Thursday, August 3, 2017

Everyday Spirituality: Music

Texts for Sunday, August 6:  Colossians 3:15-17, Psalm 98

Note:  Because Rev. Manion will be preparing material for the upcoming fall series, she is not blogging during the month of August.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Everyday Spirituality: Science

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Note:  This is the last blog post until September.  Because Rev. Manion will be preparing material for the upcoming fall series, she will not be blogging during the month of August. 

Scripture for Sunday, July 26, 2017:  Psalm 146
Additional Scripture:  Colossians 1:15-20, Romans 8:18-25

"...that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures,great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God."  (Belgic Confession, Article 2)

In The Magician's Nephew, Digory and Polly try to get the evil witch, Queen Jadis, out of their world and back into her own.  In the process, they fall into a dark, empty world that the Witch identifies as "Nothing."

So there they sit in the blackness--the witch and the two children, along with Digory's Uncle Andrew, a magician; and a cabbie and his horse, Strawberry.

"My doom has come upon me," the Witch says.  Uncle Andrew searches for alcohol to soothe his nerves.  The cabbie has the good sense to encourage everyone to join voices for a hymn.

So Polly and Diggory join the cabbie in a hymn of thanksgiving.  And soon they're not the only ones singing. 

"In the darkness something was happening at last. A new voice had begun to sing....Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once.  Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them....It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it...."

"Then two wonders happened at the same moment.  One was that the Voice was suddenly joined by other voices, more voices than you could possibly count.  They were in harmony with it....  The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars....One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out:  single stars, constellations, and planets.....  If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves who were singing, and that it was the first Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing."  (Lewis, 84-88). 

As Aslan comes closer he continues to sing.  He sings trees and flowers into the landscape.  And Polly realizes that "when you listened to his song, you heard the things he was making up; when you looked round you, you saw them."  (95).
As we open Psalm 146 together this weekend, we will "listen to [God's] song."  This psalm is a song of praise to the God who creates--and keeps on creating--the glorious world we inhabit; and who will re-create his world and his people at the end of time.   

Joining our hearts in the music of the Psalter attunes our ears to his voice in his Word, so that when we "look round us," we see his glory in the world he has made.

1.  As you read the first 5 verses of the Psalm 146, use your sanctified imagination to wonder about the disappointments or pain that may have illustrated the limitations of human power for the psalmist.   Then notice the contrasting description of the LORD's ability and activity in verses 6-9.     

 2.  In your own background, how have you understood the relationship of Christian faith and scientific knowledge?  (As complementary?  Christian faith above science; or science above faith? On opposite poles?) 

3.  Verse 6 of the Psalm in Hebrew identifies that God is continuing in his creative work in our world.  What does it mean to you that we serve a God who did create our world and continues to work in it?  What responsibility might that ongoing creative work of God give us as stewards of his creation?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Everyday Spirituality: Screens and Social Media

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Scripture for Sunday, July 23:  Romans 1:8-15
Additional Scripture:  1 Corinthians 12

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Shortly after our first child was born, I started a personal photo sharing webpage for out-of-state family members.   I wanted to share the joy and document the growth of our new little bundle.

Scrolling through those pictures now does bring joy.  But it also reminds me that the pictures told only part of the story.  The cheerful faces posing for grandma never indicated that the same grandma received 11 p.m. distress calls from a new mother with a colicky baby. 

Social media was great for sharing the good things.  But in the thick of discouragement, direct personal contact was better.  And physical presence would have been the very best.

In Romans 1:11-12, Paul expresses his longing to visit the church at Rome--a church he has never visited in person.  "I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to make you strong," he says; "that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." 

Paul's stated purpose for his visit to Rome is to grant them a spiritual gift to strengthen them.   Spiritual gifts in other places in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12) come as gifts God gives to his people for the benefit of the whole church. 

Yet here Paul seems to expect that the "spiritual gift" he wants to give through his personal, physical visit to Rome will result in a double bonus.  The gift will not simply come through Paul as God's messenger to the church; the strengthening will echo back and encourage Paul too.   

Magnificent as Paul's letter to the Romans is, he seems to suggest that the magnum opus that will follow these opening verses can't take the place of being physically present with this group of Christians.  I guess you just had to be there.

It is possible for us to be "alone together" even amid the various platforms we use to connect.  It's possible for us to present ourselves publicly in ways that perpetuate our loneliness. 

We were made to be known deeply and loved well, even in all the messy, painful dimensions of life.  And the physical presence of other people who know and love us and know and love our Lord brings his comfort closer.   

1)  What impact--positive and negative--does contact with others through the platform of social media have on your relationships in daily life? 

2)  What gifts of encouragement have you received from being in the company of other followers of Christ?  How does that differ from contact at a greater distance?

3)  1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 1 use similar terms for spiritual gifts (charisma, pneuma).    Using your sanctified imagination, consider what connections Paul may have had in mind between being present among other believers and receiving a gift from the Spirit.  (One idea:  Matthew 18:20 )


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Everyday Spirituality: Sports

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Scripture for Sunday, July 16:  1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Psalm 95:1-7
Additional Scripture:  Hebrews 12:1-3, 1 Timothy 4:7-10
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This summer, our family spent time together on an inland lake in northern lower Michigan.  My husband, Josh, is preparing for an off-road triathlon.  He was so looking forward to open water swimming, mountain biking, and trail running.
The night we arrived at the cottage, we realized we had a serious first-world problem on our hands:  Josh's running shoes were sitting by the garage door at home, four hours away.  He couldn't run barefoot; nor could he miss a week of training.  Josh immediately began problem solving.  Did he need new shoes?  Should he buy a new pair?  Could he borrow some for the week?
Thankfully, Josh was able to borrow a pair of shoes and carried on with training as planned.  He often says that registering for a race motivates him to train--he wouldn't run without a goal in mind.  The way he plans for and prioritizes training gives me lived insight into Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 9:
"Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."
Paul's athletic metaphor for life in Christ makes sense to us.  We applaud discipline for the sake of achievement.  Talented or not, an athlete who wants to gain Olympic status or even a place on a college cross-country team adheres to a disciplined diet and regular training. 
"See what kind of training athletes in the games go into?"  Paul says.  "That's the way to go into training in Christ-likeness. We don't insist on our rights; we give them up.  We don't do as we please; we exercise self-control for the sake of others on the team."
We give things up in order to train well.  And we do it with focus and determination because we have a goal in mind. 
Paul's point goes beyond the value of discipline for its own sake.  The point of all the training is the goal, the prize:  life with Christ--now, and most especially when Christ returns.  Any sacrifice we have made in training will have been more than worth it when we live, play, work, and worship in the kingdom lit by his presence.
1)  The writer of Hebrews encourages us to "fix our eyes on Jesus" in the race of life.  What aspect of Jesus' faithfulness encourages you most in your own race?
2)  How has disciplining your body--through exercise, following a particular diet, fasting--affected your life of faith?  Or, how has a physical discipline imposed on you--through a health challenge, through a need to care for a loved one's needs--affected your faith?  Ask God to meet you in that disciplined circumstance in just the way you need him to.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Everyday Spirituality: The Arts

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Scripture for Sunday, July 2:  Exodus 35:30-36:1
This Sunday's passage finds Moses and the Israelites following God's instructions to the letter as they go about the work of making the tabernacle.
This is a holy place, set apart for God's presence to dwell among his people.  It will be portable but not flimsy or slapdash.  It will be wisely constructed, after the blueprint of the Creator himself.  It will be made by everyone in the community, fashioned from contributions of precious materials from every Israelite household. 
And it will be beautiful, designed and built by "skilled" craftsmen whom God identifies by name for the task.
In this passage, the word referring to artistic "skill" in our English Bibles is literally "heart-wisdom" in Hebrew.  The artist's skill is something more than knowledge of design principles; something more, even, than competence in weaving, embroidering, or jewelry-making.  It is an integration of knowledge and competence, expressed in a God-given creative task.
Twice Exodus 35:30-36:1 refers to God "filling" the craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab, with his Spirit.  God gives the creative directions, and he fills his servants with the artistic wisdom and skill for obeying the directions.  (That's a ray of hope for any of us who are growing weary in a long obedience just now.)
Holy Spirit-given creativity doesn't end with art-making, though.  Artistry also overflows in relationship with other people.  Jesus approaches people with a loving Creator's eyes--with vision for who they are, and vision for who they are becoming.  And he is assembling us together into the household of God, designing the house just as he sees fit. 
One of my favorite expressions of the creativity love requires is in one of Vincent VanGogh's letters to his younger brother, thanking him for his financial support.  He writes this:
"You are kind to painters, and I tell you, the more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. You will say that then it would be a good thing to do without art and artists.... [B]ut then the Greeks and the French and the old Dutchmen accepted art...and I do not think that anyone is the better for abhorring artists and their art. At present I do not think my pictures worthy of the advantages I have received from you. But once they are worthy, I swear that you will have created them as much as I, and that we are making them together."
(Emphasis mine.  The entire letter is here).
Art-making, art-supporting, and creatively loving others--all expressions of praise to a marvelously creative Lord.
 For Reflection:
1)  If you are an artist in any sense (musician, sculptor, painter, knitter, coloring book scribbler), consider how the practice of your craft draws you into the presence of a creative God.  How can your art form become a place of prayer, keeping company with God?
2)  What does it mean for you that in this passage God provides everything the people need to obey his directions in constructing the tabernacle?  What do you need from the Lord as you seek to obey him in your own life? 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Everyday Spirituality: Speech

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Scripture for Sunday, June 18:  James 3:1-12
Additional Scripture:  James 1:19-27John 1:1-15, noticing the character of Jesus here

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"The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell....  [N]o human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."  James 3:6-8

The starkness of James' warning about the destructive power of speech is enough to make this creation-affirming, redemption-believing pastor cringe a little.  Really, James--enough with the hyperbole.  Aren't you overstating the dangers of our words?  Where's the potential for God's good purposes to come through?

Yet the power of James' warning piques my curiosity:  What effects of flaming speech did James witness and deplore within the first communities of scattered Jesus-followers?  Which rumors had reduced reputations to ashes?  What false teaching had undercut the gospel?  What relationships had been burned? 

Get a handle on your tongues, James warns.  They create a world of hurt.

It's helpful to gain some perspective on James' view of the power of speech through the opening verses of his letter.  There he reminds the readers of their identity--that God "chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created."  (James 1:18). 

Just as God's creative word called the universe into being, his redemptive word in Christ calls a people into being  These people are given life, called to represent God truthfully in their life and in their speech.  And because they have been invested with a God-given capacity to create, and because they reflect God, the words of God's people matter.

Words create worlds.  We know this instinctively when we have crucial conversations.  When we have disagreements with people we love, we weigh every word.  We are "quick to listen."  We are careful in our tone and in our word choice.  We seek to be people who follow a Lord of "grace and truth" when we are silent, and when we speak.  We recognize that once verbalize our thoughts, we can't take the words back.

So, as we receive James' warning this week, we pay attention to the ponderings of our hearts and the words of our mouths--"for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of"  (Luke 6:45). 

Lord, fill us with the mind and words of Christ.

For Reflection:

1.  What contexts call out the best in you in terms of words used wisely?  What contexts make it harder to control your tongue?

2.  Truthful and gracious words can hurt and still lead to restoration and growth in relationships.  Sometimes words harm--cutting a person down to the core of who they are. 
If you have been harmed by someone else's words, ask God to enter that pain and work in it with you.  And if your words have been the cause of harm that hasn't healed, prayerfully consider what the Spirit may ask of you in the work of restoration.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Everyday Spirituality: Clothing

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Scripture for Sunday, June 11:  Numbers 15:37-41, Psalm 104:1-4
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I don't necessarily think of getting dressed in the morning as a spiritual task.  But a couple of my friends' lives have challenged my thinking on this.

One of my friends is a chaplain.  Her usual habit is to pray as she chooses her jewelry each day, knowing that her earrings or watch may start a conversation that helps her begin a relationship with someone who doesn't know Jesus.

Another friend is a mother of four young children.  She and her husband buy most of their children's clothes at secondhand stores--not for affordability, but for creation care reasons.  "If we can keep usable clothes from ending up in landfills, we feel like we should do that," my friend says.

Truth be told, many mornings I'm relieved simply to have something clean and dry to wear.  But my friends' awareness of the potential significance of their small choices, and their conscious desire to cooperate with God through those choices, inspire me.

In Numbers 15, God teaches the Israelites to sew tassels on the corners of their clothes.  Since wearing clothes is an inescapable reality of life post-fall, the tassels reminded the people of their lives with God everywhere they went.  It was way of calling to mind God's commands and promises at every turn--a visual reminder to every Israelite and to those they encountered that they were set apart as God's people.  

This Sunday, Rev. Jonker will consider the everyday spirituality of clothing.  We'll think together about how clothes can communicate belonging or separateness from others; how they communicate beauty (God himself "wraps himself in light, as with a garment" and clothes the lilies of the field in unspeakable splendor); and how clothes impact our spirits. 

What kinds of clothes attract you (for yourself, or for others)?  What kinds of clothes do you find off-putting?  Why?

Do you think of choosing your clothes as a kind of spiritual discipline?  How could choosing your clothes become a moment of connection with God?