Jbradley2234’s Blog

Oh JW (John Wesley)
November 1, 2009, 9:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Oh John Wesley…

Today’s session is a continuation of the previous days session on Globalization. We began today’ session three scriptures that scream social justice and social change.

Amos 5:21-24
Matthew 25:35-40
John 14:27

These three scriptures call us to a different way of living then one might choose. The scripture from Amos is a particularly difficult scripture for us to here in the US because of the value that we put on our Sunday morning worship. And though we do not give burnt offerings or offerings of fatted calfs but we are called to tithe and of course as Methodist we love to eat. But this scripture tells us plain and simple that God does not delight in these things. Not to say that these things are in themselves inherently bad, but what is bad is the security that we get and feel because we feel like because we have gone to church or tithed to our church that we have some how fulfilled our obligation but being a Christian is not about obligation, it is about a giving of ones self freely.

This is a very Wesleyan idea that although prayer, scripture reading and spiritual discipline are important but John Wesley felt that helping people took precedent . It is the idea that “however zealous we are for works of piety, [we] should be be more zealous for works of mercy”. Wesley wrote “Even reading, hearing, prayer are to be omitted, or to be postponed, ‘at charity’s almighty call’ – when we are called to relieve the distress of our neighbor, whether in body or soul”.

Can we as the church universal say that we are willing to put aside our religion when the cause requires something other than religion to meet the needs of our neighbors. Would we as a church be willing to cancel church one Sunday and in stead have the whole church meet at a homeless shelter and help our neighbors in the community. We must not turn our services and worship centers into hollow temples for sacrifice of worldly offerings while our neighbors in our community and around the world hunger and thirst, shiver and shake for lack of proper clothing or shelter.

Jesus speaks to this pretty bluntly in this Matthew scripture. He essentially is asking us “are we doing all that we can for those in need?” I think that if we are to be honest with ourselves we would know that we are not. But the problem comes really with the feeling that it isnt our job, it isnt our responsibility to help someone that I do not even know. Jesus says plain and simply if you do not help the least of these you are not helping me. We are called not just to help those in our neighborhoods and communities but around the world. We all have a limit to the amount of work that we can do but the real question is have we reached that point, or can we do more. There is always more that we can do.

I know that in these economic times the ability for many people in the middle class has gone down BUT there is something that we can all give. John 14 Jesus tells us that he leaves us with a certain peace, it is given not as the world give (with strings attached, my mother always told me that nothing is free) but given as Christ gives, free with no strings attached. This peace given freely allows us to act without fear of whether we are secure in our faith and relationship with God. God love us, we know this, but just as my facebook status say, God never gives us gifts so that we may simple hold on to them and revel in how great it is, but we are called to take the gifts that we are given and spread them through out the world.

I know that many of the things that I write are very idealistic and may seem like it is outside the realm of reason, but one thing that we can all pass no matter what our financial position or placement in the world is peace. We can through the spreading the Love of Christ to others in turn share the Peace of Christ with the world. May we find that love and peace for ourselves so that we can spread it through out the world, and remember that ALL that we have is a gift from God given not to hold on to but to share with the world. Thanks be to God.


A Prayer for the Lonely
June 8, 2009, 6:09 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

As I sit here in my apt. I think to myself how lucky I am. I have a family that supports and loves me, friends who care for me, a group of youth that inspire me and a God that loves me. I am truly blessed. But as I sit here, I cant help but think of others in the world, all over who have no family, no friends, no inspiration and no faith in a higher power, no faith in a God that Loves and cares for them. This saddens me a great deal. This is not a note so much as it is a prayer, a prayer to the millions upon millions of people in the world who at this very moment feel alone.

We have been created with the need for others. From the very beginning of time with Adam in the garden we see that we are in need of others. This is not a flaw in God’s design but a blessing. However, for those on the opposite side, in the waiting and in the loneliness it is a curse. The need to be comforted, to feel loved, to feel cared for. So often we tend to overlook these simple things, and in doing so forget that others may be lacking in what we take for granted. In a world where people go hungry and thirsty while others throw away excess the very least that we can do is recognize these people, to see them where they are, to go to them where they are and to be with them.

I pray for those with out hope, with out inspiration, with out love. May they see that although they feel alone, hopeless and defeated, that there is a God who loves them, so much so that that same God would send the people out into the world to be that love. May we spend our lives showing that love, and not get lost in our own greed and discomfort. May we not be afraid to give of ourselves freely as Christ gave of himself freely to us, holding NOTHING back but giving all that we have, because in the end if I have everything that this world has to offer but have not loved, then I have not done what I was sent here to do. God is Love, and so can you be. 

From the people who find themselves alone on a park bench to the ones who live in a house surrounded by everything you could ask for, may everyone who finds themselves lonely at this moment in time no matter what the circumstances find peace in this there moment of loneliness. – Amen

When the Bible Meets Real Life… (Part 10)
June 8, 2009, 5:28 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Its Late and its a Saturday Night, well technically its Sunday Morning @ 2:30 and I cannot sleep. I cannot sleep because my mind quite simply wont let me. I was talking to my friend Elizabeth and I jokingly said that its times like these when I feel like God has something for me that God wants me to see. That there is something here that wont let go until I wrestle with it and so after thinking and reading and thinking so more I have given in and thus I have decided to write. 

One of the lectionary texts for this week is 1 John 5:1-6 in case you would like to read it. I will quote from it in certain places but it is my inspiration if you will, for this note. There was a time when I was younger where I felt as though I lived two separate lives or in two separate worlds. Growing up after my mom married my step dad I was in a weird place. I didn’t exactly like the idea of change and was very attached to my grand mother. I would spend the week days with at home and would spend just about every weekend at my grand mothers. This had always been the case even before my mother remarried but became different at this point in my life. I also spent much if not all of my summer with my grandmother. I felt as though I had two lives, the one with my parents and the one with my grand parents. I the same token I felt like I had two worlds that I lived in, the one where I went to school and the one where I went to church. Seeing as how I didn’t go to church in the same town i went to school these two were seperate. I had a group of friends for school and a group for church. 

The people at church knew that I wanted to become a minister but the people that I went school with didn’t as much. Its not really cool when you are in high school to tell people you want to be a preacher, doesn’t really send the girls flocking to you. But I always felt at home in the church, it was quite literally my sanctuary. It was where I felt comfortable and where I went when I wanted to feel closer to God, when I wanted to make sure that God heard me. It wasn’t until i was older that these two worlds started to come together. I think going to Lon Morris College (a methodist junior college) maybe this possible. I was in a mixed environment of secular (for lack of a better word) and religious. In this environment I was able to merge the two worlds and become comfortable with who i was and who I would become. being around others who wanted to go into ministry gave me both a feeling of comfort and a feeling that I wasn’t alone. There was a strong sense of community at Lon Morris College and I attribute so much of who I am to the teachers and ministers that taught me and became my friends. 

I feel like I was blessed because I was given an opportunity to mold my two worlds together into one world. Or more precisely I was allowed to let the part of me that was real and true to what God had created me to be, to shine through no matter where I was. There is a problem in the church that has become the church, and it is the problem of the two worlds. It is the idea that there is the world that we speak of inside the walls of the church, often times seen as idealistic and the world outside the church that is more realistic. Something happens to us when we leave the church and all the worries and problems of the world take over our lives and the idealistic parts of who we are and what we can accomplish get pushed aside. Being a political science major I seem to always revert back to political science but I see this so often in the way we view politics. I will use this example only because it is relevant to the topic at hand and not to get into a debate over who knew what but we look at the issue of torture. Inside the walls of a church the idea of torture is inconceivable in my mind. The idea that we would, even for safety, torture other human beings is completely incompatible with the teachings of Christ. Yet when we step out into the real world the issue becomes foggier. Its not quite as easy a decision for us. Another issue is War, it is incompatible with the teachings of Christ but outside the walls of the church we see it as a necessary evil at times.

Along with these idea we often times find it burdensome to take on what we are charged to do in church. We find it difficult to find the time to feed the poor or help the needy. We find it difficult to squeeze in the time to visit someone and if we do find the time and actually do it we feel sometimes as if it is a burden of sorts, one we may gladly bear but one all the same. The reason that I cannot sleep is because I feel inspired to say at this point in time two things. First that the ways of Christ are not burdensome they are a gift and if we are living in two worlds it is time to stand up and say enough.

1 John 5:3 says this : “3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,” God did not give us these commandments so that we would be weighed down by the burden of try to live this way or that but so that we would be free. To me it seems quite simple, “Love God, and Love your Neighbor as yourself.” I know your thinking well its harder than it seems and it may be but only because of how we live our lives not because God wanted to be burdensome. In fact I feel personally called to live a simple life much like the lives of the people in the early church. I don’t need a big house or a fancy car, the newest this and or the latest that. I have in the past few months come to terms with the fact that I will never live that sort of a life of excess because I personally believe that a life lived in excess is not what I am called to. I feel as christians we are called to a life of simplicity, and that life is not burdensome but yet rewarding and meaningful in a way that is immeasurable. What is more burdensome, tons of credit card debt and loan payments and living above your means or even right at your means, or living a life where simplicity is key and not having debt and trying to “keep up with the Jones'” as my mother would say. 

There is something that happens to us when we decide to live a simple life, we are freed from so much worry that we are able to focus on what really matters, others. God’s commandments are not burdensome, they are a gift, a gift so often times view by the world as a burden. 

And here comes what I stared at and stared at before I felt as though I got it, this is the greatness of God. “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:4 I wrestled with this because I had to cut through the war like metaphors to get to the real substance. If you were to read this and simply take it for what it says then you would see that our faith is what allows us to conquer the world, but we think of it as conquering or taking something over, but what if the writer is not say in conquer in terms of taking over but merely breaking the hold. Jesus conquered sin and death through the resurrection and in the same token we can conquer the world through our faith. In our faith we are set free.

Let me clarify, these things that hold us down that separate our two worlds can be joined through our faith, when we allow our faith to become not just who we are inside the church but who we are 24-7 then we no longer have to worry about thinking in two different ways. We no longer see torture in two ways but in one, the way of truth. We are not conquering to take over the world and make it into something else but we are making it so that we are no longer bound by what the world says. It isn’t a fight to force the world to live one way but to say that we aren’t bound in the ways of the world. The world says we need to torture to stay safe, I say we don’t. I say we love God and we Love our Neighbor as our self and if our neighbor is a criminal then we treat him or her with dignity and respect. The world says sometimes war is necessary I say that he who lives by the sword dies by it, well Jesus said that. There are other means such as diplomacy. Is there anyone who feels that if we treated every nation and every person as a child of God and spent our time feeding and clothing the poor and making sure that people had the medicines and basic needs that we have, is there anyone who feels that would make people dislike who we are and what we stand for. If we spent what we spend on war on making sure people around the world had what they needed, is there anyone who feels that the world would be a worse place for it and that we would be seen as arrogant and self serving? The reason we are seen this way is because in stead of doing these things we pick sides and we fight wars, we act only when it is in “our best interests” we do whatever it takes, we torture if we need to as long as it keeps US safe. The reason that we are seen as arrogant and self serving is because we are. 

The fact of the matter is that we don’t have to be this way, we have been given the gift not burden of Loving our neighbor as ourselves. We don’t have to live in two worlds, we can live in one world unbound by its societal norms much in the way that Jesus did. We can follow in the footsteps of Christ and be radicals and it all starts with a concept that seemed radical years and years ago and still seems radical in the world we live in, to Love God and Love our Neighbor as ourselves. I promise you that if can take a page from the early churches playbook and simplify it will go a long way to relieving the burdens of the world and allow us to focus more freely on caring for the needs of others. If we can allow our faith in God to become who we are and not just what we say then we can be freed from the greed and self service that is so common in our society and we can focus more on others.

I will close with this idea, I feel we have to take an inventory of our lives and find out what is important. When we look back on our lives will it be consumed with memories of us trying to get whatever we can, the newest this or the latest that, will it be us trying to climb to the top of the corporate ladder so that when we turn 60 we can retire instead of 65 or 70. And if this is what we have devoted our lives to, the real questions is has this stopped us or held us back from doing what we can to make the world a better place? Having money is great and retirement sounds great but if we get there and we have not feed the hungry and clothed the naked, if we have not visited the sick or in prison if we have not cared for the least of these the what have we done with our life. The simple fact is that if we look back and have not done these things, no matter how much stuff or money we have, we have failed, plain and simple.

When the Bible Meets Real Life…Part 9 (It’s a Love Story)
May 3, 2009, 2:19 am
Filed under: Thoughts with a Theme

Growing up I was always one of those kids that just loved music, I think I went through just about every phase a kid could go through with the help of my brother (supplementing the rap portions). I was a band nerd growing up and had no problem with it, I just LOVE music. I love how music has the ability to effect so many people in so many different ways. Its in my mind a lot like the bible or the Gospel. Though it has been heard from thousands of years it still effects each and every person on a very personal level. In the same way music can effect people the same way, for someone a song can bring joy, others pain. Its so odd how something as simple as a melody when played in the right key and arranged just right can move a person to tears. Music can hold with it memories of so many different times and places. I know I can be sitting in my car or house and hear the song “Hey There Delilah” and I instantly think of Youth 2007, a youth conference I took my kids to when I was at Jacksonville. We played that song so many times on the 18 hours up there and the 18 hours back that it became our theme song. So that trip and those youth and adults will forever be locked inside the melody and lyrics of that song. 

All of that to say that the stories in the bible, the different letters that are written, they all have within them these messages, these ideas. And some people can read them and think on thing and someone else can look at a scripture and see something else. I think that is why they call it the Living word. (its not like frankenstein or anything, its not going to bite your hand off if you look at it wrong.”its alivvvvee!!!!!!!!”) I digress, but there are people that would like to package the bible in this one way, the way they see it and then be done with it. The bible doesn’t work like that, and I think so often we forget that. We think to ourselves that we know the story of the Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, what else is there for us to take from it. But if we allow ourselves to think this then we are severely limiting the power of scripture and more importantly the message behind AND its ability to effect us. Yes we may know the story of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, but do we FEEL it. 

There is a particular song that I know most people probably know, by Taylor Swift called Love story. I find it interesting for a couple of reasons, first being that its essentially about the story of Romeo and Juliet, which in my opinion is probably the second best love story next to the Gospel. I did an activity a while back on valentines day with my youth where I had a few of them act our the balcony scene. I must admit this was not a totally original idea, but one that I got from a book that I read by Donald Miller where he talks about Romeo and Juliet and how the words, if your open and listen to what is being said the words hit you in a way that can take your breath away. And so we find this story embedded in this melody that in my mind is very well arranged. Maybe your one of those persons that doesn’t really care or think about arrangements and different aspects of music but this song if listened to with ears open has the power to move you. The music starts off very simple and has this progression and get stronger and stronger, and then comes the really powerful part. 

As she says “I got tire of waiting…” the music slows and simplifies again, and then withing just a few second it picks up and then key change. I probably love nothing more when it comes to music then a well placed key change. Something as simple as going from a major to a minor, anything really so long as its placed right. When I heard this song I can honestly say that it gave me chills the first time I heard that. Not even so much because the lyrics but because i felt that I had been on this ride and my emotions followed the music every step of the way. After listening more to the music I started to hear things. I heard another story within the music, its a story of depth and meaning. A story of working towards something, coming to the very edge of what it is that is happening and when it seems that its almost over there is a key change and now its even stronger, more meaningful than ever before. You start to realize that from the very beginning the song was working towards something, and you thought you knew what it was, but you really had no idea. Ah as I sit here and write this i feel my heart racing at the implications of such a story.

A story of a Baby born in a manager who people knew was special, but did they really know just how special? This baby would grow up to be this wonderful teacher who people sought and adored, but did they really know just how wonderful he was? And then he would give his life for all of those people, and all of the people to come after them, he would sacrifice himself, but did they realize fully what kind of a sacrifice it would be, do we realize? And as they are defeated and sad having denied him and feeling as though they had lost him, he appears to them, to the sad and to the lonely, to the those who doubted and those who believed, to those who denied him and asked those four words “do you love me” in this key change in the story where hope is restored and grace is abundant we finally see that although the journey was magnificent in the end they saw what it was really about, it was about love. It was one very GREAT love story.

Ah but it would so easy to leave the story their, its seems fitting but the real truth is that it doesn’t end there, it continues 1 john 3:16-24 says “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” It doesnt end with Jesus because if we are to be easter people if we are to be followers of Christ then it cant end there. Verse 17 “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” We are called to carry on the song, to make sure that the song doesn’t end and if it means picking up with a different song to carry the message then we do. My friend Sarah (who is the best at finding clips on youtube that will blow you away) showed me this video of a composer that arranges the Taylor Swift Love Story song with Viva La Vida of Coldplay. Its amazing because i feel like it speaks to this idea that just because this song is over with doesn’t mean that its over, we pick it up, we put our story with it and take what was a GREAT love story into an even GREATER love story. We dont do this by word or speech but by truth and action. We are called to act, to have boldness before God and to receive God’s story however we can. To Love God and to Love one another. 

There is a great story here, but as I said before there is the potential for so much more depth and that depth comes by adding your own song to the mix, to take the melody of the life of Christ and blend it to the melody of your heart, to take it upon yourself and allow it to change you, to change your tune so that we may be more in tune with the message of Christ, “For he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” This is what it means to be a christian. Its not saying a prayer, its not being baptized, its not even about going to church. Those things are good but they are nothing if see our brothers and sisters in need and refuse to help.

May we hear the song set before us by the Gospel, may it become etched into our soul so that we are and ever will be a changed people. May we pay tribute to this wonderful song with a song of our own, weaving in our melodies so that we may keep the song that has played for thousands of years going. And may we open ourselves up and realize that real evangelism comes in “laying our lives down for others” because if we can do that, if we can play that song for people, then we are showing people who Christ was and who God is. God is Love.

Special Thanks:

Sarah Meyers Fowarded me this clip and got me on my way. THANKS!

When the Bible Meets Real Life…Part 8
May 3, 2009, 2:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So its been a while since I have written a note so this has the potential to be really good, or really bad, Either way it is what has been on my mind for a week or so now and I need to just get it out. First things first if you want to get a little background to this note the check out this song by Joshua Radin, it really got me thinking about these two things, Envy and Fear, and how they work against us. So before you read any further feel free to check it out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvzINsg1PKo

Lately I have found myself pondering what it is that stops us from doing what is right? what is it that stops us from living up to our full potential? what is it that stops us from doing the true will of God? There are probably many things that do this, however, a lot of our fault can be found in two simple words, envy and fear.

When I look at the Israelites after they came out of Egypt I am shocked at just how often they make the same mistakes that we still make today. They are so impatient, greedy, stubborn, all the things that you would think a people would not be if they had just witnessed a God that had brought them out of bondage, but yet humanity has a way of sneaking in a bringing out the worst in who we are. We are no different today. There are so many lessons that we could take away the mistakes of these people yet here we are, going through them all over again. When we look at envy in this country it is a real problem. We are taught growing up that the “American Dream” is to make lots of money have a nice house a, couple cars, and we look to many different places to get there. We look at athletes, actors, wealthy business people, we envy what they have and want it for ourselves. We want to invent the next big things like google, or to play pro ball and get paid the big bucks, and we wonder why so many people in this country have bouts with depression and arent happy with their lives, because the truth is everyone cant be an athlete, or an actor, or singer, but we can all WANT to be, and when we realize we cant be then we are forced to settle for something that is less than. 

So it makes me wonder, we value these people for what they can do and they make a lot of money, like obscene amounts of money for entertaining us yet the people that are teaching our children are making on average 40,000 dollars a year. The people who are shaping the minds of the next generation of people are valued at a far lower price than people that play for our local sports teams. The fact of the matter is for MOST teachers it isn’t about the money, its about the service. And so we reach this idea, what is more important getting paid or serving in some way? We live in a society that values money above service, yet this is incompatible with the teachings of Christ. 

I use this phrase “incompatible with the teachings of Christ” because apparently it is being used to ralley the troops in the Methodist church behind not amending the constitution to be more inclusive. This note is not about said ralley but the simple fact that if we are going to really use lines to deny people then lets make sure that all we do and teach are “compatible with the teachings of Christ”. So when a president declares war then as a church we should stand up and say that we do not support it, why? because our church believes that WAR is “incompatible with the teachings of Christ”. With the same token when we live in a society that values money over service then we stand up and say that is “incompatible with Christ teaching”, Jesus was not about being rich, but was about giving. When He tells the fishermen Simon (Peter) and Andrew to cast their nets and they catch so many fish that they have to have help pulling them in, they then leave that fortune sitting on the beach and follow Jesus. Many others gave away or sold what they had and followed Jesus. So here we have this idea that its not about the money but about the service, about following Christ, so one could say that a person that amassing large amounts of wealth is “incompatible with Christ teaching.” I dont know, maybe thats taking it a little far and some mights say well Jesus never said that you shouldn’t be wealthy, but he also never talked about homosexuality. But I digress because this isnt about the issue of homosexuality but that envy, this idea that we may all one day be millionares or have lots of money is polluting our society and getting our priorities out of wack.

Why is it hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom, because the more money we get the more we start to care about money and how much we have. As long as we live in a society that envy’s the “cribs” of someone famous, in my opinion, we will have our priorities out of place. It seems to me the happiest societies are those that both take care of their needs but also take care of the needs of others, call it socialism or whatever you want but what is more important, personal wealth or a society that has its needs met. The early Christian church made a strong statement about this when many of its followers sold what they had and gave it to the needy. They cared about the needs of others. Look up the word poor on any bible site and see what the old testament says about taking care of the poor. So why do we have such a problem with this?

Well let me ask you this, why is it that we dont pull over and help someone who is stranded on the road? Why do we think twice about letting someone in our house to use our phone? Why are we do we refuse to give money to a homeless person on the side of the road? Most of the time its cause we are afraid, its because of fear. We are afraid they might hurt us, we are afraid they might take the money and do something else with it and make us into fools. SO often we let fear stop us from doing something that we feel we ought to do. We are called to take care of the poor, but fear gets in our way. The phrase do not fear is mentioned over 200 hundred times in the bible, and as Donald Miller says “the supposition is that you are going to get scared.” Can we really care for a world that we are afraid of. I love my family to death, but when I start talking to them about going somewhere like Africa what they all tend to tell me is “thats good but just dont go somewhere dangerous.” My first thought is that why? I know you are afraid for me but if there are people in need in dangerous places then it most likely means that they need even more help. 

Its not that we arent supposed to ever be afraid, but that we CANT let that fear paralyze us into not acting. Moses was def. unsure of what God had told him to be, but He eventually went forth with the will of God. David when fighting David was not afraid, if anything he was eager, and why because he knew that God would keep him safe, he had faith that he would be taken care of. And so maybe we lack a sense of faith that God will take care of us, or that God will take our gesture and turn it into something that changes a persons life. Maybe this is idealistic, it def fits with my MO, but what is more important to live a life of service to the needy or to live a life that is all about making money and climbing the corporate ladder. As Christians we are called to be more, to want not wealth but to want the needs of God’s people to be met. 

I say all of this to say what I say a lot, but I feel is important, we are called to visit the sick, cloth and feed the needy, visit those in prison. We are called to live a life of little so that we may live a life full of grace and love. Helping people is more than just giving money to your church or to a charity, its about relationships, its about coming face to face with people and learning their stories and caring for them no matter what. Having a relationship with someone often times amounts so much more for both persons involved then just giving money.This is our real calling, to be servants like Christ, and do whatever it takes to feed the hungry and cloth the naked. If it means selling what we have then lets do it. If it means living in a house that is one room smaller, then do it. If it means sharing a car or using public transportation then do it. And then not just giving the money and being done with it, but get involved with how it is used. Volunteer at a shelter, or help with an after school program, so whatever you can to make this world a better place for the least of these. I feel like if we could do this it would go a long way to solving a lot of the problems that plague our society and our world. 

May we know that in all we do and all we give God is present with us, and find joy in the heart of a servant. May we put aside our envy of others, our greed for more, and our fear for whatever it is that is holding us back from doing the God’s will.

When the Bible Meets Real Life…Part 7
May 3, 2009, 2:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

While watching a video by one of my favorite authors Donald Miller, I got to thinking about this idea of Story. He talks about this concept and the power that it has in our lives and it is absolutely correct. The time line of humanity can be found in the stories surrounding it. They captivate us and teach us, they show us the way and give us hope. Stories give us snap shots of the world and how it works or worked in the time period of the story. When something as simple as the time period is changed the story itself can seem to take on a whole different look. Also what seems to be interesting is the ability a story has to shape the lives of those who read it whether it is true or not. 

From birth to death we are told stories and tell stories. When we are young people sing us nursery rimes and we are fascinated by whether the cat is actually going to catch the mouse, or how high the count will count today. These stories, these scripts gently and every so slightly mold who we will become. We are taught Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, Moses and Pharaoh, each with their own lessons, their own morals. At this point the lines of fiction and non fiction are blurred, they are just beginning to be developed. We are sent to school and taught history and learn about the lives of men and women who to us seem to be 10 feet tall and bullet proof. Warriors, and thinkers, Actors and Statesmen. These lives and their stories shape our lives, how we view our culture, how we view the world. But as we get older something happens and the stories that we are told turn into stories that we live, no longer do we rely solely on the experiences of others but we go out into the world and we make experiences of our own. We test the knowledge that we are given, we test its very being in a way that can only be done by living. God turns from this story book character into this diety, this almighty but at the same time becomes real like we have never known. We start to understand what the term “The Living God” means. Not just life in the sense of human, but in the sense of relationship, in love and sacrifice. We realize that though it may not read the same as Abraham we communicate with God, we walk with God and talk with God. As we grow older the stories that we experience, they become us, they ever so slightly build upon one another to make up who we are, what we stand for. We go from listening to stories, to telling the stories of our lives. 

I love a great story, growing up I would stay with my grand mother and grand father and in the mornings when they would get up I would awake with them and as they drank their coffee in bed I would find my way in between them and with my hot chocolate in my coffee mug would listen to them talk. They would speak of all sorts of things, but nothing made me happier then when they would reminisce about things in their past. From there experiences in Germany to the raising of my mother and uncle, even the stories of their own childhood, I hung on every word. These stories became apart of me, a part of who i would become. Maybe not a major part but there is no doubt they helped shape the person that I am today. I remember when I first started preaching, I had a horrible time filling a 15 or 20 min. sermon. Mine were more about 10 min. which by the nodding man in the third row from the backs standards was just about right. I met pastors who were on television and they had to have their sermons to a brisk 25 min. no more, no less. I wondered how they did this every single week. I had the bible part down, but it was lacking. I was 21, and what I realized was I was lacking those life experiences. The funny stories of being here or there, theses stories always seemed to take up a good 5 min. and more importantly seemed to be able to stress the points that were being made. Since I had no money and no real drive to see the world I did what any reasonable person would do, I bought a book with a bunch of really good stories.

As we grow its as if our stories become more important then the stories we hear. All of the sudden our story becomes all that matters, and the stories of the bible become less and less important. Don’t get me wrong we still love a good story but we become picky and short on time. Remember when you were a kid and you watched cartoons and no matter what was going on it was great. A coyote is chasing a roadrunner with a mallet and some dynamite. Never once when I was a kid did I think do myself, “This is ludicrous, a coyote would never try this hard for a road runner that to be completely honest doesn’t look that appetizing anyway.” No, we found it fascinating how persistent this coyote was. Never once did I question this idea of Turtles learning Karate and being trained by a rat named splinter. We accept these things cause whether rational or not they make for a good story. As we grow up something is lost, we become discontent and wonder why a hammer and dynamite, and why for that bird. We think to ourselves, those turtles wouldn’t last a minute against someone with a rifle, or a half a brain. Or even thinking turtles? why turtles? aren’t they frightened easily. We lose our sense of story to a certain sense of reality. 

Why is it that we have no problem with kids learning in school from books of fiction, but yet any mention of someone not taking the bible literally becomes hierarchy. Do we feel that the books our children learn from are any less able to teach basic principles because they did not happen, or books based loosely on events. So why is it that this idea that the story of Jonah is a story and didn’t really happen such an earth shattering things for some Christians. If the whole bible were to be proven to be simply a bunch of stories with none of it actually happening, would that make the teachings in it any less important. Would it not still be better to live by its principles. Would it be any less important to take the teachings of Jesus upon ourselves, to love one another, would it not still make for a better world? a better life? I am not here to argue the infallibility of the bible for in all truth it is not for me to say. The bible is in so many ways a mystery to me but one that I am content with. I accept its teachings and its message of love, grace and forgiveness. I see my humanity in it and realize that true or not I am the Israelite, I am the Philistine, I am the Pharisee and I am Pilate. I am both David and Saul, the best and the worst. I have within me greatness and I have within me flaws. Whether or not these stories are true or not, they ring true to me, they ring true in me. I take these stories upon myself and carry them with me to remind me of my humanity. To realize that only by the grace of God am I “saved”. Only by the grace of God are we all “saved”. My faith hangs on the trueness of the stories as they apply to me and the people around me, not to whether the words are infallible or not. 

Dear Lord if I am wrong in my thinking and in my ways may you see past them and into my heart and know that I only long to come to know you more, to understand you better, to live in such a way that pleases you. Lord may you see past my humanity and into my very soul and see that I long only to serve you in the best way that I know how. Taking your words and applying them to my life in a way that makes them come alive in me. See that I yearn for the same things that your Son yearned for, Justice, Peace, Love, and Grace amidst a world of injustice, war, hurt, and vengeance. And may I never loose sight of the bigger picture of a world that longs to be reconciled with its creator.

When the Bible Meets Real Life…Part 6
May 3, 2009, 2:14 am
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There are these times in life when the people that you care about, the people that mean the most to you do things that make you so proud to be friends with them, or family with them. Sometimes your just proud to know this person. There are these stories in the bible that just make you proud that say “That is my God!” There are certain stories that seem to give you incredible insight to what kind of God we have. It gives us an idea of what kind of God we serve. 

One of my favorite stories in the bible is one that I feel like a lot of people overlook, its the story of Hagar and Ishmael. In Genesis 16 we find what I feel is a story that gives us incredible insight into who our God is. Just a quick lead up to what i want to talk about. So we know that God had promised Sarah a child, but Sarah had lost heart and so she send Abraham to bed with her servant Hagar, and the bore a son Ishmael. When Hagar found out she was pregnant she seems to look differently at Sarah, and so Sarah gets angry and Abraham says “Do what you have to.” So Sarah scares Hagar off and she flees. So we come to the good part. In verse 7 is says “The angel of the LORD found Hagar…” The angel of the LORD asks where she is going and then tells her to go back and submit and the LORD will increase her descendants and they will be too numerous to count. 

Oh to have a God that when we are wandering in the desert will find us. It reminds me of the story of Mary sitting outside the tomb on Easter morning, and she is sobbing, and Jesus walks up to her and asks her why she is crying. At this great moment of sadness Jesus came to Mary. How amazing is it that we serve a God that comes to us, that find us in our times of need. This is a clear difference from the other Gods of the time. The other Gods were tied to these idols and required offerings, but OUR God doesn’t require these things, doesn’t even require that we search for God. Hagar was not searching for God, but God found her. 

So in the next chapter we see Abraham get his name change and a reaffirmation of God’s promise for a son by Sarah and once again, promises “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.” So God is promising to take care of Ishmael, even though it was a lack of faith that was the reason he was born God doesn’t seem to hold this against Ishmael. God could have said, this is not how this is supposed to go. But instead he say “I will take care of him”

The God the we serve is a God that takes care of his children.When Isaac is born Sarah sends Hagar and Ishmael away, so so they enter the desert once again. This to me is the most beautiful part of the story. When the water was gone Hagar puts her child under a bush because she cannot bare to watch her child die in her arms. As she sits alone, “God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Gen. 21:17-18

God comes to Hagar once again says that he has heard the boy’s cries and tells her to go be with him, and once again promises to make a “great” nation of him. How wonderful is our God that time and time again when we find ourselves in the desert and we forget the words that we have been told, that God doesn’t get angry and say “What is your problem, don’t you get it?” but is there for us and continues to assure us that we are taken care of that our needs will be met and that we have great things in front of us. 

God keeps his promise to both Isaac and Ishmael and made great nations out of both sons. Isaac the Father of the Jewish faith and Ishmael the Father of the Islamic faith. Oh how many questions this brings up in terms of salvation and what kind of God we have. This may get me into some trouble but I really have a hard time believing in a God that would create a nation of person, a “great” nation of persons that were doomed to an eternity separate from God. I have a hard time believing that the same God that came to Hagar in the desert, that spoke with Abraham, and promised to watch over this boy would do this only in life and not in death. Now this is my own personal beliefs and am not trying to convert or change minds but simply looking at it from the view point of Love, of Gods Love, of God’s Most Perfect Love. 

Ishmael was as much a child of Abraham as Isaac was, whether Sarah thought so or not. God saw promise in this boy, so much so that the bible says that “God was with the boy as he grew up.” That is my God, that is the God that I serve, one that does not leave his Children but watches over them. Its what gives me hope for the millions of children in Africa that will grow up without parents, that God is with them. For the children all over the world, that are in need. God has not given up on them and neither should we. God had not given up on them because he has called each and everyone of us to respond and to help the “least of these”.

We in America seem to have such a negative view of our Islamic brothers and sisters, we hold resentment for the actions of a select few and use this to fuel our hatred for people who are different. To think that a negative ad in a campaign can be as simple as calling someone a Muslim. Trying to strike fear into people to sway their vote. Tons and tons of emails being sent out and forwarded by people afraid. This is so sad, I feel like the same God that watched over Isaac also watched over Ishmael. The same God that made a nation for Isaac, made a nation of Ishmael. If God can care for both sides then why can’t we? It is apparent by the scripture that Abraham loved both his sons. It seems to me that its quite simple, the command is to Love. Not just people who agree and not just people who are like us to but simply love. To love all of God’s creation. Idealistic? Maybe. 

But it seems that I don’t have to be 100% right to Love someone, they don’t have to be 100% right for me to Love them. It seems to me as difficult as it may be its actually pretty simple. “Love your Neighbor as yourself.” Who is your neighbor? Any and Everyone! That is what my God looks like, that is the God that I serve. A God that is big enough for all faiths, and beliefs. The God that find us in our loneliness and promises to watch over us, to love us and take care of us.