Wednesday, August 31, 2005

united methodists in louisiana

A letter from Bill Hutchinson, United Methodist Bishop of the Louisiana Conference.

Read it all.

hurricane katrina

Friday, August 26, 2005

God will make a way for you (Exodus 13)

Pharoah had had enough of Israel, and so he let them go! God did not lead the people through the land of the Philistines, on their way out. God knew that they would fail, that they would give up, that they would go back to Egypt. This is a profound insight into the nature of God---God wants us to succeed. If you follow God’s leading, you will avoid some of the difficulty that is out there. God wants you to make it. But to make it, we have to trust God, and let go of Pharoah. There was an old spiritual that Roberta Flack used to sing, entitled “Let Pharoah Go”.

We have to do that. We have to leave Egypt behind, and let Pharoah go.

And so God leads the people by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. As they leave Egypt they are equipped for battle. Another insight—when you are on the way to freedom, someone is going to try to capture you; when you have figured out your purpose in life, someone is going to try to sabatage that.

Life is a battle. We wrestle not with flesh and blood, Paul wrote in Ephesians, but with principalities and powers. Being a Christian is a daily battle.

And so they go. Moses remembers to carry the bones of Joseph. What does this mean? They don’t forget where they have been, but they also carry their past into the future. They remember the promises made to Joseph, and to his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

When you are on a journey, hiking across the desert or through the mountains, you carry only what is essential; everything else you leave behind, but what you carry is what is very important, what is crucial. The bones of Joseph represent the promises of God, this history of God’s presence with his people.

Now as they are journeying, they are given a sign—a cloud by day and a fire by night. These were signs of God’s presence—a cloud by day and a fire by night—God had given his word that he would be with Moses. (3.12) “I will be with you,” an anticipation of Jesus’ words in John 14—“I will not leave you comfortless” and in Matthew 28, “I am with you always.” God was with us then; God is with us.

But here there is not only a word—there is a visible sign—cloud, fire. How is God in the cloud and in the fire?

The cloud helped in that it put some distance between people and their enemy. God would watch over them and protect them. The cloud separated the people from their enemies.

Sometime the enemy is external—a free-floating anxiety about terrorism.

Sometimes the enemy is internal: an anger, a resentment, a grudge.

Sometimes the enemy is real. Sometimes the enemy is imaginary.

God is in the cloud, protecting the people, protecting us. God is also in the fire. The light goes before the people, guiding their steps, insuring that they will make it to their destination.

These were the signs: a cloud by day, a fire by night. God gives us signs even now, to help us in the journey. It is a day-to-day thing, the Christian life, but God does give us signs.

I began to think about a few of these signs this week.

Experience can be a sign. An emotion floods over us. It can be surpising or spontaneous.

Practices and rituals can be signs. These are like the streams through which God’s grace flows. These usuall take a particular shape and form.

Readings can be signs, especially a verse of scripture that speaks to us.

Beliefs can be a sign. They are like the frame that puts our faith into perspective.

I am convinced that people can be signs. I am convinced that God sends particular people into our lives for a reason.

This week I spent a night in a hotel when I was away working on a project. My older daughter, Liz, was with me, but I was eating breakfast alone in the hotel. I usually prefer to get out—the food is often better, and something in me doesn’t want to pay the going rate for hotel breakfasts, and so I did walk a fair distance along Peachtree Street in Atlanta searching for a place there was nothing that I could find. And so I headed back toward the restaurant, and was seated by the hostess. A waiter came to my table and he spoke very clearly, very distinctly, and said, “My name is Wilson, and I will be honored to serve you today.” I thanked him. Then I ordered coffee and juice, and later the food.

Then he returned, a little lat er, and he asked, distinctly again. “Does vacation bring you to our city?” I said no, some work today, and a little baseball. Then I asked, “Where are you from?” He smiled and said, “I am from Haiti”. I smiled and told him that I had been to Haiti and would be going back this January. “A mission”, he asked? Yes, it’s a medical mission. We also have a relationship with the church. I’m a minister.

Then he sat down beside me. “My name is Wilson,” he said. “Was it hard for you to get from Haiti to the US?” I asked him.

“No, not really,” he said, and then he shared a little of his story. He was born into a large family. He was always a worker in his church, then a teacher. “But I never had a girlfriend, he said. It was not fair to my family. There was an older woman in my church. She could ask me to do work for her. Then she asked if I had a girlfriend. I said No. She told me about her niece who lived in New Jersey. She asked me to call her. I did not have the nerve. She persisted. Finally, I called. I was shaking”.

“We talked a couple of times. Then she visited Haiti. She was active in her church in New Jersey. There was a married man who was a leader in her church, his name was Wilson. My name is Wilson. She looked up to this man, Wilson, and said, “I would like to marry a Christian man.” She visited two more times. On the third visit, we married, and we moved to New Jersey, but it was too cold. So we came to Atlanta. We have four children. ”I am blessed,” he said, this man, Wilson, a Haitian, working in the hotel.

Then he said, “If you work for God, God will make a way for you”. And then he repeated, “If you work for God, God will make a way for you.”

I think Wilson was a sign of God’s presence for me that day. Why did our paths cross? Was it coincidence? I don’t think so. Was God trying to say something to me? I think so. If your work for God, God will make a way for you.

As Christians, we learn to read the signs. If we look and listen, God will show us something, a cloud by day, a fire by night; a promise—“I am with you always”. An experience—If you are experiencing something, don’t avoid it, don’t medicate it, lean into it. A ritual; a word; a core conviction; a person.

The end of Exodus 13 points us to the truth again, just in case we missed it. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

May God watch over you to protect you. May God shine upon you to guide you.
Listen to the wisdom of the hymn:

Lead, kindly light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
lead Thou me on!
The night is dark,
and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet
I do not ask to see the distant scene;
One step enough for me.


Source: Lead, Kindly Light”, John Henry Newman.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

the first day of school

In our town school begins today, at least in the public schools. We have been hosting a day of prayer in our chapel, and a number of folks have been coming in, from our church and from the community. We had asked parents and grandparents to leave photos of their children on the altar, and there are numerous pictures there by now (mid-afternoon).

Here is the guide to prayer that we are using:


Scripture Readings: Ecclesiastes 3. 1-8; Psalm 1; James 1. 19-22; Matthew 19. 13-15


Intercession (prayers for others) for...

  • Students in area schools
  • Children and grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Students attending college
  • Teachers
  • Administrators
  • Faculty and Staff of Cotswold School


Common Prayer

O God, your will is that all children should grow into fullness of life.

We lift to you the beginning of a school year. We acknowledge all of the possibilities, for good and for harm, that may occur. We entrust the present and the future into your hands. We declare our support for teachers and administrators. We pledge to pray for children beyond our families and beyond this church. We will seek reconciliation in our community. We pray that you would ignite the minds and hearts of all students, that they might make a difference in this world. We remember that your Son, Jesus, was a teacher. Help us to follow in his way, which is the way that leads to life. Amen.

  • Record a note at the altar. Thank you for taking part in this day of prayer! Depart in silence.

It's also the first day of school for our younger daughter, and her first day to drive to school on her own. Lord, have mercy. Thanks to those of you who have sent rosary beads. I have used them.

Our older daughter departs tomorrow, for her second year at Chapel Hill.

And so prayer seems appropriate. Praying for their development. Praying as they journey more deeply into the world. Praying as they progress from childhood to adulthood. Praying about relinquishment and letting go. Praying to the One who gave us these children---saying "thank you". Praying for wisdom and discernment, in their lives and in ours.

I wish I could say that the transitions get easier, but they do not.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

passover (exodus 12)

There are ideas floating around in early 21st century North America about what it means to experience salvation—you go to a rally, you raise your hand in a meeting, you walk down the aisle of a church, you touch the tv screen, you pray a prayer…none of these are bad. Any of them can be good. But a rich, full biblical understanding of salvation would be a little different. As you read the first 13 verses of Exodus 12, consider these five principles. They have everything to do with what salvation really means.

The first principle: make preparations.

Listen to the details of Exodus 12. 1-4 the first month of the year, the tenth of the month, a lamb for each family, divide it in proportion to the number who will eatkeep it until the 14th of the month, then slaughter it at twilight, before the whole congregation…(3, 4, 6). There is a lot of preparation there, a lot of ritual.

I have been thinking this week about preparations and rituals. As an individual, think about it preparations and rituals for a moment. When you travel, you usually do it the same way, right: the same luggage, the same things thrown into the suitcase, the same mental checklist. I have also been thinking about preparations and rituals in families. These preparations and rituals sustain relationships. One member told me about how his family, he and his wife, their children and grandchildren, rent the same house at the beach every summer, they do the same things, and I am sure that these rituals sustain their family life. In our family we have for years had a party on the night that school begins, and we give our daughters gifts, and if we ever came close to forgetting it or skipping it, they would let us know!

The important thing is the relationship, whether it is with God or with each other. But the relationship is not just a moment in time, and neither is salvation. It is a process, and the preparations shape the process.

I have also been thinking at this time of year about weddings. Weddings are all about preparations. I love the weddings that are held in this beautiful sanctuary. I am grateful to the wedding directors, who attend to almost all of the preparations. When a wedding happens here, you notice first that the cross leads everyone in, and it is as if the bride and the groom are following Jesus into their marriage---what a profound ritual—how different from something like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride! And then you notice that the cross leads the couple into their new life at the conclusion of the service. The preparations, the rituals, are important.

And that is true about salvation. What your grandparents did, what your parents did. On National Public Radio I heard a report this summer about a camp meeting, the oldest one in the United States, the Salem Camp Meeting in Covington, Georgia. The report was all about the preparations and the rituals. Yes, some people made important decisions in their lives at those meetings. But a part of that was all of the planning and preparation and ritual that went into it. Perhaps you have made a decision that seemed spontaneous, but someone was surely at work behind the scenes, making the preparations, taking you to that church camp or children’s choir rehearsal or UMYF meeting.

And so, if salvation is going to come to the next generations, if we are going to pass along this family life, we need to make preparations. Right? Maybe you are thinking, a relationship with Christ should be spontaneous, we don’t really need the ritual, the preparations.

Think of it this way: you are about to undergo surgery. You’ve heard good things about the surgeon. Are the preparations of that surgeon important? Do you want the surgeon to follow a ritual, or to leave some things to chance?

When God was leaving instructions for Israel, in how to think about the very nature of their salvation, He left preparations and rituals. And your own salvation is related to the details, the preparations. Being in a certain place, at a certain time, reading a certain book, asking the advice of a certain friend.

Second, give your best to God.

Your lamb shall be without blemish (.5). How, as a church, do we give our best to God? Sometimes, I will meet a member just prior to the eleven o’clock service and they will say to me, “our Sunday School lesson”, and then they will tell me a teacher’s name, and it changes, “our Sunday School lesson was excellent”! Or I will listen to the anthem and I will say, “Wow”. We should give our best teaching, our best music, our best children’s ministry, our best youth ministry, as an offering, to God. Giving the best lamb was giving something that was valuable. ***Do we give our best to God? Do we give our best financial offering to God?

Why should we give our best to God? Because God gives his best to us. The unblemished offering is Jesus, he is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,

He is the one who was without sin and yet took our sin upon himself. God gives his best to us. We do stumble sometimes in thinking that “if I cannot give my best, I won’t bother to give, to volunteer”. We do become perfectionistic. We sometimes think that the good is the enemy of the best.

I think we learn to give our best to God by beginning where we are. We start where we are, and we ask God to show us how to give our best.

Third, remember the Sacrifice.

Symbol of the blood. take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintels of the houses in which they eat it (7). We don’t talk a lot about the blood in the mainline churches, or the evangelical churches. It’s unsettling, undignified, maybe even gruesome.

But if you are near the half-century mark, as I will be in a couple of years, or older, you remember singing and hearing about the blood---“are you washed in the blood of the lamb?” Oddly, at about the time the church stopped talking about the blood, a generation rose up who loved violence, in movies, in video games, in the culture.

A generation ago,in an agricultural society, the blood had to do with sacrifice. People in that generation, what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation”, knew about sacrifice. Nothing great happens without sacrifice.

The blood on the door was a reminder of that sacrifice. Good Friday is a reminder of that sacrifice. God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5). Nothing great happens without sacrifice, and there is no Christianity without sacrifice.

Fourth, yes, it’s urgent.

Eat fully dressed, with your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. (11) In other words, you don’t have time to waste. Eat in a hurry.

Now this is not an argument for fast food! We are a fast food nation, but we are usually urgent about the wrong things, about the unimportant things.

The revival preachers used to appeal to us, “Now is the time for salvation”. They asked, “if you don’t make a commitment now, you may die on the way home, you may never have an opportunity”. You hear that enough, and it doesn’t happen, and the urgency begins to lose its well, its urgency.

But perhaps, in throwing out the method, we lost a part of the truth. There is no better time that now. God gives us this moment. You can make a decision, right now, to trust God, to follow Jesus. It is urgent. Your life does depend on it. People in this congregation are wrestling with important matters, about marriage, about family, about work. Getting into a right relationship with God is crucial if we are going to live faithfully and within God’s purpose.

Fifth, keep the Passover.

I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you (13). The angel of death will pass over you.

I confess that I do not fully understand this part of the story. It has something to do with the untimely deaths of young people and friends my own age.

Why pass over some, and not others?

Why pass over some, and not everybody?

Why did I receive this gift, of life, of salvation, and not someone else?

Why does the first born of the female slave die, she had not part in Pharoah’s evil?

Why am I healthy, while many women and children die of AIDS in Africa?

What do you do with these questions?

It is not my goodness, or righteousness.

The scripture helps:

At the meal, eat the roasted lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (8). The bitter herbs reminded the Israelite of their suffering, and maybe us of human suffering on the way to salvation.

Within these verses there are the critical ingredients of salvation:

A story

A meal

A community

How you are saved has everything to do with your story, and how you connect your story to God’s story. You have to look within, and see the patterns and realities of your life, and then you need to know the story that is within this book. And if you can connect these two stories, you are onto something.

How your salvation can be nourished has everything to do with this meal. Jesus observed the Passover meal, and he was the Passover lamb. Do this in remembrance of me, he said.

How your salvation is sustained has everything to do with this community. You live out your salvation through Jesus Christ in his body, the church. You can’t do it alone. I can’t do it alone. God never intended that something as important as salvation be an individual decision.

In our culture we prize the immediate, the new, the relevant. We are addicted to change, to channel-surfing, to mobility, to the pace. And so it is odd that we look at a 3000 year old story, at a meal that people have been having for 3000 years, to our ancestors who made these preparations and gave their best to God and sacrificed and urgently kept this Passover.

Sometimes, in North American Christianity at the beginning of the 21st century, we get competitive with other churches, we get coopted by the world. Our mission gets lost, and our vision gets a little distorted. It helps to get back to the basics. The way to salvation has three ingredients. A story, a meal, a community.

Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you, Jesus said…a story. Do this in remembrance of me…a meal. Love one another…a community.

Nobody talks much about salvation anymore. But we need to remember this story, this 3000 year old story. You see, life in North America at the beginning of the 21st century is not the promised land. It is more like the Egypt they were trying to escape. But if we remember the basics---tell the story, eat the meal, stay close to the community---we are going to make it to the promised land.

Monday, August 15, 2005

keep it simple

Keep it simple.

At the heart of the Christian life are a few experiences, a few practices, a few texts, a few people, a few convictions.

As Christians we surrender to God; we forgive others; we confess our sins; we take delight and joy in the gift of life; we offer praise to the Lord. We laugh and we cry. Experiences are important. They are the doorway into the Christian life.

As Christians we are baptized, we receive communion, we sing, we serve, we teach, we preach, we share fellowship, we bear witness, we tell the truth. We worship together and we pray alone. Practices are important. They are the path along the Christian life.

As Christians we read scripture, but also Christian classics that nourish our souls and feed our minds. We begin with the gospels and the psalms. Then perhaps we move into the letters of Paul and the prophets. We look at the beginnings (the Torah) and the endings (Revelation). But we can also turn to those who kept the living tradition alive: Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen. Texts are important. They are the maps that guide us in the Christian life.

As Christians we live with people; people who love us, people who challenge us, people who correct us, people who encourage us, people who forgive us and people who need our gifts. We are placed in families and churches in order that we might learn to live as Christians in practical ways. People are important. They are the companions with whom we share the Christian life.

As Christians we live with a few essential convictions: God has created all that exists. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is the comforting presence of God in our lives. The Bible is unlike any other book, a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. The church is the body of Christ, a human organization and yet also a divine fellowship. The mission of God is for all people, and the message of God is to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. To whom much is given, much is
expected. We envision a new heaven and a new earth, where hunger and suffering and death will be no more. Convictions are important. They are the boundaries that frame the Christian life.

If being a Christian has gotten complicated, I invite you to keep it simple. As a simple spiritual exercise, take out pencil, and list the experiences, the practices, the texts, the people, the convictions. You will discover something about yourself: what you are feeling, what you are doing, what you are learning, who is important to you, and what you believe.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

heart disease (exodus 7)

Exodus is about the mighty works of God, present in a people and their leader. The story begins with the oppression of a group of slaves in Egypt. The ruler is threatened by these people who are building the infrastructure of the society, who are multiplying. He orders the killing of all newborn males. At this time in history a boy is born, he is placed in a basket, the Hebrew word is literally “ark”, he sails down the river, where he is found by the daughter of Pharoah. Surprisingly, she has compassion on him, and he is spared. She names him Moses.

Moses grows up, he migrates to another country, there he meets a woman, they marry, he gets in involved in the family business. One day he is herding sheep and he sees a burning bush, and hears a Voice calling his name.

Moses, take off your shoes, the ground upon which you stand is holy ground”.

Moses listens. Then God gives him the plan: go to Pharoah, and say, let my people go. Moses has all kinds of excuses----

why would they believe me?,

who should I say has sent me?

what if I fail?

I’m not a good speaker.

God responds: I will be with you. Go!

And so this morning we enter into the encounter with Pharoah. Moses is still working out the details with God: Why would Pharoah listen to me? And God replies: I will harden the heart of Pharoah”. Three times in the coming chapters this is repeated, in verses 7.3, 8. 15, and 9. 12. Many people have wondered and worried about the meaning of the hardening of Pharoah’s heart. If you went to a computer search engine, like “Google”, and typed in “hardness of heart”, you would find literally thousands of entries. Many of them have to do with a few basic questions:

if God is hardening Pharoah’s heart, how can we blame Pharoah for his evil behavior?

If God is loving and merciful, why would he harden Pharoah’s heart in the first place?

If God hardens the hearts of individuals, do we have human responsibility?

I think our fascination with the hardening of Pharoah’s heart is more than intellectual curiousity. We all wonder, don’t we, about the question, maybe in our own lives, maybe in the life of someone close to us? What is hardness of heart?

In the gospels, Jesus uses the term at least twice, once in reference to those who justified easy divorces by pointing to the law---that was because of your hardness of heart, he says; or with those who frowned upon healing on the Sabbath---he is grieved at their hardness of heart.

But what does this mean for us? We have our own unwillingness to give God the place in our lives that is His. Pharoah wanted to be god. A rabbi friend once told me that he had a one sentence definition of what it means to be a Jew:

there is one God, and we’re not Him!

A hardening comes when we want to be in control, when we place ourselves at the center.

This is the vertical dimension of hardness of heart---our refusal to glorify God. There is also a horizontal dimension of hardness of heart—our lack of compassion for others---the man with the withered hand, the woman easily disregarded through divorce, these persons came into the path of Jesus’ life and teaching, and he saw religious people turning away from them, and he said, it is because of your hardness of heart.

How does it actually happen? In this scripture, Pharoah refuses to acknowledge the mighty works of God. God hardens the heart of Pharoah. Pharoah hardens his own heart toward God. It is a cycle. And so God gives signs, in the form of plagues, ten of them, to show his power. The battle begins. Moses and Aaron go to Pharoah----in the name of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the Lord says, “Let me people go”. Pharoah says, “no”. God says, “I am going to accomplish my purpose…watch me”. Pharoah responds, “bring it on”.

And so the plagues begin. I won’t go into the details of all of them. The first one is turning of the Nile River into blood. For a moment, we have to put this in context: Egypt was one of the great civilizations of the world. The Nile was the primary reason for that: it supported the growing of food in times of famine; it was the route for travel and transportation; it was the lifeline. God turns the lifeline into a pool of blood. It is a sign, a graphic sign. Exodus 7-12 is really an extended meditation on reading the signs. There is a way of life and a way of death.

The nile is turned to blood—death.

But remember, Moses is drawn out of the water—life.

The people are in slavery---death,

but they are called to freedom—life.

Pharoah is gripped by a hardness of heart—death.

Moses is open to the call of God---life,

There is the light of the burning bush-life,

and there is the ninth plague of darkness--death.

Exodus is about life and death. The condition of the heart is the place where the signs must be read, and where life or death are the outcomes.

I have a friend, Jim Harnish, who is a Methodist pastor in Tampa, Florida. He wrote a wonderful book about his church, Hyde Park, a church with a great past that had been on a downward slide for a number of years, and also about his own illness, which came in the form of cardiomyopathy, which is something like congestive heart failure, and for which the medical cure is a heart transplant. Over six months, with excellent medical treatment and with many prayers, Jim’s heart was back to normal.

In his book, You Only Have To Die, he likens these two experiences, the decline and rebirth of the church, his own own illness and recovery. What can we learn from his experience?

We listen to our hearts. Is there a mild discomfort? Is there an irregular rhythm? Is God trying to say something to us, trying to get our attention?

We find out what is going on. How do we monitor our spiritual lives? Are we accountable to Christian friends? To the scriptures? How do we know what is going on?

We call in the specialists. Have you ever put off going to a doctor, or a dentist? Sometimes people put off going to church, because they think they are not in the right place, not in the right frame of mind, maybe not good enough, and yet the church is the place God has chosen in the world to make his presense and his forgiveness known through the word and the sacraments and the fellowship.

We use the oxygen when we have difficulty breathing. In the Bible, breath and spirit are linked because they are the same word. If we are out of breath, spiritually, we need to sit still and rest, and ask for the spirit, God’s presence, to dwell within. It is not about us. It is about God, dwelling within us.

We change our lifestyles. In a sense, God gives us freedom here. I could eat sausage gravy every morning, and I would like it. I could eat barbecue every day for lunch, and I would love it. I could eat steak every evening…

But in time, I would have, to use the words of Ezekiel, a heart of stone (36. 26). My behaviors would lead to a hardness of heart. Jim Harnish talks about this in reference to his own life---he knows that it is a miracle that he is alive—but also in regard to the church.

I want to say a word about what this scripture, this image of the heart means for Providence. There are two lessons: one from Moses and Pharoah; another from Jesus.

The hardness of Pharoah’s heart has to do with worship. Worship is not about traditional or contemporary, the hymn that you like or the hymn that I like; it is not a preacher cult, and it is not always about numbers. Worship is about lifting up our hearts, in the words of the liturgy. Worship is about opening our hearts, our very beings, to the One who can perform spiritual surgery on us. Worship is breaking our hearts of stone, and giving us love for God alone. Pharoah refuses to do this. His heart is hardened.

The hardness of the heart in the gospels has to do with our lack of compassion for other people. Do we sometimes find ways to justify shutting people out? Yes. Do we sometimes think we are better than other people? Yes. Do we get caught up in the rituals and the laws and forget that it is all about love? Yes. The cure for heart disease is a lifestyle change. Scripture, like a good physician, does not always tell us what we want to hear. But scripture, like a good physician, tells us the truth.

Worship on the Lord’s Day, is about God, to whom alone belongs glory and honor and power. I have a friend who spent a good deal of his life as a professor of chemistry, and then became a research scientist in a corporation, and then spun that off to form a company that developed a drug. My friend was in the very inner circle of this innovation----it is a drug, he said, that “lowers anxiety and improves memory”. Can you imagine that? He was the chair of the staff-parish committee of the church, so we had frequent conversations, and once he talked to me about worship. What means the most to me about worship”, he said, “is the confession of sin. In that moment, in those words, everything in my life, in my week, is put in the right perspective. Pharoah’s heart was hardened because he—Pharoah—wanted to he god. Our confession is that we all want to be god, but there is only One God, whom we have come to worship. The confession, the worship, simply hearing the word and trying to apply it to our lives, all of that chips away at the plaque that contributes to our hardness of heart.

On the other six days, because we have confessed and praised and listened, we open our hearts to the withered and the disregarded.

If we resent the poor,

if we judge the broken,

if we cannot forgive one another,

if we cannot forgive or accept ourselves,

something is not quite right.

Imagine that we are sitting not in a sanctuary, but in a waiting room. We have all come to worship in some state of dis-ease. The old saying makes the point, “the church is not a school for saints, but a hospital for sinners”.

And so we are left with the words of the psalm:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


A few weeks ago our church was entering into a time of making an important decision, and there was naturally conflict within us and among us. In hindsight, none of us was immune from seeing the situation from a human point of view, as the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5. 16. And so we began the meeting in the sanctuary, with a brief time of worship and offering of gifts. I did give a prayer of confession at that time, and several people have asked for a copy. Here it is:

O God
we confess that we have sinned
in what we have done
and in what we have failed to do.

We are not of one mind as we gather;
save us from the sin of judging one another.

We have not always been patient with each other;
save us from the sin of dismissing each other.

We have not always trusted each other;
save us from the sin of isolation.

We have not always reached out to one another;
save us from the sin of arrogance.

We have not always opened our hands to receive your grace;
save us from the sin of pride.

We have not always believed in your desire to reconcile;
save us from the sin of divisiveness.

O God
your cross stands in judgment over all of us
and yet embraces every one of us.

We repent
and open our hearts and minds
to your Son, Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

altitude affects attitude

I spent some time at the end of last week and over the weekend in the mountains near Asheville. At mid-week in Charlotte it had been 100 degrees (plus heat index of a few more). The first day we spent in the mountains had a high of 80 degrees or so; that evening had a low of 60 degrees. Before I had left Charlotte I listened to a psychiatrist with a thick european accent make the following observation, about the impending 100+ degree day: "If you are anxious, you will be more anxious. If you are paranoid, you will be more paranoid. If you are angry, you will have a tendency to be more angry".


An aside: this is the 40th anniversary of the Slurpee. If you go to this sight, you will discover all kinds of information about the origin of the slurpee (or "icee"), about the "brainfreeze", etc. It was so hot recently that I went looking for a slurpee.

At any rate: back to the moutains. We did walk around the lake, eat some good food, and listen to music. I read the book of Exodus, which is quite an amazing story, although for me it does get bogged down in the instructions for building the tabernacle. There is a small store nearby that the locals call the "Four F". They sell flora, fauna, fabric and firearms. Actually, it is an amazing produce market, and I bought two of the most amazing tomotoes I can recall eating (they were from Grainger County, which is in eastern Tennessee, and apparently they have an annual tomato festival in late July---I believe it).

Some friends were with us; that was fun. My wife shopped. Waynesville is developing into a very nice artsy kind of community. We watched Monk. That hour was the sum total of my television viewing.

The senior adults from our church came up for the weekend. We all attended the morning services at the Lake Junaluska Assembly, which I guess is something of a tabernacle (no air conditioning). Michael Williams, a biblical storyteller, preached. His message was excellent, a midrash of Genesis 32 . 22 (Jacob wrestling with the angel), although he actually told the whole story of the births of Jacob and Esau, the confusion of their blessings, the selling of the birthright for a bowl of stew, the threat upon Jacob's life, the climbing of the ladder, his struggle and wounding in the process, his subsequent marriages to Leaa and Rachel, his return home, his encounter with Esau (what goes around comes around), then the unlikely reconciliation, and Jacob'[s comment, "to see your face is like seeing the face of God" (Genesis 33. 10).

A fine service. One of the Junaluska Singers also sang "Laudate Dominum", my favorite Mozart piece, and a delightful surprise in the midst of the service.

That evening we attended the closing of Folkmoot, which is North Carolina's international festival. There were musicans and dancers from Poland, Togo, Latvia, Indonesia, Cypress, France, and a few other countries. In a world that is pretty polarized in all kinds of ways, it is heartening to know that people are crossing geographical lines and enjoying and sharing their cultures.

A nice getaway, and now back into the flow of things. Altitude does affect attitude. I guess the profundity of the psychiatrist goes in the opposite direction. In the summer, if you are in a cooler environment, the following truths may be the result. "If you are anxious, you will become less anxious. If you are paranoid, you will become less paranoid. If you are angry, you will have a tendency to become less angry".

So, my advice:

Head for the mountains.
Read a good, long Bible story.
Have a slurpee.