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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Songs Amidst the Thunder

I woke this morning to the sound of thunder (and yes I am hearing Bob Seger in my head as I type that line) and heavy rain. It is very hard to get out of bed on a morning like this and so I took the luxury of lingering there for a bit. I did not sleep, I just listened...and prayed...and listened some more.  I would like to say I heard God speaking to me and leading me toward some great epiphany...but I did not. I tried listening harder...I still heard nothing.  So I stopped listening...and oddly enough - that is when I started to hear.

I stopped being so intent on hearing God's voice and instead I just let the sounds around me begin to nurture me. The rolling thunder - this isn't a violent storm, it has the gentleness of a lover, the murmur of lovely words whispered adoringly in your ear.  The falling rain - mostly a steady heartbeat, sure, even, strong, never threatening. And then I hear the unexpected - birds singing joyfully! In the midst of a storm even the birds have found a song worth singing this morning.

It occurs to me that in church circles we often talk about the raging storms of life and how God is there to calm the seas and get us through - and this I believe to be true. But...it also occurs to me that sometimes the storms in life are gentle ones.  These calm and gentle storms are the hardest, for we don't always see the need to seek God and cling to him as we do when the storm is raging and violent. In the gentle storms we are lulled into a sense of peace that says, I've got this God - no need to busy yourself today.  And there we languish in our own sense of self control and assurance.

I've been in the midst of one of those calm storms for a while and today as I listen to the birds sing I am finding refuge and redemption in the midst of this storm. I have sought to put God back in his rightful place as Lord of my life and I have handed the reigns of control back over to him. I have found peace and comfort in his refuge. I have found redemption in his forgiveness.

Now I lay here, listening to the birds sing...we share joy. They say to me - sometimes a storm is just a storm - relax, listen and enjoy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Glimpsing the Masterpiece

Late last year my daughters and I had the opportunity to return to one of our favorite cities - Washington D.C.  I normally allow the girls to choose our activities but they had both visited more recently than I so that day I decided to be selfish and demand some time at the National Gallery of Art. The girls believe this to be a total waste of time so I left them to sit on a bench and listen to their ipods while I flew through as many galleries as I could before they could find me and drag me out...which didn't take long.

As I entered one of the gallery rooms I immediately noticed a painter in the midst of his work.  This surprised me that they would let folks with paint within 100 yards of these priceless works of art - but nonetheless, there was a man obviously copying a portrait of a woman.  From my angle I could only see the copy being painted and not the original.  I was very impressed, he was obviously a man of great talent and I wondered how it felt to be copying someone else's work when he obviously had the talent to create his own.  I stepped in for a closer look. She was beautiful, the colors, the slight shy smile on her face. I could see why he was drawn to paint this particular portrait. It truly was a great work of art.  But by then I had moved close enough that I could look past the easel he was painting on and see the original masterpiece on the wall in front of him.  I think I might have actually said, "Oh my" right out loud.

His painting was gorgeous and I thought it was perfect - until I saw the original - then it was obvious, his was just a painting. It looked like a painting. The colors, the proportions, the detail were all there in his copy but the original looked as if you reached out to touch it, you would feel the warmth of her skin, touch the curl of her hair, slide your hand upon the yellow silk of her dress.  Her skin glowed with a light that can only be described as "life" - she really gave the appearance of life and dimension!  I'm sure you can tell by my fumbled attempts to describe this scene that I don't know a lot about art - but that day, I saw for myself the difference between a painting and a masterpiece.

I thought about that painting today as I took a ride through the country. Watching spring come alive, even though we had snow and ice this morning. I saw pale rays of sunlight dancing through the new pale green leaves. I thought about all we do in the name of beauty...how we build, how we landscape, how we paint and create and shape and form.  And yes, sometimes we do create beautiful and wonderful things...but if we are not careful, those beautiful creations will end up blocking the view of the masterpiece behind it all...God's creation!  There can be nothing more beautiful, nothing more stunning and full of life than the created world we call Earth.  God has indeed poured upon it all manner of glory and wonder for us to feast our eyes upon - but how often do we stand still long enough to notice? How many times do we bother to shift our gaze past the "art" of this world and look to the original masterpiece of God's work?

Yes, I know Spring has backslid into mild winter, but tomorrow, brave the cool dampness anyway - take a walk, take a ride - but go and see a real work by the real Master. Prepare to be astounded - it is glorious to behold!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Quilt Maker's Hand

I was graciously and mercifully spoiled this past week while on my retreat. It was as if God knew I would be missing the loving warmth of my family and so he warmed the earth just for me. I had plenty of sunshine and warm, breezy days in which to get out and walk.  But just in time for my return home, to the warmth of my family, the wind has turned chill and I have to break the coat out once again.

It is one of those days where I haven't really wanted to climb out of bed, it has been dark and misty - not very inviting. I want to draw the quilt around me tighter and just stay snug in my little cocoon.  Instead, I ponder the quilt...it is worn, faded and stained. I look at the stitches...every one almost the same length - tiny stitches, some crooked, some straight.  I remember the hands that made each and every stitch.  Geneva's hand...soft, warm, always busy with some household chore. My Granny made quilts for all of us over the years. It was something she took great pleasure in, but never pride. She never felt her quilts were anything special - but to us, they are a great treasure.  I know I should stop using them - pack them away and protect them from more wear and tear. But every time I cocoon myself in one, or place one over my feverish child, it is as if we are wrapping ourselves in her loving care one more time. Her hands go to work...healing...comforting...being.

It occurs to me that the beautiful things of the Earth can be similar expressions and remembrances of God's loving care for us. Wrapped in the warmth of sunshine...comforted by a sparrow's song...healed by the solitary quiet of a mountain breeze or a valley's wide, lazy river.  If we stop, look and feel the beauty of the patchwork quilt we call Earth, we will see God's hands at work...healing...comforting... being.

Suddenly the chill of the day is gone...I want to go out and feel God's loving care in the world - to see the trees turning green with new leaves, to see the tulips pushing their way through the soil - tiny stitches created just for us...healing...comforting...being.  The Quilt Maker's hand at work.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Silence of the Latte'

Well, it is the final day of my Spiritual retreat. In a few hours I will head toward home and the loving embrace of my family and friends.  I have had a long journey this week. I have learned things...I have relearned things...I have let go of some things...I have picked up others.

One of the most important things I relearned is the gift of silence. To sit in silence and not think about anything but my breath....to walk in silence and contemplate God in the world...to pray and offer silence so that I can hear the conversation God offers back.  Silence is fairly easy to come by on Spiritual retreats - they are designed to give you time alone. I've sought out solitary gardens and out of the way spots. I've eaten alone most days and I have sat quietly in my room with the TV off most nights (although I couldn't resist watching the Duke game last night).

But now, I will go home and I wonder - will the silence go with me.  As I sit in Panera this morning I am only mildly aware of the chaos around me.  There are a multitude of conversations - some loud, some quiet. There are children running around and elderly watching on with a smile of remembrance. There are business meetings and friend meetings and so there is a loud mix of humanity all around me.  And yet, I sit and seek out silence...realizing that we can't always withdraw from life to hear from God - we must instead train ourselves to seek and embrace the silence, even in the midst of noise and chaos.

Is God in Panera on a busy weekday morning? Oh yes :)  He has nudged me to have patience at the disorder at the counter and allowed me instead to see the kindness of folks helping one another. He has been glimpsed in the hugs and kisses a mother is sharing with her little daughter as they enjoy a morning out. His peace is found in the faces around me, pleasant, kind, gentle.  I look around me and realize that life viewed from a distance is its own dance...its own poem...it has a rhythm and a movement that, when seen from the silence of prayerful contemplation, has its own beauty and glory as the image of God is made visible in remarkably ordinary ways.

"a few words together and don't try 
to make them elaborate, this isn't 
a contest but the doorway


into thanks, and a silence in which 
another voice my speak."  
                  ("Praying by Mary Oliver)

Amen.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It is Well With My Soul...and my body...and my mind...

At midnight a new day blew into town....and I do mean, it literally blew in with a violent storm beating at my hotel window. I lay there listening to the rain, wind, and hail...and I wondered, will anyone tell me if I should take cover? Will I know if danger is approaching? Needless to say, I couldn't get back to sleep for a bit, I just laid there and listened to nature roar.  All this fuss because the temperature was going to change - a cold front moving in and a warm front moving out - not a big deal it would seem but at the line where the exchange occurs - turmoil, chaos.

How like life that is.  This week I have been making some changes of my own - trying to get healthy again: body, mind and soul.  I have hit the gym every day. My muscles have been stretched and crunched, pushed and pulled. I am feeling muscles I never even knew I had and they are not happy to have been awaken from their long slumber.  They rage, they hurt...or at least they did. Today they are more alert, they are not screaming at me every time I try to take a step or rise from my chair.  They are starting to wake up. My trainer tells me this is normal and ok - waking up sleeping muscles is painful business but the pain won't last and the benefits are worth it.

How like life that is.  I have discovered that waking up a slumbering soul comes with its own pain.  Pain in knowing you have pushed God to the sidelines. The pain of realizing your own ego has hindered or hijacked the work you were called to do.  Stretching the soul to take deeper lunges of thought...pumping the soul to more weightier issues...these things are accompanied by their own pain.  But I am assured that is ok, it is normal. I am also assured that the pain won't last and the benefits are worth it.

This journey with God - to Barnes and Noble, to the Garden, to the gym - has been an incredible, insightful and healing process. It has not been without pain...but that's ok. The pain has not lasted and the benefits are already felt.  

In the calm sunshine after the storm, God has spoken..."Feel my warmth? See my light? Hear my call? You have weathered the storm, all is calm...all is well."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eyes Wide Open

I am going to dinner with a friend. This may seem like a small thing to some but for me it is a great sign of hope and affirmation.  "Hello, my name is Karen and I am a recovering introvert."  I have journeyed to this spiritual retreat to refill my soul - this is an important and necessary job for us introverts (I can hear your amens from here.)  In introvert is not necessarily anti-social; they are not people-haters or recluses. We can do all the same things extroverts can do! I can be the center of attention comfortably enough, just ask anyone who knows me! I can stand and sing or speak in front of 100's of people with barely a butterfly.  The deal with introverts is that when we do those highly social things, even if we love doing them, we expend a lot of energy in the process.  While an extrovert will draw more energy from the crowd and socialization - an introvert can only renew energy by being alone - by seeking solitude and self-care.

I came on this retreat to re-fill my depleted energy. I came desiring to retreat and withdraw socially for a bit. But this morning I woke up and thought, "I don't want to eat alone again."  With a smile I rejoice, I know my levels are back up - I can re-enter the world.  A recovering introvert, if they are honest, will tell you that even as they rejoice, this step brings a level of anxiety with it. "What if I'm not ready?" "What if it is too soon?" This is especially true when coupled with a Spiritual aspect. "What if, when I re-enter I can't find God again? or as easily?"

There is the anxiety that the work of the last few days to re-fuel the spiritual tank and to reconnect with God might be lost amidst the gathering chaos and noise of re-entry into the "real world." I can already feel that anxiety - I only have 2 days left!!!  But then words of comfort...

Everything is His.
The door, the door jamb.
The wood stacked near the door.
The leaves blown upon the path 
   that leads to the door...


And, simply said, all the rest.
                  (Musical Notation:2 by Mary Oliver)

It is silly to fear that I won't find Him upon re-entry...for He is everywhere and all is His. The only way I will miss seeing, is if I stop looking.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Garden Psalm

God sat with me in a garden today. With a slight nip in the air, the sun working hard to warm the new day, I took my new book of poetry and went for a walk.  I found myself in a churchyard where off to the side was a small prayer garden. It looked inviting in the glow of morning.  I sat upon a bench and read a few poems aloud to the birds and squirrels - and perhaps some puzzled neighbors wondering what crazy fool was reading poetry out loud on a busy Tuesday morning.

"Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, 'Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.


And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come 
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."
                (When I Am Among the Trees by Mary Oliver)

I stop reading and gaze at a flowering tree. I really should learn the names of these beautiful things. I am struck at how the tree is a visual metaphor - some flowers are only buds, not yet given birth. Some were open, red, beautiful and mature - glorious. Others were brown and giving way to death. It made me sad. Remembering I was also here to deal with grief and loss.

But then the words of the poem came to me..."and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light and to shine."  As I thought about the dark and shadowy world of sorrow my eyes traveled around the little garden and I saw that even in the shadows, there were beautiful things growing.  And there, out of the darkness of a deep mound of mulch and wood chips, sprouts were forcing their way into the light.  I looked again at the glorious, red flowering tree and beneath it I notice a lush carpet of red petals that litter the ground. A royal carpet. It will now turn to fertile soil and thus will bloom again.  There is even beauty in death. I am no longer sad.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thirst

There are those occasions when God seems determined to show off a little bit (Thank you God for those occasions) and today was one of those days. I am beginning a 5 day spiritual journey today. I am not at all ashamed to say it is because I feel almost used up, with little left to give. I have no shame in this because I know we've all been there. I do have guilt, however, that I have let myself get there again.  So, I have gone into retreat.  Today I thought about how once was between me and God - of how I spoke to him almost constantly, I sought him in all things - and I remembered the times God spoke back - so powerfully that it would almost drop me to my knees.  That hasn't happened to me in a while...until today.

It is no surprise that I am in this place, in part, because of the grief I carry over recent losses in my life. So this journey of tears is needed on many levels.  But, I digress - back to God the show off...

So, today someone suggests that because of my love of nature and the glory of God's created world, I should check out the works of poet Mary Oliver. So being the totally obedient person I am (ok, I really just realized I needed all the help I could get) I went out later to purchase a book of her work.  The problem was, I failed to take with me the paper with her name on it - so I arrive at this huge bookstore and all I know is I'm looking for a book about poetry written by some woman.  Yeah, good luck telling the Info Desk about this query.  So I decide to just forget it and get something else to read.  But no, God is not letting this go. I feel the old familiar tugging on my sleeve that the Holy Spirit once used frequently on me and so...well, long story short - I was led to the exact author I was looking for - AND - as I wondered how will I pick which of her 8 books to purchase, God said - "This one" and there it was - the smallest, almost hidden from view, with a one word title - "Thirst"

I laughed, which drew strange looks from the college student a few shelves away. Ok God, I'm listening. I pick up the book and sit down in the aisle to read a while...only I didn't make it half-way through the first poem before the tears started again.  This was what God wanted me to find.  I am now settled into my hotel room with my book of poems - I've been reading it for about an hour - and I still haven't left the first poem...it has become my prayer...it reads in part...

"Messenger"
My work is loving the world...


Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

Tears fall again, I have forgotten how to stand still and be astonished - I have forsaken my work.
Thank you God for reminding me...I am astonished all over again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Time for Contemplation

My best friend L. and I love to spend time together, however we are very busy women and our time together is few and far between. When we do get together we are often so tired that we are caught laying around on the sofa's with our eyes closed, talking a bit and napping a bit.  When our family comes in and asks what we are doing we just say "Contemplating."

There is something to be said about just kicking back and relaxing. Just close your eyes and let your mind drift off to a direction of its own choosing. I love that "in between" moment - just between sleep and alert where your mind is most unhindered. I've received some great sermon inspirations in that time. I've solved problems, located lost memories, and have a few conversations with God in those moments.

My Lenten journey this year was meant to be 40 days of contemplation - each day spent seeking God in the quiet and intentional moments I would set aside.  It was great in theory but days like today remind me that sometimes contemplation has to be done on the run. Sometimes life comes as us too fast and we may have to work a little harder to contemplate God in the noise and chaos - but he is still there.

So, even though I ran hard today let me tell you what a saw...
1. I woke up in a warm bed, next to the man I know God sent just for me!

2. I woke up my youngest daughter, and she smiled. She is healthy, happy, fun, and sweet natured. And she loves God.

3. My daughter away at college texted me a few times throughout the day. I feel blessed that she wants to share little details of her day with me. She too is happy, healthy, fun and sweet natured. And she loves God. She goes to church even without us there to make her :)

4. I officiated a funeral today of one of God's saints. I thought it would be a sorrowful burden - but God brought such a sense of rejoicing and celebration that even as the tears rolled, so did the laughter and stories and good memories.  God's assurance of resurrection was more real at that moment than I've felt in a while.

5. Today the sun was warm, the sky was blue and I didn't have to worry about earthquakes, food, radiation poisoning, etc. - but my Japanese brothers and sisters do, so I stopped what I was doing and I prayed. I felt God's pain at the suffering of the world.

6. I got home, changed clothes and prepared to go on a date with my husband. We used a gift card someone had given us for a fancy meal. I was reminded of God's provision which comes upon us in the most unexpected ways.  We talked about our first 21 years together and dreamed about our next 21. I felt God's peace and assurance of our future.

7. On our way to dinner we did make one pit stop...Forsyth Hospital to welcome a new little one into the church family.  That felt like my gift and reward...to move from a funeral to a nursery, holding a newborn baby, so perfect and peaceful.  I am in awe at the glory of our God who brings new life.

hmm, 7 blessings - the biblical number for complete or total.  I feel totally and completely blessed.
I think I will go contemplate some more...good night.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Look What We Did"

"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing."               Genesis 12:1-2


Today my husband and I are celebrating 21 years of marriage. We were 24 when we got married so we've now spent almost half of our lives together. I admit it is a pretty amazing feeling. I have been reflecting on family a lot lately. It was actually something that my husband said at his father's funeral that nudged me to this introspective mood.  You see, my husband unexpectedly lost both his parents this year. First his father and then 7 weeks later, his mother.  It has really shaken our family. At his father's funeral, my husband stood and told something he had witnessed once at one of our family gatherings.  It was a moment when the entire family was crowded into the tiny kitchen, no doubt fighting for a piece of birthday cake.  My husband witnessed his father just standing back and taking in the chaotic scene: Two parents, three children, two children in-law,  six granddaughters and accompanying boyfriends or husbands, and, at the time, one great grandson mixing it up around a four seat table.  He suddenly got his wife's attention, smiled broadly and swept his arms open, gesturing to the scene before his as if to say, "Look at this! We did this!"  They smiled lovingly at one another and jumped back into the family fray.

That story has caused me to look for those moments in my own life and has surprisingly drawn me to God's call to Abram in Genesis. Abram is directed to leave his family home and begin a totally new life under God's command.  I remember something similar in my wedding vows...that we were to leave our fathers and mothers and cling to one another. But it is the second part of God's command that catches my heart right now..."I will bless you...so that your will be a blessing."

That moment in my in-law's kitchen was my father-in-law realizing he had been blessed to be a blessing. God had provided  for him in life and he had shared it with his children and they were sharing it with their children, and now they are beginning to have children of their own and they will share it with them.

It is easy to get caught up in thinking the wonderful blessing of family is a personal matter. We give thanks to God for it and we cherish it and enjoy it. But we also can't forget that God blesses his children SO THAT they will be a blessing to others.  The blessing of a healthy marriage will become a blessing to the children of that marriage. It will radiate outward to be a blessing to the in-laws who are welcomed into the family later. It will spread to blessing the neighbors, friends, co-workers and church goers of the couple first blessed.

We leave our fathers and mothers homes and we enter into marriage but we are not to be in this marriage alone, as Abram was not on his journey alone. We are to go forward in this marriage with God as our guide and companion. In obedience to God we submit our marriage to God and he will pour out blessing upon it - not for the sole benefit of the couple - but so that their witness will then bless others.

We celebrate 21 years of marriage today. Our daughters will all too soon be starting families and lives of their own. My blessings from this marriage are too numerous to count and I realize I am guilty of selfishly trying to keep all of them for myself - but Abrams story reminds me they are not mine to keep. They are mine to share. I can't wait to celebrate the next 21 years of marriage...to watch the number gathered around my table grow to a chaotic mass fighting over birthday cake...to look at my beloved and smile knowingly...look what we did...look what God did through us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Somebody's Knocking at the Door

"Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me."                       Revelation 3:20

There is nothing that irritates me more than to be locked out of my house.  I used to come home, arms full of groceries or whatever and unable to get my key in the lock. I would be outside the door struggling to get in while my family sat on the other side of the door, mesmerized by the T.V. and unwilling to get up and let me in.

The above verse from Revelation has been stuck in my head all day today as I have been contemplating Christ's church, my role as a pastor, and my place as a disciple. I am spending the season of Lent seeking transformation as a Christian. My desire is to do some "holy" remembering and return to the same passionate, high energy, on fire Christian I was when I first committed my life to Christ and when I first went into the ministry. I want to be hot!! In a strictly Christian sense of the word :)

I grew up with this verse being one that was required memorization for us. It was often used to teach us about salvation. Jesus is waiting, they would say. "He's knocking on the door of your heart, waiting for you to let him in." I remember being puzzled by it as a child. After all, if Jesus was a Holy Ghost then why did he have to knock - can't ghosts just walk through doors?  Ah, youth.

Now, here I am all grown up and pastor of my own congregation and I am thrown back to this verse all over again. In my youth it was a verse of great hope - because who didn't feel better knowing that Jesus wanted to live in my heart! But now, it is a verse that brings great anxiety to me. Imagine how startled I was the first time I learned that this verse was not about personal salvation at all - instead it is a kind of condemnation of the church!

In the opening chapters of Revelation, John is told to write his vision to the churches and in chapter 2 and 3 he speaks to them about their successes and failures as a church.  The last one is particularly scathing.  He declares the church to be lukewarm and desires to simply spit it out.  Not hard to imagine, we all know lukewarm water is distasteful.  Suddenly another image from my childhood passes before me. A picture that I believe both grandparents had in their homes of Jesus standing at the front door of a very English looking cottage, knocking.  But Revelation makes it clear - the house that Jesus has been shut out of and is desperately seeking to get back into is his own - the church!

I'm wondering if all of us as pastors should have an artist commissioned to come out and paint a picture of the churches we currently serve, with a special addition - Jesus, standing at our locked doors knocking, asking to come in.  With a heavy heart I realize that while I see some wonderful things in our churches I don't know of many who are hot and on fire for Jesus. I don't know of many church where every member is a passionate witness for God and where visitors are frequent and new members abound every week.  Too often I find churches that are lukewarm - not dead and cold yet, but just doing enough to get by and be called "church."

I fear that we have become so caught up in the institution of church and the "we've always done it this way" traditions of faith - that Jesus left the building and no one even noticed. In this season of Lent I hope we can all sit in our church and listen closely to what we hear.  Do we hear Jesus clearly inside the walls? Or can we hear only the distant tapping on the sanctuary door?

And will we sit there - mesmerized by whatever 'entertainment' is before us or will we get up and let him in?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Time Is It?

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:6-8

Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Nuclear meltdowns, mass death: It always bring the same comment - "We are in the end times!" or "The end of the world is upon us." Suddenly, folks who haven't willingly cracked a bible in years are apocalyptic experts and want to quote Revelation and proclaim they know the end has come. We seem to forget that there have been mass deaths, earthquakes, tsunamis, and Nuclear meltdowns before. Of course, what is happening is frightening and perhaps even unprecedented in terms of natural disasters. But are we really to glean from it that we are living out the last days?

Interestingly, I have been leading a bible study on Revelation which some believe give us clues to the "end of times" but I am also studying the book of Acts to prepare for an upcoming sermon series. I am enjoying how the two books compliment one another so well.

As I began to read Acts today I was particularly struck by the passage I have printed above. Times really haven't changed much have they? Jesus' followers then, and now, are still begging to know what time it is. Is it time for Jesus to come? Is it time for the end of times? I am always amazed that folks spend so much time and energy trying to pinpoint the TIME of the event instead of contemplating the event itself - or even reading the sentence of scripture that comes after the query. Is it time? Jesus says, "It is not for you to know the times or periods..." Why is it when we hear this response we act like the unstoppable 3 year old asking his dad why the sky is blue. Why daddy? Because it is son. But why? Because God made it that way. But why?... You get the idea. We ask the question, Jesus gives a straight forward, reasonable answer and we just pretend we didn't hear it.

Not only do we ignore his answer - we don't bother to listen to his correction. What Jesus goes on to say is, you asked the wrong question. Our question shouldn't be "What time is it?" but instead, "What do I do with my time?"

Jesus is a great teacher, he tells us clearly enough. The power of the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses to the ends of the earth! Wow!! How exciting and what a great promise and mission for us Christians. We have all we need to provide acts and words of witness all over world! We have the power to be the hands and feet of Jesus - the teacher and training of disciples - the heart and soul of Christ's church for ALL people to the ends of the earth! But too many of us are still sitting in our pew staring at the clock..."What time is it again?"

The way I see it I'm not going to get any reward if I win the pool by predicting the end of the world. The reward I have been promised, (we all have been promised), is based upon how I love God and love my neighbor...in other words, the kind of witness I am. I have the power of the Holy Spirit upon me to make that happen - how can I fail? Evidently its easy enough - I just refuse to listen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Power of Love





" I am the Alpha and Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." Revelation 1:8





I cannot seem to stop looking at the videos and still images of the horrific tsunami that has devastated the nation of Japan. I see images like the one above and really just cannot seem to get my mind wrapped around the power and might of nature. Yachts atop houses - cars left on top of a three story building - entire towns wiped of the map! It is just so surreal.

Last night I read Revelation 1:8 and found there a surprising comfort in the words; a comfort I haven't felt in quite a few days as I've watched this natural disaster unfold. As powerful as these waters were - there is one who is yet more powerful! God is the Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end (and all that is between). God is ever present, steadfast and eternal - the All Mighty!

Wow, that says a lot when we have just witness the mighty power of nature! My heart is broken for these people and the journey that they are just beginning; a journey of rebuilding and going on with life amidst unbearable pain and loss. But I am reminded that our God is bigger than this disaster. God is more powerful than these raging waters.

God will be able to comfort and bring peace to those who mourn - God will be able to bring gratitude to those who have lost everything - God will be able to mend the broken hearts and renew the crushed spirits of these people! And that is a power greater than any destructive force around - it is the power of love, grace and mercy.

Precious God, may your grace and comfort fall in a mighty way upon the people of Japan. As new threats arise I pray for your power to overcome any more harm to those who have survived. May those who have lost every material thing be blessed with spiritual wealth. May those who have lost loved ones feel your peace and love as they grieve. May the leaders lean upon your guidance and submit to your will in handling this crisis. Strengthen the rescue workers and provide for them the comfort and compassion they will need to carry out the difficult task of recovery and rescue. May the shelters be safe havens of peace and health for those who suffer. And Merciful God - may the world take notice of this event and may we all learn from it better how to love our neighbor as ourself.
Amen



Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Life to Remember

"For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ...their end is destruction." "But our citizenship is is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
(Philippians 3:18,19,20)

Today I celebrated the life of a wonderful woman. Peggy Kelley Roberts was my mother-in-law and today we said farewell as we remembered her life with great joy, laughter and more than a few tears. I wept, not for her death...but completely for my loss, my husband's loss, my two daughter's loss - our entire family's loss.

Peggy was one of God's meek saints. She was the stability and strength of our family, as my husband so beautifully stated. She was an incredible mother and wife, sister and grandmother, aunt and friend. She lived for her God and for her family and for her church - and, in about that order. So, I weep not for her death - for her death is a release and a reason for rejoicing. Her death means cancer no longer has a hold of her, pain and suffering will no more be a part of her vocabulary.

It also means she joins her beloved Jim whose farewell we celebrated in the same church just 8 weeks ago. They hated to be apart in life - why should death be any different? The church was full today, as it was 8 weeks ago and I can't help it but my heart is full of pride over this fact. Especially since many present didn't even know Jim or Peggy - but they knew one of their children or grandchildren. What that means to me is that the Godly and righteous influence of these two beautiful people did indeed rub off on their family - and we have gone on to form our own meaningful and cherished relationships. Like a pebble thrown into a pond - their influence will continue to ripple on for generations as we take what we learned from them and teach it to our own children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors.

It was a great day to remember a life lived well...I don't think I could ask for any more than to get to the end of my earthly journey and be remembered for a life well lived.

Farewell Peggy - until I see you again.
video

Friday, March 11, 2011

Get Behind Me Satan

"So when the woman saw that the tree...was to be desired...she took...and ate." Genesis 3:6

Have you ever had a good think right in front of you and not even realized it? My parents were always pretty great but I don't think I realized it until I became a parent myself. My husband is terrific but when I first met him I didn't care a thing for him, it was only later that I saw how wonderful he was. Sometimes there are good things right in front of us and we don't even notice.

As I was scanning the Genesis text this week, it caused me to quickly read vs. 6 and leave out some words...what I read is what you see at the top of the blog. It struck me then that Eve had been living in this Garden of Eden for a while. God had obviously pointed out the tree and given her instructions on it. She was surely familiar with the tree. But it wasn't until Satan arrived and began his conversation with her that she saw it - really saw it - and suddenly understood it was something she wanted. I find that intriguing. She didn't want it before that moment. It was right here all along and she was satisfied to just leave it alone like God asked her to. Until Satan pointed out it was the ONLY thing in the garden she didn't have...suddenly, she had to have it.

Isn't that just like us humans? We feel content in life, satisfied to receive all God has blessed us with - until someone points out we are lacking in some way. Then temptation and desire kick in and we spent time, energy, and money doing what we can to get that one thing we are sure we are missing. No longer can we look around and see we are surrounded by a lush garden of blessing - all we can see is the one thing we are missing.

I was reading that is was pride that drove Eve to commit that first sin - pride in thinking she could be as wise and knowledgeable as God. I do believe that is a valid assessment. But I can't help but wander if perhaps it was more an issue of ingratitude. An ingratitude that caused Eve to be temporarily blinded by all God had done for her. No more did she see the refreshing beauty of her surroundings. No longer did she think about the vast amounts of fruits and vegetables awaiting her consumption. Not another thought about the companionship she enjoyed not only with Adam but with God. All she could see was that one tree - the one thing she had been denied...all else faded to black.

Perhaps because I have been journeying through a season of death, but I have grown weary of black. I crane my neck to all sorts of crazy angles trying to catch a little sunlight and warmth on my face. In seeing precious life fade away I have re-evaluated my priorities and found myself more determined than ever not to take anything God has given me for granted. He has filled my life with blessing upon blessing and too often I have been like Eve - peeking through the blessings for what I don't yet have. Today my Lenten journey reminds me to stop peeking through and instead to look fully upon what I already have. When I begin to take stock of my blessings, how can I help but feel the satisfaction of contentment?

Satan, you might as well get behind me - because you have nothing to offer me that my God hasn't already made mine.



Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Traveling Companion Awaits

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds."
Zechariah 1:4b

I'm not sure why but today I am drawn to the hard hitting prophets of the Old Testament. Perhaps it has something to do with a disturbing dream I had last night which centered around old houses. My dream interpretation books says a house represents the state of the soul - hmm - I better ponder that one later. Or, perhaps, because today I found myself sitting in yet another Hospice ward trying to make some sense out of tragic death. Or, it might just simply be that Lent always reminds me of that great prophetic message - Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. Either way, the prophet Zechariah became my companion for the day.

I will admit that I get lost a lot. I hate asking for directions and I'm often so sure of where I am going that I don't even bother to check a map or load my GPS, I just take off and figure I'll find it easy enough. It is a silly habit really because I've noticed it rarely goes well for me. Instead, I waste time turning around and backtracking trying to figure out where I am and where I went wrong. The great prophet's pleas remind me of this predicament. Perhaps this was Israel's problem too. Too much self assurance that they could find the way on their own, they didn't need a guide or consultant.

Often, we get ahead of where we should be and we need to turn around and go back. This is God's message to his children - "You've gone too far away! Turn back!" I love how Zechariah records it in vs. 3 - "Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts."

I find this promise comforting today. It brings me hope to know that when I get far down that road of self-assurance only to realize I am lost, all I have to do is turn around and go back. God will be there waiting to join me as we journey together in the RIGHT direction.

As I journey into Lent I know I have, in essence, turned around. I've gotten lost by striking out on my own too much lately. This road is dark and curvy and not at all appealing. I am ready to be back on the lighted path of a more secure journey accompanied by the greatest travel companion I can image...my God.

I smile as I type this because suddenly my surroundings seem more familiar. I am sure I've been this way before and fond memories flood my soul. It may be too early to tell, but I believe I see a familiar figure up ahead and my heart is full of joy. My traveling companion awaits.

Amen

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Time for an Adjustment

Leviticus 11:44 For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.

Today I finally got around to doing something I should have done weeks ago...I went to visit my Chiropractor. Due to illness in my family I have spent the last 4 months sleeping in hospital chairs or catching naps anywhere I could. It does take a toll on an already bad back. The pain eventually became too much and I finally went in for a much needed adjustment.

Isn't it amazing what we do to our bodies? I've known for weeks that what I was doing was hurting me. I also knew that one or two visits to my doctor would fix it. And yet, I stubbornly tried to keep going on my own, despite the warnings and pain. Even though I knew if I let it go too long I could do long term damage to my nerves - I still waited.

It occurred to me as I sat in the waiting room that it is not only our physical bodies that we abuse in this way - but our Spiritual lives can suffer the same fate of neglect. How often do we realize that we are not as holy as we should be? How many times do we think about how we have let our spiritual disciplines slide for too long, or stopped doing them completely? We know we should do them! We understand that if we keep putting it off, our level of holiness will suffer. Our Spiritual health will begin to deteriorate! Yet, we keep waiting.

Ironically, today is the beginning of the season of Lent. It occurs to me that I need an adjustment in more ways than one. My doctor can adjust my spine - but I also need a Spiritual adjustment before my Spiritual health begins to fail. I've tried to decide for weeks what I would give up for Lent and today I realized I would rather take up something than give up something. I would rather take up a renewed commitment to holiness. I would rather embark on a re-discovery of a passionate relationship with God.

So for Lent, I will take up contemplation and prayer as a daily commitment. This means I will give up some T.V. time or some sleep time, or maybe even (dare I say it), some Facebook time. Instead, I will spend that time reading scripture and communing with God. I hope to blog about it along the way and share some of what God teaches or reveals to me in this journal.

I'm ready to make time for an adjustment - A Holiness adjustment - because my Spiritual health depends upon it.