Friday, June 30, 2017

Hearts-- a reminder of love


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

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

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

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

What is it about hearts that are so captivating?

Great question.

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

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

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

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

this one is starting to wisp away

this one is solidly attached to the other clouds

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

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

Those are the questions for me.

Here are some different questions for you.

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

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

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

Blessings on your journey,


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Abiding time-- being childlike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May this prayer that Macrina offers help:

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

May there be overflowing joy on your journey,


Monday, June 26, 2017

Bilingual Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May there be blessings on your journey, 


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jesus Stopped

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

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

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

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

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

The Scripture focus was Mark 10:46-52.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop and listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Strength from songs

As I mentioned in the previous post, it has been one of those busy weeks in ministry.  It hasn't really slowed down at all. But, in the midst of it, there have been some God moments.

Tuesday morning I had a dental appointment.  The hygienist I had been seeing was no longer there, but I was back in the chair of someone I had seen in the past.  As I settled in, I noticed the music sounded like Hezekiah Walker and inquired.  It wasn't him, but was another gospel artist, J.T. somebody.  I thought I had looked at the name correctly, but now I can't find him anywhere.  But listening to him while in the dentist office was a great way to start the morning.  Who knew that I would be blessed that morning by being in the dentist's office!?!

After I left there, I heard song after song on the radio (I was listening to Family Life Radio) that spoke into the brokenness and situations of life and ministry that I have been ministering to and working with already this week.  As I have been holding these situations and people in prayer this week, these songs spoke life and blessing into each of these places and allowed me to be filled. Truly, these songs also blessed me as I drove from the dentist into work.

Here are some of those songs.  Maybe they will encourage you today. Or, maybe you will think of someone who could be encouraged by hearing them and you'll pass them along to them.

Who knows?!?

The first song I heard was "Broken Things" sung by Matthew West.

The second one is "Even If" by MercyMe.

Next: "Beloved" by Jordan Feliz":

Last, but not least, "I Need You Now/How Many Times" by Plumb:

As you listen to the songs, what lyrics give you strength?  Again, if not for you, for someone else maybe?

To find strength and blessing in the unexpected place of a dental office and then to get back in the car and have almost song after song minister directly to situations I was carrying and dealing with was one of those God-moments for me on Tuesday morning.    

What is a recent God-moment in your life?

Peace and blessings on your journey, 


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In the morning when I rise

This is the view off the deck this morning sometime after 6am as I go outside for coffee and contemplation.  The sky shows hints of red in the morning sunrise.  It is nowhere near as bright and deep dark as it was last night.  Last night's sunset was stunning.

I left the house without my camera and went to the nearby Burk's UMC labyrinth to walk and pray.  Without my camera I couldn't capture any of the incredible sky moments, from the bright light coming through the clouds to the deep dark red all over the sky.  But it's okay.  I enjoyed it with my eyes and I attempted to soak it in into my heart, mind, and soul.

I rise this morning to another full day.  I look forward to being with the kids at the Rossville Summer Academy for morning devotions.  Because of Annual Conference last week, this will be my 2nd Wednesday with them.

Then I have a graveside service for one of our Simpson UMC shut-ins.  I am grateful for the visits I had with her.  I was able to meet more of her family last night.  I know her aunt from our church.

After that I will visit with someone with whom I have been getting to know over the phone for a few weeks.  It's a connectional visit in that another pastor called me and asked me to make this connection.  It has taken a while to make it happen, but the first in-person visit happens today.

On a side note, that connectional aspect of the United Methodist Church is vital and a major blessing. I have had pastors from out of state call me and ask me to do hospital visits.  I have done the same once before when a member was in NY and now when a member is heading to CA for a procedure.  What a blessing when we truly connect as the body of Christ and extend the caring love of Christ for one another in the flesh on behalf of God and the church.  It has blessed me to go on behalf of others and it blesses me that others go on behalf of me.  Truly, we all do it on behalf of God ultimately, but we are also extensions of one another's ministries.

I have other thoughts this morning, but I think I will put them in other posts.  I wouldn't want this one to be too long.

As I look toward the day, the song, "In the morning When I Rise" / "Give Me Jesus" came to mind. This version is with Jeremy Camp.

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus
When I am alone
When I am alone
Oh, when I am alone
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
When I come to die
When I come to die
Oh, when I come to die
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
You can have all this world
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus
Written by C.S. Brown • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Blessings on your journey,


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Courage and conversion... today's sermon and some reflection


The word on the sign has caught my attention as I drive by, but I haven't been able to stop and get a picture.  Normally the church sign has the same message on both sides.  Not this time.  One side is easier to photograph than the other.

Yesterday when my husband was driving, I tried to get a picture of the sign.  I got a picture of it all right, smack dab in the middle of the blue part.  Photo fail.

After filling up with gas at the station, he headed back to the church for me to get my picture.  It wasn't as easy as stopping to get the picture.  The church had gotten a new gate and lock.  The side I needed was on the other side and direction.  I had to jump the ditch and traverse the field to get the picture.  Because a car came while, he had to leave and drive around the block to come back and get me.

Whew.  All that for a picture.  Was it worth it?  Yes.

"Courage is developed in difficult times."

Yesterday we went to a fundraiser for Liam.  Liam and his family display courage.  They have been displaying courage ever since little Liam started having liver failure.  He had issues with his bile ducts from birth, yet was smiling in most every picture you would see of him.  Liam had a liver transplant recently and is doing well.  I got to hold him yesterday.  That was a blessing.

Last night I got a phone call from a church member letting me know about another church member that was heading to the hospital.  Courage.  This family has had their share of difficult times lately.

This morning I got updates from that situation, but then learned a church member had passed.

Meanwhile, a church member from another church had the stomach bug and was being taken to the clinic by her daughter.  Not so bad, you say.  Except that everything needs to be in good order for them as they head west next week to prepare for a special procedure.  The clinic decided to send them to the hospital to check on everything, just in case.  They got sent home after tests were run.

When I got to the second church this morning, I had a phone call.  Knowing that person wouldn't call during church unless it was serious, I texted them during a song.  The reply back was that a member from the church I had just come from had passed away at home this morning.

Two of the three churches.  Two deaths.  Two members in the hospital.

After preaching the second service, my husband and I went to visit both members in the hospital.  In leaving the second one, I felt led to stop and pray in another room.  We met Grace and Roland from Murphy, NC.  We prayed for them before leaving.

Courage is doing those things we are called to do, living into who we are called to be, moment by moment and day by day.

This morning I had a sense that I couldn't shake, so I prepared with quiet time and praise music on the way into church #1.  As the morning unfolded and situation after situation hit, it was a little overwhelming.

Yet, the words to "Grace Like Rain" by Todd Agnew came to mind as we sang it in the first church and I knew that God's grace, God's amazing grace, was enough to carry each and every person involved as well as me for any pastoral care needed.  The situations might have seemed to come abundantly today, but God's grace also came abundantly.

God also gave me courage to keep on keeping on.  In a moment in which I would have rather stopped, I knew I needed to keep going.  It was through tears that I read part of this morning's Scripture passage in the second church today.  Those words held new meaning to me after all I had learned about, including the 2nd death of the morning.

Today's Scripture passage was Romans 5:1-8.  I had chosen The Living Bible (TLB) translation.  On the front on the bulletin, verse 2 was from The Message. Today's title:  "Becoming All God Has for Us to Be".

I haven't shared a sermon in a while, but here it is.  Maybe there is something here for someone.  What is shared verbally isn't 100% what is found in writing.  I know I always say this, but it's because it's true.  Things are added or taken away.  I attempt to listen to the Holy Spirit and that's part of it.  Forgetting things could be another part of it.

"Becoming All God Has for Us to Be"
Romans 5:1-8 (TLB)
June 18, 2017 (2nd Sunday after Pentecost; Father's Day)
 Flintstone UMC, Simpson UMC

Romans 5:1-8 (TLB)

1So now, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
When we were utterly helpless, with no way of escape, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners who had no use for him. Even if we were good, we really wouldn’t expect anyone to die for us, though, of course, that might be barely possible. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
THANKS BE TO GOD.                                             

We celebrated Pentecost Sunday two weeks ago and today we continue the season of Pentecost with the second week of Pentecost.  We continue to listen to the Holy Spirit as we seek to grow as disciples of Christ and seek to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

Today is also Father's Day and we celebrate God as Creator and Father of all.  We celebrate and remember our fathers and father figures who have encouraged and inspired us throughout our lives. 
However, not everyone has had the privilege or opportunity to be blessed with present or loving fathers or there are some who have experienced a loss of a father, so we want to recognize that as many celebrate today, there are those who grieve and struggle today.  Wherever you are today, may the presence and love of God meet you where you are and minister to you today.

Today's Scripture passage walks us through our conversion.  Not a one-time conversion, but the ongoing sanctifying process conversion that molds us more and more into who God created us to be.

Verse 1-- We have been made right by faith in God's promises.  That gives us peace with God. 

Verse 2-- Because of our faith, "we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be."

Note the cover of today's bulletin. It is verse 2 of today's passage.  Though I chose The Living Bible for today's passage, The Message version of verse 2 struck me as   a more powerful expression.
"...We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that He has already thrown open His door to us.  We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand-- out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise." (Romans 5:2, The Message)

Do you experience yourself standing in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory?

If not, know that this grace is available to you now, today.  What do you have to do?  Just receive it.  God desires a relationship with you and desires to help you grow. 

Philippians 1:6 reminds us: "And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns." (TLB)

Once we turn towards God to accept God's love and grace, we continue our growing process of conversion.

Verses 3-5 take us on the progression of  problems and trials developing patience which gives us strength (other versions say "endurance"). This strength of character helps us trust in God and gives us hope. We hold our heads high because of God's love for us.  In the NRSV, the progression goes from access to grace to boasting in hope of glory and sufferings that produces endurance, then produce character, then produce hope.  

Whatever version you read, you recognize the ongoing sanctification process, the conversion.
It starts with grace.  And it is grace throughout the entire process.  That's why grace is so amazing. 

Bishop Rueben Job writes about the continual process of conversion in A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God:

"Conversion is a lifelong process of turning more and more fully toward God in all that we are, possess, and do.  [...] While conversion requires our decision and action, the grace and strength to be changed-- to become more than we are-- is the gift of God.  Conversion is a partnership project. We cannot transform ourselves, and God does not transform us against our wishes.  However, once we invite God's transforming presence into our lives, the necessary power to change comes with the transforming presence." (249-250)

Today, if it is your desire to 'become all God has for you to be', know that God honors that desire.  All you need to do is to accept God's grace and allow God to work in you and through you.

Psalm 28:6-7-- "Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.  The Lord is my strength and shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him."

In closing, I want to share a prayer by Rev. Dorothy McRae-McMahon from Australia for this particular lectionary week.

It challenges us to live into the ongoing conversion, grace, and love offered to us:

"Be bold in the claiming of the gospel for the whole creation.
Be brave in the lifting up of the life of God in every place.
Be firm in carrying the holy name of Jesus Christ into the palaces of worldly power.
Be gentle in the understanding of ourselves and one another.
And may the songs of the Creator sound with love in all the earth,
the tenderness of Christ Jesus cover the wounds of the people
and the truth in the Holy Spirit rise free in every age. Amen."

My heart goes out to the families who are being stretched by illnesses, deaths, and other situations.  I have only shared a few of the courageous families on my heart today and have only named Liam. I named Liam because his story is public and was even on the local news last night.  You can read about Liam by clicking on this link here.  It will take you to "COTA for team liams".

I don't know what situations you find yourself in today.  May you have courage in and through them, especially if they are difficult situations.  May you find the grace and love of God pouring down upon you like rain as you keep on keeping on.

Blessings on your journey,


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Reflections from my abiding time... love continues to be the answer

This morning's abiding time is brought to you from home.  Though I enjoyed my time away at Annual Conference and time visiting with family in NC, it is always good to be back home.

Morning coffee, check.  Gorgeous morning sunshine, check.

Picking up where I left off in Macrina Wiederkehr's Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God, I am on section 5 "How Dear You Are!" in the Chapter of "Return to Your Original Love".

This morning's Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 1-2 (MSG).  The version here is The Message, but you can change it and choose to read any other version or several versions for comparison.  This morning I read both the NRSV and The Message, deciding to share the latter.

There are many things both in the Scripture passage and in the reading by Macrina here to share.

One thing that stands out to me is that the writers of this letter were courageous in God to share the gospel of God in spite of great opposition (1 Thessalonians 1:2, NRSV).  In The Message, the wording in that verse says they had received rough treatment, yet didn't slow down because they were sure of themselves in God.

Being courageous in God and sure of ourselves in God flows from a relationship with God.  Knowing who we are and whose we are gives us that strength to make it through whatever we face.

Another thing that caught my attention was that the writers noted that they were gentle among the people (1 Thessalonians 2:7) rather than making demands of them.  The NRSV uses the analogy of a nurse caring for her children.  In The Message, it notes that they didn't misuse their authority by throwing around their weight nor were they aloof; they took the people as they were and where they were, caring for them as a mother cares for her children.

This brought to mind an article I read earlier this morning about holding space for others.  When we walk alongside others on the journey of faith and life, we hold space for them to grow at their own pace.  This isn't easy.  It can be challenging.  I think it is most challenging when you are walking with many people at the same time and some want to grow and others don't.  Finding a way to hold space and lovingly guide the diverse flock is a challenge for the shepherd.

The article was written by Kaitlin Curtice, a writer I hadn't read prior to today.  Click on the article link below to read it in its entirety.  From there, you can read her other writings.

The article: People Who Hold Space Will Heal the Church, June 11, 2017

One quote in particular from the article that caught my attention was: "If we hold space for each other, we learn how to truly be alive with one another, as we cast off judgment and wait for the grace of God to journey with us into unknown and sacred places."

Being truly alive with one another, waiting for the grace of God to journey with us.... that's what it's about and that's what is shared in 1 Thessalonians 1-2.

It comes down to love.  Recognizing ourselves as loved by God and recognizing others as loved by God.  Then we can more readily treat ourselves, God, and others with love.  We will be more grateful. We will offer more encouragement.  We will live into who we are called to be when we respond to love.

Josh Groban has a song, "You Are Loved":


Don't give up
It's just the weight of the world
When your heart's heavy
I, I will lift it for you
Don't give up
Because you want to be heard
If silence keeps you
I, I will break it for you
Everybody wants to be understood
Well, I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don't give up
Because you are loved
Don't give up
It's just the hurt that you hide
When you're lost inside
I, I'll be there to find you
Don't give up
Because you want to burn bright
If darkness blinds you
I, I will shine to guide you
Everybody wants to be understood
Well, I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don't give up
Because you are loved
You are loved
Don't give up
It's just the weight of the world
Don't give up
Everyone needs to be heard
You are loved
Songwriters: Molly Kaye / Thomas Salter
You Are Loved lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Another song about living as loved is by Hawk Nelson-- "Live Like You're Loved":


You're not the only one who feels like this
Feelin' like you lose more than you win
Like life is just an endless hill you climb
You try and try, but never arrive

I'm tellin' you somethin'
This racing, this running
Oh, you're working way too hard!
And this perfection you're chasing
Is just energy wasted
Cause he love's you like you are!

So go ahead and live like you're loved
It's ok to act like you've been set free
His love has made you more than enough
So go ahead and be who he made you to be

And live like you're loved
live like you're loved
live like you're loved
live like you're loved

And live like you're know your value born
Like you know the one that hold your soul
Cause mercy has called you by your name
Don't be afraid to live in that grace

I'm tellin' you somethin'
This God we believe in
Yeah, he changed everything
No more guilt! No more shame!
He took all that away
Gave us a reason to sing

So go ahead and live like you're loved
It's ok to act like you've been set free
His love has made you more than enough
So go ahead and be who he made you to be

And live like you're loved
live like you're loved
live like you're loved
live like you're loved

Live like you're loved, walk like you're free
Stand like you know, who he made you to be
Live like you're loved, like you believe
His love is all, that you ever need

So go ahead and live like you're loved
His love has made you more than enough

So go ahead and live like you're loved
It's ok to act like you've been set free
His love has made you more than enough
So go ahead and be who he made you to be

And live like you're loved
live like you're loved
live like you're loved
live like you're loved

Live like you're loved, walk like you're free
Stand like you know, who he made you to be
Live like you're loved, like you believe
His love is all, that you ever need
Live like you're loved!

Macrina notes that these short chapters show pastoral care to the community, a tenderness and "loving concern and devotion". (189) Paul and his companions held space for the community to learn, to live, and to grow.  They lived with them and modeled God's love, in teaching and in action.

Macrina writes that Paul seeks "to encourage, support, and affirm his disciples.  It is no secret that Paul and his colleagues have taken great risks and endured harassment in offering the Word of God to others.  In spite of the suffering they experienced, they were filled with loving boldness.  They were impelled to continue proclaiming the Gospel in the face of opposition." (190)

What a message!  We have the opportunity to continue encouraging, supporting, and affirming others on their journey.  What helps us do this when we face our own obstacles and opposition on the journey?  The grace and love of God that fills us with loving boldness.

One of the questions in the "Reflection and prayer" section was: "Are you able to set aside some time each day to truly abide with the Word of God in Scripture?  Do you notice a difference in the way you relate to others when you are able to be faithful to lectio divina?" (192)

The prayer for this section:

"O Endearing Spirit of the Holy One,
How tenderly you have enfolded me in God's creative love throughout the years!  Continue to set your seal of love upon my heart.  Open my eyes to see the many ways I am cherished and held dear by my loving Creator.  Renew my desire to put down deep roots into the Word of God.  Fulfill my yearning to grow strong in my faith by grounding me in Sacred Scripture.  Bless the many holy guides who have given me so much of their time for the enrichment of my spiritual life. Bless too all those who have come to know you through my simple guidance. May this marvelous exchange of the Word of God among one another help each of us to understand how dear we are.  O Endearing One, enable us to be drawn to the things that really matter."

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Abiding... Reflections on Forgiveness

I'm sitting on the patio at the Starnes Cottage (lower level) where we stayed for the week of Annual Conference at Lake Junaluska.  We stayed an extra day which turned out to be a good thing because I had a required meeting yesterday afternoon at 1pm that I learned about the Thursday before.  It was a very important meeting and one I was glad to attend.  It was "the meeting" in which the packet of required materials for the ordination interviews were given out to the ordinands.  Now, we gear up for the September 25th due date and our November 6th interviews.

By staying an extra day, not only was I able to attend that meeting, but Riley and I were able to walk around the lake last night.  I hadn't had a chance to do that.  Up to that point, the only walking I had done was back and forth to Stuart Auditorium.

Last night's walk around the lake allowed my soul to expand as I took in the sights of the flowers, the ducks, the geese, the water, the sunset, the many garden areas.  I took quite a few pictures and will probably do a "lake post" in the near future.

This morning we are heading to Hayesville, NC to visit with family before heading home.  We don't get to see Riley's family often so we are taking advantage of being this close to visit.

This morning I read the next reading in Macrina Wiederkehr's Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God.  It was a challenging topic.  Sometimes I live into it well.  At other times it is a struggle.  I imagine that is the experience for many people.  It is an ongoing opportunity to learn and to love.

The topic? Forgiveness.

In Chapter Five, "Return to Your Original Love", section 4 is "A Season of Forgiveness".

The Scripture passage is Genesis 33. [If you click on the Scripture reference, it takes you to  You can switch from The Message to another version if you prefer.]

The passage is about Jacob and Esau meeting up on the road.  It takes place after Jacob's experience of wrestling, coming away with a new name and a limp (Genesis 32:23-33).

Here are my notes from my reading this morning:

Jacob took a "journey toward reconciliation" with his brother Esau.  That's how Macrina worded it (185).  A journey toward reconciliation.  That is what forgiveness does for us.  It allows us to reconcile.

I could spend an entire day on that initial phrase "journey toward reconciliation".  Where are the places and/or who are the people in my life that require a journey toward reconciliation?  What about you?

Macrina notes: "Our ability to forgive is, perhaps, one of our most Godlike qualities." (185)

Macrina shared two stories, one of someone who could not forgive and another of someone who did forgive.  Of the latter, Macrina notes "the freedom she experienced in being able to forgive lifted a burden and "set her free."" (186)

Yes.  Forgiveness sets us free.  It loosens the chains of bondage and bitterness and sets us free to love again.  It isn't easy nor is it without cost, yet it is the most life giving choice.

Some situations are easier to work through / walk through forgiveness than others.  It is a journey worth every ounce of effort.

Macrina mentions that there is both a "challenge and joy of forgiveness". (186)  I would agree to that.

In the reflection and prayer section, Macrina challenges us to put ourselves in both the places of Jacod and Esau and experience what both would have thought and felt.  Relive that reunion from both their viewpoints.

The other two challenges are more personal.

"Think of a time in your life when you needed to forgive someone.  Pray for that person.  Is there anything that is unfinished between the two of you?" (188)

"Is there anyone whose forgiveness you need to experience?  What would it cost you in terms of time, pride, or love to complete the process of forgiveness?" (188)

Wow.  If we take these questions seriously and take the time to process them, we can learn and grow. I reflect back on some meaningful moments of forgiving and receiving forgiveness in my life.  It has brought reconciliation in ways I could not have imagined.  I am glad for the grace to have stepped forward in faith in these situations.

It takes faith, boldness, and courage to seek reconciliation, no matter the situation.

I pray for me, I pray for you..... I pray for whatever people or situations come to mind that need forgiveness and reconciliation.  May we all be bold and courageous, going forward with the grace and love of Christ to work through the needed steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation.

Macrina's closing prayer might be helpful, so I will post it here:

"Gracious Guide on All Our Journeys, 

Be with the Esau-and Jacobs of this world.  Empower them to find their hearts of flesh, their holy limp, and their new names as they continue on their individual pilgrimages of reconciliation.  Move into my heart-space and speak to me of compassionate loving.  The road to forgiveness is so challenging.  Encourage me.  Support me. Affirm me.  I invite into the household of my love all those whom I struggle to forgive. (Mention names.)  O God of so much mercy, teach me vulnerability." (188)

Blessings on your journey,