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Attending to Advent: Mary, Elizabeth & Abram

December 10, 2008

Reference:  Luke 1:39-49

Reflecting on this section of Scripture I was drawn toward several things.

Mary and Elizabeth… we don’t know exactly where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived, but we do now it was a Judean town in the hill country (vs. 39) and we do know that Mary lived in Nazareth in Galilee.  Pull out the map and you can figure that Mary had some traveling to do to go to Elizabeth’s home.  It is safe to say that although Luke mentions only Mary going to see Elizabeth, Mary did not travel alone.

Perhaps this is hidden in the text but as we attend to Advent we recognize the context of Mary’s life was within community.  She was not alone, she was with others.  She was in community — it may have been a small community but there were people she was safe with and counted upon during these months of waiting.

The theme of “blessing” is evident as was referenced this past Sunday in my faith community.  The connection of blessing and obedience is strong throughout Scripture.  I confess for much of my Christian life I saw blessing as illusive because I so often recognized my own inability to “obey,” or what I thought was obedience.  How often do we see obedience only through the lens of perfection and outcome?  Is not the heart — our motive, our desire, our reason underneath what God is most concerned with?  When we weigh this, we quickly realize this is no “laughing matter.”  The beauty is that God sees our heart, understands our thoughts, our efforts (even when we are confused and sorting) and as Creator is capable of sifting and sorting.  Walking with God enables us within the community of the Trinity to allow the transformation of our heart.  Walking with others in community is to be in companionship.  We share our journey of life and faith with God and with others.

Blessing is not only something we receive, it is also intended for others.  Vs. 45, records Elizabeth’s exclamation, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” In Genesis 12:2-3 we have these startling words from God to Abram, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Several years later, God again speaks to Abram affirming the promise.  Genesis 15:6 “And he (Abram) believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” There is this profound sense of the promise of God weaving through the tapestry of blessing.  Faith and obedience are threads woven together.

I found myself wondering, asking the Lord if there is something promised, yet unfulfilled that I am to attend to.  Waiting with faith merges together with promise, assurance, obedience, and action.  I’d like it to be “neat and tidy.”  But it is not.  Where does that take us?  Into reliance.  Reliance on God is anything but passive.  It means letting go of false support systems that provide self-identity outside of what God says about me.  Mary had to do this, as did Elizabeth and Zechariah, as did Joseph.  As do we.  We can celebrate Mary and Mary’s song of praise becomes ours…

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Might One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49).

Hope and peace to you.

Attending to Advent

December 3, 2008

Today is Wednesday, the middle of the week, for many of us it is “hump day.”  We’re over the hump after today and on the way toward the end of the work week.  Wednesday can serve another purpose.  As the mid-point in the week we can use the preceding days as ones of reflection back to Sunday and begin with anticipation to prepare ourselves for the gathering coming in several days.  This rhythm fits well with Advent.  We can give ourselves time to reflect upon and “embed” Advent celebration and begin to anticipate the next Sunday of Advent.

For several days I have been thinking about the rhythm of Advent and the message on November 30.  The idea of “Attending to Advent” came as I listened to the words of a worship song sung during the offering.  Mary attending to Christ as an infant resonated with me but as I listened my thoughts went in a different direction.  What did Mary learn about God as she attended to Jesus?  I’ve never asked that question before and I’m not certain I have any answers…but as we walk through the nativity story and into the gospel I realize I need to attend to what I am learning about God.  Changing my viewpoint (or perspective) if you will might open my eyes (our eyes?) to see with improved eyesight, understand with deeper comprehension and know God with greater intimacy.

Attending…involves all of our senses, sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.  Attending involves our posture and our position.  There is much for us to attend to these days.  There is anticipation and fear, there is suffering and joy, and there is companionship as well as a sense of aloneness…all of this is present.  Are we attending to God’s movement in our midst?  Lord what are you birthing?  As you are present with us, what do You see?  Where do You want to go?  What do You have to teach us?  How do we need to be redirected to be on Your path?  It seems throughout history God is always actively anticipating, preparing and providing for his people and for all people to be his people.

The Advent message last Sunday focused on Mary’s courage as the “Third Response.” There is no doubt that Mary responded to the angel’s news with courage.  Courage was required throughout her lifetime.  But as I have been reflecting upon the courage of Mary I am drawn to the source of her courage, her faith.  Mary did not have courage first, she first had faith–Elizabeth filled with the Spirit spoke to Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. (Luke 1:45).  Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46). Mary’s response to her situation was not fear, bewilderment yes. Courage was part of Mary’s character, what her courage resulted from is something to attend to.  Mary trusted God. Faith and trust are companions.  The source of her faith and trust?  Perhaps it was knowing that she was loved by God. John wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (I John 4:18). John knew Mary, on the cross Jesus instructed him to be her son – to care for her and provide for her. Can we wonder if Mary’s life impacted John as he saw Mary live a life of trust? Within Mary’s response is the abiding reality of relationship, “for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:48-49).

As I attend to Advent I am realizing that Mary’s courage was sourced not in herself, in her own effort, nor even within her own personality make-up. I am realizing that the courage within Mary was sourced outside of her and flowed from her understanding of God, his purposes and ways, and a willingness to be the Lord’s handmaiden, ultimately out of relationship with God.

May it be so of me and of us.

When we changed our stove

October 24, 2008

This morning I was cleaning up in the kitchen (yeah!).  Besides cleaning the counters I was also cleaning our stainless appliances — microwave, frig, dishwasher, and stove (oh, I almost forgot I cleaned the fan above the stove too).  As I was cleaning the stove/oven I remembered that it was almost two years ago that we got our Dacor gas stove/electric oven appliance.  We really like it.  But it was an adjustment.  You just don’t go from an all electric stove/oven to a combo.

I mean you could.  But we couldn’t.

We considered making such a change because we knew that at some point we would need a new stove/oven.  We had the original one for 14 years.  So I definitely think we got our money’s worth.  Finally the time came when we had to replace.  We’d been looking, but now with purpose we shopped and looked and read.  Then we decided.  So between the purchase and the arrival, installation work had to be done.  This was a gas stove so we needed to extend our gas line under the house and into the house.  Even after the stove arrived we had to make some adjustments before it was fully functional.  All this was happening as Thanksgiving was approaching.  (Smile).

Without the changes we would have had a great stove…to look at.  We had to invest in making some changes to accommodate what was required.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Well of course you’d make changes.  You do what needs to be done!”  Or perhaps you are wondering, “Why not just get something that fits with what you already have, why change?”  Indeed, why or why not?

We made the change because we felt that it would be better. Increasing what we could do both cooking and baking.  It has.  In fact something else has happened, there are times when Steve and I work together cooking and preparing a meal.

This morning as I cleaned I was thinking about what I have been learning through Seminary and how that fits with what I sensed was happening in the church and needed even before I went to Seminary.  I knew that change was needed if the Church were to be relevant to the very culture and people we are to be “lights” before. I think my stove is an illustration of what might be needed in the body of Christ.

Our stove/oven is connected to two power sources — electrical and natural gas.  Old and new (for us anyway). We had to make changes.  It’s been worth it.

But changes are seldom clean or neat, often something unexpected arises.  With each opportunity we have to face our desire to return to what is known or the way we used to do something.  What keeps you going?  Sometimes it is intangible, sometimes it is known.  It depends on what you are focused on.  If I think church as I experience it now is the only way, the right way then I will resist change at all costs.  Thus proving that church really is an institution.  But if I focus on the One who initiated a movement then our imagination is expanded and recaptured. That it not easy as it sounds.  Knowing change is needed means we must face and confront how deeply invested we are to the way things are done (trust me this isn’t only a problem in churches).  When God moves the Spirit stirs things often from the marginal places — sometimes from within the system, but not recognized by the system; sometimes in ways that tempt us to fix without realizing more work needs to be done.

Is it worth it?  The proof comes by what is set on the table.

First Impressions and the Perceptions They Create

October 22, 2008

Impressions and Perceptions often go hand in hand.  This is especially true if you are the intuitive, perceptive type.  I am.  Yet I am learning… slowly.  It seems that my first impressions and the resulting perception are often wrong.  Yep, you read it rightly, I said wrong. Perhaps I should also say that I have often had to “eat” what I thought, because I opened my mouth to express my impression and my subsequent perception which was an opinion, but I said it as a fact.

In all fairness, sometimes I have been right.  This has most often occurred when what I recognize or see in others is identifiable because I too have lived it.

But I am realizing that our perceptions often reinforce our impressions when we are only given one way of looking at something.  Our current political campaign is ripe with illustration.  How many of us think we know what will happen if Obama is elected or McCain?  Based on what we know (heard or read from others or the individuals themselves) we have formed opinions.  Many take what we fear and hammer those points home so that we will vote for the other because we do not want what we fear to happen.  (Kinda of a tongue twister isn’t it?).

In my seminary journey I am realizing that many of our practices have become “biblical” not because they really are but because the impression has been reinforced again and again strengthening our perception. Somehow in the process our identity becomes wrapped up in these perceptions. These are becoming clearer to me.  In particular I have had to acknowledge that my understanding of the Atonement — the At-one-ment action of Christ was first impressed upon me through the perception of penal substitution.  I am a sinner, Christ came and died as a penalty for my sin.  He took my place on the Cross.  I’ll write more about this in the coming days (I know its complicated and involved so my blog posts will be “reflections” more than a theology “treatise”).  Through scriptural study and reflection I now think my expanded impression and perception provides a healthier understanding, meaning penal substitution is a part but definitely not the whole or even the dominating character in the picture (this will make more sense in the coming days).

Other impressions and perceptions involve women in ministry or more correctly women in leadership in ministry.  I find it very interesting (and concerning) that women believe themselves to be inferior to men.  My concern is that we have in practice held ourselves back to prove we are inferior to men, because we do not want to hinder men.  Does that honor God?  Does that fit with spiritual worship by bringing all of ourselves to God?  This year through my “Special Study” seminary requirement I will be exploring this area.  I suspect I’ll be posting regularly on this area for both personal and professional reasons.

It is therefore no stretch to realize the connections in our relationships with one another are greatly (and adversely) affected if we do not understand our identity from God’s perspective.  How do we understand that we are created in the image (eikon) of God?  How do we bring reflective practice into redemptive action apart from a renewed understanding of what God entrusted to us at creation?  Did our job description change because Adam and Eve’s disobedience?

Have we lost some of the Creator’s wisdom because our impressions and perceptions became our only way of seeing?

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy… Give us eyes to see, and a teachable spirit to receive your impressions and perceptions upon our soul.

Some thoughts while running, er run/walking … o.k. just jogging

October 1, 2008

Several miles from our home is the Powerline Trail, as its known around Gig Harbor.  It’s in reference to the fact that a trail has been paved along a public utility right of way.  It’s frequently used by runners, bike riders, walkers and dogs with walkers.  Yesterday as I was heading back to my starting place I thought about how so often we refer to our fitness routines (whatever they are) as something we have to do.

Yes we know the benefits we gain from this — the cardio, the strength and (hopefully) flexibility from exercise.  In fact exercise and fitness done “right” is not a single disciplinary activity.  The full benefit is gained as we engage in our fitness fully.  Not rocket science, is it? (Which begs the question do we approach our life with God as a single dimension?).

So as I was struggling along — I am not anywhere where I’d like to be in my cardio … not yet.  So as I was moving along…. I realized how at this particular point on the trail I usually begin to think about being done.  I only have this much farther to go… I begin paying attention to markers that tell me I’ve gone this far, so therefore I can figure out about how many minutes until I finish.  When I do that I begin to focus on the end and tada…

When I do that I miss what is present in the moment.  When I am focused on finishing I quickly begin thinking about the rest of my day.  I’m missing out on the fun of what I am doing.  Yes I said “fun.” Maybe I’m the only one that does that.  But yesterday I realized that when my focus is on the end then what I’m doing quickly becomes a “task”.  And it’s one I don’t really want to do when I …

compare myself with others… or compare myself with where I wish I was (emphasis on “wish” and stay stuck there)

when I am looking forward to not having the strain of doing something that requires diligent, consistent effort (this becomes much more evident as one ages — trust me on this!)

when I focus on what I don’t have (great cardio at this point)

I could go on….

I decided that I need to enjoy what I’m doing — yes I get out of breath, yes I can’t run as far as I’d like or go as fast as I’d like (I’d love to get to the place to again run an eight minute mile and keep that pace for give miles at least — but really I’d settle for a nine minute mile), and yes my ego (aka pride) gets a bit bruised.

So I enjoyed what I was doing and how I was doing.  I felt a nudge … a reminder that this is how it’s supposed to be in our walk with God.  There have been too many times (thankfully not as many as before) when I focus on finishing my “QT” (quiet time) — a good evangelical term — so that I can get on with studies, etc.  I don’t enjoy or give myself fully to just being with God.  Of course I am not trying to segment my life, nor do I encourage you do to the same… God is with us and I consciously try to practice His presence in my life.

But so often we are busy doing things for God especially programs for God that we incredibly miss God in the process.  Yesterday I sensed the Spirit’s nudge — to enjoy, not dread getting in shape and to be present to what I am doing.

I did.  As I was running I looked and observed what was taking place around me.  I listened to the caw of the crows overhead and looked up (rather than ignored) to see what they were so excited about.  Ahead of them off to my right was an eagle in flight.

Lord give me eyes to see and ears to hear and hands folded to receive so that I might give to others from your abundance.

Shall We Dance?

September 4, 2008

Having found this link on another blogsite I’m thinking I need to dance more.  Here’s the link (http://www.vimeo.com/1211060).  Enjoy it, go dance.  I bet you were smiling when you watched it.  Now think about God smiling and rejoicing over us.  How simple, how profound.

I think I need to dance more… with others.  How about you?

(P.S. if the link doesn’t work — just copy and past into your internet browser)

September

September 3, 2008

For more than sixteen years my family calendar revolved around the events and schedules of school.  When I worked for our local school district, everything focused on the start of school in September.  Have you noticed how churches start and gear up their church programs to begin in the fall ?  And now as a seminary student I begin my second year in (yes) September.  Fall is associated with activity and involvement.

But rather than beginnings or “start up”, there is a better word for my life in this September — continuation.  Things are not beginning for me, they are resuming.  This is true for my studies as well as a reflection of my life with God.  The classes that I am taking are building upon what we studied last year.  It will be challenging, no doubt.  But I am looking forward to it.

Between September 2 and December 12 I’m taking (along with my 18 colleagues in our Ministry Leadership 07 cohort): Course overviews are taken from our course sites.

Christian History & Theology I:

  • This course covers the development of Christianity and Christian theology from the end of the apostolic period to the 16th century. Examines the expansion of the church, the evolvement of Christian institutions and practice, the conflicts that confronted the church from within and without, and the theological development of doctrines such as the Trinity, Christology, the Holy Spirit, grace and free will, soteriology (salvation), and the Church.

Missional Leadership:this course will be a huge asset with the development of the pathway project

  • This course aims to provide an exploration into new models and paradigms of organic leadership for the emerging missional church. It will focus on developing a distinctly pioneering style of leadership for new missional contexts.

Spirituality, Shame & Grace: I am grateful for the Spirit work done already and for what lies ahead.

  • It is challenging to understand the differences between guilt, shame and grace. It is also difficult to know then how to apply this to our spiritual lives, and yet harder to know how to apply this to someone else’s life. This course is designed to inform pastoral counselors about family shame, guilt and grace. Definitions, characteristics, and change strategies for shame in individuals and families will be discussed. Models of grace and healing for shame will be identified. There will be significant emphasis on the student’s own experiences of shame and grace.

Special Study: This is a year long class to tailor our studies to our ministry context.  Our task this week is to identify three possible focus areas to research and develop.  I’ve proposed study in the following areas:

a.  non-profit ministry development — the nuts and bolts to establish the organization

b. Study of “missional communities” and new “monastic” communities — this would relate to the possible ministry focus for the pathway project.  Learning about how they function, lessons learned, what groups are doing, etc.

c. Women in leadership.  I’ve done some study on this particular area but based upon my experiences this past year this might be an area to pursue — not really certain what that might be.  I sort of threw it out there and actually the more I think about it the more I like it.

I’ll post our books for these classes on the “book page”.