upper room daily devotions

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

phelps loses law suit

"Jury Awards Father $11M in Funeral Case
by Alex Dominguez, AP

A grieving father won a nearly $11 million verdict Wednesday against a fundamentalist Kansas church that pickets military funerals out of a belief that the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., sued the Westboro Baptist Church for unspecified damages after members demonstrated at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq."

Go here for the rest of the story.

The church that I serve was picketed by Westboro in 2001 so this article is of special interest to me.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

hmmm...my personality is changing

Click to view my Personality Profile page

what does it mean to be "called"

All Christians have a calling in their lives. Most of us will experience a number of "calls" - urges from God that lead us into new places on behalf of the gospel. I don't believe that God asks us to do one and only one thing and then our work is done. God asks us to work for the sake of the gospel throughout the entirety of our lives, calling us again and again onto different journeys.

The language and concept of "call" is very familiar to me growing up in church, in the South, and in a pretty observant home. I'm learning, however, that not everyone is comfortable with this language or the idea that we all have work to do for God's reign. Many Christians unfortunately don't appreciate that all of us in the body of Christ - clergy and lay, men and women, young and old, uneducated and educated, urban and rural - are called by God. All people are gifted and needed, invited and sent by God for the sake of the world.

To be "called" is to recognize that God has a claim on our lives. Too often the church doesn't explain or explore what it means to have a calling or to be called. We simply expect folks to intuitively know what being called means, but they don't. I know people who bristle at the word "call." They've never seen a burning bush. They don't hear God in their head when they pray. They don't experience revelations on a daily basis. How can they know what God is calling them to do? How can they know who God is calling them to be?

I think it's important for us to spend time together in extended silence listening to God's breath in our breath, God's hope in our hearts, God's joy in our joy. Most of us won't have earth-shattering mystical moments...and that's okay. But all of us can experience God tugging at our hearts in such a way that we know that we are being led, urged, invited, called into a sacred and holy life.

Callings can be big and they can seem not so big. We can be called to teach Sunday school or sell our possessions and join an intentional community. We can find ourselves moving closer and closer to a way of life that on one level seems foreign and odd to us and on another level normal and quite reasonable. Sometimes callings challenge everything about us; often they do not.

In my life I have felt an urging in my heart to stop eating meat; and I have. I have felt compelled to live on the earth in a way that honors God and God's creation; I'm still learning how to do that. I have been called away from my home to Washington state for the sake of ministry. I have been called to other countries in order to stir up passions in others for the global church. I have also had callings that I have ignored. Too often I realized this after the fact. God not only calls us over and over, but we can experience multiple calls at once...so, just because you've said "yes" to God about one thing doesn't mean that God isn't already urging you in another way.

All of us are called by God. How are you called for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of creation, for the sake of your community, for the sake of prophecy, for the sake of faithfulness, for the sake of God's realm? How are you called?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

singing for peace at the washington cathedral

At Washington Cathedral, Pop Music, Politics And Prayers for Peace

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007; Page C01

It was the coolest of church coffeehouses.

"Thanks for coming to give peace a chance," David Crosby told the crowd of more than 2,500 at Washington National Cathedral, before he and Graham Nash launched into "Lay Me Down."

...Read the whole article from the Washington Post.

-Weirder things have happened, right? Graham Nash, Keb' Mo', David Crosby, Emily Saliers, and John Bryson Chane, Episcopal bishop of Washington came together at the Washington Cathedral to sing and pray for peace. Buddhist monks, protest songs of the 60s, and blues music all helped the congregation witness that God's way is not the way of war. What a night. I can picture a lot of things, but this one is right up there!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

paul and the atonement

For the last month or so I've listened as a friend of mine (who is a Lutheran pastor) lamented that she agreed to teach an adult Sunday School class on atonement. She's been a bit overwhelmed because atonement theology is not uniform in content, but it has has often been understood strictly as substitutionary atonement theology. How, she wondered, could she provide a thorough overview of atonement theology for her congregation? Would she be able to offer sound scholarship in a manner that would be accessible and engaging? She has read and wrestled, and today she taught her first lesson.

Interestingly, one of my fave bloggers, Mystical Seeker, has posted a wonderfully rich post about Paul and atonement. Please read...

Many Christians have found atonement theology, and substitutionary atonement theology in particuar, to be the cornerstone of their faith. However, many of us have found different ways to approach a theology of the cross. I meet inquiring people all the time who find affinity with the teachings of Jesus, but their struggle with substitutionary atonement theology keeps them out of the church doors.

If you're one of those inquirers, read Mystical Seeker's blog on this one. It'll get you thinking.

Shout out, Mystical Seeker!

Friday, October 12, 2007

al gore and the ipcc win nobel peace prize

Al Gore and the IPCC are sharing the Nobel Peace Prize for highlighting the importance of global warming.

Will Christians hear what the rest of the world is? Will we take seriously our particular call to stewardship and make significant and real changes in our individual lives while concurrently demanding policy change at institutional and governmental levels?

MNSBC's coverage of this news article has some interactive learning options for people to explore.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

curing spiritual poverty in churches

How many times have you gone into a church and found it to be - of all things - spiritually poor? Like any group, institution, or human undertaking, church can be creative or boring, alive or dead, forward thinking or stuck in the past, concerned with others or obsessed with itself. Too often our churches have succumbed to depression arising from wistful nostalgia for times gone by or torn apart by conflicts arising from entrenched circles of power with competing agendas. Worship services that should celebrate the realm of God, the power of the Eucharist, and the wedding of Christ and the church feel like nap time. Worships that should offer a prophetic word to stir up in us a passion for justice are luke-warm and inoffensive - the opposite of the gospel (if you've ever read the Bible). Community-oriented gatherings intended to welcome all people feel like cliques where only the "in-crowd" is really welcome. Whether it's depression, conflict, apathy, or narcissism, the result is the same - spiritual poverty. We can't commune with God and proclaim the gospel message when we are seized by spiritual poverty.

Spiritual poverty is something that exists outside of our churches as well. It's unfortunate that too often it takes a personal awareness of one's spiritual emptiness before someone darkens the door of a church, synagogue, or other faith community. It can be a challenge for our congregations to live in the abundance of God's light and life when so many of our congregants are tired, empty, worn out, confused, and depressed.

It's time to fling the windows and doors open on our churches and ask, "Why are we here?" By establishing the church's basic function and sense of mission, we begin the cure of spiritual poverty that plagues too many congregations and too many people. Are we here to be a nice place for nice people or are we here to burn with God's passion for the world? Are we here because we've met nice people who treat us kindly or are we here to become disciples of Jesus? Spiritual health begins with an understanding that we are called into a life-long journey of communing with the Divine. Spiritual vitality is maintained through prayer, study, sacraments, acts of mercy and justice, and other spiritual practices. Just as our bodies aren't healthy if we don't feed them nutritious foods and attend to exercise for their muscles, our spirituality can't be healthy until we find food and exercise for the soul.

Like any cure, attending to spiritual poverty can take time and be a bit painful. Our churches and our own lives may require significant changes in our how we go about things. The way to health takes commitment and practice. It requires us to ask and attend to questions of mission and praxis. Above all, it demands that we set aside "what we want" from church. After all, church isn't about "me"; it's about God. I just plug and play in God's mission.

There is no reason for a church to be spiritually poor if we keep God at the center of our conversation and at the fore of our thoughts. Worship can be alive and contemplative at the same time. Community can be a place for mutual support and care. It just takes a little time and attention.

Questions for churches: Why are we here? Would the world be worse off without the church? If so, why? What difference are we making in God's mission to bring justice and offer mercy? How do we reveal to the world the power of the Incarnation? What are we doing to keep our spiritual vision alive and well?

Question for individuals: Why are you going/not going to church? Are you at church to offer your time and talents? Are you there there only to get something out of church? How are you attending daily to your spiritual vitality and relationship with God? Is God the center of your lives or is God peripheral? Do you expect a 60 minute (give or take a few minutes) to take care of all of your spiritual needs for a whole week?

Friday, October 05, 2007

a joyful church?

I just returned from a two day gathering of clergy of the PNW Conf of the UMC (if you're not Methodist and don't get all the initials, it's not important to the post's content). Bishop Sally Dyck from Minnesota brought us the message for our gathering. One of the many things that she challenged us to do is to explore our role as leaders inside of a church system that can be (and often is) depressed. For such a, well, depressing topic this was a fantastic and fun gathering. I haven't laughed that much with colleagues in a very long time. We prayed, sang, and played.

I'm left thinking about the ways our denomination is depressed and how that illness is played out in my local congregation. But more than that, I am pondering how we might acknowledge this reality in such a way that it liberates us. By naming and facing the feelings and fears that ensnare the church, perhaps we could liberate it and set it off on a course yet to be dreamt.

I believe the world needs the church - as deeply imperfect as it is. There is a power to be experienced in gathering together. There is a joy that can be experienced in covenant community and through the gospel message. This joy, unlike so many other happy things, doesn't arise out of met desires or the comfort of ego. This is a joy that comes from the Source of Life, and it compels us into hard places to difficult work in the world.

I wonder how our church can get to this life of joy. Until we find it, though, new people aren't going to make us their home and our ability to be an agent of transformation will remain quite truncated. United Methodism, the perfect child of Modernity, might need to step away from our preoccupation with effectiveness. Effectiveness is not only boring, but it can be depressing. Maybe we need to latch on to some of the values and practices of the mystics of our faith. Perhaps we could begin lifting up faithfulness over effectiveness, fruitfulness over productivity, community over individualism.

This isn't a coherent post, but this gathering has brought me home full of thoughts and prayers for a church which I love and which I find wonderfully flawed and imperfectly graceful.

How might we better experience and express joy in the church?

Blog Archive