Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Holy Spirit and Coffee

I am a coffee lover.  I started drinking coffee as a child, when my mother would put coffee in my milk to entice me to drink the milk.  As I got older, the less milk was in my coffee.  Long ago, I weened myself from any additives that would take away from the rich flavor of the coffee. No sugar, no creamer, no froth, nothing.  Just pure, rich, dark coffee.  The older I got and my tastes matured, the darker the coffee roast I preferred.  As soon as I awake in the morning, I make my way in the dark through the house to the kitchen where, without turning on a light, I reach into the cabinet for my cup and the rack where we keep the K-Cups holding my preferred blend.  I lift the arm of the machine, insert the cup, lower it and select the largest brew size possible.  Making sure my cup is placed on the drip tray in just the right spot, I wait the minute for my fresh steaming cup of coffee.  I then will make my way to the chair I sit in to have my morning time of prayer, email, journaling, and meditation (not always in any particular order).  I sit the cup on the coaster on the table beside my chair, sit down and situate myself, and then pick up my cup, holding it close just smelling the wonderful aroma and watching the steam rise.  Then…I take my first sip of the day.  It is the best thing ever.  The rest of the cup is wonderful as well, but it isn’t nearly as celebrated as that first sip.  Then I continue with my day. 

This morning as I was performing this ritual, and as I was meditating on blessings and things I am thankful for, and people to whom I am grateful, I thought, “hey, the Holy Spirit is like coffee!”  Let me explain. 

I love God.  I love all the natures of God, and the Holy Spirit, in my thinking, is the most important nature of God.  The Holy Spirit represents that presence of God with us, not just in the cosmos.  We are all unique and important to God, and God is the God of all nature.  Not either/or, but both/and.  This is all a part of our understanding of the Holy Spirit.  The divine presence of God is made possible in the Spirit of God.  The guidance, comfort, wisdom, and inspiration from God comes from the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and in our world. 

Long ago, I was introduced to the knowledge of the Holy Spirit in diluted ways.  Stories in Sunday school and VBS, snippets of sermons a few times a year, other little ways the Holy Spirit was referenced.  I was not brought up in a Pentecostal or charismatic church so the Holy Spirit was referenced in less imminent ways.  Gifts of the Spirit, baptism of the Spirit, all of these doctrines were foreign to me.  As I got older, I began to develop my own understanding, my own experience of and with the Holy Spirit.  The less diluted my experience, the more significance I found in the working of the Holy Spirit in all our lives. 

Now, as I have matured in faith, I feel that the Spirit of God is with me and that I can find my way through the dark of the world to where I can sit and experience the presence of Spirit that is always present.  The more I removed anything that would dilute my experience of the presence of the Spirit, the richer my experience became.  I savor the presence of the Spirit in my life, and every morning, that first “good morning God” is always the best.  I prepare myself and my surroundings to be able to clear my mind, engage my spirit, and to observe the Spirit at work in the world.  The Spirit is present with me throughout the day, but occasionally, I will re-enact that first good morning sip of the Spirit at other times of the day when I especially need to feel that presence of God with me. 

See, God is made known in many ways through the work of the Spirit, even in observing my own patterns and deep love of coffee.  Do you have any rituals that you can relate to the presence of the Spirit?  Perhaps your preferred beverage of choice is a soda or a cup of tea? 

Good morning and may your day be filled with the experience of the Holy Spirit in your life. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016


As I was logging on to begin today, I see that my last post was December 2015.  I really should do better, but every time I say I will, I don't.  However, I am trying something new.  I have it written into my calendar that "blog" pops up periodically on my things to do list.  I'm sure I have never put off anything that is on my to do list!  *chuckle*

(Blogged while listening to Changes by David Bowie)

I have recently moved to a new appointment.  (Ch-ch-ch-changes) Many changes are taking place.  Change of address, work, community.  Change of people, routine, and staff.  I love some changes and hate others.  I like the change of season from scorching hot to cooler fall.  I hate software updates that do not ask my opinion on whether or not I want it.  Moving to a new community has its challenges and blessings.  There is no Pizza Hut here for delivery, but I love my new house and feel very comfortable here.  

Time may change me...
Of course, this is the oldest I have been to move into a new appointment (duh).  I find that perhaps I am not adjusting as well as I have in the past.  Perhaps it is because this time I am taking time to figure out how to ease in, rather than rushing in.  I find I am much more comfortable with coming in and making changes.  Churches even expect it.  New pastor, new ideas.  Maybe this time we can grow!  But then they become trained to do what the pastor wants, rather than to come up with something lasting that is truly the congregation's identity.  I want to hold out for the quality that comes with patience.   

Perhaps this is why I have been reflective about change in general.  During a recent morning meditation, I had the thought:
If you don't believe anything will change, you will not do what you are doing for very long.
Meaning if you are doing something, putting time and energy into something, that you hope will bring about something better--a better world, a better community, a better church, or even a better you--you must believe that the change can and will happen.  I find we often think we want change, but our own actions defeat the very change we want to make because we really do not believe it is possible.  We want to be ecologically friendly, but do not think any actions we put into place will make any real difference.  So we continue on as before.  

This brings to mind the prayer of Mother Teresa now Saint Teresa of Calcutta:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

-this version is credited to Mother Teresa
Another thought I had that morning was:
If you do believe things will change as a result of your work, you must be open to change.  
That may seem to make sense, if you work toward change things will change.  I do not know how many congregations that want change (more funds, more members, more outreach, more impact), but do not really want things to change.  It seems they want to bring in more money and new people, but want these new people to do exactly the same things that have always been done.  Another example, I want to lose weight, begin an exercise program, and overall become a healthier me.  However, I find that as much as I want this change, I also want cookies, pie, candy, ice cream, and all the other goodies I can find.  

(Cue Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie)

What I have noticed in life is that change happens whether you want it or not (software updates, etc.), and you have a choice in how you handle it.  You can work actively to bring about change that is positive, helpful, and makes things better.  You can actively work against change which will bring about change that is negative, detrimental, and makes things worse.  You can passively accept whatever the wind and life blow your way.  The choice is yours.  When we work toward positive change, it is life-giving and life-bringing.  When we work against change, that will happen anyway, it brings death.  

What changes are you facing in your life?  Even good changes like a new baby or new job bring stress.  Other changes such as a divorce or death, being fired or an illness, bring even more.  How can you actively work to bring about change that is good and positive, knowing that we can never stop change from happening.  

Grace and peace.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Advent Calendar Day 7

Can you imagine how Mary must have been feeling?  Think of all the emotions that one goes through when they find out they are expecting a child.  Excitement at the possibilities, worries and doubts of what kind of a parent you might be, fears for all the things that can possibly go wrong, joy of new life, love for the child you carry, and did I say doubts and fears... and that is just the first minute or two.  Then you revisit all of the multitude of emotions in depth as time goes on.

Mary wasn't married.  She did not have any knowledge of sex or men or much of anything up to that point in her life.  I would imagine that the last thing she worried about was what to name the child, but the angel took that worry off of her shoulders.  This may have been good news, but it is unlikely that she felt all that good about it, even if she was obedient to God.

We want to think that she the epitome of serenity and peace, just like we have pictured her in art over the years.  But let's think how we would respond--or maybe even have responded--to God laying "good news" on us.  We may know where God is leading us, but we have thought of all the ways that will affect our lives, the lives of our families, our friends,  We have pondered the changes we will have to make, things we may have to take on or perhaps give up.  We have worried about our inabilities, our desires to do something else, that if we are obedient to God, our lives will never be the same again. 

So, let us not be so quick to dismiss the value of Mary's obedience by thinking it was easy for her.  Let us not discount our need and ability to be obedient to God.  God calls us, just as God called Mary.  God desires our obedience.  And just as all our lives were changed by Mary's act of obedience--even though she may not have been aware of it all--we do not know how lives might be changed by our obedience--or disobedience. 

As we journey down the Advent road, let us recommit ourselves and our lives and futures to God for the purpose of God. 


Advent Calendar Day 6

Signs of things promised.  This is what the prophet spoke of -- the sign to look for the coming of the promised Messiah.  Of course, I wonder how popular the name Immanuel was or became at that time.  Young women are pregnant all the time.  I think this was one of those vague pronouncements, like 'when the sun rises on the third day of the week, this shall be a sign.'  Well this happens 52 weeks a year for as many years as we are in existence.  Which week, which year?  Which young woman?  Which baby named 'God with us?'

But that is the thing with signs isn't it.  They are everywhere for those who are discerning.  They are also everywhere for those who are looking for the latest sign.  I knew a young man one time who saw signs from God, God telling him to do something, in everything that happened.  It is one thing to have a series of things occur that you realize is God showing you the way; it is another for a multitude of "signs" carrying you in different directions.  I do not think God is either fickle or a tease. 

So, how do we know when something is of God?  How can we tell that it is a true sign?  I think it is much like anything else really--we will understand more if we truly know the one sending us the sign.  Knowing God and how God speaks to you, not just floundering around thinking everything is a sign from God, but knowing the one sending the sign well enough to be discerning.

Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the one who is the interpreter between us and God.  Through the Holy Spirit we can be sensitive to the leading of God and attune to God enough to understand. 

Also, discernment is affirmed on hindsight, in that we can tell if what has come to pass is from God.  This is why I think those who are focused on watching for the signs of the "last days" can be so harmful.  Not only are they floundering around, believing everything is one of the signs of the apocalypse running around like Chicken Little declaring the skies are falling, they are diluting the importance of the occurrence.  There will come a time when the earth shall come to an end, but Jesus himself said that he doesn't know when that will be, so what makes these rapture-theorists think they know better.  And what is the purpose?  What do they think their sleuthing will accomplish? 

Much like the coming of the anointed one of God to a young pregnant woman who would name her child "God with us," it could have happened at anytime, been anyone, happened anywhere.  So what are we to do--we who watch and wait, the same as those who watched and waited before.  Recognizing in hindsight that this child was something extraordinary--something divine--but living in the moment of the God who is with us always.  Living as we are in God's very presence always, for we are.

I do not believe it does any good to get caught up in trying to foretell what the future may bring when there is so much to do to make the here and now happen.  There are hungry to feed, naked to clothe, oppressed to liberate, empires to stand up to, and life to be lived.  As we watch and wait, let us remember is while we are in the midst of living that we watch and wait for the one who was and is and is to come. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Advent Caledar Day 5

"Falling to their knees, the honored him."  Worship.  These travelers from the east--not Jews--worshipped this child that was foretold by the Jewish prophets.  We tend to categorize people into at a minimum of two categories--in or out.  But these non-Jewish travelers, who were possibly followers of Zoroaster, traveled a great distance from their homeland to bring baby gifts.  Why would they do this?  Traveling that far was perilous.  Why the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

Much is unknown about these travelers told about only in the Gospel of Matthew.  However, there is a great deal of fascination with them and a great deal of speculation which has become accepted as fact, although there is no basis for it.  We do not know how many of them there were, though it is presumed there were three because there were three gifts.  We do know there was more than one because the word which is translated as magi in Latin (magoi in Greek) is a plural form of the word magus.  This is the word we get our modern-day words magic and magician from; although there is nothing that indicates that these travelers were magicians or sorcerers in the modern understanding of the word.  They were probably scholars or priests, rather than foreign dignitaries visiting a newborn dignitary.  Regardless of our understanding, they were not Jewish leaders who rightly interpreted the signs for the coming of the foretold anointed one of God.  They were outsiders.

As for the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, there are two primary understandings of the meaning of the gifts--political or spiritual.  Political would indicate that they are presents you would present to a king as an indication of respect and good faith.  Spiritual significance would indicate that their worship was one of more than adoration or respect, but acknowledging the presence of the divine. 

Gold, a symbol of earthly kingship, seems a fairly practical gift--it was the ancient form of gift cards or just cold, hard, cash.  Money, which they did not specify to be put in a trust fund until the child reached some age of maturity.  It was for the parents to use to raise the child.  The gold likely funded their flight to Egypt where the family (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus) were considered refugees fleeing from political tyranny and death.  We would do well to remember that when we consider our modern feelings of political refugees. 

Frankincense and myrrh were much more spiritually symbolic.  Frankincense carries our prayers to God and is a symbol of divinity.  Myrrh was a perfume or spices used in embalming or preparation for burial.  Western Christianity has interpreted this to mean that the child born was a king, a god, and a sacrifice  (from "We Three Kings",a Christmas carol that was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., in 1857).  As we know that Jesus, himself said that his "kingdom" or "realm" was not earthly, then it would be more appropriate to interpret the gifts listed in Matthew with a spiritual understanding rather than an earthly or political one.

While we do not know what happens of the magi, these travelers from the east, following their encounter with the child, there are many legends about them.  What we can surmise is that they were observers of another religion, from another culture, that should show us how to worship the Christ.  How often do we go out of our way to worship?  How often do we bring expensive and significant gifts to God?  How often do we worship in the manner becoming a follower of Jesus?

As you continue the advent journey, consider the journey of the travelers from the east.  What can you do this season that would be symbolic of the effort and sacrifice of the magi?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Advent Calendar Day 4

Terrified.  We read this story each year as a sweet, pastoral example of the message of God coming to the poorest of the people.  Terrified.  The shepherds were minding their own business--the sheep--one sleepy night.  Some were probably pondering life while others were preparing to bed down for the evening.  Perhaps there were some who had already drifted off to sleep.  Then BAM, angels.  They were not merely startled or honored or curious as we sometimes portray, but terrified (frightened, horrified, scared, petrified, shocked, panicked, alarmed—scared stiff!)  I think of all the ways people who are afraid respond in fear.  I suppose they could have whipped out their slingshots and began firing at the light of the Lord.  They could have run away, leaving their sheep and responsibilities.  Perhaps they could not respond with either fight or flight because they were scared motionless.  Adrenaline coursing through their veins, but their muscles were rebelling against them.

We live in a world of terror.  Terrorism seems to be such a talked about topic that it has become a caricature of what terror is actually.  The media, pundits, and politicians whip people into a frenzy—an irrational, foolish, crazy-people-run-amok frenzy.  The talking heads tell us who to be afraid of, who to blame, who to fight, who to flee, but not how to have calm, how to have peace, how not to be afraid.  The purpose of terrorism is to incite terror.  For terrorism to win, we must be terrified and live out that terror in our actions and relationships with one another.  All those who stir up this fear in the public (media, politicians, religious folks, others) are terrorists—in that they promote terror. 

Those things we do to protect ourselves, are often the very things that wind up hurting us the most.  Those safety mechanisms, like closing ourselves off from others or refusing to help others, end up doing more damage to our spirit—our souls—than any possible physical damage that is unlikely to happen anyway.  We are terrified, and so we respond, often without thought as to the long-term consequences.  But this is not the way God created us to live.  God created us to be in community with one another, even those we do not know at all or very well.  God created us to live out the example of Christ in caring for the least, the last, the lost, the marginalized.

As long as we are scared and reactionary, our fear gets the better of us.  Did you know the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear?  Fear grips us and keeps us from fulfilling the life we have in Christ as children of God.  We either want to fight at things that we cannot possibly see or engage, or we want to run from our responsibilities and soothe our souls by telling ourselves the world isn’t our responsibility.  Or we are scared stiff, motionless, unable to do anything right or wrong, and so we do nothing. 

The shepherds could not respond to the message of the angels if they hid in their fearful and closed off cocoons.  They would not have witnessed the birth of the one to save their people.  They would have hidden away, never living out the potential God had for them.

How do you hide from the things that you fear?  Do you give your fears to God?  Or do you cling to them like a security blanket, telling yourself that worry is what keeps the worst at bay?  This Advent, how can you move from reacting in fear to stepping out in faith to the message of God?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent Calendar Day 3

Joseph was told that his fiancé, Mary, was to have a baby.  Enough of a startling revelation as it was, but to be visited by an angel who tells you this child is the promised coming Messiah is almost too much.  I think of the emotions swirling about in Joseph’s mind.  After all, any ordinary man would have a mixture of such emotions—the internal adjustments you make as you process in your mind and heart that 1.) your fiancé whom you have not yet been intimate is pregnant; 2.) you realize, perhaps by surprise, that your love and compassion outweighs your need to save face; 3.) that this child who isn’t yours is to be raised by you; 4.) that this child is the promised one of God, who will save you from your sin.  You would feel—what, doubt and skepticism, fear and worry, overwhelmed, joyful, sorrowful—this is almost too much for anyone to grasp. 

Yet Joseph, a good man who wants to do right by his promise, has the very human idea of distancing himself from the entire situation; not to extract vengeance as was his right and not to play the wounded lover, but to simply, quietly, give her back to her family and call the whole thing off.  She and her family can deal with repercussions of the situation.  But, that is not the way God wants it to be.  He is to marry her, care for her and the child, and all of this knowing that this child may indeed be the anointed one of God who would come to save Israel.  Could you be this obedient in the face of personal humiliation?

Good men, truly good men, the kind with ethics and morals that are uncompromising and true are hard to come by.  It is as difficult for today’s men to live up to the Captain America standard (manly, brave, a moral compass that points true north, looks good in a costume), as it is for women to live up to the Proverbs 31 woman (in charge of the home, makes her husband and kids look good, while still having her own career).  I think, however, Joseph was not some illusive image of a good man, but truly one who shows mercy, loves justice, and in spite of the emotions that follow, walks with God humbly.  Are you a Joseph kind of person?  One who simply does what you believe to be right quietly and without fanfare, without seeking your rights, but rather protecting the rights of others.  I think Joseph is a good example for all of us—male and female—this season of Advent when there is so much going on in the world that gives us the opposite understanding of what is right and wrong.  

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Calendar Day 2

Have you ever had someone say something to you that seems like an odd thing to say?  Perhaps it was someone who mentioned a gift or quality you have that you didn’t think anyone else noticed?  Maybe it was about something you were feeling led to do, but had not told anyone else?  Perhaps, someone said a comment out of the blue to you, something you had never thought of before, and when they said it, you knew it was something important to you and you could think of nothing else?  Mary had that kind of experience.

The angels of the Bible always say something to the effect of “do not be afraid,” or “fear not.”  A visit from a messenger from God tends to rattle us—maybe even startle us.  It definitely shakes up our world—our routine—and we find we are never the same again.  It is of significant importance to us, and we should never simply write it off as all our imagination.  Quite often we are visited by “angels” who inspire us, affirm us, encourage us, and guide us.  God uses all types of people to bring us God’s message. 

This Advent let us be watching for those “angels” God sends our way.  We should also watch for those opportunities and inspiration when we convey a message from God and are an angel to another.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Calendar - Day 1

You do not need to be afraid of the dark to know that you can injure yourself if you are unable to see.  Stumbling around in the dark is slow-going.  There are obstacles and pitfalls.  When the electricity goes out, especially if there is a blackout in the neighborhood and no streetlights to shine into the windows, we realize that the dark is very, very dark. 

The dark can feel oppressive, even heavy.  It is always such a comfort to light a candle, turn on a flashlight, or start a fire to bring light into the dark.  I have noticed on such occasions that in pitch blackness, the glow of even the smallest light can bring light to a wide area.  It is almost as if the light pours around the room, spilling over into the darkness. 

I have never been in a blackened room in which I have lit a candle or turned on a flashlight that the darkness spread into the light rather than the light into the darkness.  Darkness will not ever overcome the light.  When I light more candles and place them around the room the collective light chases the darkness into the recesses and corners.  Only a few shadows remain.  Shadows remain even in well-lit rooms, but the light chases the shadows around allowing no place for them to hide.

It is like that with the light of Christ.  There is darkness in the world, this is undeniable.  But the light of Christ spills over into the darkness, and the darkness of this world will never overcome this light.  We who bear the light of Christ multiply this light in the world, bringing light to even the darkest places. 

This Advent let us prepare ourselves to be bearers of the light of Christ to a world in darkness.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Reflections on the Half Century Mark

Today is my 50th birthday.  Also, today I had the honor and privilege of speaking to the senior high school girls at a tea hosted by the local Lion's Club.  It is a fun thing they do every year.  The girls dress up, eat finger sandwiches, and drink tea from real china cups.  Many of the girls have never had that opportunity before.

When I was first asked to speak, I noticed it was on my birthday, and that was part of what prompted my reflections for this post.  These girls are 18, give or take.  I was in their place 32 years ago.  There have been some major changes since 1983.  When I was a senior in high school, only a few took computer classes.  Now, it is part of the regular classes and elementary children know more than I did then.  The computing power they carry in their pocket is greater than the first computer which weighed 27 tons and took up a whole room. 

I reflected on what has happened in their lifetime, the events that to me were a brief period of time ago, and to them is history.  They were never really aware of a pre-9/11 U.S., and for them wars have always had ambiguous borders.

Women have always been allowed at the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel.  There has always been WNBA and female referees have always been in the NBA.   While there has been great advancement in the way of women's rights, there is still a long way to go.

In the past fifty years the U.S. population has increased from 194 million to almost 319 million.  Life expectancy rose from 70 to 78.  The median family income has increased from $6,450 to around $52,000.  In 1965 a new house cost around $21,000, a loaf of bread was $.21, and a new car was around $2,650.

I have learned a few things in a half-century.

1.  Everyone needs a role model and a best friend.  You need a role model that is an example of what you are working toward.  This does not mean you are trying to copy someone else, or not be yourself, it just means that someone who is further down the road is giving you an example of the possibilities and how to get there.

It seems that the reason to have a best friend would be self-explanatory, but it isn't just for companionship, and it shouldn't just be anyone.  It should be someone that accepts you for who you are, where you are, but doesn't leave you there.  Someone that being around makes you a better person, and your presence in their lives encourages them to be better people as well.  Sometimes friends are lifetime friends, sometimes it is the season of life you are in that determines your friendship.

2.  Everyone needs to know themselves very well, and to look at themselves honestly.  Looking at yourself honestly means you recognize your strengths and your weaknesses.  You do not make excuses for mistakes, but learn from them.  You examine your goals and work toward them without apology.  You also need to remember that it is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and you continue to grow as a person.

3.  You need to know how to say, "I'm sorry." You will make mistakes (see #2), and sometimes those mistakes will hurt another.  It is important to say, "I'm sorry."  But you should never apologize for being who you truly are, as long as you are truly trying to grow as a person.

4.  Speaking kindly to everyone will serve you well.  Treat others - all others - with respect.  Regardless of their or your station in life, regardless of whether or not you think they deserve your respect, always speak to others with respect. 

5.  Don't be so focused on the present, that you forget that decisions you make now will affect the future.  Don't be so focused on the future, that you forget to live in the present.  Don't be so focused on the past that you never move forward.  Your life is not a series of disconnected moments, but part of a continuum.  Things that happen today will have an impact on the life you have in the future. Make the most of your whole life, not just concentrating on short term happiness, but learning to be patient that there are great things to come.

These are just the top five musings for the half-century mark.