Wednesday, September 11, 2013

THE WAY THAT LEADS TO PEACE

I have struggled in my thoughts and in my prayers for a response to the outrage that has and is taken/taking place in Syria and the appropriate words just wouldn't come to me. My bishop's response pretty much sums up the results of my own reflection so I would like to share Bishop Kiesey's response with my followers:

Take the way that leads to peace

Dear Friends,
Once again my heart is breaking as I have watched with horror and sadness the reports and pictures coming out of Syria. As I have seen the rows of the dead – men, women, and children – I hear the words of Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

And I admit that my first reaction – a very human, emotional, and understandable reaction – is one of retaliation.

How else can we make it clear that this kind of incredible violence against some of the most innocent among us is wrong and cannot be tolerated? How else can we stop this kind of senseless killing?

And then I remember other words of Jesus which say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

And I realize, once again, how Jesus’ message still turns the wisdom of the world upside down. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, seems to make sense. You took from me, and now I take from you. And yet, Jesus understood that a world where retaliation and revenge are the norm, can only breed more violence – more retaliation – more hatred – and more brokenness. And the cycle of killing and violence continues.

So – once again – I have been forced to dig deeply into my own faith and beliefs, and to consider how I must live out the words of Christ in a world that constantly pushes me to do otherwise.

And my faith tells me this: violence cannot be the answer. Christ came to this world as the Prince of Peace. I am not wise enough, nor politically savvy enough, nor educated enough to know exactly what the answer will be, but I do know that there must be another way. A way that leads to peace. A way that brings us closer to the vision of a world at one, as we read in Ephesians:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace. ... So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:13-14a, 19)

So friends, as Christians and as followers of the Prince of Peace, let us do all we can to be peacemakers – in our lives, in our communities, and in our world.
Let us pray constantly and deeply:
For the people of Syria, whose loved ones have been killed or injured, and whose lives are most deeply affected by this time of violence;
For the leaders of our nation, and nations across the world, that their wisdom will guide us to a better future and a world at peace;
For our families and loved ones who put their lives in harm’s way everyday, as they defend us and do their part to keep our world safe;
That the vision of a world where there are no more dividing lines – no more strangers – no more “us and them” – might become a reality.
In the words of the Gospel of John - the 14th chapter:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you."

May it be so, dear Lord – may it be so.

With you in the Work of Christ –

Bishop Deb

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Sadness of Oklahoma Is the Burden of All Americans

  
 
This could happen to any of us in the Midwest but it didn't. It happened in the small town of  Moore, Oklahoma.

Moore, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Kids screamed for their parents and parents hollered their children's names, walking and searching in panic in the parking lot of Briarwood Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado that wrecked their town had just left. The sky behind them was still dark. Rain fell in a light mist.

"Caleb! Caleb!" one woman could be heard screaming, as another woman, bloody-faced, walked zombie-like through the crowd, holding a young boy's hand.

"Step over the wire!" someone shouted. Adults and children zig-zagged past each other. One man went to a little boy standing alone whose face was just then cracking into a full-out cry. The man put his arm around the kid and they both looked out into the chaotic parking lot, both apparently searching for the boy's parents.

One mother who spotted her son sitting with his teacher on a curb, gently grabbed the boy's hands and stood him up and then leaned her whole body over him, hugging him. She cried and then laughed and cupped his face.

The teacher said, "He was so brave!"

The mother then embraced the teacher. "Thank you," she wept, "thank you."

How are we to respond to such tragedy as we watch it unfold before our eyes on the TV screen as if it is another program to distract and amuse? Do we consider how we can help financially with a gift to an organization like United Methodist Commission on Relief (UMCOR) where we know that the dollars will go where they are intended? Do we pray for God to come along side these poor people and fill their hearts with His love and compassion at a time when they are undoubtedly asking "why"? Do we know of an organization that we could join up with and travel out to Oklahoma and use our talents to help them rebuild? Do we look around and see what we have been blessed with and acknowledge that all of it could be gone in an instant just like Moore, OK? Are we ready to let go of our worldly possessions and turn them over to the One who made it possible to have them? Or do our "things" possess us? 

This would be a good time to consider our own state of being; both physical and spiritual and make sure that we are ready if a similar occurrence were to happen in our lives. Let's use this tragic event to wake us up to the reality of our transitory existence in this world and prepare for the life which will be eternal.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

SANDY HOOKS ELEMENTARY SLAUGHTER



As we continue to anticipate the coming of the Christ-child during this Advent season, we are forced to pause in our joyful anticipation and compelled to reflect on the anticipation that 20 families in Newtown, CT. experienced 6 and 7 years ago. For them, their anticipation of their boy children and girl children has become bitter sweet as they deal with the act of a madman in the Sandy Hooks Elementary School who took the lives of 20 6 & 7 year olds – 8 boys and 12 girls as well as 6 of their teachers.

The event raises many questions for us as we try to deal with the reality of this tragedy and consider the vulnerability of our own children and grandchildren. - our neighbors’ children and our nieces and nephews, and grand nieces and nephews.

How can people of faith deal with such tragedy? How can a loving God allow such a thing to happen? What can be done to prevent a recurrence in the future? How can people without faith deal with such tragedy?

I have to confess to my own feeling of inadequacy due to the pain that I am feeling myself but I can try to bring some sense of hope into the conversation.

I would like to begin by quoting the words of our own bishop Debra Kiesey:

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  - John 1:5 
This upcoming Friday marks the Winter Solstice, the moment in the northern hemisphere when we experience the longest day of darkness during the year.  For many of us, Friday, December 14, will instead feel like the darkest day of 2012.  It was on this quiet Friday morning, in a quaint town in Connecticut, that a young man wearing combat gear and armed with multiple weapons walked into an elementary school and took the lives of 20 little children and six adults who cared for them.

For the loved ones of those killed in Newtown, Conn., we struggle to find ways to express our deep collective grief and anguish over this senseless loss of innocent life.   We mourn the loss of all these Children of God whose promising futures ended so abruptly.  We mourn the loss of innocence and feelings of security in our communities.  We mourn the loss of feelings of joy, celebration and goodwill in this Advent season, overshadowed by a dark event.   

For the victims and all those impacted by this tragedy in Newtown, we pray that God surrounds and comforts them as they try to cope with such incomprehensible loss.  We also pray for the young man that was responsible for creating this pain on Friday.  Help us understand how he could commit such a senseless act to deal with his own personal darkness.

In times of grief, we are reminded that darkness is no match for light.  As the 1677 hymn “Christ is the World’s Light” proclaims, “Christ is the world’s light, Christ and none other; born in our darkness, he became our brother. No one can serve him and despise another. Who else unites us, one in God the Father?”

For, I am reminded that as people of light, we are drawn to follow the illumination given freely to us in the form of a savior born over 2,000 years ago.  The promise of a new life, free from sin.  The promise of unconditional love and forgiveness.   The promise of a light that can shatter any darkness.  

Today, we pray that the light of Jesus Christ reaches the hurting people of Newtown and the hearts of all of us who need to feel God’s love.

Blessings,

Bishop Deborah Lieder-Kiesey"

“For, I am reminded that as people of light, we are drawn to follow the illumination given freely to us in the form of a savior born over 2,000 years ago.  The promise of a new life, free from sin.  The promise of unconditional love and forgiveness.   The promise of a light that can shatter any darkness.”

Those words of encouragement must uphold each one of us who grieve over the senseless loss of these dear ones.

And hear these words from Scripture:

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
    and calls them each by name.
Psalm 147

We can believe that on Friday, December 14, 2012 God welcomed 27 new stars into His heaven and called them each by name. He also grieved over the loss of one whom He loved; who chose eternal separation from Him: Adam Lanza – a troubled young man who on Friday began by killing his own mother before moving on to the children and their teachers.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.
Psalm 46

Many have asked, “Where was God when this happened?” He was in the same place that He always is; as He declared, “I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.”

He is here! Now and forever! Even though He is banned from our schools by men, He is there because He is God. He sees what goes on and He grieves with and for us. But He will not interfere because He gave us a free will to do good and to do evil. Many choose to do evil and we all suffer from their choices even as we suffer from the choices of Adam and Eve to disobey God in Paradise. He does intercede in some miraculous way in some instances – like teacher Victoria Soto who protected her first graders from Adam Lanza and paid for it with her life but directed him in another direction before he killed her.

What can be done to prevent further tragedies like the Sandy Hooks Elementary massacre? I have a suggestion, also from Scripture. We prayed it many times during the political process in our country. “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

I think that we all recognize that we who are known by the Name of His Son are His people. I believe that we have prayed – perhaps even humbled ourselves (in service and love of neighbor) but have we yet turned from our wicked ways?

Have we put an end to the slaughter of the unborn in our land? Do we still tolerate sin in whatever way it presents itself – denominational exclusionism and pride, judgment of those who worship differently than us, do we let our children stay home from church because “it’s too much hassle” to make them come with us, or do we drop them off at church and then pick them up afterward thereby giving no example of the importance of regular community worship, do we teach them to tithe from an early age, do we keep our mouths shut when God’s Name is used in vain, do we avoid the Sacraments?

Perhaps you’ve never thought of the above or similar activities as sin. We should be guided by Jesus’ brother, James’, warning when he said, “Anyone, [then,] who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 4:17

How do those who have no faith deal with such tragedies? I don’t know! Because “…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen.

Post Script: I can't help wondering how many of those dear souls would still be with us if teachers and administrators had had the option to arm themselves and defeat the evil that visited Sandy Hooks Elementary. Unarmed citizens are like ducks on a pond to individuals intent on evil.

Monday, September 17, 2012

MIDEAST VIOLENCE

So we've had several days to listen to the varying reports regarding the spontaneity vs. premeditation of the events of last week in Libya. I've heard some say that it is because of a movie trailer that insults Mohammed and others that the youtube post was just a pretext for violence. Someone claimed today that one of the rioters was heard to say, "we got him" referring to our ambassador. Others have questioned who it is that just happens to have an RPG with them when violence breaks out. I'm torn and concerned. What do others think? How do you feel about the response of the Obama administration vs. the Romney response? More for another day ...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

WARS & RUMORS OF WAR

This is a scene outside of either our embassy in Cairo or our consulate that was attacked in Bengazi yesterday. When I see things like this going on around the world, I can't help but look to Scripture for answers and the only sense that I can make out of the events in our world today is that Jesus said that there would be such times prior to His return. You may say that this has been going on for millenia and I would certainly have to agree with you but then I would also have to agree with His warning that we don't know the time so we have to be ready whenever it arrives. Are you ready?

I talked with a younger brother this morning (actually, they're all younger) to discuss where and when he and I and our wives can get together before he and his depart for Florida for the winter. It crossed my mind that our plans COULD  be very important since with both of us being of retirement age - although neither is retired yet - it is possible that we may not have another opportunity this side of heaven to get together. Perhaps that sounds gruesome but I think it is just reality.

Switch gears: I'm so concerned about our country. I went and saw the movie 2016 OBAMA'S AMERICA Monday night. Please see it and diligently apply yourselves to making wise decisions at the polls on November 6.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

RANDOM THOUGHTS

I was thinking about our last vacation earlier this evening which prompted me to go into my photo album where I've recorded much of it. I ran across this picture taken of me in Key West at the southernmost point in the country. My mind is wandering in two (now three) different directions. 1. I pray for the people of Key West and all of the people in Florida and the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Isaac performs his stormy destruction. Be safe, my friends. 2. I feel like the future of my country may be like this position in Key West - at its southernmost or lowest point in her history. I beg EVERY qualified voter to educate yourselves on the candidates and the issues that our country has to deal with. 3. Two members of my congregations (one from each church) are undergoing major - life changing - surgeries this week. My prayers go out for Ruth and Glen and I ask you to join yours with mine. God is good!

Friday, August 10, 2012

WHAT TIME IS IT?









A pastor friend of mine shared this with his congregation and with me. He said that I could post it here:


1Chronicles 12-32:
“Also of the sons of Issachar men of understanding, that knew all times to order what Israel should do, two hundred principal men: and all the rest of the tribe followed ...”

This has always been an intriguing scripture to me, probably never more than today. So much has been written about the times. Bob Dylan’s “the times are a changin’” seems to echo through the corridors of the past. In June Michelle and I took a short vacation to southern Indiana. We camped on the way in our tent…weather was great! One of the places we camped at was a state park that contained two great examples of the changing times. 

One was a museum near the park’s entrance that housed astronaut “Gus” Grissom’s memorabilia including one of the capsules he flew in.  A half mile from Grissom’s Memorial was a village from the early to mid-1800’s with a working gristmill. It was powered by a giant overshot waterwheel that looked like a wet dripping Ferris Wheel without lights, and a water flume built on stone pillars. The houses were built of logs hewed square with axes and neatly made dovetailed corners. (As we walked through the buildings it suddenly dawned on me that three of my grandparents were born and raised in cabins much like these!)

The contrast between the two was amazing! In less than a century technology went from water and steam power to atom splitting and the space age. My grandparents witnessed both of these worlds! But time is moving on….we never can go back, not permanently, perhaps for a “visit” like at the park, but only a brief visit. 

The times have changed, some things for the betterment of man and some for the worse. 

My point to ponder is what are the times we are in? Issachar’s sons were wise spiritual men, so much so that their example has been recorded for centuries. As we look about and talk with people it seems that very few understand the times we live in. We see the negative changes in society and we lament, “Can’t we go back to how it was?!” The answer is no. Walt Disney and Bonanza will never be back on primetime Sunday evening TV!  

Today’s America is far from yesterday’s. Today good is being called evil and evil good, as the scripture predicts. Those who stand up or speak up for righteousness or speak against immorality are being targeted and accused of being intolerant, guilty of a hate crime or having a phobia. God bless Chick-fil-a. We are also becoming a fatherless nation and the ramification of that is staggering. The government of our nation is being greatly threatened as judges and politicians are making and interpreting laws beyond precedent and the framework of our U.S. Constitution. Many politicians and the news media fuel the culture war using the paradigm of their ideology and terrorism is unleashed abroad and at home like never before.  It seems that everything is being shaken and it is all landing upside down!

Take heart brother and sister for we may be surprised by all of this, but God is not, Jesus warned us of these times! They are perilous times, the world in turmoil and wars and rumors of wars. It is not a time to live for our own pleasures and self-interest in an ephemeral (living for one day only) state. No, but a time to devote our lives for His Kingdom. It is a time to re-evaluate our priorities and to cultivate our love for Jesus Christ, one another and the community at large. Being a part of Christ’s Body, the Church we are to be under His leadership and we can make a difference in today and tomorrow and the next day.

Let me encourage you with the words of our Lord Jesus;
 But whenever these things begin to happen, take heart and lift up your heads, because your salvation draws near.” Luke 21:28

The times are short, let us be diligent and make the most of them! Amen. 

December 23, 1776 Thomas Paine
“THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Pastor Gary A. Smith
New Life Christian Fellowship,
Alpena, Mi.