Afraid of the Good People in the Church & in the Bible?

Flower Growing Through a Cracked Tile in a Walkway

Flower Growing Through a Cracked Tile in a Walkway

Genesis 28:10-19a

10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place — and I did not know it!” 17And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19aHe called that place Bethel;

 

Have you been afraid you would never be good enough for God?  Some people worry about this, even those who go on to become clergy.  In fact, a clergy friend of mine, who did not grow up in the church, was afraid of church and the Bible because she thought all the people of God were so very good – so very perfect.  She thought she could never belong because she was not good enough!

When she finally read the Old Testament, it gave her great hope because she found herself saying – “I can do better than that!” She could do better than stealing a birthright and having to escape across the wilderness so that her brother would not kill her. This is just one of many stories about people who made mistakes and yet loved God and were still loved by God.  The Bible is full of flawed people, many of whom did things much worse than you ever will.

Afraid for his life because of his trickery, Jacob dreamed of a ladder that sat on earth and rose into heaven. This dream gave him great peace and comfort, revealing to him that God was with him, even in the middle of nowhere, even in a site that may have been a sacred place for pagan people. Dreams in the Bible frequently reveal a message from God.

There are three messages here: one, God is with Jacob, even in this unknown territory. Two, God communicates through dreams. Three, God’s presence is a blessing. God would stay with Jacob and see him through all the hard times – and there were many.

These three things are true for you as well.

God is with you.  God can communicate with you — sometimes in your dreams.  And God’s presence is a blessing in your life.

If you want to know more about God communicating through dreams, I commend to you a wonderful book: Dreams, God’s Forgotten Language by John A. Sanford.  Sanford says that God is still communicating with us.  When we are too busy or distracted to listen, God sends us dreams.

Just as my tile path through my backyard is broken, our lives can also be broken.  We are not perfect but we are good enough.  This path is good enough to provide a place to walk so that our shoes do not get muddy in those rare occasions that it rains here at the edge of the Wild Horse Desert.

The crack in this tile has allowed a small and delicate flower to grow and delight the eye.  Your cracks and imperfections may allow something just as delicate to delight those around you. Perhaps that crack is what God will use to bring you a message.

Do not be intimidated! You, my friend, are good enough!

God bless you for reading.

Posted in Dreams, Faith, Hope, Sin, Wholeness, Wonder | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking the Heat and saying Thank You

Swallowtail on Salvia

Swallowtail on Salvia

It is the middle of summer and the temperatures in South Texas are up to 99, 100, and sometimes more.  This is all the more noticeable to me since returning from a stay in the coolness of the mountains of Colorado.

We are encouraged to be grateful for all things – even the heat.  Gratitude changes our lives and dispositions, and in doing so changes not only the quality of our life but the quality of life for all those around us.  I hope you enjoy this meditation on being grateful for the heat.  Please visit it and enjoy.

If you are receiving this by email, you may need to click on the title of the post above in order to click through to this lovely meditation in words and images.

Taking the Heat and saying Thank You.

Perhaps it is not the heat you struggle to be grateful for.  What might it be?

Posted in Faith, Gratitude, Happiness, Living Fully, Wholeness | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Living With a Wild God

DSCN2896 - Version 2I have just finished reading a memoir by Barbara Ehrenreich named Living with a Wild God. She has written several important books, some used in sociology classes, such as Nickled and Dimed in America, a book about how difficult it is to live on a minimum wage.

In her spiritual memoir, Living with a Wild God, she talks about a lifetime of spiritual experiences that she cannot explain with her scientific background and at the end of the book asks that the scientific community not give up on investigating spiritual experiences or the question ‘why’ which she says really means ‘who.’ And this who, she says, seems to be pursuing us.

There are several things about this statement and the memoir that are interesting, not the least of which is that the author is an atheist and a scientist. She does not think that she can call this being, if it is a being, “God” because she thinks that we have outgrown notions of “gods.” Her experiences as she has tried to search for the truth do not fit into any framework that she has for understanding the universe. And, yet, she will not deny them because she knows what she has experienced.

This intelligence that she encountered in experiences that are almost impossible to explain in words, is not the God that she has heard spoken of so casually.  However, this sounds a lot like the Living God, “I Am” of scripture.  This was not a small, easily explained, loving presence that fits neatly into a box but an enormous light-filled power. These are experiences that can be frightening in their otherness.

Last Sunday, we read the account of Abraham taking Isaac up onto the mountain to sacrifice him. I am wondering if Abraham’s encounters with this Wild God were  equally as frightening and impossible to put into words as the encounters of Ehrenreich.

Are we, who love to explain everything, who love to test and measure everything, putting forth too simplistic a view of God?

I am inclined to think so.

I had one seminary professor, who would say that we should remember that God is larger than our God. And, our theology professor, Alan Lewis, began our course in theology with the thought that with God being so large and other, existing before time and space, how could we even find words to express ‘who’ this God is, a being so totally other.  He equated it to being like a jester.  And, yet, for those of us who have been drawn into the service of the living God, we must continue to try to express what we can and do know.

Ehrenreich approached life with a desire to know the Truth about life and its purpose.  She encountered this “Other” in the desert as a young teen after dedicating herself to the pursuit of Truth and has spent her life working for peace and justice.  It seems to me that she met the God whom I serve and whom she has served as well.

My greatest teacher I have only met in writing said, “whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”  Ehrenreich has been concerned with being the voice of the marginalized and the defender of the poor and forgotten.  This life of service to humankind grew out of her search for the Truth and purpose of life.

I recommend reading the book.  She may open your eyes to the Wild God, the God who is bigger than all we know of God, the God who comes (Carlo Carretto) and is pursuing a relationship with you and me and everyone.

 

Posted in books, Faith, Hope, Living Fully, Wholeness, Wonder | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Do You Say to an Atheist?

Come, Eat & Laugh With Us

Come, Eat & Laugh With Us

I read an article a few years ago that stated that perhaps atheism is the new normal for the future. It has been fashionable to ask atheists, “What god do you not believe in?” because you and I probably do not believe in that god either.  You know the gods, the ones who strike people down with cancer or send a tornado through their house because they said a bad word or killed them and their friends because they’re gay.

I don’t believe in those gods.  And, I don’t believe in the god who keeps a naughty and nice list and heaps gold and material possessions on those who send money to TV ministries.

However, that question: “What god do you not believe in” has lost its power in repetition. I would no longer ask it.

I am considering just how to speak and talk to those who profess no belief in God. And, I’m considering how to be welcoming and loving to those who hold to that belief. What many non-believing people seem to not realize is that a belief in no god is as much a belief as a belief in God. And, furthermore, this belief will inform the actions of those who hold it, just as our belief in a God of love, peace, and justice will inform ours.

One of the characteristics of a Christian community since the beginning is love and the care that we take of each other. It was out of the Christian communities that hospitals, hospices, and hotels were formed. Because of our belief that God will provide for us even after death, we can care for those with illnesses that might cause our own death or disfigurement. Because of our understanding that God loves and redeems, we work for restitution for those who have been harmed by others and also for rehabilitation of criminals. We collectively do all these things even though I do not personally do them.

Perhaps we might invite them to join us in service. Have a hammer? Want to help build a wheelchair ramp? Want to mentor in the schools? How about helping these ladies bring in the clothes bags and sort them for the clothes closet?  Or, invite them to a meal.  We all eat.

How do we help people who come seeking a sense of the holy when they do not even know they are looking for it? How do we extend love and acceptance to people who do not realize they need it?

Many people are turned off by Christians these days, even repulsed and perhaps, rightly so. Throughout history, people have had varying problems with the church, with the wealth gathered from the poor to build beautiful cathedrals, with the wars fought against Muslims or Jews, or with the fracturing of the church into many denominations. There are so many ways we can become arrogant, so many ways that our actions do not match our faith.

It seems to me that many of the dialogs between prominent atheists and Christians have not been satisfying.  Perhaps talking is not the thing to do after all.  Maybe a project and a meal.

What do you think?

Posted in Faith, Hope, Living Fully | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Pentecost Shows God’s Amazing Inclusivity

2013-09-22 11.40.05The Pentecost account in Acts chapter two shows how open and inclusive God is. So often, we want to define faith and community in a small way as our church or our denomination – or if we are being very ecumenical, we might just say all Christians. However, look and see how wide open God throws those doors.

All people within hearing range heard and understand what was being said. This passage reminds me of the American Bible Society that seeks out people to translate the Bible into a variety of languages so that people can read these spiritual texts in their own languages.. This move to translate sacred texts began in the Reformation with Martin Luther believing that people need access to the scriptures in a way they can understand. What an amazing gift it is to have scriptures that we can read and study so that we can learn from the best spiritual teachers down through history.

However, even with that gift, how many Bibles sit dusty on the shelf? And, we need to remember that having the Bible in German did not prevent the Nazis from taking over the church during WWII. Some people can read and not understand the meaning behind the words. Having the scriptures available and even reading them is not enough. We also need the Spirit to indwell us. The simple prayer asking Jesus to live in our heart asks the Spirit in, into our heart and into our life. Once in, God can transform us into people who will enrich this world.

This morning, I opened an email with a link to a video of a man singing in the middle of the street. He sang “You Raise Me Up.” It is absolutely beautiful and made me think of Pentecost and our celebration of the Holy Spirit.

Each person has gifts and talents that can be used for the common good to make the world a better place. There are many gifts. With friends and with God’s help, you can develop them to make this world a better place.

Enjoy the beautiful music as long as the link exists.

 

In searching my archives for a picture for God’s inclusivity, I found this photo of three international students playing in one of our local churches.  They are from Mexico, Korea, and Guatemala and playing in a south Texas church.  What a source of inspiration & encouragement they were to the congregation who responded with an excellent meal.  The food was well received.

Posted in Hope, Living Fully, Love, Wholeness | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mistakes Are Made

clouds

What do you think about the people in the Bible? Do you think they are always right and holy and better than you have ever been? If so, perhaps you have not noticed just how many mistakes the disciples can make. In the Ascension story in Acts 1:6-14, they make two mistakes that you and I could make as well. I have already made the first one, perhaps many times, asking questions that have no answers.

They ask Jesus about timing of future events.   Was he going to restore Israel to power today? They were still hoping for a military and earthly victory and wanted to know when it would occur. When is Rome to be overthrown? When is the end of the world?

Jesus tells the disciples and us to not worry. This is the Father’s business. As much as we might love disaster films and conspiracy theories, we are wise if we enjoy them as fiction.

The second mistake the disciples make is not doing anything. They stand looking up into the clouds after Jesus has gone. Perhaps they are stunned, confused, full of more questions, or perhaps they are wondering if he will come back. Two men in bright white clothes, perhaps angels, tell them to be on their way.

We have also seen how people can spend a lifetime in church and Sunday School, hearing the scriptures, yet not doing anything about it. They do not allow the scriptures to change them so that they can show God’s love to the world. It is not enough to know the good news and know where Jesus has been in our lives. We need to pray to know how to reach out to others. And, then we need to do it.

Like the first disciples, we too, can make mistakes.  And, like them, we can move on and do something with our lives.

Posted in Faith, Forgiveness, Living Fully | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Come Celebrate with Us

2014-04-12 20.43.57 - Version 2

With thanks to Walt Whitman

We celebrate.

With cake and ice cream, prayers and songs, poems and dances,

With eulogies, stories, and photos,

We celebrate our lives, our past, and our future.

We celebrate.

With hummingbirds sipping from the salvia, woodpeckers marking their territory, even tapping the metal cover on the street lamp, mockingbirds chasing away larger birds, chasing hawks and owls from their nests, with cardinals and jays both blue and green,

With the scent of skunks caring for the pups, the ripening tomatoes in cages, yellow blooms of lantana and wildflowers lining the roads, wild sunflowers, Blackfoot daisies, Indian blankets, pink Evening primroses, sprinkles of yellow and white and pink wildflowers,

We celebrate summer beginning.

With books returned to classrooms, dorms cleaned, parents taking trash to dumpsters, ceremonies calling out the names and diplomas given, scholarships awarded,

With a circle of graduates on their knees in final pray, standing, tossing mortarboards into the air, sending academic gowns to the cleaners,

We celebrate.

With a jet welded to a stand, other jets parked while still others fly in formation writing calligraphy with their trails,

With flags of many nations flying on poles around a fountain, with English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean spoken in hellos and goodbyes, thank yous, congratulations, and best wishes,

We celebrate.

With soldiers home from abroad, uniforms packed away or uniforms worn, some with pride and some not,

With picnic baskets and cook outs by the pool, steaks and hot dogs,

With babies and white haired ladies, skinny men and those with pot bellies, young women with platform shoes and wide smiles, women with arms that wave even when they stop, teenagers so sure they have been sold a bill of goods and they just want to get away and have some fun,

We celebrate.

With white tombstones carved with six pointed stars, crosses or crescent moons,

With music and slide shows, scrap books, photo albums, biographies, lots of stories, true and embellished, and old movies,

We celebrate men and women who have put family and country before self.

With those who marched that others could ride the bus and go to school and sit downstairs at the movie theater, who stood even when tear gas was thrown and clubs beat them down, who returned even after being locked away in prison for asking for justice and equality, to ask again for justice,

We celebrate those who put God before family, country, and self.

With the jackhammer and the cement mixer,

With the computer, pen, and paper, with the baton, chalk, smart boards and the video games, baseballs, footballs, and tennis rackets, cards, and dominoes,

With the clay and metal, ink and paint, fabric sewn into clothes and quilts,

With those sitting in bird blinds waiting with cameras and those walking the ground throwing out seed balls or burning the cedar,

With the planning of roads and bridges, dams, and circuit boards, smart phones and laptops,

We celebrate work and play, art and sport, nature and engineering.

With friends and family, we sit on wooden benches, singing hymns we have sung a million times before and songs that are new with strange rhythms, say prayers we know by heart, and read new prayers, listen to scripture and how to live it out,
We celebrate our faith in houses of worship, thankful to worship freely.

With “Peace be with you,” and “also with you,”

With “love your neighbor as yourself,”

With “the love of God that passes all human understanding,”
We celebrate love: loving God, loving each other, loving the world.

We celebrate.

With an infant’s giggle, a grinning toddler pulling loose of her father’s hand to dance with the song at the graduation ceremony,

With the limping gait of an ankle too many times broken, a deep rumbling laugh, the sigh of not being understood, the tears of loss and the pain of grief at losing one who was close to our heart,
We celebrate.

With courage and discipline,
We celebrate life.

We celebrate.

 

Posted in Dreams, Faith, Gratitude, Happiness, Holidays, Hope, Living Fully, Wholeness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Radical Acceptance

PPAS Prayer Circle Graduation 2014

PPAS Prayer Circle Graduation 2014

Who are you?

When people meet, they want to know who you are. Many of us are a bit shy and nervous about revealing much. Perhaps we worry about rejection because we are not smart enough, wealthy enough, or because we are the wrong nationality, color, or in the wrong line of work.

However, God loves us all. Stumbling blocks to us, such as race or culture, are not problems for God. God loves us all.

There are places, such as our international mission high school in Kingsville or our universities where people from many countries come together. By necessity, students from a variety of cultures come together to learn and live. They study together, eat together, and many times, worship together. They learn mutual respect and forbearance (the ability to put up with each other.) Those who were not a people are now a people, joined by common experiences, goals, and values.

The same can be true in our churches but is it? In our community, we are longing to live into this reality. The Christian church can be as multi-cultural and rich as the communities around it. It can stand out as the place where all people can be accepted and loved. This is what we long for.

We are a new people formed by water and Word.  How do we live into this truth?

Here we practice an open table. Around the Lord’s Table, all believers may eat and drink the mystery of the faith. In Christ, there is no division. In God’s heart and house, there is radical acceptance. You are loved. Here you find peace for your soul.

Posted in Hope | Leave a comment

Whose Call Do You Answer?

rose & sheep

Sunday was Mother’s Day.  One of our members brought pink roses for everyone to honor our mothers.  It was also Good Shepherd Sunday (John 10:1-10.)  No one brought sheep but we talked about what it meant for us to listen to the call of the Good Shepherd.

Many people and activities call to us, vying for our attention.  Whose call do you answer?

When I was growing up in south Texas, we used to play outside in the evenings. We played swing the statue or hide and seek, rode bikes, and skated up and down the sidewalks. But sooner or later, we’d hear a call come out, “Dinner time.” I’d always know when it was my mother’s voice and I knew I’d better get in quick because she was not a patient person.

This week was Mother’s Day, a day for honoring our mothers. It would be a good day to talk about Dr. Alan Lewis and his understanding of the Motherhood of God, how God embodies and exemplifies motherhood. It was also Good Shepherd Sunday. And, it occurs to me that a good mother is a lot like Jesus description of the Good Shepherd.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is calling us out of the pen. Some pens are places of safety and rest; others are places of confinement. He opens the pen and goes before us, leading us into the world. He tells us to love God, love others, and serve this world.

There are other shepherds, other voices who do not care about us but have other agendas. They are the voices telling us to look out for only for ourselves, remember our hurts, take revenge, hoard everything, and fear each other. Those voices are not Jesus.

In contrast, Jesus’ voice calls us to love each other more than we love ourselves, forgive the slights and hurts that others give us. Jesus calls us to love and trust God more than our traditions and rituals, more than we love and trust ourselves. That can be hard, even for the church to do.

This is an age of much anxiety and fear. For that matter, I wonder if there has ever been an age that was not. We need to hear again that God is with us and working in us. Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones and into the world where we are to live fully, showing the love of God to others.  Be as attuned to that voice calling you out into the world as much as you were to your mother’s voice calling you home.

Jesus is calling.

Posted in Faith, Hope, Living Fully, Love, Wholeness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Day of Hope

Wedding Day as a Day of Hope

Wedding Day as a Day of Hope

A week ago, a nephew married and my mind went back to the words of the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartes as he began the Royal wedding ceremony three years ago, calling the wedding day a Day of Hope, as every wedding day should be.  Then, he continued with several passages that caught my ear, particularly –  “As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the west, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life.”

Has that happened to you?

Is God less real to you now than when you were young, or less real to you than to your parents or grandparents.  Instead of God, do you lean on people, and people alone?  Perhaps doubts and questions about how to be a person of faith and a person who understands modern technology, germ theory, modern science and comparative religion have you feeling distant from God, or doubtful about much of what you were taught as you grew up.

We struggle to understand, but we cannot expect to understand everything. We cannot fit the infinite into our small heads.  Or, perhaps, we give up the struggle because the doubts overcome us.

Doubting is not a sin, thank goodness. Even the disciples who walked with Jesus doubted. In one gospel, Jesus eats some fish so that the disciples will know that he is not a ghost.  The disciple, Thomas, is allowed to voice his doubts which are met with a second visit by Jesus. Notice that Jesus is not angry with Thomas, but supplies what he needs in order to believe. Then, Thomas, proclaims his faith very decisively.  The story about Thomas is for you and me so that we might believe and have life.  And, yet, we may still have doubts.

We don’t have to hide our doubts. Doubting is normal, even while believing. We do not need to worry that God will punish us for doubts. Instead, we should pause, pray, and be open to God revealing something to us.  If we cannot even pray for ourselves, we can remember that others are praying for us, especially if we are part of a community of faith.

On this Day of Hope, two people committed themselves to each other before God and a community.  They moved toward each other with a community praying for them, supporting them in their marriage, as we all acknowledged God in their midst.  They are pledging to love and forgive and support each other, not only by their own power, but with God’s help and the support of the community of family and friends.

They are not alone.  We are not alone.  This is a Day of Hope.

Posted in Dreams, Faith, Forgiveness, Hope, Living Fully, Love, Marriage, Prayer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment