Thursday, September 15, 2011


IMAGINE: to form a mental image of something not actually present to the senses.
We encourage our children to use their imaginations every day. Every now and then we even dare to imagine such things as a nap, more time to complete tasks, our dream job, our dream spouse...but only sometimes.   As adults we often hold ourselves back from imagining...but I think we do ourselves a disservice by not daring to imagine...especially when it comes to our faith.
What does imagination have to do with our faith, you ask? We understand our imaginations to be limitless, without boundaries, beyond constraints and with no expectations.  Don’t we perceive God in the same way? God is something that we cannot fully grasp and understand with our human minds yet we know that God is there, that God is limitless, without boundaries, beyond constraints and expectations.  We understand God to be fully surprising and all-encompassing!
Our ideas of God and our faith, while firmly grounded in scripture, take flight when we dare to IMAGINE how things could be - how things WILL be.  When we dare to IMAGINE how God would have things, our faith blossoms.
Scripture certainly leaves certain things up to our imagination - it does not spell everything out word-for-word.  It tells us to love one another.  By the power of our imagination we see what that looks like for us. Scripture encourages us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, etc... and those things take shape in our communities when we use our imagination, together, to make a difference. And scripture prompts us to learn more and our imagination is sparked when we study and grow into the stories and prophecies we find there.
Our imagination is key to our faith. Our faith grows when we IMAGINE how God wants our life to be; when we IMAGINE how God can change our life; when we IMAGINE how being a disciple can effect our life.  It is a powerful thing; it’s the fuel we need for us to keep moving, the material we need to make a difference in the lives of the people around us and it supplies the gifts we need to live into our vocations.
BUT sometimes it’s hard to allow our imagination to guide us.  When a situation calls for practicality, it seems frivolous to imagine the solution.  Or when the outcome is uncertain, it feels ‘dreamy’ to dare to imagine how it might be.  
We must be careful not to restrain our imagination or refrain from using it.  We must be bold enough to  allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in the right direction by our imagination.  God is consistently seeking out ways to communicate with us, to move us and to call us into action.  God desires for us to move, to make a difference, and to change the world. It is by the power of our imagination that this happens.
Our human nature causes us, however, to wonder just how far we can truly reach with our imaginations. Paul tells us in Ephesians  that God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.  That is how far we can reach with our imaginations - further than we can ask, further than we can imagine or dream. Don’t limit yourself - don’t hold yourself back. DARE to imagine!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Do I have to forgive THAT!?!?

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? - Matthew 18:21a
This text is a text that makes us nervous or uncomfortable.  This verse is just the beginning of  quite a story that Jesus tells (go ahead, I’ll wait while you look it up and read it) - it contrasts beautifully the  the Christian life we know we SHOULD lead and the human life that often takes over. It’s a text that makes us squirm when we think about how many times we have asked ourselves this question that Peter asks.
The events of this day 10 years ago, September 11, 2001 certainly provide the background for us to think about this text and they should urge us to imagine this concept of forgiveness.
There always seems to be a need for forgiveness. A new offense occurs, a new fault is found, or an old wound is opened up...there is never a lack of opportunities to practice forgiveness.  Peter understands this and asks Jesus the question we have all asked a million times - just how many times do I have to forgive?
Peter knows he has to forgive but he’s looking for an out here.  He’s looking for a limit to what he has to do. He wants Jesus to tell him that at some point it’s ok to put your foot down and say NO! Enough is enough - I can’t - I won’t forgive THAT! 
Why is it so hard for us to forgive? Why do we hold on to grudges? We certainly don’t want to admit fault and it’s in our nature to want revenge, to make someone pay when we are hurt or frustrated or upset. We run out of pity for people who hurt us, people who are different from us, think different, act different...we would rather fight for self-protection or vindication than love someone in forgiveness.  In Christ, grace abounds FOR us.  Why does it not abound OUT of us??
We are faced every day with the torture of needing to forgive but being unable to. This parable forces us to examine our human nature and expose ourselves for what we are - humans.  Sinful humans in need of God’s grace.
It also forces us to imagine: to imagine how God’s unending grace breaks through the bleakest of circumstances, to imagine how even when we are out of forgiveness for one another, God is there forgiving us, to imagine how God desires to reconcile us with one another thru the power of God forgiving us first and we begin to imagine new hearts - full of mercy - that create the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation; with God and with one another.
When we consider the lengths Jesus went to to forgive us - the underserved suffering, persecution and execution - forgiveness between one another doesn’t seem so hard.
Imagine a world where there is no limit to forgiveness...where we just do it...because it’s the right thing to do. Where we forgive the little things such as a refusal to share a toy or someone cutting us off on the freeway. Imagine a world where we forgive the big things such as abuse, untruths or injustice.  And dare to imagine a world where we forgive the unspeakable things such as the events of 9/11, hate or war.
Jesus imagined such a world and he lived every day of his life trying to make it happen.  And he died so that it would...
Let us dare to imagine such a world...Amen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I wanna join....

15  "If another member of the church  sins against you,  go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.   16  But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  17  If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  18  Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  19  Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  20  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."  - Matthew 18:15-20
This text is one that generates a lot of questions for me...
  • Who exactly is a "member" of my church?  
  • Who decides what constitutes sinning? 
  • Isn't it racist to use the designation of "gentile" in such a derogatory manner?  
  • Why does Jesus pick on tax collectors? 
  • Where is the unconditional love of Jesus if people are being excluded and shunned?  
  • What precisely does it mean for Jesus to be among those gathered? 
And for the record. I don’t like this Jesus...all judgement and exclusive and stuff...not the kind of guy that I can get behind, if you know what I mean.
This text has never sat well with me, so I tried researching, digging back into my memories of what I know about Jesus and the text started making a bit more sense....This text is about community - who’s in and who’s out . It’s about trying to become part of something and then STAYING. it’s about going to a place where everyone accepts you for who you are and you are never alone. Because, really, sometimes you wanna go “where everybody knows your name....and they’re always glad you came....”
We all desire to be part of a community. I've heard it said that Jesus was the first community organizer. He desired to pull ALL people into community with him - he didn’t exclude or cut out. He didn’t draw lines or boundaries. So why do we??
We do it all the risk life and limb cheering for the ‘wrong’ sports team.  The parents of the ‘A-team’ students wouldn’t be caught dead talking to the parents of the ‘B-team’ students...or, even worse, the parents of those that didn’t even make the team.  We draw lines based on skin color, language, tradition, culture, name it, there is a boundary around it.
The early Christians craved community, too. They had been kicked out of their old Jewish ones, they weren’t part of the Roman elite and the pagans wanted nothing to do with them. So they ‘got brave’, followed their leader, and started  a new community. One whose boundaries were broadened; one where holes could be found in the walls so that everyone could get in; one where the one thing that made you worthy was God’s love. This new community was INCLUSIVE, it was hungry for new members and they reached out - not to benefit themselves, but to share the good news of a place, finally, where ALL were welcomed unconditionally!  
In this community, they found love, friendship and accountability. They found a place where people strived to live up to a higher standard of conduct. A place where love meant calling each other out when things weren’t quite right.  The Message translation of this text says that if someone offends you, sins or is not holding up their end of Jesus’ teachings and they won’t listen to one-on-one reasoning, to a group of friends or to the congregation then you need to “start over from scratch, confront them with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”
That’s what Jesus did over and over in his ministry. That’s how he treated Zacchaeus, the tax collector...and Matthew, the tax collector. Both men we know and love as devoted followers of Jesus were welcomed into Jesus’ community with love and acceptance.
Our communities are built upon unity in God’s love, grace and forgiveness, not upon exclusion based on someone’s sin....or what we perceive as their sin.  We have enough sin of our own to worry about, don’t you think?
The teachings of Jesus were summed up as Love God - Love One Another. Sometimes we are called to hold our brothers & sisters accountable to the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes WE need to be held accountable to the teachings of Jesus.  But it is in community where we find support - in a community of believers we find the unconditional love of God and of one another. Welcome to the community.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Dog Days of Life

Hello. It's been a while since my last post. I've been going thru what my friend, Pr. Darrel coined 'the dog days of life'.  I received his church's newsletter a couple weeks back and this was his letter. It hit me like a ton of bricks - like a homerun hitter's bat hits a ball - like a ... hit. Hard. Take a read. Enjoy. Drink.


From the Pastor’s Desk

The dog days of summer are truly upon us. Records are being broken around the country as a high pressure system has been sitting right over most of Mid-America. Coupled with high humidity, it s dangerous to be outside doing even modest activity for any length of time. Meteorologists caution against excessive heat reminding us to wear light clothing, drink plenty of liquid, and take frequent rest breaks when we are going to be outside.

This summer’s heat is a good metaphor for the dry hot spells that can occur in our spiritual lives also. Receiving devastating news, dealing with broken relationships or long term resentments can be as hard on our spiritual wellbeing as the hot sun is on our physical well-being. Like the dog days of summer, the effects of spiritual neglect can drain us of the spirit of life that God so desires for us.

What the meteorologists reminds us are helpful hints as we deal with the dreaded heat of this summer. They can also provide us with needed relief as we face life’s issues that would otherwise stifle our spiritual joy:

1) Wear Light Clothing. Don’t let yourself get weighted down with the stresses of life, what we shall eat and what we shall wear. Our heavenly Father knows what we need and He, who clothes the grasses of the earth and feeds the birds of the air, will provide for His children.

2) Drink plenty of liquid. Take in the nourishment your spiritual body needs as well. Reading, study and meditation on God’s word will richly supply your body with what it needs to replenish your spirit and renew your faith and life in Christ.

3) Take frequent rest breaks. Take time to gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ around Word and Sacrament each Sunday morning. Hymns of praise, words of encouragement, reconciliation with God and one another and feasting at the table on the life giving body and blood of our Lord and Savior is ‘good food for the soul’

I hope you are carefully managing yourself as we work our way through the ‘dog days of summer’ and equally important, carefully managing yourself as you work through the emotional and spiritual ‘dog days of life.’

May God, who is able, richly bless you and refresh you in body, mind, and spirit.

Pastor Darrel

Pr. Darrel is the pastor at United Lutheran Church in Bella Vista, AR

Saturday, May 28, 2011

But I wanna!

Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth”. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge...  - Psalm 46:10-11
The month of May has been full of horrible weather, catastrophes, international events, endings, new beginnings and all sorts of emotional situations.  We have seen floods and tornados, we’ve seen international fugitives brought to justice, we basked in the afterglow of a royal wedding, our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews graduated from high school and college and we are looking forward, with some anxiety, some excitement and some trepidation, to an unknown future.
But is it really unknown? And unknown by whom?  As humans, it is our natural inclination to want to know ‘the plan’; to have an understanding of what is coming up ahead so that we can prepare ourselves and make sure we’ve got everything under control.  But the truth is this, the world is uncertain; there are choices to be made and those choices impact our world, and the world around us.  It is impossible to know what the future will hold...except for this:  “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out - plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” (Jeremiah 29:11, The Message) These are God’s words as written by the Prophet Jeremiah to the remnant remaining in exile. Those words are for all of God’s people; then and now.  
God’s promises to us to take care of us, not abandon us and to give us a future do not mean that every day will be sunshine and roses. But the promises mean exactly what they say...that God will not abandon us. Through all of the disasters, catastrophes, fighting, celebrating and transitions, we have a God who is faithful to His promises and walks beside us.  As Jesus’ heart was saddened by the death of Lazarus, so is God’s heart saddened by the death of even ONE of His children.  As Jesus celebrated at the Wedding at Cana, so does God celebrate with any of us when we enter into relationships with one another. As Jesus prayed for the Father’s blessing upon the disciples as they began their public ministry without him, so does God bless each one of us as we begin a new chapter in our lives.
The future we hope for is a future full of joy, love and, most of all, eternal life with God in Heaven. That is what is promised to us. Our life here on earth will be one that is full of trials & tribulations, celebrations, endings & new beginnings...through it all, God is here with us.  God is in the devastation, giving us the determination to rebuild. God is in our relationships, giving us the patience and faith to accept and love each other. God is in our endings and new beginnings, giving us the wisdom and courage to begin again.
Be still and know that He is God...our refuge...our promise...and He is here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Praying for Peace, Not Death...

This is another departure from my usual devotion...sorry. I'll get back to those later this week. I simply feel like there is a Christian voice that has been missing from all of these discussions and I wanted to add my 2 cents...

In the May 5 edition of the Benton County Daily Record an article titled "Religious Leaders Weigh in On Bin Laden's Death" got me all fired up.   In the article 5 religious leaders from NW Arkansas were quoted. The Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders all renounced the celebration of his death, calling instead for continued prayer and reconciliation.  The 2 Christian leaders they quoted left me absolutely speechless (well for about 2 minutes) and then infuriated.

One evangelical pastor said that bin Laden's death came as a result of answered prayers for justice, that God chose bin Laden's death. He went on to say "God chooses how he answers prayers...when justice is served, as I think it was in this situation, we do give thanks for the answer to prayers." Another Baptist pastor said (and I quote) "My initial reaction was 'Thank you, Lord,' because we needed something, considering the bad economy and the controversy over the current president's birth certificate, war, heavy rain and all the other things.  We also celebrate the death of wickedness as an answer to our prayers."

So I was upset...upset enough to do something I have never done before...write a letter to the editor. It was finally published here it is...


I am writing in response to the article titled “Religious Leaders Weigh In on Bin Laden’s Death” in the May 5 edition of the Daily Record. The article, as I read it, seemed to be lacking the grace-filled Christian voice of peace that I hear from my friends and colleagues.
I join my Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim brothers in calling the actions of the past week a call to justice,  peace and healing & reconciliation.  As a Christian I certainly do not see Bin Laden’s death as an answer to prayer. I, for one, never prayed for him to die. Scriptures call me to love and to pray for my enemies (Matthew 5:44) - while it is the hardest thing I do, I know that only God has the power to change people. Violence, hatred and war do nothing to change the hearts and minds of people - only God’s unconditional love and grace can do that.  My fervent prayers continue that God will accomplish this.
As a Christian leader in our community, it is my responsibility to draw people together.  To bring unity by declaring the Good News of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ for all people; not to draw lines of division and hatred. Celebrating the death of our enemy only strengthens the lines of division and increases the distance between us.
I am relieved that a source of evil has been defeated however, to think that the news of his death wipes out the fears of a faltering economy, overcomes the sadness surrounding the destruction of homes and lives by violent weather and will hush the voices who continue to question our leadership is absurd. Evil still exists, hatred and fear run rampant...and it will continue until we can learn to live together in peace, respect one another as God’s children and learn to pray for the unity of ALL.
My ultimate rejoicing comes in knowing that God has promised that, on that final day, love will overcome hatred, peace will overcome violence and God’s justice will finally unite all people of the earth. Until that day, I will continue to pray for our communities, our country, our world, and yes, even my enemies.
Rev Stacy Seger
Pastor, Christ the King Lutheran Church
Bentonville, AR

Thursday, May 5, 2011

National Day of Prayer...couldn't have come at a better time...

This isn't my typical blog post - it's actually a letter that I sent out to members of my congregation heart has been heavy as we've been through a rough week together, so I thought I would share...peace...

"Joy finds its fullest and deepest expression not over a human death but in God’s promise to unite all things in heaven and on earth, to reconcile the human family and to bring God’s reign of peace." 
Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson

Dear members & friends of Christ the King -

This week has been one of varied emotions for all of us. The events of this week have left some feeling relieved, joyful or victorious while others were left feeling heavy-hearted, fearful or disillusioned. Perhaps you felt a combination of all of these. In any case, emotions and spirits were running high this week and I believe that Bp Hanson's words were a powerful message of hope and security for a darkened world.

Regardless of how you feel about the events of this week, your emotions are justified; they are your own and are to be respected. Each opinion and feeling is as unique as the person who owns it. As Christians, however, we can come together around the sure and certain promise of God to reconcile the entire human family to Himself and bring an everlasting peace to all. We have the awesome responsibility and opportunity to enact that now.

Today marks the 236th National Day of Prayer since the first one was called in 1775 by the Continental Congress. Since then, throughout the years, there have been prayer rallies, marked days of prayer and assemblies. 2003 marked the beginning of the organized, national activities we see today. I urge you this day, on this National Day of Prayer, to take time out of your schedule to pray. Pray for those who lost their lives due to acts of violence or hatred. Pray for all those who have lost loved ones. Pray for the church that we may be a beacon of hope in a dark world. Pray for all military members and their families that they might be filled with God's spirit of justice and peace. Pray for our community that we may shun violence and hatred. Pray for our world that love would overcome hate. And, finally, pray for those who would seek to hurt and destroy out of hatred and vengeance.

Praying for our enemies is one of the hardest things we can do - yet one of the most effective. For Jesus commands in Matthew 5 Love your enemies...pray for those who persecute you....Praying for miracles, for God's action in our lives or the lives of others is not fruitless, for only God is powerful enough to make change like that happen.

Grace & Peace to you, my friends.

Pr. Stacy