Receive The Holy Spirit Child of God

fullsizeoutput_1138Today is another one of those special days in the life of any family, church or child. Today our granddaughter, Abby was confirmed and received into the full membership of the United Methodist Church. The preacher said we’ve made this a special worship service because this is a significant thing that is happening in our church and in the lives of these youth.

Ever since the Church has tried to identify itself as the Church, there have been questions about God, how God works, how can we be the Church, grow in the likeness of Christ, and be fit for heaven?

The Wesleyan Methodist folks, now partially known as United Methodist understood the movement of God as GRACE. In other words you or I haven’t done anything to deserve our salvation. We cannot work, buy, will, beg entice, cajole, be in the right family, at the right time, in the right place. We did NADDA… NYET, ZIP, NOTHING… except receive that gift which God had already prepared for us as a child of God.

I think that is why I so appreciate the theology of infant baptism. In that liturgy the child receives the grace of a loving God… not even being able to know or follow that God. Parents, families, guardians, and the church make a covenant with God to live before this child the love of God in such a way that this child will have every opportunity and advantage of living a Christian life. As they grow in years they also are growing in the knowledge and grace of Almighty God. Somewhere along that path, usually around the age of 12-16 (Baptist call this the age of accountability) when they feel led to be confirmed in the faith… that is they want more and ask to become responsible for their own life of faith and their continue journey in growing in God. No longer do they live on the faith of their parents. Now they work out their own faith. Now they are expected to seek out their own calling in the faith; how will my faith be expressed – lived out in the day to day world?

Confirmation answers the question of how do I grow in my faith, become closer to God and more in unity with the Holy Spirit and the world around me? How is that possible for such a newbie in the faith as me? Well, today through the grace of God you were reminded that Jesus bestowed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples for the work ahead of them. Confirmation is a reminder of Jesus saying to each confirmand: Receive the Holy Spirit. Be empowered by The Spirit of God for the work ahead of you.

Today you are, as all of us are, recommitting ourselves to the moving presence of Christ in our lives… which, as we listen with our heart and soul and mind, draws us closer to the life of Christ. Today we are also reminded that we are who we are and what we are and who we will become in faith by the grace of Jesus Christ freely moving in and through our daily living.

I commend to you one of my favorite passages of scripture is this text below:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height; to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Congratulations to all who were confirmed today… to all who have been or will be confirmed soon… Especially to our precious Abby; May you be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Grace and Peace
Steve


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SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP!

thIt is amazing what you can see on a blank page on your computer screen… as you face an open window… peering out on the beauty of God’s world and the unlimited possibilities which lie before us. All the distractions and clutter are gone and you simply have thoughts and words to ponder and arrange in a speakable, hearable manner.

Today is one of those days. Our busy week has a few down hours in front of us before we start again. What to do with that precious time?

This morning at breakfast I just sat there pondering my Rice Krispies. Have you ever done that? It makes one wonder, right?

Why is my today Krispies quieter than they were when I was a kid. Have they done something to them to make them quieter… like a Snap, Crackle and Pop silencer? You have to really listen closely to get the old time full effect of the cereal you expect to speak to you in clear, happy tones. I rake my spoon back and forth through the milk, across the top of my Krispies and they wake up a little but not enough for today’s price of talking cereal.

Have you noticed that some of your Krispies will make their way to the top rim of your bowl and actually jump off if given the chance? You have to have your spoon at the ready to scrape them back into the milk or they will jump to the table. Why do they do that? Is the fear of being eaten greater than ending up on the table and then in the trash can? It is hard to think like a Krispie would think.

My snap, crackle and pop don’t mean the same thing they did when I was a kid. Back then there was excitement about being a pal with the Krispie Trio. Now days if the Krispie Kids are at your breakfast table it means you can’t have bacon and eggs, grits, hash browns, and or pancakes. No! Now days because you have all these medical things you can’t pronounce without a dictionary wrong with you… you must settle for a subdued snap, crackle and pop.

Today my snap, crackle and pop have more to do with the sounds I make as I move toward the breakfast table. Mostly they are the sounds of old bones, tired muscles, and buttons popping off pajamas that have also become worn and frayed. I can’t find the milk because I am standing in front of and peering into the microwave. Once I realize that and look around making sure no one has seen me, I move to the big boxy thing called a refrigerator, retrieve the milk, and try to carry it to the table. Milk is heavier today than it was when I was younger… have you noticed that, too? The snapping, crackling and popping accompany me in sitting down, picking up all the stuff I dropped on the floor, my trip back to the sink… and for the rest of the day. Today there is no snap in my steps… a lot of crackle in my bones… and moments of popping off to sleep. Then snap and crackle are gone, but I do look forward to the popping off to nap time.

Perhaps we just need to turn up the iTunes at breakfast and not worry about those quiet Krispies. They are better for you than the other stuff. Find a way to enjoy their company knowing that they are helping to make you better. Today, just enjoy the pops of quietness. I am willing to bet you deserve it.

Grace and Peace
Steve


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Back In The Saddle Again

th
Well, today I did it… drove to Salisbury to spend an hour with Mark. A little light headed as I walked to the prison, but I forgot it all when we began to renew our friendship. We talked and laughed like old times. The time passed quickly as we shared our feelings about UNC/DUKE, Carolina Panthers, the political world, his job, my no job, my future and his. Through our talk I realized how very proud of Mark I have been and continue to be more and more with every visit. Did you know that his GED program is one of the best in the state. He is helping people learn every day things that will open doors for them once they are released from prison. He talks about the men who will never get a GED… but are learning to read, add, subtract, write and do some reasoning. You should see the smile on his face and the sparkle in his eyes as he talks about the hope he has for these men.

Southeastern Seminary will soon be offering a four year masters program in one (maybe more) of the prisons. Mark has really become interested in theological questions and the extrapolation of theological concepts. He is becoming more well read in Christian and spiritual beliefs which, I believe, is fueling his quest for the theological journey. I hope that he will be able to explore more deeply this theological offering from Southeastern.

I hope you will continue to encourage him in his time of searching and growing deeper in his quest for meaning and purpose.

As you can tell from the picture, I am ready to ride, just not real fast. I am happy that I was able to complete this journey today… it was well worth the two hour drive. I am pleased that Mark is doing so well. He is hopeful, courageous, and seems to be at peace with where he is and where he is heading. Keep up the good work, Mark. Even more than that, keep the faith.

Grace and Peace
Steve


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The Week After

thAs most of you know I am a sermon junkie… that is I love to listen to good preachers preaching good sermons. I regularly stream the sermons and worship services of pastors like: Rev. Dr. James Howell at Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, the very Rev. Dr. Randy Hollerith the Dean of the Cathedral at Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC, Duke Chapel, Riverside Church in NYC, among others. Through these brilliant Clergy persons I am immersed in a theological smorgasbord of grace, love and peace… challenged, inspired, and comforted. Every Sunday is a WOW Sunday when I hear them preach… many times it is spoken in low tones because I can’t speak… lest I ruin the moment.

Today I was honored and blessed by my long time colleague, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal Priest and college professor. I have loved her heart for Jesus, the easy way she is able to present that Word to me, and the challenge she always dangles before me. Today was no different – she took an average day and allowed that day to speak an especially touching and pertinent message.

Today Barbara Brown-Taylor spoke about “The Next Week or The Week After.” She reminds us all about the thrill, emotion and energy of the DAY. Do you remember the thrill, emotion and energy of your wedding DAY (you better). How about the birthDAY of your first child, your graduation DAY, the DAY you received that acceptance letter to college or your first job in your field of study, the DAY some loved one died? All of these (and many more) DAYS were Jesus Moments where you felt the intensity of the presence of God in and around that moment. These were the days when you sang the songs of loudest praise, waved your hands in the air (no matter who was looking – no matter what they thought), smiled with an unbreakable smile, laughed  so much you hurt, cried so much your tears became sweet, your dreams were never ending… the sun was on your face and the sweet breeze of Spring was in your hair. It was the DAY.Thomas

On the week after… there is a big let down. Today is the Sunday after Easter. Easter was full of praise, worship, excitement and promises. This week after, this Sunday after is even known in the theological world as “Low” Sunday – usually referring to attendance, expectations, enthusiasm. Barbara Brown Taylor said today is the Sunday when there is a guest preacher, a soloist fills in for the choir not present, and a guest pianist/organist is here because all the others need some time off after the week of Easter.

On the week after the Resurrection where would you expect the disciples of Jesus to be? Jesus has just risen from the dead, God had ratified the power, love and mission of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, for all people. Wouldn’t we all think they would be out talking to everyone about Jesus, healing people, speaking about the love of God? But no, they are hiding in a locked upstairs room… a upper room… fearful, afraid of being found and what might happen if they are. I can almost imagine someone in the shadows peering out to see if anyone suspicious is hanging around outside.

What now? What’s next? Nothing will ever be the same the week after. The truth of the matter is that after forty days of preparing for the Resurrection of Jesus things are not all that much different. You are still slammed at work, still shaken by the news of the world, still awaken in the middle of the night to more anxieties than alleluias. Even if the world is not all that different shouldn’t we be? Where is the peace that passes all understanding? The evidence of things not seen?

John is the only Gospel writer who lingers long enough to talk about what happens on the day after. He talks about Jesus and a disciple called Didymus, the twin, known forevermore as Doubting Thomas because he had some trust issues that the others did not have. Perhaps his doubting was really no more than that of the other disciples. The only reason Thomas got singled out was because he wasn’t there. He had questions because he didn’t get to see what the others had already seen… the evidence of the Resurrection. All he had was hearsay from the other disciples and his trust issues were not with Jesus but wether the disciples were telling the real truth.

Over the last few weeks Taylor-Brown has asked people what they thought about the Thomas story. They all said the same thing, she said; “They knew they were not supposed to approve of him but they did… they liked him… his honesty, where he was coming from. Thomas, for them, was proof that people who were right there with Jesus had problems believing. The disciples had the breath knocked out of them… and no breath means no way forward… no life. Jesus showed them how to breathe again and their grief turned to rejoicing. Perhaps Thomas was looking to see if the Jesus who was raised from the dead was the same Jesus who suffered the the scars of this world… who did not leave that which was human behind and come back all healed up. When he saw the wounds of Jesus he exclaimed: “My Lord and my God.” Thomas was back… not missing anymore… and it didn’t matter to Jesus that he was a week late.

You may be going through some difficult times… life may have knocked the breath out of you; health issues, grief recent and long suffering, troubles at work at home or in the community. Whatever it may be perhaps you need to breathe again… so you can move forward…so you may live again. May the Resurrected Jesus breathe the breath of life into you… that you may breathe in rhythm of the Spirit of God.

I have used many of Barbara Brown Taylor’s words in this blog tonight simply to make the point in a better way. I invite you to click on the link below so that you may watch/listen to her sermon. Please take this opportunity to be blessed.

Grace and Peace
Steve


Barbara Brown Tylor Sermon at Duke Chapel 


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He Strikes Again

Stephen 3
Our Amazing and Most Honorable Son

A few years ago, I wrote a book entitled: “The Sayings of Noah: The Four Year Old Theologian” by taking the sayings our grandson Noah would spout out to me or to the group he was around. What I failed to remember was that for a couple years Shirley was keeping a journal on the sayings and deeds of Stephen entitled: “He Strikes Again.” Allow me the fun of honoring my son, Stephen Bruce Martin, by using this collected information. Most of these were when this young theologian was five years old.

A Prayer Before Meals:
God is grape, God is good. Let us thank him for this food… We are all fed, give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.

The Hornet’s Nest:
There was a hornet’s nest on the wall of the local golf shop. Stephen seeing this and not hearing the explanation asked his father: “Is that a behind?” Meaning beehive.
(5 yrs. old – Murphy)

Being Pregnant:
Stephen and his cousin Chris were playing being pregnant and his grandma Martin asked him what pregnant meant? He answered rather straightforwardly: “Pregnant is when you are cross-eyed and can’t see straight.” He may have been more correct than we realize?
(5 yrs. old – Hendersonville)

Who’s Your Daddy:
Stephen was sitting with a friend, Mark Kilpatrick, at church one Sunday. Mark asked him where his father was. Stephen told him his daddy was the man at the front of the church. Mark told him: “That’s not your daddy, that’s my preacher.”
(5 yrs. old – Murphy)

What Did You Say:
We were out riding in the car one Saturday taking in all the sites around Murphy. As we passed over Hiwassee Dam, this voice from the back seat cries out: “Dam!” Immediately Shirley asks him (Stephen the speaker) “Where did you hear that word?” He pointed and said: “Hiwassee Dam.”
(5 yrs. old – Murphy)

No More Bible Stories:
Stephen and his father were discussing why he didn’t want to hear bedtime bible stories any more. Steve had made it the practice to read him a Bible story every night to help him start learning the great stories of the Bible. Stephen’s reply was: “I want to hear more funner stories.” No more bedtime Bible stories.
(5 yrs. old – Murphy).

Runaway To The Movies:
It happened one Saturday afternoon. Scottie Turner (son of Rev. Frank Turner, the preacher at Murphy First UMC) had played with Stephen until in the early afternoon when he had to go home. Stephen was unhappy that his friend had to go home. After supper, he wanted to go to Scottie’s house and Shirley told him he couldn’t go. Steve went off to school, she started washing dishes, while Stephen went outside to play. I went to check on him and he was gone. The first place I went was to Scottie’s and there he was. Scottie had gone to the movies so Stephen decided that he would go to Sky City shopping with Jean (Scottie’s sister). I told him he could not go because he went off from home without telling me. I went in to look at Jean’s cat and when I came out he was gone again. I looked all over the place, called everyone I knew, and drove around in the car looking for him for almost an hour. I called Steve at school and he came home to help look for him. Finally, we called the police and within an hour they found him… (just before they were getting ready to drag the river across the road).

It seems that he had started walking to the movie and happen to meet this boy who was also going to the movie. Stephen just tagged along and the boy paid his way into the movie. The Police called and Steve went and picked him up at the police department. When they arrived at home, Stephen went into his room, while Steve explained what happened. I heard this noise coming from his room sounding like something being hit repeatedly. After a moment, he came into the kitchen all bent over, holding his legs. He looked up at me with this really pitiful expression and said: “Mommy, tell daddy I gave myself a bad spanking.” Needless to say, we were extremely thankful – beyond words – to have him home safe. He did get that bad spanking he was talking about, and a long talk from his dad. It was the last spanking he received from his dad.
(5 yrs. old – Murphy)

It Is All Hand Made:
Stephen came home from school telling about a field trip to the Campbell Folk School. He told us that “Everything out there was made out of hand.” Meaning made by hand.
(5 yrs. old – Murphy).

Braces On Your Teeth:
Stephen was watching a television program where this little girl had to wear braces on her teeth. He asked Shirley if he was going to have to wear “…bracelets on his teeth when he grew up.”
(5 yrs. old – Murphy)

Ready For The Spanking:
Stephen had done something and he thought he was going to get a spanking. It had been a while since his deed and still he hadn’t received the dreaded spanking. Noticing this he asked his dad if he was going to get a spanking for what he had done. I told him “No, I don’t think so. Maybe you have learned the proper thing to do. Stephen went to find his mom and told her: “Since I am not getting a spanking, I guess I can take off these extra pants.” It seems that while waiting for the spanking he put on and extra pair of blue jeans. He was being prepared.
(5 yrs. old – Murphy)

Mow What:
Stephen came in one day and asked his dad if he could help “mow the law?” Meaning lawn.
(6 yrs. old – Midland)

Quitting School:
After picking Stephen up from school one day he announced that “he was going to quit school.”  I asked him why and he said: “I don’t like their ice cream.” To this day, he still likes ice cream.
(6 yrs. old – Midland)

Personal Prayer:
Stephen’s first prayer of his own design not from rote but from his heart was: “Lord, I hope we all stay together and live long lives and will you help me find my spelling book.”
(7 yrs. old – Midland)

Saying Stephen got a Little Wrong:
“Robin Hood and his merry men.” “Robin Hood and his Married men.” (5 yrs. old)
“The Seven Dwarfs”.  The Seven Drawers”. (5 yrs. old)

Words Kinda Mispronounced:
Snake = Sneak
Lake = Link
Hillbilly = billhilly
Butt = Bottom
Sports Car = Sporch Car
Big Truck = Big Tuck

This little guy spent all his growing up years sitting by his mother’s side every Sunday listening to his dad preach. In the early years while I was in college/seminary and serving two churches, most of the time, he and his mom would attend both worship services. Some Sundays I would look back and he would have his head on his mom’s lap asleep. That was ok… this is tuff stuff for a little guy to endure… especially twice. But I have found out that this young man was listening and processing all this religion, theological, grace-filled love of God in Jesus Christ talk and seeks to put it into practice everyday in every way.Steve - Stephen - the laugh

He is a good Christian person… man… father… husband. He gives. He serves. He is present. He thinks. He continues to grow. He is smart, compassionate, thoughtful, practical, real and humble. He treats others with respect, kindness and understanding. We are honored, proud and grateful to be his parents… for we have been truly blessed by his high-plane living.

Thank you Stephen for being you… We love you, man.

Grace and Peace
Steve


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Stephen 33Abby - BaptismSteve Shirley in the patch 2

LOOKING UP!

steve-1.jpegOver the last year I have been going through some difficult health issues which has hindered severely what I have been able to do physically. For those who do not know about the issues please allow me to just summarize: Diagnosed with Diabetes, Stage III Kidney Disease, Atrial Fibrillation, Heart Failure, and most recently cirrhosis of the Liver. All of these things together makes one tired, (very tired), have a low heart rate, unable to do hardly any physical activity (I mean you have to rest for 15 minutes after changing clothes or sit on a stool to take a shower and/or shortness of breath after walking as little as 200 feet) and simply feel like a tired, sleep deprived limp washcloth. In addition to all this I had gained weight (up to around 255 pounds – most ever weighed). Kidney, liver, Atrial fibrillation, Diabetes all seem to work against each other. To help one problem causes the other problem to get worse. So what do you do?

After the cirrhosis of the liver diagnosis in January the doc said “We have got to get that fluid away from your middle. Your liver can repair itself if you give it some help… you have got to get rid of the fluid.” He put me on a less than 2 grams of sodium per day diet. I have got to tell you this is the hardest type of diet I have ever experienced. Sodium is what restaurants use to increase the taste in their food. I challenge you to look at the nutritional facts of the restaurants you frequent. You will be surprised and in some cases you will be shocked. We all love the good old healthy veggies at K&W, right? If you look at the sodium in their veggies alone you will notice the high sodium counts. If you go to Olive Garden and have spaghetti w/meat balls and sauce, two bread sticks, and salad you will ingest almost 5000mg of sodium for that one meal. That is almost three days allotment for sodium.

Baked Stuffed Squash 1830 Mg: Cabbage Wedges 1356 Mg: Corn on the Cob 1077 Mg: Green bean Casserole 1021Mg: Squash Casserole 1117Mg: Turnips 1336Mg: Vegetable Casserole, Chinese 1019: Baked Macaroni 1838Mg: Stir Fried Beef 3665Mg: The reason this is important is that this represents one menu item you eat at one meal. If you eat two other meals you may be approaching 4000 or 5000 mg of sodium, not to mention the caloric consumption. Choose wisely. Choose smaller portion sizes. Pay attention to what you are actually eating and what it may be doing to your quality of life just a few years down the road. Make the change now before you have a diagnosis that forces you to do something – or worse.

The diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver… on the way to liver failure… was a real wake up call. So I put together a little journal to help me track my calories, sodium, sugar and carbohydrates for each item I eat. I look up each item, record them, and tally them at the end of the day. More than that I fax a summary of each days intake, blood pressure and weight to my doctor each Sunday night. I do this so he can see that I am continuing to be faithful to this diet and for him to notice if any of my numbers suggest some special attention.

Over the last 12 weeks I have gone from 250 to 206 (at this writing). My goal is 190 or less. Some days I lose a couple pounds while I gain a couple other days. But I am staying on top of this thing. If things don’t go well it will not be because I didn’t try. I have lost this weight and come down two pant sizes. But more than that, as great as it is, as needed as it is medically, I am beginning to feel better than I have in over a year. I am more active now than I have been in over a year. Very soon I will add exercise to my daily healthy living routine. Things are LOOKING UP!

That is important for my health, for my living to have better quality, and that I can do some of the things I haven’t been able to do in a while. I just got off the phone with the Visitation Scheduler at Piedmont Correctional Institute in Salisbury. I am scheduled to see Mark Mercer next Thursday morning at 9:30. I have really missed being able to see him, to let him know the church has not failed or forgotten him, and that I haven’t forgotten him either. Now I should be able to be there on a monthly basis and hopefully able to help Mark in his time of need.

I hope you are continuing to send Mark notes, cards and letters… words of care, grace and love. We all need that word no matter what situation we find ourselves. I hope that we all can join together to help our circle of friends to know that THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!!!!

Grace and Peace

Steve


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