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Monday – Humor Required

For those of us who serve in churches, whether staff or congregant, this month (December) is just horrendously busy. In the midst of such a flurry of activity, working to make these holidays rich and meaningful… we sometimes just get…. “tarred”… as they say ’round here.

For me, humor is often the best tonic. I found myself listening to some Bob Newhart, and from there was led to Grady Nutt. If you have never seen/heard Rev. Grady Nutt speak, allow me the privilege of introducing you.

This may begin a new “tradition” for me. Mondays, we just deserve and need a smile. Please enjoy this!

 

 

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Compromising Purity – Corruption

water pour 2“Purity” – that’s the topic. We’ve dealt with “Adulteration” as a means for compromising purity. That’s watering down the good stuff with other stuff that makes no difference at all, except that there’s less good stuff because of the space taken up by the other stuff. Right.

So now, let’s consider the second way to compromise purity. There’s “Corruption”. Corruption is when the good stuff is spoiled by bad stuff that awakens or results from what is already in the vessel to begin with.

We usually think of corruption as “spoilage”. Food, meat, milk… get “corrupt” when they rot. When organic processes once a part of their life, or passively contained in their life, now activate in a new way and produce bad stuff along the way. We think of corruption in politics or business, when someone (or someones) inside an organization, start doing bad stuff that spoils the ability of the public to rely on the good stuff they have come to expect.

Jesus dealt with it. He addressed “Corruption”. He confronted the reality of people looking towards those from whom they should expect “good”, and instead finding rotten spoilage from within…

Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother[’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:

This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”

After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”

Then the disciples *came and *said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” [Matthew 15:1-20]

Long passage, perhaps, but fairly short lesson…

The heart… the thoughts and feelings that generate our words and our actions. When the heart within is unhealthy, corrupt, death-rotten, then our purity is compromised. Our words, deeds, our relationships… defiled. And the placement of this lesson by Jesus is very telling. He doesn’t speak of “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders“, these “things which defile the man”… while He is speaking with an adulterer, a Samaritan, a Roman pagan, dishonest tax-collectors, or even a thief on the cross.

Jesus speaks of these defilements, these destroyers of purity, among the hyper religious, among the churchmen teachers (pastors) and leaders (deacons). He speaks of these things embedded in a huge indictment of those who abuse their moral authority to guilt trip people with legalism, while their own hearts seek to fulfill their own needs and desires.

These were not notorious public scandal sinners. These weren’t lawbreakers. They didn’t engage in adultery, or idolatry of pagan gods, or petty common theft. Their sins, their violations of purity, would never have shown in an exterior view. Their impurity was inside themselves, from the heart, and showed through their fruit.

So how bleak would all this look?

What hope is there ever for purity, if it can be compromised both from without and even from within? Why would we even try to attain or maintain something so apparently impossible?

We’ll address that, next time.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Ripples and Birthdays

WisdomIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. [Genesis 1:1-2]

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,  in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. [Luke 2:4-7]

While I know that technically it is “Christmas Day” as I write, Gentle Reader, for me it is the ending of Christmas Eve for I’ve not yet slept. These several days, I’ve yet been struck with the awesome power of “silence’ and “waiting”. I know there are those who decry the customs and traditions of the Liturgical Year, and the cycle of holidays such as Christmas and Easter in the Christian Church. I realize, with all educated theologians, that the decisions to select the dates we have are more dependent on the incorporation of customs by pagan peoples into Christian practice, than any scriptural seasonal basis. But it has always seemed more to me an apt unification of God’s people, rather than any denial or wrongful compromise.

Paulfg (Just me being curious) speaks often of dropping pebbles and watching the myriad ripples that follow. So much of grace is like that. God, or one who follows Him, drops a pebble, and the Holy Spirit echoes and reverberates among many others like variations on a theme of music. I was recently struck by the rhythmic nature of reality, of the necessity of opposites. In order to know true freedom and choice of good over evil, we MUST of logical necessity, have the capacity to choose evil. In order to know light, we must have the ability to apprehend darkness. For me, limited as I am by my own culture and upbringing, I’m coming to consider this the nature of yin and yang. Even Paul’s ripples have peaks and troughs, a zenith and nadir to define them.

This “silence”, this “fasting”, this preparation for the annual commemoration of the Great Events of the Nativity and the Resurrection that comprise Advent and Lent… these are important, and can do much to enrich our experience of God. Why? Because they are, in and of themselves, some sort of “magic times”? No. Because God takes special note of those who are devout enough to honor these penitential periods, and rewards the faithful with special Brownie Point Blessings? No. Because we have to “purge ourselves of our worldliness and sin”, in order to benefit from these sacred feasts? Well, such exercise may well bear some fruit, yes… but not in such a transactional way, no.

Now, I know you’ve heard this before, but let me say it again. I write from my own experience and subjective perspective. My opinions and conclusions are my own, and if they do not agree with yours I am NOT implying that you are wrong. For you, in your life, your world, your walk with the Lord, these ideas may not fit at all… and if that is the case, please cast them aside without hesitation. But perhaps these reflections will spur a new thought or idea to explore with Him, and that may bring additional grace or blessing. I share to expand our sense of the Possible in the realm of the grace of God.

This night, I’ve been struck with the Ripples of the Nativity. With this transition from Advent into Christmas. From pregnancy to parenthood. I was struck with those TWO texts quoted at the beginning of this post. All of “Not-Yet-Created” waited silently and darkly for “Creation”. The verb there for God “formed” is a word that means “brought forth from nothing at all”. This is not like a conjurer’s trick, the magician who unveils and releases a dove from a handkerchief and his “empty” hand. No, this is vastly more profound. This is God the Father and God the Son and God the Breath of God speaking, extending, and hovering over the expanse of darkness to bring forth… EVERYTHING. Birth!

And then, much later on, we see this scenario play out into our world, our time and space, as the Father sends forth Gabriel and speaks, the Son extends, and the Holy Breath overshadows Mary in her home. Nine months later, according to the rules of biology established in our lives, we have… Birth!

In my own life, this is a night each year when the universe itself holds its collective breath and gazes upon THE miracle of birth. It is God’s glory, God’s act, God’s love, God’s grace. It is entirely and wholly His, and it could well be said that He alone has the right to rejoice in it. But… just as He invited the shepherds and the maji so long ago to take part, to come, to witness, to celebrate… so too, He invites us. Isn’t that wondrous?

But watch this, it gets better! It is not only the celebration of the Birth of Jesus that is going on here.  Jesus said, “you in Me and I in you and together we in the Father.”  John the Apostle calls you a “Child of God”. Paul the Apostle waxes eloquent about “joint-heir with Christ,” including the training and discipline involved. We never see any of these texts grovelling in any sort of “worthless worm theology”, as so often undermines Christians in the name of humility.

The Nativity is not only Jesus’ Birthday… but ours as well. We are here to commemorate a birth… your birth, my birth… as sons and daughters of God… joint heirs… princes and princesses of kingdom… called to do the works of Jesus and greater yet because He is risen to the Father.

God Alone creates something from nothing. God Alone chose to lay down His divinity and become a man like us in all things but sin. God Alone moves the Holy Breath Spirit to dwell within us and among us. Why? Because He chooses to. Because that’s what Love means to Him.

And God Alone could make royalty of you and me. “Holy and Royal Priesthood” is all well and good as long as we speak of it in some vague corporate collective of “The Church”. But people become vastly less comfortable when one points out that means that YOU, are a sacred prince/princess priest/priestess. *I’m* not saying that… Scripture says that.

So… for tonight… let us continue to be silent, waiting, and ready. For, tomorrow, there will be Birth. And there will be a Gift. And the Gift will be an entirely new life… not just a “getting by” life… but a holy and royal life. A life filled with life, love, joy, truth, beauty, goodness, power, authority, and duty. Life that gives itself away and pours itself out for others…

Why? Because that’s what God has chosen to do. Because that’s what Love means to Him.

Happy Birthday, Your Highness.

 

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2014 in Advent Devotions, Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds

 

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Spiritual Gifts — Contagious

gift-boxesWhen they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them. It came about, when all who knew him previously saw that he prophesied now with the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”  [1 Samuel 10:10-11]

{Have a look at this chapter (1 Samuel 10), and see this story from verse 1 to verse 12.]

Don Merritt has just completed a terrific series of posts on “Spiritual Gifts”, and I recommend it to all of you Gentle Readers. [The series starts with the post of October 30, titled “Now What?“. Get the whole series in one bite by going to The Life Project and pulling the listing of keyword tag “spiritual gifts“. It is WELL worth the effort, trust me.].

I didn’t comment on his posts for a number of reasons, the foremost of which was that they were so well done there really wasn’t much I felt moved to add. His material was so comprehensive and well organized that I didn’t want to distract anyone (or him) by injecting my sort of “out of the box” commentary. But I did have a number of those thoughts go by, along with flashbacks of the ancient times when these emerged in my own walk.

Between that and some questions that have come up from time to time on the topics of Discernment and hearing the Holy Spirit, there are a few pebbles that I’ve wanted to toss into our pond of spiritual growth and exploration here as their own posts.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The question is often asked… “How can I enhance my spiritual growth?”

The answer is often given… “Find and attend a church or place of worship that grows you, where the Holy Spirit seems to be present among the people.”

Such advice is often looked upon as being “marketing”, or “toeing the party line”. But it is far more than that. The other day, I mentioned that to “gather as church” is an effect, a fruit, of an intimate encounter with God… it is not generally a cause. “Piety”… a deep and sincere love for the Divine, on His own terms, not ours, can be nearly palpable, tangible, with certain places or people.

Have you ever walked into a church, or a chapel or old mission, or maybe a cloister… and just wanted to sit there and enjoy the experience? I don’t want to sound “flamingly mystical” or anything, but… I have become convinced over time that people of love, investing themselves into the Word(s) of God, with faith repetitively in a place… seem to leave a residue behind.

Which comes to my point… that “faith”, “love”, “encouragement”, and “giftedness”… all seem to have a major element of “contagion” to them. Investing time, care, focus and love into Truth of God seems to draw that truth forward into our immediate experience. More simply put, Love is a force that has real world effects when applied.

Back in the days when I was a young omniscient minister, I was part of a band of brethren that ministered according to our gifts in the community. I noticed at the time, the strange phenomenon that when I was “functioning in and with the group”, the strength of my gift was much greater, much more precise, much clearer, than when I was alone or working alone. Upon further reflection later in life, I realized that my own development of those gifts… even their emergence to identifiability… had occurred when I was both under the tutelage of a master spiritual director AND was comfortably nestled among a group of brethren determined to grow in our relationship with God, and serving the community.

When I did see this in my middle age, I was struck with that passage from 1 Samuel. I have observed this before, many times. When a collective of faithful (whether a church, a ministry, whatever) are determined, dedicated, and mutually accountable to grow in Christ… and when led by a teacher of wisdom and experience… then spiritual giftedness, grace, and growth of relationship with God… seem to “effervesce” or bubble up like popcorn bursting forth.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Bottom Line: Grace, love, and emergence of spiritual gifts are “contagious”, and best nurtured in an environment that includes the energetic encouragement of fellow family members, with the guidance and care of an experienced master mentor.

What do ya’ll think? What have you seen, heard, experienced around any of this?
Grace to thee — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Martian Chronicles: Ritual Revisited

Mars OneWe’ve looked at a few different aspects of what it is to be “church”, to make “church” on Mars for the first expedition headed that way sometime between 2025 and 2040.

We have discussed questions of ritual, and even considered the example of baptism for how we’d carry forward scriptural mandates without clinging to denominational detritus out of simply habit.

An earlier post asked “what is the benefit of ritual?” Are there any good aspects to rites and rituals, especially as that would affect this Mars Mission?

Gentle Breeze (Julia) made a magnificent response in a comment as she listed a variety of things she would want to bring along as a Martian Missionary… Here’s part of what she said…

First I would want the Bible. if I couldn’t bring the whole thing I would bring the four Gospels and the psalms.

Then I would want my daily Bible reading notes unless I could persuade each member of the team to take it in turns to write our own each day.

I would find it hard to leave behind my favourite book of Blessings-Benedictus by John O’Donohue. I discovered the importance of blessing each other through my sister.

Too, I want to bring my very first Prayer Time Book to remind me of my child hood faith and how sometimes a child is closer to the kingdom of God than the most learned.

Can I bring a candle?-sometimes I light a candle when doing daily tasks like washing up. It helps me when i can’t pray in words and makes even an ordinary task a prayerful activity.

I want to bring bread and wine (non-alcoholic for some) to share in the Lord’s supper.

I want to bring water-fresh soft water from the hills to drink to refresh and hydrate me and remind me of the Living Water.

I also want music-secular and religious. I would like my favourite songs or pieces of both as they can all be used prayerfully.

I would like a radio or TV as I would not like to live in my own cocoon. I need to know what is happening on earth.

This wonderful contribution richly highlights the question of “ritual”. Is there a positive benefit, a healthy aspect, to ritual? Yes, I believe there is. Ritual denotes routine and predictability. All of us have dealt with times of change in our lives. Change can be unsettling, even scary to some extent. Routines can add elements of stability, predictability, and comfort for us.

When it comes to religious practices, where we often look for comfort and stability in the first place, routines and ritual can be very dear to us.

Julia’s comments are wonderful because they point out a tremendous source of grace, love, joy, peace and comfort in our lives, as we invest time in practices we develop over a lifetime of prayer and closeness with God.

We’ve all taken part in creating rituals… whether for ourselves, for our children, for co-workers or friends. Patterns of behavior that make life stable and predictable. Mealtimes, bedtimes, beginning work, lunch, vacations, weekends… all these things.

Right, so if we grant that the presence of ritual may add to stability and a sense of “hominess” for colonists very far from home and the familiar… how do we make positive use of that comfort, without becoming slave to rules and routines beyond the mandates of grace and scripture?

Coffee, tea, and mocha poured. * Branching out these days *… Pie sliced. Whatcha think?

 

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Martian Chronicles: Ritual, Rites, Runes

Mars One Well! Here we are again, assembled in preparation for a first expeditionary missionary trip to Mars, scheduled for sometime between 2025 and 2040.

All righty then, having established that we gather in mutual respect, and seeking the means best to express the love of Christ among and around us…

Let’s consider a “knotty” question then…

Taking Scripture as our only “Gold Standard”…

How should we approach the issue of “Ritual”?

God expresses Himself to us through “spirit” and “truth”, through revelation by inspiration of the Holy Spirit; expression of the Word of God “Logos”, the words of Christ through the Holy Bible; and through relationship of love and mutual encouragement through others and godly counsel. This is not an “exhaustive list”, but it’s the list of means I have experienced that God “speaks”. Are there more? Discussion open.

But people, social creatures that we are, tend to group together and express our response to all that… not only through the privacy of prayer and secret worship, individual worship, but also through the congregate enterprise of “religion”. A major part of that is the development of “ritual” or “congregate practices of devotion” that we engage in.

Historically, these practices codify into one or another form of Codex, or Rituum, or set of Rites that identify a group and its cohesion. Ultimately, it devolves into a clan or a tribe, identifying with one another as being “right” and “good”, and with others or alternative practices as “wrong” or “bad”. Terrible wars, intense bloodshed, have been pursued among Christians who have mutually inflicted martyrdom upon one another.

We, at this table, seem dedicated and determined not to follow such a path…

So my question is… how?

What elements of congregate practice, group cohesion, mutual encouragement in worship, prayer, and mutual support… reflect the heart and mind of Christ? What is “good” about “ritual” (if anything), and thus should be kept? And what can we properly eliminate (if anything), as NOT reflective of Christ and the revelation of God’s heart in the Bible?

How do we DO this “church” thing?

Coffee’s poured, tea’s up… Pie sliced… and this time, I brought some cookies, too!

 

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Martian Chronicles – The Company We Keep

Mars OneWell! Here we are again, assembled in preparation for a first expeditionary missionary trip to Mars, scheduled for sometime between 2025 and 2040.

We’re gathered in the common room of our quarters with 9 other anchor couples or individuals, planning our establishment of work and organization of our project. We have extraordinary freedom and blessing of our denominations to establish this new work according to scriptural lines as led by the Holy Spirit, as a cooperative and collaborative effort, rather than trying to “plant another church” according to our own parochial model.

We have met and gotten acquainted. We’ve posed a few questions to consider, and even considered a couple of them.

The first question we talked about was: “What are we here to do? What is our purpose, our mission?” Lively discussion ensued. Thus far, it seems the best response has been posed by Susan Irene Fox in a comment to “Martian Chronicles: Who’s In Charge?”.

LM, to go back to one of your questions, “what is the ‘point’ of church” as Jesus/Scripture sees it. In my reading of it, (and forgive, I’m a new believer – only eight years in), isn’t it to edify, to encourage, care for the poor, orphans and elders, to gently correct brothers and sisters when needed, but primarily to reflect the image of God to others? To show God through being salt and light? To build His kingdom by making disciples?

That about sums that up for me, no? If anyone can, feel free to improve on that definition. Otherwise, I’m good with that. Thank you, Susan.

The next question we have considered is “Leadership”.

Given that we are all Spirit led servants, with an immediate sense of the intimate presence of the Lord Jesus, how should this project’s leadership be structured? Discussion is open.

One thing that has interested me is… Denominational tradition, whether liturgical or evangelical… appoints a Chief Executive Minister. That may be the church pastor, senior pastor, senior minister, or other title.

It seems, though, that looking at the First Century Church, we always see leadership and ministry being a “team” effort, whether “pastors” (which I’ve never seen as a singular noun in Acts or epistles), or even apostles. Now, certainly, apostles traveled solo from time to time, bringing the Gospel to a new area and helping establish new communities of faith. But even so, it seems decisions were made or discussions held on matters of leadership and practice, by conferring together.

So, how do we want to structure leadership in this new project?

Coffee and tea are hot. Juice and soft drinks are chilled. Pie is sliced. Discussion is now officially open. What do YOU think? (There’s no right/wrong answer here! :))

 

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