“The mind that is not baffled is not employed.” Wendell Berry
"Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?” Job 11:7
How does God do it? How does He manage to take a season in which all things are returning to the earth and dying and make it so magical? What is it He adds to the air to make it so crisp? How do the turning of leaves make our hearts sing with possibility? How does He make us forget the winter to come with the promise of pumpkins, bonfires, and crisp apple cider?
Clearly fall is my favorite season. And I love it for the mystery. We play with mystery mostly at the end of October as adorable little ghouls knock on our doors demanding candy, but how much more mystery is contained in the wonders of the season?
We think of Job’s questions above as rhetorical. The answer, of course is “no.” You can’t discover the depths of God. You can’t discover the limits of the Almighty. But why has that stopped us from trying? Why does God’s unknowability mean that we stop trying to know Him, stop wondering at His power, stop trying to find His footprints left on our days?
Heed Wendell Berry’s words and be baffled. Turn Job’s questions into a challenge. Can you discover the depths of God? We won’t know until we try. Let’s look around us in this, the loveliest of seasons and seek his wonders, open ourselves to awe, actively look for amazement at His creating beauty. He has enchanted an entire season with glimmers of His presence; surely He’s left them as clues to be followed to find His love more fully in our lives.
How we treat one another is probably the most discussed topic of scripture. Even individual holiness requirements often have social impact. It always boils down to love, right? “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8) However, if it were that simple, there would probably be a lot less Bible. Sometimes, we need examples, specifics, on what love feels like, looks like, sounds like. Thankfully, we have it in Jesus and in so much of God’s word, but it never hurts to be clear about expectations.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada has ethical guidelines that lay out our expectations of one another. They include:
A. We will treat one another with courtesy and kindness. We will endeavor to maintain an attitude of Christian love in all our relationships.
B. We will welcome the expression of differing viewpoints and will seek to create an atmosphere of trust and confidence that will encourage free discussion.
C. We will seek to keep confidences and will refrain from gossip. We will seek in all we do and say to strengthen character and dignify personality.
D. We will remember that our personal conduct gives evidence of our sincerity and reflects upon the good name of the Church, the Body of Christ.
(You can read more here: https://www.discipleshomemissions.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/SC-EthicalGuidelines.pdf )
What might change if you wrote a code of conduct for your relationships or your household? How might the conversation help those relationships?
Values are one’s judgement about what is important in life. Roy E. Disney said,“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”
Many of us find it hard to articulate what their values are beyond very generic words like “faith” and “family”.
When we are not clear on our values, we can fall into the trap of passing judgement or having opinions that are unrelated to our values. Spend a few moments understanding what your values are by using the exercise provided here by CMU: https://www.cmu.edu/career/documents/my-career-path-activities/values-exercise.pdf
Once you have done that holy work, use your core values to be sure that your life is reflecting them. Then, keep the long list of values in the beginning of the article. Stick it in your Bible. As you are reading your Bible each day, ask yourself, “What does the Lord value?” Does your daily reading reflect a value of God? Are you seeing some values reflected more than others? Do they match your own?
Julian Treasure, a sound and communication expert, said “the art of conversation is being replaced-dangerously I think- by personal broadcasting.” He’s referring to the danger of all talk, and no listening.
Treasure suggests we remember the acronym RASA. “RASA stands for "Receive," which means pay attention to the person; "Appreciate," making little noises like "hmm," "oh," "OK"; "Summarize" -- the word "so" is very important in communication; and "Ask," ask questions afterwards.”
Finally, hear the advice of scripture about listening.
“If one gives answer before hearing, it is folly and shame”. Proverbs 18:13
Don’t simply be working out your answer while the other person is speaking. Deeply listen and try to understand what another person says.
“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;” James 1:19
After you’ve heard what someone has to say, don’t rush to answer. Don’t rush to judge. Don’t rush to argue. Slow down. Take a minute. Getting angry? Take another.
Finally, if you spend more time listening to God, it makes it a lot easier to listen well when others start talking.
To read more about being a better listener, consider reading:
A simple church is a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. Many of our churches have become cluttered. So cluttered that people have a difficult time encountering the simple and powerful message of Christ. So cluttered that many people are busy doing church instead of being the church’ Thom S. Rainer- Simple Church
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
When I arrived at Brightwood two years ago, I was welcomed with open arms. And, although I was excited about this wonderful church, I wasn’t in any hurry to start a lot of programming. I wanted to get to know the people, the church culture, and our neighborhood.
People are busier than ever these days. As a working mother of two, I long to create a life of faith that isn’t seen as just one more thing to have to fit into an already busy schedule. I want people to have time to know their neighbors, love their children, and have long and meaningful conversations with their friends. In the book, Simple Church, by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, the authors discuss a broad study of growing congregations. Their conclusion is that healthy, vibrant, growing churches are simple and focused. They aren’t in the business of busyness but have designed themselves to help people grow in faith. Everything they do is centered around that work.
Our congregation is in the process of getting simple and focused. We met for a full day in June to talk about the importance of knowing with pinpoint accuracy who we are as a church and what we are called to do. On August 4th, we met again to continue that work. Out of that work, a mission statement was born: "Brightwood Christian Church is a welcoming community of Christians seeking to grow in faith and service."
At a brief congregational meeting this Sunday, September 9th, we’ll hear a bit about how we came to it, share what we’re doing about it, and ask members to affirm it. Then, if the statement is affirmed, I’ll preach about how the mission statement relates to the scripture throughout October and we’ll be frequently updating you on how the mission is being lived out in the work of the church. Until then, prayerfully consider how you might help Brightwood live out our mission.
To read more about the Simple Church concept, read it here:
One of the greatest temptations of modern life is doing more. People are so busy. We convince ourselves it is because we must be. And sometimes we’re right. But sometimes we are simply afraid of slowing down and having real, quality time with the people we love.
In Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Shauna Niequist writes, “It's easy to be liked by strangers. It's very hard to be loved and connected to the people in your home when you're always bringing them your most exhausted self and resenting the fact that the scraps you're giving them aren't cutting it.”
God wants more for our lives.
“Work six days. The seventh day is a Sabbath, a day of total and complete rest, a sacred assembly. Don’t do any work. Wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to God.” Leviticus 23:3 The Message
Complete rest is a Sabbath to God. But God is often tricky in how He helps us do what is best for us. Think about what happens when we slow down and put aside work. God commands us to worship, reflect on God’s goodness and the things that matter most. But, the slowly flowing hours also allow us to spend time with those dearest to us, to play games that keep us humble or to develop a hobby we can share with our grandchildren.
The “don’t do any work” part of that scripture has gotten much more notice than the “sacred assembly” part. Slow down and gather. Gather with your family of faith. Gather with your family of birth. Gather with your family of friends and give those gatherings the slow attention that holiness demands.
To read more about slowing down, consider reading Shauna Niequist's:
I’ve been studying Spanish. There are wonderful free programs online and apps available for phones that allow you to study a variety of languages. I learn by translating from English to Spanish, from Spanish to English, and occasionally, I’m called to speak the language into my phone. I thought the hardest part would be remembering words or following quickly spoken sentences. I was wrong.
The hardest part of learning a language is the embarrassment of speaking it aloud, when I’m sure that it will be wrong and that even if I get the words right, I will sound foolish. Since then, I’ve been conscious of the bravery of folks who learn to speak English. Every heavily accented and broken sentence is an act of courage.
The process has made me think about the way we learn our faith. Studying the Bible, delving deeper into worship, developing your spiritual practice, and thinking about the interaction of faith and life can all feel odd at first. But learning anything feels a little like failure and a little like faking it. Recognize it for what it is, the human experience. We’re all learning. We’re all trying. We’ll all need to try again.
As proof, I’ll leave you with this anecdote from author, Neil Gaiman:
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, ‘I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.’
And I said, ‘Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.’
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted. Psalm 40:5
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada has always had deep respect for education. We enjoy a relationship with fourteen colleges and universities across U.S. and Canada. Many today feel that faith and intellectual pursuits stand at odds, but that isn’t part of our tradition. Jesus taught his disciples by exploring nature. The Psalmist looks to the beauty of God’s creation as the beginning of praise and contemplation. I like the way Socrates said it, "Wisdom begins in wonder."
As much of the world returns to the classroom, let’s celebrate the work that education can do for our faith, and the role it plays in bringing justice to God’s world as well. Get a list of the elementary, middle, high school, and colleges near where you live and pray for the faculty, staff, and students. Pray for the parents and all of those adults on whom much of what a child will learn truly depends.
Then, put those prayers into action by finding out what those schools need, volunteers, mentors, and financial support. And because a hungry, fearful, or lonely child can’t succeed as easily in the classroom, give special attention to those non-profits that particularly benefit those to whom wonder comes most naturally, children.
We'd love for you to join us for the Blessing of the Backpacks during worship tomorrow, August 19th at 11 am.
Learn more about Disciples history with education and more about our tradition by reading:
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Luke 12:25-26
This may be one of the most recognizable scriptures of all time. Even if you haven't read the Bible, you've heard that it says not to worry.
That's all well and good, and of course Jesus is right, but it isn't that easy, is it? It doesn't tell us how NOT to worry. In fact, we can get to the point where we begin to feel guilty about worrying and worry about THAT. More to the point, anxiety can be part of a mental health issue. We may have worried ruts into our brains that make it incredibly difficult not to worry. So, a few words on the how:
1) There are many issue that affect our ability to avoid worry, but guilt about it isn't going to help. So stop the guilt. Let it go.
2) Write it down, ask yourself why, and make it worse. Usually, the worst thing is still manageable in some way.
3) Limit Caffeine. The scripture says not to put God to the test, and we can't pray for peace at the same time we're giving ourselves the jitters. It really does make a difference.
4) When you are worried and anxious, focus on relaxing your body. It can trick your brain into thinking everything is ok, which helps change your thinking. Gentle stretching, muscle relaxation, and deep breathing can really help.
5) Laugh and smile. Again, you are giving yourself body cues to know it is safe to think happier thoughts. The smile works even if you fake it, and the laughter you can borrow from sitcoms, comedians, or funny books.
You can worry less, it is part of what Jesus wants for you. But he doesn't expect you to white-knuckle your way out of it. It can be learned. It can be practiced. Jesus can help you.
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. James 1:22-25
I laughed out loud when I saw the above quote. And immediately thought, "yes, that's me"! But then, I was a bit more shaken by the idea. Yes, that's me. It is me when I know the scripture, and let it languish in my mind instead of living in my life. It is me when I know the powerful words, but have lost my connection with the Master who gave them to me.
The scripture is Holy. The Word of God is full of power, full of answers, full of joy and peace and help for all manner of trouble. It is full of commands for how we treat one another and how we behave ourselves. And knowing the Word is really important. It is where we must start. When the kids began to take Karate, they were taught the name for their uniform, taught how to count to 10 in Japanese, the words for the moves. And that is all well and good.
But counting to 10 in Japanese is pretty useless in a fight. The scripture is meant to be alive in us, acted upon and lived out. The word is to be done. Rick Warren had a good idea about how. When you have read your Bible for the day, don't leave the time of devotion until you have written out an action item. What should that day's word make you DO?
Rev. Jana Quisenberry is the minister at Brightwood Christian Church. She's an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A graduate of Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN, She now resides in Mt. Lebanon with her husband, two children, and dog, Sookie. Pastor Jana loves the church, science fiction, and coffee.
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