Category Archives: Reflections on Faith

Love is the only Torch We carry

Love is the only Torch we carry

By Nathan Decker

O, Virginia… watching the events of this weekend in Charlottesville brought me pain.   To see torches again used as beacons of hatred in my lifetime, Lord, have mercy on us.  When a group of white nationalists with anti-immigrant beliefs rapes the torch of Lady Liberty, the irony should not be lost.  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has once again been trampled on by members of the Know-Nothing party of the 1800’s.  We shouldn’t be afraid of the light.  The flame of torches usually represents people coming together.  In the past, I have proudly watched the torch represent efforts for peace at the Olympics, hope for new discovery in Education, and the eternal flame of Wisdom guiding us.  Shame on us for making it symbol of division and fear!

Much of what transpired this weekend was based in fear and grief.  The city of Chartlottesville’s decision to take down a statue ripped off the band-aid on the surgical wound our nation has been dealing with ever since the Constitution told African-Americans they were 3/5 human.  Our nation’s history is complex and up for interpretation and retelling.  Each generation takes up the momentous task of looking back with guilt and pride in an effort to plow a new path into the future.  There are always attempts at shouting the loudest to diminish the voices of others.

As we stand up against the evil of white supremacy, we have to acknowledge the grief that is being expressed.  The way history is told in this nation has mostly been from a white perspective as if whites were the only leaders and contributors.  In recent years this wrong is being righted.  Those who were silenced and oppressed have had the opportunity to add their story to the history of our nation.  White nationalists and supremacists see this as diminishing white history.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Adding missing slices to the pie only makes the pie more full and does not require us to make other slices smaller.  Yet, this is the fear I see in the eyes of those carrying torches of darkness and yelling hate.  They believe they are losing their part of the story.

We can bravely shine brighter than the faces of fear.  We can learn to build relationships with those carrying torches of hate so that we might show them light, love, and the Christ who welcomes all tribes and nations together.  We can, as friends of mine did in Charlottesville, have peaceful conversations with those with whom we disagree.  We can listen to their concerns as well as make our concerns heard.  Through the conversations that lead to relationships, we can admit that all lives matter to Christ, we are one nation made up of many, and love shines brighter.  Love is the only torch we are called to carry into the dark night of hatred and apathy.  We shall overcome by letting peace on earth begin with each of us lifting up love.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Goodness is stronger than evil;

                Love is stronger than hate;

                Light is stronger than darkness;

                Life is stronger than death;

                Victory is ours through Him who loves us.”

                                -Bp. Desmond Tutu

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Let’s be Honest, some folks aren’t going to make it!

From Matthew 13:1-9

Mrs. Smith was one helluva teacher sent from Heaven.  I know because I had her for English.  I know because I watched her put up with Ed.  Ed didn’t want to be in school, Ed didn’t want to learn the puns of Shakespeare or the alliteration of Blake, and Ed didn’t want to be told what to do.

Through it all, Mrs. Smith never gave up.  She’d offer extra time on tests he had no intention of completing.  She’d push him to enter rap lyrics into a poetry contest, but Ed didn’t do extra work.  She’d encourage him to redo the homework he turned in before she graded it, but all this was casting pearls before swine.  Ed didn’t care.  His apathy, a black hole, sucked the energy and impetus around him.  Ed didn’t care.  But Mrs. Smith cared, and she never gave up on him.

Today’s world has joined what some psychologists call the ‘cult of self.’  At the expense of self-awareness and self-limitations, we boost self-esteem eclipsing reality in exaggerated egocentric effigies of us.  We know the education system is failing, yet more students get A’s and Honors than ever before.  If a C is the average, how come so few kids get them?  Ivy League Students were surveyed and 80% of them claimed to be in the top 5% of their class.  And everyone gets a trophy.

But it’s not just kids… Social Media enables us to tell the world about us and to live in a world that revolves around us.  We Instagram what we’re eating, tweet the songs we’re singing, and post “Best Vacation Ever” every time we slip away.  Narcissism rises as we can literally count how many likes, shares, comments, friends, and followers we have.  We create monsters who no longer can be told they are incorrect and will not admit that they made a mistake all in the name of the god called self-esteem.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells us a parable about farming.  We show up clutching to our report cards, trophies, awards and affirmations; Jesus ruins it.  God loves us, but some of us just aren’t going to get it.  The parable of the sower casting out his seeds is pretty familiar to all of us.  We know about the different types of soils: the path, the rocks, the thorns, and of course the good soil.  And each time we hear this parable, we tell ourselves the same things:  “I’m so glad I’m the good soil,” or “I used to be like that soil, but now I’m the good soil,” or “here’s a list of things I have to do to make sure I’m the good soil.”  We are so focused on ME! ME! ME! we’ve retitled this parable.  No longer is it the parable of the sower but the parable of the soil.

Jesus tells us about God.  Jesus lets us know God doesn’t give up on us.  Jesus is tells us about God’s wasteful generosity.  A farmer goes out to plant.  How many farmers do you know cast seed out on Highway 58?  How many farmers do you know throw seed on rocks or among thorns on purpose?  How many farmers do you know who are tighter than spandex on an 800 lbs gorilla?  Farmers I know count their fingers after they shake your hand.

God is not your average farmer.  Our Lord is so generous every soil gets seed.  God loves the road.  God loves us when we are hard and mean as asphalt.  God loves the rocky soil.  God loves us when we are shallow, undisciplined, and unwilling to let his love affect us deeply.  God loves the soil with thorns and thistles.  God loves us when we let money, worry, friends, and family come before what really matters.  God loves the good soil.  God loves us when we are ready to receive his Word, take it into our lives, and bear fruit.

This is not a story about us.  This is a story about God’s wasteful generosity.  God is willing to love even when there is little chance the love will be returned.  Our part in the story is to love like God loves.

Jesus sat down by the sea and told us a story about God: the most generous, loving, wasteful farmer the world has ever known.  Let’s be honest, some folks are just not going to get it, but that doesn’t stop God from loving them.  It shouldn’t stop us from loving as well.  God gives so much grace in the world that some of the grace is going to waste.  Some folks just aren’t going to follow Jesus.  Yet, God doesn’t give up on them… and neither should we.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

Dramatic Reading for Matthew 28

Dramatic Reading for Matthew 28

Needs four readers, one off-stage, three on.  One has luggage, one has a hammer, and one has a camera.

Voice off stage:                                As you Go-

Reader 1:                             “Yes!  We’re going on a trip!  I wonder where God is sending us.  I can’t wait!”

Reader 2:                             “I hope it’s exotic!  I’ve always wanted to travel overseas!”

Reader 3:                             “I’ll bring my camera and some dough, you know souvenirs will be so cheap there!”

Voice:                                   <Clears throat until they listen>  As you are going, Make-

R2:                                          “YES!  It’s a construction trip!  I wonder what God will have us build!

R1:                                          “I bet it’s a church or a school or maybe even a hospital!”

R3:                                          “I’ll bring my old shirts from college!  We can hand them out to the poor children!  We can even get the kids in church to collect happy meal toys to hand out!  Those kids will be so blessed by our presence!”

Voice:                                   <Clears throat again>  As you are going, make Disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow everything I’ve taught you.

R3:                                          “What’s that mean?”

R2:                                          “Disciples?  How do you build those?”

R1:                                          “All nations… including this one?  Does that mean we’re not going anywhere?”

Voice:                                   As you go about your life where ever you happen to be, share what you have been given.  Invite people to see my love in you.  Bring them to me to experience my love in the baptismal waters.  Teach them to follow the my path of peace.

R1:                                          “This isn’t going to be easy.”

R2:                                          “Yeah, I mean, folks around here already know me.”

R3:                                          “But they don’t all know Jesus.”

R1:                                          “Do you think we can share Christ here, in our homes and at our jobs?

R2:                                          “Do you think they will see Jesus in me?”

R3:                                          “Do you think I can still get a souvenir?”

Voice:                                   You don’t have to go anywhere to share the Gospel.  God has already placed you where you are an expert on the culture, language, and people.

Make disciples, immerse them in Christ’s love, and teach them the way of peace.  Amen.

Litany for Passing the Peace

When we pray…

Our heads our bowed.

When we praise…

Our hands are held high!

And when we grieve…

Our eyes break in tears.

Worship is action.  Belief practiced.  Vision lived out.

When we see injustice…

We raise our voices.

When we see need…

We rush with aid.

And when we are broken, when we have broken…

Covenant.  Promise.  Love.

God sends peace.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”

Will we share the peace God has sent?

Will we heal the broken, mend the relationships?

<silence>

The peace of Christ be with you.  And also with you.

(at this point the congregation is encouraged to share the peace using the line above)

Growing in Unusual Places

Christians should disagree.  Churches should have conflict.  Being of one Spirit does not mean we are called to all think, act, give, vote, and look the same when we gather to worship our Lord.  Because of who God is and who the Lord created, we shouldn’t be surprised about this.  But we are.

I’m not used to being surprised when I do yard work.  Recently, I was clearing out some overgrown brush and trimming some trees.  As I was working on one tree, a startling revelation occurred.  It wasn’t one tree.  Sure the roots were one, and even the base was one.  But four distinct trunks were growing out of the base.  The pairs were different in bark, leaf, and density (remember I was cutting some of them).  Somehow, long before I lived here, two trees grew out of the same spot and self-grafted into one another.

The spectacle caused me to share it with my neighbor who was also doing yard work.  We talked about the struggle that these trees must have endured together.  We marveled at how nature finds a way for life to survive in even the most unusual places.  At first we talked about cutting one tree away from the other, but determining which was the original tree was now impossible.  So I trimmed back the dead branches, pruned back the ones that were not going to grow, and left the two trees growing together.

Christianity is a faith that calls us to grow in unusual places.  Faith should surprise us even when we’re not used to it doing so anymore.  In a world that seeks to have manicured monoculture lawns, nature reminds us that diversity is the norm with dandelions and crab grass.  Romans 11:17 gives us the image of a wild olive shoot being grafted into the stump of Jesse.  Paul is using this image to support the reality of his day; Christianity was spreading to Jews and Gentiles ~ to those who expected to be included and those who didn’t even get an invite.

The spectacle of the early church was not how uniform it was but how utterly diverse they were.  Rich and poor broke bread together.  The ethnic backgrounds represented three continents.  People of power were washing their slaves feet.  Former prostitutes were sitting with the wives of Senators.  They struggled and endured together.  At first there was talk of trying to cut them away from one another, but in the end the various branches grew together as community.  No wonder the neighbors gawked.

Christians should disagree – on lifestyles, on politics, on economic development, and even on theology.  Churches should have conflict.  Living things are always in flux and chemically unbalanced.  They do, however, reach a point when all is at homeostasis and there is no more conflict: it’s when they die.  The Living Spirit calls us not to be of one opinion or one vote.  Our faith is a faith of multiple branches growing from the same stump.  Sure, there are times when we’d like to cut away from one another, but our job isn’t to cut or to prune.  We’re supposed to leave that to the Master.  Sure there are easy places to grow, but that’s not where we were planted.  Our calling is to grow together in mutual love and respect for one another’s differences in belief, background, and practice.   After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Originally published in the Tidewater News, August 2016.

Love is Particular

 

Jesus never said “Love everybody.”  I’ve checked.  It’s not in the Bible.  Now before you begin writing letters to the editor or perhaps to my Bishop, hear me out.  I’m glad Jesus never told me I had to love everybody.  I can’t.  It’s not humanly possible.  Loving the whole world is something divine, and even God struggled to do it on the cross.  Instead of commanding us to love everyone, Jesus commanded us to “love God,” “love your neighbor,” and “love one another.”  I’m glad he said it this way.  Loving our neighbor is much more particular and scandalous than loving everyone.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes our neighbor by telling the story of the “Good Samaritan.”  Neighbors are not simply the people who sleep in houses in close proximity to our homes.  Jesus defined neighbors as the people we encounter on the way.  At first this may seem like an easy command, but what if we loved each person we interact with along the way?  Sure, family and friends are pretty much assumed, but what about the others?  The cashier at the store who was slower than grandma’s two step shuffle?  The coworker that tells the annoying overused joke for the thousandth insult?  That loud-mouth who disagrees with us about politics?

And what about the people we interact with through our purchasing power?  We are a global economy.  Each swipe of our plastic is impacting someone’s life.  The child sweating in the factory putting buttons on our shirts?  The underpaid and overworked woman sewing brand names into our tagless underwear?  And let’s not forget closer to home – migrant workers picking vegetables amid the fog of carcinogenic insecticide.  God, this is difficult!

Loving everyone actually might be simpler.  Why not reword the command into the golden rule?  Instead of “Love thy neighbor” let’s use “Love everyone the same way you want to be loved”?  Some people don’t have self-love, self-respect, etc.  Using the golden rule, I could mistreat and disrespect everyone equally in the same manner I expected to be mistreated and disrespected.  God is smart.  Even the Lord ‘chose’ a people to be particularly loved among all humanity through whom the rest of the world would encounter the divine love.  This is the scandal of the particular in the universal.

God doesn’t simply love everyone; God loves you.  All of the you’s who there are out there in the cosmos.  You are a unique human who has very particular needs; your experience of God’s universal love will be particular.  I think this is why the Bible uses Father as a metaphor for God and God’s love.  I love my two children.  I do not love them equally.  They know it, too.  They’ve asked.  I’ve told them each and every time that they ask the same answer.  I love them as much as they need me to love them.  I love them equitably.  I love them particularly.  The Lord’s love is enough.  God doesn’t love one more or less than the other.  God loves us as much as we need to be loved.

Jesus taught us to love like he loved.  When we encounter one another in any way we become neighbors.  We’re called to love our neighbors in the same way that God loves us.  Love is particular.  Don’t try to love everybody.  You’ll fail.  Instead of going global, go local.  Love your neighbor.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

 

Originally published in the Tidewater News, July 2016.

The First Christians were Who?

“It is Difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
– Robert H. Schuller

 

“Who were the first Christians?”  I remember Dr. Richard Vinson asking this in the middle of class one day.  I was thinking, how silly.  This isn’t profound.  That should be an easy answer, but it’s not.

At first some of us raised our hands and said “Jesus” as if we were in Sunday School.  The teacher politely told us good try and reminded us that Jesus lived and died as a follower of the Jewish faith.  Others got creative and began talking about Mary and Joseph and the Christmas story.  Still others went after Fishermen and Tax Collectors – Peter, Andrew, Matthew.  One person even brought Doubting Thomas into the conversation, while another felt that maybe Judas Iscariot was the first one to really understand Jesus and the plan.

Eventually an debate began about what exactly would be the definition of a Christian.  That’s when the teacher brought us all back together and congratulated us for finally getting to the point.  While he never answered the question, he gave us a short list of characteristics for the first Christians.

 

They are a people who follow the teachings of Jesus.

They saw or believe in the empty tomb.

They shared this good news of resurrection and salvation with others.

 

We follow the teachings of Jesus.  Yes, Christians care called to do weird stuff.  Instead of being all about revenge and “my individual rights,” we turn the other cheek.  When someone asks us to walk a mile with them, we go two.  We love our God and everyone we encounter in our lives – even those we can’t stand and consider enemies.  We forgive even when it isn’t deserved.  To be a Christian is to follow Jesus.

We saw or believe in the empty tomb.  One of the things I love about taking our confirmation class up to the Greek Orthodox church in Richmond is that they get to see a replica of the empty tomb.  As Christians, we believe that God did the impossible.  God brought a man back from the dead.  No, Jesus wasn’t sleeping.  No, Jesus wasn’t half-dead.  Jesus was dead-dead and rose from the grave as someone who had the answers to life’s problems, brokenness, and hurts.  To be a Christian is to believe in an empty grave.

We share this good news of resurrection and salvation with others.  I think this is the hardest part for us in the United States.  We’ve become so scared of rejection, of offending, and ashamed.  It’s easy to see Christians in places like Iraq because they are being beheaded, but here in the comfortable USA, we are hard to find because we don’t let folks know we are doing what we do because of Jesus.  To be a Christian is to share that you do something good because of what Jesus has done for you.  To be a Christian is to share the good life of resurrection and hope.

So, have you figured out who were the first Christians?  It might surprise you.  Like my professor, I’m not going to tell you the answer, but the verse below will point you in the right direction.

 

“When they found the tomb empty, they returned and reported all these things to the eleven and all the others.”

Luke 24:9

Spiritual Disciplines – Reading the Bible

Spiritual Disciplines – reading the Bible from Matthew 5:13-20

 

What do you do with an old Bible?  Not too long after becoming a preacher I was asked this question.  My mother asked me on the phone that day.  Keep in mind this is the person who taught me not to write in it lest the curses within be added to my life!  This is the one who told me not to put it on the ground, but to treat it with respect.  This is the one who told me that I should avoid putting other books on top of it.  In her words I heard the desire to offer respect and honor in the same way we do when it comes to the American flag.  And now she asked me, “what do you do with an old Bible?”  She had a used bible, pages falling out, binding unwound, cover tattered.  This wasn’t something that you would want to hand off in charity.  What do you do with an old Bible?  So I answered, “You very gently, and very respectfully put it in the recycling bin.”

 

The Bible is just a book.  There is no magic in the words themselves.  There is no secret divine code that mathematicians can decipher like some episode of Numbers.  Reading this book like any other book will not get you into heaven.  The Bible is not a history book.  The Bible is not a science book.  The Bible is not an ethics book.  It’s not a book of rules and morals for life.  It’s not even a road map for life.  It’s God’s story book for his children.  The Bible is a messy book of a people struggling to understand God, God’s direction, God’s expectations, God’s hopes and dreams.  The Bible is God’s story of and for his children.

 

The Bible is just a book, unless you read it with the Holy Spirit.  As Christians, we’re called to read this with the eyes of Jesus, the heart of the Father, and the nudges of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus challenges us to be a people who have salt within.  This is God’s story.  God wants us to take in God’s story to become our Story.  The Bible is one place (among many) that we can receive salt from God.

 

Jesus challenges us to be a people of light.  When we read the Bible, it should enlighten us.  We should gain insight and hope.  We should gain encouragement.    Reading the Bible should be like walking out into the sunshine on a sunny day.  Reading the Bible should give us light so that we can reflect that light into the world.  We are who God choose to partner with to transform the world.  Terrifying the thought, we are God’s hands, feet, voice, and Good News in the World.

 

Tragically, many of us are not salty.  I once heard the story of a man who read the Bible every day.  He was a scholar.  He could argue all the theories and theologies.  His head was filled with knowledge and verses.  Yet, he never let what he read change him.  He spent a great deal of time in brothels, gambling joints, and doing drugs.  He had horrible relationships with his friends.  He didn’t even acknowledge his family.  No one felt this man was happy.  He was a shell, hollow when God wanted him to be hallow.

 

Many Christians are really good at quoting and doing commentary on the Bible, but when it comes to being the living Word – we fail.  The Incarnation was intended to be from Heaven all the way to the roots.  We are a part of Christ’s continuing presence in this world.  Reading the Bible as a Spiritual Discipline should cause change.  First in us and then through us in the community.

 

Tragically many of us are in the dark.  Recently, Rev. Jeux Simmons shared a story with me.  She was asked, “Are you a real Christian?”  To which she replied, “Yes.”  The man looked at her with great suspicion.  “Then you should know that women are not suppose to preach.”  How horrible!  What darkness.  God speaks through men and women.  Unfortunately, this man had been taught to read the Bible only one way.  He had latched onto someone else’s interpretation instead of doing the work for himself.  When we don’t read God’s story for ourselves and hear the Spirit speak to us together, we live in the dark.  Reading the Bible should be a communal effort as much as a personal effort.  We hear God more clearly when we are open to correction.  Open to the light.

 


 

When we read it as something more than a love letter from God, we get ourselves in trouble.  Pharisees of Jesus day had turned the Bible into an idol.  They had lifted up the Torah and the Law as God.  Obeying the Law was obeying God.  They lorded over the people as experts, controllers, and masters.

 

We don’t do that do we church?  I had a professor of the Greek Language who said, “when you read the word Pharisee  in the Bible, insert Church member.”  We’ve been guilty of lifting up the Bible into a magical idol.  “If we could just make all the children in the school system read the Bible, all our problems would be solved.”  The Bible is not a magic cure all to our society.  God didn’t partner with a book.  God partnered with the church to change the world.

 

We’ve been guilty of laziness in our reading the Bible as a law book, a science book, a history book.  “The Bible says it, that settles it.”  Let’s be honest.  The Bible was inspired by God and written by and through people.  So let’s treat it as such.  To really hear God within the Bible, we have to seriously listen to the context of where God was speaking and how God is speaking today.

 

I confess on behalf of all the Pharisee Preachers and Pastors that I don’t have all the answers.  For too long pastors and preachers have acted as though our interpretation was ‘the’ interpretation that everyone else should live by.  The more I read, the more I understand how big and unimaginable God is.  Mark Twain was once asked if the Bible scared him because he didn’t understand it all.  He responded, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that scare me.  It’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand that scare me.”

 

Jesus says, “your righteousness, your justice, needs to exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.”  A disciple reads the story to hear the Father’s heart beat.  A disciple reads the story to follow Jesus.  A disciple reads the story to experience the Spirit’s nudge.  The Bible is the most bought and least read book on the planet.  Today, God is challenging us to hear God’s story, to make it a part of our story, so that we are in God’s story.  Amen.

 

(C)2015 Nathan Decker, Worship’s Wake

Spiritual Disciplines – Fasting

Spiritual Disciplines – Fasting from Matthew 6:16-25

 

A husband and wife were in bed one night.   The husband was a business leader in the community – 500 employees.  That night was particularly difficult as he had a lot on his mind.  He was tossing and turning, stealing the covers from his wife, getting up and down to go to the bathroom, mumbling to himself.  Finally, his wife got up out of bed, grabbed her pillow and blanket, and left.

“What’s wrong?  Where are you going?”

“This bed’s not big enough for 502 people, I’ll be on the couch.”

 

Ever feel like life is too full?  We work – 40 hours a week for 30-40 years then we retire and things really get busy!  We have kids/grandkids – the back of our car has this random collection of balls (soccer, baseball, basketball) and let’s not forget the bags (for gymnastics, ballet, dance, scouting) and perhaps a musical instrument or two.  We try to make time for recreation and leisure – gardening, watching the game, reading a book, going to the movies, Facebooking.  And at the end of the day if there is anytime left – sleep.  Oh, and church – somewhere we’ll fit God into all that.

 

Fasting is limiting.  In ancient times as well as today, some folks choose to give up food to provide space for spiritual reflection.  They gave up the time where they would set at table and instead set at the table with the Lord.  It is the concept of limitation as a method of honing in on what is important.  Focusing our effort.

 

I want to be the Best Dad I can be, but something has to give.  There are days that I have to make a decision between work and play.  Yes, sometimes I get to sit in the stands a yell praises to my children on the basketball court or on the baseball field, but there are also nights when I don’t get to tuck them in because I’m away at meeting that’s related to work.  It’s frustrating, but choices have to be made and priorities have to be set.

The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting is about setting a priority and setting aside space for God moments.  I could buy that coffee from Starbucks or I could give that money toward Stop Hunger Now.  I could stay at home and spend time with my family watching a 2 hour movie or I could spend some ten minutes in prayer for the church to find renewal.  I could tuck my children into bed and simply tell them good-night, or we could read a Bible story together as a way of passing on the faith and calming them down for sleep.

 

A lot of us miss out on God moments simply because there is no sacred space in our lives for God to come fill.  As a people of God we need to limit the agendas in our meetings to one or two items so that we have time for God.  As a people of God we need to limit all the stuff we feel we have to do so that we can focus on what God wants us to do.  In a culture of more, bigger, super-sized, fasting teaches us that less is more.  Jesus says, “Isn’t life more than just your needs?”

 

Fasting is sacrificing.  There is a difference between bringing your best to God and bringing leftovers.  Recently I attended Ettrick UMC where a new worship service is being held by the students and campus ministry of VSU.  It was an exciting service.  There was poetry, dance, song, and most of all, Passion.  These ‘kids’ gave intentional time to God to create and to give what they had to offer.  It was their very best.

 

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart also be.”  In Fasting, by saying no to commercialism and consumerism, we say yes to allow the Spirit to flow through us creatively.  In the series 7th Heaven, the family doesn’t buy Christmas gifts to give to one another.  Instead, they have to give something you already have or something you’ve made.  What if worship was like this?  What if I told you today that you weren’t allowed to put money in the offering plate but instead had to provide an offering of your time, your service, your prayers, and your witness?

 

I saw this kind of worship at a Church in Cambodia.  I watched as the community came together.  One man had some batteries he brought from home.  A woman carried an old 1980’s style mini radio.  Still another man brought a coil of wire. Finally, the youngest among them climbed up on the roof to attach the wire to the peak of the old ‘barn shaped’ building as an antennae.  They gave what they had and what they could create so that they could hear music, prayers, preaching, and news that wasn’t controlled by the government.  They gave what they had and what they could create.

 

Jesus said, “If your eye is healthy, the whole body will be full of light.”  When we follow Christ, we take up our cross.  When we follow Christ, we follow the only one who can see life and our journey clearly.  When we follow Christ, we walk as a people with vision.  We walk as children, full of light.

 

Fasting is giving up to get real.  How many masters do we have?  In “The Devil Wears Prada” a woman tries to serve her demanding boss while at the same time having a life, satisfying a boyfriend, and getting a better job somewhere else.  I watched the movie and got lost by the number of people who keep telling her what she should do and how she should do it.

 

“No one can serve two masters.”  Jesus says.  By Fasting, we give up earthly pursuits and desires to get real with the Holy Spirit – the one true God who knows our deepest essence.  D. Bonhoeffer wrote in the Cost of Discipleship, “It is only because Christ became like us that we can become like him.”  Fasting offers us an opportunity to be like Christ.

 

Lent is a season in the church’s life when we often focus on Fasting.  Fasting is limiting how much to provide sacred space.  Fasting is sacrificing to receive true life.  Fasting is giving up the earthly masters to serve the Heavenly Lord and be more like Christ.  In a culture that often asks us, “What do you want to get out of life?” I challenge you today with “What will you give out of life to receive a glimpse at true life?”

Theology of Creativity

In the Beginning…

This week I was honored to teach a Lay Speaking class on “Leading Prayer” for the Virginia United Methodist Conference.  I begin this class with a simple and deep theological concept of Creativity in Incarnation.  It goes something like this:

God Created us.

We are Created in the Image of God the Creator.

Thus All of Us are Creative.

I believe this with all my heart.  Like Pablo Picasso said, “All children are born Artists, the miracle is that some of us stay that way.”  We were born with a God-given nature to be creative.  It is within our DNA to weave, to paint, to post, to gather words, sticks, and bits of dirt and make something new out of them.

And this really shouldn’t come as a surprise, because even Jesus was an Artist.  Look at how he spins yarns and folk-tales.  “There once was a man who had two sons…”  Listen as he exaggerates beyond belief in hyperbole.  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…”  Watch as he takes mud and creates sight.  Listen as he uses spit to make a man hear.  Feel his warm welcome to a demoniac that a whole region had avoided and driven into the tombs.

Somewhere, someone along the way told you that you were not like God.  They told said your drawing wasn’t right.  They told you that your writing was incomprehensible.  They saw what you built in wood-shop and derided it.  They tore apart the genes of creativity that God had blessed you.  They attempted to dampen or put out the spark of the Divine Creator, but today I say no.

Reclaim the incarnation of “Emmanuel” as God within us.  There is a Creator who has placed within your heart a prayer, a song, a dance, a vision.  Like a Muse posing before an Artist, God is battting eyes at you waiting for you to put your brush to the canvas.  Be inspired.  The Creative Creator Created You – a Creative Creation born to Create!

(c)2015, Nathan Decker.  Worshipswake.wordpress.com