Saturday, March 21, 2015

Study Break... sharing life's lessons from the comic strips

I don't get to read the daily paper thoroughly as often as I'd like.  I want to know what is going on locally, nationally, and internationally.  I also enjoy reading the editorials, the various columns, and the comic strips.  I get lots of life's lessons from the newspaper.  Often, many of them come from the comic strips.  Sometimes there are just some chuckles as I read "Baby Blues" or "Zits" and can relate to the life situations and challenges.  At other times there are things that make me stop and think, those "cause for a pause" moments.

There was a comic strip in the Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago that caught me attention.   It was February 22, 2015.  The comic strip was "Jump Start".  Take a look:


Wow!  That last block left me paused, sitting there in silence, waiting.  Waiting for the next frame to miraculously appear and begin to tell me a story of desegregation in the church, but nothing appeared.  It could be that the author did intend to share with us that the young man's church was also desegregated, but the lesson here felt rather like, 'we have learned to live out desegregation in the community, yet we haven't done so well in the church.'  

That's the message I took away from the comic strip.  I don't know if it was the intended message or not.

I am a proponent for multicultural worship.  Add multigenerational to that.  You can add multidenominational (ecumenical) and multilingual if you'd like.  We can learn much from one another when we come together in worship.   Worship for people of different cultures and languages has components of worshiping with heart, mind, soul, and body.  People worship differently.  People tend to worship within their comfort zones, on many levels. 

I also know that for some folks it is important to worship in within one's community, to share the deep and rich traditions, to be able to express oneself freely without feeling out of place.

It's not an either/or situation for me, but rather a both/and. 

An example.  I am Caucasian.  Or white if you prefer that term.  Or non-hispanic as it is listed on some forms.  Most of my life I have worshiped in primarily white congregations.  That is mainly because of where I have lived.   However, take me to to an African American church, a Spanish speaking church,a Native American worship gathering or to Jamaica or Costa Rica and my spirit finds its home in worship there.  I can easily and freely worship within those contexts.  I may look out of place, but my spirit is at home.  

I love the spirituals from the African-American culture.  I enjoy the songs from the African culture that have life in them.  There is a Zulu song, "Walking in the Light of God" (Upper Room Worship Book #433) [similar to "We are Marching"] that I cannot stand still when I hear.  I have to walk.  At our 2 year Academy we would walk around the worship space when we sang that song.  At Soulfeast this past summer, when that song was sung, I couldn't remain still, I started walking.  

If I hear the gospel song "I'll Fly Away", I'm likely to fly.  Yep.  It's true.  I don't always "fly" when I hear that gospel song. In fact, since I felt spirit-led to "fly" a couple of months back in my home church and did..... and later realized the District Superintendent was worshiping with us that morning (GULP!), I am sometimes more hesitant to fly. ☺  However, having said that, if it truly is spirit-led, then my worship is not about me or others, it is about God.  So if you see me skipping, flying, walking, or marching, you can guarantee the Holy Spirit has "ahold" of me.

Worship for me is a time and place to surrender it all to God.  For me to be in community with others who are open to the moving of the Spirit is truly a joyful thing.

Spanish is my 2nd language and I am able to engage in worship in that language.  Another language, silence, has become a powerful language of worship for me over the past several years, teaching me that as I listen and wait in the presence of God I am transformed.

The comic strip "Jump Start" makes a point.  I think the point is that we are a little too segregated still in our worship.  I think we can do more to bring together the kingdom for worship and learn from one another aspects of worship.

The purpose of coming together at church for worship is not about us or our comfort, but rather about God.  Maybe if we were able to keep that perspective, we would be able to be more open to worshiping with others that look, speak, and worship different than ourselves.

Maybe, just maybe, we could get to the point where our churches are desegregated. 

I realize that some churches are doing it well and others are growing in their desegregation, little by little.  I also realize that some folks are happy where they are, regardless of race or language.  

My point in sharing is that this comic strip got me thinking.  Not only did it get me to thinking about how we don't share with one another in worship often enough and therefore miss out on some significant kingdom sharing, but it also got me to reflect on how the Spirit has worked and moved in my own spirit to allow me to worship among God's people.

What about you?  As you read the comic strip, what strikes you?  What reflections does it bring to your mind?

Blessings on your journey!


P.S.  I thought I would share the Zulu song with you.  I found a version of it.  ☺

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Healing the Wounds"-- sermon preached at Grace UMC and Fairview UMC on March 15

Fairview UMC
 Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach 2 sermons in one morning.  Though I have done that before in one church several times, I have never done that where you preach in one church and go to another one.  And, in this case, you leave immediately after the service ends and get to the next one.  It was odd to not stay and visit with folks, but they are accustomed to that. 

I am part of a group of folks filling in for the pastor who is on leave for two months to take care of her beautiful new son.  For me this is a great opportunity to not only preach, but experience what a 2 point charge feels like on a Sunday morning.

The first church was Grace UMC in Soddy Daisy, a former home church for me.  It has been about 6 years since we worshiped there.  I first went there in December 2000.  I got back into leadership in that church.  I started seminary while in that church.  I preached a couple of times there.  Being back there at this stage of my journey was meaningful for me and I shared that.  God has raised up quite a few folks into lay and ordained ministry through that church and it is powerful to recognize that.  My leadership skills in ministry were started there.

Though I hadn't planned to do the children's message there, I had one planned for the next church and mentioned that and was able to do it there.  That was neat.  I haven't done a children's message in a while and it definitely keeps one on their toes and going with the flow and the Spirit.  It went well.  The hardest part was doing a simple prayer at the end because they repeat everything you say.  I was thinking very carefully during that to keep it simple.

It was good to be back at Grace UMC for worship, to see folks we knew and to meet new folks.  I was blessed and encouraged by being with them again.

After preaching at Grace UMC, it was time to drive up to Fairview UMC.  I have preached at Fairview UMC about a handful of times over the past several years.   It's a wonderful community of folks that make you feel at home.  We got up there a few minutes before the service started so I was able to settle in a bit and get oriented.  Though it wasn't as much time as it would have been if I hadn't been coming from preaching elsewhere, the time was adequate. 

The only thing I noted in preaching back to back services like that yesterday is that I didn't have as much time to decompress, empty out, and fill back up again with the Holy Spirit prior to the beginning of the service.  But, that is what the prelude and worship did for me.

The prelude was perfect.  It was a recorded song that I recognized and immediately spoke to me.  I was able to enter into worship and prepare.  As we sang our songs of worship and prayed as community, I continued to be filled up.

It was a blessing to be with the Fairview community again yesterday.  They are always welcoming and kind.

Here is the written sermon from which I preached.  It's not exact to what was said in either church, but it gives you an idea.  The sermon was recorded because it will be used for my preaching class assignment. I may post that later.

Blessings on your journey,



"Healing the Wounds"
Grace and Fairview UMC
March 15, 2015

Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent and we continue our journey toward Easter.  Today's Scripture passage takes us to a section of the Israelites' journey as they wander through the wilderness.  Before we look at today's passage, let's get a little background.

The Israelites are at Mount Hor which borders the land of Edom.  In Numbers 20 we learn that Moses' brother Aaron has recently died on Mount Hor and Israel mourned his death for 30 days.
Previously on the journey out of Egypt the Israelite people rebelled against Moses and Aaron. They complained and quarreled about what they were eating, that they had left Egypt, that they had no water etc.  They mentioned that they would have been better off if they had stayed in Egypt. (three examples--Numbers 11:1-6; Numbers 14:1-4; Numbers 20: 2-13)

In Numbers 20:14-21 we learn that the Israelites attempted to pass through the land of Edom but they were refused passageway and forced to travel a longer route around to the Red Sea.  The wilderness area that they were forced to travel was a more difficult path, was hot and barren, and had narrow and steep ravines.  

With this background in mind, let's look at today's passage together of God's word:

Numbers 21:4-9 (NRSV)

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

LEADER: This is the Word of God for the people of God.
PEOPLE:  Thanks be to God.

Almost immediately after Israelites set off on their journey once again, they became impatient.  They weren't happy that they had to go the long way around.  They spoke against God and Moses and started complaining once again.  Those grumpy, grumbling Israelites.  What's with them, anyway?

If you've ever been stuck in traffic, had to take a detour route, or simply been on a long journey, maybe you can relate.  This past week there have been two major accidents causing delays and rerouting around the Chattanooga area:  (1) a mudslide on Lookout Mountain has closed Nick-A-Jack Road for the week, causing folks to drive a longer route up and around the mountain to get to their homes and to Camp Lookout and (2) a tractor trailer accident in the median on I-75 caused delays on both the interstate and alternate routes for hours.  I imagine impatience and complaining were among the responses to both of these incidents. 

In the background from Numbers 11, 14, and 20 we learned that the Israelites had a history of complaining when things didn't go their way.  Here they are again.  They are complaining about being taken out of Egypt (which was in truth being set free from slavery in Egypt).  The very next words of complaint out of their mouths are: "there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." (v.5)  If we looked at other translations, we would see that they are saying there is no "bread" and they are complaining about the manna.  Numbers 11 also records complaints about manna.  

Remember that they were very grateful for the manna at one time, when they were starving in the wilderness without sustenance (Exodus 16).  But now the manna is no longer satisfying their wants and they consider it "miserable".  The Israelites also complain about not having water here, but they just experienced the situation with Moses bringing forth water from the rock (Numbers 20).  How quickly they forgot the blessings and provisions upon becoming tired, hungry, and thirsty.

But it isn't just them, is it?  When we become tired, hungry, and thirsty, our impatience begins to show and our complaining comes through.  Like the Israelites, we can quickly forget the recent blessings and provisions we experienced or received.

Back to Numbers 21 and the Israelites.

They are complaining to Moses about being in the wilderness and the lack of food and water.  Before Moses has a chance to address their needs as leader, God steps in.  This isn't the first time that God had heard the people complain.  God's response to them?  God sends poisonous snakes among them.  The snakes bite the people and many of them die.  

I don't know about you, but when I see God's response to the Israelites, I don't let out an "Amen".  My response is more "Ouch" or "Oops."  God's response here is an attention getter.  It is surprising.  It worked.  

The Israelites realize their error pretty quickly and go to Moses, saying in verse 7: "we have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us."   The wilderness, the lack of water, and that nasty manna don't seem so miserable any more.  The Israelites have been shown dramatically what matters most to them and they have a change of mind and heart.

Moses prayed on behalf of the people and the LORD responded to Moses to make a serpent and put it up on a pole.  Those who are bitten can look at it and live.  Moses did as he was directed, making a bronze serpent and putting it on a pole.  Whenever someone was bit by a serpent, they could look up at the bronze serpent and live.  

In God's grace, God provided a way out for the people.  Even after all their complaining, God met them where they were and provided a way of healing for them.  It wasn't just a healing for their wounds, but a full healing of their woundedness.  Because of God's love and God's grace, they were allowed to live.  The Israelites repented of their sin and God provided a way of healing and wholeness for them.  That reveals God's love and grace for the people.

Can you think of another example in Scripture where God showed love and grace to undeserving people?  How many are so familiar with John 3:16 that you don't even need to look it up?
Let's hear it: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."(NRSV)

You might not be as familiar with the verses preceding verse 16.  Look with me at John 3:14-15:
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Because of God's love for the world, God provided a way for all of us to have healing. God provided a way for us to live through Christ.

The Israelites experienced wounds because of their complaining in the wilderness.  Though our wilderness journey is not likely a physical journey through a difficult land like that of the Israelites, it might be.  Or it might be some other aspect of difficulty.  In life on the journey we may find ourselves tired, hungry, and thirsty like the Israelites.  We might begin to complain in our worn out state and woundedness.  

When we find ourselves bitten by the snakes of this world and require healing, there is a wounded healer to whom we can go for healing.  

Henri Nouwen has written a book, the Wounded Healer and shares thoughts on "Wounded Healers" in his devotional Bread for the Journey.  Hear these words from Nouwen: 

"Nobody escapes being wounded.  We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.  The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.
            Jesus is God's wounded healer.  Through his wounds we are healed.  Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life.  His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.  As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others." (July 8)

Jesus Christ is the Wounded Healer to whom we can look and live.  In God's grace and love, our wounds can be healed and we can continue the journey.

As the Israelites were instructed to lift their eyes up to the bronze serpent upon the pole to be healed, may we lift our eyes up to the Lord, the Savior, the author and sustainer of life. 

Will you pray with me?

#335 (Book of Worship)

Everlasting God,
because of your tender mercy toward all people, you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross, that all should follow the example of his great humility.  
Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of his patience and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(The Book of Common Prayer, U.S.A., 20th Cent., Alt.)

May the God of the wilderness be with us as we wander through the desert of our lives.
May God keep us from being impatient and complaining
and walk with us as we learn to live as wounded healers.  Amen. 

(adapted from Donna Sinclair's prayer #19 in Worship & Song)

Grace UMC sanctuary
laughing Jesus, on the wall in the prayer room at Grace UMC
stained glass window at Grace UMC in prayer room

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Living the transformed life...mid-week vespers service and reflections

Last night's theme at the mid week vesper service was "living the transformed life".   As always, the theme comes from A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God.  The week's rotation of worship and song was the Holden Evening Prayer by Marty Haugen.

A reflection reading from the weekly reflections was shared after prayer requests and afterwards we were asked to write down on a piece of paper what question we had for God, what question was in our heart, soul, mind.

Here is that reflection:

"Our questions can serve us well in a time such as this, a time of grave uncertainty, of soaring potential, of fragile, yet resilient hope.  Our questions and questing are crucial, because they can help us live into the answer of the future.  I am certain of one thing: the love that is God is at the heart of the answer, just as it is at the heart of each moment--past, present, and future.  Faith today, tomorrow, and always seeks to live, to love, and to be loved fully.  It seeks the Holy and waits (though not always patiently) to be found; it nurtures and activates wisdom and compassion.  It chooses to embrace hope and to be embraced by hope, even when overwhelmed by despair; it seeks life even in the face of death.  We act in faith, knowing that we see only dimly.  But living in faith, we act anyway, choosing and doing the best we can.  We act and live in confidence that someday we will see face to face, that we will live into the answers.  For God's grace embraces our questions as well as our answers and our blindness as well as our vision, just as the sun shines steadily through the night, waiting to illumine the sky at dawn." ~From Wrestling till Dawn by Jean M. Blomquist (p. 142-143, A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God)

[After I read this quote by Jean Blomquist, I found myself wanting to know more about her and this book she wrote about wrestling and struggling.  A link to the book is included above.  It was published in 1994. She is a writer, speaker, and retreat leader.  Here is a link to something else she has written: Holy Ground, in/for/on Weavings.]

I found that to be a very powerful reflection to being our service.  As I thought about a question to ask God, that took a while, but one finally came.

We began the Holden Evening Prayer service.  I've mentioned it in blog posts before.  The first time or two you experience it, it might seem a little odd or different, because it is.  Yet, for me at least, it settles in deep into the soul and my soul finds rest in the litany of it, the rhythm of it, and its message.

The Scripture for the evening was 2 Corinthians 3:12-18.

Jim Lewis shared a meditation from the week's reflections.  Sometimes he shares something straight from the readings and at other times he combines that with his reflections during the week.  I believe he did both last night because he shared some personally and mentioned Rueben Job who has a reflection quote in the book.

A couple of quotes from the Rueben Job reflection:
  • "Living a transformed life is not possible on our own."
  • "We know that living a transformed life means living at God's direction with grace-given capacity."
  • "It means trusting more and staying close to the only One who can make us more than we are."
(all from page 141)

We read a prayer together by Norman Shawchuck:

     "Here, O God, I pray for a realization of my condition in your eyes. Help me to see and know myself as you see and know me.  Give me clear insight into my relationship with you.  Let me know myself as you know me.
     Give me assurance that I belong to you.  Remove from me those nagging doubts and needless fears that I may not be good enough to be numbered with the great company of heaven.
     On the other hand, if I am living in separation from you, if I am more a creature of evil than a child of God, O Great Physician, use your convicting scalpel on me.  Perform within me the surgery necessary to heal me of all soul-sickness.
     Christ, I abandon myself to you.  Do with me every necessary thing to assure my entrance into eternal life--and the heaven already prepared for me." (p 142)

When the service was over, I stayed in the sanctuary for a while before heading to the fellowship hall for coffee, cookies, and fellowship.  The atmosphere in that sanctuary is always peaceful and calming.  It's a place where you can breathe and slow down, allowing your soul and body to rest.

Hanging out in the sanctuary for a little while, I was able to engage in conversation with someone.  The evening's service had touched this person.  In the conversation, she asked some questions that caused me to reflect on my journey of living a transformed life, of becoming who I am today.

I shared some of the insights that have come to me through the seminary and 2 year Academy journey and last summer's two week retreats back to back.  As I've come to see myself as who God created me to be and as I am learning to live into that and learning to lead from that, I recognize it as an ongoing transformational process.

One can note the verb tense of "living" in the phrase living the transformed life and note that it is the gerund form, the present participle, meaning it is an ongoing process.

An analogy that comes to mind is the onion.  Layer after layer is peeled off as we learn and grow along the journey.  Throughout the peeling off of layers and ultimately at the core, we are still the unique person God created us to be.  However, there are layers of us that surround our core being, our center.  To get to the center, those layers need to be peeled away.  Upon peeling away each outer layer, the next inside layer is tender and raw.  It might bring tears to our eyes (unless it is a Vidalia onion ☺).   One can only take analogies so far.  This one may not fully work, but maybe it can help somewhat explain the layers and getting to our center, our true self.  If not, throw it out.

Take a look back over the Scripture above (it is linked to Bible Gateway) and the different reflections for the theme of "living the transformed life".

What speaks to you today?  What question(s) do you have for God on your journey?  What is your greatest need today?

Wherever you find yourself today on the journey of a transformed life, may you know that you are loved.

Blessings on your journey,


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Starting to find my rhythm for this semester... the ebb and flow of it all

After almost a month of being in classes this semester (they started February 9), I am finally starting to get into a rhythm of studying, reading, and writing for my classes.  About time, right?!?!  Well, it has been difficult to get into rhythm for many reasons.  One has been the weather.  Though we live in the south and haven't had as much ice and snow as others, we have gotten some.  For two weeks of February, local county schools were out 7 1/2 days.  One of those days we had about 8 1/2 inches of beautiful, fluffy white snow so I took advantage of that and did some sledding with my teenager.

Another thing that happened on February 9 was my interview for commissioning for Provisional Elder with the United Methodist Church.  I wasn't sure at first if I would write anything about it or not.  Honestly, I haven't had much time to write in the month of February as my time has been dedicated primarily to my studies.  But I decided that I would like to share a little bit since I have found my rhythm.

I drove the 2 hour trip in my rolling sanctuary to Alcoa, TN.  I was able to catch up with a life long friend on the drive and then spend some time in silence and listening to some music.  I listened to a CD of praise music, Praise 18 "Grace Alone" for a good portion of the trip.  Many of those songs ministered to my soul.  Though it might seem odd to some, while I was listening to this grace CD, there was a moment in time where it was as if a parade of saints in my life went through my mind to let me know they knew what I was doing, supported me, were with me, and were encouraging me.  From my relatives who passed in the 1970s to my grandmother who passed last year to friends who have passed within this past year and even more recently, they passed through my mind.  And whether or not it was my mind or the Holy Spirit, there was confetti involved in celebration.  It was a little surreal, but it was also comforting.  As I neared Alcoa, I put in a Danilo Montero CD and switched into Spanish worship mode.  Ah.... a different way of ministering to my soul.  One of the songs, "yo sé quien soy yo" ("I know who I am") spoke to me as did the song that talked about how we are the body of Christ.  By the time I arrived at the church I was pumped in grace and filled with God's presence and ready for the interview.  I was excited (and a little nervous). I didn't really know what to expect.  But it was truly a time of blessing for me in many ways.

Here are the blessings: 
  • the stained glass windows in the sanctuary where we met for worship and communion
  • the songs, prayers, and Scriptures that were shared during worship
  • reconnecting with several people I knew and meeting new people
  • table fellowship 
  • being encouraged and affirmed in my calling
  • being challenged with helpful questions and receiving some good recommendations for resources

David Graybeal led our worship service, sharing a mid-day prayer, Scripture, short message.   The songs we sang were:  #568 "Christ for the World We Sing"  and # 578 - "God of Love and God of Power" from the UMC Hymnal.  All of this spoke to me.

Scripture: I Corinthians 9:16-23

What stood out to me in the message was the focus on 'by all means' to reach the people and meeting the people where they are.  That stuck with me and came out in my interview. ☺

We were told that we would hear something within a week.  The next day I got a call but I was in a meeting and couldn't answer it.  It went to voice mail.  After the meeting I checked my messages.  It was David Graybeal calling to tell me I had been approved for commissioning as Provisional Elder and would be commissioned at this Annual Conference in June.  Admittedly, a huge smile came across my face.  I was excited and happy.  This path that I am on is a path I feel led to be on and that phone call was another affirmation that indeed, I am on the right path.  

I now know my next step after graduation.  Not my exact next step.  Not yet.   I am excited.  I am nervous.  I have lots to give.  I have lots to learn.  I look forward to learning and growing.  Well, I look forward to it in some ways.  I know from much of my life experience that learning and growing doesn't come without some growing pains.  But that is okay too.  I have learned to grow in and through the pain.

I won't get it right all the time.  I don't expect to, nor have I always done so nor claimed it.  I do aspire to live Micah 6:8 as I continue this journey on this new leg-- I desire to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.

Thankfully, I am within community (near and far) to hold me up, keep me accountable, pray for me, encourage me, exhort me, etc.  There will be challenges.... there are challenges.  I will walk the journey with as much integrity as I can, seeking to be a bridge to others on their journey, to be that wounded healer that continues to love God and love others.

This is where I am right now on my journey.  Where are you?

Peace and blessings wherever you are,