Friday, September 22, 2006

My New Blog

I have created a new blog for my sermons. This is because I have really enjoyed sharing the sermon I preached on Sunday, and I have received a lot of good feedback about it.

My new blog is Sermons From One Who is Longing for Home.

Tell me what you think.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Kingdom of God ala Disney

This blog entry is from part of a sermon I preached on James 3:1-12.

You know, I think Jesus went about this earth trying to let people know what heaven was like. Something about the kingdom of God maybe. It actually reminds me of a movie. It is one that your teenagers and pre-teens know about. And even my three-year-old ds knows about this one. I have a dvd player in my car to keep my ds occupied—and boy, does it ever work. My ds’s favorite movie right now is High School Musical, and I have listened to it over and over as I drive him around town: to school, to soccer, to church. So if you happen to see me in my mini-van, driving around and singing (and maybe even dancing a little) please know that I am not possessed.

High School Musical is a made-for-tv movie whose main audience is teenagers and tweens (or pre-teens). It is a musical, so there is dancing and singing—and a message. You see, the movie is about Troy, the basketball star, and Gabriella, the science genius. They are from separate worlds, separate cliques, but they find a common bond in singing. Their classmates get more and more anxious about the blurring of lines and the threat to the status quo of the school. In the climax of the movie, Troy is confronted by his basketball team. They trick him into saying that Gabriella means nothing and the singing is just a way to keep his nerves down before the big championship game. And Gabriella’s science friends show her through streaming video what Troy has said. See how much trouble came from Troy’s tongue? Of course, it is a Disney movie, so the ending is a happy one. Troy asks for forgiveness, and Troy and Gabriella do sing in the audition. The whole school, from basketball jocks to science geeks, from skater dudes to drama queens—everyone realizes that they are a part of the school, and they are all in this world together.

And that is where something reminds me about the kingdom of God. Jesus came to a world full of cliques. The Pharisees thought they were the most devout. The Zealots thought they were the most passionate. The rich ruled over the poor. The Romans dwelled in the land. And in the face of it all, a carpenter walked among them and taught them about the kingdom of God. It is a place of unity for us. Paul told the Ephesians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (4:3 TNIV). That same unity will ensure that we have blessings instead of cursings, fresh water instead of salt water, love instead of hate.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Faith Questions

The other thing that made me want to blog concerned something our guest speaker said.

The guest speaker on Sunday gave part of his testimony. He made sure to say that he had been brought up in church, but there was a moment that he knew that he was saved. He went on to say that we should examine our own lives to make sure that we could pinpoint the moment that we were saved.

I have a real problem with this idea.

I was brought up in the church. I publicly accepted Christ at age eight. I see my conversion experience as more of a spiritual journey than a Pauline conversion experience (remember the road to Damascus?). When I was about twelve years old, a revival speaker scared me so much with this idea of "knowing the exact moment or you are not saved" that I publicly accepted Christ for the second time and asked to be rebaptized. But that second baptism was a mistake.

An eight year old accepts as an eight year old knows how. And I am confident that I was saved at eight. The fear that the revival speaker placed in my heart was something else. It was meant for that person that was never saved. This idea of knowing the moment you are saved went hand in hand with something else that was said that night--you had to know without a doubt that you were saved. Now doesn't that notion make me laugh these days? There is no one who does not doubt at some point in their life. Even Mother Teresa had her doubts. A statement like that, to impressionable girls of twelve years (as my friend and I were that age), to girls who are trying to be the devout followers of Christ...let me just say that it was poison to our souls.

Who is able to analyze our faith and decide if it is genuine?

And so, I had some disagreements with what happened in our worship service last Sunday. As I prepare and deliver the sermon this coming Sunday (our pastor is on vacation), let me be conscience of my words and true to the message of Christ.

Separation of Church and State

There were two things that happened at church on Sunday that made me want to blog. The first of these things has to do with a baptist principle that I hold dear.

Because it was the Sunday before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the special that the choir sang was called "Song for the Unsung Hero". During part of the song, the worship leader asked the congregation to stand and sing "America the Beautiful". I did not stand; I did not sing. I do not sing patriotic songs during worship service. It is because I discovered an historic baptist principle called Separation of Church and State.

I don't think anyone took notice of my protest. I was sitting in the back, and my son had crawled up in my lap. But it was the principle of the thing that made me remain seated and silent.

When I was in divinity school, the idea behind separation of church and state finally made sense to me. It was because I was studying baptist principles. Growing up, I would have not had a problem with singing a patriotic song during worship. Our Vacation Bible Schools always included the pledge of allegiance to the flag. However, the feeling I get singing patriotic music is similar to the feeling I get when worshiping God. It is just a little too similar.

Lo and behold, come to find out, baptists are the reason that Thomas Jefferson wrote the letter that contained the phrase "separation of church and state." Looking at the history of countries in Europe during and after the Reformation, there is a real sense why things seem so much better when church and state are in separate spheres. I believe that there is a great thing when a country is not going to require you to worship a certain way or pay a special tax if you decide to do your own thing.

I do not force my beliefs on anyone. That doesn't mean that I don't try to evangelize--it just means that I want my actions to speak louder than any display of the Ten Commandments (and I can name them all, thank you). I want my Muslim friend to not be forced to pray a prayer that she does not believe. I want my sons to grow up in a country where they can have Christian beliefs written on their hearts--beliefs that are taught by the church, my husband, and myself.

There is a lot to this issue. But for myself, I am not going to sing patriotic songs in church. Some things are just too sacred to be confused with nationalism.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Ago

No one is really interested in where I was five years ago. My story is not particularly impressive, but I want to share it anyway as my way of remembering 9/11.

I was in divinity school, and I had class on that day. But first I had to go to a staff meeting at the church where I was doing my internship. When I got up and started to get ready, I was listening to the radio and heard that apparently there had been an airplane that crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. I was living with my in-laws at the time, and they do not own a television set. So in my mind's eye, I pictured a small plane that had made an error and flown into the building because the radio dj did not elaborate on anything at that point.

Once I got out of the shower a few minutes later, I heard about the second airplane, and I only thought of one word--terrorists. I was on my way to the church when I heard about the Pentagon. And I forget exactly where I was when the news about the Pennsylvania plane crash reached my ears.

During staff meeting, it was obvious that the pastor did not fully comprehend the magnitude of what had happened. He had not seen the images at that time. I hadn't either, but I knew that things were pretty scary anyway.

After staff meeting, our full-time organist and myself went to the youth room where there was a television. When the picture of the World Trade Center came on the screen, we noticed that there was only one building instead of two. It was absolutely incomprehensible. We could not imagine or even begin to imagine how many people would have been in that building when it collapsed. And as we watched, the other tower came down.

Those were the only images I had of the events of 9/11 until after I received my copy of Time later that week. No television at home, I had to rely on the radio that day. I never saw the constant replays of the events or even the footage of the plane hitting the second building.

I called my husband after I returned home. He was 200 miles away because we were living apart as I went to school and did my last semester of intenship. I really wished I could have been with him that day. I called his parents at the restaurant they owned, but they could not fully comprehend the events of that day no matter how my husband or myself told them. They would finally know the scope of 9/11 about three days later because that is when their Chinese language newspaper came in the mail.

I finished up my reading reflection for that day's class. I took my mom out to lunch because her birthday had been the day before, and we often went to lunch on Tuesdays that semester.

At school, people crowded around the television in the lounge. Discussions about the response to the day's events took up all the time in my seminar class. I told my classmates to make sure they at least wrote a journal entry for that day. But what I remember the most is the absolutely perfect weather that we had. It was one of those days in September in North Carolina where the weather remembers that autumn is not too far away. The humidity is low, and the sky is so incredibly blue. And as I looked up, I knew it would stay blue--no airplanes in that sky. It was ironic to think that such a sky was actually threatening to America on that day.

That night, as I lay alone in bed, I listened to the radio. Such unity I had never heard in the response of Congress and other people who were interviewed. I knew that one day I would be telling my own children about that day.

One of my greatest concerns was about my friends. When I realized that terrorists had targeted the United States that morning, my first prayer was for it not to be anyone Chinese. I knew the fallout would be great against whatever race of people that was involved, and I did not want my own family to suffer persecution. After the race of people was determined to be middle eastern, I feared for my friends. One of my friends--a Palastinian Christian--was harrassed that day. She feared for her life. Another friend of Moroccan origin, was afraid too (and even after these five years, she is afraid to admit that she is from Morocco). It was heartbreaking to hear of the violent response that some people committed because of their fear in the days following 9/11.

On Wednesday night, at prayer meeting, our pastor had fully grasped the events of the preceding day. He sang a song for us.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and bless├Ęd we shall meet at last.

"Be Still, My Soul"
by Katharina A. von Schlegel
trans. Jane L. Borthwick

Friday, September 08, 2006

Fairly Simple Friday Five

Name five things you have enjoyed this week.

1. I attended the first worship service for a new church that started on Sunday.

2. On Thursday, both of my kids took naps and were not in cranky moods by the evening. That left me with a peaceful evening (in which I did not have to resort to tears myself).

3. Wonderful comments have been left for my blog postings. I like comments.

4. My oldest son takes his lunch to preschool this year, and he eats all the food I pack. It has been good to get him back on a school routine this week.

5. My youngest son started Kindermusik again today. It is great to have that one-on-one time with him.

Bonus: A good thing coming up this weekend is my SIL is returning from a medical trip to Nicaragua. I always enjoy seeing her, and I get to see her when she comes home late Saturday.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Happy Meal Toys

According to some people, putting Hummers in Happy Meal toys is a bad idea. I think it is worse to make the parent choose between the boy Happy Meal and girl Happy Meal. My son never wants the boy Happy Meal anyway. As we go through the drive-thru and order, he pitches a fit from the back seat, screaming, "I want the girl toy!!" So we didn't end up with any of the Hummers. Instead, both my sons have been playing with the Polly Pocket Happy Meals. I liked them better, too.

Of course, the Hummer/Polly Pockets Happy Meals were last month. Now the Happy Meals feature Super Mario.

(I'm waiting for Neopets to be in the Happy Meal again because I am such a Neopets addict.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New Church

On Sunday, I attended a brand new church. One of the members of my church has been led to start a church in another section of our county. She heard my testimony and asked me to share my story. So I went to that first service.

We met on a corner of a basketball court in a community center. There were about 20 there. And God was there, too.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Friday Five: life in the fast lane

1. Driving: an enjoyable way to clear the mind? a means to an end? a chance to be quiet with one's thoughts? a necessary evil? the downfall of our planet and its fossil fuels? Discuss.

Driving is enjoyable when the kids are not screaming in the backseat. This usually means that my youngest is asleep, and my oldest has the headphones on and is watching a dvd.

2. Do you drive the speed limit? A little faster? Slower? Have you ever gotten a ticket?

I rarely drive over the speed limit; and if I do, it is only 5 mph over. I have never gotten a ticket in my 13 years of driving. *knock on wood*

3. Do you take public transportation? When? What's your opinion of the experience?

I don't live near a busline. And since I don't have a job, I don't need to commute just yet. I do remember taking the bus to the mall when I was in college. I went with a bunch of international students, and we were Christmas shopping. It was a great way to spend the afternoon, and we didn't have to worry about parking.

4. Complete this sentence: _____________ has the worst drivers I've ever experienced.

Egypt. They pay no attention to where the lanes are. It is a free-for-all. Also, Taiwan--you ought to see them make left turns.

In the US, I would say Philadelphia.

5. According to the Census Bureau, reverendmother's fair city has the 6th longest average commute in the United States at 29 minutes each way. How does your personal commute rate?

No job equals no commute. My dh's commute is about 25 minutes one way if he leaves early. It can stretch out to 45 minutes one way if he leaves a little too late.

Bonus for the brutally honest: It has been said, and the MythBusters have confirmed, that cell phones can impede driving ability almost as much as drinking. Do you talk on a cell phone while driving?

I have talked on a cellphone while driving, but not very often. I usually look for a place to pull over if I get a call though. My van came equipped with a hands-free phone to use, but I have not put any minutes on it to use it.

A couple of months ago, I was talking on my cellphone and driving on the interstate when a car didn't check before pulling into my lane. I immediately dropped the cell into my lap while I dealt with the very rude and obnoxious person's mistake. (Thankfully, we did not get into a wreck--I've never had one of those either. *knock on wood again*)