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Archive for August, 2012

Planet Earth

“And God saw that it was good.”  Genesis 1:10b

In this story of creation from Genesis, we repeatedly read “And God saw that it was good.”  God’s creation was and still is good, in spite of human mismanagement and abuse of our resources.  Creation is never a “done deal.”  It is an ongoing process which includes order and chaos.  Think of the paradox that is, but the creative process in anything is both order and chaos, if we really admit it.  Creation wasn’t just something that happened overnight with a snap of God’s fingers; rather, it happened over the course of many years and continues today.

We see the effects of the continuing creation in weather patterns, erosion, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and a variety of other natural happenings.  About five years ago, the White Mountains in New Hampshire went through the lost of a natural formation they called “The Old Man of the Mountain.”  A rock formation jutted out, and when folks would drive by, they would see what looked like an old man’s face hanging straight out from the side of one of the mountains.  Tourists would stop to take pictures, and it was quite a phenomenon.

But weather, wind, erosion, and gravity had done its work on the old man, and he was threatening to crumble.  After much talk about how to keep it from happening, the good people of New Hampshire decided to just let nature take its course and appreciate that they had enjoyed the old man for many years.  They could have worked on it feverishly, spent thousands of dollars, and supported it with some kind of framework to hold it together, but they chose to keep the beauty of the area without the old man’s face.

In many ways, creation is like that.  Sometimes we just have to accept that even in the order of creation, there is something that isn’t going to turn out the way we want it to, but it still is good.  God saw that creation was good.  God saw that humanity was good, and God embraced both the order and the chaos.  It’s a part of our lives.  A painter or sculptor may step back to look at his or her creation and either think it is good or start all over again.  In our every day living, we have times when there is order and direction and times when we have chaos and confusion.  We will inevitably have both.  Maybe that is why so many people resist change.

But change comes with creation, and it can’t be avoided.  Our awareness of the resources we have on planet earth and how we care for them will depend on our perspective.  Those who see having the resources as a right will not take care of them very well, and those who see them as a privilege and recognize that they are part of the created order with a responsibility to care for the earth will do the work to preserve the earth.

One of my Bible study groups in a previous church asked me if I was recycling.  When I said that I hadn’t gotten around to it, they chided me to get started, and they checked with me to see if I was following through.  Interestingly, once I started, I was hooked and I do my best to recycle as much as I can.  I’m still not doing it perfectly, but I’m doing as much as I can.  It’s a work in progress!

The month of September, the two churches I serve will be celebrating the Season of Creation where we will focus on some aspect of our beautiful earthly home.  During this time, I hope to increase my stewardship of creation through all the resources: nature, human, and animal as I seek to be a better steward of God’s gifts to us.  I hope you will begin the journey, too.  God bless.

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Chink, Clank, Clunk

“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”  Ephesians 6:11

Whenever I read this passage, I think of teenager David before he became king, trying to put on Saul’s armor so he could go fight the giant Goliath.  The armor was so heavy that it weighed him down, so he discarded it, grabbed his sling shot and went out to defeat the arrogant Philistine (see 1 Samuel 17).  David used his own strength, knowledge, and skill to bring down Goliath because he didn’t need to be “another Saul” but needed to be himself with his own gifts.

In this letter to the Ephesians, the writer is instructing the folks in Ephesus, as well as us, to PUT ON the armor of God:  the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that help us proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s word.  Of course, these are symbolic for the ways in which we need to “arm” ourselves in order to live in the world.  The call to live counter-culturally is a difficult one because we have chosen to follow in the ways of God through the example of Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit.

Yet, it is so easy to succumb to the temptations and lures of the world.  One of my colleagues used to end his worship services by reminding his congregation to put on the whole armor of God as they went into the world to serve.  It was a serious reminder that they had work to do as disciples of Jesus Christ, and it was a way of encouraging them in the fight to life as faithfully as they possibly could.

Unfortunately, there is always a chink, a clank, a clunk in our armor.  It may even be something we don’t realize we are doing, lack of willpower, bad habits we haven’t broken, choosing words that don’t reflect who we are or Whose we are, or any number of things that can pull the armor off.  We aren’t perfect, after all.  We are human beings who are sinners and who are offered the amazing grace of God in our lives through forgiveness and salvation.

When the armor falls away, we have a second, third, fourth, and endless opportunity to start again.  Recovery is ours.  We can move on from there.  Wearing the armor of God doesn’t have to be a burden.  Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:29-30)  Jesus has walked this road of humanity and knows what it’s like to be tempted, taunted, and tantalized.  His armor didn’t appear to have any chinks, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand the human condition.  He’s lived it!  He knows what we go through.

Wearing the armor of God is easy because we aren’t alone on the journey – we have the Spirit and a whole bunch of fellow armor-wearers walking with us.  God sends companions to help pick us up when we are down and to encourage us as we travel through this life.  My parents have been like that for me.  I made plenty of mistakes and bad decisions as an adult, but Mom and Dad continued to say, “We may not always agree with your decisions, but we’ll support you the best we can, and we’re proud of you.”  That’s a gift they gave me all through my life.  When I clunked on forgetting my shoes of peace, they would help me find ways to resolve my anger and frustration and put those shoes back on.  Clanking and losing the sword of the Spirit meant that I was negligent in reading the word of God and studying it.  They would encourage me to try again.  The chink in my breastplate of righteousness (or right living) brought a reminder that I knew the right thing to do, and they believed I would get back on track.

I wasn’t a difficult child, but I was terribly naive (probably still am in some ways).  My husband thinks that actually helps me keep my armor on better.  I’m not so sure.  Regardless, Mom and Dad (and my husband now) have been great examples even with their own chinks, clanks, and clunks.  No one says we won’t make mistakes.  God certainly knows that!  What we need to do is learn how to wear the armor and catch the chink, clank, clunks when they start to happen.  That equips us to face the “slings and arrows” of the world and opens ways for us to face adversity, challenges, frustrations, and difficulties in our lives because we wear God’s armor.  We each have an armor that is designed especially to fit us and is light enough for each of us to wear.

God doesn’t ask us to go make disciples and live as God’s children in the world and then leaves us “out there” without help.  I hope we all can claim our armor, wear it with joy, and know that we have God and our Christians companions on this journey to help us along the way.  God bless your week!

Why Doesn’t That Happen to Me?

“It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked [for and understanding mind to govern the people, able to discern between good and evil].  God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word.  Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.  I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare to you.  If you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”  1 Kings 3:10-14

I ask God for wisdom and discernment all the time.  Sometimes I feel as if I do all right, and other times I wonder where all that ability to discern really went!  Maybe I just wasn’t listening carefully enough – who knows.  All Solomon wanted was for wisdom and discernment to make the right decisions, and God gave him riches, long life, and honor.  Wow!

But there is a condition – walk in God’s ways and follow God’s commandments.  Did Solomon do that?  If we read the whole story, we realize that Solomon started out pretty well, but gradually, like his father King David, he began to stray from God’s ways.  He began to let the wealth and power go to his head, and he accumulated wives and concubines as if it was a hobby.

Yet for all his failings, Solomon still did a good job of leading the people of Israel to the best of his ability.  He was the underdog of David’s sons:  the second child of his mother Bathsheba who was taken by David as a wife after her first husband Uriah had been set up to be killed in battle.  The first child died, and when Solomon was born, he was the legitimate child of David and Bathsheba, raised in the palace with half brothers and sisters, and probably pampered considerably.

His older brothers wanted to be king, but Solomon was the appointed heir to the throne, and establishing his rule was a bloody battle as he executed many of his father’s faithful servants and even his half brothers.  Most of us don’t “take down” someone else to get ahead in life, so we wouldn’t even think of that in the course of our daily routine.

Yet, I suspect all of us would like to have God promise us wisdom and discernment along with riches, honor, and long life.  It makes you wonder why God did that with so many of the Biblical characters, and we don’t necessarily see that today.  Or do we?  Maybe we don’t define our riches in the same way.  Maybe we see the responsibility that we take on when we choose to follow Christ and know that the material things aren’t the most important – relationships are.

Solomon may not have been very good at relationships, but when Jesus arrived on the scene, he taught us that God’s goal is to have a relationship with us, and, in turn, we are to have relationships with others that are healthy, balanced, and wholesome.  Maybe we really HAVE been blessed with all those things and just need to look at them a little more carefully.

This week, I invite all of us to take a look at what we have – not what we don’t have.  Let’s see the gifts and blessings that are with us every day:  our families, friends, church, and whatever else is a blessing for us.  May we see the presence of Christ in all things – that’s discernment!  God bless you today and every day.

Choosing words

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Ephesians 5:1-2

The old saying goes:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  This isn’t true.  Words spoken carelessly or harmfully can damage a child for a lifetime.  When I go into a store and hear an adult berating a child, telling them that they are stupid, bad, worthless, or whatever adjective (and often expletive) comes out, I cringe.  Most children just want their parents to love them unconditionally and to support and encourage them.  They look up to us as adults and seek our approval.

I used to teach music at the elementary level, and over and over again I worked with children who were told they couldn’t carry a tune overcome that idea in their heads.  When someone worked with them one on one, they often could match pitch and begin to connect the brain with producing the correct pitch.  I’ve also seen it in adults who were told they couldn’t sing in music class by some unthinking and unkind music teacher, so they carried that belief into adulthood.  (Even some adults can be taught to sing on pitch, by the way!)

The damage that is done when I child repeatedly hears:  “You’re no good.”  “You’re just stupid.”  “You can’t do that.”  “You don’t like that food (whatever it might be).”  “You’re terrible at spelling.”  “You’re too fat, too thin, to tall, too short.”  “You were a mistake.”  or whatever the sentence might be will live it out.  How many adults are walking around really believing that they just aren’t good enough?  I think this is reflected in our society repeatedly by the need that some children and adults have to bully others.

Most bullies don’t have enough self-esteem to make it on their own, so they get their kicks from being mean to others.  They use derogatory words, physical abuse, spread rumors, terrify the other child (or adult), and love the feeling of power they have from being able to make someone else afraid.  It’s a false sense of power, though.  It only reveals the coward inside the bully.  In this day and age, most kids learn to bully from their parents (not all, of course!).  The parents bully them, verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse them, or think their child can do no wrong (which is a type of emotional abuse).  So we as parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, teachers, leaders, pastors, congregations, communities, school administrators, and the list could go on and on, cannot hide our heads in the sand and ignore.

The scriptures tell us to love one another, even our enemies.  We are called to imitate God, to be God’s beloved children, to express our anger in constructive ways (be angry, but do not sin), to care about other people and to build others up by the choice we make in words and actions.  If we need an illustration about how desperately this is needed, we only need to drive down a busy road or stand in line in a store to see how selfish and self-centered some people can be.

We are called to live counter-culturally in a world that teaches us to “look out for number one” and to get all we can get for ourselves.  We can make a difference in choosing a different response to someone else’s misbehavior, to someone else’s abuse, to someone else’s nastiness.  We can choose to be kind and compassionate in the face of rudeness and uncaring.  We can choose to befriend instead of un-friend.  We can choose to speak kindly or not speak at all.  The choice is ours, and the scriptures encourage us to live this way as we live out our faith in this world.

Let us be imitators of God as God’s beloved children who are sent forth to manifest the presence of Christ in this world!

Gifts

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)

Not all of us can be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers in the formal sense of being trained at a college or seminary.  Yet, the writer of Ephesians says that we all were given gifts by the grace of God to be used to build up the body of Christ for ministry in the world.  Those categories are fairly flexible; after all, teaching can happen in a variety of ways, and a lot of teaching is practical experience.  We sometimes hear people say, “I went to the school of hard knocks.”  We learn from experience.

I preach in some manner or another about living the Christian life every Sunday.  My hope is always to make the Bible meaningful, connected, and relevant to everyday life.  Lots of research goes into it along with a lot of talking with God about what I should say.  Of course my own experience influences what comes out in the final preaching moment, and I rarely stick with the manuscript because there are many times when I feel led to share something else to illustrate the point.

There are times when I wonder if what I preach really gets through.  Of course, I realize that my ego probably gets in the way because ultimately it is the power of the Spirit that speaks to people wherever they are in their lives.  Some congregants may hear part of the sermon one way and be enlightened or interested in pursuing a thought, and others may think it was the worst sermon they had ever heard me preach.  Their response isn’t up to me but up to the way God touches their lives.

Yet, there is that question that pops into my head about recurring behaviors that rarely change, such as folks to continually want things their way and refuse to listen to what the rest of the group is suggesting.  Or the person who has been offended, the offender apologizes and asks for forgiveness, but the person refuses.  This happened to me and a few other folks recently.  I have to say that not being forgiven by someone when you have sincerely apologized hurts a lot.  It’s as if you offered reconciliation and peace as a gift and the other person rejects your gift.

Have you ever given a gift to someone who refused it or said they didn’t want it?  How did that feel?  Maybe the gift of God’s grace is something we reject way too often whether it’s from God or someone else.  I wonder how God feels when we reject gifts that God gives us?  I can’t imagine that it is pleasing – it must actually hurt.  So, in a way, we are all given the ability to give and receive the gifts of God as well as offer them to others.  Maybe that’s the best way to build up the body of Christ – to receive and share God’s grace.  This world would be a far better place if more people would do that.  I pray that we all can grow in God’s grace every day and be the body of Christ to the world.

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