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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Loving the Difficult

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:9-11

I confess that there have been a few church members through the years that I would like to have picked up by the scruff of their neck and throttled or dropped from the top of the church steeple. In any community of people there are people whom we regard as difficult, people with whom we would rather not work. I may dream of waving goodbye to them, and then I remember today’s Scripture.

During the Advent season, we often read a passage from Isaiah 64 that begins, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” As the saying goes, be careful what you ask for. Here in the baptism of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark, God does exactly that. The heavens are, in fact, torn open, and God’s Spirit descends, like a dove, to signify that God has come down to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Whenever we celebrate baptism in the Christian church, we act out this scene over again. Oh, perhaps we cannot see it quite as clearly as Mark saw at Jesus’ baptism, but we, too, believe that God’s Spirit descends upon the one being baptized and God is now present with them as they are made part of the Body of Christ, the church. And the one being baptized will henceforth be numbered among the beloved of God – not just a member, not just another name on the rolls, not imply someone I have to put up with in my church work, but someone who is cherished and celebrated by the all-powerful master of the universe. That “difficult” person is God’s beloved just as much as I am, and God calls me to love them with love as strong as God’s love, not call them out or vilify them. Because they are now bearing God’s image and accompanied by God’s Spirit, I can no longer treat them as if they don’t matter to me. I may not like it, but I must love them.

In the language of our United Methodist liturgy, through baptism we are “incorporated into the household of God” and joined to others as God’s children. This God has expectations of how we will behave toward our brother and sisters. And when we fail, which we will, God expects us to acknowledge our sin, to repent and to seek God’s help in overcoming that sin. Because on the day that difficult person was baptized, the heavens were torn open, God’s Spirit descended, and a voice whispered “This is my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.”

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for making me a part of your family. There are times when it is difficult for me to accept some of my brothers and sisters as you have accepted me. Change my heart and help me to receive others as you have received me. Give me patience, give me a forbearing attitude. Let me see the people around me through your eyes, and love them with the same love you have offered them. Remind me often that you came to find me and love me when I was far from the image of your beloved, Jesus Christ, through whom I pray. Amen.