Friday, September 30, 2011

Greetings from COR Leadership Institute!

I know, I know...I didn't blog yesterday!  I didn't get up quite as early yesterday as I usually do because I didn't sleep as well as I normally would but today...I'm bleary eyed but I got up at 4:30, just for you all so I could blog this morning! Yes, my darling friends and leaders, I'm a little loopy but prepared to update you on the happenings so far at Leadership Institute!

We arrived Wednesday night and went straight over to COR to sign in and for the nickle tour.  Big place!  Their Narthex is the size of some church's entire building footprint.  (As an aside note-back east, Narthex is the same as Vestibule which in plain English is THE ENTRYWAY.  Do you know it took me 5 years to figure out what church folk were referring to (Narthex) when I first moved out to the mid-west???)  Did I mention that it's a big place?  After the tour we wandered around a bit and looked at the fabulous displays and all of the books and then went to dinner.  Then it was time to get settled in at the hotel until Thursday morning.

General Session one started off with music and some great conversation by COR's very own Adan Hamilton (yeah he really is a normal guy just like the rest of us!)  At the very end, Adam invited Kirk Byron Jones (author of Addicted to Hurry) up to speak.  Oh my word!  Awesome Awesome AWESOME speaker!

After the first general session was workshop time, followed by lunch, another workshop and another General Session.  My workshops were great, lunch was good-Mother Nature although a bit windy did cooperate with sunshine and mild temps.  Adam was spot on during General Session 2 and he demonstrated just how much of a techno geek he has been over the years by showing us all his Mac collection (yeah, yeah , I know someday it will all be in a museum...)  you betcha, yeah.  After all that excitement it was dinner again followed by a fabulous and lovely anointing service.

Oh and by the way, I met Shane Raynor (Ministry Matters) the other day as well since his team is at the conference as well.  I have been on the look out for Alan Bevere but haven't spotted him yet.  It was fun to meet a fellow blogger and Shane is a delight "live and in person"!

So here we are at today.  Desperately in need of coffee!  Must pack my stuff up.  Bill Hybels from Willow Creeks will be speaking this morning.  Followed by a wrap up session and a Q and A session.  I'll be honest, it has been fantastic but right now my brain is on information overload!  It will take me a few days to really kind of process everything that has been discussed here and then really clearly think about ways that I can use the info back home at our home church.  I have pictures, I'm not up to messing with trying to load them up just yet!  I am sure my future posts will be far more delightful and detailed...did I mention I really REALLY need coffee?

If you are at the conference and you happen to spot the vertically challenged me with my great big ole "Trudy Graves" name tag on, come up and say hello!  If you did not come to the conference-I would recommend that you make the effort to come next year because, yeah, it IS worth it!

And now, I really must go find some coffee!  :-)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Getting Ready to Head Out for COR Leadership Institute

Today is the day.  The suitcase is just about fully packed and I am about as ready as I can get for this trip to the Kansas City area.  Church of the Resurrection is hosting it's annual Leadership Institute Conference this week and I was asked to go.

To say this is a change of pace for me is putting it mildly.  I have been a mom for 18 years and a full time at home mom for the last 10 of those years.  Kenny and the children have been my first and foremost concern, but they are getting older and the gears are starting to change and transition is starting to happen-even for me!  So, I'm testing the waters and going to this in the hope of learning something new.  Not only for me, but for my beloved congregation at First United Methodist in Washington who encouraged me to do this!   God love them, they see something in me, some potential and they want me to find out more!  If only I could have as much faith in me as they have in me!  There but by the Grace of God go I and I go tenuously!  My church family and my own family have lovingly pushed me gently out of the nest to try my wings.  So here I go!

I haven't decided if I'm taking the laptop or not so I may not be posting for a couple of days.  If I do take it, I'll post to let you know what is happening at the conference.  If I don't take it, I'll do an update once I get back (but after hugging my family and making a batch of chocolate chip cookies).

Either way, I'm going.  Pray for me darling readers!  I'm thinking this is going to be an exciting couple of days!  And I think I am going to be massively out of my comfort zone!  That's not always such a bad thing, but it's a bit scary!

Au Revoir, Happy Trails and Austa la bye bye!  I'll catch ya on the flip side!  Lord, give me strength!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Resurrection vs. Regeneration

Once again, I have run across something that made me go hmm...and it actually clarifies something I have struggled with for a while.  Current "churchese" talk circles have said that the United Methodist Church needs a resurrection to happen.  I understand the point they are trying to make, but the term has bothered me.  So I looked up the definition in my Webster's dictionary and here's what it said:
"the act of rising again, after death"
So, are we saying the church is dead?  I don't buy that!  If you look at what Wesley wrote in the sermon that I posted yesterday, he said that there was a remnant or "seed" that remained, and it sprouts and it grows and it matures.

This morning I was reading in Wesley's Christian Library a piece from John Arndt's True Christianity.  He talks about following the pattern of Christ and he uses the term "regeneration".  Regeneration-it is a very interesting term!  Here's the definition:
"to give new life or vigor to-a spiritual rebirth" 
This is a term I can relate to-it makes sense!  It also illustrates exactly what I was seeing in the Book of Acts (which I posted about last Thursday).  The Spirit is not dead!  The church by extension is not dead because a remnant or "seed" remains!  Let's apply it to the model that I noticed in Acts.

The Apostles were the first "spiritual generation".  They planted seeds in the Disciples (the second spiritual generation) and they followed the pattern of Christ-they grew, they matured, they became leaders.  Stephen and Phillip and Barnabas became "seed planters" and Christianity spread.  They did their apprenticeship at the feet of the Apostles, then they were sent out as leaders to continue the process.  Regeneration was built in to the system right from the start!

Here's the modern day lesson for the church.  Discipleship done well has regeneration already built in to the system!  Our members need to spend time at the feet of good leaders, listening, learning and seeing how things are done BEFORE you put them in to leadership roles.  They need time to mature.   But once they reach that level of maturity, they can then become leaders themselves and they can plant the seeds and lead others through the same process.  The individuals that they Disciple can then become leaders as well, once they reach that level of spiritual maturity.  And the process continues.  Active regeneration.

Regeneration does not start from a dead place.  It starts from a living place.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well! It does not need to be resurrected.  The only thing that needs work happens to be "us".  We need to embrace regeneration in ourselves.  Then we can start the process of regeneration in our churches.

I'm liking this idea of regeneration!  :-)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sermon 68-The Wisdom of God's Counsel

I read this early this morning and I thought to myself-"there is nothing I can say that can top this gem!"  So if you have not read it, today needs to be the day that you DO read it!  Notice two things: first, Wesley picks up on the pattern that I saw in Amos (my blog post from Friday).  Second, he talks a lot about the renewing seed, and how God repairs what is decayed.

Get over your fear of the "thee's and thou's" and take the time to read and absorb what Wesley is saying because it's a game changer!

The Wisdom of God's Counsel's

Friday, September 23, 2011

What we See-What we Convey

Thoughts from Amos (The Message Paraphrase)-the "what we see" part:
Chapter 5:
"Justice is a lost cause. Evil is epidemic.  Decent people throw up their hands.  Protest and rebuke are useless, a waste of breath.  Seek good and not evil-and live!  You talk about God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, being your best friend.  Well, live like it, and maybe it will happen.  Hate evil and love good, then work it out in the public square."
"...I can't stand your religious meetings.  I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.  I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals.  I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making.  I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.  When was the last time you sang to me?  Do you know what I want?  I want justice-oceans of it.  I want fairness-rivers of it.  That's what I want.  That's all I want." 
Chapter 6:
"Woe to those who live in luxury and expect everyone else to serve them!  Woe to those who live only for today, indifferent to the fate of others!  Woe to the playboys, the playgirls, who think life is a party held just for them!  Woe to those addicted to feeling good-life without pain!  Those obsessed with looking good-life without wrinkles!  They could not care less about their country going to ruin." 
Is it just me or does this sound an awful lot like what we see around us today?  Amos may have brought the message (rather reluctantly) but he was obedient-he said what had to be said.  But he also ended on a hopeful note.  There would be shaking and sifting but a faithful remnant would remain.  And that remnant would rebuild because God would bless them.  

I'm still reading in the Book of Acts and today I read about Paul and Barnabas in Antioch (chapter 13). They were invited to speak twice.  The second time some of the Jews became jealous because of the crowds and they contradicted what Paul was saying.  Long story short, this is the point where Paul told the Jews that they had rejected the message so now they would be going to preach to the Gentiles siting Isaiah 49:6 as the justification for doing so.  It goes on to say that when they Gentiles heard this "they were glad and praised the word of the Lord..."  The message that was conveyed?  There was hope for them too!  They could accept that Jesus was the Savior and they too could be saved.  They could be included as well!  I got thinking about this:  what would it feel like to be an outsider, wanting to be a part of this but being told that you couldn't be included because you didn't have the right qualifications.  What would it feel like to have someone come along and suddenly say "oh that's nonsense, you can be included too!"  Is the church today willing to convey that message-hope.  Or will we stand by and look at what we see and say "this is simply how it is."  What message are we willing to convey?  How far are we willing to go?

If Amos, even in the midst of delivering a very painful message, could still hold out a message of hope, shouldn't we be doing the same?  The message is not pleasant-we all need to repent.  But there is hope!  Jesus is Savior and he is available to all who are willing to believe.  No qualifications necessary other then a believing heart and a willingness to repent our old ways and follow a new way.  That message should be first and foremost today!  Our world needs it desperately!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Something Significant Going on in Acts

This is going to be a short post because I am still trying to get a sense of what needs to be said on this topic.  Take some time today to read Acts, chapters 9-11.  Most of the time any sermon that is preached on these chapters deals either with Paul's conversion or Peter's vision.  As you read, I want you to ignore the rock star Apostles and focus on what is going on around them on the side lines.  Focus specifically on these sections:

Acts 9:10-19  Notice that God did not send an Apostle, God sent a Disciple-Ananias.
Acts 9:26-27  Notice that Barnabas has to intervene for Paul because the Apostles would not even speak to him because they are afraid of him.
Acts 10:1-8  Notice that God speaks to Cornelius first before he speaks to Peter.
Acts 11:19-26  Notice that only a few of them spoke with the Hellenists (meaning those who were not Jewish), they had great success, the Apostles sent Barnabas, Barnabas then went to find Paul and bring him back to Antioch and Antioch is where the Disciples were first called "Christians".

In my mind I am thinking in terms of "spiritual generations".  The Apostles were the first "spiritual generation" and here in Acts we are seeing work being done by the second "spiritual generation" of followers.  They had been trained well enough by the first generation to successfully carry out and carry on the mission.  And even though Cornelius was not necessarily a Disciple at the time, Peter is being sent to train him to become a Disciple leader.  

How exactly this applies to the here and now, I'm not sure.  I just know that I sense in my spirit that there is a significant lesson here to be pondered.  What we glean and how we apply it matters significantly.  All I know is that I am hearing that still small voice saying "pay attention, pay attention because this is big and it matters!"  I've learned to listen and pay attention and right now, I'm in "wait" mode.  I'll get back to you on this.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on this feel free to share! Something significant is going on!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Disciple and then Delegate

In chapter 6 of the Book of Acts we are introduced to a problem that arose in the early days of the church.  A conflict arose about food distribution between the Hebrews and the Hellenists.  It seems the Hellenists felt that their widows were being neglected and not getting as much as the Hebrew widows.  So the Apostles called the entire community together for a meeting to settle the issue.  In verses 2-4 (NRSV translation), the Apostles say this:
"...It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Therefore friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word."  
Now a modern reader might read this and think "what, they were too good to do this?"  Somehow they thought they were above needing to do this task?  Not so fast!  I think if the Apostles thought that there was no one well qualified to handle the task they would have taken it on.  But, the community was growing-the Apostles had trained people within the community who could take on this leadership role.  They were fully confident that they could safely delegate this task.  The Apostles had discipled their followers so they could then start delegating so they could continue to disciple others.  That's how you grow-you teach and train others how to lead, so they can take over and then you move on and teach and train others how to do the exact same thing!

And Luke is kind enough to introduce us to two of the seven chosen-Stephen and Phillip.  We are able to learn about their separate ministries.  Stephen's ministry went beyond just feeding to performing "signs and wonders" and also speaking in the synagogue of the Freedmen.  He is so powerful in his speech that individuals set out to discredit him and he is brought before the council, where he delivers a message.  It was a message that they did not like, so they stoned him. Phillip, meanwhile, goes to Samaria and "proclaimed the Messiah to them."  He also performed signs and wonders.  He was so successful that the Apostles on hearing that Samaria had accepted the word of God, sent Peter and John to pray for them.

If these examples don't make a strong case for the importance of good discipleship in the church today, then I don't know what does?!  Not only did the Apostles teach and preach, they also trained their followers, leading by example.  And when they felt that certain followers were ready, they gave them a chance to lead by delegating tasks to them.  By doing this, it freed them up to help others work through the same process in order to get to the point where they could lead as well.

This makes a lot of sense.  Our members are "out in the trenches" working and dealing with people who might never darken the doorstep of a church, but are receptive to talking with and listening to someone "just like them."  Discipleship really is an apprenticeship because not only should it give "book knowledge" but it should also provide practical knowledge.  An apprentice needs to learn first by listening and watching and then you let them do the work.  You have them try their hand at something small so they can become comfortable doing the work and then they move on to more difficult tasks.  When a leader can delegate with confidence, then they can continue to do the work of leading and training others.  When the "trainee" can become a "trainer" then suddenly you can train even more people which means more work can get done.  It also frees a leader up to focus more on vision and leading because others have been trained to teach.

I can only speak from my personal experience in the UMC but I have a feeling that what I am about to say plagues a lot of denominations out there.  We assume too much and we tend to skip the discipleship step.  Not every church does this, and I don't think that it is done consciously, but the undercurrent is there.  We assume when someone walks through the door that they know how to pray.  We assume that they are reading their Bible and that they know how to read their Bible.  We assume that they are ready to do mission and evangelism work right from the get-go.  We assume that they understand what it means to be a Methodist and what comes with that territory.    We assume that they know how to practically apply Bible teaching in their daily lives.  So rather than taking some time to teach and train we put them in to some sort of ministry and they burn out and leave through the side door.  We scratch our collective heads and wonder what happened? We asked them to do something that they were not ready or prepared to do.  We skipped a step.

If we want to grow and share the gospel then we have got to get serious about discipleship.  It doesn't happen overnight.  It is not a "silver bullet", it is a process that takes time.  Are we willing to take the time to do some serious training?  That my darling readers is a question well worth asking and answering.  Our response will dictate our outcome.  And outcome is the new buzz word in the "measuring metrics" world.  If we get this right, then the numbers game will become a thing of the past!  That is what makes the question worth asking!  The day we declare "numbers no more" will be the day that I declare Hallelujah AMEN!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'd Like a Little Cheese to go With my WHINE!

Darling readers, pray for little ole me cause I'm a wretched miserable mess!  Fall, one of the most beautiful glorious times of the year in Missouri is a wretched time for me until a hard frost hits!  Fall allergies-bane of my existence!  I sneeze-my head feels like it's going to explode.  I sniffle, snort and blow my nose-my head feels like it's going to explode.  Even my ears itch!  Allergy meds you say?  Well, that's complicated.  You see, I live in an area where there is an active methamphetamine producing culture, so in order to try and stop the production of meth, the county passed a law whereby you must have a prescription-which means a visit to the doctor-which means I have to have a car and a co-pay.  We're down to one vehicle (mine) and since my husband going to work in order to have money to, oh I don't know, pay the bills is rather get the picture.  Pass the cheese please.  There you have it, my sad little whine.

Oh if only someone could lay hands on me and heal me like Peter did in Acts 3:6 when he healed the crippled man at the gate!
"...I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk."
Miracles, healing, do they exist today in our modern world?  If you watch religious television with the mega tele-evangelists you would have to think yes.  But, I also know some of those "miracles" have been called in to question.  With modern medicine and technological advances things that seemed "miraculous" before seem rather common place now.  We have become somewhat jaded methinks in regards to miracles-we take an awful lot for granted.

What would it be like to experience that wonder and excitement again of being awed by a miracle?  Better yet, what would it be like to count our blessings and be thankful for what we have?  Think about it.  The discovery of Penicillin was huge!  Something that would kill a person before could now suddenly be cured!  The Polio vaccine was miraculous.  Advancements in imaging technology allow doctors to see tumors much earlier than before.  Organ transplants, reconstructive surgery for our veterans, advances in cancer treatment-it wasn't all that long ago that these things were not even possible!  Add to that the doctors who volunteer to go to places that do not have these technologies in order to help others who would not otherwise get help and the fact that they can actually get to these places-that's miraculous!  Can you imagine what Luke would have done if he had these resources at his disposal?  A faithful follower of Christ giving what he had to heal and help those who could least afford it-WOW!  How cool is that to imagine?!

Healing taking place right in front of our eyes-miracles do still happen.  We just need to open our eyes to see them!  What an amazing world we live in!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Big Picture-Imagination Adventure of the Day

Imagine with me for a moment.  Picture in your mind, your home town.  Picture the borders, where your town starts and where your town ends.  Have you got it, do you see it precisely in your mind?  Now, picture in your mind that a wall has suddenly been built on those borders and you are completely cut off from everything outside of your town.  No one gets in, no one gets out!  What you have is what you've got, nothing more, nothing less.  Here's the question: could your town sustain itself for one week based on what you have in your town?  I'm betting most of you would answer "no" to that question and honestly a few weeks ago I would have as well!

Something happened though to change my thinking on this question.  My home state got hammered by massive amounts of flooding and there were towns that were literally cut off from everyone else around them.  Granted, they didn't have to go a full week before supplies were flown in to them, but they did have a period of days where all they had to survive was what they had in town.  Not only did they survive, they thrived under the pressure!  You see, they discovered that when they worked together they had more than they thought!  They discovered that they were more than the sum of their parts!

I am reminded of the early church portrayed in the Book of Acts.  In chapter 2, starting at verse 44 (NRSV) it says:
"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, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people." 
Now I'm not suggesting that you sell all your stuff and join a religious commune.  No.  What I am suggesting though is that you look at your church family and your community with a new set of eyes.  We tend to look at things a piece at a time.  We look at the parts rather than looking at the whole picture.  The early church prospered and grew because they worked together as a whole.  They had one goal-sharing the good news of Jesus!  Everything they said, everything they did, how they lived, was focused on that goal.  They discovered that they were more than the sum of their parts.

Let me go back to the example of the towns that were cut off by flooding.  The first thing they did was meet together to figure out who was accounted for, who was not, who needed help and what did they need to focus on first.  Some people had food in their freezers which they pulled out and donated for a big town barbecue so everyone would have something to eat.  Some had heavy equipment which they put to work trying to rebuild roads so they could get things opened back up.  Some had ATVs which they used to either rescue folks who were stranded or to try to find a way out of town to get supplies.   Horses, propane cook stoves, generators-there were things in town that individually wouldn't make much of a dent but when pooled together would sustain them all until they could get help.  And plain ole labor-people willing to pitch in to help clean up because the faster they could clean up, the more they could save and the faster they could rebuild.  They were able to accomplish a lot more working together than working individually.

There's a lesson to be learned here.  Churches want to "make an impact" they want to "do and be" but many times you have groups of individuals doing a little bit of this here and a little bit of that there in the hope that this will be "the next big thing".  Not that these things are not good or important but where do they fit in the big picture?  What part are they of the whole?  When you look at your church in relation to your community what part do you play?  Where do you fit in?  What is your goal for your church and for your church within your community?  What could you accomplish if your entire congregation worked together?  What would you accomplish if your church worked with others in your community?

If we focus on the big picture rather than the individual parts I wonder how that would change what we do in our churches and I wonder how that would change how we interact within our communities?  I wonder what kind of resources we would discover, that had always been there, but we didn't notice?  I think about individuals sitting in our congregations who would like to find a way to actively participate but who think there is no where that they fit in within church ministry.  Or, I think about people in the community who would like to find a way to help but they have no group to connect with.  Can we take those parts and connect the dots and do something truly extraordinary?

One of the great things about the Methodist tradition is that work is not a dirty word.  You don't do works because it somehow scores you angelic brownie points.  You do work because it is an outward expression and demonstration of your faith.  As the Apostle Paul said "Faith without works is dead."  Wesley understood this, that's why he went to the prisons and brought not only faith, but food.  That's why he set up Sunday School so children who worked in factories six days a week could not only hear the word but learn to read the word.  He knew if a young person could read they stood a better chance of advancement-they stood a better chance of being able to have a better life.  He understood the need to preach and teach but he also understood the value of the practical.  He understood the importance of meeting someones needs.

So take some time today for some quiet reflection and really think about the big picture.  Where do you fit in?  Where does your church fit in?  What can you do with others that would make a difference towards uplifting and sustaining your community?  What can you accomplish if you work together with others?

There's your exciting thought adventure for today!  Have fun!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Weekending-Posts and Reads and Other Interesting Things

Seems I caused a bit of a stir this week, which to put it mildly, is highly unusual for me.  Most of the time I write and get no response whatsoever, which I'm o.k. with!  I know from the stats that I have readers from around the world, here and there but the lions share are from the United States and I figure it's mostly family and friends taking pity on my efforts and reading my blog every once in awhile.  This week was a little different.  I seemed to have hit a nerve, so much so, that I made Shane's list over at Ministry Matters.

The top two most read blog posts this week are:
Distinctly Methodist?
Will the Church make Room for a Prophet?

After I wrote "Distinctly Methodist", my friend, fellow blogger and Methodist minister, Craig Adams, posted a couple of interesting pieces on his Face book page that go along with what I was talking about.  One is an op/ed piece by David Brooks from the New York Times:
If It Feels Right

The other is a piece from USA Today:
More Americans Tailoring Religion to Fit Their Needs

Methodist minister and blogger, Dalton Rushing, brought up a very valid point in his blog post in response to my "anything goes" comment:
Anything goes? Really?

Not every Methodist minister is doing their own thing.  What was unsettling for me though, is that I can personally confirm one item on Dalton's list.  Here is what Dalton wrote:
"In the beginning was the Word, which you can interpret however you want. I choose to think that the Word was not so much a Word as a symbol, like the artist formerly known as Prince."
The sermon that I heard was not that exact verse but the point was the same.  I was reminded of something that happened a little over ten years ago-the Reimagining conference.  The archives at the United Methodist Reporter and United Methodist News Service do not go back that far, but at the time the UMC involvement with this conference was highly controversial.  I agree with Dalton that many MANY UMC ministers do preach carefully thought out sermons from differing perspectives and that is a good thing.  I still stand by my assertion that I think we need to get back to our roots because we need to speak from our Wesleyan heritage, consistently across the board.  The sermons preached from the pulpit in the northeast are vastly different then the sermons preached from the pulpit in the deep south.   I wish I could say that there was a consistent thread, but from my experience over the years, the "consistent thread" is that they share the name United Methodist.

Enough on that hornet's nest!  Let me share some other blogs that I thought were interesting this week!

John Meunier wrote a piece about the UMC mission statement:
We Need A New Mission Statement

Bishop Schnase wrote about two new initiatives in the Missouri conference:
Reaching Out and Reaching Up
and he posted an update on Joplin:
Joplin Progresses on Recovery after Tornado

I'd like to take this opportunity to personally thank Bishop Schnase for continuing to post on Joplin.  Bishop was on top of this right from the beginning!  Within 24 hours of this disaster he had information out to the entire Missouri Conference letting people know what was going on, what was needed and how they could help!  In contrast, there hasn't been a lot of information coming from the New England Conference, (which my home state of Vermont is part of) about the flood damage or ways to help.  Bishop Schnase and the folks at Missouri conference did it right and they deserve kudos for their amazing efforts to get the word out!

Last but not least, let me share with you a blogger who have enjoyed immensely!  Sue Whitt posts daily lectionary with prayers and reflections which are just a joy to read!  If you have not discovered her wonderful blog, go check it out!
Sunday's Child 

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!  Fall is most definitely in the air and I am feeling the urge to bake coming on!  Bread and cookies and soul food, oh my!

Friday, September 16, 2011

You Continue to Ignore Me-Thoughts on Amos, Choices and Trust

In Amos, chapter 4 The Message paraphrase uses almost word for word the same sentence four times:
"you continue to ignore me".  
This chapter mentions famine, drought, disease, fire and earthquake-major catastrophes happening to the people.  In each instance, instead of turning to God, they chose to do their own thing.

Each of us make choices every day in one form or another.  Some choices are easy.  Others are a little more difficult.  The little nudges by the Spirit asking us to do things that we are not comfortable doing, they can be the hardest choices.   For me, they tend to be the choices I wrestle with the most.  It's not that I want to willingly ignore God.  It's tough to choose to get whacked!  I have a lack of understanding as to "why" and trust comes in to play.  Choosing to trust, can be a tough item for me personally!

At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Simon  three times "do you love me?" The Disciple Bible study notes say that Jesus did not call him Peter because "...he was no longer a rock.  He had reverted to predisciple behavior, so Jesus used his predisciple name to reclaim him."  Simon had a choice to make.  He already believed that Jesus was the Messiah.  He loved Jesus, no question.  His struggle was not with Jesus, his struggle was with himself!  Not only did he have to choose to follow but he also had to trust that God would give him the ability to carry out what was being asked of him.  He had a choice to make and we know that he chose to follow.  History tells us that he died a martyr.  How different would history be if he had chosen to ignore God?

I'm not perfect and I know it!  Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I blow it!  The problem is not God, the problem is me!  I pray that God gives me the strength to make the right choices and not ignore what He is asking me to do.  It's not always easy but I have faith and hope in His power, not my own!  The holiness journey is about trusting God to lead the way.  And trust is something that I struggle with mightily at times!

Wesley understood this and in his sermon The End of Christ's Coming he put it this way:
"We know, weakness of understanding, and a thousand infirmities, will remain, while this corruptible body remains; but sin need not remain: This is that work of the devil, eminently so called, which the Son of God was manifested to destroy in this present life. He is able, he is willing, to destroy it now, in all that believe in him. Only be not straitened in your own bowels! Do not distrust his power, or his love! Put his promise to the proof! He hath spoken: And is he not ready likewise to perform Only "come boldly to the throne of grace," trusting in his mercy; and you shall find, "He saveth to the uttermost all those that come to God through him!"
Wise words of wisdom to apply to the choices we make every day!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Distinctly Methodist?

Methodist minister and blogger, Jeremy Smith, posted in a round about way on a topic near and dear to my heart!  Here's a link to the post Methodist Kudzu so you can read it for yourself.  He was quite specific, I am going to reflect a little more broadly on this topic.  My biggest pet peeve with the United Methodist Church is that it does not clearly stand for, or reflect, the stated beliefs of the United Methodist Church.  When the average member can not tell you what the UMC believes or why we believe this, then you have a problem!

In The Message paraphrase, Proverbs 24 has this little gem:
"It takes wisdom to build a house, and understanding to set it on a firm foundation..."
My dad was a carpenter.  I'm no expert but I absorbed enough wisdom from him over the years to understand some things about buildings.  First, the foundation has to be solid.  It can't wiggle or wobble, it needs to be firm.  Second, the frame needs to be solidly connected to the foundation-the building needs to be unified.  There is a right way to build and there is a wrong way to build.  Some flaws are cosmetic and just need to be covered.  Other flaws though, negatively impact the integrity of the structure and you have to tear them out and fix the problem.  Build correctly and your building will stand firm.  Build it wrong and your building can (and at some point will) collapse.

Here's my point.  We have an amazing foundation thanks to John Wesley and the early founders of United Methodism.  In my opinion, hands down, bar none, we have something worth sharing!  But as a denomination today, we are all over the place in what we teach and how we teach it!  We have lost the unity of the message and our messages are no longer connected to the foundation!  Not only is the average member puzzled by what we believe, it seems some of our ministers have the same problem!  (Yup, here I go stepping on toes again).  Some call this an "identity crisis".  I think it goes deeper than that, we have a unity crisis.  When you stray from your roots or your foundation, then you are no longer connected, and that, my darling friends, is a problem!

Jeremy has pointed to something very specific-we are allowing Bible Studies to be taught in our churches that do not line up with core Methodist beliefs.  I think the problem is even bigger-we do not teach core Methodist beliefs in the first place.  What makes us distinctly Methodist?  What do we believe?  Why do we believe this?  Why do we do things one way instead of another way?  Seriously, why are we not preaching this from the pulpit or teaching it in Sunday School class?  Because we are no longer anchored to the spiritual foundation that is the UMC.  Because our leaders do not feel a necessity to be anchored to our distinctly Methodist foundation.  We have preached "anything goes" for so long that we have become a detriment to our own denomination.  And as members, we stood by and didn't say a word!  Gee, I couldn't possibly imagine why we have a problem!

Not that this is new.  Even Wesley preached on this topic!  Go read sermon 61 They Mystery of Iniquity and you'll see what I mean.  That's why teaching (and preaching) the core beliefs is critical to regaining our unity and connection with our foundation.  That is why the early societies were so "methodical".  They understood how easy it is to get distracted and off course.  It's human nature to follow the shiny bobble!  It's hip, it's cool, it's popular, yeah let's go with the flow!  Going with the flow has never been a "mark" of Methodism.  Methodists are expected to hold to a higher standard.

The solution to this is not an easy fix.  We, as members, can demand a higher standard, but then we become the "problem child" churches in the Methodist hierarchy.  Or, as an individual, you can do what I've done, which is read and study my bible, read and study Wesley's sermons and notes, and read and study about the history of the United Methodist church.  Educate yourself and then share what you have learned with others.  It's an eye opener!  But I can tell you from personal experience, it's well worth the effort!  And pray.  Pray, pray, pray because we have so much to offer, if we would just go back to our solid foundation!  I have faith that we can and will reclaim our heritage, but I understand that I may have to wait...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Forgiveness-It's a Living Thing

King David-remember him?  He is described as a "man after God's own heart", the giant slayer, the great leader of Israel.  King David the ultimate perfect God follower.  If you read in the Old Testament though, you realize that he was just as flawed as the rest of us.  Maybe that's why he is included in so much of the Old Testament, as a reminder to the rest of us that God can use even flawed individuals to do great things!

So it was with great interest that I read Psalm 109 in The Message paraphrase which is noted as "A David Prayer".  It starts off in the positive:
"My God don't turn a deaf ear to my hallelujah prayer..."
It goes down hill from there.  Basically he is praying for God to obliterate an enemy.  Here's just a part of the Psalm:
"Give him a short life and give his job to somebody else.  Make orphans of his children, dress his wife in widow's weeds; Turn his children into begging street urchins, evicted from their homes-homeless.  May the bank foreclose and wipe him out, and strangers, like vultures, pick him clean.  May there be no one around to help him out, no one willing to give his orphans a break.  Chop down his family tree so that nobody even remembers his name." 
It goes on, but you get the gist.  This was not a lovey-dovey, warm and fuzzy prayer.  This was the prayer of a man at the end of his rope wishing that the person who persecuted him was wiped out!

Let's be honest, we have all had similar thoughts and prayers at some point in our lives.  Our prayers though, are not documented like David's prayers!  We have been wronged and yet, the other person just keeps on keeping on.  Why why why do they not get their come uppance?  Where is the delivery for us, the justice we seek?  Seriously, haven't we endured enough?  Good Christians are not supposed to think that way, yet we all have those moments.

There have been times in my own life when I have endured some things I would not wish upon anyone else!  There have been times when I wondered why a house didn't fall out of the sky (a la Wizard of Oz) or why someone didn't get struck by lightening because they oh so deserved that fate!  Forgiveness was not exactly high on my list.  I had done nothing wrong yet I was the one who was suffering.  They needed to ask ME for forgiveness, not the other way around!  THEY were the ones who needed to be stopped.  THEY were the ones who needed to pay.

Yet, Jesus told us to forgive.  Not just once but "seven times seventy", or in other words, forgive without end. "But God," we argue, "they surely don't deserve it and they definitely haven't earned it!"  But that's not the point.  Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook.  No, it's far more personal.  Forgiveness allows you to be free from carrying the burden.  Anger unchecked, festers and it turns into bitterness and bitterness will eat you from the inside out.  To become totally and utterly absorbed by bitterness is an ugly thing.  It clouds your perception and taints everything in your life.  How you live, your relationships with others, your work become driven by your need for revenge.  It not only effects you spiritually, but it can effect you physically.  The longer you carry the burden the heavier it gets and the more exhausted you become!  No wonder Jesus was so clear about the need to forgive!  Forgiveness isn't just a "thing", it's a living thing!  If you want to live, really live, then you have to make a choice to let things go.  YOU have to choose to forgive!

If I sound like I speak from the voice of experience, you're right.  I've lived out both scenarios.  One time, when I was younger and I couldn't let go of what had been done to me, I made myself so miserable that I got to the point that I didn't want to live.  I attempted suicide.  Not as a way to "get even", no, I just wanted the pain to end!  I wasn't sleeping, I certainly wasn't eating right and my only thought was revenge.  I was consumed with settling the score.  There was no room for forgiveness in my heart.  A wise friend talked with me about it and I described how I felt and I clearly said "I am the victim, I can't forgive, I don't have the strength to forgive!"  My wise friend said, "you don't have the strength but God does, give it to him!"  So I said a prayer, "not by my strength but by the Lord's strength I forgive."  And it wasn't easy!  I had to say that prayer over and over and over again!  After a time though, it got easier.  I had to say it less often.  It got to the point where my first thought in the morning was not about revenge on my assailant.  It got to the point when it wasn't the last thought at night.  Eventually I got to a point where I stopped thinking about it completely.  I went from victim to victor.  I learned to forgive and in the process I got my life back!

Fast forward to a few years ago when I was attacked and accused unfairly.  It was just as painful, I was just as angry.  The difference though was I refused to let the bitterness consume me!  It wasn't easy, but I had learned my lesson.  I didn't want to go back to the way I had been when I was younger!  So I said the prayer again and I kept going and kept living.  Lo and behold, there came an opportunity to get my revenge.  I could have filed charges and had this individual thrown into jail and had a lien put on all of his posessions.  He would have lost everything.  I had individuals telling me that I should go ahead because he had certainly earned it for the hell he had put me (and my family) through and he surely deserved it so why not settle the score?  I didn't do it.  In the whole scheme of things, my act of forgiveness was more important to me than the satisfaction I might gain from seeking revenge.  I had moved on and I wasn't going back!  I chose to forgive and then live and that mattered more to me!

In this life people will hurt you through no fault of your own.  Yes, you have been wronged.  You have a right to be angry about what you have lost.  But you also have a choice.  You can choose to nurse that anger or you can choose to forgive.  When you choose to stop carrying the burden you choose to live.  Instead of focusing your energy on what you have lost and the person responsible for that loss you are instead free to focus on moving ahead!  What you choose to focus on dictates how you live.  And living is a whole lot easier when you let go of that burden and choose to forgive!  Another word for forgiveness is grace.  Grace is the essence of living because it opens up new and wonderful opportunites.  It truly is a living thing!

So the lesson of David's Psalm is this-we may feel the exact same way as he did, and justifiably so!  We may even have times when we pray a prayer just like his prayer.  But we have a choice.  We can wrap that anger around us like a comfortable blanket until it encloses us in bitterness or we can let it go and choose to forgive. Our choice will effect how we live.  Choose to forgive if you truly want to live!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Will the Church Make Room for a Prophet?

I have stalled and dawdled as long as I can on writing this blog post because I know I'm going to step on some toes.  Stepping on toes is so not high on my "things I want to do in life" list. goes....

Let's start with 1 Chronicles 25 which involves the selection of "worship leaders" during the time of King David.    To put it in modern day parlance, you have Asaph who "spoke for God backed up by the king's authority,"  (The Message paraphrase) or in other words his duties might be described in terms of a Bishop's duties.  Then you have Jeduthun who preached and was responsible for leading the thanks and praise to God, or in other words, a modern day minister.  Heman was in charge of leading the singing and providing musical accompaniment in the work of worship in the sanctuary of God.  Heman is also noted as being the king's "seer" or prophet in modern day terms.  Asaph coordinated and led the activities at the temple, like a Bishop.  Jeduthun coordinated, taught and led the service, like a minister and Heman was the prophet and led the worship team.  It goes on further to say that Heman was assisted by his sons in his "divinely appointed work."

Interesting.  In 1 Corinthians 12 "prophet" shows up right after "apostle" on the list of spiritual offices.

So if prophets existed in old testament times and prophets existed in new testament times, where are the prophets today?  Why are we not hearing their voice?

I have no doubt that prophets exist today.  Real prophets, not like what we saw a few months ago with the "world is going to end at such and such a time" chatter, but real, genuine bonafide prophets who have a message for the church and for believers.  I don't think the problem lies in having a lack of prophets, I think the problem lies in the fact that the church would prefer that they not be heard!  (See I told you I was going to step on toes!)

The church would prefer that we believe that our leaders are our modern day prophets and visionaries.  In their way of thinking it is much easier if we accept that  the Bishops are our prophets, or, the ministers are our prophets.  They're not, they are never going to be and the reason is really simple-they were never called to be prophets!  Their job is to coordinate, to lead and to teach. That is what they are gifted to do and that is exactly what they should be doing.

So you may conclude from the example I gave that the worship leader should be considered the modern day prophet.  Not so fast!  Prophets are called, sometimes rather reluctantly, and an underlying characteristic of a   true prophet is as a defender of God.  They tend to call out groups and individuals (leaders in particular) who either abandon their religious faith or attempt to adopt practices that are not compatible with their faith.  In other words, they are not exactly popular and they tend to call you on the carpet for something that you already know you're doing wrong, you just don't want to hear about it!  Ideally, the worship leader as prophet would be nice because they are responsible for "right worship" but that doesn't necessarily hold true today.  I have seen some people leading worship who are very technically gifted but not necessarily spiritually gifted.  (Again, toe stepping-I'm going to tick folks off across the board.)

The General Board of Church and Society says that the Social Principles are the prophetic voice of the church.  Paul, felt that prophecy needed to be discerned-it needed to be looked at closely and it had to line up with what the church believes AND it had to be backed up in scripture.  If you read my earlier post about Social Principles and Theology then you know that I don't feel that some aspects of the Social Principles meet this criteria.  So, no, one board is not the prophetic voice of the church. (There goes another set of toes.)

Bottom line to all of this-I think the church needs to bring back the voices of the prophets.  I think we need to listen to what they have to say, look at it closely, see if it lines up with church beliefs and scripture and, if so, act upon their messages.  But will the church as a whole be willing to make room for a modern day prophet?  I'm not so sure.  Doing our own thing is very comfortable and we have been doing it for a long time so it would be a hard habit to break!  They may say something we don't like.  They may call us on the carpet for doing something that we have gotten very comfortable doing.  They may remind us of what we are expected to do as a church.  I doubt they would be very popular.  Maybe, just maybe, we need to be confronted.  We all say we want to see the church reach out to the world more, to grow and to be a blessing.  Yet, everything we try seems to fail.  Why?  Let's find a prophet and see if we can get an answer!  Let's hear the message from the Lord!

Meanwhile, I'm going to go duck and cover...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Spirit in you Vs. Spirit with you-That Sanctification Journey

Have you ever had one of those times when you are reading something that you have read, like a gazillion times, but you catch something that you missed before?  That happened to me this morning.  It was one of those "whoa, stop, back the train up" moments!

I'm on week 23 of Disciple Bible Study and this week focuses on the second half of the Gospel of John.  What caught my eye happens to be in the second half of verse 17 in chapter 14 talking about the Holy Spirit:
"...You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you."
The note in the Wesleyan Study Bible says this:
"The Spirit is already with the disciples but will not be in them until Jesus breathes on them." 
 The thought that popped into my head was "there is a big difference between the Spirit being with you and the Spirit being in you!"  Then I started thinking about how many people are in this very situation?  Which then led me to ask myself how many times have I had the Spirit with me or even in me and chose to opt out on what I was being asked to do?  Ah ha!  Maybe this is the process of Sanctification that Wesley was talking about!

There have been times in my life when I have felt completely alone and totally abandoned.  But as a Christian I know that is not true.  The Spirit is with me.  I may not have realized it, or felt it, but I was never truly alone!  And in hindsight, looking back on those moments I can see where the Spirit was working in me in ways that I did not realize or acknowledge.  I think there are a lot of people who can say the same thing (in hindsight of course).  God was not only with them but working in them, they were just so overwhelmed or distracted to realize it at the time!

There are times though, when I know that the Spirit is not only in me but also working in me and asking me to do something that I am not so sure about doing!  You think to yourself, "well if God wants it done, you will just joyfully agree to do what is being asked of you."  WRONG!  At least in my case, that's wrong.  Yeah, there is this little thing called "free will" which can sometimes be the "opt out" choice.  And there have been times when I have exercised that choice!  Of course, you would think I would learn that no is not the best answer yet, time and again, I make the same mistake!  Yup, my name is Trudy and I still mess up on occasion!

Macarius spoke about this in Homily 15  Even some of the saints and leaders of the early church stumbled.  He described it as "not having obtained to perfect charity".  Nowadays, we would call that "perfect love".  It's no wonder that Wesley talked about the process of Sanctification being a journey of going from "glory to glory".  Hopefully, with time, as you mature you get better at following the lead of the Spirit but we're imperfect and sometimes we will "miss the mark".  I miss the mark and I have to admit it and ask for forgiveness.  I am reminded daily that grace is a wonderful thing!

Oral Roberts used to tell the story of how he started Oral Roberts University.  He said that he asked God why he was the one being asked to do this when there were others who were far more qualified.  He said the answer he got back was "I did ask them but they won't do it!"  Makes me wonder how many times God has had to ask someone else to do the things he asked me to do in the first place?  I shudder to think!

So for those of you who have been in a similar situation, take heart!  You're not alone.  The Spirit is with you. The Spirit is in you.  The journey of Sanctification continues and God's grace abounds!  You're going to make mistakes, but God will still love you and he will provide opportunities to use you to share his love!  I may not have faith in my ability but God...I have faith in HIS ability!  And I am so grateful that he can find ways to use imperfect me!  Trust in the Lord because he can do all things, no matter how imperfect we may be!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weekending-As the Rain Falls, Some Odds and Ends Worth Noting

Here in Missouri, Tropical Storm Lee is sending out her last gasp of rain as I type.  It's a wet day but we actually needed some rain!  I just wish that my friends in Texas would see some of this rain as they deal with a severe drought and wildfires!  So many folks to pray for and so many things to be thankful for on this wet Saturday!

Christine Sine has some great prayers to share this week.  I encourage you to read them.
Prayers for the Journey 

Of course tomorrow is the ten year anniversary of September 11th.  I join with others to lift the survivors and the brave souls who responded, in prayer.  May they be comforted.

My thoughts turn to Vermont as my family and friends work on recovery efforts from Hurricane Irene.  As a matter of fact, two of the top three posts on my blog this week deal with their stories.  You can read them by clicking on the home button and then clicking on the individual post title.  They are:  I Love Her Because of Her Indomitable People and, When Alan Met Irene.

I was able to listen by Internet to local radio station WDEV's great Saturday morning show, "Music to go to the Dump by".  Here's the update on the state and here is the message that they are asking all of us to get out to folks.  Vermont is open for business!  Seems a lot of folks are canceling their fall foliage trips because of the news about the flooding, but, Vermonters are pretty tough and they are working hard to help the hard hit areas.  Keep in mind, there are also areas in the state that did not get hit and did not see any major damage and the main roads like Interstate 89 are open!  So for those of you who are wondering if you should go or cancel your plans, GO!  And if you have never been to Vermont but always wanted to go, fall foliage season is a fantastic time to experience the Green Mountains!  The trees will be beautiful, the apples will be ready to pick right off the tree, you can drink fresh cider or grab a fantastic cup of coffee and there are the local Chicken Pie Suppers, Chamber Orchestras, fall festivals, Tunbridge World's Fair and for race car lovers, the annual Milkbowl!  Who knows, you might even get to see a moose or two!

The top read post on my blog this week:  Social Principles and Theology.  Thanks to fellow bloggers John Meunier and Allan Bevere for getting the ball rolling on this topic!  It really does need more discussion.

No matter where you are, no matter what you are doing, I hope that you all have a fantastic weekend!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Am I a Dissenter?

Paul has some pretty strong words in Titus regarding "leaders" and "rebels".  In chapter 1, here is what The Message paraphrase says:
"Those who were brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst.  They've got to be shut up.  They're disrupting entire families with their teaching, and all for the sake of a fast buck."
In chapter 3 Paul goes on to say:
"Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand.  No insults, no fights.  God's people should be bighearted and courteous." 
Well, I'm not out for a fast buck, if I was I would have enabled the ad feature on my blog.  I do support my leaders in church and in government.  But I have been critical of some of the choices that leadership has made in recent months.  Does that make me a dissenter?  A rabble rouser?   Am I part of the problem?

It's a tough question but I think that we all have to ask ourselves this question every once in awhile.  It can be hard to be objective when you have to examine yourself but I ask myself the question to make sure that my moral compass is on track.  Am I doing what is being asked of me to the very best of my ability?  The whole point of blogging for me is not merely to criticize, condemn and complain but hopefully, to make people think and to inspire and encourage!  Yes, there are things that concern me and I do bring them up on this blog.  But there is so much out there that encourages me and, in my mind, they are stories that need to be shared and told and celebrated!

I look at the words in Joel chapter 2:
"Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters.  Your old men will dream, your young men will see visions.  I'll even pour out my Spirit on the servants, men and women both."
 There is a heart element to this as well.  A spirit element.  I know in my heart and spirit that the time is right to help ordinary people connect with the words.  The Bible is not merely a book.  It is a treasure trove of faith and hope, love and wisdom.   But if people are not being taught how to make the connection to their everyday lives than it has no depth and meaning!  I'm not a minister, nor a theology major, nor a professor.  I'm not a leader in government and I don't lead a church.  In truth, I am overlooked and ignored by these individuals. I'm just an ordinary wife, mother, citizen and an individual who happened to take the Lay Speaking course so I could fill in for the minister if needed or help at church in some way.  There is nothing that marks me as extraordinary or special.  I'm plain ole me.  Nothing more, nothing less.  How could I possibly have anything important to say?

The thing that drives me though, the thing that gets me up every morning and makes me sit here and type, is that I see a need to help others understand that they can make a difference!  Ordinary people, just like me, do have a calling and a purpose-they can have an impact!  And I am driven by the need to help people connect the dots.  Here is this parable, or verse and see how it is very similar to what is going on in our world today?  You can relate to the Bible, you can apply what it says and you can make a difference!  Ordinary people can do extraordinary things!

There is a lot of uncertainty in this world right now.  A lot more questions than answers.  But hope lives!  We need to remind ourselves of that fact every once in awhile!  I think the words from the prophet Joel are true today-I think this is the time when young and old will see visions and dream dreams.  Ordinary folk who will have a vision, make the connection and do what is necessary to fulfill those dreams and visions.  I would love to believe that our leaders will "fix" things and make changes but everything in my being says no.  True vision and true change is going to come from the ranks of everyday people-those individuals who are willing to dream and to work to make change happen.

So, if that makes me a dissenter than so be it.  I pray for my leaders and I hope that wisdom will be their guide.  I know, dear readers, that you hope and pray for the same thing.  But I know that I am called to serve the ordinary.  If one story that I share connects with your spirit and inspires you to go out boldly and do what you can do, to the very best of your ability, then I have done what I have been asked to do.

Take those dreams and visions and run with them my darling friends!  Others may view you as ordinary, but I know that your potential is not ordinary.  Your potential is extraordinary!   I will be here, cheering you on as you go out and change your world for the better!  God bless you for having the courage to use your gifts and talents to make a difference in the world around you!

And to answer my own question, am I a dissenter?  I'm pretty confident, the answer is no.  But I'm glad I asked the question.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Couple of Good Videos to Share today

My cousin Tamzen posted this video on my Face Book wall yesterday.  You want to be inspired?  Watch this:
Look at yourself after watching this.

My friend Ted, posted this on my Face Book page as well.  I've seen it floating around on other Methodist blogs and it's just plain funny!  Keep in mind, I used to plan the Contemporary service at my church so I get what they're trying to say about meaningful worship versus performance worship.  Satire with a point!
Worship Gone Wrong

I have been studying the Social Principles in detail (getting back to my blog post earlier in the week) in the hope of trying to either figure them out or come up with an alternative.  There's an awful lot of baggage to unpack!  I hope to post my thoughts in more detail but right now, it's a lot of study time!  Stay tuned....

Let me close with a gem from Proverbs 22 that I found this morning in The Message paraphrase:
"Generous hands are blessed hands because they give bread to the poor."
Food for thought.  How can we each bless others with our generous hands?  What can we do to sow those seeds of kindness?

Have a great day everyone!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Grief and Mourning

After the flash flooding hit my hometown, a good friend of mine posted that his parents had lost everything on the first floor.  An acquaintance posted in response "things can be replaced."  My friend replied "that's easy to say when it is not your things."  I was reminded of the comment when I watched an interview with a business owner who was in the middle of clean up and you could clearly see the anger and hear the frustration in their voice as they talked about the response.  My first thought was "wow, take it easy, you survived!"  Then I remembered my friends words.  It's easy to say that when it is not happening to you.  It's easy to say when you're not smelling the mold and dealing with mud and having to throw out items.  It wasn't so much the loss of the item that was upsetting to these individuals, it was more about the memories that the particular item evoked.  These folks needed time to grieve as the reality of their situation became starkly clear.  Yet the world was demanding that they move on and rebuild.

In contrast, we have September 11th coming upon us.  It has been 10 years since that awful day.  Memorial services are planned all around the country to mark the somber occasion.  We will grieve and we will mourn yet again.  Personally I do not have a problem with memorial services.  I do have a problem though with the media who started rebroadcasting the images all over the place again.  The follow up interviews, the "never before seen" footage, the "new and previously not revealed" stories and voice mails and answering machine messages.  When does the information cross the line from being helpful for healing to obsessive and counter productive?  How much is enough?  When does it become too much?

People experience loss all the time and we have sort of this ingrained rating system on how long we think someone should grieve.  You get a divorce, well get over it and get back out in the dating game, we tell our friends.  You lose a job or a business, well, get over it and find another or come up with a new idea.  If a child dies, or a spouse or a parent, we tell people how sorry we are for the loss and then in the same breath tell them how fortunate they were to have known this individual and how we are sure that they would want them to move on with their life.  My point here is that the loss is real and people need time to mourn and to grieve and we have a tendency to not give them the time they need!

On the other hand, sometimes we exploit grief.  And I'm sorry, but that is exactly what I think the media is doing this year with their wall to wall specials on 9/11.  It was awful, it was horrible, I will never forget it but I for one do not need to relive that day over and over again!  A memorial service where you gather to remember and to share hugs and stories is one thing.  Dicing, slicing and rehashing is another thing all together!  It is, in a way, like ripping the scab off a wound and poking and prodding around in the gaping hole and wondering why it won't heal.

Jesus, in his wonderful Beatitudes sermon said "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted."  Just exactly how much comfort are we giving to those who mourn?    Perhaps it's time to start giving people the room they need to mourn and grieve in their own way without interference.  Maybe it is time to just hold their hand and give them a little comfort.  Let's give people the room to heal.

As for me, I have learned the fine art of turning the television, radio and news feeds off.  If enough of us choose to do that maybe the media will finally get the message.  I can only hope....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Social Principles and Theology?

John Meunier's blog post yesterday hit on a topic that has bothered me for a long time!  To give you a little background in a nutshell, the United Methodist Church governing structure is based on the Book of Discipline which was originally laid out by John Wesley as a framework for the original Methodist Societies.  It's actually more complicated than that, but I'm trying to be brief and give you a general overview.  Contained within the Book of Discipline are the "Social Principles" of the United Methodist church.  They are non-binding, but essentially they are supposed to be the "prophetic voice" of the UMC.  According to the UMC website, the first social principle appeared in 1908.  Methodist History 101 in a nutshell.

Here's the thing.  To me, they read more like a political platform than a well thought out position.  There's a lot of  "we support this" and "we oppose that".  I'm not the only one that has noticed this as I discovered after reading Allan R. Bevere's blog yesterday afternoon.  The question is not so much the statement, but rather, where is the biblical justification to back up the statement?  Or, to put it another way, where is the theology behind the social principles?

So to try and find an answer to this question, I did a search which brought me to the UMC General Board of Church and Society.  I looked at the Social Principles and I looked at both of the PDF files that give the "Biblical Foundation" for our Social Principles and the "Kings Actions Condemned by the Prophets".  If you would like to look at them, go here.

Now granted, I need to dig a little more deeply than just a quick run through on the scriptures (which is what I did this morning...I looked every single one up), but I have to tell you that my initial impression was...well, let's just say I was underwhelmed.  Wow, UMC leadership, if this is the best ya got, Lord help us all!

And as far as quoting Wesley, no doubt that he was a serious advocate for social justice and reform.  The difference is, he didn't just talk a good talk, he walked a good walk!  And I don't think he ever got arrested for protesting for social reform.  The reform he advocated was active.  He didn't just say "we need prison reform" he actually went into the prisons to minister to people both spiritually and physically.  He didn't just say "we need to teach our children to read".  He created Sunday School so children had the chance to not only hear the Word of God, but to also learn how to read it as well!

I guess that's my big bug-a-boo with the Social Principles.  I think, to really have teeth you need to back it up with a strong biblical foundation and you need to be able to act upon that principle.  Otherwise, as Shakespeare said it's all "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

I'll go even one step further.  I'm not fully convinced that the Social Principles should be a part of the Book of Discipline.  They are, in the history of the UMC, a very late addition.  From my view in the pew, they have been more divisive than constructive or instructive.  I'm sure there are many that would disagree.  Either way, I think that as a church, we need a lot more discussion on this topic.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Religion At Your Doorstep-The Importance of Home Work

Today is Labor Day and for many, it signals the end of summer and the onset of fall.  Labor Day was started as a holiday to celebrate the importance of the worker and was originally organized by Union leaders to show the solidarity of workers.  Let's face it, without workers willing to work nothing would get done!  Leaders and executives can plan all they want, but without workers, none of their plans can be implemented!  Workers do matter!

Jesus understood this in the spiritual realm as well.  So many of his parables focus on laborers and workers because he knew that without willing workers, nothing gets done!  So it's no surprise to me that in 1 Timothy 5, Paul reminds Timothy about the importance of taking care of the widows and doing work for them.  The Message paraphrase says this:
"...let them learn that religion begins at their own doorstep and that they should pay back with gratitude some of what they have received."
Work starts at home.  It starts with helping your family.  It expands to helping your friends, your community and the world around you, but it starts on your doorstep!

If this past week is any indication, I don't think that the average worker has forgotten this lesson!  People who were not effected by the flooding have joined together in their own community to help those who were effected.  I saw the same thing earlier in the spring in Joplin, Missouri after the tornado.  Family helping family.  Friend helping friend.  Neighbor helping neighbor.

What a contrast to the warning that Paul gives Timothy in 2 Timothy 3.  The Message paraphrase says:
"Don't be naive.  There are difficult times ahead.  As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God.  They'll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they're animals.  Stay clear of these people."
No, I'm not saying the end is near!  But I will admit, I see an awful lot today that fits Paul's description.  Particularly in the world of politics where the concern is not about doing the best for the country or the state or the community.  Rather, it is about doing the best for the individual candidate.  Or, in the corporate world where it is about doing the best for the profit margin so the CEO saves his job.

There is a stark contrast!  I have yet to see an elected official helping with clean up efforts.  They tour, they talk, they look fresh as a daisy standing in the chaos.  I have, however, seen family, friends, neighbors and strangers stepping in and getting their hands dirty and helping with the work.   I am puzzled by this disconnect.  They talk a good talk but where's the walk?  And I wonder if this explains why our unemployment rate has stayed so high?  Is it because they say they get it but the reality is, they honestly do not understand that they could make a huge difference if they would just get off their collective high horse and get to work?

We talk a lot about the unemployment rate as reported by the department of Labor which hovers right around 9%.  But there are economists who look at a larger picture and put the real unemployment rate at anywhere between 16% and 22%.  If the real rate is closer to 22% that means almost 1/4 of our eligible workforce is not working!  With all of the damage from various storms around the country is there really any reason for that number to be so high?  There is work to be done, so why can't our leadership work together to start rebuilding?  I don't get it, I really don't, why there is so little agreement on things that matter to everyone!  They are elected servants of the people first, and leaders second.  And Jesus made it very clear that a true leader serves others first and puts their own self-interest second.  The same principle applies to the business world as well.  It's not about the shareholder, it's about providing the best product to the client.  And in order to do that you provide your workers with the very best equipment to make that possible.  How could they have forgotten that?

I am just grateful that on this Labor Day I can point to individuals who have not forgotten this very basic lesson!  These individuals within their communities are practicing what they intuitively know to be right.  Religion starts at your own doorstep and it means helping others from your own grateful heart!  They are working together to clean up, rebuild and restore.

Thank you God for willing workers!  Let their example shine brightly for others to see!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

When Alan Met Irene

When Tropical Storm Irene roared through Waterbury on Sunday night everyone knew that the Village was going to get flooded.  The question was how badly?  No one would know for sure until the sun came up on Monday morning.  It was, from all accounts, a very long night!

My friend, Alan Dunster, was out early taking some pictures and seeing what things looked like.  Alan and his wife, Taunya, are members at Wesley United Methodist, which sits right smack dab in the middle of Main Street where it has stood for many many years!  The old brick building has withstood the 1927 flood, the hurricane of 38 and over the years it has hosted many a chicken pie supper and various community groups in need of a space to meet.  It has seen its share of weddings and baptisms and funerals.  It has been a touch point and a gathering place within the community for a long time and it is an anchor and a beacon within the town!  It is a lovely, grand, old church!

I have spent time at that beautiful church over the years for Vacation Bible School, Christmas parties and various other events.  Even though I grew up at Waterbury Center Community church, Wesley has a special place in my heart because, for as long as I can remember, the two churches were virtually joined at the hip.  One might have been in the Center and one in the Village but we shared much together in true Methodist tradition.  Alan grew up at Wesley and his wife, Taunya, comes from a long line of Methodists.  Taunya's grandfather was a Methodist Preacher and her mother sang some of the most beautiful solos at the Center church when I was growing up!  Wesley has a special place in our hearts, and what Alan found when he finally was able to make it down to the church was heartbreaking!

According to Taunya, the first thing that Alan did was call his father to bring the generator and the pumps.  The basement at Wesley was flooded and it was flooded badly!  The piano that Alan and Taunya's daughter loved so much had floated out to the back entry way.  The kitchen was underwater, the dining area had chairs and tables floating all over the place.  It was a disaster!  Alan worked, and kept working, until Taunya finally talked him into coming home to get some rest.  But the next day, he was back there again, bright and early, working to help clean up a church that his family loved!

Other volunteers did show up eventually, but Alan was one of the first, and he wouldn't quit!  Without Alan, and a small handful of volunteers who got in there quickly, things could have been much worse!  Maybe it was Alan's Marine training that allowed him to react quickly, or maybe it's those good family roots planted over the years, either way, he managed to get past the shock and act quickly.

I like this verse from Proverbs 20 in The Message paraphrase:
"Knowing what is right is like deep water in the heart: a wise person draws from the well within."
The river rose but Alan drew from deeper waters!  And his story is like so many other stories that I have heard coming out of Vermont.  One individual at at time, choosing to do the right thing, especially in a time of crisis.  Yes, one person can make a difference!  I can't forget to mention Taunya either because she has been assembling care packages to give out to those in need!  If you have ever wondered what faith in action looks like, you don't have to look far!  I can't show you a clearer example of it than Alan and Taunya!  They get it, they understand and both acted upon that understanding!

As to the church, there were some things that couldn't be saved, like the piano.  The good news is, the church does have flood insurance.  The good folks at Wesley will stand strong and rebuild and be just as vital a part of the community as they always have been!  And I know that Alan and Taunya will be right there, doing what they can to keep that Wesley tradition alive and vibrant!

Thank you Alan and Taunya, for all that you have done and all that you continue to do!  My love and prayers and heart are with you!  I am so very proud of both of you!  Thank you for letting me share your story and your pictures!  Semper Fi my darling friends, Semper Fi!