Saturday, January 31, 2015

The end of January already?!?! (Looking back and reflecting over the week and month)

Today is January 31, the last day of the first month of the year.  2015.  Wow.  The year is already ZOOMING and ZIPPING by.

I have a full week between my J-Term studies and my Spring Semester studies to enjoy a little bit of a break.  I don't know if I will stay away from all of my reading the entire week, but I am going to try.

Meanwhile, here is a reflection from this past week and month.


Primarily my January was consumed with Contemporary Theology.  I traveled to Florida for the intensive on campus class.  I came back home to finish my readings, take the tests, and turn in assignments.  I finished all requirements this past week.  Some folks took the tests online.  Others of us took paper tests because there had been some glitches with the online.  It took me 10 hours to complete Test 1 and 5 hours to complete Test 2.  Thorough tests!  Pedagogically speaking, Test 2 was a good test.  The class was a very interesting and insightful one.  The readings will be helpful resources for the future.  That was my final required on campus class and therefore my final J-Term course.  Graduation is nearing!

January included the celebration of a milestone birthday for my Dad on January 8.  Woo hoo!

I attended two life celebrations in January, one on January 2 and one on January 22.   Throughout the month, I thought about my grandmother Meemo and her passing last January.  She was the grandparent that I got to know for the longest amount of years because she is the most recent to pass.  Because of that and because of my involvement in the aging and dying process, I carry many memories. 

January also brought the due date for the commissioning paperwork for Holston Conference.  It was due to be postmarked no later than January 5.  Since I would be in class that day, I knew I had to have mine mailed prior.  Since I was leaving town on the 3rd, that meant the 2nd.  On the 2nd I found myself making copies and getting to the Post Office prior to the funeral / life celebration I mentioned earlier.  It was one of those days when lines were long everywhere and the copiers weren't doing what they normally do.  It was an opportunity for me to keep my cool and keep moving on.  Life brings on interesting challenges at times. ☺

Wednesday evenings settle my soul through the Mid-Week Vespers reflection service.  This week was no different.  This week's theme was "Saying Yes to God".  One of the things we were asked to do was to pick a picture from the ones offered that spoke to us of saying yes to God in response to calling.  The one that stood out to me?  RISK.

I don't know exactly what this calling of "risk" means, but I do know that I want to live all out, with all that I have each day.  I want to be open, vulnerable, do what I can, be who I am, etc.

It struck me earlier in the week that my goal is 'making the most of everyday', living life to the fullest, being intentional about it, living life in the present.  I want to be open to the opportunities that God brings my way to be involved in the lives of others.   This means making time for silence and solitude so I can hear the One voice.  It means listening and obeying.  I don't always get it right.  I fall short.  But, it is a goal.

Part of my January adventures revealed that my blood level is low again.  I tried twice this month to give blood.  As an O-, I love to donate blood as often as allowed.  But, my body isn't allowing me to right now.  I am listening to my body.  I am adding iron to my daily intake in multiple ways.  Not being able to give blood did explain why I felt tired most of the month and why I was having difficulties concentrating on my reading.  It wasn't just because it was theology. ☺  Anemia is sneaky.  I have been there once before.   The doctors never found a reason for it. 

Because I can only do from that which I am, it is important for me to "be".  Therefore, I am listening to my body and resting when tired, increasing iron, etc.  I am reminded once again that we are body, mind, and soul.

My "being" continues to flow out of study, time with spiritual director, worship in community during the week, time with spiritual friends, exercise, etc.  These aspects of the journey strengthen me for the "doing" parts.

January has blessed me with some wonderful opportunities for doing, for sharing God's love and light into the lives of others and I am grateful for that.

Yesterday was a day of adventure and learning in which I joined some others and we went out to take lunch bags and coffee to folks around town.  We found a few people, but not at the camps.  We visited some camps that were new to me.  We found one camp that I thought was there but had been too chicken to find by myself last month.  I met some wonderful folks with beautiful smiles and great senses of humor as we shared the food and coffee with them.  It seems like so long ago when I first started helping out with Forrest Avenue and their ministry.  And it was.  I look forward to seeing how God continues to open up doors.

As I contemplate the month of January, I think of the lyrics, "I set out on a great adventure".  I also think of the lyrics "I wanna live with abandon" and "I'm diving in."  The first and last lines are from Stephen Curtis Songs, "Long Way Home" and "Dive".  The middle one is a Newsboys song, "Live With Abandon".  I've written about them before, but I'll include them here.  There are probably other songs that speak to me living each day intentionally, making the most, with risk, etc., but this is a good start.

This year is off to a great start for me.  How about you?  What are you learning?  What are you experiencing?  What speaks to you on the journey?

Blessings on your adventurous journey!

Debra ☺

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ziploc gift bags

You may have heard about the gift bags that folks have started putting together in ziploc baggies to give to folks on the streets.  They are called blessing bags, survival kits, toiletry kits, hygiene kits, etc. 

I had heard about them, but didn't really think twice about them until about a month (or two) ago when I was tagged in a post on Facebook by a friend, Bonnie J., that linked to an article on the topic.  Unfortunately, I am not able to find that exact article at this time.  I will put links at the bottom of this post to other articles.

After reading the article and several other articles on the topic, I put together a shopping list and started shopping.  My goal was to put together 10 bags. Family Dollar was a great place to buy items in bulk.  I also bought items at Target and Bi-Lo.  I was able to maximize my dollars by using coupons, watching for sales, and getting lucky. 

There are many helpful items that can go in the ziploc gallon bags, but only so much can fit.  My goal was to make sure there was protein, something to drink, something sweet, something to keep warm with, something practical, a note of encouragement, enough food for at least one day.

Here is what ended up in the bags my daughter and I put together :
  • small packet of tissues
  • chapstick
  • piece of chocolate
  • packet of tuna
  • small can of beanie weanies (pop top opener)
  • applesauce
  • Luna protein bar
  • pack of peanut butter crackers
  • small water bottle
  • juice box
  • packet of fruit snacks
  • beanie hat/toboggan
  • toothbrush
  • small box of toothpaste
  • packet of plastic utensils with napkin
  • packet of hand warmers
  • note of encouragement
All of this fit nicely into the gallon ziploc bag and cost about $10 per bag.

I first went out on December 23rd with Robin and Tony to deliver these bags.  We were able to deliver 6 of them that day.  I wrote a little about that day's experience in a previous blog post, "Hobo--contemplating the meaning of a word" on December 31, 2014.

Going out that day with Robin and Tony was a great blessing.  I learned that anything that is in a cup-type container to which hot water can be added is great.  (That reminds me that the oatmeal bowls are on sale this week, 10 for $10 at Bi-Lo.)  Robin mentioned that anything you would put in your own lunch bag or your kids' lunch bag is good to put in the lunch bags they give out on Fridays.  It helps to have the food accessible (pop tops, etc.)  Robin said that socks are always a great item to give because they can be used for many things.  I hope to learn more from Robin.

Here are some pictures of the bags:

note of encouragement
I still have 3 bags left to give out.  I was able to give one out yesterday.  I try to remember to keep one or more in my car, but I don't want the items to freeze or melt.

Yesterday, I was able to give a bag to a woman who was walking around the mall area.  I felt a "nudge" to ask her if she could use one of the bags or if she knew someone who could use one.  I tried to ignore the nudge because one can seem slightly crazy approaching someone on foot when you are in a car and asking such a bizarre question.  I had observed her walking from the time I left Starbucks to the time I had neared the mall.  The nudge wouldn't leave me.  She smiled and accepted the bag.

Maybe you have heard of these ziploc gift bags too.  Consider going in with others to put them together.  Check out some of the articles for ideas.  I have also heard of folks putting together sock packs in which they stuff socks with items and tie the socks together.  (You can be creative in what can fit in a sock or research what others have done.)

If not ziploc gift bags or sock packs, what is something on your heart and mind to do for others?  If you don't mind, would you share what you're doing?

Blessings on your journey!


P.S.  Several of the folks we delivered these gifts bags to in December are currently off the streets and in rehab and/or getting help in other forms.   I realize that gift bags aren't the solution, but I do know that if someone is hungry and cold, food and warmth is a welcome interim.  Let's all continue to do what we can in the short run and the long run to help our neighbors.

Links to articles about Ziploc Gift Bags:

Make Hygiene Kits for the Homeless by Jamie Littlefield
Blessing Bags--Keep on Hand for those in need or donate-- PLUS a printable checklist
Blessing Bags from Kids with a Vision 

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Rainy Friday full of unexpected adventures

My morning started off with coffee and a reading from Jesus Calling.  The words that caught my attention this morning from today's reading (January 23) were these: "As you live in close contact with Me, the Light of My Presence filters through you to bless others.  Your weakness and woundedness are the openings through which the Light of the knowledge of My Glory shines forth."

The words made me think of Gay Lynn and how her life shone brightly everywhere she went.  Her life celebration last night was full of life, love, shining the light, worship, and confetti!  Thanks to Ginger P. for taking this picture!

Picture taken by Ginger P. after everyone threw confetti
The words also reminded me that the light of God's presence shines through my life, through the wounds, through the weak areas.  Well, maybe not all the time.  There is that aspect of me needing to be close to God for that to occur.  Thought that might not always be the case (because I am human), there is grace and hope that I can be the broken vessel that shines the light of God to and for others.

I got some coffee for the road and it was time to take the girls to school, my day to drive the carpool.  I dropped them off and headed over to the mall to walk indoors.  That's the normal for a rainy morning.  Originally I wasn't going to be able to walk this morning due to my meeting with my Spiritual Director, but that got bumped to later.  I let my walking partner know in case she wanted to meet me, but I guess she decided it was a great morning to sleep in and enjoy the rain on the roof.  I agree.  I waited in the car until 8am just in case she showed up.  I was able to read some theology and take pictures of rain droplets while I waited. 

Walking in the mall seems like it takes twice as long to walk the same distance.  That might be because the GPS doesn't pick up as well inside for RunKeeper.  There are places inside the mall that don't have coverage and RunKeeper shows I haven't moved an inch.  My pace today got slower and slower even though I kept the same pace.  That's okay.  It is ultimately about moving, not the statistics.

After I walked I headed across town and ate breakfast at Chik-Fil-A on Gunbarrel.  I was thrilled to see a van with a Hispanic ministry name in the parking lot and its pastor, even though I didn't recognize either.  Sure enough, there was a trio of Spanish speaking guys at a table inside the restaurant.  I didn't intrude today.

As I was about to leave, a Chattanooga City Police Officer came in to eat breakfast.  Gay Lynn's daughter mentioned last night that her children have expanded Gay Lynn's thankfulness to all in uniform.  I sometimes do that.  Today, it was fresh on my mind.  As I went by the young officer, I wished him a good day and thanked him for his service.

Then I went to Earth Fare for some okra chips.  Yes, okra chips.  I first had them several years ago.  Then I got some at Christmas time in the fun game that my aunt in California had us play this year.  (I should post about our crazy, fun, awesome games some time!)  I found the okra chips and also saw some green bean chips.  I decided to get both.  At the check out counter, I got a cup of coffee too.  In speaking with the worker, I asked if she had ever tried the green bean chips.  She smiled and said they were better than the okra chips.  I didn't know how that could be.  Then, she smiled and said it was like eating regular cheetos (green beans) and puffy cheetos (okra).  What a great analogy.  I could see that from looking at them.  I was looking forward to comparing my new "cheetos" snacks. 

Okra chips
Green bean chips
I met with my spiritual director and after an initial time of silence, I answered the question "how is it with your soul?"  You know, even with another life celebration last night (making a total of 9 since last January), my soul is good, at peace, and full.  I always leave my time with my spiritual director with my soul refreshed.  Today was particularly noteworthy because we talked some about the end of my seminary days and the transitions.  I mentioned that I was looking forward to reading what I wanted to in the days ahead and doing some of what I wanted to.  My schedule will be somewhat more open.  But, like a good spiritual director, she didn't let me go into the land of delusion for too long.  She remarked, "Dream on."  I laughed.  It's true.  Getting out of seminary won't guarantee the above.  I've been observing others for years.  Remaining open and flexible and going with the flow will be a better way to live into it.  Live in the present. 

I found a dime at the gas station by the pump.  Finding dimes is like finding pennies, but nine cents more.  Plus, they have a special meaning ever since I heard Marcia D. share her dimes story on an Emmaus Team several years ago. 

There is quite a bit of theology to finish up before next Friday (reading and two tests).  And there is an upcoming interview with the conference and my final semester prior to graduation.

Maybe it's all the outdoor time that I am getting that is helping. Time in God's creation definitely keeps me centered.   There is a decent flow of journey inward and journey outward.  There is time to take care of me, to play, to meet with friends, to rest, and to just "be".  It is an ebb and flow. 

Speaking of the ebb and flow, it is time to switch from writing to reading.

I don't know your day has been like or how your journey is going.  I hope you have some unexpected adventures along the way that bring you peace and joy.

And, if you're ever really adventurous and want to try some regular or puffy "cheetos" like the ones I mention here today, go for it.  They are really good!

Blessings on your journey,


P.S.  Here is an article on hiking from the Outside magazine online that my friend Sharon shared with me yesterday.  Check it out.

Study: Hiking Makes You Happier

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Wisdom of Seeking God-- Mid-Week Vespers

Last night's theme for Mid-Week Vespers was "The Wisdom of Seeking God" from A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God.  When we arrived to the sanctuary, there was a box of Play-Doh next to the bulletins.  During the greetings time, we learned that the play doh was for us to play with during the service.  It was a hands-on way to remember that we are malleable, pliable in God's hands.  It was pretty awesome to watch everyone pick a can of the stuff, pop open the top, and begin to squish it between their hands and fingers.  It was a great way to allow the mind and spirit to free up while the physical let out stress on the substance.  How God spoke to each person with the Play-Doh, who knows?  For me, it was therapeutic to manipulate the stuff throughout the service and to realize that I am to remain pliable in God's hands.

Last night's Vespers was the service of help, hope, and healing which is done once a month in the rotation.  There is an opportunity for folks to come to the altar for anointing and prayer.  It is a special and holy time.   Pastor Reed Shell introduced the time of anointing and oil in a beautiful way.  It was a blessing for me to participate and pray for others.  It was also a blessing for me to stand in the gap for someone else and to be anointed and prayed for by Pastor Reed Shell. 

These evening services of prayer, song, and reflection continue to meet me and my spirit in that place that needs the space to breathe, the space for the body to catch up with the soul, the space to "be".

My soul is refreshed from Sunday worship services, from Scripture study, from prayer, from being out in God's creation, from silence, etc.  Different spiritual practices refresh in different ways as different exercises build different muscles in the physical body.  For me it isn't a matter of "either/or", but rather a situation of "both/and".

If you live in the local Chattanooga area, I encourage you to come out one Wednesday evening to Hixson UMC to check it out.  Come at 6:10pm for Holy Communion in the Parlor, then head into the "old" sanctuary / Chapel for the Vespers service at 6:30pm.  The service usually ends around 7:10pm and then folks head to the Parlor for coffee, dessert, and fellowship.

Blessings on your journey,



A few quotes from this week's reflection readings that stood out to me from A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God:

Rueben Job-- "Seeking God first is not just good advice; it is the only way to a joyful and faithful life in companionship with the One who made us and loves us without limit." (75)

William Paulsell-- "It is unlikely that we will deepen our relationship with God in a casual or haphazard manner." (76)

Shawn Copeland-- "If we are to enhance and build up the capacities for a good, wholesome, and holy life, we must learn to say yes to what affirms and renews wholeness and life.  And we must learn to say no to what induces and brings about destruction and ruin." (77) 

Donate blood if you are able!

Donating blood is a wonderful way to give to the community.  If you donate, thank you.  If you have considered donating, but haven't, know that in most communities, there is usually a shortage of blood.  Your donation is needed.  If you are not able to donate for whatever reason, spread the word about donating. That is how you can support the cause.

My first donation was with the American Red Cross when I lived on Long Island. I took my youth group.  I watched the little bag fill up with blood.  HUGE mistake.  I got woozy and didn't make it through the full donation. This wimpy youth director came close to passing out.  Lesson learned.  Don't watch the bag (or the needle).

I am O- blood type, a universal donor.  Because of that, I try to give whenever I can.  Once I was on the "O Team", giving 6 times in one year.  There were times I wasn't able to give due to trips out of the country.  Because of my three year bout with anemia, I wasn't able to give again until recently.  I have been able to give the last two cycles. 

Yesterday my husband and I had planned a "donor date".  We have done that once before, last year on Valentine's Day.  He was able to give.  Unfortunately, my hemoglobin was .1 below the required level yesterday for giving.  I can go back and try again and I will. 

In reading yesterday's (January 21) comic strips in the newspaper, I saw where Dagwood gave blood too.  He introduced a new perk to donating blood, one that I hadn't considered.  Now, don't get me wrong.  One doesn't donate for the perks-- the T-shirt, the little Debbie snack cakes, the raffles, or even the health benefits.  Perks are there.  Dagwood introduced the perk of a prescribed nap at the office after giving blood.  If you follow Dagwood, he doesn't need an excuse or a prescription, but he got the boss this time. 

In your area, check to see where you can donate.  Whether there is a Blood Assurance or the American Red Cross, give them a call, set up an appointment, or walk in.

I have friends whose lives have been blessed by blood banks and who are grateful to donors.  I have friends who work at blood banks.  I know it makes a difference.

On this journey of life, giving blood for me is a way of giving back, of meeting a need in community. 

What about you?  What is one way you can give back into the community today?

Blessings on your journey,


A few articles on the benefit of donating blood:

Life hack article 5 Health Benefits article
OneBlood--Health Benefits of Donating Blood

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Today has been brought to you by the letter "s"-- spanish, starbucks, and snow -- an interesting day.

I didn't know when I started this morning that it would turn out to be a letter day from Sesame Street.

Today has been brought to you by the letter "s".  Spanish, Starbucks, and snow.  Though some of the other activities begin with other letters, those make for an alliteration example. ☺

My morning exercise routine started off with a walk at Greenway Farms in Hixson, TN.  There was a beautiful patch of water with a thin frozen top.  It was inviting, but not too inviting.  You could easily tell that it wouldn't hold much weight.  It wasn't ready for ice skating, but it was pretty to observe. ☺

Then I was off to the dentist.  Not much to share there, except that it was a good visit and my teeth and gums are healthy.

I had a few minutes to spare prior to taekwondo class.  I decided the best way to fill that time was coffee and reading for my theology class.  Off to Starbucks to use my Christmas gift cards.  While I was reading my book and sipping on my mocha, I heard my second language being spoken.  I looked up.  In the corner were three women speaking Spanish.  I smiled to myself and went back to reading.  I didn't eavesdrop.  Honest.  But it did make me happy to hear the language.  I'm dorky like that.  I got to speak Spanish some last week in Florida.   Hearing it, speaking it, worshiping in it.... it makes me happy.  Well, worshiping in the language can sometimes penetrate my soul at a deep level and bring tears to my eyes too.  But, I digress.

When it was nearing time for me to head over to the taekwondo studio, I thought about saying something to the women.  I knew they would likely think I was a little wacky, but I decided to go ahead and approach them.  In their language, I permission to interrupt and proceeded to explain that I speak the language and that it did my heart good today to hear them speaking.  I also mentioned that I wasn't listening; only that I heard and noticed.  Then I wished them a good day and left.  Who knows what they thought of the gringa who had addressed them and left.

For me, it was a blessing.  You see, before my morning walk I had a conversation with my District Superintendent about being on the Holston Conference Hispanic Ministries Team.  I said "yes".  I am excited about this opportunity.   The 2 year bilingual Academy for Spiritual Formation affirmed me in my calling and my gifts and graces for Hispanic ministry, but there hasn't been much opportunity to get very involved.  There is a good explanation for that-- seminary.  Seminary has rightly been my focus.

After a great workout at taekwondo (my first time back since the holidays), I headed home.

I saw a snowflake come down from the sky.  Then it began to flurry at a faster pace.  It wasn't sticking on much, but it was beautiful to watch.  I went outside twice to hear the swishing sound that snow makes as it falls.  That is also a wonderful thing.  The snowfall has lessened now and this won't be the time that we get our "big" snow here in the state of Tennessee.  I am hoping for at least one big snow this season.  One that allows for sledding, building snowmen, making snow angels, and having snow ball fights.  Snow is wonderful.

What a day this has been.

Now to cap it off with some more theology reading!

What encounters have you had today?

May you be blessed and encouraged along your journey,

Debra ☺

Dangerous Journey-- Mid-Week Vespers Reflections

Last night I attended Mid-Week Vespers at Hixson UMC.  It was good to be back!  I missed last week because I was out of town for my intensive week of seminary class.  These reflective services of song, prayer, Scripture, and silence are just what I need mid week for my body to catch up with my soul.  I am grateful that there is a church in my vicinity that offers such a service that I can attend.  I am also grateful that they offer Holy Communion weekly at 6:10pm prior in the Parlor.  I like to take communion as often as I can and I missed the opportunity to take it this month during the regular worship service because I was on the road to my seminary class.  Being able to participate in both Holy Communion and the Vespers service feed my soul tremendously.  In addition, most weeks I am able to serve in some capacity and service is always a good thing.  I am able to attend to the inner and outer journey.

Last night's theme was "Dangerous Journey" from A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God.

The songs that we sang during the service were: "As We Gather", "All in All", "Abide with Me", "We Love You Lord", and "Sanctuary".  The Scripture reading was Psalm 97.  The responsive reading was Thomas Merton's prayer.  I had not seen it used as such and that is a neat way to use that prayer.  I don't know if the picture below is adequate enough to show the inside of the bulletin with the words, but here it is:

Jim and Bindy Lewis shared a special music selection after the silence time.  It was a song by Michael Card, "Things We Leave Behind".  Hearing the Michael Card song was a wonderful thing.  I have had the opportunity to see Michael Card many times when he has been here in Chattanooga.  His live music is so much more than a concert, it is worship.  He is such a talented and gifted writer and performer.  Though I have a stack of his music, I haven't listened to them recently.

Here are the words to the song:

Here is a YouTube video:

The atmosphere in the sanctuary is always peaceful and calm, a welcoming place to come and worship, to come and be.

During the prayer time last night we lit candles on this "believe" candle holder instead of the candles on the side of the sanctuary.

Last night's meditation included some quotes from the various readings in the prayer guide.  It also included some thoughts and a prayer from Jim's devotional time.  It was a meaningful meditation and reflection.

Some of the reflection readings that had caught my attention were those of Rueben Job, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and Marsha Sinetar (pages 69-71).

A few quotes and words from those authors:

From Rueben Job:

"The Christian life is seldom described as a dangerous journey. [...] ... the way of faith is not always the way of ease and comfort." (69)

From Thomas Merton:

the entire prayer that you find in the inside of the bulletin ☺ (70 in book)

From Richard Rohr:

the words "paradox", "darkness", "journeys" (70)

From Marsha Sinetar:

"To find in ourselves what makes life worth living is risky business, for it means that once we know we must seek it. [...] A few brave souls, however, do look within and are so moved by what they find that they sacrifice, from then on, whatever is necessary to bring that self into being." (70)  [This is from her book Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics]

[For more about Marsha Sinetar, you can check out her website here.]

As always, last night's service was a balm to my soul.

May there be peace, reflection, prayer, and silence along your journey!


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reflections from my sermon for Provisional Elder commissioning on November 23, 2014, "The Shepherd King"

I had the opportunity to preach at my home church, Burks UMC, on November 23, 2014.  "Had the opportunity" is a nice way of saying this sermon was the required sermon for my Provisional Elder requirements and I was fortunate enough to be able to preach at my home church.  It was Christ the King Sunday.

An interesting fact is that the only other time I have preached at Burks UMC was in 2011 on Christ the King Sunday.  My pastor/mentored ministry mentor/boss at the time, Nathan Malone, gave me the opportunity to preach during my mentored ministry class.  That was at the beginning of my M.Div. studies.  I had just started back to Asbury that summer on the M.Div. after having completing the Certificate in Christian Studies in the Fall of 2009 (and receiving it in Spring 2010).

It was a special opportunity for me to preach again at my home church on Christ the King Sunday now at the end of my seminary career and for the purpose of the requirements for Provisional Elder.

I chose the Old Testament passage from the Lectionary readings for the sermon, Ezekiel 34:11-16.  The title of the sermon: "The Shepherd King".

I planned to use the first service, the traditional service, as the one for the requirements.  That meant the second service was all about worship.  As I entered into the process, however, I recognized that the first priority was worship and not requirements, so that was my focus.  That was a blessing.  Especially when I later learned that there was a tiny technological glitch in the recording of the first service.  It was all good. ☺

Though I was somewhat nervous and humbled to preach in my home congregation because a) it is the largest congregation in which I preach and b) it is my home congregation, they were extremely gracious and supportive. 

After years of teaching, I have learned to keep water nearby when I speak.  I tend to dry up if I speak for more than a few minutes at a time.  Finding a place to put a water bottle can be interesting.  With a pulpit, it isn't too bad.  For the second service, the lectern is clear and there isn't really a place to store anything, so I placed the water bottle on the pew behind me.  I didn't take the time to get to it during the 2nd service.  Thankfully, my voice didn't crack.  At least I don't remember it doing so. 

As part of my paperwork requirements, I needed to turn in a verbatim manuscript of my sermon.  That is an eye-opening experience.  I am pleased that I said "um" only about four times in the first sermon.  However, I said "so" more times as a transition than I would like to have said.  But I have noticed that I use it in my writing.  Therefore, it has made its way into my speech.  Something to watch.    I haven't listened to the second service yet.  But, I got some constructive criticism immediately after the service on a sheet of paper from my teenager.  I know I repeated "visual representation" too many times.  Such is life.  Así es la vida. 

I used a different version of the 23rd Psalm in the 2nd service than I did in the 1st service because  of the congregation and style.  I also changed some references to songs that I had used in the first service.  Normal things.

It was a great experience for me to be able to preach at Burks UMC and to preach both services.  I am grateful to my lead pastor, Rowland Buck, for allowing me that opportunity.  The Associate Pastor, Amy Nutt, and the music director, Wil Martin, were also instrumental in making that day work smoothly for me.  The choir and special music were superb in the first service and the worship team did a great job of leading us in the 2nd service.  The folks that took care of the technological end of things and made it possible for me to record the service were super too!  What a blessing to have such a great team of folks there!

When I post my sermons, I typically post what I wrote prior to delivering the sermon.  I will do that again today.   It is not exactly what you will hear. 

I will also include the videos from the 9am and 11am services of the sermon, in case you want to hear either one. 

It was a blessing to be in worship that morning and to preach.

Thanks for sharing with me on my journey. 

May you be blessed on yours,



TEXT: Ezekiel 34:11-16 (NRSV)                                             
11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Christ the King Sunday
November 23, 2014
Burks UMC
"The Shepherd King"
Ezekiel 34:11-16
1st service

This may seem like a strange combination, talking about Jesus as shepherd and King.  Yet, both images are biblical.  Jesus didn't always meet the expectations of those around him, but he did meet the people where they were.  He loved them, he listened to them, he healed them, he spoke truth to them.  He fed them.  He challenged them.  What the people heard and experienced wasn't always what they wanted nor did they always accept it or Jesus, but that didn't change who Jesus was.  Jesus was and is the Shepherd King. 


[What is Christ the King Sunday?] 

Today is Christ the King Sunday.  It is also known as "Reign of Christ Sunday".  What that means on the church calendar is that today is the last day of the church year.  Today, we celebrate that Jesus Christ is Lord and reigns in our lives.  We can look back over the entire year and reflect on Jesus-- his birth, his life and teaching/ministry, his death and resurrection.

Next Sunday begins the Advent season in which we begin all over again, first by preparing for the coming of the child King.  

Today is the bridge between the end of the church calendar year and the beginning of a new church calendar year.  

This morning we asked the Lord to guide us in our opening hymn.  We recognized our need and our weakness, asking the great Jehovah to not only guide, but to feed us.  We were reminded by the choir that the King is coming.  

In the passage from Ezekiel, God spoke about how He planned to shepherd his people.  Yes, I know this is "Christ the King Sunday", but the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a 3-in-1 package for us all, so let's look again at God's promises as shepherd to the people.

[MENTION back of bulletin for notes if/as desired]

What do we learn about God as shepherd in this Ezekiel passage? 

As a shepherd, God promises to
--search for his sheep, to seek them out (v. 11 and 12)
--rescue them (v. 12)
--gather them in and feed them (v. 13)
--feed them and give them rest (v. 13 and 14) [the fact that God repeats the feeding part shows how important this is to nurturing.]
--seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak (v. 16)  [KEY SUMMARY]
[READ VERSE 16 HERE!] "I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy.  I will feed them with justice."

God shows care and concern for the people (the "sheep") here.  There is also a lesson for those who interfere with the flock, but that's a different sermon.  

Where are you in this passage?  Are you lost?  Strayed?  Injured?  Weak?  What do you  need from the shepherd today?  [pause]

There are other passages in the Scripture that refer to God as shepherd.  You might immediately have thought of Psalm 23 as you heard some of these verses.  In fact, many of you likely memorized it growing up.  Or,  you've heard it at someone's funeral or life celebration service.  The truth is, God IS our shepherd and is there to comfort us.  I learned Psalm 23 in the KJV as a child when going through confirmation.  That's the version I know best.  However, you may know it in another version or another language.  In whatever language and version you feel most comfortable whether from memory or from your Bible or the pew Bible, or the screen, would you join me in saying Psalm 23?

Psalm 23:
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Thank you.
There are other Psalms that share the imagery of God as shepherd and refer to us as sheep:
Psalm 95:7
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
Psalm 100:3
 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

What do we know about Jesus as shepherd?
Let's look at what the Bible tells us about Jesus as shepherd:
In John 10, we find it recorded that Jesus shares a parable about sheep with the disciples.   They have a difficult time understanding.  But twice during his sharing, he says "I am the good shepherd".  Verses 11 and 14.
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (NRSV)
John 10:14  14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,"

Then Jesus goes on (verses 15-18) to explain what his role as good shepherd is:
 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Jesus, the good shepherd, has followed in the footsteps of God, the good shepherd.  Yet, with all this imagery, what is the role of a shepherd?  Briefly, I will mention two things.
You may have heard that one of the roles of a shepherd is to lay down their bodies across the gateway to protect the sheep from prey.  Also, the shepherd calls out to his sheep.  The sheep learn to listen for the voice of their shepherd among the voices of the other shepherds.  They know their shepherd's voice and respond.
You can see how the people hearing God and Jesus speak about themselves as shepherd would relate because they knew these aspects (and others) of a shepherd well in their society and time.

Where do you find yourself hearing the call of the Shepherd King today?  (pause)  Where do I?
As sheep, are we weak?  Injured?  Needing nourishment?  Are we willing to surrender and rest and allow the shepherd king to take care of us?  Will we follow?

Take a moment of silence to reflect on how the shepherd is speaking to you this morning.  Listen for the shepherd's voice.   [ALLOW SILENCE!]

I encourage you to write down anything you may have thought about during the time of silence.  Pray about it.  Share it with a trusted friend, your Sunday School class or other small group.  

I came across a quote from Henri Nouwen on the topic of the good shepherd.  Nouwen's writings often encourage, inspire, and challenge me.  The quote came from the reflective readings in A Guide for All Who Seek God.  Nouwen reminds us whose we are: "I do not belong to the powers and principalities that rule the world but to the Good Shepherd who knows his own and is known by his own.  In the presence of my Lord and Shepherd there truly is nothing I shall want."
Know that the shepherd loves you enough to seek you, heal you, feed you, and give you rest.
Because of his love for you, for me, for all... let us rejoice, the Lord IS King!  Amen!

(closing song)

Go forth to serve in the strength, love, and presence of the Jesus the Shepherd King.  Amen.  (adapted) (Upper Room blue book-- A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, 341 )

                                                                        9am service

                                                                        11 am service