Monday, December 8, 2008

Third Week of Advent, by Dr. Jim Savage

(Isaiah 35:1-10) Third Week of Advent

The prophet calls upon the deep imagination of God's people to watch patiently for signs of change. In the dark season of exile, life signs have seemed dormant, dried up, and closed off. But in a new season of light, like spring after winter, life signs will break through for all who have held fast patiently through the darkness. This is a text about what will be, about what shall be, for those who patiently watch for and trust God's restoring care for them, even after a bitter, hard season.

Reread this passage from Isaiah, but do so slowly, patiently. Take your time with the text and read it with expectation that it holds a word of life for you to see, like the first crocus bloom in early spring. Which particular verse catches your attention? Write it down and sit with that one verse or part of a verse. Be patient. What does it call forth from you? What does it touch in your life?

Simply be in patient prayer.

Thank You, Lord, for the Hope of freedom. May we lift up our feeble hands this very day to You in praise and worship. Strengthen our faint hearts as we wait in the beginning to turn to dawning. The hour draws nearer to Your coming.....With expectation we wait patiently for Your glory to shine forth on us. We read in the Word of the Day of the Lord prophesied by Isaiah. It will be a wild, hilarious day of seeing and hearing, of leaping and dancing and shouting and singing. No staid, inhibited praises there. The earth, too, will open its mouth with joy and drink and become a garden like the first morning of earth.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus! We need Your Light to shine on us Now.

Thank You, Loving God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. AMEN. In Christ, Jim

Friday, December 5, 2008

"By the oaks of Mamre" by Dr. Jim Savage

Genesis 18:1-15

This visitation by God in the guise of three strangers is among the most obscure and intriguing tales in the Abrahamic cycle. Extending hospitality to his guests, Abraham prepares a feast. Overhearing their prediction of her giving birth to a son, Sarah falls over on the tent floor in laughter-----still disbelieving the promise because, given her old age, pregnancy would be impossible.

Sarah gives us permission to worship God with our laughter when ours is an uncertain future.
In face of the incredulity of God's promises as we wait and wait, she offers comic relief. Up to this point the whole story of faith and obedience has been serious business. But here at a leisurely tent-side meal in the company of a God we can barely recognize, we are invited to laugh.

Sarah will in due time bear a son, and she will name him Isaac, which means "Laughter." (The Renovare' Spiritual Formation Bible)

It seems neither Abraham or Sarah exhibit much faith, focusing instead on the improbability of the promise being fulfilled.

Maybe the answer lies in what God saw in their hearts. He looks at our hearts......

They laughed at God..... maybe God laughed also with them..... He knew the end of the story..... All would laugh with Sarah in joy when God fulfills His promise.


I pray, releasing all doubt and concern about my own life or the lives of my loved ones.
I seek Divine Guidance and direction...... I am letting go and letting the Activity of God show me the Way.
In this Powerful release, I sweep away all worries, troubles, and concerns-----even those I might have been holding on to for a time.
Turning all over to God in prayer, I am fully Aware that we are All in the care and keeping of God.
Thank You, Loving God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. Amen. May it be so.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008


"He is my Loving God and my Fortress, my Stronghold and my Deliverer, my Shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me...." (Psalm 144:2)

"He who Loves God is never weary of serving Him. He is sure to dwell with God in heaven if he has God dwelling in his heart. So that to Love God is the truest self-Love. He who does not Love God does not Love himself.

Love to God evidences sincerity. To Love God is a better sign of sincerity than to fear Him. Repentance is no better than flattery when it arises only from fear of God's judgments and has no Love mixed with it.

Do you Love God? Then you may be sure of God's Love to you. As it is with burning glasses, if the magnifying glass can set a fire, it is because the sun has first shined upon it. So if our hearts burn in Love to God, it is because God's Love first shined upon us." (Thomas Watson)

I Live in the Light.
I appreciate and value the Divine qualities of Strength, Imagination, and Judgment, which God has instilled in me.
I accept my unlimited potential and the provision needed to fulfill my destiny to be the best that I can be.
Deeply grateful for All that has been given and All that is to come, I embrace the Good God provides with joy and thanksgiving.
Thank You, Loving God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. Amen.

In Christ,

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Unrealistic Expectations

It is easy and not at all uncommon to become the victim of unrealistic expectations. It happens when friends or clients or even our own children develop mythologies about our power and wisdom. We do not want to disappoint people who think highly of us, even when they think more highly of us than is justified by fact. It feels good, initially, to be put on a pedestal, but eventually "pedestal people" encounter significant dilemmas when expectations exceed capability.

This can happen to some degree to almost anyone, but I do not know of any two professions where practitioners are more likely to get into trouble over unrealistic expectations than clergy and doctors. It does not take very long to discover that a pedestal is about as lonely a prison as any other limited space. One of the greatest dangers of being the object of unrealistic expectation is when we begin to believe the mythologies people have about us. We begin to work hard to fulfil those expectations. We neglect other important aspects of our life, such as family and friends and social obligations in the community, in order to do (or appear to do) all the miraculous things that are expected of us. I have seen people neglect their own physical, spiritual and emotional health trying to fulfil unrealistic expectations. Marriages have fallen apart because expectations drove a husband or a wife to do more good than was good for them.

Another by-product of being trapped by unrealistic expectations is a growing sense of guilt about not being able to do all that is expected. And yet another by-product is the temptation to fake it, even to lie to ourselves and others rather than admit we are in over our heads - that we are just not that powerful, wise or tireless. When you allow the thoughtless expectations and the unrealistic mythologies of others to become your personal agenda, you are headed for some very serious problems in some important areas in your life. You may know people who are living that kind of life, or you may be people who are caught in that trap. It is much easier to get on the pedestal than it is to step off.

It can happen to almost anyone; doctor, lawyer, clergyperson, social worker, banker, community "do-gooder", parent, teacher. You name the profession and I can tell you how it can happen. There is one unchanging truth that should be a mantra for anyone: "What lies beyond my power also lies beyond my responsibility". Let that thought play across the backdrop of your mind when you are considering expectations that you or others have of you.

When the Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock was briefly the acting dean at Phillips Seminary, the secretary came in his office and told him there was someone to see him. A woman came in and asked him to come out to the parking lot. He followed her to the parking lot and her car. She opened the back door, and slumped in the back seat was her brother. He had been a senior at the University of Oklahoma. He had been in a bad car wreck and in a coma eight months. She had quit her job as a schoolteacher to take care of him. All of their resources were gone. She opened the door and said, "I'd like for you to heal him". Dr. Craddock said, "I can pray for him. And I can pray with you. But I do not have the gift of healing". She got behind the wheel and said, "Then what in the world do you do?" And she drove off. Dr. Craddock said he went back into his study, stared at his books and tried to forget what she had said.

No matter who you are, if you are on anyone's pedestal, get off. It is not a safe place to be.

Friday, September 19, 2008

UNTIL THE BELL RINGS by Thomas Lane Butts

When I was young, school started in mid-September. We had to get the cotton picked before we started school. But, here we are a month into another school year. Vacation-worn parents are probably glad!

The certifiable heros in our social structure are the teachers. As a profession, they are over-worked, often under-paid, and under-appreciated. They are the stop-gap against ignorance and the second most prominent source for teaching civility in a society where civility is sorely needed and often missing.

When you take your child to school, tip your hat to the teacher, and say an encouraging word. They are the best friends in your child's future. Whatever we accomplish in life we owe to a long line of teachers whose lives and lessons have influenced us.

In some cases, we may have forgotten the lessons, but seldom do we forget those who taught the lessons.

Many people mistakenly think that the yardstick for measuring good teaching and good learning is the extent to which a student can remember the details of content. The teachers who helped me most are those who taught me how to think and made me want to learn. Most of us remember very little detail from our education, but we remember principles and process and people. Every time I write (and try to punctuate) a complicated sentence, I see my high school English teacher, Miss Annie Hagood, standing at the blackboard diagraming that sentence.

My high school experience ended 60 years ago, and the dear lady who taught me is long since dead, but as long as I write and speak the English language, she will be alive.

When I was in the tenth grade, the wife of the principal of our high school informed her husband that she would like to teach Latin. He told her that it was not likely that rural children would be interested in Latin. This self-willed, white-haired lady informed her husband that if he would approve the class she would recruit the students. The next day, during recess, Mrs. Weathers walked across the playground and drafted nine students for her Latin class. Only after I was a grown man did I understand why I was selected. (Certainly not for my academic excellence!)

Today, when I am able to understand some strange words of Latin derivation, I always remember how this beautiful white-haired lady would shake me by the hair of my head and say: "Now conjugate that verb again and see if you can get it right". I know that you don't teach school like that anymore, but you can teach almost any way you want to teach if your lessons are laced with love.

Teaching has always been the profession from which all other professions emerge. Whatever you do, somebody taught you to do it. Members of every profession must pass through the hands of teachers. We very subtly move from the role of student to the role of teacher in life. All of us are teaching something, every day: from simple addition to calculus, from skipping rope to brain surgery, and from learning to live in a family to learning to live in a world.

Life is a classroom. We are all being taught, and we are all teachers - until the bell rings.

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written, 2008, by Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First Methodist Church

Monday, September 8, 2008


Seven years ago today, the foundations of our world shifted, and we have never been the same since, and probably never will be. Politically and emotionally, it was as if we had been struck by a great earthquake. We did not see it coming! It has shaken our long-held understandings of reality about ourselves as a nation, and our illusions of security. It has shattered our naive notion that we are universally admired and respected by the rest of the world, and, if not admired and respected, at least feared by any who would dare attack us. We never dreamed that anything like 9/11 would or could happen. Most of us still vividly recall our feelings of shock, sadness and rage on September 11, 2001, and with very little effort we can recover those feelings with the original intensity.

I made my annual visit to New York as Summer Guest Preacher at Christ Church ten months after 9/11. I thought that my initial intense feelings had been laid to rest, or at least put into perspective. I was mistaken. Having something of the soul of a teacher, I took my fifteen-year-old grandson to Lower Manhattan to see that terrible hole in the ground with the idea of giving him a well reasoned "Grandfather lecture" on how and why this happened. The sight of ground zero brought back all the feelings I thought I had worked through. Instead of getting a reasoned lecture on history and religion, my grandson saw what the combination of sadness, anger and fear can do to an old man. It wasn't pretty. I hope he did not hear some of the things I muttered under my breath.

What has happened and what have we learned in the seven years since our world changed? In an attempt to find and destroy an ubiquitous enemy, we launched one of the strangest and most expensive wars in which this country has ever been engaged, not just in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in other places around the world where we suspect the enemy might be. It has, in many ways, been like fighting a ghost. The enemy is here and there and everywhere. We see where the enemy has been but not where he is. Our fears rise and fall with successes and failures in the search, and we just cannot seem to find the serpent's head. It is somewhat like our experience with the Vietcong in another war, except worse, because the battle is not confined to a specific geographical area. It is essentially world-wide. In this whole experience we have lost our innocence. The illusion that we are safe because we are bordered by two huge oceans and two friendly countries now lies in shambles at our feet. And, our fear rises and falls as the hunt goes on.

We have learned how much we are hated and mistrusted by so many. We have seen how easy it has become for that hatred and mistrust to get expressed not only in terrorist attacks, but also in political defiance by countries we thought respected, if not admired us. This has wounded our national pride and put our collective political consciousness into a state of shock.
Having heard the rhetoric of politicians and preachers who have always urged us on to a more zealous expression of patriotism and religious faith, we have been shocked to see what happens when religious fanaticism and mindless nationalism are combined. It is a real witch's brew! It produces people who are willing to die for "the cause". People who are willing to die for a cause are always on the cusp of being willing to kill for it. We have seen it happen.

When we think of the pathos and pain this senseless terrorist attack has caused, it stirs the dregs at the bottom of our souls. And yet, this is a time in which we should be very intentional in calling forth what President Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature". Two sure ways to lose the battle against terrorism would be to cringe in paralyzing fear, or to let their ways become our ways. We should leave justice to those whose duty it is to administer it, and we should leave revenge to God. Let our anger be tempered in the cool springs of prayer, and let the faith about which we speak be acted out.

Remember 9/11, but do not forget that we live in an increasingly small world which requires a greater and greater measure of tolerance and temperance for mutual survival.

Think about that, and do your best to have a nice day.

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written, by Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


"He is my Loving God and my Fortress, my Stronghold and my Deliverer, my Shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me...." (Psalm 144:2)

"He who Loves God is never weary of serving Him. He is sure to dwell with God in heaven if he has God dwelling in his heart. So that to Love God is the truest self-Love. He who does not Love God does not Love himself.

Love to God evidences sincerity. To Love God is a better sign of sincerity than to fear Him. Repentance is no better than flattery when it arises only from fear of God's judgments and has no Love mixed with it.

Do you Love God? Then you may be sure of God's Love to you. As it is with burning glasses, if the magnifying glass can set a fire, it is because the sun has first shined upon it. So if our hearts burn in Love to God, it is because God's Love first shined upon us." (Thomas Watson)

I Live in the Light.
I appreciate and value the Divine qualities of Strength, Imagination, and Judgment, which God has instilled in me.
I accept my unlimited potential and the provision needed to fulfill my destiny to be the best that I can be.
Deeply grateful for All that has been given and All that is to come, I embrace the Good God provides with joy and thanksgiving.
Thank You, Loving God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. Amen.

In Christ,

Thursday, July 3, 2008

God's Faithfulness by Dr. Jim Savage

Romans 6:12-23

Life gains meaning and purpose when we are willing to spend it for something greater....

We have been released from slavery for a greater service. Freed from slavery to sin, we Now face Paul's "so now." What is the "so now" that encompasses our lives, that requires redirection and reorientation?

Christ did not come to make our lives easy, but to make our lives Great, not to fill us with ease and comfort but with the Energy of a Great Cause.

Are we ready to give ourselves, fully and completely, to the Cause of Christ? (Disciplines)

"It is the purpose of God that the heart of Christ shall be revealed to His people. It is the will of God that "the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God" should be revealed to us "in the face of Jesus Christ."

Where there is the shining of the face, we know there is more than forgiveness. There is favor and disposition to please. What a wonderful view of the Light of His countenance the favored disciples must have had who were witnesses to His Transfiguration.

We are told that His face did shine as the sun. And so when the Lord makes the Light of His countenance to shine upon any of His people, in the measure in which with unveiled face they discern the beauty of the Lord, there is a moral and progressive change into His likeness." (Hudson Taylor)

"Let Your face shine on Your servant; save me in Your unfailing Love." (Psalm 31:16)

Prayer by prayer, we affirm peace and understanding for the world.
Even in a world of many different religions, cultures, and belief systems, there is One family of God.

Right where we are, we can work toward the Greatest Good of All.

We remember that world peace begins with each one of us. We are committed to being peacemakers at all times and in all situations.

Dear Lord, rescue us from aimlessness and meaninglessness. You call for our commitment. May we serve You this day not only with our lips but with our hearts, not only with our words but with our lives. Thank You, Loving God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. Amen.

In Christ,

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Psalm 86:1-10; 16-17
"Hear, O Lord, and answer me......"

Is it wrong to ask God to show himself, to prove himself, to give us a "sign" of His Goodness?
The Israelites are rebuked and disciplined many times for putting God to the test, for insisting on more evidence of His Goodness and Power than He's already abundantly provided. (Ps 78:41-51) But here the psalmist's motives are clearly not for his own benefit. He is not doubting God or demanding that the Lord demonstrate His character in a tangible way just so he'll feel better. Rather, he wants the evidence of God's Loving Presence to rebuke and shame the people who have no faith in the Almighty, to whom the psalmist owes his life.

Like the prophet Micah, we need not hesitate to pray that God will help and honor us so that His Glory will be revealed to the arrogant and unbelieving. (Mic 7:8-10) (Women of Faith Study Bible)

Our lives are ever changing. Part of our Spiritual Journey calls for us to embrace the moments of change in our lives. Not with the fear and trepidation that so often people exhibit, but with exhilaration and, as Ed Hays said, "with anticipation."

We willingly acknowledge that no matter how carefully we plan, LIFE, as John Lennon once famously said, " what happens when we are making other plans."
And we're OK with that because we are Living with Christ.

Willingly do I drink the cup of this day and all that it holds: All the blessings, All the challenges, All the opportunities for me to learn.
Be with me, Jesus, that I might live this day as Your compassionate disciple.
Make me Aware of Your Presence even when the answers to my prayers are not what I want or expect.
Thank You, Loving God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. Amen.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb 12:2)

In Christ, Jim

Monday, May 19, 2008



Jesus frequently proclaimed that He was in the Father and the Father was in Him and that He would send the "Advocate," or Holy Spirit, to the disciples to continue to guide and companion them. Jesus not only promised that God would live in community with the disciples but also declared the Reality of a Divine Community. Trinity Sunday highlights the deep Mystery of God in Three Persons living in Divine Community and invites the church to reflect that Divine Community in the contemporary world. (A Guide To Prayer For All Who Seek God)

REFLECTION: "Life Together" Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and Love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest Good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?"

AFFIRMATION: Believe! (Richard Baxter FRIEND):

"Who is more suitable for our love than Christ? His Godhead and humanity, His fullness and freeness, His willingness and constancy, all proclaim Him your most suitable Friend. Although your eyes have never seen your Lord, yet you have heard His voice, received His benefits, and lived close to His heart. He taught you to know yourself and Him. He opened that first window through which you saw into heaven."

Thank You, Father God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. Amen.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Trinity Sunday: 1st Sunday After Pentecost

Genesis 1......

The Bible's opening verses offer us our first glimpse of God. He presents himself as One who brings order from darkness, emptiness and formlessness. He separates light from darkness, sky from water, water from land. He commands His creation to "produce," to "mark" seasons and days and years to "govern" the day and night----all ways of establishing order.

1:3-4 "Then God said...."
The mode of God's creative Power is divine speech. All that is needed for the creation of light, even before the sun and stars have been created, is God's intrusive Word. That Word that creates also qualifies what it creates as "Good." At the utterance of the divine Word there is Order and Goodness.

"We can 'un-train' from our habit of thinking of time in the 'normal,' linear way. In an age filled with clocks and calendars, we have limited our natural abilities to choose how we traverse time in our lives......we can learn.....take profound spiritual steps toward achieving liberation from the ego, connecting to the universal consciousness, and overcoming the fear of death." (Fred Alan Wolf)

REFLECTION: Love In Three Words (Reuben Archer Torrey)
"God is Love is the greatest sentence ever written. It sums up the whole contents of the Bible. It is the subject of the first chapter of Genesis, it is the subject of the last chapter of Revelation, and it is the subject of every chapter that lies in between.
There is mighty Power in that one short sentence, Power to break the hardest heart, Power to reach individual men and women who are sunk down in sin and to lift them up until they are fit for a place beside the Lord Jesus Christ upon the throne."

"Whoever does not Love does not Know God, because God is Love." (1 John 4:8)

I Trust that Divine Order is always present. Spirit is at work in the details of life.
As independent as activities and surroundings may seem to be of one another, they blend together in an intricate pattern...the Journey of Life...Connection...Transformation.......
Even when I do not See evidence of Good taking shape and emerging, I Trust that it is there. Divine Order is present and All is coming together for Good.

"Trust in Him at all times, O people." (Psalm 62:8)


Monday, May 12, 2008

TRINITY SUNDAY: First Sunday After Pentecost by Dr. Jim Savage

God Lives In Community

Matthew 28:16-20
"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee....."

The eleven do go to Galilee, and Jesus appears as promised. Jesus says He has been given all authority, and then He authorizes His disciples to make disciples of all nations, which is said to involve baptizing in the Trinitarian name and teaching the converts to obey all that Jesus commanded.

But Jesus does far more than just authorize and empower His "learners." He promises to be with them (Immanuel) as the divine Power, Presence, and Wisdom of God until the close of the age. Never again will they be bereft of Him. Thus, the Gospel closes with a presentation of Jesus as God's Wisdom, His wise Presence, who dwells within the People of God and guards and guides them.

As God's people we are called to live and call others to live according to the counterorder Wisdom of Jesus, the sage. The Gospel for learners is also the Gospel for teachers. Ultimately, there is only One Teacher, One Sage, One Wisdom-----Jesus.

Why did Jesus tell the disciples that He would be with them to the end of the age?
In what ways is Jesus Christ with us today?
Consider choosing one of those ways and attempting to be especially sensitive to Jesus' Presence with you this week.

SEEK LOVE (Andrew Murray):
"Has our daily habit been to seek being filled with the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Love?
When the body is divided, there cannot be strength. In the time of great conflicts, one of the mottoes is: "Unity gives strength." It is only when God's people stand as One Body, One before God in the fellowship of Love, One toward another in deep affection, One before the world in Love----it is only then that they will have Power to secure the blessing which they ask of God......Give yourselves up to Love, and the Holy Spirit will come. Receive the Spirit, and He will teach you to Love more."

"And Hope does not disappoint us, because God's Love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." (Romans 5:5)

We are All God's beloved creations and One in Spirit.
As divine creations, we have Love within that Connects us One with another.
Following the leading of God's Love within, I Connect with others. God's Love links us heart to heart.
Thank You, Loving God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit! Amen.

"If we Love One another, God lives in us, and His Love is perfected in us." (1 John 4:12)


Monday, May 5, 2008


Acts 2:1-21
"When the day of Pentecost had come..."

Pentecost was the Jewish feast day, fifty days after Passover, commemorating the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai (Lev 23:15-21). This passage exhibits rich association with that event (Exod 19-20). Again, when important things happen, the community is "all together."

The birth of the Church. The coming of the Holy Spirit. It all begins here. Or does it?
Turn back to the second verse of the Bible: "The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Gen 1:2). The Holy Spirit was present from the beginning of time. The Old Testament is filled with examples of how the Spirit worked in powerful and amazing ways, in unique situations and through specific people.

How then is the day of Pentecost a dividing line in human history? Because it is on this day that the Holy Spirit of God becomes available to every Christian man, woman and child. Previously, the Spirit revealed himself only occasionally and for unique works of God. Today, the Spirit never leaves. He lives in us, is ever with us and gives us the "righteousness, peace and joy" that is such a beautiful evidence of His work in our lives. (1 Co 6:19; Jn 14:16-17; Ro 14:17) (Women of Faith Study Bible)

"The practical question is: Do I adequately acknowledge the Spirit's role in the good actions I perform every day, or do I attribute them only to my own initiative and hard work? The scriptural model insists that if the action was good, the Spirit was present from the beginning to the end.......To the extent that I have not served in Love, I humbly admit my faults and ask for a greater increase of Grace to transform these areas. My reward for living in the Spirit is the habitual Peace and Joy I experience." (Richard J. Hauser, "In His Spirit")

Thank You, Loving God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. The faithful today continue to receive this Gift of God-dwelling-within to provide direction, courage, comfort, hope, companionship, and peace. Amen.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008


1 Peter 5:8-9; 1 Cor 10:13

No Temptation Too Great

Paul records one of Scriptures' most beautiful and assuring truths: Yes, temptation will come, but God will be there, too. Every Christian is faced with temptation of some sort. The temptation is itself not sin (even Jesus was tempted----Mt 4:1). Yielding to temptation is the sin. Some Christians may feel they are bombarded with temptation, and they grow weary under its weight. Through Paul, God responds to those weary Christians with His kindest and most reassuring words regarding the temptations they face: He is right there with them, and if they will only look about them, they will See a Way He has provided that will help them to resist. (Women of Faith Study Bible)

"God is the One who teaches to listen and to pray. We must pray for the Gift and pray for the Gift to be taught. They say that mature writers have 'found their voice.' I think we need to 'find our ear'----our best way of recognizing God's voice, knowing that, once we have found our ear, God may decide to speak in a different language." (John Ackerman, "Spiritual Awakening")

In what ways has the Holy Spirit helped to bring about "breakthroughs" in your spiritual formation?

Pray now that God would guide and enable you in a close walk of discipleship with Jesus, that He would grow you in the Grace and Knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

"Talk with God by frequent prayer. In particular, ask that your desires may be right---and love to have your affections with Him regular and holy. Call to Him for health, run to Him for counsel, and beg of Him for pardon. It is as natural to love Him to whom we make such addresses and on whom we have such dependencies as it is for children to love their parents. For it is not my governor, my employer, or my friend who supports me or provides my needs, but God." (Jeremy Taylor)

"But it was your own eyes that Saw all these great things the Lord has done." (Deut 11:7)


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Easter Season ~ Job: Testing and Restoration

Job teaches us to Persevere.

His long monologues reflect the profound drama of the heart's spiritual formation.

His speeches explore shades of despair, bitterness, anger, grief, resignation, false hope, and genuine hope. His struggle to understand the contours of his pain inspires us to delve into the Mysteries of God and our own heart and understanding.

One of the deep lessons Job learns is that the God he thought he knew is different from the God who had been watching over him all along. Pain limited Job's reality, but gave him the tools to deepen it also.

A new knowledge of God is the Blessed Result.

One man wrote at length about experiences such as Job's, and through his wisdom we can come to better understand many of the truths first revealed in the book of Job. John of the Cross's "The Dark Night of the Soul" describes God's process of maturing souls through allowing times of suffering and darkness in their lives. A sixteenth century Carmelite monk, John faced such a dark night himself while under arrest and in confinement for his work to reform within the Church.

"God must take spiritual consolation away in order to purify the soul," John writes. He describes how God worked in Job's life and how He works in the lives of those who know Him today. "Because of His Love for us, God urges us to grow up. His Love is not content to leave us in our weakness, and for this reason He takes us into a dark night. He weans us from all the pleasures by giving us dry times and inward darkness......Through the dark night pride becomes humility, greed becomes simplicity, wrath becomes contentment, luxury becomes peace, gluttony becomes moderation, envy becomes joy, and sloth becomes strength. No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night." (The Renovare' Spiritual Formation Bible)

"You have granted me life and steadfast love, and Your care has preserved my spirit." (Job 10:12)

"Now, nothing wills and works with God but the Spirit of Love because nothing else works in God Himself. The Almighty brought forth all nature for this only end that boundless Love might have its infinity of height and depth to dwell and work in. All the striving and working properties of nature are only to give essence and substance, life and strength to the invisible hidden Spirit of Love, that it may come forth into outward activity and manifest its blessed powers, that creatures born in the strength and out of the powers of nature might communicate the Spirit of Love and goodness, give and receive mutual delight and joy to and from one another." (William Law)

Faith is the assurance of the answer to all we take into prayer. With God, the healing, the guidance, the peace that we seek or that others seek are indeed ours.
Faith is holding to the blessings we Know to be true even when physical symptoms and feelings of concern indicate otherwise.
Thank You, Loving God. Thank You, Christ Jesus. Thank You, Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


"Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus....While they were talking and discussing, Jesus came near and went with them...As they came near the village....He walked ahead as if He were going on. But they urged Him strongly, saying, 'Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.' So He went in to stay with them...." (Luke 24:13-15, 28-29)

Two followers of Jesus are trudging down the Emmaus Road. Their hopes have been dashed, their dreams have been destroyed, their leader has been crucified. These two disciples are the painful portrait of the walking wounded, when suddenly, they get a new lease on life.

Cleopas and another man, whom tradition tells us was named Simon, have been followers of Jesus, but now they have thrown in the towel. They have quit, and they are limping down the Emmaus Road like broken and defeated warriors. They know about the Crucifixion. They saw it with their own eyes. But they do not yet know about the Resurrection. They have not yet experienced the Risen Christ. Disappointed, disillusioned, defeated, heartbroken, downcast, they trudge down the Emmaus Road toward home. Their hopes for the future have been dashed, so not knowing what else to do, they turn back toward the old life.

Their heads are bowed as though they carry on their backs a crushing burden of defeat and dejection. They limp along with weary steps as if their shoes are weighted with lead. Their eyes are misted over with the tears of disillusionment. They walk along in silence. They dare not speak for fear they will break into uncontrollable sobbing.

At last, with a sigh weighted with despair, the younger man speaks: "He's dead. He's gone. It's all over. They have killed Him, and without Him we are nothing. We should have known this wouldn't work. It was too good to be true, too idealistic for this cruel world. How could we have been such fools! We followed Him. We trusted, we thought He was the One to save us, and now it's all over." Down, dejected, defeated, worn, weary, wounded....

But we know that this is not the end of the story. No! The Risen Lord comes to them. He walks with them. He talks with them. He breaks bread with them, and as they experience the Resurrected Christ, they too get resurrected! They are healed! They find new life! And they rush, they run, back to Jerusalem to Share the Good News with the other disciples. They run, shouting, "Hope is still alive! Christ is risen! Christ is Alive!"

Dear God, thank You for the lessons of the Lenten Season and Easter Morning and afterwards..........We have learned, again, that Christ comes to us in a special Way when we are hurting. We have learned that Christ has the Power to heal our hurts. We have learned that Christ Shares His Resurrection with us today. Like Cleopas and Simon we get resurrected too! We too get New Life! Thank You, Christ Jesus! Thank You, Holy Spirit! Amen
("On the Road Again" James W. Moore) In Christ, Jim

Thursday, March 13, 2008

LOVE THE WORD (Dwight Lyman Moody)

All the historical things are told in the way that we know the world had of looking at them when they were written. People very often think that science is all fact and that religion is only fancy. A great many persons think the stars around us are inhabited, but they cannot bring themselves to believe that there is a life beyond this earth for immortal souls.

The true Christian puts faith before reason and believes that reason always goes wrong when faith is set aside. If people would but read their Bibles more, and study what there is to be found there about heaven, they would not be as worldly minded as they are. They would not have their hearts set upon things down here but would seek the imperishable things above.

"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." (1 Cor 2:9)

Use of Metaphorical Language in Romans:
The way we use language is critical in spiritual formation.
Jesus, of course, is THE Word. Language, one of the defining characteristics of being human, is integral to the way God reveals and works. It follows that the WAY we use language, not simply THAT we use it, is significant.

The way Paul uses language in Romans is to load it with metaphor, a practice he learned from the Hebrew prophets before him. There is hardly a paragraph in this letter without a metaphor.

Metaphor does not so much define or label: it expands, forcing the mind into participating action.....What metaphor does is force our mind into action to find meaning at another level, engaging the imagination to look for relationships and resonances that tell us more than any literal description ever could. We cannot be passive before a metaphor. We must imagine and enter into it. Metaphor enlists us in a believing, obeying, living participation..........(Again, my mind goes back to Disciple 1....Thank you, Terry.)

Paul uses words not to define, but to evoke......
Paul's language is a Living Energy Field.......This is language Alive, Expressing and Forming our lives from the inside out. Spiritual formation requires this lively, participatory language.
(The Renovare' Spiritual Formation Bible....The With-God Life)

Ever-active God, thank You for Your Living Word. Thank You for Paul who writes of Living Participation....Living Energy! We see this in Jesus and the Way He came to show us....We live it Now with the help of Your Holy Spirit. Such Grace given freely! Thank You, God! Amen.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard was given by a guy named Tony Campolo, and it was called “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’!” I remember that it was nowhere near Easter when I first heard that message, but it is such a terrific Easter theme that I was profoundly struck by the universality of it. In many ways, we live Good Friday every day of our lives. Death and dying are around us constantly and without fail as we move around on this planet.

Yesterday I was driving down an old country road and I came to a four-way stop. I looked to my right, and an eighteen wheeler was paused to let me go ahead. I saw that it was fully loaded with crates of live chickens, headed off somewhere along the chain of industry in order to make those awesome boneless chicken breasts that I bake, grill, fry and ultimately consume. It was strange, because it was about 25 degrees outside, and they were in wire baskets that had to be absolutely frigid whenever the truck began moving. I thought, “Those poor chickens need some cover.” And then, almost immediately my mind finished the thought: “…so that they are more at ease when they get to the slaughterhouse!” It was a strange moment.

But the “It’s Friday” part of the message and ministry of Jesus has to do with the painful reality that we really do not need anyone to explain to us. Life is hard, and it is often seasoned with great suffering. Many well-intentioned ministers and friends in the faith often try to comfort us in our suffering with the assurance that we live in a “fallen world,” and that all pain is a by-product of “original sin.” But such counsel has always struck me as pretty self-serving. I mean, I have never in my life been in a hospital room or funeral home and had friends and family members say to me, “Well, it’s hard to let my granddad go, but, you know, that’s what original sin does…” In the same way, I’ve never seen a doctor tell a patient that has just received the news that they have heart disease or diabetes “Well, Mr. Smith, before we talk about a course of treatment, I just would like to take a moment to explain to you how to avoid patterns of behavior that could bring about heart disease/high blood pressure.” Such a discussion would be completely silly: if the cat is in the chicken coop, it’s too late to tell me how to build a cat-proof chicken coop!

Explanations of why we suffer, or whose “fault” suffering might be strike me as utterly useless when grappling with the stark reality of pain. The truth is that we live predominantly in a Good Friday world. As a Christian, my job is not to offer up a reliable explanation of the mechanics of how the world is shattered. My calling is to follow Christ’s lead in fixing it.

SUNDAY IS COMING! It’s exciting, then, to get to the answer to every question: the reason why we are here. The reason why we do what we do. The reason why we hope in the face of great suffering and injustice. The reason we can sit beside our brothers and sisters who are grieving and resonate faith and love to them even as they cry. Sure, it’s Friday. Sure, it’s frightening and lonely and painful and demanding. Sure it is. We acknowledge the truth of life as we know it and as we build it. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’!”

Easter Sunday is the answer that God gives me whenever I confront the pain of a Good Friday world. It’s not a theory, or a mechanical description. It’s not an analysis of cause and effect. It’s not a sociological or demographic study. It’s an announcement that changes everything:


You don’t have to intellectually accept it. You certainly don’t have to understand it. You honestly cannot ever hope to explain it. But this announcement is for you. You are meant to hear it. And once you hear it, you are invited to run – not walk! - to the empty tomb that is in your heart waiting to be discovered. Once you see it for yourself, you will live in an Easter world…forever.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

To Begin Again

Many years ago Louisa Fletcher Tarkington wrote a perceptive poem entitled, "The Land of Beginning Again." It begins and ends with a verse which is almost a universal wish.
I wish there were some wonderful place
Called the land of beginning again
Where all our mistakes,
And all our heartaches,
And all of our poor selfish grief,
Could be dropped like a shabby
Old coat at the door,
And never be put on again.

Do we not all, periodically, wish that could happen to us? We would do it at once if we just knew how. But, one does not live long without learning that this is not easy, even when it feels necessary.

There is something about the past which troubles all of us, even if it is nothing more than the nagging belief that we could do better if we had another go at it. Burdens and baggage of the past constitute such a terrible load for so many people! Until we can get rid of some of what we are carrying, we cannot take on more.

Admittedly, some of the burdens of the past are real. They cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. They represent the residue of old errors that have left scars and, sometimes, open wounds. Some of them are unfulfilled obligations that, whether they were wise or unwise, must still be met. Not all of the baggage of the past is imaginary, but much of it is.

All of us carry some baggage from the past which could be laid aside and never picked up again because it does not exist in reality. Our unwillingness to let go of the past hurts; our ignorance about how we may be forgiven and our blindness and insensitivity to the joys we could experience when we put unnecessary baggage aside keeps us a prisoner of the past. Only God knows how we hurt as the result of unresolved aspects of the past! Only God knows what we may become if we could be free of our unresolved and unredeemed past that we cannot change!

We can lay aside the anchors we have been dragging and gain dominion over the obstacles and burdens in life. I do not mean to be casual about your past, for who would be insensitive enough to be casual with people about the places where they hurt, the emotional "hot spots" of life? Our emotional and spiritual pain is serious business and should not be treated in a cavalier fashion. I cannot forgive sins or redeem the past for you. I cannot even do that for myself. I can only tell you where it can be done. The Bible teaches us that we do not have to be a victim of our past – unless we want to.

The Bible is filled with the idea of beginning life over again. Early on the concept of a new beginning became necessary in the life of God’s creation. When we were bounced out of the Garden of Eden we did not fall into the front pew of First Methodist or First Baptist Church! We fell into a world where we had to make choices which were more complicated than whether or not to take a bite of the apple. And we have never been the same since. Ever since Eden we have been building up a past that has to be dealt with. Jesus came into our sin-stricken world to tell us how to deal with our past.

When Nicodemus, that gentle and learned Pharisee, came to inquire of Jesus, the Master told him that he would have to be born again. Nicodemus tried so hard to intellectualize the process. He pointed out to Jesus that it is impossible to be born again. He raised anatomical problems with the process. He literalized what was spiritual and, therefore missed the point – a mistake from which we still find it difficult to learn a lesson. The marvelous thing about what Jesus taught was not so much that you must be born again, but that you can be born again.

Whatever loose ends may be lying out there in the past, God can help us gather them into new beginnings. Forgiveness is for the asking. "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). "As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).
While some people are haunted by the past, there are others who are lured to it, like a moth to the flame. The past is used as a place of comfort and security in a world of chaos and change. Some psychologists say that people who are threatened in ways they cannot handle tend to return to earlier levels of development (the past) for security. Those who constantly return to the past for security are in as much danger as those who flee from it and are haunted by it. Sometimes people keep going back to their past hoping it will improve. There is nothing more futile than trying to create a better past. There is a country song that has a very sad line in it about the past: "It looks like looking back is all I have to look forward to." If all our happiness is in the past, we are not likely to be happy again. You cannot live with the past when it is gone. Don’t try! Your story will be too sad to tell. It is better to trust the uncertain future.

No person need stay the way they are. The good news is that you can change.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Explaining God by Dr. Thoms Lane Butts

Explaining God

When my grandson, T.L., was about 6 years old he had just finished a class in the Catholic Church preparing him for his First Communion. He was very proud of what he had learned about God and Jesus, and so were we all. T.L. had come with his parents and his little sister, Winslow, to spend the weekend. As we sat down for the first meal after their arrival, I looked around the table and asked who would like to say the blessing. T.L. quickly volunteered. His 5 year old sister spoke up in support of T.L. by saying: "My brother knows everything about God!" I asked T.L. if this were true. He said: "Grandfather, I know all about God. It is in a book I had to read, but I have lost the book." Guess who said the blessing! There was something strikingly symbolic about losing the book that explained everything about God. I thought of mentioning that "losing the book with all the answers" would be a problem all his life, but he was too young and too confident of what he knew to have his grandfather disturb that wonderful but temporary state of being. He would learn the truth soon enough.

It is 57 years now that I have been in the business of "explaining God"; embarrassingly often to people who were better acquainted with God than I. I used to be good at it! I was as confident of my complete knowledge of God as my six year old grandson. Now I have learned too much to have even the faintest shadow of an idea that I know very much at all about the Almighty. When I was young God was small enough to be encompassed in my descriptions. After all these years God has grown far beyond my feeble explanations.

Some days I reflect on what happened to the God of my youth, the God who was well within the range of my verbal skills. That nice comfortable God disappeared somewhere in the study of astronomy, physics, cosmology, and the Bible. When I learned that the earth was not the center of the cosmos, not the center of the "Milky Way," or even the solar system, God began to get bigger than my explanations. When I learned that our little solar system is in a remote corner of our unremarkable galaxy which is 100,000 light years across and contains a billion or more stars like the star we call the sun, and that the visible universe contains billions of galaxies like our own, and that even with the Hubble Telescope we have not yet found the edge of the universe, the God of my youth disappeared and there appeared a God too large to explain. This became a humbling experience for a person who is in the business of explaining God.

As a child I prayed to a God who was "good and great," but in adulthood I learned that this God who is indeed "good and great" is also subtle, elusive, and even strange. If I had read the Bible with greater care when I was young I might have suspected that God was different from (as in more than) what I thought. Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways says the Lord. For as high as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Now I cannot speak of God quite completely. I can only point at Jesus and the universe, both of which are beyond my explanation, but they refer to an even larger reality that we call God.

I miss the God of my youth who was so easy to explain. I feel like Thomas Hood who in the last verse of "I Remember, I Remember" wrote:
I remember, I remember
The fir-trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now ‘tis little joy
To know I’m farther off from Heaven
Than when I was a boy.

When I speak of God these days I have to qualify my explanations with: "There is more, much more." I realize most of you want someone to tell you everything about God. Sorry about that. Not now. Perhaps later, in another dimension, in "an older place than Eden and a taller town than Rome." "Now we see through a glass darkly," said an old friend a couple of thousand years ago.

AN ENCOURAGING WORD for September 6, 2007 - written by Dr. Thoms Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church