Monday Meditation – A Historical Connection for Building the Kingdom of God

Connectional Giving Blog

In second Corinthians 8:1-5 (NIV), Paul tells us of the extreme generosity of the Macedonian church.  It wasn’t out of abundance and peace that they gave but during strife and poverty they found ways to give financially to the church.

In verses 13-15, we have an understanding of the connection that was built between the Macedonian, Corinthian and Jerusalem churches.

“At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality” (NIV)

When one had plenty they were asked to give to those who needed.  Just as it would be returned to them when the other had plenty.

Now Paul set up some parameters to this giving.

  1. There is a genuine holy need. The Jerusalem church shouldn’t be hoarding the money either but using it toward ministry.  The Jerusalem church, being in a city, had many widows, the elderly, visitors and orphans in need of assistance and who needed care.
  2. Giving is interdependent. The financial support is given by everyone no matter how small a donation it may be.  The Macedonian and Corinthian churches shared in the support of the Jerusalem church.
  3. Giving is reciprocal. Even if the Corinth church was never without funds, the Jerusalem church could give to it once it was able to, in support of the Corinthian ministries.
  4. The gift is given for the furthering of the Kingdom of God.

“We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.  For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.” (verses 20-21)

Being in connection is relevant to us now as well.

Methodists have a connection.  Each church is connected to another so that when a need arises, all can help lift those who are struggling with the challenges life brings.

We give so that others might be able to share the Kingdom of God with this world.  We give so that those sharing the Kingdom of God have the tools and skills necessary to make disciples of all nations.  We give to improve the lives of our fellow human beings because we have been called by our God to do so.

Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it. (verse 24)

Almighty God, show us your love for each of us so that we might see everyone as our brothers and sisters in Christ, your beloved. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Building Up

Building Up

Dozens of new high rise buildings have been constructed in Nashville during the last five years. I counted seven gigantic cranes highlighting the cityscape at one point from my office window in downtown Nashville.

It’s been bittersweet to see these tall buildings seem to grow right out of the ground. Nashville’s construction shows vitality but it also comes with its own growing pains.

Affordable housing has become an issue as most of the new housing in development is high end real estate. What use to take fifteen minutes now takes double or even triple that amount to get into town during rush hour. The construction barrel has become the new state flower.

Building vs. Building Up

Yet for all their influence on the city, they are but buildings that remind me of the Jewish Temple of Jesus’ times. The Temple was much bigger and grander than any building ever imagined for its time and place, yet it, too, could be toppled. While the Romans burned the Temple, it was Jesus who called out its demise. Why? Because it no longer served the people it had been created to be in relationship with. It was a building that lost it’s purpose of building up. The Temple and its priests hoarded the wealth of the Temple for themselves, while the hungry, the poor, the sick cried out for relief. God heard their cry and gave the Temple ample warning to do better through Jesus.

As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”

Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” Mark 13:1-2 CEB

If the Temple could be brought down for not practicing its purpose, its ministry, how much more can churches be allowed to stand who have wandered away from their mission of doing for the least of these?

If Jesus was willing to call out the Temple for not building up the people, how much more does He want to call each of our churches out for not fulfilling the mission of the church – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

Dear God, help us to do your will in our churches. Help us to remember they are but buildings able to be brought down easily if they no longer serve their purpose for all your people – even the least of these. Amen.

Advent Week One: The Fig Tree

Advent week one

1st Week of Advent

During this advent season, we watch for the coming birth of our Savior. In Mark 13:28-30 Jesus, himself, speaks of watching for him to return with signs in the heavens. Just as a fig tree signals the beginning of the summer season so too will the coming of Christ have signs preceding it.

Yet in Mark 11:12-14, 20-21, Jesus curses the fig tree for not bearing fruit even though it is out of season for figs. The tree withers and dies.

Often the success of the Israelites is portrayed as a fig tree in the Old Testament. And most central to its success is the Temple, the religious and political hub of the nation. The Temple was the storehouse of tithes, alms and offerings.

Fig Tree

So when the fig tree is bursting forth with life, Jesus tells us we can watch for him to come back. But when it does not supply what is needed to the hungry, it will be cursed and wither from the root.

Why is Jesus so disgusted with the fig tree even though he knows it isn’t the time for the harvesting of figs?

While we may watch for signs of Jesus’ coming, just as every year we look with anticipation for the coming nativity, need still remains in the land. And as long as this want continues, the people of God should share the fruits of the Temple to alleviate that hunger, no matter what the season. When that happens perhaps the fig tree will finally be in bloom and Christ will come again.

“Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.” Mark 13:29-31 CEB

Dear Lord, help us as we wait for your return. Help us to be the blooming leaves of the fig tree, feeding those in need, whether spiritually or physically, so that your light would return to this world permanently. We need you more every morning. Help us to watch for your coming. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Welcome Change

change

Daylight Savings time is upon us. What we lost in the spring we get back in the fall. Months have passed but what was once taken from us now returns to us nevertheless.

That is what it is like sometimes when we lose something. It takes a bit of time for us to regain some equilibrium or have what we lost returned to us. Or it may take some time to adjust to the change we made in our lives as a result of that loss.

Military families probably understand this better than most. Often times their loved ones are deployed to war zones and unable to be with their spouses or children for a period of time. Even knowing when they shall return doesn’t make the loss of their presence in the lives of their families any less evident.

Welcome Change

Sometimes what we get back is different from that which we lost. But what we receive is usually what we need yet maybe not what we want.

Yet God provides if we only will accept.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)

Dear God, bestow your blessings upon us. As the nights grow longer, Lord, remind us that even in the darkness of night, light breaks through to illuminate the love you have for us. Amen.

GCFA Quadrennial Training

Training

The GCFA Quadrennial Training Event in Jacksonville, Florida has just finished. What an exciting time it was for United Methodists to come together for a shared purpose. Getting to know one another is as important as getting to all the plenary sessions. Hopefully the relationships formed will last a life time and give all another person who is going through some of the same situations in their conference and possibly someone to reach out to for help, advice or a listening ear.

The governing of a church takes all of us not just “leaders.” We rise and fall together as congregations of believers.

Laity along with bishops, clergy and lay servants all play a role in the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus is our example. Let us then be like Jesus and…

“… love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 (CEB)

In fact, let us love our neighbors and ourselves like God loves us, wholly and with grace and righteousness.

Meditation Monday: All Saints

saints

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” Colossians 1:11-13 ESV

All Saints’ Day

Last month the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, canonized Mother Teresa as a saint. There is rigorous criterion one must meet to be made a saint. Two criteria for becoming a saint are a life of heroic virtue and the authentication of two miracles said to occur because of mediation from that “blessed” person .

For United Methodists, all Christians who have been faithful are considered saints. We celebrate All Saints’ Day to “remember Christians of every time and place, honoring those who lived faithfully and shared their faith with us.”

While Mother Teresa has many supporters both inside and outside the Catholic Church, she also had her detractors. It has been argued that she perpetuated the cycle of poverty and suffering among the poorest of the poor in India.

While the term “Saint” is a loaded one, we still use it because it holds value as lifting up people who will be remembered for their faith. It does not make them perfect. For none are perfect but Jesus Christ. The canonization of Mother Teresa helps us to remember that we all have fallen short but we all are moving towards perfection in this life we have been given.

Dear God, we thank you for all the faithful who have gone before us, those saints on whose shoulders we rest the foundations of our church. Help us to remember them as they were, human and flawed but searching constantly for you in the midst of the darkness so that Your light might shine brighter. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Heal

heal

In chapel one morning I was struck by a verse in a worship song.

“Earth has no sorrow heaven cannot heal.”

Heal

What struck me was the absolute truth of this statement. There is no sorrow God cannot heal.   Will it be a fast and pretty process? No. The verse doesn’t make that claim. Will it be a painless and easy process? No the verse doesn’t make that claim either.

We are promised a healing. What that looks like and how it progresses is up to each individual’s circumstances and lives. But if we are willing so too is God.

Almighty God, there is nothing above you. You have set us a little lower than yourself. There is nothing on Earth that heaven can’t deal with. Help us to remember to bring to you all our heartbrokenness and feelings of sadness so that we might once again know a deep love and happiness because we have gone through pain to get to the other side with you. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Rest

rest

Psalm 127:2 (ESV) tells us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

What does one get for their significant other for a special day like an anniversary or birthday?

For some it is a present of some sort. Jewelry, a tie, a special dinner, tickets to the opera or a ball game. These are all well and good.

But for some it is their presence that is the gift to the beloved.

Read more

Civility & the lost art of listening

civility

P.M. Forni, in his book The Civility Solution, writes that in today’s America, incivility is on prominent display: in schools, where bullying is pervasive; in the workplace, where an increasing number are more stressed out by co-workers than their jobs; on the roads, where road rage maims and kills; in politics, where strident intolerance takes the place of earnest dialogue; and on the Web, where many check their inhibitions at the digital door.

The Civility of Conversation

Conversations and discussions no longer exist. It isn’t even about who is right or wrong. Both sides know they are right. It is not a question of changing anyone’s mind. How can conversation happen when people are “YELLING” at one another with slogans and epithets on TV, in their “status,” and in their “tweets”?

In Jeremiah 29:4 – 7 (NIV), God tells the Israelites to pray for Babylon, the empire they have been exiled to from Jerusalem. God doesn’t tell the Israelites to stop believing as they had when they were in their own land even though now they are in a pagan, gentile land with its own prophets and diviners that God calls deceivers. Now God commands them to pray for the city they have been brought to as the spoils of war – that, in fact, their prosperity was tied to the pagan city’s prosperity.

The Civility of Prayer

Can all the sides of the ideological divide, pray for each other to prosper? Can viewers of network news with opposing sides pray for those with a different opinion? Can opposing teams pray for each other on the field of play? Can people on both sides of any issue facing The United Methodist Church pray for each other? In I Peter 3:15b, the Apostle Peter tells the followers of Jesus “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.” (CEB)

The followers are then told they must “… do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience.” (CEB)

In other words, talk – don’t yell. Be aware of your every word. Speak your truth. Listen. Comprehend.

The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church are in prayerful discernment about ways we can be in dialogue about issues that face the denomination. Can we all pray for one another and have the Holy spirit move in our actions and decision making?

To understand is not to condone. It is an act of humility to say, “I will put aside myself right now and respect you enough to listen to you.”

These acts of civility are things our Savior would surely do and appreciate us doing.

Meditation Monday: Be Not Afraid

Afraid

Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Matthew 14:27 (CEB)

In the area in which I live in Middle Tennessee, there are several lakes nearby where one can boat. Unfortunately, every year there are reports of people drowning in these lakes.

That is one possibility a person risks when getting out of the boat in the middle of the water. It is a dire consequence particularly if one is not wearing a life jacket or is alone or in a storm.

We can understand, then, the fear that gripped Peter as the wind begins to blow after he has stepped out of the boat. Despite all he had seen Jesus do and all he had done when sent out by Jesus, Peter is afraid. Despite all this evidence to the goodness and power of God, Peter’s fear causes him to sink.

Be Not Afraid

That is what fear does. It becomes an entangling web that tries to drown us in its embrace. It weighs us down. It paralyzes us. It blinds us to what was done before.

We all fear. It is an emotion that has its reasons for existing – as it would be if we were face-to-face with jaguars, lions, bears! But it is just that – an emotion. It can be ruled by our reason, our faith, our hope. But it is an emotion we can control. Perhaps not easily but it is only an embodied reaction that can be controlled.

Dear God, as we face our future and You ask us to step out of the boat and trust you, help our unbelief. Help us to acknowledge that we are afraid but understand that we know One who is stronger than our fear! Amen.