Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Taste and See-- Sunday's sermon from Psalm 34:1-8

I still haven't gotten around to posting the sermons from the first part of the month, but I thought I would post this past Sunday's sermon, "Taste and See" from Psalm 34:1-8.

Maybe I will get a few moments at some point to post the others.  Who knows?!?!

As with any sermon, what is typed out isn't exactly what is shared.  And now that we are recording our sermons, you can listen via the link to what is said.  I added a quote from an essay in Feasting in the Word toward the end and I edited the ending a little too.

Though I could have edited the manuscript to reflect what I said, I have other things I need to do so I thought my time would be better in letting you listen to the sermon, read what is there, and allow the Holy Spirit to sort out whatever needed to be sorted out.  Besides, it is the Holy Spirit who is the great teacher anyway.  I'm just a vessel.

Peace and blessings,


Taste and See
Psalm 34:1-8 (CEB)
October 28, 2018 (23rd Sunday after Pentecost)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC

Psalm 34:1-8 (CEB)

1I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be in my mouth.
I praise the Lord

    let the suffering listen and rejoice.
Magnify the Lord with me!
    Together let us lift his name up high!
I sought the Lord and he answered me.
    He delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to God will shine;
    their faces are never ashamed.
This suffering person cried out:
    the Lord listened and saved him from every trouble.
On every side, the Lord’s messenger protects those who honor God; and he delivers them.
Taste and see how good the Lord is!
    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!
THANKS BE TO GOD.                
I mentioned “Why the Psalms Today?” by Elise Eslinger two weeks ago to help us understand why we might dive deeper into the Psalms. We included it on the back of the responsive reading for you to look at later. 

As I shared last time that I preached on a Psalm, I chose to preach from the Psalms this month for several reasons.  They are beautiful and powerful Scriptures that we don’t often spend enough time studying, in my opinion.  Though we may read the responsive reading or have a portion of a psalm or two memorized, we don’t tend to spend lots of time in the Psalms.  Another reason I decided to let the Psalms be the focus is that by looking at something we don’t dive into as often, we might become more open to hearing the Holy Spirit.  May it be so today.

Psalm 34 is categorized by Walter Brueggemann as a psalm of new orientation.  The other psalms I have shared this month have been psalms of disorientation.  The psalms of disorientation are the ones that are most often ignored or left out in preaching or studying and that is one reason I decided to preach the lectionary Psalter passages.  The psalms of new orientation are likely more familiar.  You have heard them in songs, single verses, etc.  In these psalms of new orientation, there is thanksgiving.  There is an element of surprise of grace, new life.  The psalms of new orientation show a response from a place of disorientation and lament to new orientation and praise and thanksgiving. (Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, Chapter 4)

Psalm 34 is also considered a “wisdom” psalm because of the wisdom and instruction it contains. 

What is the rescue referred to here?  It is David’s rescue from Abimelech, as noted in most Bibles between the Psalm title and the psalm itself.  Different versions might title it differently.  For example, the CEB notes:

Of David, when he pretended to be crazy before Abimelech, who banished him so that he left.

Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left. (NIV)

Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away. (NRSV)

A David Psalm, When He Outwitted Abimelech and Got Away (MSG)

David outwitted Abimelech by pretending to be crazy, insane, by feigning madness and because of his escape, he gave praise back to God.  The background story can be found in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, if you would like to refer to it later.

Brueggemann notes that “this prayer is for those who find themselves resourceless against the powers of this age, and then are remarkably released for new life.” (The Message of the Psalms, 133)

Do you ever feel resourceless against the powers of this age?  [Pause]

In Keeping Holy Time, edited by Douglas E. Wingeier, I read the following about Psalm 34: “…the psalmist lives in brokenness, affliction, fear, and destitution.  But he did not wait for the good times to offer God praise. Life is the way it is, says Psalm 34.” (341)

Think about this.  David experienced brokenness, affliction, fear, and destitution.  He experienced fear for his life in this particular situation that we find in 1 Samuel and God gave him a way out.  He offered God praise.

Do you experience brokenness, affliction, fear, or destitution?  [Pause] In these or whatever situations you find yourself, are you able to offer God praise? [Pause]

Life isn’t easy nor is it fair.  There is much going on in our world.  And because we grew up being told to not talk politics or religion, many of us don’t.  Now, there is good in not talking about those things. Sometimes.  Yet, the harm is that we haven’t learned how to have holy conversations, how to listen well to people who differ from us, nor have we learned how to have conversations in which we can agree to disagree.

In the midst of politics, in the midst of preparing for General Conference 2019, in the midst of so much pain and suffering… if we, as followers of Christ, cannot be leaders in guiding courageous conversations, then who?

Holy conversations, courageous conversations allow us to talk about difficult topics and truly listen to what others have to say.  We listen without demeaning the other, without demonizing the other, without interrupting the other.  It isn’t easy to learn to listen to others when we don’t understand or when we have fears of our own.

As Wesleyans, we recognize that we are shaped by Scripture, Reason, Experience, and Tradition.  The acronym “R.E.S.T.” is one way to remember those four.

Our perspective on life and situations is filtered through each of those. 

Holy and courageous conversations with one another on difficult topics will help us understand one another, hold a space of grace for one another and allow us to practice loving God and one another.

I learned this past Friday that we lost another kid in community.  This time it wasn’t a high school kid or a graduate.  It was a 12 year old. I don’t have the details, but we were asked to open our doors here at FOUMC to allow the family to meet after the service.  We were able to make that happen, after Mary spent most of the morning making calls because several of us were going to be out of town on Saturday when they needed it.  Then the community representative called back and they had procured another location.  I am so glad we had been able to work it out, even if we didn’t need it. 

But it touched the edges of borders for me—I just did a service two weeks ago for a young man.  I thought of him and his family.  I thought of my friend Pagiel and his family.  Pagiel attempted last year, at age 14, but did not succeed.  Though he lost his eyesight, he will tell you he is able to see so much more clearly these days than before.  He has a remarkable story to tell.

We need to listen.  When we don’t listen, people shut down.  They feel they can’t share their thoughts.  Especially as followers of Christ, we need to create safe spaces of grace for people to share.

I know this personally.  As a high school student, I thought about suicide.  I wrote a poem about it and shared it with someone close.  That person told me it was stupid to have those thoughts.  I didn’t know why I was struggling until much later at the age of 21 and things I had repressed came out.  The point is that I needed a safe space of grace to share,  even if it made someone else uncomfortable.

I have dedicated myself to listening.
The Psalmist David went through all kinds of things in his life that he likely would rather not have shared with people.  But in darkness, shame can grow and we can feel isolated.  In the light and love of Christ, healing and wholeness take place.

As I continued reading in Keeping Holy Time, I read these words: “God’s faithfulness, no matter what the circumstances, remains constant.  God rescues.  God delivers.  God redeems.  God saves.” (342) 

No matter what our situation is—our personal situation, our national situation, our worldly situation— one constant is Creator God.  As the Psalmist reminds us in the Psalms of disorientation, we don’t always recognize or feel the presence of God.  There are dark times.  Yet, today’s Psalm reminds us that even in the dark times, we can seek out the goodness.

Over the past week I have seen a couple of memes of new life—trees coming out of dead stumps and tiny flowers growing out of broken cracks.  This has reminded me of God’s goodness.  Even when I think there is no longer any hope, that the stump is dead or nothing can grow, there is always a chance for new life when a space of grace is open.

It only takes a crack of openness for grace to break through with the light and love of Christ. 

Where have you seen new life crack through? [Pause]

In Keeping Holy Time, the last sentence states, “Trusting God’s goodness, we can “taste and see that the Lord is good” and count ourselves “happy [as] are those who take refuge in [God]” (Ps. 34:8)” (342)

May we become so spiritually hungry that we seek to “taste and see”.


Click HERE to listen to the sermon.

Bulletin cover.

"Why the Psalms Today?" (referenced in the sermon)

Psalm Prayer by Jerry Webber (used as a responsive reading in the service)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Embracing Soul Care--Grow Your Soul

Embracing Soul Care: Making Space for What Matters Most by Stephen W. Smith is a book that I just picked back up this week and started where I left off.  It is all about deepening the inner walk with God.

The next chapter in the book, 27, is "Grow Your Soul".  Each chapter is short, but full of edification and encouragement as you seek to make space for your soul. 

The quote for this chapter is by Martin Luther King, Jr.-- "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." (93)

That is a 'cause for a pause'. 

The Scripture is Proverbs 11:28 (MSG)-- "A God-shaped life is a flourishing tree."

Some of the quotes that stood out to me in the chapter:

"Soul care resembles a tree.  It takes years for a tender tree to mature.  Time, attention, nourishment, protection, and pruning contribute to its growth.  The same is true for spiritual growth." (Smith, 93)

This is an important reminder.  Growth takes time.  Not only time, but attention, nourishment, protection, and pruning.  If any of these aspects is lacking, growth isn't stopped, but it might be slowed down or hindered.  Pruning is a very important key to growth.  Of all the things listed, it is probably the least favorite and the most counter-intuitive.  Yet, cutting things away in order to have a healthier being is part of growth.

Now, back to some quotes by the author:

"Our inner growth can be long and arduous.  At other times, it's joyful and spontaneous." (93)

"The feeding of our spiritual roots provides the nourishment for a vibrant and resilient soul." (94)

This last line brings to mind my current journal which is "Advice from a Tree".  It's from the perspective of trees.  We can learn much from nature and I picture the roots drinking deeply from the water, the nutrients and giving strength to the tree/soul, making it vibrant and resilient, able to withstand the storms of life.

The author reminds us that "there are no shortcuts to cultivating our souls.  It is a day-by-day, year-to-year process that does not respond to a set formula for success.  But the long process enables the development of an intimate relationship with God." (94)

For many years I thought there was a set formula (or several of them) that I could use to grow and that would lead to success.  I have learned that it isn't so.  There are tools and resources I can use, but tools and resources that once worked don't always work at a different time and stage along the journey.  I must be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide my nourishment, showing me what will best feed my soul.

Here are the questions at the end of the chapter.  You may find them helpful:
1. What do you need to grow spiritually?
2. What could nourish your spiritual life?  Why?
3. Using the metaphor of a tree, at what stage of growth are you?

Blessings on your journey,


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Embracing Soul Care-- Shaped by the Psalms

I continue reading this book by Stephen Smith and am on chapter 26, "Shaped by the Psalms". This is very timely as I am preaching from the Psalms this month.  I haven't posted the sermons yet, but I will get to it.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts and notes from this chapter.

The chapter opens with a quote from Eugene Patterson: "The Psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough. They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice people couched in cultural language." (91)

Psalm 19:7 also is at the beginning of the chapter: "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple."

Quotes from the author:

"The psalmist's honesty helps us articulate the deep stirring of our own souls." (91)

"The psalms are a mirror of the soyl; in them we see ourselves. Such honest words speak comfort lead us in the way, and express our craving for soul care." (91)

"The psalms can shape our souls. They say what words do not easily express--about our God, our relationships, and ourselves." (92)

Do you have a favorite Psalm?

I have several.

I grew up learning Psalm 23 in the King James version. I still know that version, but enjoy other versions of it. Psalm 139 is another Psalm that is dear to me.  Psalm 42, 62, and others come to mind.

Whether it is words of comfort, words that express creation, words that reveal raw emotion-- whatever I seem to experience or need in the moment, I am able (usually) to find something that relates and connects in a Psalm.

The Psalms have been and continue to be an integral part of my faith journey.

How are the Psalms a part of your journey?

Blessings on your journey,

Monday, October 15, 2018

Godly Wisdom-- September 23 sermon from James 3:13-4:3, 7-8

Remembering that sermons are part of a larger service of worship and that being in and with community doesn't replace our individual study, I post about half to two-thirds of my sermons, in case someone somewhere can benefit. May it be so.

Here is the sermon from September 23rd, "Godly Wisdom", from James 3:

“Godly Wisdom”
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a (CEB)
September 23, 2018 (18th Sunday after Pentecost)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC, Simpson UMC

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a (CEB)

13 Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 14 However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. 16 Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17 What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 18 Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.
What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.
Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you.Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. (This includes all of 8.)
THANKS BE TO GOD.                

We have been working our way through James this month and we have seen that James doesn’t mince words.  He tells it like it is. We have learned that if our God-talk doesn’t match our God-acts, then it doesn’t mean anything.  Last week we heard about the tongue and the power of words to build up or tear down. 

If we thought James was through with us, we were wrong.  In fact, it seems James was just getting warmed up in the previous portions of his message and now we are getting the full attention, “both barrels”, so to speak.
James brings up several questions for us in this passage.

First, what is the “Godly Wisdom” that is spoken of in today’s passage and how can we take it and apply it to our lives personally and to our church and community?

The wisdom that comes from above, godly wisdom, is described in verse 17:
  • pure
  • peaceful
  • gentle
  • obedient
  • filled with mercy and good actions
  • fair
  • genuine

What practices or habits can we live into to help us live into God’s wisdom?  We can practice what John Wesley calls the “Means of Grace”, what we’ve come to call spiritual disciplines or practices.  As a reminder, the Wesleyan Means of Grace are broken down thus:

Works of Piety
Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy
Individual Practices - doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

As we practice living into godly wisdom, we will live into verse 18--“Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.”

On a side note, this past Friday, September 21st was International Peace day.  On the official website, “internationaldayofpeace.org”, I learned this about it: “Established in 1981 by unanimous United Nations resolution, Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.”  https://internationaldayofpeace.org/

As citizens of the world, this is a wonderful goal.  As citizens of the kingdom of Christ, our responsibility goes beyond one day a year for us to sow seeds of justice by our peaceful acts.

Another question James touches on is this: where does conflict and dispute originate?  While we recognize that disagreement and conflict is normal and will come up in any relationship, family, or community, it is another matter if there is ongoing and systemic conflict and dispute. 

Beginning in 4:1 and going through verse 3 James addresses this question: “What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.”

James is clear that conflict and dispute arise from seeking to do things in a manner that are not consistent with the ways of God or from seeking and following God.

Though it wasn’t a true conflict or dispute, I found myself craving/coveting something on Friday.  My spiritual director shared with me that she will be going on a cruise in October and making a stopover in Cuba.  I wasn’t jealous over the cruise, as I was Cuba.  That has been my dream country since I was a little kid and my grandfather told me stories of his days as state forester of Georgia and his trips to Cuba.  After telling my spiritual director I was jealous, I saw a morning prayer a colleague had posted:
Save us from envy, God our Redeemer,
and deliver us from the chains of wealth,
that, ransomed through your Son,
we may inherit the crown of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Praying to God to save us from envy is a way to guard our hearts from jealousy and coveting.

Being jealous of someone going to Cuba may not be your issue.  Whatever pushes your buttons to cause the conflicts, struggles, and fights, we find that James addresses a third question that provides a solution for us all: “what does God want?”

We see in verse 7 that we are to submit to God and in verse 8, we are to come near to God:
“7 Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you.Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

This submitting to God is repentance, a turning away of our wants and desires and allowing God to be in control, to lead, to guide.  After all, we have submitted ourselves to God as followers in our creeds, in our songs, so why not do so in our daily living?

It is a daily choice to draw near to God.  We choose to draw near to God daily as individuals as we live into godly wisdom, practicing the spiritual disciplines we mentioned earlier.

What does life look like in the church community?  In my studies this week, this quote stood out to me: “Our primary identity is measured by our closeness to God…” (Feasting on the Word, Kathy Dawson, 90)

For us as individuals and for us as a church community, if our primary identity is measured by our closeness to God, how are we doing?

The shepherd king David gives us a great example of how to respond when we slip away from God.  In Psalm 51, verses 10-12  he prays to God, saying:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. (NRSV)

May, we, like David, be willing to admit when we’ve done wrong and make right our relationship with God.

Will you pray with me?

God, as we seek to grow in godly wisdom, we ask that you remove all bitterness, envy, strife, disloyalty, and every other kind of evil from us.  Create in us clean hearts so that we may love you and others as we love ourselves, as beloved children of God.  Help us to serve you wholeheartedly, to submit to your ways and your plans, and to continually draw near to you.  May we grow as disciples of Christ so we can make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. Amen.

Click here to listen to the recorded sermon at Fort Oglethorpe UMC.

Click here to listen to the recorded at sermon at Simpson UMC.


Worship music at Fort Oglethorpe UMC:
"Leaning on the Everlasting Arms", UMH 133

"Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord"
"Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing", UMH #400
"Blessed Assurance", UMH #369

Special music: "Christ is Enough", sung by Stacy Wells. Here is a YouTube video of the song:

Music at Simpson UMC:

"Lord, I Want to be a Christian" -- UMH 402

"I Am Thine, O Lord", UMH #419

Anthem by Susan Peel and Paul Stone: "Come Unto Me"

"Near to the Heart of God", UMH #472

Community-- fly in formation

This morning I went to Chester Frost Park for the sunrise, some quiet time, and to drink my coffee.  By the time the sun had risen, my coffee was gone.  It struck me that my coffee was depleted, but my soul was refreshed.

In addition to watching the various stages of the sun rising, I was blessed to see a flock of geese fly over.  I had been hoping for that.

When I heard the beginnings of honking in the distance, I knew it was a possibility and turned my eyes to the sky.  As I watched, they approached in perfect "V" formation.  It is neat to watch them fly, supporting each other in formation, in community.

I've been thinking quite a bit about community these past several days. As I preached from Psalm 22 yesterday, I shared that we need one another in our dark and difficult times.  As we cry out from the depths of our souls, we need community.  We need community in the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yesterday afternoon, I shared with a group of folks gathered around to celebrated the life of a teenager that we need community.  That we need one another to walk with us, to be there, etc.  There was quite a turnout of community for that young man.

Yesterday evening, I spent time in community.  I just needed to "be".  I needed to be with folks where we could share table fellowship, simply be ourselves, and share about life if we wanted to... or not.

Community.  We all need community.  We are better together.

May we fly like the geese, supporting one another to continue the journey.  Do you need someone to fly with, to accompany you along the way?

Let me know.  I'm available.

Blessings on your journey,


P.S.  Have you ever wondered why geese and other migratory birds fly in "V" formation?  It is said to conserve energy and to aid in keeping track of each other.  Check it out here.

5 Things Geese Can Teach Us About Teamwork by Len Wilson

Morning sunrise pictures at Chester Frost Park:

Here is a link to the Chester Frost Shelter #3 that is  near where I was this morning.  There are two small covered picnic areas closer to the water.  I was at the first one you come to from the first entrance.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Heart Math-- heart coherence that reduces stress

Last Friday I attended a workshop and as we got started, the presenter said we were going to start with a short breathing exercise from Heart Math (heartmath.org).  Since I have been using heart math for over a year now, that was a neat way for me to start the workshop. 

The exercise was the Quick Coherence Technique.  You can learn more about it here. There is also a downloadable mp3 on the link.

I first learned about HeartMath from a fellow board member (Jan) of FUMSDRL/HOF (Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors/Hearts on Fire) a year ago July at our face-to-face board meeting.  She uses it in her practice with clients and mentioned it to me.  She showed it to me and seeing it work immediately sold me on it. 

My inner balance blue tooth arrived last September and I started my Heart Math journey on September 23rd. 

It has been over a year now that I have been using this tool.  It is part of my spiritual practice/discipline as it is part of my quiet time, sometimes for up to 15 minutes a session.  One can do it for very short amounts of time, as we did at the workshop on Friday, as well. 

By using the blue tooth that I attach to my earlobe, I get to see the biometric feedback of my heart rate, keep up with the breathing rhythm, and see if I am in low, medium, or high coherence.

You don't need to buy any of the tools to use the procedure.  Check out the link for the Quick Coherence Technique.  There are other free resources on the website too, such as a Personal Well-Being Survey.

I learned in the workshop that Dalton State uses Heart Math.  That made me curious as to how and where on campus, etc.  A quick Google search didn't net any results, so I need to ask the workshop presenter about that one.

I use this tool to primarily calm my breathing, to reduce stress and anxiety.  I am grateful that it was introduced to me. 

Just recently I marked 75,000 lifetime points.  My goal is 300 per day, something that they recommend.  Sometimes I get less and sometimes I get more.  But the number isn't the point.  The true goal is bringing down stress and anxiety, keeping a strong sense of calm and appreciation, and being able to focus more easily.

Blessings on your journey,


P.S.  I wrote about Heart Math once before: Inner Balance with Heart Math (1/19/18)