Monday, December 28, 2015

WMTRBW - Chapter 18: Sharing Gifts

In Chapter 18 of ‘We Make The Road By Walking’ we learn about sharing gifts. During the Christmas season we might try to figure out if someone has bought us a gift we have really wanted. Perhaps we might even snoop around the house to find what has been bought. It is very easy to get caught up in the materialism of it all and forget that the real message of Christmas is not found in the gifts that we give to one another. Rather, it is a reminder of the gift that God has given to each of us. It is the only gift that truly keeps giving. Here are a few thoughts about God’s gift of Jesus to us:

  • God's gift came to us in the humblest of wrappings. What would we think if we saw a gift under the Christmas tree that was wrapped in dirty newspaper and tied up with string? But that’s exactly how God presented his gift to us. Jesus was not born in a palace of gold; He was born in a stable with animals. He was clothed with rags. He was laid in a feeding trough. What a great sacrifice God made for us! God's gift to humanity, the ultimate gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ, came in the simplest and humblest of wrappings.
  • We don't deserve the gift God gave us. At Christmas, we give gifts to those who we care about, those who have been kind to us, or who have given us a gift first. We don't give gifts to the person who has been talking about us negatively of gossiping about us or to the angry neighbor who never has a kind word to say. Yet God gave us His gift when we were His enemies. He didn't give this gift to us because we deserved it. In fact, it was just the opposite. The Bible tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

  • The gifts we give always tell us something about the giver. When we want to give someone a gift, we might start thinking about it ahead of time. Hopefully, we try to find what that person wants or needs. However, when God decided to give us the gift of eternal life, it wasn't something that He just thought of. Way before there was a town called Bethlehem, there was a garden called Eden, and a decision was made in eternity that God would send forth His Son, born of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those that are under the law.

So Christmas isn't about those gifts that we have under our trees this season. All of those things will be gone one day. All that will be left after this life is the human soul, and that will live forever. We put so much stock in what we have, but it will all pass away. Life is about what happens beyond the grave. Life is about knowing the God who made us and who gave us the greatest gift we will ever receive. Let’s take a moment this Christmas season to give our Heavenly Father the greatest gift He desires: the gift of our heart.

What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped, or surprised you?

Monday, December 21, 2015

WMTRBW - Chapter 17: Surprising People

In Chapter 17, we focus on the genealogy of Jesus, from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. If you are like me, you may find comfort in knowing Jesus' ancestor list is full of flawed people, as are many characters of the Bible. Matthew's version also includes pivotal, yet flawed, women in Jesus' lineage. Similarly, in Luke 2:8-20, we are reminded of how God gave the lowly shepherds special access and viewing to our beautiful baby Jesus! Our God is an awesome God! He cares for the lowly and also for the poor.

I can relate to being flawed. Can you? It excites and motivates me to know God uses imperfect people to fulfill His great plan. No matter how many mistakes we may have made, He is eager to use us as well! This is surprising, exciting, and yet terrifying to me! What a honor it is to partner with God in fulfilling His will! What a beautiful gift, indeed! 

And knowing God holds a very special place for the poor, our care and concern for the poor might just be how we can also be key partners in the history of fulfilling God's will! All glory to our Father in heaven!

As we prepare for Christmas this week, take special care to consider if you are partnering with God in your everyday life as part of your calling. Are you reaching the poor? Are you serving in some manner? We want to examine how to better ourselves spiritually to bring all glory to God. And we want to be serving Him all year round, not just during the Christmas season when our hearts may be feeling more generous than usual.

This week: look for surprising people to whom you can show uncommon respect and unexpected kindness.

Jesus Coming of Age Chapter 19

People often ask me, "Have you always been this skinny?" I usually answer either, "Yes, since 1952." or "Ever since I was 12 years old."  In Chapter 19, which is this week's reading, the questions that intrigued me were such echoes of the 'skinny' question.  "What were you like when you were 12?  How are you the same today? How have you changed?

I have pondered these questions for several weeks. Here are some answers about Nancy at 12.  I was a daughter, a niece, a grandchild.  All of these roles are now past with the deaths of each elder.  I was a sister and still am.  I was too talkative and ....(well you know me).  My church friends were my role models and closest friends.  You continue to fill that part of my life for me.  Mentally I was curious, quick to learn and eager to share what I leaned with others.  Ditto 2015.  I had a long period of illness that year.  Thankfully I have never repeated such a trauma. So far I've found only one difference. Well...... Oops.  So far I might as well lie on my forms and put DOB 6/13/1940 and still be a 12 year old.

So.... what lessons have I learned from life?  How has living far from my village of 100 persons ever since 1961 changed me?  I guess if you have 4 or 5 hours some day I can BEGIN to tell you.  I'll list some of the things I know have changed me and perhaps you will do the same in the next few days so you too can ponder.  "Am I still my 12 year old self?  How has life lived with God and others changed me?  What has God done for me (what Amazing Grace)? Have I gained wisdom as I have gained stature?

I have been changed by my years at Carson-Newman College, by pastors (too many, too marvelous to list them all), the Alliance of Baptists, Wanda Barker, Joanne Davis, Glen Stassen, Nancy Hatfield, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Park View Mennonite Church,  Gallaudet University, foreign students living in my home, working and teaching in Xi'an, China, Moscow, Russia, Prague, Czech Republic, IBTS students, gay co-workers, friends and relatives, my first female boss, my first female pastor, close friends of different races, books I have read.

OK  --  I can't list even a quarter of the life changing experiences I have had.  .  My mind is reeling?  Time for you to start your list!  Hurry!  It will be amazing to you.  Then perhaps you will share what you have learned from this pondering and let others be amazed at how God is working in all circumstances in your life

Sunday, December 13, 2015

In Chapter 16 we see the brutality that is often used to either lay hold to or retain power.

Here we are in the midst of Advent awaiting the baby Jesus even as we bask in the joy of the birth of William Mark into our church family.  We know there is nothing his parents or any of us would withhold from him, no harm we would allow to befall him.  In the past we have felt this same way about Evan, Isaac, Mishi, James, Jaxon, Jordyn, Reginald, Angelina, Marcus, Tucker and Caleb all born in recent years and in a real way added to our family. 

The horror of war we see everyday as children just as helpless and precious as these are sacrificed in power grabs by Isis and Boko Haram remind us of the sacrifices of babes to false gods as recorded in Jeremiah and the misery of parents in Bethlehem as Herod sought to eliminate the baby Jesus who threatened his power. Poor helpless babes!  Then closer at hand we see the death of Black boys and men in our own land leaving mothers crying like Rachel of old. We too are or should be crying at such horrid loss.

What can be our response? Do we arm ourselves?  Do we send more sons and daughters to be sacrificed and to kill others to 'prevent terrorism'? Does peace come from two sets of mutual destruction?   Do we ignore slaughter on our own city streets? How do we heal the wrongs done to gain or maintain power?  How can we empower others to live as God intends them to live (as those God's son set free)?

Read the words of this Graham Kendrick hymn  which you can hear on YouTube.  See the way the Creator of the world sought to end conflict and violence in contrast to guns, drones, bombs and lost lives.

Servant King
From Heaven you came, helpless Babe,
entered our world, your glory veiled; 
not to be served but to serve and
 give your life that we might live.

      This is our God, the Servant King
      He calls us now to follow him
      To bring our lives as a daily offering
      Of service to the Servant King

So let us learn how to serve,
and in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other's needs to prefer,
for it is Christ we're serving.
CCLI  78897

As we give our lives in service to others let us follow Christ's way of peace - sacrificing only ourselves and not demanding the rights of power. Let us protect the vulnerable, uphold the weak and weary and help bring Christ to all.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

WMTRBW 14 – Promised Land, Promised Time

In Chapter 14, we examine the pivotal role prophets of the Bible played.  Prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Malachi, Joel, Amos, and Daniel foretold of future events, bringing both hope to the people and also warnings of negative consequences from behaviors not in line with God’s will.  These messengers prompted people to act in ways consistent with their dreams and/or restrain from continuing harmful behavior.

Jesus often quoted scripture from Isaiah. In fact, He was the fulfillment of many of those prophesies. He gives us a hope for the future. As His followers, we are inspired to act in ways which keep Jesus alive in our hearts, to share Him with others and to do the work He calls us to do.

May the light of Christ's love remind us He is our Hope, Way, Truth, and Light. And may the lighting of the first Advent candle remind us of the hope we have in Jesus, similar to the hope the world had as it anticipated, with joyful expectation, the birth of Christ.

Share a story about a time when you kept hope or lost hope.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Great Conversation - Week Thirteen

Last week “Listening and Engaging to come to a right interpretation” was our topic.  This week’s is so much the same that it is apparent that knowing God voice is paramount. Let us deal with Conversation and the company of others we talk to every day – friends, family, co-workers.

Did your fish have bones?” “No.” “Mine did.” “Are you going to the symphony tonight?” “No.

I’m in the library writing just after dinner & those are the highlights of the 'conversation' we had with two acquaintances. Usually dinner conversation is interesting with shared viewpoints or with serious give and take on topics about which it is difficult to agree.  The latter can engender a long time of discussion full of facts, observations and telling stories to illustrate reasons for differences.  Many times we are surprised to find the wait staff hovering hoping we will finish so they can cleanup and go home.  These can truly be called conversations and enrich our lives and force us to be flexible and grow. Anything less is merely a chat, some gossip or a meaningless bit of talk. 

This walk we are taking together  this week is concerned with not merely A conversation but with THE conservation – ours with the God who created us.

Our scriptures set up a series of scenes for us to view, as it were, or perhaps to eavesdrop on three parts of this conversation. Isaiah 1:1-2.5 has a declaration of the origin of the first part, “The Lord has spoken.” This reference to the initiation of discussion between God and God’s people surely includes all the various oral commandments, covenants, calls and communications the Lord God had originated with people on earth.

Romans 15:1-13 reminds the descendants of these earlier generations that these conversations continued in written form in scripture and in the spoken words and life of Jesus Christ.  These forms of communication were to help maintain hope and fortitude so all would continue to praise God and follow the example of Jesus who was faithful and reminded them of God’s promises and commissioned them to continue the GREAT conversation with all humans.

Matthew 9:10-17 gives us a snapshot view of Jesus giving an example of THE conversation as he answers the questioning disciples.

When there is a question especially about faith, God, the meaning of a scriptures, in other words,  how to live there is seldom a single ‘right’ answer.  How, especially with a non-believer or someone with whom you really disagree, do you attempt to engage and come to the essential truth?  Can you listen and learn?  Can you discover why you disagree or agree about some idea? Could you try to imagine this kind of conversation not as a trivial thing and see it as a continuation of Isaiah 1 (knowing what the Lord has spoken).?

What does it mean to you to be part of THE greatest conversation in the world? What have the voices – of God, Christ,  Holy Scripture, human companions- taught you? 

Consider what has happened to your understanding of God through  poetry you read or hear – through those who interpret God through oral and written storytelling.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

WMTRBW 12:Stories That Shape Us

In chapter twelve, ‘Stories That Shape Us’, the topic of interpretation is discussed. Webster’s dictionary defines interpretation as ‘the action of expanding the meaning of something’.  It seems so simple and straightforward, yet many of the problems we experience today (especially in matters of faith) come down to differing interpretations of belief. When discussing the topic of interpretation, it’s important to remember two very important things: 
#1 God’s Word is living and active – “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
#2 God’s Word is revealed through His Spirit – “These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” (1 Corinthians 2:10 – 13)

In today’s culture, there are many heated debates on spiritual, political, and other matters. Even if we don’t agree with each other on some of these topics, we as Christians can at least agree to following Jesus’ example in how we respond and interact with one another…
#1  Loving – Jesus taught us about love. On a few occasions, He was asked which is the most important commandment, and His response was, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Jesus gave us some examples of what it means to love through His teaching and His words. Through His compassion and healing of the sick, Jesus taught us to care for one another and take care of those who are in need. At the last supper when He washed the feet of His disciples, He taught us that we need to serve those we love. One of Jesus' most famous and difficult teachings is to love not just our friends and family, but also our enemies. Jesus explained that there is nothing special or extraordinary in loving those who love us back - even wicked people do as much. He said, "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back."
#2 Judging- Jesus warned us not to judge others since we are all sinners. Jesus said, "How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
#3 Forgiving – Jesus taught us that when we repent of the bad things we've done and ask God to forgive us, He will hear us and forgive us. But first, we must forgive those who have wronged us, otherwise God the Father will not forgive us. It is not enough to forgive only once - we must forgive every time we are wronged. Jesus said, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."

Just as the mother in chapter 12 encouraged her daughter to come to her own interpretation of the Elijah story, maybe we can also demonstrate that kind of grace with each other. When we fully listen to one another, we have a full encounter and are able to understand each other’s viewpoint. Together, we make the road by listening and engaging.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

WMTRBW: Week 11: From Ugliness, A Beauty Emerges

This week, we are reading about violence.  According to Brian McLaren, violence is “an act that intends to violate the well-being of a person or people”. We examine Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments to understand God’s “stance” on violence.  The author first points us to Deuteronomy 7:1-11 to argue the God of the Old Testament, as understood by Old Testament writers, is one of death and destruction and then to Matthew 15:21-39 to show God wants to pour out mercy on ALL people.

Perhaps, though, the author should be pointing us to Joshua 5:13 (NIV), where Joshua asks the following of a commander of the Lord’s army, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The commander’s response: “Neither.”

Instead of asking questions such as,
(a) Is God willing to harm others to help some?
(b) Is God part of the violence in the world, and is violence part of God?
(c) Is God asking us to move beyond violence, in kindness, reconciliation, and peace?

We should be asking, “WHOSE side are WE on”?  Are we for ourselves or are we for God? Not an “us vs them” question, but “all of us” moving together question. Then we will move toward peace, kindness, and reconciliation.

Jesus’ mission on this earth was for ALL people, not just the Israelites.  He is the God of all people, but not all people knew Him as their God. I don’t believe it was a surprise that the Canaanite woman asked for healing for her daughter, in Matthew 15:21-39. Jesus simply uses this as an opportunity to invite ALL people to be “us”. 

It is indeed a spiritual battle we are fighting, not one against each other. 

Think about your own life. Pick a situation where you feel like it is “us” vs “them”.  Now, view your situation as if it is “all of us” in a spiritual battle, where we all actually need to work together to find a way to move forward toward healing.  How would that change your perception of your situation, knowing God isn’t taking sides? He wants us all to be working together, looking to Him and working toward healing.