Category Archive: Latest from the MethoBlogoSphere

Nov 27 2014

Threads from Henry's Web: Rambling Through Ephesians

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Wedding Band with Ephesians 3:14-21 insideThis past Sunday I was reading the Lectionary passages for Christ the King Sunday in which the epistle is Ephesians 1:15-23, in which Paul gives thanks for the Ephesian believers. I find the style of Ephesians quite fascinating, and especially these long prayer passages. In fact, I used two of them in a pamphlet I wrote some years ago, Prayer Scriptures for Prayer Warriors in which I paraphrased some passages of scripture into the form of prayers.

The image to the left is of the inside of my wedding band, which is inscribed Ephesians 3:14-21. This passage of scripture was read as a prayer and Jody’s and my wedding, and it’s something we want to be reminded of regularly.

As I finished reading Ephesians 1:15-23 I couldn’t help but go on reading. I ended up reading the entire book and then going back and reading the first 14 verses as well. There were a number of things that struck me and I’m just going to mention a few thoughts that came to me as I read. One element, that of thanksgiving, stuck with me through the week. I’m going to blog about it for my Energion Publications thanksgiving message. This is a rambling post as the title indicates, so be warned!

Even though I read 1:1-14 last, let me start at the beginning of the book. Right in verse one the words “by God’s will” stood out to me. Paul is an apostle by God’s will. Frequently I think we remember our will and our gifts in connection with whatever vocation we follow. We may acknowledge God’s call, but we remember mostly the human process and recognition. I have heard people talk about who was involved in laying hands on them and praying, as though this was more important than the call of God. I do not want to diminish the historical connection to the community that’s involved in the human recognition, but I think we’re in much more danger of forgetting that we are who we are by God’s will. I can say, “I’m Henry Neufeld, publisher by the will of God.”

Now there could be a tendency to make this a matter of pride. I am what I am by God’s will, therefore all must recognize how important I am. But this isn’t the point here at all. In fact, we will see some comments on our call later, the call to be a servant, not an overlord. We like to read “chosenness” and “calling” as something that makes us special and puts us above. That’s not the way it works in God’s kingdom.

I’m going to skip past the entire Thanksgiving prayer of 1:15-23, as I plan to base a thanksgiving message on it, but it has been an encouragement to me all week. I’ve been thinking about thanking God  always, particularly for people. Who are the people you can thank God for?

Ephesians 2:8-10 provides one of the greatest encapsulations of the gospel in a few words that we’re going to find anywhere. I think if we read it frequently, it would help us. We’re saved by grace through face, and it’s not the result of works. But at the same time one of the gifts God gives is to begin restoring to us the purpose for which we were created. One analogy I like to use for salvation is that it is like the gift of a toolkit. A toolkit is a wonderful thing, but merely having it is not very useful. There are many things it can do. Now the toolkit analogy can break down. All happens as God works in our lives. Both our justification and our sanctification are God’s gifts to us. We may debate the matter of choice between Arminians and Calvinists, but whether we have a choice about receiving this gift and remaining in God’s plan, but in either case it is totally God’s power.

2:20-21 – the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Christ the cornerstone remind me of Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:1-4, an interesting set of parallels.

3:12 – both “access” and “boldness” remind me of Hebrews 4:14-16.

4:1 – walk/live in a way that is worthy of your calling. I tie this back to verse 1, by the will of God. Our temptation is to think “special me.” God seems to see it the other way around. We need to live up to the calling. Continuing through verse 14, look for all the instances of various forms of “one” and “all.” It’s an interesting theme. Again, this looks back to our calling. We are always called to help build up the body.

4:15 – “speak the truth in love” is one of the most difficult ones to keep, but the most important. We are often tempting to abandon truth for a form of love, or, on the other hand to abandon love while we boldly defend some height of truth. Very few are the vigorous defenders of truth who nonetheless are able to do so with respect and in love.

4:22 – I’ve heard Ephesians and other epistles divided between the faith and salvation part and the “works” or the “what then” part. Ephesians mixes these together with another example here. It is because Christ is faithful that we can leave behind the former behavior.

4:34 – giving grace to others. There is a call of grace. We are treated graciously and called to gracious living. God provides the example

5:1-2 – imitators of God. That’s a high standard, but it’s one that is quite common in scripture. This is one reason it’s very important to look at the nature of God. If we are to be imitators, we need to know what God is like. Is God a God of violence or gentleness? Love or hate? Or are those alternatives actually appropriate? Perhaps God combines characteristics in ways our minds find difficult to comprehend. “Be imitators” is a challenging task.

We should note further that this opens the section on family relations, which is often read as though it is about authority. But as we get to 5:25 we realize that husbands, whatever else they may be charged with, are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. That means being ready to die for her. If we’re fighting for any position here it’s for the privilege of being the first to die. Any volunteers?

Of course chapter 6 brings us the familiar “armor of God” passage. We should remember that this armor is designed to be used in fending off evil, not in attacking other people. The spiritual warfare metaphor can be very helpful, but if someone doesn’t pay attention to the entire message, it can be used very destructively. I’d strongly recommend the entire book of Ephesians so as to understand the context in which the armor is provided.

Be imitators of God. Imitate God. Ouch! Wow! I think that one will stick with me for some time.

You may wonder why I wanted to ramble through this book. There are two reasons:

1) I’m frequently asked how one can enjoy reading the Bible. Many people find it to be a task. I don’t find it easy to answer this question empathetically. For me the odds are more that I will get carried away reading the Bible and get lost in thought. I didn’t come by that attitude by my own efforts. To a large extent it started with the way my parents taught me. Scripture can be hard to follow in early reading. The first time you read through the Bible or even just the New Testament you may find it slow going. But the more you know, and the more you can draw connections, the more interesting it gets. My early studies of computers were similar. I had to put the work into early reading so that later reading could be much easier. In the case of the Bible, my parents got me started, and it’s a start I’ve been thankful for ever since.

2) It’s important to do devotional study. One of the strong temptations of my life is to neglect my devotional life while telling myself it’s OK. I’m reading plenty of Bible passages in preparing to teach Sunday School or to write something. I’m usually at some point in the editorial process of a good Christian book. So my excuse for not doing devotional reading is that I’m reading plenty of scripture. But you also need to spend time with God through scripture, not checking references or debating someone’s theology or preparing a manuscript. Ephesians  has stuck with me through the week and helped me deal with certain things that were going on. If I hadn’t let God lead me to do this reading, I would have had a more difficult time during the week.

So I encourage you to find time for devotional reading, time when God can lead you to the next passage or the next thought. And keep at it until it becomes second nature to you, however long that may take!




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Nov 27 2014

salvaged faith: Thankful #NaBloPoMo

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Didn’t get too many pictures today, but full of thankfulness.

For giggles and tickles…
For a table full of pie…
For the most amazing side dishes (including the brussel sprouts with bacon and bleu cheese)…
For lots of different families around the tables…


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Nov 27 2014

David F. Watson: The Cynical Christian?

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I once heard my seminary preaching professor, John Holbert, say, “There’s no such thing as a cynical Christian.” That claim has really stuck with me over the years because I do consider myself a Christian, and yet if I’m honest I know I can be pretty cynical, too. At one level, I believe that Holbert was right,…

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Nov 27 2014

We Your People, Ours the Journey: Sermon: When Did We See You?

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prayer poverty man old“When Did We See You?”

(November 23, 2014) Jesus praises those righteous ones, who extend care to the hurting, hungry, sick, and suffering, because in so doing, they have offered care to him. However, they are surprised to earn this praise, because they were not consciously looking for Jesus, only doing “the right thing.” Many times when we see examples of people living their faith out in service, they are not consciously looking for Jesus, but perhaps have so cultivated a habit of love and service toward others that it becomes second nature for them. We look at the examples of Dr. Martin Salia and of Arnold Abbott, two men from the week’s news who each live lives of perpetual love and service– do they see Jesus, or just do the right thing? Does it matter? (Matthew 25:31-46)

I began my sermon by first playing this video clip, from United Methodist Communications.

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Nov 27 2014

We Your People, Ours the Journey: Guest Sermon – Sermon on the Amount

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“Sermon on the Amount”

Sermon by Bonnie Marden, guest preacher, of the United Methodist Foundation of New England

This is the sermon delivered on November 9 at Lebanon United Methodist Church as part of our Consecration Sunday service.

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Nov 27 2014

Wheneftalks: The More We Are Thankful, The More We Are Thankful

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It’s Thanksgiving morning, and I thought I’d jot off a few thoughts for the day.

The Judge is busy cooking. The Divine Miss M is watching the parade on TV. Daisy is freaking out. It must be it’s own special hell to be a dog with Thanksgiving cooking going on all around you.

Unlike many years, we’re here in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day instead of at the lake. Dennise’s Dad, sister, and our niece and her family, are coming over later. The challenge for Thanksgiving this year is for it not to seem like a chore. For it not to devolve into a rote requirement, like writing Thank You Notes for gifts we never wanted in the first place.

I mean, it’s been a challenging year, as I’ve noted several times. Lot of losses in our congregation. Lots of losses in our personal life too…mentors at church…a Mother…an Aunt. Even today, I am thinking of two church families who’ve lost a mother and brother in the last 48-hours.

Then, of course there’s the mess of the world. I mean, how can we sit here in our warm, safe homes while Ferguson is going on? So much distrust, from both police and citizens. So much anger and moral outrage.

Being a cop is a very hard job these days. So is just being a black man. I can’t truly fathom either one, truthfully. Neither are my experience.

I can say that it seems to me too many black men and boys (often unarmed, or with toy guns) are being gunned down by police. That is my observation. When I think of how dozens of white men parade through Starbucks, Chipotle, and Target with actual semi-automatic weapons slung across their backs, while black men and boys continue to be gunned down for carrying toy ones, or totally unarmed, I have to acknowledge, as a white man, that there is deep-seated racism still at work in our society.

That will anger defenders of the police, I understand. And, as I’ve said, cops have a terribly hard job. I’m a defender of them too. But they also have the greater burden. To whom much is given, much is required.

And it really is happening. I don’t mean to ruin your thanksgiving any more than it might be already, but here’s a horrible video that shows (Skip forward to the 2:25 mark for this story…) once again, another black boy (12-years-old) being gunned down by police, before he could ever respond at all. Just like the young man in the Walmart recently.

Citizens become more frustrated and angry toward police. Police become more distrustful of the public. People on all sides bow their backs, and stiffen their resolves, feeling morally justified in their positions. And 24-hour news cycle feeds our insatiable hunger for the titillation of it all.

As a friend said the other day, it’s hard to not see the images from Ferguson as a new kind of “Disaster Porn.” And everybody watching —both defenders of cops and defenders of the protestors— primarily to find their own preconceived version of reality reinforced by the tragedy of it all.

So, all these things are simmering in my head today. Meanwhile, it’s Thanksgiving. And I’m left with the same question I know many of you are left with: How to find the space to be thankful, even in the midst of it all?

Let me give it a shot.

And let me start with something that always helps slap me back toward gratitude: Louis CK.

The routine that first turned me on to Louis was a bit he did on the Conan O’Brien Show some years back: “Everything’s Amazing, and Nobody’s Happy.”

Have a look:

He’s so right. Everything IS amazing, and nobody’s happy. We are surrounded by social and technological marvels that people of another generation, hell even our grandparents, would have considered to be “miracles.”

Louis CK’s rant about how we are ungrateful for the “miracle of flight” is a metaphor for all of it. Far too often, we’re so busy plugging through our lives, churning past our daily “to dos,” that we fail to see the miracle of life.

Consider this….

If you or your family make more than $40,000, then you are among the richest 0.5 % of people in the world.

If you have a college education, you are among the 6% most educated people in the world.

Very few of us do not know where our next meal is coming from.

Almost all of us have indoor plumbing, and central heat and air.

(That is, those I assume who will be reading this blog…)

Sometimes you’ve got to boil it down to the smallest part…the most obvious things…before we can truly broaden our thanks out.

But here’s what I know. Thanksgiving is a spiritual process. And the more we are thankful…the more we are thankful.

That’s the way it works. The more you practice the “practice of giving thanks,” the more things you find to be thankful for. The more thankfulness will grow inside of you.

And, especially if you are an idealist –especially if you’re one of those who years to change the world for the better– it’s very likely that you need to give thanks more often than you do. It’s very likely that you need, more often than you do, to “put your own oxygen mask on first.” Because if we give, and give, and give we can become totally depleted and hopeless. And then we aren’t good for anybody, even ourselves. In fact, regularly giving thanks is a part of how we can keep going back.

The social problems that have caused Ferguson will still be there tomorrow. Everyone will have more to say about them then. So will the losses of your personal life. But today, start the practice of thanksgiving anew for this year. Commit to be thankful and grateful for the things we often forget. Like the  blessing of a warm house and being among the wealthiest folks on the planet….etc…

Here’s what I did to start today: I went out a took at the turning trees all around me. Here in Dallas, Fall comes late and almost always seems to peak around Thanksgiving Weekend. There were a lot of folks walking around the creek just now..perhaps burning a few calories before they stuff their faces later.

IMG_2119I’m grateful for the beautiful trees all around us. I’m so grateful for my family and friends…musicians, longtime friends…family. I’m so grateful to the beautiful people of Northaven.

I’m grateful for warmth and for the chance to be able to write you all of this right now.

I love Anne Lamotte’s writings, and especially what she says about prayer.

She says one of her favorite prayers is simply “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” That’s it. That’s the whole prayer. Deceptively, but perfect, simple.

Start there.

Every small and great thing you can think of to be thankful for, just whisper the prayer, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

And you’ll find that, even with the mess of the world, the more you are thankful the more you are thankful.

Filed under: Angels and Pins, Life Happens Tagged: anne lamotte, Ferguson, thanksgiving

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