God and the Electoral Process

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“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
                                                                              1 Corinthians 13:1

Have you been watching the political process in our country as we’ve seen it acted out in the primary campaigns going on? Listening to the candidates, we might wonder if this is a country of liars or non-Christians who bicker and backbite! Truth and civility seem to be the casualties of the electoral process.  I listened as one commentator talked about his sons, one college age and one high school age, remarking that they would never consider running for office on the basis of the attacks and smear campaigns they are witnessing in this year’s electoral process.  Their reaction saddened me as I wondered, are we driving away the gifted by the nature of contemporary campaigns, and only getting candidates who are committed to misbehaving?

Is it possible to get elected and not lie?  Is it possible to get elected and be decent and civil in he process?  Can a real Christian who commits to truth-telling and love for fellow humans even run for office?  These are questions we need to be asking ourselves.  These are qualities we need to demand in our candidates.  No, it isn’t nearly as much fun to watch a civil debate as it is to see the fireworks in personal attacks; it isn’t nearly as entertaining to hear policy descriptions and factual information as it is to see candidates tear each other apart with innuendo and half-truths.  But we, the American people, will get what we demand, and if we don’t demand civility and truthfulness in our electoral process, we’ll get the alternative – half truths and personal demonization.

Regardless of politics, it pains me to see someone like Gen. Colin Powell step away from the political process because of the potential cost to his family. Are we losing the opportunity to benefit from the gifts of truly gifted candidates because of the process we have created? It may be that the candidate who truly espouses Christian virtues cannot be elected in this country.  That would make me very sad, but I have to consider that possibility.  But I would love to see somebody try; I’d love to see a candidate tell the truth to the best of their ability and refrain from personal attacks.  Wouldn’t that be a novel approach? Perhaps the problem, however, is not in the candidates but in us, the electorate.  Perhaps we get the behavior we reward. So maybe we need to ask ourselves, what do we really want in our election process, because it may be that despite our protests to the contrary, we are getting exactly what we want

 

Prayer:    Almighty God, you have gifted and equipped some to be leaders in the civic arena, and called them to exercise their gifts for the good of all people.  And yet the very process by which we select leaders seems to deny your law and discourage some truly gifted candidates from entering the arena. Help me by my actions to encourage a process that conforms to your expectations of how we are to live together.  Let me not only affirm community with my lips, but let me live it with my life, so that those who are gifted and called will be willing to share their gifts without risk to themselves and their families.  Amen. 

Memories

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“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. ”
Luke 2:19
Yesterday I woke up with a tune running through my head. Over and over I found myself humming a tune that seemed to come from nowhere. Suddenly, after about an hour, I realized what the tune was – a song I learned in 5th grade at Girl Scout summer camp! It had been buried in my memory and for some reason just popped into my head as I woke up. I realized I could sing the song all the way through – all the words – and as I did, I remembered the camp experience, the lake where we canoed, the platform tents where we lived. All of that came back to me as I sang through the camp song.

I wonder if Mary had a tune to him or sing as she remembered that first Christmas. Maybe she had a lullaby she sang to the baby Jesus, or a traveling song she’d hummed as they fled Bethlehem for Egypt. However she made connections, she had a lifetime of memories treasured in her mind. There were memories of the shepherds crowding into the stable on the night of his birth, Jesus hitting his thumb with his hammer as Joseph taught him carpentry, of her son’s Bar Mitzvah, of girls flirting with him in the village, and of that trip to Jerusalem when Jesus got left behind. So many memories to cherish, so many ways to perceive God at work in her life, in Jesus’ life, and in the world.

As we begin our new year, I invite you to take a moment to recall the joys of 2015, the places where you saw God at work in your life, at Grove, and in the world. Pause to give thanks tonight as the ball in Times Square descends. Commit 2015 to God with thanks for what has gone well and with repentance for where we have failed the Lord. And then seek God’s presence in your life right from the beginning of 2016. Let this be a year for all of us to treasure and ponder in our hearts.

Prayer: Loving God, as we come to the end of this year, I thank you for all the ways you gave been active in my life. I am grateful for the ways you have enabled me to make a positive difference in the world. And where I have failed you, I pray that you will take my feeble efforts and transform them so that you might yet be glorified. Let 2016 be a year in which I am attuned to your presence, and ready to do your will for the good of your people and the glory of your kingdom, for I ask this in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

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Rest in the Lord

“The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.”
                                                                imagePsalm 116:6-7
Our family has a new member – Wesley, a 9 week old toy poodle.  We are all worn out from days of chasing around this little ball of fur, and short nights punctuated by the need to walk a dog with a tiny bladder.  It’s like having a new baby in the house.  But my heart melts every time I hold this little handful of energy and fur.
Wes, as we call him, is full of energy when he wakes up.  He chases after our feet, jumps up on legs like springs, and keeps us on our toes running after him.  He’ll go non-stop like an Energizer Bunny for two hours, and then let out a yawn, curl up and fall asleep on my lap.  He lets go of all effort, and rests on me with complete trust that he will be safe.  His body limp, his eyes closed, Wes rests on me with utter contentment, confident that I will be there to care for him while he is asleep, and still there when he wakes up to feed him, to play with him, and to love him.
God invites us to rest in the Lord with the same trust and confidence in the Lord’s love and care.  We work hard at jobs, at caring for family and loved ones, at school.  From time to time, we need to let go of all of our effort and rest in the Lord, recognizing that the world will go on without us and life continue without our help.  We can let go of all our work and effort, and trust in the Lord to keep things together while we sleep or rest from our labor, and to be there to love us when we resume our activity.  That is the meaning of sabbath, the ability to relinquish control in the recognition that life doesn’t depend on us.  We don’t carry the world on our shoulders. God is in control, and we can rest in God’s care just as innocently as Wesley rests on my lap after two hours of crazy activity.
So work hard and play hard, and then rest in the everlasting arms of God’s love to be renewed, revived and restored by the one who has dealt bountifully with us.
Prayer:  Eternal God, when I was just a thought in your mind, you created all that is, and even now your power controls all of creation.  Your power is exceeded only by your love, the quality that most defines your being.  Help me to rest in you, to let go of all my strivings and trust in your power and love.   Renew my soul and restore my spirit so that I may continue to work for the glory of your kingdom, trusting in you and doing my part to achieve your will.  Amen.
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Pope Envy and Radical Discipleship

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“Whoever is not against us is for us.
                    Mark 9:40
Did you watch the Pope yesterday?  I sat in front of the TV yesterday morning, hunched forward, listening and struggling a bit with his accent, but fascinated by his remarks.  Later in the day I saw a headline, “Pope Envy,” and I understood the sentiment expressed.  Oh, I have no intention of becoming a Catholic, but I admit I admire Pope Francis.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but he calls us to live a radical discipleship that I believe is closer to what Jesus intended than the faith many institutional churches promote.
The Christian life is not one that fits easily with the mores of society.  It wasn’t in 30 AD when Jesus proclaimed the gospel, and it isn’t any easier today.  The Bible calls us to care for the least, to protect the widow and orphan, to value all life and care for the creation, to love even the Samaritans among us, and to open our gates wide in welcome of the stranger as God has welcomed us into God’s kingdom.  Those are all challenging ideas.
I remember years ago reading about one southern governor, a devout Christian and a Republican in a Republican state, who saw a poll showing that his state was near the bottom in test scores for school children.  He proposed a small tax increase in order to pay for improvements to the educational system, citing his Christian faith as the motivation for helping children.  He was attacked for raising taxes, and voted out of office at the next opportunity.  The people of his state were overwhelmingly Christian, but only as long as there were no tax increases!
Jesus’ words were radical, and following the gospel way of life means radical change.  I know we can’t turn our lives upside down in one instant, but I challenge you to consider one way you might take a step forward in living that radical gospel of Jesus’.  Jesus did not die on a cross so we could enjoy prosperity; he did not suffer so that we could ignore the needs of the rest of our world.  Jesus gave himself for us and calls us to go and do likewise – to give our time, our talents, and, yes, our treasure, to be the living Body of Christ, continuing the work of Jesus caring for God’s people and creation, offering hope and love.
 
Prayer:   Lord Jesus, you have proclaimed a radical gospel, a call to live my life in a different way from the rest of the world around me.  But I don’t want to be different, I want to be like everyone else.  I don’t like being different, I don’t like the demands your gospel makes on me.  Remind me today of what you have done for me.  Help me to understand the magnitude of your sacrifice and let that inspire me to make small sacrifices in my life, so that I may embody your radical gospel in my own life.  Amen.
 

Flash Floods and Life’s Challenges

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
                    Psalm 19:14
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It rained yesterday; in fact, it poured.  The entire Philadelphia area was under a flash flood warning.  As I drove down route 202 in the early evening, I saw just how much it had rained. The traffic usually backs up around Route 29 in the evening rush hour, but last night, we were at a standstill in front of the Gateway Shopping Center in Wayne.  We crawled along and then had to converge from 3 lanes into 1 because of the water that had collected across two lanes of the highway near Chesterbrook.  A few brave souls drove through the lake in the middle lane, but no one braved the far right lane where the water had collected over a foot deep against the sound wall.

For those of us driving, this was just an inconvenience, but flash floods are nothing to minimize.  I was reading recently that a flash flood with just six inches of mud and water can carry a car away.  It doesn’t take a tsunami size wave to endanger life – just six inches of muddy water moving swiftly.  We think, “oh, it’s just a little water,” and then, bam!  The little stream sweeps our car off the road.
Isn’t life like that, sometimes?  We think, “oh, I can get through this,” and then, bam!  We get swept away by the life equivalent of six inches of muddy water.   We need an anchor in the face of the flash floods of life; we need a rock to steady us and provide us safety when the muddy waters rush by.
“O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”  When things are going well, it’s all too easy to forget about God, but when our life is in shambles, when the flash floods of health concerns or job loss or relationship issues strike, we need someone to be our rock and redeemer.  I was able to avoid the deep water on the roadway, but in life we can’t always avoid the flash floods.  They can strike without warning and sweep us away.  But God will be our rock if we seek the Lord and anchor our lives on God’s steadfast love.  Our faith community is an extension of that love, providing us with tangible signs of God’s love and care in times of need.
But we need to find that anchor before the storms strike, we need to develop our relationship with God when the sun is shining in order to be prepared for the flash floods that may come.  Developing our relationship with God is something we can all do through spending time in God’s Word, Bible study, prayer and ministry.  When we do that, when we have taken time to get to know God as the one who loves us, then we can be assured that no matter what life throws at us, God will remain with us as our rock in this life and our redeemer for all eternity.
 
Prayer:   Loving God, help me to put my trust in you.  Let me grow closer to you in the good times so that I will recognize your loving care in the flash floods of life.  Be my rock; anchor my life in your love and law so that nothing can sweep me away from your presence.  Amen.
 

Stairway to Nowhere?

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“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.'”
                                                                                                Acts 2:38-39

My husband and I just returned from wonderful road trip to St. Louis and Chicago. We drove out the PA Turnpike to Pittsburgh and then turned south to head for St. Louis. Coming home from Chicago, we came across the northern route, following Route 80 to Cleveland where I found the house I lived in between ages 4 and 9, and then continued on Route 80 till it met the PA Turnpike at the edge of the state.

Out near the Breezewood exit of the PA Turnpike, there is a curious place that has always fascinated me. On the eastbound side of the turnpike, sitting on the land overlooking the turnpike, is a church. Across the way, on the westbound side of the turnpike, is a cement staircase leading from the turnpike up to the road above that crosses over the turnpike. Next to the staircase, at the side of the turnpike, is a sign that announces the church and its mass schedule.

I’ve always wondered about that staircase. The sign and staircase appear suddenly, just beyond the bridge abutment for the road that runs over the turnpike. At 65 miles an hour, the sign and stairway are there and gone alost before you realize it. And if you did want to stop, there is no safe pull-off area to park your car, just the regular little shoulder section of road. The sign certainly lets you know the church is there, but is a stairway with no safe parking area really an invitation that means anything to a traveler? Is a stairway with no advance warning likely to attract anyone to come and draw closer to God?

As I thought about that stairway, I wondered about our evangelism efforts in the church. Do we offer Christ to the world in a way that others can actually take advntage of, or do we simply go through the motions of evangelism, putting signs where no one can act on them, claiming we’ve provided access to God for the unchurched but actually building stairways that no one in their right mind would use? Are we connecting with the world in meaningful ways that enable people to come and see, or are we sitting back in our stained glass towers content to offer Christ in ways that will not connect with the people around us?

Jesus commanded his disciples to “Go into the world, baptizing and teaching.” Some may be more skilled at evangelism than others, but all of us are called to share Christ in some way, whether through an invitation to an ice cream fest, sharing about the church we love, or accompnying a friend to worship for the first time. Don’t let your efforts be limited to signs that pass by too quickly or stairways that can’t be used. Let’s all work together to create meaningful ways for people to experience Christ and find in him the answer to their prayers.
Prayer: Gracious God, you have welcomed me into the kingdom of your love, and asked me to extend that invitation to others. Help me to create meaningful ways for others to hear of your love and to take advantage of your invitation to discover purpose, community and saving grace through faith in Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

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Ordinary People

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“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
                                   Acts 4:13
The new “Mission Impossible” film opens nationwide today. It looks like a real nail-biter. The trailer for the film depicts Tom Cruise hanging on to the outside of an airplane as it takes off, and that’s just in the opening moments of the film. It’s pretty clear, this will be no ordinary day in the life of an ordinary man. Tom Cruise’s character is extraordinary.

Watching movies like that can leave us with an inferiority complex. I know I could never hang on to an airplane as it took off nor do most of the things Cruise has done in the Mission Impossible series. I’m just an ordinary woman, condemned to watch as others do extraordinary things. But then I read the book of Acts, and I see very ordinary men, Peter and John, Stephen and Philip, men who showed no sign of being anything out of the ordinary, suddenly accomplish great works for the kingdom of God. They do it, not because they are extraordinary human beings, but because the extraordinary power of God fills them and empowers them.

This is the story of our God. From Moses to Gideon to the twelve disciples, God has selected the ordinary and achieved world-changing purposes through them. Each one of us has the ability to do the same. Not because we are extraordinary, not because we can hang on airplanes or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but because we can open our hearts and minds to the presence of God. When we invite God into our life, when we offer God a willing and humble heart, we open the door to the possibility that God will work through us to accomplish God’s great work of redemption. We offer God the opportunity to take someone absolutely ordinary and accomplish the extraordinary.
So enjoy movies about amazing characters, and then open your heart and mind to discern what God might want to accomplish through you. Not because you’re the next Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie, but because God has work to be done and is willing to accomplish God’s purposes through ordinary people like you and me.

Prayer: Almighty God, take my will and let it reflect your will. Take my heart and mold it to want what you want. Use me today to accomplish your purpose in the world. Let me always be aware of your presence empowering and directing me, so that I may be part of the great work of your kingdom with humility and love. Amen.

 

The Work of Perseverance

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“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”      

                                                                                  James 1:4                                        

It’s official – after a very long, very hard winter, the snow has finally melted in Boston! Mayor Marty Walsh announced on Tuesday that the last of snow from the 75 foot high pile on Tide Street was finally gone. Two weeks ago the New York Times marveled that the snow was still there, commenting about the snow pile, “…what the mound has lost in stature, it has made up for in sheer endurance.” Who would have imagined that snow could persevere all the way to mid-July, surviving heat, rain and even thunderstorms?

The life of discipleship is a bit like snow. There are times when our lives seem to be blanketed with grace and faithfulness. And then there are other times that feel like the hot sun baking that glistening coat of faith, threatening to melt our good intentions and faithful actions. We may be ready to throw in the towel, to give up on discipleship and just do life my way. But James reminds us that perseverance can lead us to the reward of maturity and wholeness. If we persevere, if we acknowledge our failings but commit ourselves to trying again, we can move beyond our lapse and move closer to that wholeness and completeness God desires for us.

So if you made a commitment to read the Bible every day, and then miss four days in a row, don’t give up. Admit you’re not perfect and persevere in your commitment, making today the day to begin again. Or if daily prayer was your intent but work and family obligations have filled your time for a week, just acknowledge your lapse and recommit beginning today. And if you made a promise to give regularly of your time in ministry, but haven’t been able squeeze it in for a couple weeks, don’t give up. Look at your schedule and make adjustments so you can renew your promise starting this week.

God knows we aren’t perfect; we aren’t fully mature in our faith or complete in living as disciples of Jesus. But God invites us to persevere in our faith commitment. And as we return to the paths that lead us toward God, we may find ourselves a little bit wiser, a little better able to deal with those things that draw us away from God. With practice, patience and perseverance, our faith will grow and lead us ever closer to the Lord. After all, if a snow pile in Boston can endure until mid-July, certainly we can persevere in our discipleship with God’s help.

Prayer: Your love, O Lord, calls me to respond, to seek your presence in my life and to follow your will. In moments of strong faith, I commit to follow your ways, but too often, Lord, I fall away from that commitment. Other things grab my attention in the moment, different priorities claim my time. Help me, Lord, to return again and again to those paths that will lead me closer to you. Be patient with me, O God, and strengthen my perseverance. As I practice my faith, let me grow in maturity, in wisdom, and in relationship with you and your son, Jesus Christ, through whom I pray. Amen.

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July 17, 2015

Martin Luther King Day Musings

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But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Amos 5:24

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28

I invite you to do a little experiment. Set a one dollar bill on the table, and beside it, place four quarters. Now ask yourself, which is worth more – the dollar bill or the quarters? They look different: one’s paper, one metal; they have different uses: one can go in a parking meter and the other can’t. But they are both equal in value, the one dollar bill and stack of quarters. There is no difference in how much they are worth.

We human beings come in different sizes, different colors, different gifts and abilities, but we are all equal in God’s eyes. The black skinned Nigerian who was murdered by Boco Haram terrorists is of no less worth than the Parisian cartoonist murdered by AQAP terrorists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. And yet, last week over 40 world leaders and millions of people gathered to protest the deaths of seventeen people in France, while Nigerians, almost alone, mourned the deaths of hundreds, possibly even thousands in rural villages and continued to remember the hundreds of girls kidnapped by Boco Haram.

As we move toward Monday’s observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we must recommit ourselves once more to justice and equality as God’s children. Let justice be offered not only to those who look like us but to all people. Let our outrage at terrorism be as great when it occurs on the African continent as in Europeans. When diseases like Ebola strike, let’s not wait for mounting death tolls to include people like us – let’s work to bring healing and hope no matter where, no matter what the victims look like. Let’s remember, that while we may look different from each other, we are all of equal value before God’s throne of grace. As our youth sing, “What color is God’s skin? It is red, it is yellow, it is black, it is white. Everyone’s the same in the good Lord’s sight.”

Prayer: Gracious God, open my eyes to see the world as you see it. Open my heart to love all your children equally. Open my hands to serve your people and seek justice for each of your children, regardless of where they live, how they look or what language they speak. For I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, who died that all might live. Amen.
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Deflategate

imageThou shalt not steal. Exodus 20:15

Thou shalt not steal a football game by deflating the ball. NFL Rules.
The football world is all abuzz. Last week the New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts to take the AFC championship and earn the right to go to the Super Bowl. But following the victory, the league discovered that the 12 balls provided for the game by the Patriots had b in under inflated, making them easier to throw. The big question now is who did this and who knew about it. And of course, what can be done about it? Do the Patriots forfeit the game? TV demands a Super Bowl, so a replay is not an option. And who should pay the consequences: the whole team, the quarterback who must have felt that something was wrong with the ball, or whoever incorrectly inflated or intentionally deflated the balls?

Ethics is the process of living our our faith in our daily actions. There isn’t always a cut and dry, simple answer to the question of what God demands. We know, for example, that we are not to steal. But does that apply to deflating the balls to win a game? And who should be held accountable for such an action? Most often, our life choices are more complex than should I steal or not, should I kill or not, should I lie or not. Ou decisions are nuanced and difficult.

That is why church community is so important to us. In the context of community we can discuss the choices before us. With others who seek to follow Jesus we can explore the areas of grey in our lives, those places that are not clearly black and white, but instead have wriggle room. Together with a community to which we are ac
countable, in a context of a body of b believers, we can work to discern God’s will for our lives.

I don’t know what the NFL Commissioner will decide about Deflategate, but I do know that we are blessed to call Grove our home. It is a place where we can talk about the decisions we face, where we can share honestly about the temptations we face, and where we can support one another in discerning God’s will for our lives.

Prayer: Gracious God, you have called us to live holy lives, to be holy people who live according to your will for us. Grant me the wisdom to know your will and the courage to do it. Let me find in my faith community those whose discernment will help me to live a life that is pleasing to you. for the sake of your son, Jesus.

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