Saturday, June 23, 2012

Living within Limits... a daily challenge

It's mid, almost end of June.  In theory, my schedule should have slowed down somewhat.  It has and it hasn't.  Instead of focusing on several things such as classes, internship, and work, I am primarily focusing on getting my daughter to and from swim practices and meets, reading my books for the upcoming Academy session, and a few other things thrown in. 

Though I don't have the time for it, there is a book on my shelf that keeps calling my name.  In truth, there are MANY books on my shelf that cry out for attention.  I have a book reading addiction.  Due to my required readings for the Academy and classes, I don't always get around to reading my "fun" books.  [I did finish Falling Upward by Richard Rohr a couple of weeks back on our vacation.  I will share thoughts on it another time.  Great book!]

The book that has called my attention several times is Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton.  I bought it in October 2011, after seeing it at a friend's house and flipping through it.  But, I haven't read it yet.  I keep picking it up, flipping through it, and putting it down.  Today, I read through some of the poems and quotes and glanced at a chapter.  There are quotes by Palmer Parker, Gerald May and poems by Ted Loder (among others).  I'm looking forward to reading this book.

The points in the chapter "Living Within Limits" caught my attention.  They were about what happens to us when we are not living within the limits of grace, but rather exceeding them.  I think we all tend to take on more than we ought, get less help than we could, and rely more on our own strength at times than on God's.  But since I'm writing, I'll speak for myself.  Some days, I can live it pretty well.  Other days, I'm on the edge and not living within limits.  It's a matter of staying grounded in the spiritual disciplines (practices), of taking care of my soul, of being deeply connected with my Creator.  And, when life is going too fast and I don't take time to be still or be in solitude, then I am in danger of being off track on the journey.

Here are the points in the chapter that show "we are dangerously depleted and may be functioning beyond human limitations" (104):

[found on pages 104-106]
  • irratability or hypersensitivity
  • restlessness
  • compulsive overworking
  • emotional numbness
  • escapist behaviors
  • disconnected from our identity and calling
  • not able to attend to human needs
  • hoarding energy
  • slippage in our spiritual practices
Barton writes: "If even a few of these symptoms are true for you, chances are you are pushing up against human limitations and you, too, might need to consider that "what you are doing is not good" for you or for those you are serving." (106) 

Moses was challenged by Jethro (Exodus 18:17-18) to share the load because that was what was causing Moses to be overly stretched.... NOT sharing the load.  Whether it is sharing the load, taking time to be still, taking some time to get away and refocusing, etc., it is important for us all to recognize our limitations and to attempt to live within the limits.

We also all need at least one Jethro in our lives to hold us accountable, to speak truth to us, to help us see what we might not be willing or able to see.  Find a Jethro, be a Jethro.

On your journey, take time to make sure you're living with your limitations.  The grace of God can carry you and help you get back on track when you're off it.  I know this from experience.  It's a normal part of the journey, at least for me, to attempt to find the fine balance of living within my human limitations and allowing God to work in and through me. 

Blessings on living within the limits on your journey,


Monday, June 18, 2012

Thomas Merton on contemplation...

This quote was posted on the Shalem Institute FaceBook page this past Friday.  It has caused me to slow down and think, reflect, and contemplate.

The quote:

"Contemplation is life itself, fully awake, fully active, and fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant Source." ~Thomas Merton (New Seeds of Contemplation)

What caught your attention as you read the quote?  For me, it was the "A" words: awake, active, aware, alive, awe.  Then the "S" words: spiritual, spontaneous, sacredness, Source.  It is powerful to think of contemplation as "life itself". 

 This quote led me to find out what more Thomas Merton may have said on the topic of contemplation, so I did a search "Thomas Merton on contemplation" and up came a list of a variety of options.  My first stop was the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living.  Here I found many resources, including a link that explains "We are contemplatively living when..." in 11 sentences.  Check it out here: "We are contemplatively living when:"

The Bridges to Contemplative Living look like a great guide for group study or retreat setting (both and other usages are suggested).  I wonder if I can talk anyone into using this as a study guide in one of my groups?  Or maybe I could offer this as a class in the fall?

For now, I will reflect on the words in the above quote, recognizing that life itself is contemplation and that contemplation is life itself. 

Thanks once again Shalem Institute for helping me center my thoughts, spend some time in contemplation, and thus allow my Spirit to be refreshed and renewed. 

I need to be more intentional about taking more time for contemplation.  What about you?

May there be moments of contemplation along your journey!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

If You're Distracted and You Know It, Clap Your Hands....

So, I wrote the blog post first, then tried to thing of a title.  And what came to mind but the children's song, "If You're Happy and You Know It...".  So, I thought I would change it to "If You're Distracted and You Know It...".  I know, pretty bad/sad.  But, I imagine it caught your attention.  Don't worry, it gets better from here.  The focus is on a quote by Gerald May:

"Whether we are distracted or not, whether we know it or not, whether we even want it or not, a communication between the soul and God keeps going on beneath the surface of our self-awareness. It is given, everywhere and at all times. There is no need to attain it; there is nothing we have to do to make it happen. Neither can we escape from it." ~ Gerald May, The Awakened Heart.

This quote was posted today on the Shalem Institute's Facebook page.  It caught my attention (obviously).  They posted a Gerald May quote today because today is the anniversary of his birth. 

What caught my attention?  "distracted"... along with the fact that whether we are aware of it or not (I currently am; I would describe it as 'restlessness' at the moment.), there is still "communication between the soul and God [...] beneath the surface of our self-awareness."  Whew!  Very good to know!!  Because some days, some moments it doesn't seem like it.  It rather seems that I'm living 100% of my own accord, in the flesh, and not communicating at all with God, though I desire to be and am really attempting to be.  Another example of a paradox-- wanting to communicate with God, yet feeling like it simply isn't getting across.  Like the connection is offline or something.  However, to be made aware that the soul and God are still communicating beyond my awarenes gives me some hope and relief!  Whew!

Gerald May goes on to say that "there is nothing we have to do to make it happen".  Hmmm.... then, why do I try?  I guess I try because just like with my friends and family, I desire that communication and want to see some physical evidence of it.  Yet, maybe I can become a little more satisfied realizing that even when it seems I'm not communicating with God, I am.  Something to work on in my journey. ☺  I imagine it is akin to being among folks and without words, you know you are still communicating with one another, simply because of the relationship you have.

Gerald May finishes this thought with "Neither can we escape from it."  That is another comforting thought-- we cannot escape communication between our soul and God.  I like that.  Something to think about.  Something to be thankful for. 

Thanks Shalem Institute for posting this thought-provoking quote today!  It definitely resonated within me.

Does it you on your journey?

Shalom as you travel and as your soul communicates with God!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Reflecting back on June 3--communion, buckets, church conference...

I haven't written yet about last Sunday, June 3.  It's been a busy week and I haven't had much time.  But last Sunday was a significant Sunday in many ways.  So, with the gentle rain waking me up a few minutes ago, I decided to go ahead and write about it.

June 3rd was one of those days that you knew was going to be busy... it was the first Sunday of the month, which means it was Communion Sunday in most Methodist churches.  Our church began a home-bound communion outreach last fall, but I knew I wouldn't be able to participate on this particular Sunday because of it being the last Sunday before the buckets were to be delivered to the District Office.

There were others who take part in the Home-Bound Communion Outreach who stepped up and out to cover that for Sunday.  That was one thing off my list. 

That meant I could concentrate on buckets.  Though my position as Director of Missions was officially over in May, the Hands-On buckets project for the Conference was one of the big projects we were doing (as were most Methodist churches).  We had gotten in most of those 5 gallon LOWES buckets, but we knew some would be coming in on Sunday, so the missions co-ordinator and I planned to check them in, pack, and pound (with a rubber mallet) the tops on that afternoon.  We checked quite a few in between services that morning!  That afternoon we spent a couple of hours packing and pounding away! 

Besides the buckets, June 3rd was to be the called Church Conference for me, to allow the church to vote on whether or not they supported me in my Ordination journey.  This was to take place after the first service, right before Sunday School, taking a little bit of Sunday School time.  That meant sacrifice.  Sacrifice of service time and Sunday School time.   Because we did have communion that day in service and we also had a very wonderful and special time to recognize the seniors in our community, there wasn't time for the sermon.  The pastor referred to the notes on the back of the bulletin, pointing out the highlights about the table.  The table is/was a table of sacrifice, love, and grace.  Those are/were the three points that stuck out to me as the pastor was living out those three by giving up his sermon time.    (He did get to preach in the 2nd service, and I was glad to be able to hear it!)

So, after the 1st service, it was time.  Church conference time.  Those who attended were given 3x5 index cards to place their "YES" or "NO" votes and their names (as a way of marking attendance).  Even though I had been to and through the Staff Parish meeting, this step in the journey was a little more nerve-wracking for some reason.  The pastor introduced the meeting, briefly describing what it was and its purpose and then handed the microphone over to me.  I had about 4-5 minutes to share my calling.  So, I shared quickly. ☺  I shared that which I felt like I should and stopped and sat down.  Thankfully, my pastor filled in the gap about me being in seminary and taking classes and shared that he was my mentor for the mentored ministry classes this past year.  At least those who didn't know I was in seminary did then.  Nice save, Nathan!  Thanks! ☺ 

Then, they voted.  Several folks came up to me afterwards, to share words of congratulations, encouragement, and support.  That was a blessing.  One person came up to me, showing me her card.  Since I had my glasses on, I couldn't see close up and was thinking to myself, 'I don't want to see a "YES" or a "NO" vote.'  However, what she said was that she was visting and not voting.... and that is what she had written.  She was a retired elder in the UMC and had gone to seminary with Nathan.  She came up to introduce herself.  That was pretty cool. 

Index cards were collected and we left.  I went to Sunday School.  Then, I came back for 2nd service.  The 2nd service is the Contemporary one.  It is our daughter's favorite one.  We sit up in the balcony for it.  I enjoy the worship and change of pace.  A little while into that service, the pastor looks up into the balcony and asks me if I'd like to know the outcome of that vote.  Uh.... not really..... not in front of all these people, thank you.  That's what I was thinking.  And thinking I'm glad I'm way up here, out of sight of most folks.  He went on to explain some about church conference and what had taken place and then mentioned that the vote was very close, then he said 50-0 in support/favor.  Whew!  Wow.   Okay.... that was a relief, a blessing, and extremely humbling!  Thank you Burks UMC for your support and encouragement!

The service went on.... worship, sermon, communion.  As I mentioned, I was glad to be able to hear the sermon in the 2nd service, and not just see the notes on the back of the bulletin.   It was during communion, as we in the balcony were preparing to go down that it struck me that this was the last communion with these two pastors.  Not only were they my pastors, but being on staff this past year, they were my colleagues.  Plus the lead pastor had been my mentor for mentored ministry the entire year as well.  Both of these men had allowed me to live into "iron sharpening iron" since we had come to Burks, even before I came on staff.  So, as we headed down to take communion, I recognized that this was one of those moments to capture in the journey.  It meant something to me to be in their line that day, the day of my church conference, the last communion together.

Beginnings and ends.  Alpha and Omega.  Paradoxes.  To be held together because they go together.  As I continue to learn and grow and dive deeper, there are more paradoxes to live into.  They aren't always this simple.  But, it's okay.  They are all part of the journey. 

I continue to be "blown away" by a God who continues to love me and work in me and through me. 

June 3rd is one of those days, those "marker" days in journey.  It may simply be a number on a calendar for most; but for me it marks a significant day in my path.

How about your journey?  As you reflect back, what are some of the significant moments and days for you?

Blessings on your journey!


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Extending Grace to More and More People... today's sermon at White Oak UMC

Today I had the opportunity and honor to preach once again at White Oak UMC as the pastor (Amy Whatley) headed up to Annual Conference.  It was good to be back among folks that I've gotten to worship with in the past and see them again, and to meet some new folks.  Several folks came to hear and support me this morning as well and that was an encouraging.  Thanks Riley, Charlotte, Val, Gail, Jim, and Bonnie!

Tony Burgess ran sound and did a great job, as usual.  He also had some help from Robert, a youth who is in training.  That's great!

David Kammerdiener led worship and had picked some great worship songs from The Faith We Sing: "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord", "He is Exalted", "I Love You, Lord".  The choral worship song was "The Heart of Worship".  It was a blessing to worship in song.

Lynne Corvin gave the children's message and it was a wonderful story on the different types of "taters"/ "tators" in our lives.  Though I couldn't see all the decorated potatoes, I know that there was a Mr. Potato Head in there as well as some decorated potatoes to represent IMItator, COMMENtator, DICKtator, etc. and a sweet potato to show that as Christians, we are different on the inside.  At the end, Ms. Lynne gave out Hershey candy to all the kids.  Next time, I'm going to be a kid!! ☺

Thanks again White Oak UMC for welcoming me and my family to worship with you today!

Below is my sermon (more or less):


Living God,

help us so to hear your Word

that we may truly understand;

that, understanding, we may believe;

and believing,

we may follow your way in all faithfulness,

seeking your honor and glory in all that we do.  Amen.

“Extending Grace to More and More People”

White Oak UMC

June 10, 2012
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

13But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak,14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

5For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.




Today is the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost.  This Scripture reading is one of the Lectionary choices for today.  As I’ve been reading, studying, and praying through these Scriptures in preparation for this morning’s service, I struggled with where to place the message focus.  Maybe you didn’t hear or see all the sermon possibilities in that short passage that I did, but here are the sermon titles that I came up with from it:

·       “If you believe, speak up!”

·       “Faith that prompts you to speak out”

·       The ongoing effect of grace”

·       “Don’t lose heart”

·       “Renewed daily”

·       “This tent is temporary”

You see what I ended up with: “Extending Grace to More and More People”, taken from verse 15.  Oh, don’t worry, I don’t plan on preaching every sermon that’s found in this passage.  Hopefully, we’ll see how the themes come together to help us live out our faith in the world around us—our church, our homes, our places of work, where we shop and play, etc.

Let’s take another look at verse 15: “so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”  As grace is extended to more and more people, it will increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  

What is “grace” and how do we extend it?  

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, grace is: “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification”.  

Sanctification--the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion

You may have heard this explanation before for the GRACE acronym: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.

Grace at its simplest form can mean “gift”.  

While I was researching for this sermon, I came across a book, the butterfly effect of Grace, by Rex Russell.  Through his teaching and now through the stories in this book, Rex has tried to get the message of grace across to others.  He boils it down to this statement: “Nothing I will ever do, good or bad, will ever cause the heart of God to love me any more or less than He does right now.”  That, my friends, is GRACE!  Hear it again, with a slight change:  “Nothing you will ever do, good or bad, will ever cause the heart of God to love you any more or less than He does right now.”  What do you think?  How does that make you feel?  Do you get it?

NOTHING you or I will ever do, good or bad, will ever cause the heart of God to love us any more or less than He does right now.

Again, this is grace!

Once we “get it” and accept it and start living it, then we can extend it to others.  As we live out the grace of Christ in our own lives, we automatically extend it to others.  [NOTE: I shared some personal testimony here about the biggest example of me learning to accept God’s grace in my life through my pregnancy in 2000.  I don’t remember all that I shared, but the bottom line was that even though it was difficult for me to accept God’s grace, once I did, I was able to extend grace more easily to others.]

An example of sharing grace intentionally in community is from just this past week when all the churches in the Chattanooga District joined in with the Hands-on Mission for the Holston Conference and loaded up food buckets for Zimbabwe on Thursday, June 7th at the Chattanooga District.  Last I heard, the District Office was expecting about 800 buckets; 500 over the initial 300 goal.  That’s grace extended to more and more people as these buckets will join with other buckets and will travel across the world to feed many!  Thank you for your involvement in this effort!

Every time we celebrate the sacraments of baptism or communion, grace is being extended.  We come together in community to celebrate these sacraments and recognize the grace of Christ that is extended to the one being baptized, to the family, and to the entire community that is promising to raise up that child in their faith or support that person in their decision to grow in their faith journey.  In communion, we take the elements of bread and fruit of the vine and remember our relationship with Christ and what Christ has done for us and what Christ means for us.  This, too, is an act of grace.

In Rex Russell’s book, the butterfly effect of Grace, Rex shares 12 stories of how the grace of God has affected lives and how that grace touched not only the one life, but many others.  There are stories that made me think, laugh, and cry in this short book.   What they all shared was making the most of everyday encounters with people—because those seemingly insignificant moments do matter.  And, we need to be willing to risk, to step out of our comfort zones because in those moments, things happen.   Rex puts it this way: “The most important thing about the butterfly effect of grace is that it starts when you and I simply open our eyes and notice the world around us.  It is about God using us to reach out to hurting people.  It is about helping them connect the dots back to God because you took the risk to flap your wings one more time.” (xxiii)

Think about your world for a moment.  Your home.  Your work.  Your daily commute.  Your shopping places.  Your church.  Your community.  Your ministry opportunities.  Are there people in your life to whom you can extend grace?  Think about your gifts and passions as you seek to extend grace as a way of ministry outreach.  

Maybe you are at a place in your life where you need to accept grace.  Maybe hearing those words earlier that there is nothing you can do to cause the heart of God to love you any less or more was difficult for you.  If so, allow grace in.  Don’t run from it.  Accept it.

No matter where you are in your walk with Christ, undoubtedly you have experienced grace at some point.  Has that grace prompted you to speak out?  Have you felt the effects of grace helping you to not lose heart and to be renewed daily?  Remember, this tent in which we live is temporary.  But the ongoing effect of grace will last long beyond the time our tent is gone.

As you sing the hymn “Help Us Accept Each Other”, look closely at the words.  See, hear, and experience the grace that is offered. [ALTAR CALL for those who wish to pray.]

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ fill each of you to overflowing as you seek to share the love and grace of Christ with those around you.


BENEDICTION: (from United Methodist Book of Worship, #559)

Serve your God with patience and passion.

Be deliberate in enacting your faith.

Be steadfast in celebrating the Spirit’s power.

And may peace be your way in the world.  Amen.       (Glen E. Rainsley, U.S.A., 20th Century)