Sunday, November 30, 2008

All Prayers are Appreciated!

I will be meeting with the Board of Ordained Ministry on Monday, December 1, 2008 at 6:30 p.m. All prayers are appreciated as I continue on in this journey toward ordination.

Where are You God?

Sermon on November 30, 2008, First Sunday of Advent, based on the text Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Christmas Lament

As I was looking over the General Board of Global Ministries web page for worship resources, I found a link for a song called A Christmas Lament. I found the words of the song very sad, a sad commentary on the state of our lives and our souls. The song was written by Dean McIntyre, and it is set to the tune St. Louis, which is "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
A Christmas Lament
I cannot welcome Jesus now, there isn't time enough;
with greens to hang and lights to string and other Christmas stuff.
There's gifts to buy and food to fix, and silverware to buff;
I cannot welcome Jesus now, there isn't time enough.

I have to take the children to see Santa at the mall.
There's Christmas cards to write and mail and guest lists I must call.
The garland isn't long enough, the Christmas tree's too tall!
I cannot welcome Jesus now, I just can't do it all.

The children's Christmas pageant at the church this Sunday night,
five dozen cookies to be baked, and costumes sewn just right;
the office party gift exchange, expenses out of sight.
I cannot welcome Jesus now, with time and budget tight.

The sermon says that Advent is the time I should prepare.
My datebook says it's Christmas Day, and I don't even care.
I kept so busy doing things, I never was aware,
that Jesus came unnoticed, for I had no time to spare.
I hope this speaks to you as it spoke to me. Time now to prepare for the Advent season.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Old Wounds

Six and a half years ago I crushed my ankle in a car accident. Along with that particular injury, I had a broken arm, elbow and leg. The ankle, however, was a doozie! It always looks like I have a softball on the end of my leg. Sometimes the softball is more baseball sized on my better days, but generally by the end of the day, it is approximately softball sized. After six years of this, it has gotten used to me. I say it this way, because I didn't have any plans to slow down to accommodate my ankle any more than absolutely necessary. Of course, I did have to make some minor adjustments to my life.

The first adjustment is that I function much better on even surfaces than anything uneven or unpredictable. I hate gravel and holes in the grass. You see, I do not have what my doctor called "four-wheel drive." My ankle can move up and down, but not side to side. It is the side to side motion that helps us keep our balance on uneven surfaces. Hiking and climbing are off my hobby list, but overall, I still do what I want, with one exception...climbing up to the cross at Canyon Camp.

Canyon Camp is the United Methodist Camp location I attend most frequently. It has a lighted cross sitting on the cliff of the canyon wall, and there is a relatively easy path to get there...if you have two good feet. If not, not so easy. I really didn't make it a necessity to hike up the canyon to get to the cross when I did have two good feet, and when I did make the effort, I certainly didn't appreciate the ability to be able to go the cross. But that is how it is with life. They say you don't know what you have until it's gone.

In less than six months following the accident I was released from rehab. I managed to put on decent shoes about two years out, and after four years I quit crying at near misses in traffic. So, after six years I have times that I do too much on my feet and my ankle swells, but generally it never stops me from doing anything I want to. (Yes, I am stubborn.) However, fear...fear stops me from doing a lot of things.

Fear stopped me from walking from the lodge to the dining hall. I would drive down there. Of course, it wasn't only fear that stopped me from walking to the dining hall, the road there was extremely uneven and covered in gravel. Time was also a factor. I could get there, but it would take four times as long and I would have no energy to eat once I got there. There is no way I could have gotten myself back after that. So practically speaking, driving was better for a while. Pretty soon, I got a little better at adapting to uneven surfaces, and a little quicker. I still walk with my head down watching every step I take to make sure I do not step on something that will send me down to the ground. It is really easy to walk into things this way, so I try to take company with me so they can watch where we are going. (This is no joke.)

Fear stopped me from participating in things that I did before the accident. Things like standing on my feet for long hours, like you do working camp. I know we get to sit down at camp, maybe for 15 minutes. Even the hour we may be in small group, we are playing games, etc., we are not sitting down. So, camp wore me out as well. Exhaustion is part of the problem. Even if I could gather enough gumption to do some of these things, the effort it would take for me to do some of it would be at least twice as much for someone without the injury. And something like camp can completely exhaust a healthy person.

After some time had passed to heal, I did start working camp again, and I did start walking down to the dining hall if I needed to. I still use my car frequently because I am no good if I am too busy proving I am super woman and forgetting that a week in the canyon is a marathon not a sprint. I have learned to pace myself.

Fear kept me from attempting the climb to the cross. I really didn't even think about it much until recently. Recently I started thinking of all the things I could do, like walking to the dining hall and working camp, so I decided I needed to tackle that hill to the cross.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Words of Gratitude

In thinking about Thanksgiving, I remember a time in which I reflected on my gratitude or thankfulness. This was a significant turning point in my journey into ministry. I am grateful for the opportunity for this moment of growth.

Early in my journey toward ordination, I was on staff at a church in Oklahoma City and was asked to speak in the morning worship service. Topic: Words of Gratitude. At this point in my journey, I had just made a career change from paralegal to Director of Children and Youth. Up until this point the only time I had spoken in front of a church was to make an announcement about some such something or another that was going on, children's moments on occasion, and I had been asked to be one of the speakers on laity Sunday to give a testimony on my faith journey. My home church attendance averaged around 120; the church at which I was on staff, about 450. My home church - friends, family, etc.; the other church, I probably would have never met the people there if I didn't work there. Home church, not on television; other church televised. Needless to say, I wasn't really sure how to go about getting over my nerves in order to be able to speak, much less on "Words of Gratitude."

Words of Gratitude, I felt the topic was a bit ambiguous. When the Senior Pastor asked me to do this, I didn't really know why or what he wanted. Was it simply for me to express my gratitude to those in my life to whom I was grateful, or did he have some specific thought in mind related to something he wanted to accomplish in the church? Generally speaking, it would be the latter as he always had a motive for most things he did, but he would not elaborate further. So I generally do what I always do in situations where I am not really certain about what is wanted and further information is not forthcoming, I just plowed right through.

Since the church knew I was on a journey toward ordination when I accepted the position there, I began to think about what I was thankful for in this regard. I expressed gratitude to my parents for raising me in a Christian home. I was grateful to my denomination of origin, because although I did not have a voice in that denomination, they still gave me a foundation in faith from which to grow in faith and hear God's calling. I was grateful to my denomination of choice which gave me a voice and the ability to follow God's calling. I was grateful to my home church which sent me forth on this journey with a blessing, and I was grateful to my new church home who welcomed me and enabled me to grow.

To this day, I do not know if this was what he was wanting, as he never said a word to me about it afterward. He was funny like that. I suppose since he wasn't upset, then it must have been okay.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Middle of the Week Thoughts

Since my return from the 5 Day Academy for Spiritual Formation, I have been diligently working on Advent planning, as it seems to be just around the corner. I took a moment off to do a couple of other things, but Advent planning seems to be the order for the week.

I tend to not be able to work on these things at the office. Things like sermon planning or worship planning, I need to be in a certain environment with fewer interruptions. You may be curious about what environment is necessary for such planning and inspiration to take place. Well, it is in bed, with my laptop on my...well, lap...and a pot of coffee near and a cup of coffee nearer. That is I can spread all my books out all over the bed (king size) and contemplate the flow of of the season and then the flow of each Sunday. My family knows this is focus time and so makes certain that this time is as uninterrupted as possible.

Does that mean that nothing happens when I am in such a mode of planning? Not at all, but I must realize that in order for things to happen, I must occasionally recluse myself from the rest of life to think, to contemplate, to pray, to meditate, to plan. I am at a great location and the majority of my congregation understands this need for this time, thankfully! This isn't a time like last week, in which I needed time to renew my spirits and refresh my soul, which is also time I need to pull away from day-to-day life and spend some time apart...just me and God. (In the case of last week...and the 65 other people pulling away to spend time with just them and God. This is why silence is important!)

We are given biblical examples in which we need to come away from the rest of the world to pray and to spend time listening to God. Time we need to refresh and renew ourselves, body-mind-spirit. But we tend to like to be busy people. I have given great thought as to why.

When I was younger, I went through a divorce. My husband left me and an infant. I was devastated. I was more devastated by his absence at such a time (with a newborn) than the reason he left (for another woman.) I was lonely. So, I filled my time, and I continued to fill my time. I talked on the phone constantly, and when one friend got tired of talking, I hung up and dialed the next one. I filled all the empty time and quiet places with activity and noise, so I didn't have to think or hear my own heart break.

When I was finally faced with time absolutely alone, no children, no pets, no one else there and it was just me and God in that house that day, I ranted and raved, angry at the God who lived just past the ceiling. If you had walked into my house that day, you would have immediately committed me to the nearest mental institution, because I did not have any semblance of sanity. I was angry, and I hated the emotion of anger, so I stuffed it until it erupted. It erupted someplace safe, when I was alone and directed at God, but many people do not deal with their anger or hurt or sorrow and so when it erupts, it erupts as lashing out at others. This is as harmful as stuffing it down until it hurts us with physical issues, or emotional ones, but we so fear the intensity of the anger within us!

Now, my anger at God eventually gave way to sobbing on God's big, divine shoulder and God cradled me and held me close and kept me safe until I was able to deal with the life I had. I think it is really important to be able to have those times of silence to give way to the tears as well. Tears we would never possibly express to another living soul. Tears that may spring up at all the wrong times, in all the wrong places, to all the wrong people. For me, tears are therapeutic, but only if I feel safe when I am crying.

As I was sitting during one of our many times of silence last week, the revelation that crossed my heart and mind was that noise covers a multitude of sins. We don't hear that still small voice, we don't want to hear that still small voice, so much so we put our fingers in the ears of our heart and say, "lalalalalalala God, I'm not listening!" We keep the busyness and the noise always close, so we do not have to deal with what is lurking in the silence.

But we do not have to deal with this frightening unknown alone. God is with us, and God is safe. I know many reading this may not feel like God is safe. I know I probably would have told you that I didn't feel God was "safe" to express my anger to, like I did, but it turns out that I only found that out by the expression of this anger. I would have probably felt that God was unsafe because I felt let down and disappointed at God. We also tend to blame God rather than ourselves or those we love. Once we have moved past that we are able to see ourselves, and even others for who they are, flawed human beings. But flawed human beings who are loved by God! Not fatally flawed! Just hurting, and broken, and wounded. If we saw ourselves through God's eyes, we would love ourselves so much! All the things that separate us from God would be gone and we would feel like we could sob on God's shoulder.

I have no idea how a post that started out as Advent planning ended up in dealing with pent up hurts and gaping emotional and spiritual wounds, but God must have a purpose for this post today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

God Was In This Place. Did I Know It?

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’Genesis 28:16

I am here in a pastoral retreat setting; here to form my spiritual life. Here among the beauty of nature and the kindness of others. I am here to learn from the masters, and I am here to ponder deep thoughts and to reconcile my understanding of God and myself. But I find that I am not having very much luck in my pondering. Maybe it is because I am not fully invested in the topic or question. Maybe it is because I am a rebellious child within, and am dragging my feet to do homework. Maybe it is because I would rather watch others than to focus on my own self. On this particular occasion I was to be contemplating a question.

The question I was to contemplate was, “in order to fulfill my religious life, what obligations do I have?” I quickly thought about the obvious answers of following a call to ministry, being a faithful spouse and parent, loving others. But before long my thoughts were wondering as they tend to do. In my boredom with my own musing, I do what I tend to do, and observe others. I looked around and spotted a man I know, and the relationship we share was immediately brought to my mind. This thought led to the question of obligations, and I pondered, finally, how relationships were obligations in all our lives. Then I wondered how I got here in my thoughts.

I am here with a man whom I hold in high esteem and high regard. He was an important part of my life at a pivotal point of my life. I love him. Not in the romantic sense, but definitely beyond the love we must have for all our brothers and sisters. More in a familial sense, although I feel that is presumptive on my part. My admiration for him does not fit into the parameters of hero worship, because that would be disrespecting his life of humility. Does he have any idea the impact he has made in the lives of others? Does he recognize despite any detractor that he may have that he has done so much more for God’s kingdom than he may realize? Does he still search for significance, or is he comfortable with the work he has done for God?

I am here with his wife, who is such a gentle soul I feel unworthy and yet deeply loved in her completely serene presence. She has also done a great deal for me in the way of furthering my spiritual side. She quietly encourages and speaks louder with her actions than her words. The same questions apply, does she know?

I am here with a woman who struggled along-side me and kept me from quitting my calling and, thereby living a life that would have been “less-than” because I would not have been fulfilling my purpose. She was my sage, my mentor, my rock and my friend. She is still that for me, but now maybe I can be that for her as well.

I am here with a man who was once a close friend, and although we still consider ourselves friends, we are not as close as we used to be. I still remember the talks we had that helped me along, and the ability to lean on one another when times were rough. I cared very deeply for him and I grieve the loss of the fullness of this friendship, but understand and recognize that things will never be the same, and there is nothing that can be done about that.

I am here with several people whose spirits are high in spite of physical limitations or set backs. One is an old friend with whom I had a time of closeness and then we grew apart; another is a new friend that I may never talk to again after this week.

I am here with acquaintances in ministry that I recognize and greet, and those who are closer and I confide in. I am here with a friend who is a mother figure to me, and a friend who has fatherly words of wisdom for me.

I am here with a woman I identified with and related to before we ever met, and a man I thought I would have nothing in common with and yet feel a bond. They teach me and I learn from them. I have so many questions for them…

I am here with those who are on the path with me, and lead me and guide me. I am here with those for whom I am the guide.

I am here with a young man who is extremely and incredibly talented, and rather than being vain about his abilities, has a humility and grace and love for God that he is passing onto a new generation.

I am here with a man struggling with personal problems, but knowing that in spite of or perhaps because of these issues, he needs to connect with God and take time out to fill himself. He is a good man, a decent man, and a man of integrity that I am just beginning to know.

I am here with a man who has a great gift of poetry, and every thought he has comes out as brilliant prose. I am here with a woman who is confident in herself and her choice of a lifestyle that others may criticize. I am here with a woman who is a friend of one those who face physical limitations, and she is here to support her friend and walk this journey with her.

I am here with those in whom my confidences are not safe, and those with whom they are. I am here with those who know me, those who love me, those who dislike me, and those who have no clue I exist.

I am here with a man who, a woman who, a friend who, a superior who, I am here. I am here and God is here, and what matters is, my obligation is, that I recognize God in this place.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Spiritual Formation

This upcoming week I will be at a 5 Day Academy for Spiritual Formation. I am very excited about going. I have wanted to attend one of these Academies for a long time, but the timing never worked out right. This year it has and I leave tomorrow afternoon. I am looking forward to spending time learning, reflecting and reconnecting with God. I will not be blogging until after this and I hope to have plenty to blog about when I return. God bless and have a great week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

History in the Making

As we sit and soak up history in the making, some of us are excited about the candidate that won, and some of us are disappointed in the outcome. Regardless of our personal feelings, it is over, and we are all Americans that should endeavor to live together in peace and harmony.

As I sit here waiting for president elect Obama to make an appearance and give his acceptance speech, I have to give kudos to John McCain whom I thought made a graceful concession speech. He spoke with love for his country and of admiration for the process. Good job.

In any event, I just wanted to write of my hope and prayers that now that this election is over, we can move on as a country and work together in peace.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Time

I lead a Disciple Bible Study class and last night we were talking about Cyrus being used by God to return the exiled to their homeland. We discussed how Cyrus was anointed by God even though Cyrus didn't know God. (Isaiah 45:4-5) I led them to think about if/then thinking. For example, if God is bigger than any person, then God can work through anyone, even those who do not know God. Or, if only certain religions or people can be used by God or have the right understanding of God, then God is only as big as those religions or persons. Of course, if/then thinking only gets us so far and can be flawed, but it is useful to help us look on the other side of what we are saying.

We tend to get all worked up about elections whether this person or that person is right for the position. We pass judgment on whether this person or that person has enough experience for the position. (I personally feel that no one is ever fully prepared for that particular job! I don't care how long or little they have been in government.) Many get adamant about their candidate or party of choice, many even circulate hate-filled email that can only be viewed as NOT what Jesus would do, and many even go so far as to be distraught thinking the world will come to an end if their candidate is not elected. So, my question for you people is: Do you really believe that God is in control of your lives.

After all, we are truly only worried about those things that affect us. If this were not the case, then more people would be asking the candidates what their stance is on Darfur or peace in Israel/Palestine. We want to know where the candidate stands on the economy, the troops in Iraq, and other things that affect us much more closer to home. We worry about whether or not our taxes will be raised or whether we will have the same or better standard of living that we have become accustomed. That is not to say that these issues are somehow "less" than any others, but we do tend to be very concerned with how the election will affect our way of living more than how the election will affect the poverty levels in third world countries.

So, tomorrow, when election day comes and we all settle into our our comfortable recliners with a bowl of popcorn to armchair commentate on the results, remember God is in control. Someone's favorite person is going to lose and someone's is going to win. It doesn't mean that America is going to Hades in the proverbial hand basket, it simply means that we, God's people, should pray regardless of whether our candidate wins or not, because whoever is in the White House come next year, it is going to be a long bumpy ride and the wisdom of God will come in handy.

If we believe that God is in control and God is bigger than any person, then God can use anyone, even those we feel are about as opposite of our morals and values as anyone can get. God can bring healing to our land, which desperately needs it. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is often quoted, but also often forgotten. "...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

(I found this prayer on "Methoblog" written by Ken Carter and Elizabeth Graves)

Creator of us all:
you are the source of every blessing,
the judge of every nation
and the hope of earth and heaven.

We pray to you on the eve of this important and historic election.

We call to mind the best that is within us:

That we live under God,
that we are indivisible,
that liberty and justice extend to all.
We acknowledge the sin that runs through our history as a nation:

The displacement of native peoples, racial injustice,
desecration of your creation, economic inequity, regional separation.

And yet we profess a deep and abiding gratitude
for the goodness of ordinary people who have made sacrifices,
who have sought opportunities,
who have passionately loved and cared for the earth and its fruits,
who have journeyed to this land as immigrants
strengthening its promise in successive generations,
who have found freedom on these shores,
and defended this freedom at tremendous cost.

Be with us in the days that are near.
Remind us that your ways are not our ways,
that your power and might transcend the plans of every nation,
that you are not mocked.

Let those who follow your Son Jesus Christ
be a peaceable people in the midst of division.

Send your Spirit of peace, justice and freedom upon us,
break down the walls of political partisanship,
and make us one.

Give us wisdom to walk in your ways,
courage to speak in your name,
and humility to trust in your providence.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Long Time No Post

Have you ever had one of those weeks? You know the ones, when you finally get to Sunday, you feel like last Sunday was three weeks ago. I had one of those. Since the last Sunday there was a death and a funeral, my computer had issues (which are now resolved thankfully), and we had a busy day on Friday and Saturday. Whew, I am so glad its Sunday.

Today I desperately needed Sunday. Even if Sundays are tiring and it feels like I have so much to do, I find there are times I really need Sunday. I need the fellowship, I need to feel the Spirit moving in ways that is only found in a community of faith. Do you ever feel that way? What happens when we miss that opportunity?

I read once about a man sitting before the fire with a friend who did not regularly attend church. When the man talked to him about coming to church, the friend said he didn't need to attend church to believe in God, to which the man agreed. Then he took an ember from the fire. In the fire it was brightly blazing and even being removed it glowed brightly with the fire it contained. However, as they sat together in silence, the ember now separated from the rest of the fire began to grow cold and pretty soon it was merely a cold, black lump. There were no other words needed to illustrate what happens to a Christian separated from their community of faith.

Partners in Service

This is the sermon for All Saints Sunday, November 2, 2008 based on the Scripture text 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13