A Vision of the Church: An Inward Presence Ephesians 3: 14-21

Think-Like-a-FishChad Hall was a pastor in Hickory, North Carolina wrote of quitting the church in a professional journal. He said his immersion in the church caused him to feel no longer connected to the people he was called to serve. He likened himself to Brad Pitt’s character in A River Runs Through It, citing the wilder-spirited son of a Montana minister who was lousy at life, but good at fly-fishing. The son said, “It won’t be long till I’ll think like a fish!Hall said he stepped aside because he came to believe the church forgot how to think like the fish. He felt the church was acting like the captain of a charter boat, preoccupied with keeping up the boat, and who’s in and out, thus losing its fishing instincts and what life is like in the open water. So, he gave up his position to reconnect to the world he felt called to serve.

Paul’s is concerned the church could forget what makes the church the church. He reminds them and us: We are a visible reminder of God’s love in the world. The church that burst forth from under the covers of history through Jesus Christ is to announce the message God desires all to be in union with God and live in peace as sisters and brothers.

Paul pauses and prays. It’s like when we’re in the middle of the email and say, “I’m praying for you.” His language changes from talking about a pot roast with a friend to talking with a lover in a gazebo. The words are poetic and passionate; moving up from the heart rather than down from the head. Praying by heaving his heart toward heaven while on bended knee.rogers_praying-hands-framed

He pleads with the Trinity to strengthen and stretch the inner presence of God in the church and us. Our identity (who we are) and mission (what we do) in life and in the church comes from within. Thus, he prays we may be filled with God’s fullness. The more we’re filled with God within us, the more we’re perfected in God’s love. This happens by faith in Christ who dwells in our hearts, enabling the Spirit to root and ground us in God’s love. The more we’re rooted and grounded in that love, the more our lives reflect the fullness of God. This takes strengthening and stretching so we make room for the inner presence of God within us. The inner presence of God enlivens our soul to be strengthened in knowing who we are and is stretches us to do what we are called to do.

We strengthen God’s inner presence so we know who we are. We must settle who we are in Christ. If not, we will fruitlessly try to make it true who we are not. We will try to find life by having enough money to live in right neighborhoods, send our kids to the right schools, be with only people like us, and engage in the politics of protecting our possessions; a life that leads to insecurity and anxiety, instead of well-being and peace. I am not sure if it leads to heaven, you’ll have to ask the rich young ruler?


We know we’ve been graced and loved by the God of the universe when our inner presence is strengthened. We take our family name from the Father from whom all families in heaven and on earth take their name. Our heavenly Father who gives us our name refuses to play the shame/honor game that permeates culture. God made us, created in Christ Jesus. God desires to strengthen our inner person so the unrelenting inner presence of God that resides within us can confirm who we are in the eyes of God.

I was playing golf with a older guy who was hitting the ball past me all day. I asked him where he gets his power. He pointed to his left forearm. He said he started working out with some dumbbells and discovered his right arm was much stronger. He concentrated on building up that left forearm. He worked until both arms were equally strong. He now hits the ball past the youngest because he exercised the right part of his body.prayeronmyknees

We strengthen our inner person by exercising the right part of our body, our knees. In the posture or prayer, we enter into intimate union with God’s inner presence, not just to ask what we want. We spend time with God so we may be strengthened by God’s Spirit so we may better we know who we are in Christ. The more we know who we are in Christ, the better we reflect the loving nature of God made possible by faith in Christ, whose Spirit, (the inner presence) is day by day strengthening our inner person.

We stretch God’s inner presence so we might know what God can do through us. We wrongly define ourselves by our knowledge. Play Trivial Pursuit and be reminded of the limits of our knowledge. We think we know something about something then a question comes and we discover we don’t know squat. The spin-off game Bible Trivial Pursuit humbles me. The team that usually secures the pastor feels they had pulled off a sure victory. Every time I play I say, “I will never I play this game again!” The game is like a mirror reflecting back to me what I don’t know.

yoga_stretchWe think we know the answers to life’s questions until we find ourselves in a situation that is off our map. We allow the issues before us to loom large; feeling we don’t have what it takes when we come to the end of what we know. Our usual answers and buzzwords don’t suffice. Thus, we conjure up fear-ridden conclusions, making up it on the fly. We take the low road; pretending we know what we need to know in the midst this crisis.

Judging circumstances based on limited knowledge makes a preemptive strike against faith. It’s a crisis of faith when we wrongly decide the lost job represents failure; or we assume bad communication ends it all, or haughtily believe a certain choice will lead to disaster. Faith isn’t faith when we have an investment in one particular outcome over another. Certainty about where an experience leads presumes we know more than God.Questions

What we know only tells part of the story. God gave us knowledge and grace to live by faith. God is bigger than our minds. The breadth, length, height, and depth of love is accessible by stretching ourselves to places we have yet to imagine. The inner presence within stretches us, making our world bigger than we can know within the limits of our own being.

St. Aquinas, one of the world’s great minds, produced a compendium of theology, Summa Theologica, which purported to gather all the knowledge of God and the world. He believed by expanding human intellect, we would journey toward union with God. In December 1273, he quit writing. He had a mystical experience while saying mass in Naples. He said: I can do no more. Such things have been revealed that all I have written seems as straw, I await the end of my life. Aquinas put God back in the driver’s seat.

God hasn’t misplaced our file and is still is in the business of creating and redeeming. God’s inner presence is stretching us, taking us to a new place so we might be even more filled with the fullness of God. In this new place, we’ll come to know an endless power, the fullness of God within. The inner presence of God within possesses the power to change what we perceive cant be changed; guiding us from the fearful conclusions we easily form.

stand-firmWhen we stand in faith, light pours forth from us. When we stand in faith, God who makes life-giving events occur. Let us set aside our urge to control outcomes. We don’t know where circumstances might lead. Place our trust in a God who knows the entire movie backwards and forwards.

The premise of the Matrix movies is: we’re caught in a matrix of slavery; ruled by rules, and so assimilated we don’t know the real world from the lie is movies. The film indicates the way to freedom is to progress from knowing the truth to love of others: from comprehending the nature of things to transcending them by a greater force. Knowledge leads us to the door, but only love takes us through it. Love isn’t anti-intellectual; it gathers up the intellect and perfects it. The heart knows things the mind can’t grasp. We don’t have the ability or awareness to understand the outcomes of life. Soon, the pieces will fit together when we trust God’s inner presence within us stretching to places to do things only God could imagine for us. Languageoflove

Stretching exercises deal with skeletal muscular issues. Tightness in the back is dealt with by stretching the hamstrings, relieving the strain because the legs are able to carry more the burden of our frame. When we are rightly stretched it’s like we have been made brand new. When our spiritual lives are rightly stretched we are made new, willing to enlarge our world so we can do what our loving God desires for us to do.

Finally, our inward presence must be strengthened and stretched by the language of love. It takes some pillow talk with God to be led into the fullness of God. Friends, we don’t have to quit the church; we just have to exercise our spiritual lives, strengthening and stretching our inner person so that the fullness of God’ love has room to reside in our hearts.

Bended Knee

Russell, Just Do It!

Richard Rohr Daily Meditation inspires me from time to time to personalize his words for my life:

FrancisIn the spirit of Francis, “I only know as much as I do”.  This places emphasis on action, practice, and lifestyle.

I feel 21st century faith communities long for a creative and courageous voice that moves beyond it is either this or that. I desire for a ‘Third Way’ that insures the message and the medium align.  Perhaps all of us long for voices that give greater emphasis to the medium itself, instead of always trying to clarify our verbal messages.

I want to be a gospel practitioners rather than a “word police,” or “museum curators” as Pope Francis calls some clergy. My orthopraxy (correct practice) must ally with my verbal orthodoxy (correct teaching), perhaps take precedent in this current culture. The importance of the practical implications of our beliefs should spur me to live with the question, “Am I doing what I say I believe?”

Emphasizing practice over theory by paying attention to what I can do is the order of this day.  Perhaps this will help me  escape from my incessant need to shore the “church”. Living inside the universal mystery of “church” means going out to serve the world, adopting a ”sidewalk spirituality”.  Justdoit

I am tiring of our modern emphasis on “community” as a  group of people in a building.  It feels like we have forgotten Jesus’ first and foundational definition of church: where “two or three gather in my name” (Matthew 18:20). Truthful and loving encounters always captures the mystery of “church’, regardless of size or who is present. The immediate experience of living on the edge of the church rather than simply running the church strangely warms my heart.

I will no longer offer criticism of others. Instead I will adopt the practice of just trying to do it better. If I really believe in the values I say I believe, then just put them into practice and no longer waste any time trying to point out the faults of others. As it states in the popular paraphrase of Francis’ Rule, “Preach the Good News at all times, and when absolutely necessary, use words.”

People May Doubt

Published in: on June 25, 2015 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  

A Vision of the Church: An Undeserved Mercy Ephesians 2:1-22

OrdinationA man I didn’t know made the sign of the cross on my forehand when I was ordained. He said: You know this is more about God loving you than you loving God. God is love, and as such God can only act lovingly. God’s love isn’t abstract; it acts by giving itself away.

God sent the Son to unbind souls wrapped in unnecessary ego concerns. Christ didn’t come asking how we got ourselves into this bind. Christ came to cut the ropes that bind. God so loved the world because there’s something so irresistibly lovely in God’s nature and God simply can’t help it. I describe the essence of undeserved mercy, which is our rich inheritance. It’s a mystery to those who have yet to receive this gift and those who have received it they stand amazed at such a great gift. This rich inheritance of undeserved mercy comes to the person and the people freely.

Our rich inheritance of an undeserved mercy comes to a person. Each person receives a rich inheritance of undeserved mercy because of the grace of God. We won’t focus on why we don’t deserve it; fueling the cycle of shame that permeates our world. Instead, we’ll focus on how God looks upon the person and sees Christ in us, calling us children of God. We receive this inheritance of undeserved mercy because God sees us as a person who was beautifully made by God’s hand, filled with the life giving breath of God, and stamped with God’s own image. God sees a reflection of God’s own self in our person and God finds that irresistible.Made by God

Mary Ann Bird writes about her childhood. She was born with a cleft palate and afraid of how other children looked at her. That changed in the second grade when her teacher was giving the children a hearing test. The child would stand by the door, covering one ear and listen for what the teacher would say in whisper from her desk. When it was Mary Ann’s turn her teacher said in a whisper like God speaks to each person, I wish you were my little girl.” I wish you were fully my child.

A person who receives the rich inheritance of undeserved mercy discerns it comes by grace alone. “Children of wrath,” poetically describes how we can’t self-help into a full life. The Hebrew poet cries out for God to dig ears. He’s of a woodenhead needing God to create the conditions for hearing. “Dead in our sins” means we’re tuned out and it takes something outside of us to bring life. Real life begins as God draws near, so our hearts are stirred to see it’s by grace alone that we ‘ve received a rich inheritance.

Paul says we’re ‘God’s workmanship’, “poiema”, a poem God is writing gracefully as our lives unfold. To the point, this suggests the power to believe comes from beyond us. So, we look to the cross and hear God’s Son whisper, “I love you this much”. That love changes our life if we will draw near, so we are close enough to hear we are God’s own children

footprints-tattooA person who receives the rich inheritance of undeserved mercy responds by faith. God’s graceful activity ignites our spiritual longings by planting a seed of faith, so we may respond to God’s grace with faith. God desires for us to respond so much by faith to this grace that God keeps pouring great mercy on us even before we get the big idea that believing is a big idea. A choice to act in faith because of this grace launches us down the road; moving us from one faith step to the next step that waits.

God’s grace is at work in the lives of our children; creating space for the child to embrace what God is doing in their lives. Parents cultivate grace so our children grow in their faithful responses to God. In molding our child into the person God is making, we cooperate with what God is doing in our children we share with God, so they may be faithful servants in the world.

We’re spiritually formed as children when we receive our rich inheritance of an undeserved mercy that comes by grace alone and respond in faith to that amazing gift. Then, it is from faith to faith. God doesn’t give us start-up faith and then leave us to make our way. Faith is a gift God keeps giving. A person whose relationship with God is beget by grace and lived by faith fully lives the benefits of our rich inheritance of an undeserved mercy.

Our rich inheritance of an undeserved mercy comes to THE PEOPLE. Our rich inheritance of an underserved mercy asks us to create open spaces so we might be connected to God and each other. Christ has more room to dwell in our hearts when we create space for all God’s creation to intersect our lives. Conversely, keeping someone out by walls of our own creation keeps us from fully experience God in our lives.peace_hebrew_mc

The people who receive their rich inheritance live in authentic peace with each other. Christ proclaimed peace to those far off and near. Paul says, “For Christ is our peace; [he] has broken down the dividing wall, that he might create…one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace. [He] proclaimed peace to both the near and far.” Peace abides where unity is exist. It’s realized when there’s room all people in this place.

There was a wall in the Temple that divided Jews from Gentiles, dividing people by race! That racial and ethnic wall came down when the temple fell! There was a wall in the Temple that divided Jewish males and females, a gender wall in God’s house! That sexist wall came down when the temple fell! There was a wall in the temple that separated the priests from the lay people, saying “No laity beyond this wall!” That clerical wall came down when the temple fell! There was a wall in the Temple that separated the holy things of God from the common things of life, a spiritual wall in the middle of God’s house! That spiritual wall came down when the temple fell!

Youre-InvitedWe construct walls of comfort that deceitfully soothe; making us feel safe from those we do not know or do not want to know. Our walls that divide make peace impossible. Peace is made possible when we welcome each other because all lives matter. This reflects the broadness of God’s love.

Jesus tears down any walls that divide, so we might rebuild a new dwelling for God among undivided people. Christ’s guest’s list to God’s banquet includes all people. If we feel excluded it is probably because some guests refused to welcome others the host invited. Christ tears down and builds up a new people at the same time, we might live in peace.

The people who receive their rich inheritance create a connected community. Paul says, “You’re no longer strangers…but … members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple … in whom you are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the spirit”. Through Christ we are being built up on the cornerstone as God’s holy temple. The new temple is made of the likes of us. The people are God’s temple, the dwelling place of God!better-together

Spiritual formation requires we put faith not only in God, but also in God’s people. Let us not befall to the temptation to isolate ourselves when people behave badly, like this week. Others help us find our true selves. People are our mirrors, telling us the truth about ourselves we can’t see. We risk vulnerability with others; so we might create a community for all people.

Authentic peace and connected community are the gifts of our inheritance of undeserved mercy. When peace and community are absent the soul of the people are at risk. A café owner said as segregation in public places was coming to an end, “If I don’t divide persons of color from others, I will lose my customers. Yet, if I keep dividing people, I will lose my soul!

Bishop McKeePeople come to church to sing Amazing Grace, practice faith in God and in each other, hoping the peace of Christ can be found in a community of people who seek to be made one with God and others. Yet, the events of last week cause some to question those assumptions, particularly our African American sisters and brothers. You should expect a word from your pastor about this horrific tragedy. I can’t say it better than, our episcopal leader, Bishop Mike McKee in his open letter. Read it here:

People whom we break bread at the Table and in Hargrove Hall will be a people undivided in this place. The people who choose to sing and pray in these pews will be welcome regardless of their status in life in this place. The people we serve with in this community will be treated as members of God’s family in this place. May each person who intersects this community faith know without a doubt because of our words and actions, this is a place for all people that share in a rich inheritance of an undeserved mercy.God's Workmanship

Mirrors: The Good, the Better and the Beautiful

We avoid mirrors, fearful of what they might tell us about ourselves.  Yet, imagine a life without a mirror, a life never having the opportunity to see a true image of ourselves.  Perhaps, it is our negative feelings about reflected glass that keep us from fully knowing our True Selves.

Mirrors can be more than just a shiny piece of glass hung on our walls.  There are many other kinds of mirrors that reflect back to us who we really are.  No one person by themselves can exclusively mirror himself or herself.

Birth parents are mirrors in an infant’s life. Teachers who led us through our school days are mirrors in the student’s life. We are better able to be true to ourselves if we have many mirrors; including extended family members and a host of good friends who will tell us the truth in love about ourselves. Sometimes, we go looking for therapist, counselor or a guide to reflect back to us where we are at this moment of our lives.

Blessed are those who look up in the eyes of their many mirrors and receive the loving look of another. Fortunate are those who know someone that delights in him or her out of pure abandonment because they want to be sure they fell like they are affirmed. These kinds of mirroring experiences are what every person needs and will continuing seek it for their entire lives until they find it.

If we are loving persons today, it is likely we have seen love in the face of our mirrors.  If we have not experienced that kind of loving reflection from those in our lives, we must seek and find compassionate people or creatures to show us our own belovedness. Only then are we able to see ourselves clearly. Once we see our True Self, we can give away what we have received. In fact, we must reflect back to others what we have received for ourselves or we will lose sight of who we are.

Name and thank God for the gracious mirrors in your life who have reflected the requisite love every breathing creature must receive if they are to live well. Now, go and tell them and God: Thanks!

Published in: on June 3, 2015 at 2:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Vision of the Church: A Rich Inheritance Ephesians 1: 3-22

create-willYou’re in the will” causes hearts to skip; thinking we get something for no other reason than the graciousness of the one who died. Paul begins this letter, “You’re in the will”. “In Christ, we have an inheritance” he says. We have an incontestable share of Christ’s riches; even as adopted children that nothing can invalidate it. Our inheritance comes with more grace than we merit. We live off Christ’s wealth as a child lives off a parent’s wealth. Our heavenly inheritance includes a privilege and purpose. The church’s inheritance includes the privilege of being a faith community of chosen people, called for the purpose of telling others they too are chosen.

PRIVILEGE of being a faith community of chosen people. He says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing…just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of God’s will.” Paul is speaking to the Jewish and Gentile believers who were bickering over who is in or out based on circumcision, a ritualistic carving of the flesh. Paul lays out God’s plan revealed in Christ who came to gather up all people and things to share in the privilege of his inheritance.

Our choseness is established by God’s good pleasure, not by our good bloodline or achievement. God’s choice is wide, a choice for all, not just some. To be chosen before the foundation of the world means, regardless of the context of our birth we’re all made in/out love and for/to love. We can’t earn it or mess it up, God decided on our blessing from the beginning.backyards

Privacy fences section off our towns into tidy squares. Our backyards are our treasures, maintaining the American dream of a place to call our own. Fencing out and hedging in are the ways we create this space not only in our yards, but in the way we relate to some of God’s other children. Yet, we love stories of walls broken down. Frost said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall; that wants it down.” Through the grace of God, Christ broke down every wall to choose us; so we might be reconciled to God.

Still, from the earliest days, we’ve struggled with unifying our diverse parts. We’ve walled off people with differences we claim are rooted in God. Jewish faith was the first to be elected; yet they wondered about their specialness as Gentiles claimed a chosen status. When Gentiles came to know they were chosen, we said or implied God didn’t choose all. We have created communities of faith that excludes those who lack merits we have contrived as sinful people generation after generation.

Hands of RaceWe divided by race and ethnicity; turning biological and cultural differences into reasons God chose some and not others without any basis for such claims. Such ideas of God’s choseness are more than mischievous. It’s past time to put away pernicious notions of inferiority or superiority based on race or ethnicity. These social inventions are plain sinful. God elected us by Christ’s dying for everyone, red, yellow black and white, all covered by God’s grace, thus chosen by God. Let us drop our dividing ways and walls.

Our relationship with God has more to with God privileging us than anything else. God included all in Christ, not picking and choosing whom God wills. Some people may separate from God by their own insistence. We can’t root that loss in the God whose good pleasure is to call all. Our faith declares it’s God’s prerogative to include all who by faith say yes to s grace of God. Nothing restrains our host Christ Jesus from pulling into the fold the strange and the stranger who feel left out. There’s plenty of room in Christ. We are privileged to be a community of faith of chosen people.got privilege

Called for the PURPOSE of telling others they too are chosen. He writes: “In Christ we have an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of God’s glory.” The responsibility that comes with the privilege of being Christ’s church is we’re to fulfill our purpose by deliberately offering the privilege we have received by the grace of God to others.

God adopts us in Christ, so we might live to the praise of God’s glory. We do this by telling the world that doesn’t know it belongs to God, it belongs to God. We announce the grace of God by inviting others to receive it. We embrace the different graces and gift of different people because they were given by the same God who graced and gave us life. This clears space for those left out, so they may come to see there is room for all who will come.

We weren’t chosen because God wanted to privilege a few of us along with the Jews. God first chose Jews to bear the light of God to the nations and in due time he chose others for the task. God doesn’t love some people more than others, drawing a circle to keep people out. We can’t act like 3rd graders shouting, “Game’s locked” sending the others off to tire swing exile.

We have moments when we prefer to be separated. We hide behind the modular furniture at the office. Pews can sacredly segregate, keeping us a safe distance from unknown persons who may be different. We esteem or diminish persons based on where they live or work. A raised eyebrow and a barbed wire fence both cut while cutting off. Fences come in a wide array of colors, textures, thicknesses and heights. Yet, when we classify persons we create barriers that prevent us from living God’s purpose for our lives.

The greater we sense the privilege of choseness, the more we will engage our purpose to widen the invitation that others can choose to receive the privilege they too have been chosen. Let’s put on our hardhat and grab our hammer and join Christ in tearing down walls, so we might make more room for the others who are also chosen in Christ. Let us embrace our chosen state in Christ, fulfilling our purpose to call others into the fold.

Rulers set up images of their eminence, not only as a matter of his self-praise. They remind subjects that though they don’t see him in the far-flung parts of the empire, they are still reminded he is their king when they look upon his likeness. The church is a visible reminder of God in the world. Though the world does not see God, when it sees the church, it is to see everyone and everything is being pursued by the grace of God.

History is narrated by stories of grace, persons giving beyond what’s required. One grace story comes from the Bosnian wars. A man with long hair and mustache, dressed in formal wear, sat in a bombed out café in Sarajevo for 22 days. He played his cello the way he once did in Sarajevo’s Orchestra. He played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor over and over again. This sad piece was constructed from a manuscript fragment found in the ruins of Dresden’s death camp during different ethnic cleansing.  This man couldn’t stop the killing, but he played a tribute that claimed truth against the lies of narrow choseness.  He was a sign of God who gathers all things together in Christ, no matter the rubble we make of our lives.

Ex_Yugoslavien01Christ gave beyond what was required; leaving a legacy of breaking down walls and expanding God’s dwelling space so there is room to draw others into this gracious space. The way to pass on our rich inheritance is to live out the purpose of our privileged choseness; blessing others with the message they too are chosen. Chosen people in the community of faith are reminders of God in the world; images that bears the likeness of Christ.

Clarence Jordan who founded Koinonia Farms modeled how whites and blacks live together as a witness to his rich inheritance in Christ. Many things came of his vision, notably Habitat for Humanity. When some interns left, Clarence would hand them an envelope with a signed blank check made out to them. The note said, “In case you ever need a thing”. Most never cashed the check, but they spiritually drew on the account every day.

The vision of the church begins by relishing in our rich inheritance made possible by Christ alone. The vision continues by passing this inheritance to others. It’s fully realized when the privilege and the purpose of our rich inheritance becomes the foundation for everything else we do at First United Methodist Church Irving. We are rich; let us invest it wisely!