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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lessons on Learning

I love it when awe-inspiring wisdom comes from unexpected and innocent places.

This past spring I taught a Confirmation class of 24 eager (okay, somewhat eager) middle and high school students. With such a large group I knew it would be difficult to get to know them on a personal level so I decided to do an activity to get to know them a little better. I printed out random photos and placed around the classroom. There was a surfer riding a monster wave….a bubbling mountain stream….a bird soaring through a blue sky…a child being drug away from his computer by agitated get the point. I asked the kids to choose the picture that currently described their faith journey and be prepared to tell me why they chose it. I thought this might be a little too challenging for the younger kids but was curious to see what they would pick. I had one honest kid that chose the picture of the child being drug away from his computer – it was obvious that this class wasn’t his idea of fun. Other kids predictably teamed up and ran to the same pictures, those easy to interpret. There were a few, however, who dared to stand on their own. One of them was a quiet, shy sixth grade boy. I admit I was a bit hesitant to call on him at first because I didn’t want to embarrass him but my curiosity got the better of me. I had expected the boys to be drawn to the sports themed pictures but he had chosen a beautiful scene in which the camera was focus up into the trees as rays of sunlight broke through the leaves and scattered on the forest floor. “Why did you choose this picture?” I asked. “How does it describe your faith right now?”

His response blew me away.

“My faith is like the sunlight in this picture. Some of what I learn about Jesus gets through, I understand it, and some of it doesn’t, I’m still in the dark.”

Oh, if only we could all be as enlightened (and honest) as this young man. It seems in this world we are told there is only value in having all the answers. We don’t like to admit we don’t understand or comprehend everything.

I was once at a meeting with two other ministers. I was a brand new local pastor having served only a few months in a church while I completed my final semester in seminary. Another minister was a season “pro” in his 50’s having served most of his adult life as a church pastor. The third pastor was newly retired but had been asked to return to supply a pulpit temporarily; he was nearing 70. The retired pastor was eager to ask me questions about my seminary studies. He quizzed me on the professors and the kind of courses the seminary offered. The other pastor sat without comment. After some time the retired minister asked, “Would they allow me to come and audit some classes? I would love to refresh my mind and be challenged by some new lessons,” and turning to the seasoned pastor asked, “Wouldn’t you?” To which he uttered a scoffing laugh and said, “No, I learned everything I needed to know the first time around.”

How sad to think that we have all the answers and there is nothing new that God would have us to know. My sweet little confirmand had no idea how wise his answer was. (Thank you Grayson for teaching your pastor something that day). The light of Christ shines in all places of our world…sometimes it gets through and we understand it…and sometimes we are still in the dark. How glorious it would be if we allowed those shadows to prompt us to draw closer to Christ and to know him more.

Lord, help us to see the shadows of uncertainty and the dark corners of the unknown as challenges to dig deeper. Let us sit dazzling in the sparkling glory of the forest floor and contemplate your mystery. Let us revel and dance in the twinkling light of your love as we ask our questions and seek your answers. May we ever be seekers of more…more of you…more answers…more life…more love…more peace…more understanding….more.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

CUP: Lenten Devotional Day 45

Lenten Devotion Day 45


But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. 
Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" 
They said to him, "We are able." 
Matthew 20:22

Late last night I set the table. Today is Maundy Thursday and our prayer station is the table...the table where cup was shared, bread was broken and feet were washed. Each Disciple has a seat around the table and as I set each place I tried to put myself in their shoes. What were they thinking this night? What was their mood?

I thought it would be Judas' place setting that gave me the most trouble but it wasn' was Peter's. Peter is the one that frightens me. Right or wrong I can firmly convince myself I could never betray Jesus...surely there is no Judas in me! But denial? Well, that is something altogether different. I sat in Peter's seat and wondered as his own confidence that he would never deny or abandon Jesus and yet before the cock crowed he had done so not once but three times.

 "Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?"

Peter was so sure he was...and eventually he did...but at that moment he couldn't.

Am I? Will I? Could I?

Are you?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

LIGHT: Lenten Devotion Day 42

Lenten Devotion Day 42


For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. 
Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 
Ephesians 5:8-9

God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world,
and we loved darkness rather than light.
(UMC Book of Worship: Service of Tenebrae)

These words of greeting struck me to the core yesterday. Their truth still has me reeling a bit today - dizzy with a reality that I would much rather deny. In the beginning...God created...let there be light...and it was good.  There is no denying the goodness of light. It bring us warmth, illumination, photosynthesis, as well as understanding, clarity, and guidance. For these reasons and more, Jesus is called Light.

God created light, God is Light, God sent Light
Light for the world

And we loved darkness rather than light.

The truth still cuts doesn't it? Light is found in all that is good, right and true....yet we are drawn to that which is bad, wrong and false. We choose to lurk in the shadow - uncommitted to step fully into light and live as children of that light. We have every excuse in the book as if we have developed a sudden sensitivity to light that requires we never enter it would glasses to shield our eyes and an umbrella of shadow to hid behind. The Light shows too much truth for our comfort, shames us with too much good in light of our weakness, and challenges us with too much right for all of our wrongs.

Light of the World
Rising on that Easter morning for all eternity
Offering each of us the chance to rise also
Into the Light

And we loved darkness rather than light.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

RESTORE: Lenten Devotion Day 39

Lenten Devotion Day 39


And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, 
who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, 
will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 
To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 
1 Peter 5:10-11

All of us at times find ourselves on the brink of brokenness. We suffer in all manner of ways: some self-inflicted, some accidental, some inflicted by injustice. The stress of life can become just as visible on our bodies and souls as the stress inflicted upon the walls of the old house I live in. All around my home the walls are littered with stress fractures brought about by years of settling, shifting Despite the cracks, however, our home is secure and safe because the foundation is sure. 

Life may create all kinds of stress fractures in my body, mind and soul...but there is good news and hope that serves as the strong foundation to hold me together in the threat of brokenness. "...Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you...." 

This promise doesn't mean I will never experience stress, suffering, or brokenness...but it does promise that those things will not get the better of me. It does promise that those things will not do permanent damage.
It does promise that Christ will
my scars and establish new life. 

ALONE: Lenten Devotion Day 38

Lenten Devotion Day 38


When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, 
"Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." 
And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 
When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; 
and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 
Jesus straightened up and said to her, 
"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 
She said, "No one, sir." 
And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again." 
John 8:7-11

Close your eyes for a moment and let the powerful image of this story sink in. A lone woman, dragged to the middle of a crowd of men who seek to condemn her to death for adultery. Her terror and her shame are palpable as John recounts the story. She is brought before Jesus and probably never once realizes they are just using her as a trap - they could care less about her and her fate.

Then Jesus writes in the sand

Who will cast the first stone? I'm sure none of you have ever done wrong - let the one who is completely innocent throw the first punishing blow.

Then Jesus writes in the sand

The earth must have twitched as each stone was dropped...the women must have felt the weight lift off of her own shoulders in disbelief. One by one the men walk away and the woman is 
with Jesus.

A sinner standing with a Savior
and alive.

HOME: Lenten Devotion Day 37

Lenten Devotion Day 37


Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, 
and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 
Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, 
when you lie down and when you rise. 
Deuteronomy 6:4-7

I look often at this cabinet in my home filled with objects from long ago. My great-grandmother's plate, my grandmother's buttons, my husband's grandfather's watches...and on it goes. Objects taken so that we might remember those special times like when my sister and I would use my grandmother's buttons as money to play a version of Go Fish that we adapted for gambling (I have no idea where we got that idea, lol). Those simple object matter to me a great deal now. They are not worth anything to anyone else but to me they are the greatest treasury of memory and love. They tell my story. They remind me who I am and where I've been. 

Despite the gambling issue (give us a break, we were only in elementary school) we were blessed to have been raised in a godly home full of godly lessons. Our extended family taught us so much about faith, honor, ethics and love.

As I read Deuteronomy today, I am reminded that this is an God-given task issued to families. "When you are at home..." teach your children about the love of God; the kind of love that involves you heart, soul, and might. 

is where the love of God is taught, lived, and proclaimed
so that it might be passed down
generation to generation
so that we know who we are and more importantly
whose we are.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BELOVED: Lenten Devotion Day 35

Lenten Devotion Day 36


To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: 
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 
Romans 1:7

called and loved
follower and master

broken and poured
body and blood

fed and quenched
bread and wine

I am Christ's
Christ is mine

I am beloved

Monday, March 18, 2013

RISE: Lenten Devotion Day 34

Lenten Devotion Day 34


"The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him,
 and three days after being killed, he will rise again." 
Mark 9:31

A storm rises. Thunder echoes through the mountain valleys. Rain begins to fall. Mountains disappear behind a wall of fog. They will appear again...but not yet. Rain will nourish the ground and flowers will sprout from it. Life will rise from the storm...but not yet.

As we rapidly approach Holy Week we remember the rise of an approaching storm. Thunderous words of betrayal, denial, and judgment echoed in the streets. Tears fell. Jesus....betrayed...arrested...beaten...condemned. His body disappears behind a wall of stone. He will appear again...but not yet. His death will plant seeds of doubt and we wait to see what those seeds will grow. But we will rise from behind that stone.

We know...
Easter is coming

and see
Jesus lives!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

SURROUND: Lenten Devotion Day 32

Lenten Devotion Day 32


As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time on and forevermore. 
Psalm 125:2

Nothing makes for a greater day than to snuggle on the sofa with loving arms wrapped around you...watching the ACC tournament :)  Ok, the basketball is irrelevant (to this post at least - although my team is winning at the moment - Go Heels). What matters is the arms wrapped around me. Tomorrow marks 23 years in which those arms have been wrapped around me. I cannot express the feelings of blessing and thanksgiving that accompany that statement. I sometimes feel guilty that some never find intimate love and yet I have had it so abundantly for so long. I hate to be greedy...but I love to be loved.

When I think of the feeling of abundant love that comes from my husband's arms surrounding me, I can't help but feel awe at the thought that God's love also surrounds me. While my husband must occasionally let me go...God never does. The immense love that I feel from my marriage pales in comparison to the love of God that surrounds me every second of every day.

I pray that your Lenten journey has been one in which you find yourself surrounded by God's love. In the midst of your reflection and repentance I hope you have felt the forgiveness of God enfold you. 
May his arms 
and may you feel abundantly loved.

Friday, March 15, 2013

TEMPER: Lenten Devotion Day 31

Lenten Devotion Day 31


Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, 
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 
Psalm 32:9

If you have ever been in a car accident you know to take a moment to give thanks to Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1660) and Austrian Chemist Rudolph Reiden (1900). What? You don't know either of them? Well, give thanks to them anyway because Prince Rupert was the first to discover that heat can strengthen glass and Reiden was the first to patent "tempered" or "toughened" glass that is used in automobiles today. I'm no expect but the basic premise is that glass that is manufactured with internal stresses caused by heat will shatter differently than regular glass. "Tempering creates balanced internal stresses which cause the glass, when broken, to crumble into small granular chunks instead of splintering into jagged shards. The granular chunks are less likely to cause injury." (Wikipedia). So, anyone saved from a face full of jagged shardS in an automobile accident knows to say "Thanks" to Prince Rupert and Seiden.

How we temper ourselves matters as much as how our automobile windows are tempered...and much for the same reason. We are reminded often in scripture that our God is slow to anger and we are called to do that same. James 1:19-20 states: "You must understand this, my beloved:let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness." 

Anger in itself is not a bad thing...Jesus was got angry at times. It is how the anger is expressed that matters. To 'fly off the handle' and 'have a quick fuse' means that we are reacting with our animalistic instincts. Anger explodes from us in much the same way glass is shattered - with sharp barbs that inflict serious damage to all in its path. We all endure stresses that make us angry but if we temper ourselves and can slow our anger down so that we can think it through, process it, find ways to let the stresses be used for good - then when our anger is expressed it is more like the shattering of tempered glass - with edges that are less sharp and less damage inflicting for those in its path.

How we 
ourselves matters

Thursday, March 14, 2013

GO: Lenten Devotion Day 30

Lenten Devotion Day 30


Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, 
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 
and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. 
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Matthew 28:19-20

Go! It is a simple word. We are doing it constantly as we go to work, go to the store, go to school, go to church, go to the movies...well, you get the point. We "go" a lot. I sometimes wonder how many times in a week I pick up those keys and "go."

As I reflect on my Lenten journey I am also encouraged to stop and wonder how many times I pick up my cross and go. My keys are simple tools to allow me to "go" at a quicker and more efficient pace. Picking up a cross on the other hand...well...there is nothing seemingly quick or efficient about that. To pick up the cross and "go" is burdensome, slow, intentional, and troublesome. So, as I think about the mission of the church - "Go therefore and make disciples" - I am overwhelmed all over again with the impact of that simple word "go."

It isn't just about the mode of which you go (plane, train, automobile) but it is also about the purpose of why you go. It is about the attitude of how you go. "Go, therefore and make disciples..." calls us to live a life that is indeed burdensome, slow, intentional, and sometimes troublesome. It calls us to indeed pick up the cross and not the keys. It calls us to a lifetime of self-denial and seeking others. For some, this seems too much to bear and perhaps that is why Jesus ends it with a promise..."remember, I am with you always..."

As I think of this promise I think of Jesus, stumbling through the streets of Jerusalem. Beaten and abused he is struggling to carry his cross when Simon of Cyrene comes forward to help ease the load. Jesus says, "Take up your cross and follow me" (Matthew 16.24) but to that costly task he says, I will be your Simon of Cyrene - I will be there with you. In Matthew 11:29-30 Jesus says "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

To "GO" is a frightening thing for many of us. To answer that call seems an overwhelming prospect. Just remember, when God calls us to go - God gives us the way.

And remember
He is with you always

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

WATER: Lenten Devotion Day 29

Lenten Devotion Day 29


"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; 
I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Matthew 3:11

On my morning walk I came across a weeping tree. Ok, not a real weeping tree but I could not help but notice that of all the trees that surround my home there was only one tree that had water dripping off of it. Being the curious sort, I went in for a closer look. (The picture doesn't do justice but that white dot in the middle is a water droplet). After a few puzzling moments of trying to determine why this one tree was weeping it finally hit me. As I looked around I noticed the way the grass and fallen leaves were sparkling in the morning sun - frost. All around me was an icy glaze shimmering in the rising light. The sun was just peaking over the top of the church and hitting the yard...and the weeping tree.

Of course, I realized then that the sun was simply melting the frost that had formed on the tree and now that it was warming up it was beginning to melt. Soon, other trees would be sparkling with water droplets on their branches and all the earth would look bedazzled in silvery splendor. 

There are mornings, like this one, in which it is clear that the entire purpose of the earth is to serve as a witness to the glory of God. As I walked and felt myself warmed by the rising sun I began to think again about that tree. Isn't it just like God to provide such a beautiful and simple reminder of what life in Christ is like. 

That icy tree transformed under the ray of the rising it warmed, the ice melted, and water formed that now drips down and baptizes the earth, the flowers and the insects below it so that they too understand provision, love, fruitfulness and life. 

Isn't that was Christ has done for each of us? Under the ray of the Risen Son we are transformed so that our cold, hard hearts melt.The icy ways of this world begin to sparkle in the light of Christ and soon the Baptism waters are dripping from our hands, our heads, and our hearts. 

flowing from the Son's warm light

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

SILENCE: Lenten Devotion Day 28

Lenten Devotion Day 28


For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. 
Psalm 62:5

Life is loud. The busier we get the louder life becomes. We endure a whirlwind of noise, expectation, and chaos and then wonder why God has been silent. A couple of years ago I found myself weary of the noise of life. God's voice seemed a distant whisper and I felt great emptiness at the silence of his voice. I set out on a quest to hear God once more and ultimately came to the conclusion that God was not silent...I was simply in the midst of so much noise that I couldn't hear God. I tried many things to silence the world around me which ultimately let me to another conclusion...I also had to silence myself.

With the help of meditation, poetry, a spiritual director and a Tibetan Singing Bowl I relearned silence and reconnected with the voice of God. "For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is in him." 

Are you struggling to hear from God? Is your Lenten self-examination leaving you empty? Try taking the time to quiet your soul...REALLY quiet your soul. Each day carve out 30 minutes to just sit in silence and listen. Pray first and then devote 30 minutes to not think about anything but to simply listen in the silence for God's voice. After 30 minutes, try to journal or write down your thoughts and what you heard. You might be surprised at how clear 
God's voice comes 
in the

Monday, March 11, 2013

HAPPY: Lenten Devotion Day 27

Lenten Devotion Day 27


Those who want to do right more than anything else are happy, because God will fully satisfy them.
Matthew 5:6

What does it mean to be happy? 
For my puppy it only takes some baseballs and she is happy as can be...but then again she is happy eating cat poo out of yard so I don't consider her a great witness on the subject.

What does it mean to be happy?
“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 
“Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. 
 “Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
 “Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, 
because they will be fed until they are full.
 “Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
 “Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. 
 “Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God's children.
“Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, 
because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
 “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak 
all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me.
 Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.
Matthew 5:3-12

It means even in 
hopeless, sorrowful, humble, starving, compassionate, heartfelt, chaotic, harassed, bullied living - 
God is with you.