Tag Archives: Incarnation

Morning Prayer based on Genesis 28

Lord who holds every place within you:

You are in this place and we did not know it.

We came with hurting hearts and anguish

from the journey in the past.

We came with shaky thoughts and anxiousness

for the journey ahead.

 

Come, whisper your words of forgiveness

to us and through us.

Come, loosen the stress in our minds and muscles.

Come, give us rest and dreams to inspire.

Come…

Amen.

Advertisements

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?”

“Pass out the Cigars – It’s not a boy” from Luke 2

Christmas Eve, 2014

Gospel Luke 2

Do you remember your first kiss?  The anticipation – because this is so going to be different than the pecks on the cheek Aunt Mary and Aunt Anna Lee give me.  The worry – because I’ve never done this before so what will it be like, will I be good, will she be good, what if we get stuck that way?  My first kiss was with Sherri Overall in 2nd grade.  We were playing house at her house.  She had on her mama’s high heels and costume jewelry.  I had on her daddy’s sports jacket.  All at once she came up to me and said, “have a good day!” and smacked one on me.  I didn’t know what to do so I smooched back tongue and all.  It didn’t end well.

A kiss is when two human beings reach out to one another.  We are attempting to touch each other’s soul.  We are making ourselves vulnerable – germs, disease, good kisser/bad kisser.  We are sharing ourselves wholly.  The Birth of Jesus wasn’t just the birth of a baby boy; it is a kiss blown from heaven to humanity.

Sure, we’d had flirtation with God before the Christmas event.  As kids we went on a field trip with Abraham and Sarah.  There was that moment in middle school when we were really geeky, asking for kings like other nations, not listening to God’s prophets wondering what it was the Isaiah, Jeremiah and all those others were saying.  And now as full blown adults God has taken us out and invited us to Bethlehem for a kiss.

The Birth of Christ isn’t just about the birth of a baby.  God is attempting to touch our soul.  Christmas is about beginnings.  There was a young wife and mother of two children whose husband was in the Air Force during one of the nation’s military conflicts. As Christmas approached, she gathered her children and headed for her parents’ home for the Christmas celebration. She arrived to find her parents’ home gaily decorated. The tree was glistening with lights and the presents were crammed beneath it. And, although her husband could not be present, it promised to be a happy time together.

Then, on Christmas Eve, came the news that her husband had been killed in combat, and the woman was devastated. While she was upstairs crying in her room, her parents, who now felt that the decorations were suddenly inappropriate, began to take them down. The lights were unplugged and the gifts put in a closet. Later, when the new widow came down the stairs, she saw the decorations gone and the tree darkened. “Where is everything?” she asked. When her father explained, the young woman, with a wisdom beyond her years, said, “No. Bring them back! Christmas was made for such times as these.”  God touching our soul.

 It’s not just a boy.  God is being vulnerable with us.  Jesus is a baby, a human baby. He cries, he poops, he has colic, and Mary watch out, he is going to have questions and doubts and fears.  Jesus is a baby. The all-powerful God lays aside all that cosmic power and makes himself able to get sick, able to bleed, able to experience heartache, able to be killed.  Jesus is a baby who will grow into a man to receive a kiss from Judas.

It’s not just a boy.  God is sharing the Divine-Self wholly.  All those moments with Moses and Elijah, Amos and Malachi and all those other names in the Old Testament we can’t pronounce were flirts and glances.  Tonight is the first kiss. God shares all love and all that God is in a baby.  In Christ we experience the awesome holy nature of God fully.

You can read romance novels about sitting next to the one you love. You can hear stories about how they looked at one another and saw fireworks.  You can sing songs about the passionate kisses and the heat of the moment.  But until you lean in and experience a kiss – you’ll never know what kissing is.

Tonight is a kiss from God.  The anticipation and excitement of Advent is over.  We don’t have to be worried because God who made our lips knows what kind of person we are.  Tonight God invites us to salvation wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  We all know that awkwardness of kissing someone who isn’t kissing back.  Won’t you come to Bethlehem with Jesus tonight?  Won’t you receive the gift God is giving this Christmas?

Call to Worship for Epiphany based on Genesis 1

From of Old, All know to come to you –

the poorest of shepherds to the richest of royalty

the wisest of astrologers to the common thief,

but we are afraid because coming to you means letting go.

 

Long ago you spoke active love into the stale stillness of non-existence,

and we refuse to listen

because to hear that love would shatter our apathy.

We hid in the darkness…

and you said, “Let there be light.”

We drowned ourselves in the chaos of the desert of meaninglessness

and you said, “Let there be land and sea.”

We sowed seeds of division in the garden,

burned the trees of truth and justice,

and slaughtered the lamb as if it were a lion:

and you said, “Let them be fruitful and multiply again and again.”

We denied being your children,

tried to hide our nakedness among the thorn bush,

and blamed you for our problems:

and you sent a child to bring all your children home.

 

And now New, to know you we come –

the poorest of mechanics to the richest of CEOs

the most studied professors to the dropouts,

and we are not afraid because coming to you means letting go.

Nathan Decker ©2014 Worship’s Wake

Call to Worship for All Saints Sunday 2014

We did not arrive here on our own.

There were so many who helped us find faith.

                   Grandmas and Grandpas, Moms and Dads, Aunts and Uncles

That friendly woman who gave us candy each Sunday,

                   That patient man who served as a mentor,

                   spiritual leaders, preachers, people of simple faith:

We did not arrive here on our own.

                                               

Nathan Decker ©2014 www.worshipswake.wordpress.com