Today I Saw God

Scripture Mash-up

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I love song mash-ups where DJ’s, singers, and others mix portions of favorite songs into a new composition and in doing so, create something with a power all its own, separate from the effect of the individual songs themselves, strong though they may be.  Let me do that here with verses from the Biblical books of Genesis, Colossians, Revelation, John, 1 John, and James related to race, unity, and our common roots in Christ. Let’s read collectively as a summons to find the courage of Christian conviction to participate in the hard, sometimes uncomfortable work of racial reconciliation in God’s world:  

So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…[Declaring] Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…[So,] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Please, Holy Redeemer, let these moments in scripture grant us courage of conviction as we facilitate racial reconciliation in our personal lives and the larger community. We know that if we speak up for respectful conversations, whites becoming informed of the issues, racial reconciliation and equity in all elements of secular and spiritual living, we may lose friends, family members, and colleagues for a while…or longer. Walk with us, Lord.  Help us with forgiveness, too -- for ourselves and others.  We will make mistakes in these conversations, including inexact wording, unintended stereotypes, muddled thinking, and outright offensive acts or words. They WILL happen. How we respond thoughtfully to these gaffes, imperfections, and the pain we cause others is a clear and courageous expression of our Christian conviction and God’s grace. Lord, grant us the receptiveness to hear you, the humility to recognize the error, and the fortitude to make amends. And noting your direct commands in the Scripture above, Lord, your call could not be more clear. Carrying the lantern so, we see the way ahead.

Why I'm Glad I Write in My Bible

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One of the reasons I prefer "real" books over Kindle books and other types of e-readers is my propensity to underline, highlight and make notes while I am reading. Something about the process of marking a particular word or phrase serves to cement the concept in my mind.

My Bible is the place where I most often leave behind a trail of ink as I find particular words and verses meaningful.The Bible I use most frequently was a gift from my mother in 2000, so this book has been my companion throughout most of the 21st century. The notes in the margins, in combination with the many underlined verses, tell the story of my journey with God and his word over the years and the ways in which I heard him speak through scripture during particular seasons of my life.

Several weeks ago, I began a new Bible study that asked participants to write down on the inside cover of the book the issues in our lives where we most wanted to seek God's wisdom and guidance. Among other things, I wrote down my heartfelt prayers for my daughter, Alex, who graduated from college earlier this month. Like many other parents witnessing their child achieve an important milestone, I prayerfully noted my desire for her to find work she loves, build healthy and nurturing relationships and experience a powerful sense of God's presence in her life. I prayed for her to feel at peace as she begins this new chapter of her life and to feel proud of the hard work she has done to get to this point. I asked God to protect her and guide her as she embarks on this adventure and help her find her way to a life of joy, service and meaning.

Later the same day, I was leading Bible study at The Lamb Center, as I do every Tuesday afternoon. We were discussing versesin the Bible in which God reminds us to be brave, have courage or take heart. As we made our way through my prepared list of verses, we came upon these underlined words:

"Be strong and courageousTheLord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." – Deuteronomy 31:6-8

In the margin, right next to this verse, I had written these words:

Alexandra's 1st day of 1st grade 9/5/2000

Sixteen years ago, I had prayed those powerful words over my tiny 6-year-old as she headed off to first grade. Although I don't remember the details, I suspect I clung to those words and found peace in the picture of my big strong God heading into that seemingly giant elementary school "before her and with her." Perhaps I even shared that reassurance with her.

As I look back over the sixteen years since I made the notation in my Bible, the evidence of God's continued presence in her life abounds. I am certain he found his way to the middle school and high school with her as well. Through hard tests and mean girls, broken hearts and first loves, big auditions and learning to drive, mission trips and college decisions, he was a constant presence in her life. God was there for her. Just as important, he was there for me and her dad every single day as we tried to be good parents.

I remember leaning on a similar promise and offering a similar prayer when I moved her into the dorm for her freshman year in college just four short years ago.

When I saw the words scribbled in the margins that day, my eyes filled with tears as I shared my story with my friends around the table. How kind of God to give me an illustration of the power of scripture to speak to our hearts the words we need to hear just when we need to hear it! In my experience, all we need to do is ask and then open our eyes.

God is faithful. Through the ups and downs, through the fears and worries, through the big challenges and the ordinary frustrations, he is present and as close as our thoughts. He goes before us and will be with us. He loved my baby girl as his own when she was six and he loves her just as much at twenty-two. Wherever she goes next, he will be right there beside her.

Be strong and courageous, friends! Our mighty God goes before you and will be with you. It's a promise we can count on.

Originally published on Grace Notes.

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Bible Illiteracy

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Did you know that less than 50% of Americans can name the first book of the Bible?

Did you know that 12% of Christian Americans think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc?

Did you know that less than 1/3 of Americans know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount?

As the Director of Children's Ministry here at Floris I am faced with the daunting task of, "how do I convey excitement for and about the Bible and all that it contains to the children who I influence?"

I know that as a child I was given a Bible but it was the King James Version. If you've ever read the King James Version of the Bible you know how many "thous" and "begats" are in there. As a child I wondered how anyone could sit and read these stories let alone understand them.

So how do we as adults get excited about the Bible, stay excited about the Bible, and then convey that enthusiasm to our children and teens? One way I do this on Sunday mornings is to actually hold the Bible in my hands when I am telling a Bible story. Children need to understand that the incredible stories they are learning are not just made up or come from thin air, but are from the Bible and are part of God's story. And, if they are interested in the story you are telling, they might just pick up the Bible another time to see what other neat stories might be in there.

Another key idea we are implementing in Children's Ministry is to actually teach the children how to use the Bible. As I mentioned about my KJ Bible, many kids think the Bible is confusing and I can't blame them! Each Sunday we will be looking closely at the Bible to see how it is arranged, who wrote each book, and who the key players are in the Bible.

We need to show our children how the Bible holds the answers to many of the questions we have. What does God think about bullying? How was the world made? Why did God make me? The Bible has the answers to those and so many more questions, and if kids understand that the answers to those questions can be found in the Bible, it can be like a big scavenger hunt!

Along the same lines, find out what excites your child and show it to them in the Bible. Is your son interested in fire and brimstone from the sky, gross foods one can eat, or reading about weapons and Armies? Is your daughter interested in strong women such as Hannah or Esther, or what was it like to a woman of 12 or 13 years old, like Mary, to hear that you are pregnant but not yet married? As a girl I would love to read the stories where God sent in a woman to do a man's job!

It is so important that our children understand the Bible to be an exciting and RELEVANT book. While we want the stories to be interesting to them, unless our children develop a relationship with God the Bible, it will just be a book of interesting stories of which they will tire as they grow older instead of a source of revelation and inspiration.

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Sermon Response: Cradled in Community ~ by Wendy LeBolt

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News travels fast. At 2:24pm on Tuesday afternoon my daughter, who lives in DC, messaged me asking, "Do you know what's happening on Point Rider Lane?" She had seen a news link, shared on Facebook by a friend from her middle school soccer team who was concerned about the helicopters flying over her house. I didn't have an immediate answer, but soon I would. What does one do with news like this? As Tom put it yesterday, "the worst possible news."

We do what people do in hard times. We gather and share the news.

Yesterday, I pulled into the church parking lot past an oddly marked vehicle. In the driver's seat sat a man furiously typing on his laptop. I thought this odd because, as usual, I was arriving only minutes before the start of the service. Why wasn't the man getting out and coming in? When I walked by, the ads printed on the side of his car told me why. He was from the media, probably on deadline to submit this morning's story.

Floris UMC worship was news. And the news outlets were reporting it.

I felt a little odd, then, walking into the service. Wasn't sure what I would find there. But I was greeted, as usual. Welcomed, as usual. Seated, as usual, although thesanctuaryseemed a bit more full than usual. The sermon title had changed, but we were still welcoming new members and handing out Bibles to our 3rd graders. Just like usual. Then we sang our opening hymn, so familiar, so fitting: I Love to Tell the Story.

It felt a bit ironic but so fitting. Today, an old, old story was breaking news.

We are a community suffering through tragedy. And so we come. To be comforted and to connect. To ask questions with no answers. We bring our grief and our sorrow. But we come. Tom's wonderful heart for all of us was poured out in his words.

Tom brought to mind a message I heard this summer delivered by Rob Fuquay, a pastor in NC. The theme was the "I am" statements of Jesus. Rob was teaching from John 11:25-26. Jesus said to Martha whose brother Lazarus lay in the tomb, "I am the resurrection and the life…Do you believe this?" Rob asked us if we could put our trust in this. Rest in this. Because the resurrection was not just for those who have died but for the many left behind, the people who have to live with death. Who carry grief.

Tom Berlin cautioned us that "grief carried casually can easily convert to anger." So, so true, Tom. Thank you. But grief, cradled carefully, the way our church has helped us carry it this week, can be made alive again. Life, notresuscitated, but resurrected.

As the song goes…

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know 'tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story, 'twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
'twill be the old old, story that I have loved so long.
I love to tell the story, 'twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

What a privilege we have as keepers of the whole story… of Jesus and His love.

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