, reading it in a disciplined approach is still challenging.

My notes really are not a journal, more they are Cliff-note style.  In case that is not familiar to you, Cliff notes are a staple for college students, even high school students, who are reading literature and want a summary or additional notes to supplement the reading.

In a way, I find myself modeling the style of notes John Wesley wrote and are often referenced in the Wesley Study Bible I am using.  Maybe I write down too much, but when I write something down I have better memory of what I have read—something I learned about myself in my first college experience.

Reading like this lets me read it somewhat like a book, first.  If I don’t get something, I re-read it.  If something strikes me as unusual or significant, I write it down along with the summary of what I read.

I am not a fast reader, but I discover that reading three to four chapters in the Bible and making the study notes/journal entries takes me about an hour.  I was afraid it would take much longer, so the reading works into my day rather smoothly.

Since last Thursday, I have continued working through the genealogical narrative of the Old Testament faithful.  I have read about Abraham and Sarah.  I have tried to understand the traditions and the drive that lead Sarah to have Abraham have her handmaiden Hagar so he would have an heir. Therefore Ishmael was a born.

And then there is the surprising change of heart when Sarah does indeed become pregnant with Isaac.  She drives away Hagar and Ishmael.  She wanted to make sure her son was the heir of Abraham.

The narrative continues and so do the strange customs of marriage and birth that complicate my understanding of the Old Testament.  How in the world could a father offer his own son as a blood sacrifice?  But his faith and his ability to hear the Lord talk to him, ends with Isaac safe and suddenly there is a substitute ram for the sacrifice.

These books include so many stories.  So many examples of how God talks to the people. Over and over, faithful followers manage some terrible life experiences because they maintain a close relationship with God.

What am I learning?  Remain faithful.  And that means spending time knowing the examples of these ancestors and how their faith was rewarded.  The stories teach us the expectations God has for us to live in community with one another.

In fact, this particular reading plan couples a New Testament reading with the Old Testament reading.  I was puzzled, as I began, why Genesis would be paired with Paul’s letter to the Romans.

The reading plan does not provide any specifics other than the list of daily readings.

And then you read the New Testament reading and you discover the connection.  Paul tells the Romans how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of the secular world.  Now that is a real life manual we need yet today—2,000 years after Paul wrote the letter.

We need to hear Paul’s advice right now! There is so much information and images that flies at us through the internet, the television, the print media, not to mention all the casual conversations that go on all around us.

The fourteen chapters of Romans contain practical and sensible advice.  I probably should be outlining each one separately, but what speaks to me may be the most important lesson for this reading, and then turn around and read it again in a few days, weeks, months or years and something else seems more important.

For instance, today in Romans 14, the subtitle was “Do Not Judge Another.”  How easy it is to judge someone.  Maybe the judgment comes along political poles, or maybe by the first appearance of a way someone dresses, or maybe it is an action that goes against our personal standards.  

In reading Romans 14, I found myself focusing on verse 9:  “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”  

Then I read on, and came to versus 13-14:  “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”

Maybe I am not being concrete in what I am sharing or maybe it is not as coherent as an essay should be.  For those possibilities, I apologize.  I need sunshine to clear the fog in my brain a bit more.

But, if by sharing some of these thoughts I can trigger someone into reading scripture, then thank goodness.  If someone reads scripture and discovers God talking to them, they will discover the joy of living within God’s family.

Dear Heavenly Father,

May these words lead others to discover the grace that you provide. May your words help others to manage life challenges today just as the faithful in ancient times managed.  Thank you for those before me who heard your call to write, to preserve, to translate, to publish all these words of the Old Testament and the New Testament so we can hear you talk to us today. –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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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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Reading for fun once again

 

Somewhere along the line, I discovered I had lost fun reading in my life.  I know where it started over 11 years ago when I stepped into the Course of Study to be better equipped to serve as a local pastor.

 

At that time, I was working full time in a public school alternative program, trying to take the required courses, preparing for Sunday worship services, and so forth.  Time to read?  Only for the course work or the sermon.

 

Reading opened the world to me as an elementary student.  Raised in a small rural school setting, the books available usually lined a couple of shelves in the classroom.  Going to the library helped, but one book led to another book.  At that time, teachers expected us to read and to make book reports. I did.

 

I could not get enough. I read everything I could from my classroom’s library.  In the summers I read from the local library.  And I learned so much.

 

Thank goodness Mom and Dad approved, in fact I learned that if I had a book report to do, the chores took a back seat—now if that did not encourage me to read.

 

Quite a memory, I know, but when I left fun reading about a decade ago, I left out an important piece of my learning.  Therefore, I am reading again:  fun reading; not required for a class or a sermon.

 

I had picked up a book several years ago, The Yada Yada Prayer Groupby Neta Jackson.  I thought it sounded like fun to read with my college girlfriends—and it was on sale.  But I did not get it read.

 

Over the next few years, I found the book had spun out into a series, so I started collecting them—always on sale.  After reading the book, Talking with God, I knew I needed to read.

 

The first book I picked up was The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling.  I thought it was number one, but in reality it turned out to be number 6.

 

The point I am making is that I read.  And the reading is still connected to my faith journey.  The books share all the real life experiences that the members of the diverse prayer group deal with and how the prayer group keeps the focus on God.  I needed that reminder.

 

Therefore I am fun reading with a recharged sense of faith.  The inner thoughts of the main character sound terribly familiar.  The experiences of the women are just the same as so many I have experienced or know of others who have experienced them somewhere along their lives.

 

The amazing thing, though, is that through scripture, shared prayer, and worship—especially praise worship, one grows in faith.  I know that John Wesley struggled to understand whether or not he had enough faith, but I remember that his brother Charles told him to live like he did.

 

Sometimes we make Christian living sound so difficult, but in reality it is simple.  Love one another in the same way you want to be loved. Accept that bad things happen, but God never leaves your side.

 

Just stay the course (pardon the cliché), because as long as you continue to follow the scriptures, practice, practice, practice living the Golden Rule and praying.

 

Those inner nudges that you hear really are instructions from God.  Listen to them and check them against the scripture you know.  Check them with others in a small group—yes, a small group setting is Wesleyan and is proven to be a key part of one’s spiritual practices.

 

I may be in a season of recharging, but I have to say that reading for fun is fuel for the future. I am finding rest as I sit and read. I am finding confirmation in understanding the Holy Spirit.  I am encouraged that there is so much more to do.

 

Sunday morning’s sermon at Sedalia’s First UMC with Rev. Jim Downing reminded us that Paul told us to put on our armor.  That armor, outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20, may sound old fashioned, but continues to defend us from evil:

 

The Whole Armor of God

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we[a] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[b] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[c] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.[d]

19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.[e] 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. [NLT accessed at biblegateway.com]

 

Thank you to Rev. Downing for reminding us how important it is to read, to pray, and to worship in order to defend ourselves from the challenges of living in our secular world.

 

He provided the following prayer starter for this week:

 

Lord, I want to know what it means to be overtaken by your promises. Grant me the grace to remain obedient and faithful to you, never wavering in my faith in what you have promised.

 

We all need recharging in order to live in a world filled with evil and unexpected challenges or temptations.  We need to read—scripture, yes, but sometimes messages come in other forms such as The Yada Yada Prayer Group.

 

If you are unsure what to read, maybe the reading from this week’s lectionary will help:

  • 2 Samuel 11:1-15 or 2 Kings 4:42-44
  • Psalms 14 or Psalms 145:10-18
  • Ephesians 3:14-21
  • John 6:1-21

 

Whatever you do, find what arms you the best for your spiritual journey.  There is no telling what words God is speaking to you.  Just know that he is with you and wanting to talk to you.

 

Here is my prayer:

 

Dear God, The Word,

Thank you for speaking to me through words

   even when I am reading for fun.

Thank you for all that I can learn through words

   whether in scripture, in studies, or in fun.

Let my words help others in their faith journeys

   so they may experience your words in their lives.

Words of armor, words of guidance, words of fun

   are your words speaking to us.  –Amen

 

P.S.  I finished book one and started book 2 in the series. Sure is fun.

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Do you know your theological father?

Sermon given on Fathers Day 2018.  This is again loosely connected to the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawod, KS) that has woven the sermons together since January 6, 2018.  There is one more planned before stepping away from the pulpit for a time of renewal. 

The calendar and all the media remind us that today is Father’s Day.  Certainly one might consider that this is an appropriate day to focus on the father figures that fill the scriptures, but in the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window, the inclusion of five men connects The Church to Father’s Day by looking at how The Church continues to adapt especially through the fathers of the evolving church.

This Father’s Day, I ask whether or not you can identify the father-theologian figure of your own faith.  What we believe today is the final product of all the influences that shape and continue to shape your spiritual journey—just like your earthly father influenced your own life whether genetically, physically, mentally, emotionally, or even professionally.

As a Methodist, you might automatically assume that your theological father was simply John Wesley, but that really is not as simple as you may realize.  Why even John Wesley struggled to understand his own theological foundation—remember, he reported that he was afraid he did not have salvation until his Aldersgate experience.

Teaching students Greek and Latin roots, the definition of theology boils down to just two elements:  theo meaning God, and ology meaning study of.  Simply theology is the study of God; but that places theology at a distance from our daily world.  Theology in our real life experience is much broader and applies to each individual differently.  One’s personal theology is a philosophy or mindset, as explained on Bible.org, theology is “. . . a belief system that is built upon intellectually and emotionally held commitments concerning God and man.”  Even those definitions really do not fully develop what theology is.  The article concludes with this statement:

In short, theology is a set of intellectual and emotional commitments, justified or not, about God and man which dictate ones beliefs and actions.  Neither the word itself is irrelevant, nor the concepts which it seeks to articulate. It is the first pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.  [Accessed on June 12, 2018 at https://bible.org/article/what-theology%5D

 

Maybe you do not think it is important to know your theology.  I think it is.  In fact, the artist must have understood that Pope John XXIII (#10), Martin Luther (#26), John Wesley (#8), C.S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16) each contributed to the continued growth of The Church or they would not have added.

To begin identifying who is the father of your personal theology, one begins with the Old Testament, but even there, the list is tremendous as many characters could be identified as a theologian.  I argue that all those who are listed as prophets would be considered theologians, not to mention other leaders such as David.

David became a king, he was a political leader, but God chose him for his faithfulness.  The psalms he wrote reflect his theology, and two verses specifically connect God as a father figure:

Scripture:

            In Psalm 2, David is speaking on the occasion of his coronation as God’s chosen king of Israel.  He begins the psalm with an explanation of the battling nations and establishes his relationship with God, especially in verse 7.

Psalms 2:1-6

Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
the rulers plot together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
“and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”

Psalms 2:7   

The king [David] proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.
Today I have become your Father.

 

David’s relationship with God continued to grow during the trials and tribulations of his reign.  Some of the psalms are filled with pain and anguish, questions, and even anger, but throughout the prayers and songs, David’s relationship to God is described as that of a son to his father.  The confidence in God’s reach is outlined in Psalm 68:

Psalms 68:5-6         

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

 

Psalms 89:26is a psalm written by Ethan, the Ezrahite, explaining the relationship of King David to God and the promises that God had promised to make David and his descendants reign forever.  He writes:

            And he [King David] will call out to me [God], “You are my Father,

My God, and the Rock of my salvation.’

 

The relationship pictured through the words of Psalms is the relationship of a father to a son. David’s theology is clearly based on that premise.

Today is Father’s Day, developed to honor our earthly parent like we honor our mothers in May.  I was surprised to learn that Father’s Day was not made a holiday until 1972 even though Mother’s Day officially became a holiday in 1914. Wikipedia summarizes Father’s Day:

Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The tradition was said to be started from a memorial service held for a large group of men who died in a mining accident in Monongah, West Virginia in 1909.  It was first proposed by Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington in 1909.  It is currently celebrated in the United States annually on the third Sunday in June.  [Accessed on June 14, 2018.]

Understanding the purpose of Father’s Day supports making today a good time to consider who your personal theologian is, especially since so much of the scripture and even church curriculum is based on a father-like relationship with God.

The Church that began developing after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection grew as disciples began sharing the good news.  These disciples were the first Christian theologians and identified their relationship with God as that of son to a father.

The gospel according to John also continues to develop this idea.  John shares the story of the woman at the well and reports that Jesus said:

John 4:23

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.”

 

Jesus also talked to the Pharisees about his relationship with God.  They were trying to disprove his authority, but Jesus defined it:

John 5:17-20

17 But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” 18 So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

 

Explaining his relationship to God as that a son to his father should have made the Pharisees clearly understand Jesus’ message, but accepting the truth defies what we as humans understand.  Theologians have and continue to explain the relationship humans have with God.           The Church lives and grows because theologians continue to find ways to share understanding of this relationship.  They are the fathers of our own faith.  The fact that the COR’s stained glass window artist chose just a few shows how God’s story continues despite all the human challenges.

Today’s Catholic church continues to be fathered by the Pope.  Pope Francis demonstrates a more inclusive church today that is adapting to cultural shifts while preserving the New Testament foundation:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

The COR window does include Pope John XXIII (#10 in the window) identified as “. . . one of the most popular popes of all time (reigned 1958–63), who inaugurated a new era in the history of the Roman Catholic Church by his openness to change   [Accessed on June14, 2018 at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-John-XXIII]

The popes are theologians, but The Church did not remain Catholic, and other theologians have lead to major reforms, especially Martin Luther (#26), a practicing priest who became upset about the methods The Church, now known as the Catholic Church/denomination, used to absolve one of their sins.

Luther publically posted on the church door the 95 concerns he had with The Church.  The action is accredited with the establishing of the Protestant branch of The Church.  His actions lead to The Church continuing in different forms of leadership.  Luther was a theologian who saw no separation between God and any individual person, there was no need for a priest to act as a mediator for salvation.

Luther lived in the 1500’s, and John Wesley (#8) was one who continued the reformation process about 200 years later.  We are familiar with his story as Methodists, but do we understand his theological base?  In our denomination, God teaches us to love one another through service. We are one family with God as our father and all others as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do you really know your theological father?  Do you know that God is your father?  The centuries that separate us from Jesus’ human experience can separate us from God, too.  This Father’s Day we honor the fathers of our earthly life, but The Church can also use this as an opportunity to remember the theologians of the church.

The Church continues to grow and to reform thanks to the men and women who have sought to understand and to act on that understanding of their relationship with God.  Each of us has a responsibility to do the same, to read scripture, to remain in conversation with other believers, and to live faithfully the best way that we can.

Two other images in the window are known theologians who continue the work of the earliest disciples.  Both are 20thcentury figures that some may not even realize are listed among the theologians who continue to strengthen the work of The Church, regardless of the denomination:  C. S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16).

  1. S. Lewis is an author who wrote the children’s fantasy books in the The Chronicles of Narnia series as well as over 30 other books that share his apologetic theology of God:
  • I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
  • You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
  • Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.
  • Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
  • God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

 

Admittedly I do not know the actual work of Lewis, but I am eager to learn more.  He tried hard not to be a believer, but life taught him that he has a father-son relationship with God.  His written work reportedly teaches readers of all ages the reality of God, creator, and parent.

Bonhoeffer may be familiar to us, especially in relation to World War II.  His life ended by execution at the hand of the Nazi Regime.  A Lutheran pastor in Germany, he was also a social activist. His theological work was to live one’s Christian faith actively in the secular world.  His political resistance to the Nazi Regime modeled his theology:

  • God’s truth judges created things out of love, and Satan’s truth judges them out of envy and hatred.
  • The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
  • Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.
  • We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.

 

The list of theologians simply includes these individuals mentioned today, but the list continues to grow.  God depends on the father-child relationship we have with him.  The Church is the result of his faithful children working together to continue God’s work.  The Church is a living reflection of God’s children working to strengthen the father-children relationship throughout humanity’s time.

Today, Father’s Day 2018, as God’s children we have a responsibility to know our theological fathers and to remain faithful to our heavenly Father.  The Church grows because the theologians have studied scripture, have led others to know God personally, and have served one another in love in an unending list of ways.

You are asked to know God, just like you want to know your own biological dad.  How do you do it?  You study scripture, you join in Christian conversation, and you live your faith out loud demonstrating the value of God in your life.  You are to model your theology in ways that others may be transformed, too.

Closing prayer:

Happy Fathers Day, God,

We are so blessed by the gift

of life you have given each of us

of your Son, Jesus Christ;

and of your Holy Spirit within us.

Thank you, too, for all those who wrote scriptures,

Who read scripture,

Who took the time to explain your love,

Who risked living their faith out loud.

Guide us in our own work to learn more of your love.

To share your story with those unknown;’

And to serve one another in love, too.

May we be your hands and feet for others

May we know your love within our own hearts.

May we grow The Church as others have.

In the name of you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,

Amen, Lord, Amen.

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