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Archive for October, 2012

Visions and Dreams

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”  Joel 2:28 (NRSV)

I’ve been quite fascinated with dreams and their meanings over the course of my life.  Somehow I think our subconscious lets us know how we are really feeling deep inside through what we dream.  For example, nearly every year in January or February, I begin having nightmares about someone hiding in the shadows and watching me.  It’s all very mysterious, and instead of feeling curious, I become afraid.  My husband says I start hollering in my sleep.  Well, the logical explanation for me is that January is when the United Methodist Church Bishop and Cabinet (all the District Superintendents) get together to start planning appointments.  That means I could be moved to another church situation.  The one year I felt safe (ha, ha) and hadn’t had any nightmares was the year I felt comfortable (another ha, ha).  It was the year I received the call to move to my present appointment.

I recognize the shadowy figure as the unknown possibility of being moved, and I know my fear is that I will actually get a call to move.  Now that I am about four years away from retirement, moving seems like a huge undertaking, especially since the two churches I serve are beginning to show some wonderful ministry.  We have had stability over these past five and a half years, and I would hate to see that be disrupted for any of us by my being moved.  I recognize that I’m not the ONLY pastor who can be with these churches, but I also believe that stability is important for the folks in the congregations to be able to keep moving forward with spiritual growth, missional growth, and being effective in their communities.

So, I pay attention to my dreams, even when they don’t make sense.  I try to find any kernel of concern or joy that is there so I can learn from them.  And I think it is one way God speaks to me to help me in my work and life as a continue this journey.  Yet, there is a definite difference between visions and dreams.  I suppose most of us think of visions as the appearance of an angel or some heavenly being to get our attention, but I’m not really thinking about those kinds of visions.

The vision I’m talking about is what God gives us for our future.  It’s more than just setting goals, it’s a directive from God to help us be most effective in our ministry with other as well as each other.  Many churches simply don’t have a vision.  When asked where they want to be in five years, they have no clue or they say they want to stay the way they are now. 

Having a vision is a way to take what we already have an build upon it.  It’s an active way of having a dream for the church.  Many times, our awake dreams are just that – a distance hope that will never develop.  A vision, on the other hand, is a hope in which we are involved in making it happen.  I think they can go hand in hand, but nothing will be accomplished if we don’t participate in the planning, the following, and the implementing of ways to be part of the vision God has given us.

So when Joel promises the people of Israel that everyone will be included in the visioning (verse 29 includes even the male and female slaves), it is a promise from God.  Everyone counts in the family of God and everyone is part of making the church do what it does best according to the gifts and talents and calling of that church congregation.

What are your vision and hope for your church?  Have a blessed day.

The Art of Love

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  John 13:34 (NRSV)

You know, Jesus, you give some pretty challenging commandments!  I mean, really, how can any of us love others as you love us?  You have the inside track, the total connection as God incarnate.  It seems like you are asking a lot!  What about those people we just CAN’T seem to love?  Lighten up!

I suspect that some folks have given up on Christianity because it was just too hard.  Oh, I’ve heard all the excuses:  “I’m spiritual, but I just don’t know about the ‘Jesus’ thing.”  “I believe in God, but I don’t think I need to go to church to prove it; after all, the church is full of hypocrites.”  “I was hurt by someone in the church, so I stay away.”  The list could go on and on.  Of course, to be a Christian one doesn’t have to go to church.  But they miss out on one of the strongest teachings of Christianity:  community or fellowship.  Christianity is a religion of relationships, relationship with God first, then others as well as ourselves.

Jesus’ presence on earth brought the teachings and values of God to us in the flesh.  We learn from Jesus about living the way God wants us to live.  Contrary to some who interpret the scriptures (especially the Old Testament) to say that God punished as well as retaliated, Jesus teaches us that God is a God of love who wants what is best for us.  We hear a lot about God as a heavenly Parent from Jesus.  To understand God’s love for us, it’s helpful to think of our children or someone very dear to us and how our love for them affects our behaviors, decisions, and reactions.

To love as Jesus loves is similar to the love of parent for child or child for parent.  Jesus loved us enough to lay down his life for us.  Loving parents will lay down their lives for their children.   Who else would we be willing to lay down our lives for?  A friend?  Spouse?  Other family member?  Someone in our church?  Maybe we can’t really answer that question unless we are put into that situation.

What about our enemies.  Jesus has also instructed us to love our enemies.  It’s helpful to remember that the word agape is the Greek word translated “love” in most of the New Testament.  This is a love that seeks the well-being of another, that wishes good things, shows respect, gives value to another person.  Maybe we have someone who is a real thorn in our side, and maybe there is just no way we can “love” or like that person.  However, we CAN show respect and kindness even in the face of nasty remarks, bullying, or other mis-behaviors.

Actually, kindness in the face of mistreatment often disarms the other person.  I once worked with someone who was very difficult, and after avoiding the person as much as possible, I finally decided to take a different approach.  After observing the person for a while, I learned what this person’s gifts and talents were and began complimenting the person on them.  A month or so later, we were communicating much better.  We never really were comfortable with each other, but at least we were able to be open to the other person’s gifts and talents and keep moving forward in our work.

The art of love isn’t just about eros, the type of passionate love that’s twittering and stars in our eyes; rather, the art of love is learning to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then to let God love others through us, even as we love ourselves.  It’s hard work, but it’s what helps us to grow in grace and be the hands and feet of Christ here on earth.  Thanks be to God!

From the Heart

Tell [the rich] to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage — to do good, to be rich in helping others; to be extravagantly generous.  If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.”  1 Timothy 6:18-19 (The Message)

What is wealth?  Is it lots and lots of money?  That would seem to be the most logical answer for us.  Yet, in Jesus’ day, wealth was determined, in addition to money, by the amount of land one owned, or by how many herds someone had, or by the number of sons a man had in order to run his business – whatever it might have been.  Jesus never said we shouldn’t have money or things, only that we should not let them run our lives and be more important than God.  The ancient Hebrews often were able to manage faith and wealth in good ways.

The Bible is full of directives to share:  give off the top of the flock, dedicate the first-born child, give 10% to the temple or synagogue as a tithe, be generous, share openly, don’t hold back.  Those who have were to share with the “have-nots,” and they were to take care of the poor, the widows, the orphans.  None of this was supposed to be turned into a resented duty, but was a response to God’s generosity toward humans.

Zacchaeus the tax collector was one of the greediest in town, apparently.  Yet, when Jesus came to town, he climbed a tree so he could see this itinerant celebrity rabbi more clearly and was totally taken by surprise when Jesus stopped below the tree, invited him to come down and feed Jesus and his followers!  After being with Jesus, Zacchaeus’ heart was moved, and he became and honest man to the point where he over-repayed any money he may have cheated out of someone.

Generosity comes from our hearts because it originally came out of the heart of God.  What flows from God to us is – well – everything!  All that we have is God’s anyway.  God’s generosity to us gives us a means by which to be generous with others, including the poor and marginalized of our society.  Giving leaves a much better feeling in us than hoarding or being selfish about what we have.

My husband is one of the most generous people I know.  I have seen him give things away that I couldn’t imagine doing myself.  When I ask him why, he reminds me that “they are just things.”  It’s true.  When I was growing up, we were taught that what was ours is OURS, and no one else was allowed to have it.  Un-learning that has taken a lot of years, and I’m thankful for a husband who is helping me to undo those attitudes.  I still consider myself a pretty generous person, but it’s now a lot easier to give away things – material possessions because they just aren’t important.  I still have work to do, but I’m getting there!

God wants our hearts, and when we give them to God, the other “stuff” simply doesn’t matter.  What bogs us down and blocks us from a full relationship with God and others?  Do we make up our minds ahead of time about what we are going to pledge to the church and not stay open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our hearts?  Are we stuck in a rut and not changing the way we give even in a tough economy?  These are things to think about.  Maybe we can’t change things, and that’s certainly understandable, but then, maybe we can make a small change that would make a difference in our generous giving as well as helping others through the ministry of the church.

May our hearts be open to God’s generosity and may it flow through us!

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