Tag Archives: scripture

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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Susandoodles in print

Good morning, All!  As you can see by the title of this blog, I have found a way to continue ministry in a different format.  I may be out of the pulpit now, but I have some who have no way to be in church.  Therefore, I have been trying to find a way to continue reaching out to them–and they are not on line.  I suddenly realized this morning that I could develop a newsletter format to mail to those who are not on line.  Therefore, I am creating it while adding to my blog.  The change will need refinement, I am sure, but here is the first attempt:

“Recharging,” a friend said

Last week I wrote a blog that stated that in this period of rest I was sensing confusion.  My friend replied to the blog said maybe I should consider this is a time for ‘recharging.’

 

As the week continued on filled with so much to do, I realized rest continues to be evasive.  The fact is that I have always lived with a goal in mind and a process to follow to reach that goal.

 

Therefore, I have thought a great deal about the term recharging and have decided that is the best definition for my current status.  I am recharging.

 

Refueling tends to mean that one has completely run out of fuel, and I just did not feel that was the situation.  I also know that rest was needed because I was locked into a mindset that kept me in a work mode rather than do something for fun (partly because it seems wasteful and selfish).

 

Recharging indicates that the fuel still keeps you running, but it is getting low.  Maybe I was getting low enough that the dash light had come on and those around me noticed it before I did.

 

Therefore, I am going to consider myself ‘recharging’ rather than on a prescribed rest or having to be refueled.  Thank you to my friend for the suggestion, but also thank you to the DS and other friends and family members who noticed that the warning light had lit up and insisted that I needed to recharge.

 

Today, I have suddenly seen a little picture into how I can continue to share thoughts with others who do not have internet access—a written form of Susandoodles.  This will give me an opportunity to stay connected, but also to share faith journeys in different ways.  I pray that this reaches you and it lifts you up.

 

Ephesians prayer for our use

Sunday, another sermon in Rev. Jim Downing’s Masterpieceseries on Ephesians, introduced the prayer that Paul shared for spiritual growth.

 

I find listening to a sermon on a scripture that I have also used creates an eerie feeling—partly that I may have gotten something wrong, but also a sense of relief that those verses speak to others, too.

 

Using Ephesians 3:14-21, Rev. Downing provided a version with blanks in it. When I saw the small handout, I wondered why the blanks.  The instructions at the bottom said, “Consider filling in the blank with the name of a loved one, a friend, a co-worker, neighbor or person from the community, or even a person with whom you have trouble. Pray sincerely for God to do these things in and for their lives.  You can also pray this prayer for yourself.”

 

Here is the prayer:

Lord, I pray that out of Your glorious riches __________ may be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in __________’s inner being, so that Christ may dwell in __________’s heart through faith.  And I pray that __________, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love that surpasses knowledge—that __________ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to God’s power that is at work within us, to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever!  Amen.

 

My prayer is that this tool Rev. Downing provided brings the faithful closer to God, but also heal the wounds in relationships.

 

An extra note on this scripture/prayer

This summer, my daughter and I have joined in a Bible study entitled, #Fruited, which is written by Bonnie Kathryn Hunter and Bethany Fleming, two teachers (ironically one a kindergarten teacher and one a high school English teacher—which matches our teaching careers).

 

The concept is that when one is rooted in scripture, one is able to enjoy the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) in all life situations.

 

The experience of working through the study (we are in the last week) has been such a new experience for the two of us, but it keeps intersecting with real life and our philosophy in teaching in surprising ways.

 

The study also keeps running into other scriptures, and one is the Paul’s letter prayer Rev. Downing used and I have used in the past:  three different presentations on the same verse within the last year.

 

As I continue recharging and listening for God’s next call in my own life, the scriptures are the high octane fuel of our lives.  I hope that as I continue to find ways of sharing my faith, my Susandoodles blog or this Susandoodles in print can help others in their faith journey.  May God’s blessings be with you.

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Lent, a season of mindfulness Did God really say that?

given on Sunday, March 5, 2017:  Week 1 of Lent 2017

Each Sunday of Lent a memory verse and a challenge will be given as an exercise in mindfulness. The memory verses are selected from O. S. Hawkins’s book, The Joshua Code and the Jesus Code. This book has 52 verses from the Joshua Codes and 52 verses from the Jesus Code recommended to commit to memory. In Hawkins’s introduction, he states, “Scripture memorization enables us to take God’s Word with us anywhere and everywhere without carrying our Bibles. It enables us to receive the Word into our hearts, retain it in our minds, and recite it with our mouths that we might speak it with power.” (p.11)

 Opening scripture: Genesis 1:1-5 (NLT)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.

Scripture connection: Romans 5:12-19 (NLT)

12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 13 Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. 15 But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

 

Closing scripture: Romans 5:20-21 (NLT)

20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Week’s memory verse: Genesis 3:1 (NLT)

“Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

Week’s challenge:

Identify the Devil’s 5 Ds in your life this week: Doubt, Discouragement, Division, Defeat, and Delay.

 

Reflection: Did God really say that?

Setting up for today’s sermon began weeks ago as I kept thinking about Lent and what can make it meaningful, challenging and even memorable. Lent is a season that traditionally is filled with negative images and I struggle with framing my faith in negative thinking. Then the phrase, a season of mindfulness, filtered into my thoughts and stuck.

Lent is a time for reflection but also discipline; and that lead me to mindfulness. Discipline is mindfulness. Discipline guides Christians in their faith journey and, just like New Years Day when resolutions are made, Lent provides Christians a 40-day timeframe to honestly examine whether or not they are living the Christian principles they profess.

Therefore, maybe we could call Lent a time for “true confessions.” Admittedly that is a catchy phrase, and in my frame of reference, that phrase was considered to be a racy publication. So I had to discard that. I did not want any misunderstanding that Lent is a time for confessing one’s personal forays, rather Lent is for private reflection and recommitting to following God’s commandments.

Let’s begin Lent with a commitment to memorize one Bible verse each week. Today we begin with a verse from Genesis 3:1. The setting is the Garden of Eden, after creation, and God tells Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. The conflict develops when the serpent, also known as Satan a fallen angel or the Devil, challenges Eve that eating that fruit will not cause death. The serpent says, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

That one question is sometimes accredited as all the start of sin, but is it really that question or is that question just the critical line in the story that changes everything? If we trim that one verse down to one reflective question and memorize it, we have a self-check available at any time: Did God really say that?

The author of The Joshua Code and the Jesus Code, O. S. Hawkins, writes:

Scripture memorization enables us to take God’s Word with us anywhere and everywhere without carrying our Bibles. It enables us to receive the Word into our hearts, retain it in our minds, and recite it with our mouths that we might speak it with power. This is exactly what our Lord did during His days of temptation in the wilderness of Judea. With each temptation Satan brought Jesus’ way in Matthew 4, Jesus answered with, “It is written . . .”  The word received and retained in our hearts and minds overcome temptations when recited with our mouths. (Hawkins 2015, 11-12)

 

The challenge for this week is to memorize “Did God really say that?” Those few words provide us a tool to use whenever Satan confronts us.

Of course using that question to reflect on our own behaviors successfully must include an understanding of what sin is and how Satan/the Devil can lead us to sinful behaviors. John Wesley identifies sin as one of his ‘core terms’ defined in the study notes of the Wesley Study Bible:

. . . convinced by his study of Scripture, the cumulative wisdom of the church, and reflection on his life and the circumstances of his time that there lies within us a power, working with such force that it is capable of destroying us. Wesley saw that naming the source of our problem as sin, that is, willful action setting us against the will of God and turning us away from communion with God . . . (2009531)

 

One’s definition of sin can vary, but primarily Wesley states sin is knowing what God expects from us, but then giving in to a “force” that causes us to turn away from God’s expectations. This is not “original sin” that some denominations profess. This is a believer going against what they believe God tells them.

In the Life Application Bible study notes, sin is defined as “giving in to temptation.” (199112) As Christians we are to realize that temptation alone is not the sin, but giving in to that temptation is sin. This definition parallels Wesley’s and places us in the position to know what temptation or what Satan does to influence us.

How do we recognize what Satan or the Devil is doing that makes us consider going against what God tell us? There are 5 Ds listed in the Life Application Bible notes that help clear this up: doubt, discouragement, diversion, defeat, and delay. (199113) Beginning with the memory verse, “Did God really tell you that?”, add these questions and thoughts for reflection:

  • Doubt: What made you question God’s words and goodness?
  • Discouragement: What caused you not to trust God to manage it?
  • Diversion: What happened that caused you not to follow God’s commandment?
  • Defeat: What did you not do because you thought you would fail?
  • Delay: What did you put off you knew you should do?

These days of Lent are the ideal time to review your life—its decisions, its lifestyle, and its present state. Are you listening to God through prayer and through scripture? Are you listening to God through the words of family and friends serving as God’s spokesman? Or are you listening to the Devil’s 5Ds?

Lent is the ideal time to review what practices can help defend you from the Devil’s temptation. Wesley recommended the acts of piety as the tools to remain in right relationship with God:

Works of piety are acts we do that express reverence and love for God. They include such means of grace as studying Scripture devotionally, hearing Scripture read and sermons preached, receiving the Lord’s Supper, praying, fasting, and coming together for conversation and mutual support as we seek to live faithfully. (20091066)

 

The acts of piety may seem daunting at first, but implementing these acts defends us from the temptations to doubt, to give in to discouragement, to be diverted, to sense defeat, and to delay action. The acts of piety keep us from sin.

On the same page as the definition of sin in the Life Application Bible, are three steps to resisting the Devil:

  1. Pray for strength to resist temptation.
  2. Run, sometimes literally run away from temptation.
  3. Say no when confronted with what we know is wrong. (199112)

 

Three simple methods to defend one’s self from sin.

 

During this first full week of Lent, keep practicing the memory verse: Did God really say that? To complete the self-reflection, ask yourself which way is Satan trying to get you to sin. The challenge to put the memory verse into action is easier if one knows the Devil’s 5D’s well enough to identify them, too. Did the Devil try to tempt you through doubt? Through discouragement? Through a diversion? Through defeat? Through delay?

As Christians, we must acknowledge our humanness. We cannot live in today’s world unaffected by the influences that swirl around us. Sometimes the evil is so evident we can easily spot it, but sometimes evil quietly sifts into our thoughts distracting us from what God teaches us in scripture and by the disciples that have lived before us.

God accepts us even with our sins, but through his grace we are forgiven. The scriptures share the stories and the lessons of those who believed so that we may learn how to live as disciples, too. Paul personally knew God’s forgiveness and turned his life completely around accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah who died so that we may also be forgiven and receive life eternal.

Use Lent as a season of mindfulness to memorize a weekly verse and then accept the challenge to purposefully reflect on how that verse can strengthen your faith.

Closing prayer:

Dear Forgiving Father,

 

In your story, we find grace.

In your story, we find love.

In your story, we find guidance.

 

Help us to avoid temptation.

Help us to hear your words.

Help us to live our faith.

 

Let the bread and the cup

Bring us closer to you

As we reaffirm our faith.

 

In the name

Of the Father,

The Son,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

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The Word is Power: The Word was, is, and will be power

 

given on Sunday, January 24, 2016

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.

–John 1:1-2, NLT

Scripture reference: Luke 44:14-21, NLT

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.[
a]

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Reflection

Words communicate what we need and/or want shortly after we are born. We hear words of comfort and words of correction. We learn the proverbs of life and discover that sticks and stones may break bones, but words . . . well, words are not suppose to hurt us. Yet, words have power.

The scripture today tells the story of Jesus’ public declaration that he is the fulfillment of the scriptures’ prophecy. Walking into the temple, locating the prophecy from the scroll of Isaiah, he read The Word and then proclaimed to be that person. Powerful words!

The Word is God. Jesus is God. I Am is God. Jesus says, “I Am God.” The scripture is the written record of The Word and the foundation of our faith. The Word is God and translates into power, especially when the faithful follow The Word’s message.

Following The Word’s message can be challenging. The first scriptures were handwritten on scrolls that could not be reproduced in mass so each family could have their own copy. The scrolls were kept safe in the temple and read publically only during worship.

The Word has to have power to survive throughout history making the transition from oral to handwritten scrolls and finally into mass production. The Word also has power to spread from the tribes of the Israelites to homes circling the globe today. The Word is so powerful that it carries the message through the millenniums crossing the cultural and political boundaries.

Wordsmiths or, more academically, linguists continue to studyThe Word, carefully tracking the origin, preserving the message’s accuracy and translating the words into languages for each different culture. Such analytical work has maintained the power of The Word. The work is God-driven.

Consider the various titles that prophets used to identify Jesus: Messiah, Savior, and Redeemer.

  • Messiah (noun): 1. the promised and expected deliverer of the Jewish people. 2. Jesus Christ, regarded by Christians as fulfilling this promise and expectation. John 4:25, 26. 3. (usually lowercase) any expected deliverer. 4. (usually lowercase) a zealous leader of some cause or project.
  • Savior(noun): 1. a person who saves, rescues, or delivers: the savior of the country. 2. (initial capital letter) a title of God, especially of Christ. 3. (initial capital letter) Classical Mythology. an epithet of Artemis.
  • Redeemer (noun): 1. a person who redeems. 2. (initial capital letter) Jesus Christ.

 

These three terms are very similar but the connotative or emotional meanings demonstrate different ideas of how The Word demonstrates power.

Even King Herod knew about the prediction of “King of the Jews.” Clearly his perception was that a king would be a challenge to his own position or title. As a king, Herod was a political leader, and the news that a new King was born caused him to expect a challenge to his power. Look at the word king:

King: 1. a male sovereign or monarch; a man who holds by life tenure, and usually by hereditary right, the chief authority over a country and people. 2. (initial capital letter) God or Christ.

  1. a person or thing preeminent in its class: a king of actors.

 

These definitions place an entirely different understanding of Herod’s concern that a new king had been born. The Word has power even over a king.

Lectionary readings this week focused on the power The Word has on the lives of the faithful whether in the earliest days of creation to the current day in which we struggle to apply The Word in our personal setting. For this very reason, taking time to read and to study the scriptures is critical or the power of The Word is lost.

If we teach children that “sticks and stones may break bones, but words can never hurt me,” then we must teach and reteach ourselves The Word. The Word is a powerful defense to the innuendoes, the slurs, the name-calling, the false statements, the slander and even the ridicule that we sling at each other—even towards ourselves.

The Old Testament is filled with the stories of ancient people facing the very same problems we face today. The environment may not be the same as the ancient settlements along the Jordan River. Lifestyles, careers, communication, transportation and technology may be dramatically different today than when Jesus began sharing The Word.

All these differences today do not change the power of The Word. During the ancient times, the Scriptures were read during Temple and the listeners spent hours listening. They wanted to hear the Law read to them. Today society has changed the way The Word is heard, but the power is the same.

This week Martin Luther King’s speeches echoed along the air waves. His powerful words reflected God’s Word and have driven the dream to value each human equally is one of this country’s most constitutional ideas. The Word to love one another, even your enemies, is powerful.

And still, there are those who have not followed The Word. Many have not even been exposed to it. They live in different cultures, they are illiterate, or they simply are unchurched. The Word needs us to share the good news. As long as there is one person who does not know The Word, Christians—each one—is responsible to share the message of God, The Word. The Word is power, but the power must be sustained,

Today you are challenged to know The Word personally. Read The Word, listen to The Word, study the word, discuss The Word, and practice The Word. The Word is power but it must be activated.

Closing prayer

Dear God, Almighty,

The Word brought Jesus to us so many years ago;

But today The Word seems to be missing.

The Word is power that fuels so much good,

But today the bad seems to disconnect us from The Word.

The Word promises to power us with love,

But today love seems to be losing strength.

Send The Word to empower each one of us

So today we can fuel others with your love.

The Word is power that never runs dry,

So today fill us up so The Word burns brightly.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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1. Laying the foundation: Scripture, The Word

Building Our Christian Foundation: a sermon series on the basics of Christianity

  1. Laying the foundation: Scripture, The Word  given on Sunday, January 11, 2015

 

Over Christmas or on birthdays, I expect many discovered Legos or Mega blocks wrapped in the pretty packages. Or maybe it is a set of Lincoln Logs that trigger the imagination of building log cabins, houses, and forts. Kids love to create all kinds of structures with these blocks; and whenever kids begin playing with the pieces, the imaginations take off.

Just ask them to tell you what they are building. The stories show just what is going on in their minds while they pick the pieces up, lock them together and buildings, towns, or even cars, trucks or airplanes appear. Telling the story of what is being built can be as entertaining as simply watching the structures grow, shift, fall and rebuild.

Building Christian faith is very similar. The very foundation of our faith begins with the stories of the Bible. The characters and their stories are the very bricks and mortar that build that foundation of our faith.

The stories can be as entertaining as any high drama found on the television or in the movies. As we listen to the stories, we begin wondering how we would act if we were in those situations. Of course the settings can be very different than what we are experiencing now; but as in all literature, the stories are timeless because the message is the foundation, not the setting.

The verse from I Peter appeared on the opening screen when I clicked on Biblegateway.com, which is my primary source for scripture searches. I did not plan on using it, but I was on the search for today’s scripture and this was Saturday’s verse (January 10, 2015):

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT

 

Those words confirmed the very thought I was gelling into today’s message. The scripture is the direct link to God.

Scripture is the foundation for all Christians as they begin building their faith. Each book is included after very thorough review by theologians and educators. Some might wonder why the Old Testament is included since the New Testament is the story of Christ, but the foundation begins developing with those first words of Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

Before everything, God existed. Life is filled with mysteries, and it is easy to get trapped into the arguments concerning whether or not God is real. There is no evidence that science can provide to prove or to disprove that God is real and proof is simply not necessary. The scripture tells us that the “Spirit of God” was the creator, existing before everything.

Being Christian begins with the story shared in the Bible. The United Methodist Church has defined the Bible as “sacred text” and googling what Methodists believe, the website about.com makes this simple statement: “The Bible is considered inerrant and inspired in its original manuscripts, and it contains everything one needs for salvation.”

The Bible and all the stories provide the foundation of Christianity. As John Wesley continued his ministry, he also identified the value of the Bible as the very foundation of Christian faith. He included in his works of piety the study of Scripture. The same about.com website listed among the descriptors of Methodist doctrine this statement: “Close adherence to the teachings of Scripture is essential to the faith because Scripture is the Word of God.”

The opening words of John also makes the definitive statement:

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.[b]

 

Scripture tells the story, it provides the lessons, and it speaks to us whenever we read and study it. The church began with the first Apostles that Jesus called to ministry, and the stories from the New Testament share how God wants us to live using the New Law rather than the Old Law found in the Old Testament.

Learning how to live a Christian lifestyle is not easy, but through the words of the Bible, we can. Wesley read and studied the Scripture daily and expected his followers to do so even holding them accountable during class meetings (now referred to as small groups). The essentials of the Methodist beliefs were stated in the website article in very clear words:

  1. Shun evil and avoid partaking in wicked deeds at all costs,
  2. Perform kind acts as much as possible, and
  3. Abide by the edicts of God the Almighty Father.

 

The scripture provides all the examples, the methods, and the authority needed for us to live by these three simple rules. The hard part is practicing it enough to get it right but most importantly that it becomes habit.

Practice, practice, and practice some more. Laying a foundation takes careful planning, using the best products, and making adjustments as needed in order to erect a building that can withstand all the storms that nature can slam into the outer walls. Creating a Christian foundation for our own lives takes the same care. If we do make the foundation strong, it will last throughout the generations yet to come.

Practice building your foundation. Share the secrets with your family and friends. Shun evil that surrounds you. Practice random and planned acts of kindness. And keep adding to your foundation by reading the scripture. The stronger your foundation, the more you can tell the story to others—whether in modeling the story, telling it in your own words, creating a piece of art, or even singing a song. God’s message is as strong as your Christian foundation.

Closing prayer

Dear God, the Word,

Speak to us through the scriptures,

Through the work of others,

Through the visual arts,

Through the melodies of music,

And through the models of faith.

We all want to build strong foundations

Of Christian faith.

Guide us to plan ways

To build our own foundations.

Keep us focused on the process

Of reading and studying scripture.

Then let us share the story

In all the ways that we can

So others may discover the Word

And how it creates a strong foundation

On which to build one’s life

And to bring others to know you, too.

Amen.

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Supermoon: Super God

given on August 10, 2014

Tonight the second of three supermoons in one year will be visible. Astrologically this is a phenomena that occurs about every 13 months, but this year there are a total of five; the next supermoon is to occur September 28, 2015; in fact, the next three include that one, then one on November 14, 2016, and one on January 2, 1018—none in 2017.

A supermoon occurs when the moon is the closest is can possibly be to the earth.

The supermoon occurs when the moon becomes full on the same days as its perigee, which is the point in the moon’s orbit when it is closest to Earth. The supermoon of August is one of the largest and brightest full moons of the year. The U.S. Naval Observatory says the moon will be 12% bigger and 30% brighter than it was in January 2014. [Accessed on August 9, 2014 at http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/08/us/irpt-august-supermoon/%5D

 

The first supermoon this year was on July 12, and the final one will be on September 8. In one year, three months of supermoon viewings is almost like the return of Hailey’s Comet which occurs once every 75 years.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we were only able to be that close to God so rarely? Fortunately God is with us all the time, in full and open view. Unfortunately there are so many whose lives are too cloudy to witness our Super God.

Think about the comparison of the supermoon and our relationship to God. The moon only becomes super when its orbit brings it the closest it can get to the earth. Now that does not mean the moon disappears or is not ever visible, in fact it is in our night sky each and every day. It does not matter whether it is a cloudy night or a star-filled night. The moon is there.

God is always there, too. In fact we do not have to wait until the sun sets to witness God’s presence. God is with us continually. He is always prepared to hear our pleas, to ease our pain, and to demonstrate his grace. God is our Super God.

Certainly the supermoon is easy to identify and witness. It is a concrete object we have no doubt is real in our world. There is a clear pattern of the moon waxing and waning or more commonly, of the new moon growing to a full moon and then disappearing again as the earth’s shadow shifts through the moon’s orbit. This orbit is repeated every four weeks, and it is so familiar we often ignore it.

Do we ignore God, too? God’s presence is constant and it never has to go through an orbit but maybe we are the ones orbiting God. Maybe we are the reason we do not see God in our lives. Maybe others see God in us, but we are not shining as brightly as the moon. Maybe we shine God’s presence only once in a great while like the astrological event of the supermoon.

Pause for a moment, maybe even close your eyes, and consider yourself as a supermoon orbiting God. Do you reflect God? Do you wax and wane in how you let God shine through you? Have you fallen into an orbiting pattern?

Falling into an orbit around God is easy. Our lives get so busy that we fill up the calendar with monthly meetings, with special appointments—always critical—and we go to work each day whether on a job or as a caretaker or parent. We run all day trying to keep our lives in order and when the head hits the pillow, we drift off to sleep.

If we are to be daily reflections of God, then we must actively participate in God’s commandment and commission.

Matthew 22:37-38

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

 

Matthew 28:18-20

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Sometimes loving one another is tough. And then to consider reaching out to others and asking them to become followers of Christ seems like one task too many.

Can it be done? Can we love one another as we love ourselves? Can we share our faith in a manner others want to have that same faith? Sure it can. No one said it was easy, but if we can establish our orbit around God so soundly that even when we are challenged and we suddenly feeling ourselves spin out of control, it is possible to re-establish that orbit.

What tools are needed to maintain that orbit? John Wesley called them the works of piety:

 . . . prayer an essential part of Christian living. He called it, in many of his writings, the most important means of grace.

 read the Bible every day, usually early in the day or late in the evening. . . .

 [He also] emphasized the importance of fasting (giving up something whether food or routine such as internet surfing) and participating in Christian community (typically weekly worship). . . .

[Italic phrases added for clarification purposes. Accessed on August 9, 2014 at https://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/disciple.stm%5D

 

These three disciplines or methods of maintaining a strong relationship with God can keep our orbits safe and steady.

In today’s culture, these three practices may not fit very well into the routines we have established in our lives, but in order for God to shine in our lives, these routines needed to be included and even polished, so to speak, so that others can see God’s presence and feel compelled to seek that same joy in their lives.

Think about how really simple life is when we develop a sound routine of getting up, going to work, fixing supper, relaxing, and even going to bed. These are healthy patterns for our physical lives, so why not establish healthy patterns for our spiritual lives.

Prayer—talking with God. We think about all kinds of things even while we are doing something else. Why can’t these thoughts turn to God? God has been there listening; and if the problems you face are what keeps your mind churning, then God probably has been waiting for you to talk to him rather than to yourself.

Prayer is private, it is your personal tool, it is like going to a counselor to work out the issues in your life. At the same time prayer is your praise and your thanksgiving. When you see something happen that is glorious—like the supermoon tonight if there are no clouds—you are sharing that sense of awe with God, too. When you open up that paycheck and see that total, you thank God for your strength and skills that made that possible.

Private prayer can lighten the load we humans tend to think is way too heavy for us to carry. Remember that guiding verse from Philippians 4:13:  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. That is one verse that keeps me focused during the week or in the midst of a major life challenge.

Bible reading sounds a great deal like schoolwork, but the key is to find the translation that speaks to you. Ask others which one they prefer and why. If possible, go on line and compare translations. The website I prefer is Biblegateway.com. There are so many resources, and so many choices in print that it can be overwhelming, but let that be part of the fun. Finding God’s word that speaks directly to you makes reading the Bible regularly much simpler, more appealing, and easier to understand.

The stories in the Old Testament probably compare more to our lives before knowing God. We read the stories knowing that even though the Israelites were the “chosen” people of God, they struggled. The life challenges over 5,000 years ago are the same as those today. Following God sustained them and their generations.

The New Testament shows a simpler way of life. The old rules were wrapped up into one commandment and Jesus demonstrated the mannerisms and the temperament needed to follow that commandment. When he did that, crowds of people came to see him, to listen to him, and to witness Super God in their ancient world.

Today, we see the global community right there on our TVs in a moment’s notice. We see the challenges to God and feel the sadness when a natural disaster hits, when a mine collapses, or when one people clash with another people. God’s presence becomes clouded and if we do not do all that we can for all who we can whenever we can, then those clouds will darken and no supermoon will be able to shine through.

The final practice really is worship. Fasting has lost its significance in today’s culture. Traditionally it has meant going without food for a certain period of time, usually a day; but fasting means disciplining one’s self more than anything. Possibly it can take on different images such as no snacks for 24 hours, or no coffee for a day, or no sodas for a week, or maybe shift that idea to a different focus—no internet or no tv for 12 hours, 24 hours, or eve a few days.

The other side of worship is Christian fellowship. Faithful Christians are expected to be in church each week for worship. In fact the United Methodists have somewhat of a standing rule that no one should miss more than four Sundays a year. For many of us that seems undoable, but it is a goal to reach. God will know what effort you are applying.

Of course Christian fellowship can include other activities, too. Maybe a Bible study becomes part of the Christian practices. Maybe it is to serve in one way or another. Maybe it is to join with the others in a mission trip or service activity. The opportunities are there or can be created; and these are the times others can see our super God shining in our own lives.

Tonight, get outside and look for a crack in the clouds so you can witness the supermoon. Take the kids out, call your friends, drive out in the country away from city lights, and revel in the glory of God as you witness the second supermoon of the year. Then tackle the month one day at a time practicing to become a super Christian sharing God’s light with others. In September, celebrate God’s grace in your life with the third supermoon this year.

Closing prayer

Dear Super God,

maker of heaven and earth,

creator of the supermoon

as well as the world in which we live.

Hear our prayers as we step forward

in our Christian journeys.

Help us carry on a conversation with you

as we struggle to shine as your children.

Help us to talk out the troubles that shadow

your presence in our lives.

And, when we find joy, peace, and love

in our lives; hear our praises

and thanksgivings.

Share your wisdom through the Bible,

in the words that speak to us.

Help us put those words into use

so others may see your presence, too.

As we open the doors to the church,

strengthen our faith through others

who love you, too.

May we hear your words of grace and love

as clearly as we see the moon on starry nights.

May we find strength and confidence

to share your love, your grace, your radiance

with those still in the shadows. –Amen

 

 

 

 

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Call to Action: What would John Wesley do?

given on Sunday, April 29, 2012

Special introduction:  This blog entry is more of a reflection and sharing of Missouri’s UMC Bishop testimony and the Call to Action which is currently under review at the denomination’s General Conference.  This is not a comfortable discussion, but probably necessary in view of the state of the United Methodist church today.  These thoughts are based on several readings done this week from the Bishop’s blog, from the UM Reporter, the Call to Action website, etc.  Hopefully this will keep readers in prayer for the structure of our church.

 

Scriptural connection:

Bishop Schnase’s Fruitful Practices guide clergy and laity to understand the elements of a vital congregation.  They are foundational pieces.  The Call to Action is a ‘polity’ issue that is hard to understand.  The UMC has several layers of leadership and most members are unaware of the roles and responsibilities of the leadership.  The Bishop references all arguments directly to the Bible.  Today’s reading is one related to the Call to Action.  Hear the words and pray for our church:

[The verses are related to the Bible Study over the Call to Action.  Connect them while reading through the scriptures.]

1.  A call to make disciples for the transformation of the world

  • I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  –Philippians 3:12

2.  A call for spiritual renewal

  • I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.  –Romans 12:1-2

3.  A call for more turnaround spiritual leaders

  • Perhaps you have come to [this position] for just such a time as this.  –Esther 4:14

4.  A call to grow more vital congregations

  • That day about three thousand persons were added.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done . . . All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, the broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts; praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  –Acts 2:41-47

5.  A call for transformative change

  • The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.  –Luke 4:18

6.  A call for bold leadership to transform the world

  • The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

 –Ephesians 4:11-12

7.  A call to the General Conference for transformational changes

  • As [God] has sent me, so I send you.  –John 20:21

The sermon/reflection:

For the past four years, I have become very aware of the “polity” of the United Methodist Church.  This topic is not an easy one and certainly does not lend itself to casual conversation or motivation to do what the latest mailing encourages us to do.  I can only wonder what John Wesley would think about the many levels of administration the church currently has.

How can the polity of our denomination have anything to do with the commission!  Remember, we are called to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  The polity is the organizational structure of the denomination.  Everything is covered in the Book of Discipline.  This is not what Wesley envisioned for the church.  He was believed doing was ministry, and having all this organizational structure would be seen as a handicap in doing the Lord’s work.

Frustrations over the organization do not help us move forward in our own ministry either.  The Call to Action resulted from a thorough evaluation of the entire denomination done by an outside group (can’t find the name).  After reading through the blog, 30 Days of Preparation by Bishop Schnase, I realized that the Call to Action is about carrying out the Great Commission.

The Bishop is passionate about his faith and how important that his commission is.  In the blog, on Day 16, the Bishop shares his personal testimony.  It is so key to understanding his passion for God, but also for the passion he has for the denomination.  Therefore, I invite you to listen to his testimony and ask yourself what Wesley would say.

         I would not be a Christian today if it were not for The United Methodist Church.

         That’s a rather bold statement. I’ve only recently come to realize this as I reflect on the formative events of my early discipleship. If not for the particular approach to theology and practice expressed in The United Methodist Church, I would likely have followed a path of rejecting faith.

         I remember an experience that followed the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua that killed more than 5,000. I was 15 years old, and several of my friends were active in a charismatic Christian house group. They were reading The Late Great Planet Earth about signs of the end times. I saw an adult leader clap her hands and praise God for the earthquake because it was a sign that we were one step closer to the end! I was outraged. I was so furious about “Christianity” that I told my pastor I could no longer be a Christian if that’s what Christians believe. He patiently listened and offered alternative views of those obscure apocalyptic passages. He spoke of God’s grace and talked about what our church was doing for the people of Nicaragua and how I could help. If the only expression of Christianity open to me at that age had been that group of friends, I would not be a Christian today.

         That was one of several experiences that opened the door to the spiritual life when other doors closed to me. My girlfriend was active in a fundamentalist Baptist church. The role of women and the attitude toward women that she accepted offended my common sense even before it contradicted my biblical understanding. At our United Methodist church, women chaired committees and taught from the pulpit, and I could not imagine belonging to a community that excluded women. Later, a classmate committed suicide. Hundreds of students attended the funeral in a fundamentalist church where the pastor spoke about how we should all feel happy because Martin was in a better place. He told us not to cry, because God has a reason for everything he does. He suggested that Martin had done things that caused God to do this. The image of a punitive God that causes suffering and the inability of the pastor to address the real grief in the room made me cringe. The experience sent me back to my pastor. If this was Christianity, I wanted no part of it. A month later, Martin’s father killed himself.

         There were branches of the Christian family that surrounded me as a teenager that were militantly anti-science and anti-intellectual, and that forced people to choose between the Bible and evolution as if these were fundamentally incompatible. I could not have followed Christ if it meant giving up my intellectual curiosity.

         There were branches that were perfunctory in their liturgy, void of music and song, and entirely intellectual in their approaches, and the emptiness left me cold. Some of my friends were strict Nazarenes, and they could not go to movies, watch TV, or attend plays. Their isolation from society would not reach me.

         There were denominational families that prohibited birth control, and these made no sense to me. And there were churches that railed against gays and lesbians in hateful and hurtful ways, and I could not belong to a community like that.

         There are many theological disagreements and clashing perspectives in The United Methodist Church about homosexuality, but I’m glad to belong to a church that does not avoid the hard conversations and the complex issues. Sincere people of faith strongly disagree, but I’m glad we say that homosexuals are people of sacred worth, loved by God like every person on earth.

         United Methodism’s theology of grace, varieties of worship, emphasis on inner holiness and social witness, global vision, hymnody, our ability to hold together head and heart, our respect for women and men, our openness to people of all nations and ethnicities, our vision to transform the world through audacious projects like Imagine No Malaria—these form an expression of Christianity, a way of following Jesus, that can reach people that no other faith expression is able to reach. I’m not saying our approach is better than all the others; I’m merely suggesting that people respond to the truth of Christ through our expression of faith who cannot respond to other expressions. This form of faith and practice reached me, and without The United Methodist Church I suspect I would never have become a Christian.

         The goal of the Call to Action is not to save the denomination or the institutions of the church. I’m offended by people who accuse me and others involved in this work of merely working for institutional survival. I have poured thirty years into the work of ministry in Christ’s name, and I have not done this to maintain an institution.

         The reason I pour myself into the ministry and into leading the church comes from a deep-rooted place inside. It is grounded in the grace I have experienced, an initiating love that sought and found me through countless people who brought me God’s unconditional love. This desire to share God’s grace is God-given and sacred.

         From the depths of my soul, I desire for people to love and be loved, to experience a sense of purpose from serving others, and to believe that their lives matter. I want people to feel immersed in community, surrounded and sustained. I genuinely desire for them to discover the inner life, and to learn to ease the suffering that comes with empty strivings. I want them to discover that love is the better way, and that the ultimate expression of love can be discovered in Christ. The spiritual life changes us, and through us God’s Spirit changes the lives of those around us. Patterns of violence and injustice can be interrupted, loneliness can be overcome and suffering relieved, and there is a depth to life that is sacred and worthy of cultivation.

         Methodism began as a way of life, and this way of life, deep-rooted in our theology and practice, is worthy of fostering, not for our sake, but for the love of God in Christ. There are people who can receive this love in the form we offer it who otherwise would never be able to do so.

As members we all are the United Methodist Church.  As those attending the services each week, we are reminded by the Bishop’s personal story that our faith is meant to be shared, that the denomination is a tool to carry out the Great Commission, and the frustrations we have with the polity of the church can be challenged and a change can be made.

We do not know the outcome of the votes from General Conference yet as there is still one more week of the meeting.  We must wait for news, but in the meantime consider what Wesley would tell us to do.  We are to pray.  Pray as you do, but for this week and again as we prepare for Annual Conference in June, pray for our denomination itself.  Pray that God leads us to the best solution possible.  Pray that our church moves forward accepting the changes needed to complete the commission we have been given.  And, do what Wesley would do—remain with his small group, read the Bible, pray, and do all that you can do for all those you can in any way that you can.

Dear Holy Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,

         Our church is facing tough decisions.

         Please be with our leaders as they struggle to reach common ground.

         Keep first and foremost in their mind Christ’s final words to his disciples.

         As the General Conference closes, keep all delegates safe as they return.

         As the delegates return, let them come home united in the mission.

         Keep the delegates focused on making disciples and the ministries.

         When Annual Conferences begin their meetings around this globe,

         guide the leaders in sharing the news and explaining any decisions.

         Equip the leaders and the Annual Conference delegates with grace

         so that the faithful can truly bring disciples to Christ

         and transform the world.         –Amen

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