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?

Weights

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

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Decluttering Our Lives

CLUTTERWe are to be householders who bring out from their household things both old and new” (Matthew 13:52). This allows Jesus to be a “winnowing fan” that separates the grain from the chaff in our faithful practices and traditions (Matthew 3:12). This doesn’t mean religious practices are all “grain” and the outsiders are all “chaff.” Laying all things before the gracious Spirit of Christ will broaden our love for God and neighbor, fostering a greater eagerness to expand the reach of our arms of love.

It all starts with a willingness to set aside what is old and unneeded; dying is an essential part of living. Yet, we have a tendency to resist change and fight off death, by propping up our unhealthy love affairs with our small and comfortable traditions. This is our way to maintain the status quo, which we all question in our more honest moments of living. Yet, letting go is a rare pattern for the human condition and even more so in the history of formal religion.hold lightly

We can know the deeper love of God and neighbor if we will release the old, so the new can enter. We must be willing to cultivate a life of contemplation that enable us to see with clarity what is real in our lives and what is not. Intentional introspection discards that which is passing, merely trending, or even destructive, so it can embrace that which is enduring and eternal.

Once our eyes are open, we can see our way so we might take courageous steps of faith away from those former ways and head ‘down’ into the well of God’s love. The deeper we fall, the more our hearts will be filled with greater love of God and neighbor. Over time, we find ourselves willing to go to new places, so we might meet new people, sharing that which we have received, a Fountain of Love that never runs dry.well_spring

Only Lovers Get God

Lovers at Cafe le FleurRichard Rohr starts another day:” ..much of the weakness of the first 2,000 years of reflection on our doctrines and dogmas is we’ve tried to understand them with a rational mind instead of through love, prayer, and participation itself. … In the end, only lovers seem to know what is going on inside of God. To all others, God remains an impossible, distant, … just like the stars and planets.”

Published in: on May 12, 2015 at 6:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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Predecessors of Plenty: Our Practice 2 Corinthians 9: 7-8, 11-15

Wanting’ is what ‘having’ wants to recover. When we have what we want, we miss wanting, which fueled our need to have.  It’s an endless cycle called buyer’s remorse, which happens after we purchase something we thought we wanted and realize what we gave to have it.  Happiness can be equally elusive when it is seeks only the collection of goods or success.

There’s no such thing as giver’s remorse.  A generous spirit keeps on giving; both to the receiver and the giver.  The key to happiness isn’t what we receive or achieve, but in what we give.  Jed Clampett seems to know this is true.   Click here to see Jed’s way of understanding how generosity is never exhausted.

God is generous by nature and shows it by showering us with grace and bountiful goodness.  God wants us to know there is always plenty.  There’s not a scintilla of stinginess in God.  Holding, hoarding, possessing, and protecting aren’t in the divine nature.  Jesus entered the world acting on behalf of his generous Father.  He didn’t arrive and say, “Whoa!  We’ve got lots of undeserving sinners here.  We have to be careful in doling out divine favors.”  Jesus, like the Father, gives and gives and gives—loving the world to death in order to love it to life.  That is the nature and character of God.

The best practices of children of God stamped with the image of God are to reflect God’s image by demonstrating the generosity of God’s character.  We will behave in this way if we’re persuaded there is plenty.  The eulogy test is a good test: “What will my practices cause people to say at my funeral?”  Will they say, “He was so careful; sparing little, but wise in saving”.  Or, might they say, “She never hesitated to give anything she had for the well-being of others.”  There will never be enough if our lives are about the collection of material goods and the pursuit of successful experiences.  There will always be plenty if our lives are marked by generous giving that reflects the nature of God into the world.

Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to practice generosity toward famine-stricken sisters and brothers in the Jerusalem is framed within the context there is plenty.  Paul, like all predecessors of plenty, is convinced God is generous; he urges others to exercise generosity. Verse 8 says, God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.  The verse doesn’t say we will have more than enough; turning the generosity of God into a get rich scheme by invoking the name of God.  It says we will have enough of everything, so we can be generous as God is to us.  Predecessors of plenty celebrate the abundance of God’s generous nature in providing all they need by willingly offer generous gifts.

We don’t have to have lots of money; thinking if we had Jerry Jones money we would be generous.  Eugene Cho lives in Seattle with his wife and three children.  He says his family is middle class with privilege that many do not have.  He has always been aware of disparity in the world.  It was traveling and seeing the faces and hearing the stories behind the numbers that his family made a decision to start One Day’s Wages.

This is a day of deciding about what are going to be our practices regarding the plenty in our life.  Our ability to pledge generously is directly linked to our self-assessment of our blessings.  I want to suggest developing three practices that can breed an attitude of plenty.  These are helpful even if we are not ready to pledge this morning.  If we intentionally fixate ourselves on these habits for the next ninety days our awareness of blessings of plenty would significantly grow.

1. First practice is to offer one gesture of generosity a day.  It’s not about money; it’s about spirit.  Each day look for ways to give compliments, write notes of thanks, or offer aid unexpectedly to someone.  These practices create habits of giving.  Kindness chips away at the myth of scarcity, which keeps us thinking there’s only so much of any or everything to go around.  There are always occasions to share with another.  Every time we build someone up, we grow taller.  Allow practices of small signs of love cultivate a greater generosity in our lives.

2. Second practice is to offer one monetary gift a day.  Eventually it is about the money.  Be mindful to avoid the pitfall of the mindless no, which misses chances to say a generous yes with a daily gift.  Imagine what would change if for the next ninety days if we committed to the practice of being monetarily generous once a day with the waiter at restaurant, the homeless man standing on the corner, the school kid selling candy, or the extra offering being received.  The reason we pass the plate is to provide a weekly opportunity to practice saying yes toward becoming a more generous person who reflects the image of a generous God into the world.

3. Third practice is to develop a plan to offer yearly generous gifts.  We spend time and emotional energy planning our spending, saving, debt management, and retirement funds throughout each year.  How much time do we spend dreaming and scheming about giving during the course of the year?  When we take the step of making it our daily practice to offer generous gifts, we have taken big steps toward reflecting the nature of a generous God.  Eventually we are going to need a broader generosity plan.  The best plan is God’s tithing plan.  I encourage you to make a plan this year to tithe or step toward the tithe in 2012.  Some of you who have made plan to go beyond the tithe, because 10% did not satisfy your longing to give.  A generosity plan happens because people choose to believe there will always be enough because they trust in the generous hand of God.

Predecessors of plenty did not just wake one day as generous people.  They made an intentional decision to trust in the hand of a generous God; igniting plans to practice generous giving.  Over the years, they adopted practices of humbly offering gifts to benefit of others.

This church was built by people whose names we might not ever know; but helped this place reach beyond their dreams because of their practices of generosity.  The fact only a few of us know their names is fine with these generous saints.  They did not seek recognition, influence, or expecting anything in return.  They did not give to feed their need to be someone.  They simply relished in the joy of giving because they sensed they were shining the light of God into a dark world;.  The more of us at First United Methodist who practice generosity that looks like God’s generous ways; the better we will reflect God’s image into our neighborhood and world.

I am learning some lessons around the dinner table that are helping me learn at the altar table.  Terri and I have started sharing an entrée when we go to eat.  This has been a small test of plenty.  The other night when we ordered a single entrée and salad I was worried if it would be enough.  It was more than enough.  The less anxious I am about plenty in my life, the more likely I am going to be able to practice generosity in my life.

We been bred to be generous since we are made in the image of a generous God.  It also takes good grooming to develop the life of plentiful living by practicing habits of generosity so we might better reflect the image of a generous God into our world.  We become more like the child God fashioned when our practices of generosity meets real need.  Nothing will make you happier in life than to become the generous person God created.

Are We Heaven’s Victim or God’s Partner?

We are a nation full of steely-eyed determined people, whose founding was based on a hope no one would be our sovereign king or queen in our land.  The desire to be free of any singular political influence is deeply imbedded in the American psyche.  Yet, this foundational value has given rise to an overzealous individuality; filling our cities with a horde of little lonely monarchs who say they do not have to answer to anyone.  I join you in praying God will raise up persons who will help us recapture what it means to live responsibly with others in our free land.

I wonder how Western Christianity made up of rugged independence has so readily embraced the terrible theological idea that we are only putty in God’s hands and God does anything God desires to us.  I fail to understand how proud citizens of this land can think we have no more say about how God fashions us than clay has a say in what the potter makes.  We are citizens of Beulah land who were given a birthright when the Living God breathed into us the breath of life and stamped us with God’s image.  To imply we are non-essential since God is omnipotent and all-knowing and we’re impotent and know-nothings makes no sense.  Also, this breeds other bad ideas: like God causes everything (good and bad) to happen and whatever happens, happens for a reason and we have no right to say or do anything.  I am flabbergasted how this crummy kind of Christianity has imposed itself on a people who are self-determined to a fault.   

The problem in understanding God in this manner is we are left to think we have no opportunity to participate meaningfully in a relationship with our creator.  If God only works on us and we have nothing to offer God; God has no need to respond to us.  This makes us like a radio-controlled model airplanes rather individually shaped flying creations that are free soar with the Spirit as we are being shaped by the hand to God.

We have been given the privilege to partner with God to shape our world.  Where there is wrong, evil, or injustice God empowers us to offer remedy.  Where there is grace, beauty and God’s glory God invites us to name it and  bless it.  We are not victims to circumstances; we God’s fellow laborers (1 Corinthians 3:9)