Monday, July 31, 2017

Seeds on the Path

In worship a few weeks ago, the preacher talked about the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. As he talked about how we are sometimes like each of these kinds of soil, I started thinking about churches - and how our churches are sometimes like each of these kinds of soil.

"Some of the seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. (verse 3) "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path." (verse 19).

Are churches ever closed off to the word of God? Are we hardened so much that we ignore the word of God?

I can think of meetings I've been in when we haven't tried to discern the will of God. Or, we think we know what it is, but we don't want to hear it, so we ignore it. The word can't take root, so the seed of God's word does not grow. We don't allow it.

Why is that? Are we too cynical? Are we too hardened by previous failures? Are we to entrenched in what we have done before to be open to the idea of something new? Are we so selfish about our churches - and what our churches offer us - that we refuse to hear what might be done that would be for the good of someone else? Are we so determined that the people who are welcomed to the church must be like us that we don't accept anyone else?

How do we hinder other people from understanding the word? Are we so set in our own interpretation of bibical scripture that we won't allow the thought of something different to be considered? By us or by someone else?

What hardens our hearts to the word of God? How can we change our ways?

(To be continued tomorrow.)

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Perspectives: Destash

This is a box that contains yarn. It's stuffed full of yarn. This past weekend I decided that my yarn stash was too large and that it contained too much yarn that I would never use. I have a friend with connections to a ministry at a prison near where she lives. She (and others) collect yarn for the inmates to use to knit layettes, chemo caps and other items to give away. I facebook messaged her and asked if what I had would help. The answer was yes, so I packed it up and sent it off to her this morning.

I've had a lot of this yarn for a long time, keeping it, thinking I might use it. Almost everything I sent to her were complete, unused skeins of yarn. Waiting for a purpose that I was never going to provide.

Believe me, it's hard to destash. It's hard to let go of what we aren't going to use - to admit that we will never use it, and that what remains is enough. 

And it's hard to find the motivation to go through what we have to separate what we will use and what we won't. And yet, to me, as I took the box to the post office this morning, I realized that it was an example of stewardship. 

What am I holding on to that I should let go of? What material items? What grudges? What hurts? 

It's time to destash.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Grace of Bread

Today (or a Sunday in the past, since you are not reading this today), I visited another church. Steve and I went there only because a friend was preaching, and we wanted to hear his message. We live in a different town than the church; there is no chance that living where we live, we would become members of this church. And there is the fact that we are already United Methodists who are members of a different church. I wasn't there in my Foundation role; I looked like a "regular" visitor.

As we sat there, a person brought us a visitor bag that had homemade banana bread in it. I tried to tell her that she didn't need to do that, but nothing stopped her, and we came home with bread. 

As I sat there in worship, feeling guilty, I realized that I was doing the church an injustice. My guilt was based on the idea that the bread was offered in exchange for something - that it was offered to persuade me that they were friendly and to try to convince me to return. That's not a very grace-filled motivation behind offering a gift, and why would I expect that their motivation was anything but grace-filled. The bread was a gift, offered in the love of Christ, to someone they did not know.

Glory to God.

Instead of feeling guilty, I should have felt thankful for their message of welcome and grace. And now I do. I think I'll write them a note to thank them and to encourage them in their ministry.

There is a lesson in this for all of us, I think. When we offer hospitality, we should remember that it is a radical act of grace, not done in the expectation of something in return. When we receive that kind of grace, we should be thankful for it, and not think it was done in "exchange" for something.

It's grace.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

All in

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:3).

I was reading the chapter in Searching for Sunday called Perfume. In it, Rachel Held Evans says, "Rather than measuring out a small amount of oil Mary breaks the jar and lets it all pour out. She's all-in, fully committed, sparing no expense. The oil she may have been reserving for her own burial, or the burial of a loved one, has been poured out generously, without thought of the future."

She's "all in." She is giving generously, with a prodigal nature, with no thought to the implications of what she is doing on her future. 

Imagine for a moment, what it would look like if the church saw Mary as a role model of a way to be a disciple. 

It's a dangerous way to live. It's a radical way to live. This "all in" nature of what Mary does is rare to see. Can you think of people who are "all in" as disciples? I can think of some. They are blessed in their service and their faith, don't you think?

Imagine for a moment how your life would be different if you were "all in."  I imagine that is what it means to pick up your cross and follow.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Another Bird Lesson

Another bird lesson.

When we are sitting outside, watching the birds, they do come to the feeder. They arrive one or two at a time, sharing the space. Some act a little skittish, flying toward the feeders and then "spinning" in the air, to return to the nearby trees, perhaps spooked by our presence. I'm always amazed, though, that many of them are brave enough to ignore us, and enjoy the seed with us sitting no more than five or six feet away.

But then, we get up and go inside, carrying our dishes to the kitchen, and the birds gather at the feeders. I can stand in our kitchen and watch them. They come from all directions and take their places, feasting.

Remember the book, "A Purpose Driven Life?" I think it's that one - the first line of the book is "It's not about you." When we step out of the way - either physically, emotionally, or intellectually - interesting things can happen. When we give up control, and move out of the way, ministry can happen. God can work - sometimes through us, and sometimes around us. But we have to allow it.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bird Communion

Another thing I've noticed about the birds is that, for the most part, they get along. There might be a starling who chases off a few smaller birds, or a blue jay might land on the feeder, causing everyone else to fly away, but, in the main, the chicadees, cardinals, house finches, gold finches, mourning doves, tufted titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers all share the feeder in harmony.

That's a whole lot of birds, all existing in community.

We could learn something from the birds. They are different, and yet, they are eating together.

It's one of the reasons that communion can be so lovely. Everyone - all the "birds" in the community, come together and share a holy meal. God invites us, and we come, in love and acceptance of each other.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Perspectives: 30 Years of Love

This is us. Thirty years ago today, Steve and I were married. 

This series of posts on my blog is called Perspectives. I post an image and write about what it says to me.

This image says love. This image is the beginning of my adult life with the love of my life. In this image I see the life that will come - the two boys who will be born - the joy and happiness that will surround our family. It began this day, thirty years ago.

My life changed that day. And I will be eternally grateful.

Happy anniversary, sweetheart. I love you.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Eyes Open for God

You may have noticed - and if you haven't yet, I'm sure you will - that there are lots of birds posted on the blog lately. Steve and I have once again filled our bird feeders, and the birds have arrived. In order to play with my camera (and to provide motivations to do so), I posted a bird image each day in June on Facebook. I've queued those up to appear here as well.

We're able to sit outside on our patio, and watch the birds while we eat dinner. It's wonderful. I've noticed a few things that remind me of faith. 

When  you open your eyes, you see. Sounds simple, but we don't always realize it, I think. As we watch the birds, we see birds - they come in droves to our feeders. But that's not the only place we see them. We see them on the apple tree in our side yards, in the oak tree in our neighbor's yard, in the woods behind our house, in the sky above our yard. As we watch the birds, our eyes are open to them EVERYWHERE. I think that if we weren't watching for them, we would never see them. 

It's like that with God, I think. When we watch; when we believe that we will see God, we do. Everywhere.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Perspectives: View from a Lighthouse

Yesterday, I talked about how what we see is influenced by what we choose to look through. Today's picture was taken from the top of the lighthouse that is at Summersville Lake. (I talked about it here).  
It is rare that we get to see the big picture. We don't get to look forward and see what the future holds. We rarely get to see the entire past - the whole of what has come before. We don't get to see into people's minds or their experiences or their thoughts (thank goodness - I don't really want other people to see that of me!). God rarely even gives us a glimpse of the good that one of our actions might have accomplished. The view we have is limited.

The truth is - and it's a truth that sometimes we forget - we are not God. God is God. God is able to see the whole picture. We should stop feeling guilty that we can't, and stop judging others when they can't. We should just accept the forgiveness offered and then pass it along.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What we are looking through

One Sunday, our senior pastor, Terry Deane, led the Children's moment. She had two pairs of glasses - one was a pair of sunglasses - made what you see dark. The other was a pair of glasses that enhanced the light around you. What you choose to look through influences what you see.

What do we look through? What attitudes, experiences, or beliefs color the way we see the world? It's true of everybody - everyone is biased by their lives. The question is - are you aware of it? Do you know what influences how you interpret what you see? Are you cognizant of the judgments you make, the conclusions you draw and how they are impacted by what you bring that is independent of what you are seeing?

Perhaps one of the ways we love other people is to become aware of our own biases and set them aside. Perhaps we allow the faith we have and the love of God we are called to share to color what we see.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wayside Shrines

Wayside shrines - "Often erected on highways that lead to popular pilgrimage sites, wayside shrines resemble birdhouses or tabernacles and, according to my guidebook, 'provide a place for travelers to stop and offer praise, turning heart and mind to God.' They signal to the pilgrim that he's on the right path and invite him to worship right where he is."  Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans

The image of these wayside shrines in my mind prompted me to consider the idea that all of us are pilgrims on a journey. We are hoping to follow God - as Christians, we desire to walk in Christ's footsteps through life, living a life that is obedient to God. We search for God's will and direction; we are nurtured by God's love for us. We strive to be a light to others.

What are the wayside shrines on our journey? 

I spoke with a potential donor last week. She called because she wants to leave a gift in her will to a trust that has already been established in her parents' memory. She told me that she was calling because God was prompting her to do so.

I was able to tell her that the spouse of one of her father's teachers had emailed us the week before to ask if we knew where the man's adult children lived because she had a file of information concerning their father to give them.

While the potential donor didn't call it a wayside shrine, she spoke of it as one. It was confirmation for her that she was on the right path - that God was leading her and she was following.

What are the wayside shrines in your life? Where have you encountered them? Do you see them? Do you give thanks for them?

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Monday, July 10, 2017


Have you ever heard of the word "palimpsest"? Don't tell me if you had! I hadn't, but as I was reading this morning it popped up in the following quote from Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans:

"Madeleine L'Engle said, 'the great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been.' I think the same is true for churches. Each one stays with us, even after we've left, adding layer after layer to the palimpsest of our faith." 

The great thing about reading books on my kindle (beside the fact that I don't have to find room for the books in my house when I've finished with them) is that you can tap a word and a definition will appear.  
palimpsest - a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
Churches - even if we've stayed in the same church all our lives - do that to our faith. They write in the book of faith and then, even as the writing is erased to make room for more, traces remain.  

I remember the Presbyterian Church where I was baptized, and the mark it made on my faith. I remember the Lutheran church I attended with a friend, and the emphasis on memorizing Bible verses in Sunday school. I remember my United Methodist Youth group, and the profound shaping of my faith that happened during high school.

I remember people who were God's grace in my life, helping God as he showered me with sanctifying grace.

I may not be able to read their words, but like a palimpsest, traces remain, and I am grateful for them. 


Thursday, July 06, 2017

No Place God has Abandoned

Yesterday, I wrote about the John 3 passage about the spirit: "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (verse 8)

Another point that Rachel Held Evans brought up in the chapter I was reading was that we fail to notice God at work. If the wind blows where it chooses - if God works where God will work - then we can't predict that or control that. 

We try. We think God can't possibly be at work in the people we judge to be unGodly. In the denomination we would dismiss. In the homeless or the angry or the addicted. In the children or the youth or the elderly. Those aren't appropriate dwelling places for God, right? (she says, sarcastically).

Evans says, "...I assumed God to be absent when there is not a corner of this world that God has abandoned."

Can't find God on the street? You're not looking.
Can't find God in that person in front of you? You're not looking.
Can't find God on the playground? You're not looking.
Can't find God in the immigrant? You're not looking.
Can't find God in the church? You're not looking.

It's a heavy statement. "There is not a corner of this world that God has abandoned."  

There are places I would abandon. Good thing I'm not God. And that I can't control the wind.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Wind Blows Where it Chooses

"The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

I think that verse is one of those lovely verses in John that we know must be true, but we just don't take the time to know what it means. At least for me, this is true. I've read it, but I"m always distracted by the rest of the very lovely chapter, and I don't think about this verse.

This morning, I was reading a chapter from Rachel Held Evans book, Searching for Sunday; she was writing about this verse. Jesus is trying to explain -- well -- everything to Nicodemus, and Nic isn't getting it. So, finally, Jesus tells him to compare the spirit to the wind - in fact, he uses a word that means both spirit and wind. 

Think about it. You see the work of God in the world, if you will look, but like hearing the wind, you don't know where God comes from, where God is going. You can't predict the wind (or God); you can't control the wind (or God). Even though we try.

If we look, we will see the work of God everywhere. Evans says we will recognize God's work by the fruit - fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Where have you seen those lately?

A few days ago, I was driving to work, and I saw a turtle trying to cross the road. In our impatient world,  no one is going to wait for the turtle to cross the road, or even notice that it is there. A turtle crossing the road is going to die. Horribly (for the turtle). I often just drive by, in a hurry to get where I cam going and do what I need to do, but today, I stopped and turned around. I was going to get the turtle out of the road.

As I was driving back to the turtle crossing, I saw a very large, black SUV coming down the road, right at the poor, slow turtle. Surprising to me, it stopped, right before it hit the turtle. A large (by large, I mean tall, athletic, young) man stepped out of the car. He rescued the turtle.

Kindness, right in front of me. 

The spirit moving. 

It wasn't a bit thing (unless you were the turtle), but maybe it was a big thing. Maybe it was God at work in that man's life, and in my life, to make himself known.

The wind blows where it chooses.

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Monday, July 03, 2017

Perspectives: Kindness

I don't know why I wanted to take a picture of this mail box, but sometimes, something I see says, "Take my picture and write a blog post about me!" So I do.

This is in the post office across the street from our offices. It reminds me of a time when I wrote letters. Actual letters. Not emails. Not texts. Not even cards. Actual, newsy letters. I wasn't a great letter writer - I procrastinated when it was "my turn" to write, but it was how my dad and I kept in touch as I was growing up. We wrote each other letters. 

I remember Steve telling the story (and I remember his mother telling it) that when she was in Europe, living there with George and later with George, Bob and Steve, she wrote a letter every day. One day she would write to her mother; the next day she would write to George's mother (her mother-in-law). 

I like digital. I like the convenience of email, of texting, of picking up the phone. I don't want to go back to not having that, but there is a certain kindness that is involved in letter writing. Writing a letter is more trouble; when you get one, you know that the person sat down and invested time in contact you. So this is my question: How do we maintain that kind of kindness in our digital world?

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