Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Voices

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Isaiah 40

The other evening I was listening to an author talk about her recent book and she said one of the first tasks of writing a book is to find and listen carefully to the character's voice.  I was struck that such a task is not only for writers, but for all of us in life.  We need to find our voice; our authentic, unique, wonderful voice.  And once you find that voice, you begin to explore your range, just as a singer knows his/her range.  And once you find your range, you try to sing and share your voice with others in the best ways you can each day.

Yet, I also wonder how many people feel like they have to switch voices throughout the day?  Do you feel like you have one voice at work and another at home and still another at church?  Such switching can leave us feeling at once hoarse and confused, especially if one of the voices you are called on to sing is outside your range/comfort.

I know as pastors, we need to find our voice.  Often our first few sermons are part seminary paper, part biblical treatise, and part imitation of some preacher we read/really liked in seminary.  But over time, you cannot preach/sing/speak in a voice that is not yours.  More importantly, finding a voice is a process not only for preachers but for all people inside the church.  Often people come into church after a week of using a voice that did not feel very authentic or true; the stress and strain wearing on them, and do we on Sunday offer a chance for every person to remember/reclaim/rehearse his/her authentic voice God gave each of us?

If the greatest joy of God is a human/creation fully alive, then part of being alive is singing/speaking with gusto to the One whose very breath is what supports our voice in the first place.  And while it is great to think about our own voice, we also have to be careful and honest about which voices we are listening to.  Isaiah says 'A voice cries out in the wilderness.'  That voice brings promise and words of hope and that the future pathway of life will be a blessing.  Yet, very few voices I hear today offer such hope to us.  Most tell us that if we vote for the other party, the pathway will be rocky.  Most commercials tell us if we buy the other car we will be stranded on the side of the road.  Most of our colleagues, stressed by life, tell us we are foolish to think/trust/believe that there is any hope.

What voices are you listening to?  How is what you hear impacting what you say?  I invite you to sit with me alongside those questions this week to see what trace of God's grace might stir.

Blessings ~

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Relationship and rules part 2



If the Ten Commandments are really about relationships rather than rules; if the Ten Commandments are actually an invitation to dialogue and discussion; if the Ten Commandments are about how we can connect with God, ourselves and others in concrete ways...well that WE have some work to do.  We have some work to do as we sort out how we can authentically live these ten ways to life.

Last post I laid out the following understanding of the Ten Commandments:

1.  Put God at the center
2.  Don't try to confine God to the palm of your hand
3.  Don't use God for your own agenda...one that lots of us struggle with today.
4.  Keep the Sabbath...or as Barbara Brown Taylor says, "One day, you need to be good for nothing."  Just be, rest in God and not in your accomplishments.
5.  Honor parents...or better yet, honor all elders and those who have wisdom to offer.
6.  Be careful with weapons and words, both can be used for violence that kills
7.  Honor relationships, intimate and others too.
8.  Honor other's possessions...we all learned that in kindergarten
9.  Honor your own words...let them be authentic
10.  Let your deepest desire be God, or put God at the center, so we come full circle.

Then, I asked you to come up with concrete ways; actually examples, and I would do the same.  So, here are some thoughts:
1.  Put God at the center ~  I try to start every day with prayer.  I read a devotional, sit in silence, try to take deep, deep breathes, relax my shoulders, imagine handing my stress over to God, resist trying to take it right back from God.  Yet, just a few minutes in the morning, rarely feels like enough.  I have been trying this week to also spend time in the car in silence listening for God.  I think as a church at meetings we need to stop filling the agenda with our voices and let God get a word in edgewise.  Will some church members think this is a waste of time?  Sure!  But these are often the people who need to be still and listen.

4.  Being good for nothing is the hardest for me.  I have been working since I was 14 years old, before that I was responsible for making dinner and ironing!  Working becomes part of your DNA, the way you understand yourself.  However, when you live in Florida in the winter you have NO excuse not to get out and sit on the beach...and simply be.  Be in God's presence knowing that you are enough, without needing to produce a single thing!

5.  I have been thinking about who the elders or wisdom speakers in our world today?  Which voices give me new insights, and which voices challenge me in good ways?  I am still trying to comprise my list and will offer it in a future post.

10.  Let your deep desire be God...we know that all religion rests in the heart and we cannot see/know what is in another person's heart.  We know plenty of people who put on a facade and try to play the religious role.  Other people eschew the church, but are incredibly faithful.  So, actions and words are not some formula that we can determine what is going on inside someone.  You have to get to know them.  Many ways, I think we also need to get to know ourselves.  What do you believe?  And do your actions and words really match those convictions?  That is the challenge.  If the God of love is my deepest desire than love should be felt in my actions and words.  Not all the time, of course.  I am human, I get angry and tired and frustrated and say things I instantly want to rewind time to take back.  But when I do the very things I don't want to do, I can spend time asking, "Why?"  Why did I say that or do that, what is really at the heart of that action.  The more I can probe to the deeper part, and not just blame others, I can get closer to living out the image of God invites each of us to embody completely.

I know I did not comment on all Ten...but this is a glance at what is going on in my mind and heart.  How about yours?

Blessings ~ 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Relationships and rules



Often when we read the 10 Commandments, we conflate this top ten list with rules we need to unquestionably obey.  Etched in our mind is Charlton Heston coming down with his hair flowing... his beard flowing...his robe and words flowing saying, "I thus giveth thee tenth Commandmenths".  But when you read Exodus 20, God speaks.  God does not have Moses play secretary, God simply speaks and a relationship with God's people is formed and fashioned.  

That is pretty much how every relationship is formed.  You talk...and talk...negotiate and re-negotiate.  The rules around relationships are bendy and flexible.  Which is a pretty good description of God's relationship with us, it is flexible.  I know this is not the normal interpretation of the Ten Commandments.  But throughout Scripture these ten guidelines for life that is true life, keep getting discussed...sometimes debated with others.  Rabbis and teachers would keep entering into dialogue with people as they tried to put God first, even as other voices (like say, Caesar) clamored for that spot.  They wrestled with what was an idol and whether art pointed to (rather than tried to contain) our relationship with God.  They wanted their words to be honest and authentic.  They wanted to honor other relationships too, whether intimate or other human connections.  All of this was up for discussion.

Somewhere we stopped participating in the dialogue.  Somewhere we lost our history and our nerve of talking about how we form a meaningful relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others.  Yet, we can rekindle this love affair.  The first three commandments deal with our relationship with God:
1.  Put God at the center
2.  Don't try to confine God to the palm of your hand
3.  Don't use God for your own agenda...one that lots of us struggle with today.

The fourth is about our relationship with ourselves
4.  Keep the Sabbath...or as Barbara Brown Taylor says, "One day, be good for nothing."  Just be, rest in God and not in your accomplishments.

The last six have to do with our relationship with others:
5.  Honor parents...or better yet, honor all elders and those who have wisdom to offer.
6.  Be careful with weapons and words, both can be used for violence that kills
7.  Honor relationships, intimate and others too.
8.  Honor other's possessions...we all learned that in kindergarten
9.  Honor your own words...let them be authentic
10.  Let your deepest desire be God, or put God at the center, so we come full circle.

I invited the church today to not just read these, but to actually come up with concrete ways to live these Ten Commandments.  I encourage you to do the same.  In the next post, I will offer some of the ways I have come up with for my own life.

Until then...happy pondering!

Blessings ~

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What a Covenant...Wait! What is a covenant?


What a fellowship, what a joy divine! Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,  Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!  
First verse of the hymn, What a Fellowship

In the last post, I laid out one understanding of a narrative arc in scripture going from creation to crisis to community to Christ to church to culmination.  And like all human understandings there are pros and cons to this idea.  One drawback is that it does not emphasize enough the word, covenant.  Our modern day understanding of covenant tends to conflate or confuse it with contract.  While culturally there are similarities, I think within Scripture the two are  not synonymous.  A contract has a legal aspect and well-defined consequences for breaking the contract.  If I decide to jump ship from Verizon and go to AT&T, there is a well-defined financial consequence for that choice.  We are bound by contracts from the places we live to the credit cards we carry to even our jobs.  So, it makes sense that we view covenant through that same lens, it is convenient and seems to be the way the world works.  

Yet, a covenant is different.  A covenant is a vow made between to people.  A covenant is most concerned with the relationship.  Marriage vows are a covenant.  When my wife and I exchanged vows, we made a covenant to each other.  We did not sign our names on a dotted line with those words printed above, we looked each other in the eyes.  We did not talk about "early termination fees" or ways the vows would be "null and void", although there were implicit, if unspoken, ideals about what it meant to live out and live up to the words we were saying.  What I remember most is our final words of our vows, "I give myself to you as I am, as I will be, and I do it for all of life."  There is an elasticity to covenants that a contract simply cannot capture.

Often, when we think about the 10 Commandments, Exodus 20 (click here to read),  we read that as a kind of contract.  When that is the mindset we bring, it means that if you break one of those commandments, there is, "Gonna be some splaning to do" to quote Desi from I Love Lucy.  Or some even preach that God is going to have some smiting to do.  But what if these are viewed through the lens of a covenant?  Of God's relationship with us?  God's vow of connection?  God's hope for our lives?  Like wedding vows, God looks into our eyes and says, "I desire to be at the center of your life; I ask you to not confine me in easily understood boxes, I pray you will not causally throw my name around..."  That is a different way of reading.  Perhaps we prefer to keep the commandments as more of a contract.  But I wonder if we do this so we can stay in control?  Because if the commandments are primarily about us, then the onus is only on us, not equally on God, then we are in the drivers seat.  But all relationships, all good relationships, are about mutuality.  Covenants are about mutuality, a willingness to dance and have a give and take with each other.  

In the next two posts, I will comment on the Ten Commandments.  But for now, I offer you the chance to ponder prayerfully if viewing these Ten statements as covenant in our unfolding relationship with God might be helpful.  I pray it is and I pray you sense more than a trace of God's grace as you do so.

Blessings ~  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Rest of the Story



Have you ever wondered if there is any connection between Genesis and Revelation?  Are there threads that run from verse to verse; book to book; from beginning to end?  To be sure, we need to be careful with this.  When these are offered as authoritative, my way or the highway, this is the ONLY way possible, I start to nervously twitch.  When such suggestions are just that, proposals to discuss and debate, then I am more than glad to join in the conversation.

The fancy word for finding common thread is a meta-narrative; that is big story.  I am compelled by Brian McLaren who has written on this topic.  Yet, I also want to add to his understanding and ideas.  I think the big narrative of scripture is creation to crisis to community to Christ to church to culmination.  Six movements, like a symphony, that are tied thematically and rhythmically together.  You don't move linearly from one to the next, but there are riffs and melodies that get integrally interwoven together.   

Scripture starts with creation, two creation stories, laid side-by-side with little said about the fact that there is tension between the two.  By chapter 3 of Genesis there is crisis, Adam and Eve sink their teeth into a fruit, juice drips off their chins, and crisis becomes an important theme.  Creation and crisis keep dancing together in the book of Genesis, then we land in Exodus and suddenly a new melody is added to the mix.  We start to hear the refrain of community too.  Those three themes keep coming back.  In some ways, Exodus is about the creation of community and community in crisis.  These three themes play with each other.  Moments when community seems strong (like when King David rules) and moments when crisis creeps back into the symphony in times of Exile or prophets who keep on trying to nudge the people of God back to being a faithful community.

In the New Testament, we hear a new set of notes, in Jesus Christ.  While I don't think Jesus came to form a new church, that is what happens in Acts.  However, it is not as though the themes of creation, crisis, and community are left behind.  Instead, the Gospel of John gets it beautifully right when he pens, "In the beginning (creation) was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...he came to his own people and his own people did not receive him (crisis).....but to those who did receive him, he gave the power to become children of God (community).  Click here to read the whole passage in this light.  

Out of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the community becomes known as the church.  But the church is NOT the end.  The book of Revelation tells us about the culmination, Scripture tells us in the end, there is a river of life flowing by the throne of God and there are two trees which produce fruit for the healing of the nations.   Does that sound familiar?  It is creation, crisis overcome, community restored, with Christ our light, and the church packed with people from all nations finding peace, love, and basking in grace.  Or, culmination, in short.

Creation to crisis to community to Christ to church to culmination.  One way to see an overarching narrative in Scripture.  As you listen to a reading in church, where does that narrative fit in the ark?  Which themes from the list above to you hear?  Which themes would you add?  Another way to read Scripture that I pray will provide more than a trace of God's grace!

Blessings ~ 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One MORE way to Read Scripture


In my last post, I offered six ways of reading Scripture.  We explored Scripture as a chain link; Scripture as concentric circles; Scripture as moral/ethical truths; Scripture as conversation; Scripture as embodied truth (emotional connection); and Scripture as story.  As the class that explored these ways was talking, we found another way to read Scripture which is as Stained Glass.  This makes sense.  Originally Stained glass told the scripture stories through imagines.  When the Bible was read in Latin, a language the common person did not understand, the windows brought the stories to life in living color.  The windows were a way of communicating the faith.

To think about reading Scripture as Stained Glass awakens our imaginations.  When you look at stained glass there are many different levels.  You can look at the individual colors in each pane, each of which will communicate a truth. You can look at the ways the colors come together, culminate together to create a beautiful image.  Yet, it is not only about us as individuals.  Stained glass looks different depending on the light and especially how much or how little.  Stained glass can shift depending on where you stand.

All of that is truth of us as we approach Scripture.  What is going on inside us and around us will color our reading, much like where we stand as we gaze at stained glass.  We can focus on a few verses or we can try to step back and see the whole story/book of the Bible/where the passage fits in the whole Bible story.

In the church I serve now, in our chapel, is a beautiful/huge stained glass window of creation.  It is amazing.  It comes alive and looks different every single time I look at it.  Scripture is similar for me.  Scripture comes alive as I think about the passage.  What it must have been like to be standing there as Abram received a call to move or Miriam danced with a tambourine.  What it felt like to like to sit in the grass as fish and bread were passed around to you and five thousand of your closest friends.  That is the power of Scripture.  It is colorful and color-filled if only we let the light shine through.  And Scripture looks different every time I pick it up, even when I read the passage just a few short days later, especially when I read a passage a year later.

How does this way of reading Scripture sound?  Does it make sense?  Does it help?  For me, no one image of reading Scripture is the be all and end all.  Each way offers me a needed set of lenses or windows to look through.  Some are more meaningful, but each has a place in life at some point or time.  I pray you continue to think about the ways you read Scripture.  Which one resonates, which one feels too difficult or different, which one you might want to grow into.  But perhaps the best way is to open the good book and start reading!

I pray you will and will provide more than just a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~

p.s. In my next post, I want to offer a way to read Scripture as one whole book.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How do YOU read Scripture



All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  2 Timothy 3:16


How do you read Scripture?  If you are like the majority of faithful, church-going, hymn-singing, blog reading people...the most honest answer to that questions is, "Not very often."  At least, not very often outside of Sunday morning.  Well over half of people surveyed by the Pew Form a few years ago admitted that they don't read Scripture outside of church.  Let's face it, that makes some sense.  The Bible might not be nearly as compelling as the latest novel from your favorite author.  Not to mention the print is a bit on the tiny side, the pages a bit on a thin side, and a little to much emphasis on, "So and so begat so and so who begat so and so..."  And you thought Harlequin romance novels were only interested in sex.  Seriously, that is a lot of begating!

Each of us brings a perspective to Scripture.  At the church I serve, I have been talking about approaches to reading Scripture.  My hope and prayer is that by giving folks some tools for opening the pages of Scripture, it might pique the interest and cause/inspire folks to pick up the Good Book on a day other than Sunday.

There are six approaches to Scripture, you might think of these as six eye-glass lenses you might put on to read or understand Scripture through.

The first is Scripture as a chain.  Each verse in the bible is inter-locking, inter-dependent, and equally important.  Folks in this camp operate out of the cliche, that a chain is only as good as it's weakest link.  Often, this group defends the Bible as being the literal Word of God.  

The second is Scripture as concentric circles.  Think of dropping a rock in the middle of the water and watching the ripples go outward, further and further from the center.  Folks in this camp cling to a verse or idea that is their rock.  They might say Jesus' commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is the center or the claim that God is love.  Then, when people with these glasses read the Bible, they evaluate how close or how far way the passage of Scripture is from the center.  So, the Parable of the Prodigal Son would be close to the center of God is love, many verses in the book of Leviticus...not so much.  Maybe past the shoreline of the water.

The third is Scripture as a moral code or ethical guide.  Folks in this camp want to read Scripture and for every verse/story come up with one take home message, rule, idea to apply to their life.  So, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is...Don't have any kids!  Just kidding.  It is that we are suppose to forgive.  Of course, there are some passages this can take a great deal of mental gymnastics to try to find one kernel or moral lesson from.

The fourth is Scripture as a conversation.  The Bible is a record of a dialogue between God and humanity, we are invited to join the conversation.  Folks in this camp want to add their two cents in response to Scripture...maybe even debate Scripture.

The fifth is Scripture as embodied truth.  Whereas the above four work primarily at the intellectual level, what does my mind say in response to these words?  This way of reading works on the emotional level, what does Scripture make me feel?  What would my life look like if I took this seriously?  Folks in this camp read the Bible with their heart first.

The sixth is Scripture as story, that Scripture is a narrative.  By story I do not mean to minimize or discount the Bible's importance.  In fact, I believe that stories are the ONLY thing that make us change our life.  I can give you all kinds of facts about me...my age, height, weight, college and higher education degrees.  OR I can tell you a story about growing up in Iowa...God's heaven on earth.  You see the movie, Field of Dreams was a documentary.  Or, it was just a really good story about how our family relationships matter and our hopes for what is beyond our life here on earth.  "Tell me a story," is a phrase we never out grown.

That is it.  Six lenses.  Of course, you could you wear a couple different lenses at once, but just as in real life it is hard to focus!  Give this some thought and prayer this week.  Which one to you find yourself nodding as you read?  Which one gets under your skin?  Which one do you want to know more about?

May you sense MORE than a trace of God's grace this Sunday as you enter into worship and dwell with Scripture.

Blessings ~