Saturday, July 22, 2017

Friendship or Fellowship?

Last week I picked up another "circle of friends" candle holder.  I now have three of them.  When I first came across one several years ago I didn't really know what one was, but it was intriguing to me.  A circle of people together embodies unity and exemplifies how we are to live as kingdom people.  Maybe that is what draws me to these.  I have used mine to begin Bible Study class and I have seen them used in Centering Prayer, at retreats, etc.  I wrote an earlier blog post on 10/28/13 and shared about the Circle of friends candle and using it in a bible study.  Click here for that blog post, that includes a song by Point of Grace, "Circle of Friends".

I found this information about the history of the "Circle of Friends" from candles.lovetoknow.

Circle of Friends
The Indian legend says that at the end of the evening, friends would gather around a bonfire and share their hearts and speak of the good qualities of each other and remember times shared. As the embers faded, their friendship was said to be sealed anew bringing them closer together. As you sit with the candle lit in the middle of your circle of friends, it will surround and embrace all who sit with you and bring good luck to those who stay together.

My new circle of friends candle holder is not one of these Mexican mayan styles, but I do have one of those too.

Friends gathering together, sharing with one another, sharing their hearts, speaking of the good qualities of one another and remembering times shared.  These are important things for us to do and for us to be for one another.

Friendship is a high calling.  Today I read something that caused me to chew on the difference between friendship and fellowship:

"While it's wonderful to have friends, fellowship is a higher calling.  Friendship proceeds from the soul and is based on the emotion, while fellowship proceeds from the spirit and is established on God's kingdom.  What passes as "fellowship" in some churches is usually just friendship." ~Kent Crockett

As I mentioned, I'm chewing on this distinction.  I hear the author's distinction, yet I am not so sure there is such a defining difference.  Both friendship and fellowship proceed from deep places within, according to the author, but fellowship is founded on God's kingdom.

Does that mean for the author that friendship cannot be founded on God's kingdom?  I don't think the author is going there.  It seems that fellowship is a higher level of relationship and not all people or churches truly attain it.

I think the author is also saying that at times because of the emotional investment in friendships, we in the churches will compromise the true fellowship of God's kingdom and kingdom priorities.  (I take this from this quote and other writings in the book.)

Friendship is a wonderful blessing.

Fellowship is an added blessing.  When I think of fellowship, I hear "fellowship sweet" ringing in my mind and go seek and find the lyrics to "Trust and Obey".

Trust and Obey

  1. When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
    What a glory He sheds on our way!
    While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
    And with all who will trust and obey.
    • Refrain:
      Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
      To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
  2. Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
    But His smile quickly drives it away;
    Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
    Can abide while we trust and obey.
  3. Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
    But our toil He doth richly repay;
    Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
    But is blessed if we trust and obey.
  4. But we never can prove the delights of His love
    Until all on the altar we lay;
    For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
    Are for them who will trust and obey.
  5. Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
    Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
    What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
    Never fear, only trust and obey.

Friendship or fellowship?  As I reflect on it, my thoughts are that it doesn't necessarily stop with "or", but can become a "both/and".

It is truly when we as followers of the Way, as followers of Christ live into this way of living of trusting and obeying that we have true fellowship with our Creator and one another.

May you be blessed on your journey with a circle of friends to share life with, to share your heart, and to share fellowship with as well.

Blessings on your journey,


Monday, July 17, 2017

Scattering seeds

Good morning.  Though there is some humidity, it is cool enough to sit outside and drink coffee this morning.

The sky was a little dark, but it isn't supposed to rain today.

Before I can start on this week's message, I need to let go of last week's message. It was still working on me, in me, and even through me yesterday afternoon and evening. 

Yesterday I preached on the Matthew 13 passage from the lectionary (1-9, 18-23). The focus that came to me over the week was the indiscriminatory scattering of seeds, so that is the direction I took. 

We recently did a series on building relationships for real life and I made a connection to that. You can read yesterday's sermon below, noting that not everything is said and other things are added.

"Discipleship: Growth"
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (CEB) [Common English Bible]
July 16, 2017 (6th Sunday after Pentecost)
 Flintstone UMC [United Methodist Church]

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (CEB)
1That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore. He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”
18 “Consider then the parable of the farmer. 19  Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path. 20  As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. 21  Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 22  As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 23  As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.”
THANKS BE TO GOD.                                             
Three weeks ago I started a series on discipleship from Matthew with the sermon title "Be Like Jesus".  Last week's title was "Come To Jesus".  Today's title is "Growth".  It's been a little different preaching a series when I've been at a different church each week, but for me it's still a series.  And, even if you don't hear every lesson, each of the parables points us to Jesus and teaches us about discipleship. 

We know from the overall Gospel message that we are called to live, love, lead, and serve like Jesus.  That comes from our relationship with Jesus and our discipleship.  There is a cost to that discipleship as we follow the ways that Jesus taught us. 

Today's passage is a parable and has been labeled many things over the years: that of the farmer, the sower, the seeds, or the soil, depending on how you look at it.  

As the passage worked on me this week, I ended up focusing on the abundant hope and opportunity of the scattered seeds.

Looking back to verses 3-8: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one."

Notice where the farmer scattered the seed-- everywhere: on the path, rocky ground, some on shallow soil, other on deep soil, some among thorny plants, other on good soil.  

The farmer's position was to scatter the seed and he did, without discrimination. This is counter intuitive for us.  We would want to prepare the land, do everything we are supposed to for the planting.  But he simply scattered the seed.

There is a time and place to do all the preparation, but there is also something to be said for a willingness to scatter the seed, the good news and allow it to grow.  We aren't in charge of its growth.  God is.

We have tools to help us till the land demographically, such as MissionInsite, so we can know our people.  I used it when I first got here.  I have also started asking people in community what they think the greatest need is here in the community.  We can learn much from these tools and conversations and adjust our mission and ministry.  

However, are we not still called to scatter the seed of the good news, the gospel, in all places?  If it grows and produces fruit, super.  If it gets grabbed up and taken away by the birds, maybe it will grow elsewhere.  Ours is to scatter the seeds.

Brennan Manning wrote the Ragamuffins Gospel.  In another book, Reflections for Ragamuffins, he writes, "What the world longs for from the Christian religion is the witness of men and women daring enough to be different, humble enough to make mistakes, wild enough to be burned in the fire of love, real enough to make others see how unreal they are." (Quoted in A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, p.278)

Are we willing to be this type of Christian?  Are we willing to share the good news of Jesus Christ wherever we are, with whomever we find ourselves?

I know it's awkward and it's risky.

We spent a month on learning how to talk about God moments and share our faith stories in order to help us engage in conversations with others so we might better listen to their stories and build relationships for real life.  It takes time.  It takes vulnerability.  It takes a willingness to get out of our comfort zone.

I came across another quote in my studies this week:

"The gospel calls us to count up the cost of our witness.  Part of this process is the assessing of our power as well.  In God's grace the Church discovers that its members are not helpless victims of aliens powers but bearers of gifts, competencies, and influence for effecting change.  Just as Moses was told to use the rod in his hand and the disciples were bidden to feed the multitude with the lunch they had, so we are expected to use what we have. (James Forbes in A Guide to Prayer for All God's People, p.232)

What do YOU have?  You have your life, your stories, your history, your faith, your witness.

Example:  Vivien.  Because of Vivien having gone through the surgery, she was asked to speak to a woman who was about to go through the same surgery.  Vivien shared with me that she could tell this woman was afraid.  Vivien shared with her from her experience, upon request, showed the woman her scar, listened to the woman.  Because of Vivien's experience, she was able to come along side another person and speak love and life into them.  Each of you is part of that story because you spoke love and life into Vivien, you have prayed, you encouraged her faith in worship, through emails, texts, and calls.  

On Friday we explored the Raccoon Mountain Caverns and then drove on up 41 to a place where I had heard they had good pizza and views.  And, they did!  Delicious wood fired pizza and a spectacular view of the river.  What I wasn't expecting was the conversation with the young lady who worked there.  She was an art teacher, taking a break from teaching, hoping to go back if she can recover from burn out.  She would like to be at Rossville Middle or Chattanooga Valley Middle.  We talk teaching for a moment, then there's that awkward moment for me when I wonder if I really want to scatter seeds of the gospel and build relationships for real life or not.  I jumped in.  And what a blessing it was.  I learned she grew up with Carey Forrester and had a nickname for Carmen, "the smiling lady".  She remembered that the Forresters attended 'the little rock church' and had recently driven down the back road, saw the church, and thought about them.  I mentioned that Gary plays piano and they are here.  Later in the conversation, I asked a harder question (for me): where do you worship? and I learned that she worships at home these days.  We talked about how that is good, yet worship in community is also needed for strength and growth. I invited her and her family.  I also gave her my contact information if she wanted to talk about faith stuff.  Whew. 

Scattering seeds.  That is what we are called to do. Building relationships for real life so that we can share the good news of our faith. It takes willingness, intentionality, and getting out of our comfort zones.

[Share about the seed packet from Courtney and Justin's wedding.]

The disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable of the farmer and he did, in the second portion of today's reading, verses 18-23.  He explained where each seed fell, what that meant, etc.

But we don't need to worry where the seeds fall.  God will work on the growth of the seeds.  We are called to scatter the seeds and allow God to grow them, to trust that God will grow them.  

As we obediently scatter seeds, God will work on our growth.  It's a basic principal of discipleship as we live into who God is calling us to be in following Jesus.

The more seeds we are willing to scatter, the more conversations we are willing to have with others, we will notice the growth that takes place in us.  

I want to close with a portion of a prayer I found:

"Lord, I already know the best way to alter my life-style to the best advantage for all-- live like Jesus.  The Christian existence ideally is to imitate what you do.  You send the sun and rain on everyone, you want me to get back to the basic facts of life, to love without reservation, to distinguish between life's needs and life itself, and seek first your kingdom knowing you will meet all my other needs." (Thomas Pettepiece, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, p. 235)

May it be so.

On the way home I read an article several people had shared and commented on about one pastor's experience in Waffle House. It was somewhat long, at least reading it in a phone, but we'll worth the read. It reminded me that we are called to love folks in community, to be available to them, and meet them where they are. We show up, we live life, we share life, we listen, and we love. God takes care of the rest. Like the example in this blog post, there may come a time to do more than that. We might learn the deeper reasons of the behaviors of people. If not, we continue to show up, listen, share life, and love.

Here is a link to that article by Gary Liederbach at One Direction Community (North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church), "He's My F*cking Pastor!."  Yes, it has the "f" bomb in it (and some others), but they aren't in full word form. As I posted on Facebook, move beyond that. If you can and do, you will see the bigger picture.

A week or so ago, a colleague of mine posted about her experience in community. Because she takes the time to get to know folks in the store where she shops, she knew this employee was having a difficult day. Though I can't recall the exact details in how the dialogue began, a conversation took place and the employee shared what was going on. My colleague is this employee's pastor without her ever having been to the physical church. 

Scattering seeds of love and life into those we meet daily. That is the task of a follower of Christ. This packet of seeds is from the first wedding I officiated at Flintstone UMC and made its way into yesterday's message.

Scatter those seeds folks.

Blessings on the journey, 


Monday, July 10, 2017

Abiding time-- Remember

This morning's abiding time is out on the patio, in front of the running fountain. It is cool outside for the moment.  The sun was already up when I arose because I slept in some this morning.  I have coffee and I've walked around the yard to check out some of the flowering trees.

Now it's time to sit with the Word.

As I pick up Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God by Macrina Wiederkehr, I'm at the last chapter.  This book has been an excellent one to read, reflect upon, and work through.  I have not read through it quickly. In fact, I started it in 2012.  It has taken me 5 years to read through this book.  Now that may be considered something more like 'slow reading' lectio tardi rather than 'sacred reading' lectio divina, the spiritual discipline of prayerfully reading a text, but I have taken my time with this book to savor it.

Today's final chapter is entitled "Little Lights along the Way".  The concept in the chapter is about remembering.  The Scripture passage for today is Deuteronomy 8:1-20.  If you'd like to take a moment to read it, you can look it up or click on the passage in the previous sentence and it will take you to, where I have linked to the NRSV.  From there you can pick any other version or language.

The key verse for the chapter is verse 2: "Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert."

As I mentioned, the focus for this chapter is the word "remember".

Macrina notes, "Remember is a beautiful word.  To remember can be the source of much healing." (204)

The Deuteronomy passage calls the people to remember their 40 year journey in the wilderness, to not forget the Lord God, to remember the commandments, to remain humble, and to never forget the origins of the blessings that they will receive.

It's important for us to remember.  In the midst of the difficult times, we call out to God.  However, we can tend to forget to be thankful and/or rely on God when things are plentiful, bountiful, or easy.

Yesterday I preached on the Matthew 11 passage in the lectionary.  A portion of that is 28-30.  On my way home from the District Superintendent reception, I needed to get gas for the car.  The sign "rough road" that always gets my attention, got my attention again.

This time, while my car was filling up, I walked to the edge of the parking lot and snapped a picture.  When I got home, I wrote these words to go with the picture and posted on my Instagram and Facebook accounts, as a way of remembering:

This sign on Boy Scout Road indicates there is a rough road ahead. It is good to be warned. We aren't always so lucky. Regardless, when it gets rough, remember the mandate that Jesus gives in Matthew 11:28-30--“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message)

We are called to remember. We are called to remember the mandates given to us, to remember the blessings, to remember the things we've been through, the people in our lives, etc.

Macrina also notes, "Remembering is a spiritual practice." (204)

Macrina adds, "Remembering the source of our blessings is an important piece of our life's work." (204)

As the Hebrew people were coming out of the wilderness, they began to show that they had learned much on their journey through the wilderness together.  

Macrina suggests, "They learned how to serve one another.  God took the sometimes questionable raw material of this incongruent group and formed them into community." (206)

In the reflection and prayer section, one of the reflections is this: "Name some of your own wilderness journeys.  How have you been led from slavery to freedom?  Who have been your guides?"

One of my wilderness journeys has been my journey to ordination.  As I have sought to correctly hear the One Voice on this journey, there have been many folks who have spoken life into me along the way, who have supported me, prayed for me, nudged me, encouraged me, and even pushed me. 

From the 5 Day Academy to the 2 Year Academy to the HH Bible Study at Burks UMC and my Sunday School class there, to the support I had at Grace UMC when I started taking seminary courses to official mentors like Rhonda Hobbs, Amy Whatley Cook, and Ginger Isom to non-official mentors that would be too many to name to our Provisional class to seminary friends and colleagues along the way to my first appointment to my family to the Fellowship of United Methodists Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders (FUMSDRL) to the Walk to Emmaus community.  All of these things and people have shaped me on this journey (and MANY others, again.... SO MANY!!)

It has been a journey with questions and doubts, but also one with affirmation of calling. 

Just yesterday I had the opportunity to go through a catalog of memories because it was Linda Bird Wright's birthday and Facebook reminded me of that.  I was Staff Parish Chair when she came to Grace UMC and she is the one who was able to get me started on that purple book (that was no longer being used, but I did it anyway) with a mentor.  I went through mentoring prior to official mentoring for candidacy.  I remember that from my time with her and many other things.  Among them, she would say that she say me as a teaching elder.  Here I am today as a provisional elder in my 3rd year in my first appointment, working toward my full connection as elder with my ordination paperwork.  Who knew?!?!  

I take time to reflect and remember the blessings in my life.  The people, all the provisions God has made, even the rough times because they too have molded and shaped me to become who I am today.

Above all, I remember that I am wonderfully made and loved by the Creator.  That helps me going on the journey.

In closing, here is Macrina's prayer for this chapter:

"O Star and Staff of My Life, 
On my journey into the good country of my life you have lavished me with gifts and surrounded me with miracles.  Such treasures have come from your hand, O my God.  Thank you for your abiding presence on my wilderness journeys.  You are my light! You are my support! Guide me with your law and teach me.  Shine on the paths I must walk. Uphold me when I falter.  Feed me with the Bread of your Word.  Receive my love! Increase my love!  O Star and Staff of my Life-- on you I have leaned since birth." (208)

May there be times of remembering on your journey.

Peace and blessings, 


Friday, June 30, 2017

Hearts-- a reminder of love


I have started seeing them everywhere.  Rocks that are shaped like hearts.  Clouds, both in the clouds and in the spaces.  Leaves.  Designs in the coffee lattes.  Places on trees or on the ground.  Yes, I've even seen hearts in tar and gum stuck on the asphalt or concrete for WHO knows how long.

I forget now when I first noticed my first heart rock, but it came up in the history feed on Facebook a while back.  I didn't know about the hashtag "seeaheartshareaheart" until years later when a friend shared it with me and sent me a copy of the book. (#seeaheartshareaheart)  [Thanks, Bex!]

As I continue to see hearts and share them, you know what is happening now?  Folks are sharing them with me.

Local friends and friends who live all over see hearts and think about me.  Sometimes I get them via a text message.  At other times I get tagged on Facebook.  Sometimes both.  If I were to list all the friends that have been sending me hearts, I might leave out someone unintentionally, so allow me to simply say THANK YOU!  You have blessed me each and every time.

What is it about hearts that are so captivating?

Great question.

There have been times when a heart has shown up and been there to remind me I am loved.  Or, I'm praying for others and I'm reminded to remind them that they are loved.  It almost always comes down to love, for that's what is at the heart of the matter.

Just this week two hearts have been sent to me.  One was in a rock, found while someone was hiking.  The other was a rock in the midst of other rocks.  The day I saw the first one, a verse was shared  at Bible Study about love that stuck with me.  Though it was a different version than the verse I chose to put with the picture of the rock, I wanted to pass them on.  The verse is 1 John 4:18 and I chose The Message version to go with the rock.

Photo by Mary Igou, Fall Creek Falls
The person who found the rock in the midst of the rock put an appropriate Scripture  (Ezekiel 36:26) with that picture and posted it.  I copied the link and shared it on my Facebook.  It's a cool picture.

Today as I'm having some afternoon coffee, sitting in front of our outdoor waterfall, and enjoying the slight afternoon breezes, I looked up and saw a couple of heart clouds passing by.  What I see as hearts in the clouds may not be seen as others.  I realize that.  Isn't that true in other things too?  What I'm trying to be able to see in life and in people is the heart.  I want to get past the things that don't matter and get to the heart of the matter.  I want to focus on heart things, for they truly are the important things.

this one is starting to wisp away

this one is solidly attached to the other clouds

NOTE: These photos were taken of different clouds in different directions, though when you look at them together they have similarities.  It takes time with them to see their uniqueness.  Every heart has a story.

Hearts.  They are on my mind today.  I think it comes with the territory of loving God and loving others.  If I am going to truly love God and love others, hearts will become a focus in my life. I will care about the hearts of others-- emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  Every heart, every person with that heart has a story.  Am I taking time, making time to listen to those stories?  Am I getting to know the heart?

Those are the questions for me.

Here are some different questions for you.

Are you starting to see hearts in creation?  Does it help you think about the Creator and/or the creation?

Who are the people that come to mind when you see hearts?

Are there people you are holding space for currently for whatever situation in their lives?  Are you keeping someone in your thoughts and prayers?  If so, may there be a heart shown to you soon to remind you that they are in good hands, they are loved, and so are you.

Blessings on your journey,


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Abiding time-- being childlike

This morning I find myself on the penultimate chapter in Macrina Wiederhehr's Abide: Keeping Vigil With the Word of God.

As this abiding journey almost comes to an end, I will need to find other resources for my morning times.  This hasn't been my only source for morning times, but it has been an extremely rich one.

Truthfully, I've already done this chapter.  Somehow I skipped ahead and did it on 8/11/14.  But it is worth doing it again.  The title is "Somewhere In You Lives a Child" and the Scripture passages for today to read prayerfully are Mark 10:13-16  (NRSV) and Luke 10:21-22 (CEB).

The key verse for the chapter is Mark 10:15-- "Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it."

The verse (portion) that sticks out to me from Luke is verse 21-- "Jesus overflowed with joy from the Holy Spirit".  To see Jesus overflowing with joy, what an image! Praising God in that moment, being present in that moment, overflowing with joy from the Holy Spirit.

Isn't that what happens when the community of faith gathers together and shares the love of Christ with one another?!?!  Folks overflow with joy from the Holy Spirit and praise God.  It happens.  It does.  It can.  It doesn't always.  It's a matter of being prepared to receive from the Holy Spirit, being open to the Holy Spirit, being ready to worship God.  I know that I am not always a vessel prepared to overflow with joy from the Holy Spirit.  But, that's my heart's desire.  To worship in Spirit and in Truth, to praise God, and to lead others to do the same.

It means being intentional in worship.  It means being intentional in my abiding time.  If I don't remain in the vine, how can I lead others to do the same?

Last night's bible study focus was on remaining in the vine.  The key verse was John 15:5.  I put it with a picture of grapes growing on a vine that I took last Friday at the Stoker residence.  These grapes represent fruit of God and a family, of lives well lived, of family that loved and continue to love one another.

When we abide/remain in the branch, we will have joy.  That joy may not always be a "bubbling" joy, but it is evident when the 'joy of the Lord is your strength' as it says in Nehemiah 8:10 and when it's not.

Macrina's opening paragraph in this chapter says this about children: "Children are the world's most precious resource, our hope for the future.  They carry within their young souls the seed of new dreams for a world in so much need of healing. The child is fresh, innocent, curious, spontaneous, eager, natural, vulnerable, playful, full of laughter, tears, and dreams!  Children are still able to be delighted in gifts without price tags: a penny, a colored stone, a feather, seashells, falling leaves, soap bubbles, clouds! Children have not learned how to say, I'm too busy to play.  They usually don't try to edit their tears.  These are the ones Jesus says we must become like if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven." (198)

As I read these words from Macrina, I think about the Rossville Summer Academy.  Yesterday was my final morning to share the devotion time with a special group of kids at the Rossville Summer Academy.  A month long summer camp sponsored by the North Georgia YMCA, local schools in Walker County, local businesses and churches, and the Walker County Family Connection made this happen.  It was the first camp of its kind in community, a pilot camp.  The goal was to have 50 hand-picked rising 5th graders for this opportunity.  Though the camp wasn't full this year, there was still good participation.  They had academic and adventure activities the three days each week of camp.  The devotion portion each day focused on God's love for them.  Pastor Ginger Isom chose the Scriptures and the songs.  She also asked them "Who are you?" to which they responded, "a child of God".  I enjoyed my time with this group the 3 out of the 4 weeks I could be with them (Annual Conference was in the midst of this) and I took the Jesus Doll with me each week so he could be passed around for hugs.

Each of the verses that fell on my day allowed for good conversation and reminding the kids that they are special, that they are loved, and that they have a place in the world.

They truly are a precious resource.  I hope these kids at the Academy heard the message of love.  I hope they enjoyed the camp experience.  I hope we can continue building relationships with them and speaking life and love into them.

Later in the chapter Macrina writes, "It is not too late for us to touch the child within.  We still have access to our childlike spirit.  We can return to our original delight in life." (201)

Amen and amen. This is one of the ways I attempt to live into my authentic self, being who God created me to be.

I don't know whether you need to access the child inside you or encourage the children in your life, or both.

May this prayer that Macrina offers help:

     Look kindly on these children (name specific children) and upon all the children of the world. Let your blessing of love and protection fall on them like dew from the heavens.  Make your home in the heart of every child. Bless also the lost child in the lives of those who have grown up too fast.  Reveal to us the hidden wisdom that lives in every experience.  Unveil our grown-up eyes and give us joy in the little things. Return us to our original love.  Amen." (203)

May there be overflowing joy on your journey,


Monday, June 26, 2017

Bilingual Blessings

It's a cool morning, the birds are chirping, and some new flowers have popped out in the yard.

Before I head into work today, I'm taking advantage of this cool morning and some coffee.  Last week was a busier week than normal with deaths, extra visits, and meetings. But, there were some additional fun activities too, such as joining the BSA Pack 3003 at the drive-in theater to watch Cars 3 and attending a piano recital for one of the youth in the church. 

To top things off, last night I attended a bilingual worship service (Spanish/English) at the Chattanooga Valley Church of the Nazarene in Flintstone, GA.  We are connecting with the other churches in the area as we can and that is one way, to join with them in various worship contexts.  

The pastor for the Spanish service, Marcos Santos, comes over from Dalton, GA.  Jon Bemis is the pastor at the CV Church of the Nazarene.  Together, they offer these bilingual services on the last Sunday of the month.  Members from both congregations join for worship.  They sing, share the Word, hear a message, share Holy Communion, and then share table fellowship.  Food is culturally mixed. 

Having learned that MapCo gas stations has fresh chicken, I grabbed some chicken tenders on my way over so I wouldn't be empty handed.  I had met pastor Jon Bemis before, so I knew I would know someone there.

I had been advertising it in our church bulletins and inviting our folks to come out to this opportunity to meet folks in community, but I wasn't sure if anyone would come.  I was at a different church in the morning.

When I arrived, I was heading in and a woman noticed me.  She was heading into the building to the right. I asked where we would be and where I needed to put the food.  She said she would show me.  Then, she looked at me again and asked, "Emmaus"? I said "yes".  She introduced herself.  Susie Gilley.  Wow.  I had just shared her daughter Samantha's story with someone this past week, the part I knew from having worked a Chrysalis Walk when Sam was on it and Sam's joy of life through difficult times.  

She introduced me to the pastor and others.  Pastor Santos and I begin speaking in Spanish with some others and I felt right at home.  

Then, I saw other Emmaus folks, some I knew very well, like Joann, and others I recognized, but didn't know as well.

The worship in singing was uplifting.  We sang "I Give You Glory/Te Doy Gloria", "I Lift My Hands On High", and another song.  I was slow in finding the songs in the song book, but still enjoyed singing in both languages.

Because Pastor Bemis wasn't able to be there, Pastor Santos preached in Spanish and it was interpreted into English by a youth, who did a super job.

The message was encouraging and Pastor Santos shared some personal examples led to this Scripture passage.

The main passage was Deuteronomy 31:6-8 (NIV).

In Spanish, Deuterononio 31:6-8 (NVI).

These were words I needed to hear last night, in both languages.

Verse 6--"Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."

What I preached yesterday was Matthew 10: 24-39.  In that passage of discipleship, Jesus spoke "do not be afraid" three times.  We are called to "be like Jesus" as followers of Jesus and live as the teacher modeled, discipled, and taught.  But that's a different post. The point here is that for some reason, the message "do not be afraid" has been coming up quite a bit lately in my studies, preaching, and then last night in the bilingual service.

Pastor Santos' message was affirming and encouraging on several levels for me-- (1) as I continue to question how and when I will use Spanish in the kingdom.  (2) Also, we all need the message of strength and encouragement to continue in the face of adversity and difficulty.

We are all called to live into who God has created us to be and we are to be bold and courageous in doing so.  

Pastor Ken Hagler wrote a blog post this morning that spoke to the difficulties of life.  Check it out here: What Did You Expect?  Further Thoughts When Life Sucks.

There are difficulties in life, yes, but there are also blessings along the way.  The bilingual service last night was one of those blessings.  Talking with Susie Gilley and learning about her rose tattoo with the blue eye that represented Samantha was a blessing too.  Being reminded in several ways that we are called to live, love, lead, serve and be like Jesus with our heads held high in boldness and courage is a blessing too.

How are you being blessed in the midst of life's difficulties?  How are you blessing others?  How are you continuing to grow in and on your journey?

May there be blessings on your journey, 


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jesus Stopped

The chapter for my abide time three days ago was "Jesus Stopped" in Macrina Wiederkehr's Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God.  Just looking at the title, one would think the message was going to be about Jesus taking stops and rests.  There are passages in Mark that talk about this, where Jesus gets away from the crowd to be by himself, to pray, and/or to be with a small group of disciples.

This is my first thought when I see "Jesus Stopped"-- because I need more pauses and stops in my life. However, I haven't been able to stop much this week, though I have carved out some "pause" moments along the way.  When I'm not able to fully stop for a while, pauses are wonderful 'next-best-things'.  Pauses can be momentary or they can be longer.  It just depends.

I am in need of some longer pauses.  I recognize that.  In fact, I am in need of some stop time.  I will take time tomorrow on my Sabbath day of rest for just that.  Some "stop".  Some "rest".

Today, I saw this post by a friend and a colleague and it fit in to the message I'm working on for Sunday, "Be Like Jesus" and this theme of Jesus stopping and resting:

As I look back over what I read three mornings ago and the notes I took on this chapter in the book, I am reminded that the "stop" referred to in this chapter is not the 'stop and rest' kind, but rather the 'stop-what-you-are-doing-and-and-do-for-another' kind of stop.

The Scripture focus was Mark 10:46-52.

Jesus was leaving Jericho when the beggar loudly called out his name.  Jesus could have kept on going down the road and ignored the man, but he didn't.  He stopped.  Jesus stopped his journey in order to minister to someone else.  This interruption could have made him late to his next appointment.  He could have gotten in the afternoon traffic by stopping when he did.  It could have been an inconvenience to him.  Period. But none of that seemed to matter or even come up. Jesus stopped and listened to the man.

How often do we become still enough to hear the cry of someone calling out to us?  Can we hear it?  If we think we hear it, do we then become still enough to make sure that is what we heard?

I'm not great at it, but I'm attempting to work on my listening skills.  When I hear a "cry", whether it is from someone or a nudge from the Holy Spirit on someone's behalf, I attempt to stop long enough to listen.  What am I listening for?  The next step.  Am I to lift someone in prayer?  Am I to call?  Am I to take another form of action?

I have had the opportunity to stop and listen this week.

Macrina writes: "When Jesus heard the pleading and persistent cry of the beggar, he stopped.  Most of us find stopping and interrupting our schedules difficult." (194)

One thing that has helped me is to try to leave room in my schedule for stops and interruptions.  The other thing that has helped me is to remember that interruptions can be considered holy moments and I can encounter God in another person through it.

"Jesus had to stop; he had to interrupt his journey so that he could give his full attention to the one who was calling his name.  Do we know when to stop? [...] How do you need to stop and listen to your life? [...] How do I hear the voice of Jesus in my life?" (195)

On Sunday, after visiting a church member in the ER, we were heading out when I noticed a couple in another "room".  The man was lying in the bed and the woman was sitting in the chair.  They didn't see us, but something nudged me to go back and ask them if they'd like me to pray with them.  So, I did.  And they did.  The man was having stomach pains.  The woman brightened up that someone had come in to be with them. It turned out that they were from Murphy, NC and their doctor was here.  We shared our connection with that part of NC.  I could have ignored the "voice" telling me to stop.  I could have kept on going.  They weren't anyone I knew.  But I would have missed a blessing in meeting a wonderful couple.

The end of the chapter notes: "This is your week to stop and listen." (196)

Stop and listen.

I have attempted to do so and there have been some interesting results.  I found myself calling a Mexican restaurant and asking them to deliver some food to a local flower shop.  They did.  They became part of the chain of doing something for someone else because they interrupted what they were doing to help me help another.  That was a super blessing for them to do that.

It's a way of life, stopping and listening.  It's not just for a day or even a week.  If we are going to "be like Jesus", it's something we learn to do.  Period.

It's another area of learning and growing for me because there are times that my busyness or focus or other things will keep me from being able to stop and hear.  Yet, the more I practice stopping and listening, the better I become at doing it.  It's like muscle strengthening and muscle memory.

In the "reflection and prayer" section for this chapter, Macrina encourages the reader to "be on the lookout for opportunities to pause." (197)

There are other parts of the chapter that stood out to me too, but this is what gets shared tonight.

May there be times of stopping and listening along your journey.