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Archive for July, 2015

Keeping Unity

Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together . . .the whole body grows from Christ, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments.  The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does their part.”  Ephesians 4:2b-3, 16 (CEB)

This theme is something I preach all the time.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone really listens.  I’m mean, it’s not like I just made it up; it’s very Biblical!  Yet, I continue to see people who “push their own agendas” because they think their way is the only way.  Or I DON’T see people doing their part yet expecting to have things done correctly (at least according to their way of thinking).

Criticisms continue, and complaining sometimes really gets under my skin.  I wonder if the Body of Christ really can work together!  And then, I sit in my office and look at the church directory and KNOW that there are people in the congregation who are doing their part and really working at mission and ministry together.  They may not always agree, but they still have cooperation and commitment so that the work is accomplished for Christ.

It is in those faces that I am reminded that Christ is at work in all churches regardless of whether or not they work the way WE want them.  After all, verse 15 reads, “let’s grow in every way into Christ who is the head.”  It’s good to remind ourselves every day that Christ is the head of the church.  Church leaders (pastors, lay leaders, heads of committees, church school superintendents, and a variety of other folks) might tend to let their leadership positions influence how highly they think of themselves.  And yet, when we get right down to it, this scripture passage from Ephesians reminds us that we ALL have role to play and NO ONE is more important than anyone else!

Yes, I wonder if what I preach is heard – I think it is by at lease some folks.  I know I listen to myself!  My goal isn’t to create uniformity in the church, but to find unity so we can keep moving forward for Christ.

What gifts do you offer to your congregation?

How do you see your gifts as part of the greater good?

In what ways do you honor all people’s gifts?

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What happened to respect?

Accept each other with love, and make and effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.”  Ephesians 4:2b-3 (CEB)

This is based on my pastor’s letter to my two congregations for this coming August (2015).  As I study the epistle lesson for this coming Sunday, I felt that it tied in with it in many ways.  So, I share it here on my blog as well.  Thanks for taking the time to read it!

The recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold same-sex marriages in our country has brought forth the worst and the best in people. What amazes me is the vicious verbal attacks that are posted everywhere from Christians. A friend of mine spoke out in support of it, and she was verbally abused by some in her congregation as well as her own family.  Then I began to see some very judgmental and derogatory posts on my Facebook page.

I’ve seen similar nasty notes posted about people running for office and about our president. No matter where we stand on the issues or how we feel about others, I believe that Jesus lived in a way that showed respect for people and valued who they were even when he didn’t agree with them.. Time and time again he was attacked by the temple leaders, and he responded firmly but with respect. Yes, he became angry, as we can see in the overturning of the money changers tables in the temple (Mark 14:15-19), he even called them a “brood of vipers” as he called them to accountability.

Yet, he consistently preached non-violence, and I believe that includes verbal, mental, emotional, and physical. Jesus first and foremost was about bringing God’s forgiveness and love to others. He accepted people even with all their faults and encouraged them to turn their lives toward God.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything except that as Christians who are followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to respond with grace and kindness rather than viciousness and hurtful words. Even when we don’t agree or have a gripe against another person, we can treat them with respect and try to see things from their perspective. When it’s “all about me” we can only see that “they” are wrong, and we are “right.”

I love hearing different perspectives, even though I may not always agree. And as the church, let’s face it, we aren’t going to always agree. How we respond with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is a reflection of who we are as God’s children and how we live our faith for others to see. It’s not about us but about bringing God to the world. Talking things through accomplishes far more than talking to others about how we feel, holding in our disagreement / resentment / anger, or just avoiding the person.

I’m also reminded of another verse from Proverbs 15:1 – A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.” (CEV) I’ve experienced this; I’ve seen it work; I know people who live it. In a world where we see violence of all kinds, maybe we can try to step into each other’s shoes once in a while to try to understand what is happening to the other person and, even when we don’t agree, we can practice and witness to others what Jesus preached, taught, and lived: respect, kindness, compassion, and love. Maybe, just maybe, we can be part of bringing back respect and courtesy as we truly make a difference in the world.

In what ways will you choose words or actions that build up rather than tear down?

How have you responded when someone disagreed with you on some issue?

When have you worked at really listening to someone else’s point of view to learn from them even if you don’t agree?

God’s Household

As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord.  Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.”  Ephesians 2:20-22 (CEB)

This passage is such a wonderful reminder of who is in charge of the church – God’s household.  We so often let ourselves become carried away with what WE think should be done or HOW it should be done, that we often forget to stop and ask GOD what to do.  It seems to me that churches who become divided or in trouble have forgotten to ask God for guidance and then really listen and discern what that guidance may be.

Years ago, I heard a story about a church that was deeply divided.  People drew sides, and there were many bitter words exchanged, arguments, and devastating consequences.  Some people left the church, and others were determined to “stick it out” until they got what they wanted.  Eventually, though, the church ended up closing because the congregation could never come back together; too much damage had taken place in their relationships.  What was the issue that caused all this?  It was about the color of new carpeting that was going to be installed in the sanctuary.

Why do we do we let such things become issues?  When one of the churches I serve had to pick the color for the carpeting in our newly built fellowship hall, I was a little apprehensive.  We stopped to pray first, and we began the process of narrowing down what we thought would work the best.  I would jokingly throw in a suggestion of shocking pink or bright yellow, and we all laughed.  In the end, we had narrowed the colors down to three, and everyone ended up picking the same final one.  We were all amazed, but then we DID pray for guidance and took that seriously.  Our fellowship hall looks great; we were good stewards of our money and choices including good quality but at a decent price.

As the Church of Jesus Christ in the world, we are called to set an example for others.  If we fight, argue, and have constant dissension, others not connected with the church will notice.  If we work through it and find ways to work cooperatively, resolving differences, others will also notice.  The church (congregation) is the training ground for living our faith actively in the world.  We are joined together in Christ to glorify God in all that we do, and we are empowered by the Spirit to carry that work out wherever we are.

Of course we will have times of tension, strife, and disagreement, but we can set an example of how to live faithfully in the world (but not of it) by reacting differently and treating each other differently than people watching us might.  It’s really a matter of claiming Christ as the cornerstone of our lives together and individually.  All that we do we do to God’s glory.  We learn about and from Jesus’ teachings, and we trust the Holy Spirit to lead us and help us figure out what to do in all circumstances.

When have you experienced challenges in your life – your church?

How was it resolved?

What could have been done better?

What worked well?

In what ways was the church affected?

What did you learn from the experience?

God’s Plan

God chose us to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world.  God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love.  This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves.  Ephesians 1:4-6 (CEB)

There are several words in here that really catch my attention:  “God destined” and “God’s plan.”  As a United Methodist, I don’t believe in predestination or that God has laid out a plan for us.  I cringe when people say that everything happens for a reason.  We were given free will and the ability to choose right from wrong.  Thing in the world that are horrible often don’t have any reasoning in them – consider the number of times we ask “why?”

Maybe it’s just easier for people to let go of the unanswerable by sending it back to God.  Let’s face it, there are many experiences most of us just can’t understand, explain, or even cope with.  I am certainly one of those!  God’s mystery is unexplainable.  Life often is unexplainable.  Events that take place are often unexplainable.  So we rationalize to try to make sense of it, and we say that it was God’s plan or that it was destined to be.

But if we look at the entire passage of Ephesians 1:3-14, we find something that I often miss (frankly because I have tried to avoid preaching on the Epistles for the most part, at least until this summer of 2015).  In the verses above we read:  “God chose us to be holy and blameless before the creation of the world.”  “God destined us to be his adopted children . . . according to his goodwill and plan to honor his glorious grace.”  God’s plan was not individualized but for the whole of human creation.

Creating us was God’s act of love in bringing us as God’s children into the world.  This was accomplished through the life, death, resurrection of Jesus for the redemption OF THE WORLD.  We are given the freedom to love and live in God’s grace according to Jesus’ teachings and example.  As God’s adopted children, we are part of the family of God.  This comes with the responsibility to respect, honor, and glorify God in our living and in all that we do.

While I believe that God hears and answers all our prayers, even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant, I also believe that God allows us to choose our direction in life with the understanding that we will choose to live in God’s ways.  We all need parameters, and anyone who has raised or worked with children can testify to that.  Our actions have consequences, both good and bad.  God’s will is that we would live life fully and to the best of our ability as we glorify God in our living.

God isn’t a puppeteer who manipulates us, and we have the Holy Spirit along with the example and teachings of Jesus to guide us in our living.  I picture a huge map in our lives with a beginning and an end (birth to death) with all kinds of roads which we can take.  Sometimes I wonder if God just shudders at the one we chose, and then sends someone to touch our lives so that we can find a new path, or maybe God throws a party when we have gone down a really good path.  It’s hard to know, and I guess none of us will know until we see Jesus face to face.

I often read “How do you live your dash?” by Linda Ellis at funerals and occasionally during my sermons.  It always has an impact on people.  It’s a great reminder that we are called to live the dash between birth and death so that we make a difference.  As Christians, we do it within the plan of God for us to act as part of God’s family and live fully as God’s children.

What have you done today to make someone’s life better?

How are you living your dash?

What are some of the behaviors and attitudes that need changing?

What do you celebrate as God’s child?

Going Back Home

Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.’  He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  He was appalled at their disbelief.”  Mark 6:5-6a (CEB)

Have you ever gone back to your hometown or some place where you lived years earlier only to find that people couldn’t see who you have become?  If we were all celebrities or sports “heroes,” I suspect that the town would turn out in droves to proclaim that we were one of “theirs.”  “They knew us when we were growing up!”  How proud they would be!  Yet, that isn’t the case for most of us.  The majority of folks aren’t famous or rich or well-known, so returning to our hometown isn’t a big deal.

At the church of my childhood – where I was raised to read and love the Bible, where I learned about God, Jesus, the Spirit, where I learned how to pray, grow in faith, sing praises to God – there is a set of pictures on a frame showing all the confirmation classes, pastors, and those who have become pastors out of that congregation.

When anyone looks at the confirmation classes, they can find me in with my other classmates, wearing a red rose, white robe, and my hair in that 60’s page boy puffiness.  However, when we look at the people who have gone on to become pastors, I’m not included.  Why?  I changed denominations.  It’s not that I went drastic; in fact, my grandmother was United Methodist, and my dad was raised United Methodist!  But because I am a different denomination, I’m left off the board even though I have been ordained and serving as a pastor for over twenty years.

Another thing really strikes me when I go back to visit.  Most of the folks there knew me as “Debbie” and I went to “Deb” many years ago.  (I still cringe when someone calls me “Debbie” – my own quirk, I suppose.)  They ask about the churches I serve, but most of them remember me for my singing (which I still do in the context of the pastorate).  I was very active in the junior choir, youth choir, and senior choir all through my years at that church.  My mother raised all of us children to sing, and she had a beautiful voice herself, so people tend to remember that.

I don’t mind being remembered for who I was or what I did as a child.  I really don’t mind a whole lot (only a little) that my picture isn’t on the board with the others who have gone into ministry from that church.  But I also realize that if I was to become the pastor there, I probably wouldn’t be able to minister to them as effectively as someone who hadn’t grown up in that church.  Since that won’t ever happen, I don’t need to worry about it, but it’s interesting to ponder in light of Jesus’ inability to perform any miracles in his hometown or to be able to preach to them effectively.

They couldn’t get past the fact that he had grown up in their midst, and they couldn’t believe that he could be a prophet or healer, not to mention the Messiah!  He moved on.  He went to places where the word would be heard, God’s love could be shared, and his ministry could touch lives.

That is what we are called to do in all circumstance of our lives.  If we can’t seem to care for someone, if they reject our compassion and kindness, if they refuse to see the hope we offer in Christ, keep moving on.  Keep trying; don’t give up; keep sharing the love of God.  We don’t know what seeds we have planted, and ultimately God is the one who grows the seeds anyway.

When have you experienced a lack of understanding about who you have become?

How have you shared the love of God and been ignored?

Where have you experienced the feeling that someone heard you?

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