Posts Tagged grace

Thanksgiving in Lincolnton: A Family Story

163001_10150109229056614_7707360Dwayne and Donna_nMy sister, Jean, and brother-in-law, John,John Wallace and Jean celebrate Thanksgiving on the Sunday before the official day because their sons and their families have other obligations on the big day. Jan drove Carol and me to Lincolnton, North Carolina for the annual event.

The food was wonderful and over-flowing, but the presence of family and friends provided the real joy. The three of us from Charleston and one friend, Vegas, from Charlotte were lost in a sea of Donald Trump disciples all wearing his trademark shirts. We took our beatings with humility. Most of this was for the torture of Liz, Wesley’s girlfriend, who works for Green Peace and is a staunch Democrat. She could not be present for the beat down or so she claimed. Wesley is my Republican grandnephew who is working his way up through the Deneise and Wesleynew Trump Swamp in Washington. I am rooting for him to become the most  important, “Deplorable.”

There was real joy around Allison, my grandniece, and her boyfriend, Jimmy, buying their first house. Allison is a history teacher in Hickory, and Jimmy is a police officer in Charlotte. Justin, grandnephew, has just finished trimming his house with stone. He did most of the work himself. Everyone gazed with pride at the pictures.

This is the real America. Megan, a young vibrant Methodists Youth Minister, led in grace as we all formed a circle and held hands. Megan, better known as Pest, is also my grandniece. Later there were Corn-hole games in the front yard.

The obvious devotion that Darrel and Dwayne and their families show to my sister and brother-in-law speaks volumes about the love that glues this family together. Before we left everyone was treated to a hug and an, “I love you.” Jean and Bunky have established a loving, kind oasis in a world of Chaos. We are privileged to be a part of it. Thank you. The first picture is Dwayne and Donna. The second picture is Jean and John. The third is Denise and Wesley.

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THE TOP TEN WORDS – A Communion Meditation by Thomas R. McKibbens

Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20
October 5, 2014

Who would have thought that a primitive document that is 3,000 years old, born in a culture that was in the backwaters of the Mediterranean world, a culture that the educated, influential, literate world hardly noticed, would end up being a football kicked around in the culture battles of the most advanced technological society on the face of the earth!I

Yet a battle over the posting of the Ten Commandments on courthouse lawns or in public school classrooms has raged or simmered off and on for at least a decade. One Kentucky lawyer, trying to convince the Supreme Court that the Ten Commandments were mainly secular, argued that references to God in the Ten Commandments were minimal. This prompted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to ask if he had actually read the first four, the first of which begins, I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me. When the Supreme Court handed down its decision on the display of public monuments of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky and Texas, the nine justices produced at least ten opinions. Sounds like a Baptist church!
On the extreme right wing of the debate are organizations such as The Society for the Practical Establishment and Perpetuation of the Ten Commandments, whose purpose includes doing away with the United States Constitution, with its Bill of Rights, and replacing it with the Ten Commandments. And while they are at it, they promote the death penalty for all murder, adultery, and homosexuality, a position that does seem to contradict the sixth commandment, but let’s not be picky!

Thomas Cahill, who has written a wonderful book entitled The Gifts of the Jews, makes the remarkable comment that there is no document in all of the literatures of the world that is like the Ten Commandments. He goes on to explain that other cultures do offer similar ethical guidelines, but here is the difference: they are always offered in a legal framework (i.e. if you do such and such, then this will be the consequence). That is not the case with the Ten Commandments.

Neither are they what we might call a Martha Stewart list of ten ways to make life happier and healthier. You know, the Ten Commandments are not a case of God looking at humanity and saying something like, I do wish you would get your act together! Why aren’t you eating silky braised chicken with pearl onions and mushrooms for lunch? Where is your collection of hand-painted Venetian glass? And while you’re at it, where did you pick up those extra pounds?

II

So let us pause for a few minutes to consider what is so special about these Ten Commandments. What has made them remain alive and well through all the centuries?

Here in this document, for the first time in history, human beings were offered a code without justification and without elaboration. In fact, biblical scholars think that they were originally just ten Hebrew words that could easily be memorized by illiterate people in the desert. Ten Words that still speak in the 21st century!

They are not propositions for debate; they are not suggestions for happier living; they are not even challenges. They are just what they seem to be, and they have been received by three great religious traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yes, Islam also considers them as Holy Scripture! And they have been accepted by billions more non-religious folk as reasonable and necessary and even unalterable because they come, as Cahill poetically phrased it, from the deep silence that each of us carries within.

But what do they mean? How can they bend and flex for every age and every culture? Take the prohibition on killing, for example. Those who howl the loudest about public displays of the Ten Commandments are frequently the very ones who call the loudest for capital punishment or for carpet bombing of an enemy. So how do we bend and shape the commandment about not killing to justify what obviously is killing? Commandment #6 is a challenge!
These and other obvious questions are not easily answered. Yet…we know deep down that there is something fundamentally right about the commandment! We just don’t know how to apply it! And what about the slow, unnoticed destruction of human life among those not powerful enough to defend themselves? If poverty kills, as we know it does, then are we breaking the 6th commandment when we fail to support jobs programs? Are drug companies guilty of breaking the 6th commandment when they choose not to produce a life-saving drug because it will not turn a profit?

There is more than one way to kill, as we all recognize. If the divine principle behind this commandment is that all human life is precious, then we live out this commandment by supporting laws and public policy that enhance and protect the most human life and support the highest quality of life for the most people. This is always a very complex issue that is not easily reduced to a bumper sticker.

III

Now let’s slow down and take a deep breath! We are wading into some deep water here! But one thing is not so deep: through all the centuries since Jesus, the Ten Commandments have been most often used to instruct new Christians at the time of their baptism. In fact, some of the oldest baptismal liturgies ever found have the believer being baptized at sunrise, coming up out of the water of baptism and facing East, the direction of the rising sun, and reciting none other than the Ten Commandments! Think of that! At the dawn of a new day in the life of a believer, the first words spoken are the words of the Decalogue! Why? Because like the children of Israel coming through the waters of the Red Sea and receiving the commandments, the new Christian comes through the waters of baptism and pledges allegiance to a vision of reality that is rooted in God’s radical policy and deeply at odds with our dominant culture.

When a new Christian is baptized, she realizes that she has done nothing to deserve this act of God’s grace. She is raised to new life because of something God has done, not something she has done! And when we take communion, we are being gifted with new life, not because of anything we have done, but because of something Christ has done!

This is precisely what struck John Newton, the slave ship captain who was converted and wrote the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” He was only too aware of what he had done, and there was nothing he could do to undo the misery he had caused as the captain of a slave ship. The pain and death caused by the infamous Middle Passage had been part of the economic system, you could say, but he knew he had cooperated in an evil system. No amount of saying he was sorry or just doing his job could atone for it.

Then he experienced the “amazing grace” of God. We might cringe at the 18th century language that describes himself as a “wretch,” but how would you feel if you had been the captain of a slave ship? “Wretch” might be too tame a word! And yet few of us would fail to identify with his classic line: Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

The church has always agreed with our Jewish friends that the Ten Commandments are sheer grace, a gift from God to a world in desperate need of those Ten Words. Those ten words, along with the presence of Christ, can lead us through many dangers, toils, and snares, and they can lead us home.

IV

And what is home? Ah, you know what home is! Home is any place that lives out the grace of God and accepts you just the way you are. Home is the place where you can make mistakes and still be loved. Home is the place where you can break every commandment in the book and still be forgiven. Home is the place where, as Robert Frost famously said, “they have to take you in.”

I want to remind you that this church is just such a place. To paraphrase a familiar line, “we reserve the right to be a spiritual home to anyone looking for a home.” Whatever dangers, toils, and snares may lie before you, you know that here is a place where you can face them with a church family that will support you, pray for you, and love you.

This week I received an email from an good friend named Mitch Carnell, who is a member of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, SC. That church, like this one, has a long history. It was the first Baptist church established in the south. Here is what Mitch wrote to me and to several others: “October 6, 2014, is my 50th anniversary as a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston…Although these fifty years have not been without heartbreak and pain, my family and I found a home. This is a loving, supportive church family. I have nothing but gratitude for the people at First Baptist and thanksgiving for the spiritual nourishment I have found here.”

Many of you can say the same about this church. Families gather; they laugh and cry together; they tell stories; and they eat. Oh, how families eat! So let’s be family, wherever you are from today. It is dinner time…time to eat…time to be thankful…time to remember.

 

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The Two Most Dangerous Words Spoken in Church – Bill Wilson – ethicsdaily.com

The Two Most Dangerous Words Spoken in Church | Bill Wilson, Language, Leadership

Congregations and clergy alike are infected by this insidious disease that eats away at the heart of who we are and our mission in the world, Wilson writes. (Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Two of the most dangerous words in a minister’s vocabulary are, “Yes, but…”These are also two of the most destructive words a congregation will ever utter. The order of their utterance is important.

First we say, “Yes. I agree. We agree. This is true and right.”

●     It is right that people matter more than things. My marriage is my highest priority. My children deserve my full attention.

●     It is right that personal morality matters. Yes, I should be honest and forthcoming with my spouse, my children and my employer.

●     It is biblical and Christ-like to care for our community and all those in it who are in need. It is important, even essential, that we speak the truth in love.

●     It is right that we should be flexible about all things that are not essentials of the faith. We agree that we should care for our staff and respect them.

●     Yes, my body is the temple of God. Yes, gossip is wrong and expressly prohibited in Scripture.

The list of things to which we say “yes” is long and filled with a beautiful litany of assertions with which none can argue.

Then comes the second word, “but…”

●     My spouse doesn’t appreciate me. My church takes advantage of me, and our staff is lazy. My children will understand that I have work to do.

●     Talking about him or her behind their back feels right. If I spoke the truth, they might not like me. She is so hard to be nice to, why bother?

●     I’ve worked hard today, so I deserve an extra dessert. My illness is more important than anything else on your agenda.

●     We’ve got to take care of our own before we worry about those people out there. How dare you change the order of worship.

In short, the “yes, but…” approach reveals that we believe that we are an exception to the rule. We believe in the rule, the truth, the value; we just don’t think it applies to us.

Over many years of pastoral ministry, I’ve heard people explain away the most obscene actions, attitudes or intentions with these two words: “Yes, but…”

I continue to be astonished at our ability to make exceptions of ourselves.

Our ability to rationalize and justify our actions is profound. It is dark, demonic and at the root of much of the evil in congregational and clergy life.

We are quick to excuse ourselves and our behavior behind a stream of denial and blindness to our truth.

We talk ourselves into believing that what is right for everyone else somehow does not apply to us.

Congregations and clergy alike are infected by this insidious disease that eats away at the heart of who we are and our mission in the world.

If we do not face up to our actions, we run the risk of ruining our witness and thwarting the plans God has for us in the future.

What are we to do? Fortunately, the Bible is clear, and there are many who have walked this path back into God’s intentions.

First, we must confess.

Granted, it is much easier and enjoyable to confess the sins of others. They are so obvious and clear and numerous! However, our call to confession starts internally.

If you are not sure if you are guilty of this two-word sin, simply ask your spouse, children, colleagues or a trusted friend, “When and where do I say ‘yes, but…?’ How have I made an exception of myself?”

Then listen as non-defensively as possible, with no excuses or explanations allowed. Take your medicine.

Second is remorse and repentance.

Own your sin and turn away from it. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet, it will take all you have for the rest of your life to accomplish this move.

Along the way, you will discover that neither you nor your congregation can accomplish this in your own strength.

What is necessary is a profound sense of our helplessness and inability to manage ourselves.

Third, we turn to the good news of grace; we throw ourselves and our flaws and foibles upon the mercy and grace of God.

What we cannot do for ourselves, God does in us, with us and through us. That forgiveness frees us from the illusion of perfection. No longer do we believe we are an exception to God’s truth.

Now that we have been humbled and shown the truth about ourselves, we no longer find it necessary to excuse or defend our actions or pretend to be perfect. We know our tendencies to rationalize and justify.

We have those around us who help us see ourselves as we truly are. We are on the journey toward spiritual health as a congregation and as a minister. There is hope for us.

Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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You Are Graced for Greatness – Mary Lee Talbot -Chautauqua Daily

When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years, he knew that he had

to leave the bitterness behind or he would still be in prison,” said the Rev. Cynthia

Hale. “The Father of the Nation [of South Africa] had to resist the urge of revenge. He needed to provide an example

of forgiveness.”

Hale preached at the morning worship service at 9:15 a.m. Friday. Her sermon title was “Work Your Grace” and the

scripture text was Romans 12:3-12. “When Mtibaa transitioned, President Barack Obama said, ‘Now he belongs to the ages.’ David Cameron, prime

minister of Great Britain, said, ‘A great light has gone out of the world.’ Mandela is remembered for being the embodiment

of grace, of operating with uncommon grace. That image led people to believe he fell from the sky,” she said.

“But everyone of us is graced by God. You may say, ‘Not me; I could never measure up,’ but you don’t know who you

are. God created you by design; just as Mandela was unique, so are you. All of us on earth are different, as our fingerprints

attest, but that is not what makes each of us different — it is God’s workmanship in you.”

Hale said that God graces each person with giftedness. No two people have the same gifts.

“Your gifts were tailor-made for you and you are graced for greatness,” she said.

In Romans, Paul spoke with authority about gifts, she said. He had written to the Corinthians five years earlier to

tell them that each person’s gifts are needed for the community to be whole.

“Paul wanted to make sure that the Romans did not have an inflated idea of the self, that they were not over intoxicated

with their own gifts,” Hale said. “Through faith comes the power of discernment to determine the nature and

extent of individual power and grace. “Paul also speaks to those who think less of themselves,”

she continued. “All are gifted; there is no big ‘I’ or little ‘you’ in the faith community. Don’t think that the community is

doing just fine without you.” Hale used the word “grace” to talk about gifts because

Christians are saved by grace and gifted by grace. “We don’t deserve what God has done in Christ. We are

gifted in a way that we could not imagine, we could not earn, buy, borrow or steal,” she said. “God is the giver of

every good gift and distributes gifts to us for a purpose.” Paul used the analogy of the body to describe how the

gifts of one work with the gifts of all. Each member of the body of Christ belongs to all the others and they work together

for the common good, “whether they like one another or not,” Hale said. When people are baptized into one body

they are connected by God’s spirit. “People come together from individual places and become

part of the community to serve one another and to serve the world,” she said. “We need one another and we are

essential to the success of every individual and the whole. That is God’s purpose in making us different and distinct so

we are equipped to carry out God’s mission and service.” Spiritual gifts are similar to natural gifts but the Holy

Spirit supersizes them, Hale said. “You may be a good speaker or fine singer, or you minister

to people in a way that changes their lives, you may have the tech skills or work among the least, but you are

set to change the world when the Holy Spirit energizes and empowers graces and turns them from ordinary to extraordinary,”

she said. She told the congregation that “we equip each other, we build each other up, because when we first came to Christ

we needed help. Pastors are not the only ones to whip — I mean equip — people into shape. Each person has the responsibility

to pick up another. “We are given different gifts to provide balance, to help the body mature. No one should have too many posts in the

community. Look at your neighbor and say, ‘I hope she is not talking about you.’ It is the nature of any community that

not everyone is using their gifts. Then people start to say ‘let the young people do it; I am retired and tired.’ My grandfather,

at 90, used to say, ‘Don’t rust out, wear yourself out.’ ” Hale said that church communities would never be all

that God would have them be unless everyone was working. “There is no unemployment among God’s servants. That

would be wasted opportunity. If you are graced, just do it,” Hale said. “Do it with enthusiasm, do it with joy. Work your

grace. Serve the needs of others. Be the ministers of God’s “Your gifting looks good on you, but it is not an ornament

to be worn — it is an instrument to be used for God’s glory.”

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