Monday, December 31, 2018

2018-- a year in reflection

2018 is winding down quickly. 

If I were to pull out my calendar, I might be able to better pull out highlights of the year.  However, I'm going to try to do it from memory.

What are my 2018 highlights?

  • I went to Women of Joy in April in Pigeon Forge with a great bunch of women from Flintstone UMC.
  • In May I met with the Bishop and my colleagues at the Conference office on Red Nose Day.  We had our official pictures made with the Bishop and a photo with red noses.
  • Charlie's art department at Hixson High School won $75,000 from Van's shoes in an art competition.
  • I was Ordained as an Elder in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church in June.
  • I had a successful left hip replacement surgery on June 25.
  • I won a stole in a contest from Serendipity Stoles.
  • We added another member to our family, Cliff, a 7 year old chow mix.
  • Riley and I traveled to NC for a FUMSDRL/HOF retreat/board meeting in July, taking our time getting there by spending some time sight-seeing along the way.  I met an author at a local bookstore and picked up the sign "love and acceptance practiced here".  I also met Jane Vennard at the retreat, along with some other great folks and reconnected with others.
  • Charlie started his senior year in the fall and we had the final Friday night football / band nights and band competitions.
  • We went to Nashville in October to check out Watkins College.
  • I participated in a local Interfaith Service as an usher in October.
  • My niece married in November and it was my 2nd wedding to officiate.
  • Riley FULLY and FINALLY retired at the end of November from the pharmacy world.

That isn't the entire year in review.  These are the things that I could think of without going back to my calendar.  It doesn't include the many folks I've gotten to know, some significant experiences, opportunities, etc.  It is a quick view, an overview.  

I wonder, if I were to pick one picture to depict 2018, what would that be?  

I think it would be a picture from the bamboo patch that I visited on January 11th at Reflection Riding.  I started off last year with a day apart that opened things up for me spiritually.  This picture depicts that, in a small way.

What are your highlights from 2018?

What are your hopes and dreams for 2019?

Grace and peace in the journey,


Soul Exercises, from Embracing Soul Care by Stephen Smith

I put the book down for a while, as I do with books.  I have way too many books that I am in the process of reading.  I read for a little while, put it down, pick up another one, etc.  It depends on what I'm studying for sermons, what I need for my own soul, what I may be reading for book club and clergy group, etc.

I picked up Embracing Soul Care: Making Space for What Matters Most by Stephen Smith this week and began where I left off.

I am on Part 5 in the book, "Soul Exercises: Practicing the Spiritual Disciplines", Chapter 29 "The Need to Practice".

The chapter begins with a quote by Thomas Merton: "The spiritual life is first of all a life.  It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived."

The chapter talks about physical activity and how we spend time, energy, and money on it.  The question is then asked, "how do we take care of our souls?" (101)

It speaks of spiritual exercises, holy habits and that they "make room for God in our lives." (101)

Another term for spiritual exercises here in the chapter is "soul exercises".

"Soul exercises connect us to God.  Think of soul exercises like physical exercises.  Sit-ups improve the stomach muscles.  Push-ups improve our arm muscles.  Different exercises develop different parts of the body.  Likewise, soul exercises work on different parts of our spiritual life and our relationships." (101)

Getting out into creation is a soul exercise that opens up space for God for me.  I have been able to do that this week, going walking at Greenway Farms twice and once at Big Soddy Creek Gulf.  The latter held an additional gift in that with all the rain we've had lately, the creek and waterfall were flowing with water.  The rushing waters were an added gift to enjoy, as were wet weather waterfalls that trickled down gently over rocks or through the woods.

Big Soddy Creek Gulf
This Advent season (and into Christmas and through Epiphany) I am taking a contemplative photography class online for continuing education credits through  That has been a soul exercise to connect me to God, along with the Advent photo-a-day challenge that I did during Advent.  Contemplative photography is a spiritual exercise for me that makes room for God in my life.

Per Stephen Smith (as modeled by Christians for 2000 years), soul exercises can include:

  • study
  • worship
  • prayer
  • service
  • fellowship
  • confession
  • celebration
  • journaling
  • solitude
  • silence
  • fasting
  • secrecy
  • sacrifice
  • meditation   (see page 102 for this list)
He notes, "as we grow spiritually, we can vary exercises.  [,,,] the goal is to grow closer to God." (102)

My spiritual exercises vary, yet I have found that I need more and more silence and solitude as I grow and as I serve.  If I don't get my silence and solitude time, there isn't a space from which I can serve.  It shouldn't surprise me.  The Gospel of Mark is my go-to for reminding me that Jesus took time apart to be alone, to pray, to be with a few close friends.  

Just as I have needed to be diligent in doing my exercises for my hip to heal after my hip replacement surgery, so must I be diligent in doing exercises for my soul to grow.  Silence, solitude, contemplative photography, journaling, study, worship, confession, prayer, fellowship, service, meditation are some of the exercises that make room for God in my life.

What about you?  What are the spiritual exercises, the soul exercises that are meaningful to you?  

After my hip replacement surgery I had to rebuild some muscles that had no strength.   If that is true of us physically, could that be true spiritually?  (The answer is yes.)  If we don't use our muscles, whether physically or spiritually (or otherwise), we'll lose them, they will atrophy.  

What growth does your soul need?  What soul exercise(s) would benefit you most at this time in your life?

Here's to growth on the journey, 


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Made Holy By Love-- Advent 4 sermon

This past Sunday's sermon was "Made Holy By Love" from Hebrews 10:5-10.

Bulletin Cover

Below you will find the transcript of the sermon.  I am also posting the two recorded sermons from the churches, Fort Oglethorpe UMC and Simpson UMC, because the recorded sermons contain different things from the transcript and each recorded sermon is a little different from the other.

We started recording our sermons and putting them on our Facebook pages for our shut-ins, for folks who missed church, and/or for anyone who might want to listen.

Peace on your journey,


“Made Holy By Love”
Hebrews 10: 5-10 (CEB)
December 23, 2018 (4th Sunday of Advent)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC, Simpson UMC

Hebrews 10:5-10 (CEB)

Therefore, when he comes into the world he says,
You didn’t want a sacrifice or an offering,
    but you prepared a body for me;
you weren’t pleased with entirely burned offerings or a sin offering.
    So then I said,
    Look, I’ve come to do your will, God.
    This has been written about me in the scroll.
He says above, You didn’t want and you weren’t pleased with a sacrifice or an offering or with entirely burned offerings or a purification offering, which are offered because the Law requires them. Then he said, Look, I’ve come to do your will. He puts an end to the first to establish the second. 10 We have been made holy by God’s will through the offering of Jesus Christ’s body once for all.
THANKS BE TO GOD.                      
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we are focusing on the word “love”. Notice how the light continues to grow on the Advent Wreath.  The outside has become fully encircled in light.

A meme I have been sharing the last two weeks at Flintstone about the Advent journey is this: “The Advent journey: Hope becomes peace.  Peace becomes joy.  Joy becomes Love. Love becomes Christ.” (Ask the congregation to read it with me.—At FOUMC, on the screen; at SUMC, in the bulletins.)

As we near the end of our Advent journey, let’s look closer at today’s passage.  Verses 5-7 refer to and almost directly quote Psalm 40:6-8—

You don’t relish sacrifices or offerings;
    you don’t require entirely burned offerings or compensation offerings—
    but you have given me ears!
So I said, “Here I come!
    I’m inscribed in the written scroll.
    I want to do your will, my God.
    Your Instruction is deep within me.”

The title comes from verse 10, which reminds us that “we have been made holy by God’s will through the offering of Jesus Christ’s body once for all.”  We know that this offering was because of God’s love for us, as stated in John 3:16-17— God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

This offering is a relationship with Jesus, with God, with Emmanuel, God with us.  As we focus today on love on this 4th Sunday of Advent, we recognize that love came down to be with us, love was made Incarnate in Jesus so that we could be in relationship with the Creator.

Christina Rossetti’s hymn, “Love Came Down at Christmas”, written in 1885, found in the UMH #242, verse 1:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Today’s passage reminds us that this love came down in human form to live among us and to teach us how to love one another.

We sing of this love in the hymn, “O Holy Night” by Placide Cappeau in 1847, translated by John Dwight, verse 3:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

As we reflect on the Incarnate Christ, on Emmanuel with us, on love, where in our lives do chains need broken for us to truly love one another and to live the law of love and the gospel of peace?  What oppression is holding us down?

As you search your heart, what is keeping you from fully receiving the love and freedom that Christ offers you?  (Pause)

As we listen, hear these words from Henri Nouwen’s Here and Now:

“God is love, only love, and God’s spirit is the spirit of love longing to guide us to the place where the deepest desires of our heart can be fulfilled.  Often we ourselves do not even know what our deepest desire is.  We so easily get entangled in our own lust and anger mistakenly assuming that they tell us what we really want.  The spirit of love says: “Don’t be afraid to let go of your need to control your own life.  Let me fulfill the desire of your heart.” (in A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God, 44)

It isn’t easy for us to understand this Incarnate love, the love that came down to be a part of humanity, then suffered and died out of love for us.  Nor is it easy to accept this love and appropriate it for ourselves.  Once we do that, we can more easily live into the commandment of loving others.

James Finley reminds us that “Christ has identified himself with the human family, especially the poor and the forgotten.  In loving them we love him in them.  And they, in turn, encounter him in us in the love we give them.” (From Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, in A Guide to Prayer For All God’s People, 44)

Where, to whom, do you need to share the love of Christ?  (Pause) Who comes to mind when you consider loving others as Christ loved? (Pause)

Jesus came to be in relationship. 

Jesus showed us great love when he died upon the cross, was resurrected, and continued to teach until he left earth.

“He came to deal with separation issues.  He came to mend what was broken, to rebuild what had been destroyed, to bury the hatchet, and to make peace between God and us.  Jesus was very clear about his mission.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Steven Eason, 88)

Can we take up the mantle of love from Jesus and live into our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

May it be so.


Fort Oglethorpe UMC Recorded Sermon

Simpson UMC Recorded Sermon

Love Came Down at Christmas

O Holy Night

Advent 4, Christmas Eve-- reflections and photos

Advent has come and gone, Christmas time is here.  Do you remember the Charlie Brown Christmas song, "Christmas Time is Here"?  Hearing that song with the children's voices is a reminder to me that it IS Christmas time.  The picture above is my CD of Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas".

As Advent leaves us and Christmas is upon us, we have the 12 days of Christmas to live into until Epiphany, January 6th.  For many, it is all over as soon as December 26th arrives. Yet the magi are still on the backs of the camels, following the star, seeking out the Christ child.

How do we respond when it's all said and done?  Are we too exhausted and broke to respond or reflect?  One way to truly respond is to live into Howard Thurman's "The Work of Christmas".  It is a poem I have already seen going around this year on social media.  I have shared it before in sermons and probably in a blog post. 

Here is a picture of it:

Here is the poem by Howard Thurman (not inside a photo):

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Here are the remaining Advent words for this year, the questions, the pictures I posted, and my reflections.

Today's word is #love. How have you experienced love this Advent season? What does the Incarnate love of Christ mean to/for you? #adventphoto#holstongap

Today's word is #love. On the 4th Sunday of Advent, I am reminded that love came down, was Incarnate, and that we are called to love one another as we have been loved. #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #renew. How are you being renewed this Advent season? What still needs to be renewed? What does the word renew mean to you? #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #renew. I looked up the word for more information. This is what I found from one source: "resume (an activity) after an interruption. "the parents renewed their campaign to save the school"
synonyms: resume, return to, take up again, come back to, begin again, start again, restart, recommence;
continue (with), carry on (with)
"I renewed my search"

During this Advent season, I have been able to renew photography as a contemplative practice, to daily focus more intentionally on a word and my surroundings, to see things with eyes of the heart. This spiritual practice brings me life. #adventphoto#holstongap

Today's word is #birth. At the end of the Advent season, what does birth bring into your faith journey? As you reflect on this word and on the birth of Christ, what is being birthed in your faith journey this year? #adventphoto#holstongap

Today's word is #birth. When I posted the reflection questions for the words, I asked something to the effect: 'what has birthed this Advent season in your life?' As the light of Advent grew this season and I had the opportunity to do some Hispanic ministry in community, one thing that birthed was a renewed hope that God still remembers my heart's desire and my heart language. Whether I use Spanish daily or momentarily, as I did this morning, it touches my soul in a deep place. I remain calm and trust. #adventphoto #holstongap

I bought a set of Advent mugs last Spring/Summer and used them each week.  When I first saw these mugs, my immediate thought was Advent.  I wasn't sure exactly how I would use them, but they got my attention.  Donna Godwin is the artist.  Her art page is Donna Godwin Art.  I took a mug each Sunday to church.  Sometimes I referenced it; sometimes I didn't.  I created a wreath at home.  The only thing missing is a white mug to be the Christ mug in the middle.  I will find one.  It was a different way to go through each week this year.  Drink hope, drink peace, drink joy, drink love.

A set of Advent mugs.  Art by Donna Godwin.  Mugs created by Christy Watts Williams.

Advent bulletin covers

Advent and Christmas Eve bulletin covers

Christmas Eve Candlelight Services
We went to all three Christmas Eve services in the Holston Georgia Parish this year.  Some years we split it up between co-pastors and some years we do them together.   The top service is at Simpson UMC, the middle is at Fort Oglethorpe UMC, and the bottom one is at Flintstone UMC.  For the past two years at Flintstone, it has been a community service, with churches and pastors from community attending and participating.  

Today is the 2nd day of Christmas.  How will I take the light of Christmas forward?  How will I take the things that I have learned and experienced with me as I continue on this journey?

What about you? 

May the peace, hope, joy, love, and light of Christ accompany you on your journey!


P.S.  In case you didn't see the post with the photo for all the challenge words, here is that photo:

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Advent 3-- a week of photos, reflections, and questions

Here is Advent 3-- the questions, the reflections, the photos. As you look through the photos and reflect on the words and questions, how do you respond to the questions?  What comes to mind for you for the words?  As I have gone through this past week and reviewed the words-- joy, grace, promise, hospitality, community, journey, and mystery-- I have noticed the theme of unknowing and unfolding that continue in my faith journey.  I have been reminded of Thomas Merton's prayer from his "Thoughts in Solitude", as it continues to guide and direct me:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

Today's word is #joy. What brings you joy? What does the word "joy" mean to you? How do you experience joy this Advent season? #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #joy. There are many things that bring me joy. Today's photo collage for joy: the bulletin cover, the joy mug by Donna, a joy decoration, and an advent photo with Riley. Nehemiah 8:10-- the joy of the LORD is my strength.#adventphoto #holstongap


Today's word is #grace. How are you experiencing grace this Advent season? Where do you need grace? What is grace to you? #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #grace. What is grace to me? It is a gift, a gift from God, the One who created me. There is much I don't understand, much that is and will always be mystery. Yet, there are quite a few things I can point to that mark grace shown and revealed in my journey. Grace is a gift that keeps on giving, as we give it to others as it has been given to us.#adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #promise. What promise keeps you moving forward? What promise do you need to hear most? What promise does the Advent season bring to you? #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #promise. This song has been going through my head all morning. The lyrics in "Hymn of Promise" speak to me of life, freedom, hope, God's love, mystery, etc. Though it is categorized as a "death and eternal life" song, for me it speaks to living out the journey. On this page there is a note from one of my former Sunday School classmates. Thank you, Jan for the encouragement. The leaf heart was on the path Riley and I walked yesterday, a reminder of God's love, God's promise.#adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #hospitality. Where do you experience hospitality? Where is hospitality needed more in the world today? What does the word mean for you? #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #hospitality. The first thing that comes to mind is Christine Pohl's book that helps remind us what kingdom hospitality is and how to recover it. This is a good place to begin. These other book also speak to hospitality: A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz, A Place at the Table by Chris Seay, and Embracing the Wideness by Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., a former Bishop. How and where am I being challenged to live kingdom hospitality? What about you? #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #community. Where do you find/make community? What does community mean to you? During this Advent season, what has community been to/for you? #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #community. This group of folks attended the retreat this summer with Jane Vennard in NC. This is the Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders (FUMSDRL) / Hearts on Fire (HOF). This is one of the life-giving communities for me. There are others. But because today was my last board phone call since I roll off the board of this organization at the end of this month, they get featured when I reflect on community.#adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #journey. How has this Advent journey been for you? What has it meant to/for you? As the Advent journey continues, what are your reflections on it? #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #journey. Living into who and whose I am is a journey. It is an ongoing discovery and unfolding, an adventure. This verse from Isaiah reminds me that I have been called by name. This is the back of the chain. The front has stained glass painting and a "D". My aunt Carol gave it to me in the 70s as a Christmas ornament. #adventphoto#holstongap

Today's word is #mystery. What mystery has opened up this Advent season? What mystery still remains? #adventphoto #holstongap

Today's word is #mystery. I started looking at this painting on a cloth that a friend gave us and it caused me to reflect on the following things this Advent season. Though the camels nor the person riding them is likely a magi, my thoughts went there. I thought of the magi travelers seeking out the Christ child and the difficult journey to find him. Then I thought about my journey in following this Christ child. It sometimes seems strange, like a mystery, that I follow someone into unknown territory. I follow a dark-skinned, displaced, outcast, bivocational refugee who gave his life out of love for others. I do so willingly and respectfully, yet knowing it may lead me down paths I may not be able to handle as he did. He loved, healed, taught, forgave, etc. I hope by following the Christ child, I may learn to be and do likewise. #adventphoto #holstongap

May there be hope, peace, joy, and love on the journey,