Thursday, June 30, 2022
Today I have been lost in thought. While working on a project that I volunteered for, I noticed how my mind travelled around the space where I was working and settled on an interesting reflection from the book I was reading. . .
First, let me say that I am thankful that I volunteered for this work. . . I had no plans on doing so as we entered the space a few days ago. I just wanted to 'look around' and see what I could support another person here in the church. Entering the space, I recognized that a great amount of work was needed and I trusted that God would help accomplish this. Before long I found my mouth open and I offered to help.
Surprise, surprise, no one stopped me. . . In fact they were thankful that I would be willing to work on this project. We are all busy in life, but sometimes just carving our some time to help feels good.
So here I was, sitting down and engaging the problem/task that I didn't need to do and wasn't to do it. And it was glorious work. I had so much fun.
I tried listening to my audiobook, but that didn't work. The room is too big and I don't want to broadest a Star Wars book for everyone to hear. I switched to Apple Music and thought some worship music would help, and while I enjoyed the music, I didn't really listen to it. It was like I was being drawn into some different reflection.
Leaning into the silence for the day, I quietly worked. Moving around the space I remembered the words of my morning book: How Happiness Happens: Finding lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations. The author writes these words for us:
"Intentional encouragement has affected my life. . ."
Then he proceeds to tell a story about how a previous Senior Pastor went out of his way on every occasion to encourage the young pastor. These actions and choices of encouragement helped shape the young leader as a preacher and care-giver. And as I thought about Max Lucado's ministry and impact on our world, I think the old preacher did help form a Christian in ways that he may not have realized initially when we offered kind words and a gentle presence.
So back to my morning. . . As I worked I wonder why we do not take more opportunities to encourage and support each other? Why are we quick to let someone else do the work, when we could find the space and make the time, even in a very busy day, to be present and help?
The person who will ultimately benefit from my morning of work will perhaps never know that I did this. They won't know that I was trying to be a support and encouragement in their work for Jesus as the Senior Pastor was for Max Lucado. My service will likely go un-commented upon. And I think that this is a good thing. The intentional choice to be present and serve someone else is exactly what Jesus did in his time with us on earth. Intentional encouragement can and should be a practice that we engage in. . .
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
It has been an interesting couple days of listening and observing.
I have tried to be a quiet as I can. Stillness has been the desire that I sought. As I listened to news and read posts on social media, I have tried to do so as quietly as I can so as not to interject anything into what I am hearing. To use some of the language that Parker Palmer is famous for, I know that the soul is a delicate thing, a timid thing, and so I don't want to scare it off as I contemplate the state of our nation. Gentleness is important.
As Paul reminds us in Galatians we need to be careful that we do not devour each other with our words otherwise we might find ourselves being devoured as well. And so as I read about the end of Roe and consider the gun control legislation and listen to reports from the January 6th commission, I try to be still and suspend judgment and just listen.
However, in that choice, I am the minority.
Even in our 24 hour news cycle where things bubble up and then fade way, these issues seem to live continually before us, and so responses grow more and more hateful and angry by the day. People who I never thought would be so aggressive are becoming more and more aggressive each day.
It was then that I picked up my copy of C.S. Lewis' book A Grief Observed. Again, trying to read and consider the words as gently as I could, I came across these words that I think are spot on as we try to live faithfully in our world:
"On the other hand, 'Knock and it shall be opened.' But does knowing mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? . . . After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can't give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity."
Those are strong words from C.S. Lewis and I think that they are applicable in our lives today. Everyone seems bent on pounding their position, or their beliefs, aggressively out as fast as their fingers can post them. But is that again truly serving God? Is rage the necessary emotion right now?
Perhaps Lewis asks us to suspend our aggression and dwell in stillness with the Lord. I wonder how you might practice this gentleness before the community in which God places you? Perhaps you might a different, more faith-based, response possible? Maybe we can find it together?
Monday, June 27, 2022
Already I have had a busy morning. Today I had my yearly physical and found out that I am doing well and my knee is healing nicely. There is some 'housekeeping' that I need to but I expected to hear that. So the news wasn't shocking or upsetting. I smiled and noted that I would need to get started soon.
But as I waited for name to be called for a blood draw, I was aware that my inbox was filling with emails that I should not ignore. Like you I subscribe to a number of blogs and email services that send me information to consider. Their information or lessons are beginning to distill around one issue that is forefront in our nation--and I know that you can guess the issue.
I am not going to talk about that here because frankly this is not the place for those considerations. I am more interested in how God Shows Up in our lives--and not how we tear each other apart to prove our point or condemn another person.
To escape (and that is the right word), I opened a journal that I received through the mail. Flipping through the pages I settled on an article by one of my D.Min teachers, Dr. Scott Hagley. As I read his article, I felt his words speaking to our situation now. He writes:
"We are pressed into practices which pull at the thin threads connecting us to our neighbors and neighborhoods. Our pubic spaces are increasingly commodified, where access depends on income. In between these spaces, we spend hours alone in automobiles commuting to work or other activities. We get drive-through coffee and eat take-out food. We live in neighborhoods with no sidewalks and prefer the back porch to the front. When we do connect with others, it is on a social media platform from within the comfort [and safety] of our own home. . .
Learning to love. . . connects us to the social, political, and economic ecologies of the place [and person]. In this way, we must become good neighbors before learning to love our neighbors."
I have not heard much love being offered recently.
I have read op-eds and scathing cultural conclusions being drawn. Grace is not being offered to anyone. My heart is saddened when I meet people, or talk to to people, whose preferred response to times such as this is to attack, judge, divide, and vilify. Finger pointing is the easy choice but I am not convinced that it is the right choice.
I wonder if God is offering you today a chance to love and be attentive in a manner similar to what Scott is talking about in his article? I wonder what might happen if you dwelt with an individual?
If we leave the agenda aside and just show up, we might notice that God shows us as well?
Thursday, June 23, 2022
As Bible School prepares to end for the summer, I went for a walk this morning to help stretch my knee and listen to my devotions. And God Showed Up. . .
My devotional app began with a musical selection from a chamber choir. The title of their piece was Thy Kingdom. I couldn't understand a single word that they sang, and yet I felt the emotion of the words radiating out from them.
Knowing where the choir was based provided a powerful testimony to my heart; the choir is from Kyiv, Ukraine.
As I listened to them singing in Ukrainian, and thinking about the war that devastates their country, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. How could they offer praise to God when they look out their window and see broken buildings? How can they use their gifts of music so passionately as they remember the suffering of their citizens and the senseless death that stalks them?
In the midst of war, something beautiful was sung. The song spoke about God's presence with us and it made the struggles of my morning slowly retreat as God Showed Up.
When we hurt. When we are tired and beaten down. When we feel the pressures of the faith presses down on us. In my case, when the work of VBS has worn the physical body down to its core. God offers us healing and a reminder that He is with us. We may not feel that we have the strength to continue onward in the mission that we are called to We may feel that one more encounter with the local community and culture so one more than we can take. . . But in showing up we create space for God to show up.
For the rest of my walk (about 20 minutes), I walked slowly around the cemetery here at Bethesda.
The sun attempted to burn through the cloudy morning and glow. It was not instantaneous. The light would come then it would go. The breeze came with the light and then the humidity overwhelmed the breeze and I saw no blue skies.
But I can still hear the words that choir singing praises to God; thanking Him for His presence with them. I wonder how God might break through your day today?
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
What surprises you? It is a straightforward question, and yet, I don't know how often we stop and consider how we might address it?
Today I want to share with you how I was surprised at VBS last evening. . .
Each evening the children meet me in the sanctuary for our Bible lesson and story. It is a wonderful time of sharing and listening to each other. I have these lessons long enough that I have a good flow to how I attack the story. I feel comfortable with the work. As each lesson begins I ask the children to remind me about what they learned on the previous day. This choice accomplishes two things:
1- It helps cement the lessons from God's Word.
2- It buys me a little wiggle time if my lesson plans don't flow as smoothly as I hope and time is short.
So as we began together, I followed my normal flow and asked the children to tell me about the story that we talked about on Monday evening. This is a fairly simple and foundational story that I knew they would remember --the crossing of the Red Sea.
The children told me about the plagues and how the water split on both sides so God's children could walk through on dry land. They reminded me of Moses' staff that God asked Moses to raise as the waters divided on the right and the left. They remembered the anger of Pharaoh because he lost his slave-workers. We even heard about the baby Moses who was floated down the Nile and raised by his mother in Pharaoh's house.
And then it happened. . .
One little girl, no older than 3 or 4 years old, raised her hand. Her eyes were filled with excitement. Her face told me that I forgot something and she was going to fill it in. She spoke about the burning bush and said this: "God told him (Moses) to take off his shoes because he was on Holy ground."
I didn't tell them that part of the story. Frankly I didn't know if they would understand the concept of Holy ground so I moved past it. And the story is so long that I did not have enough time to tell them everything from God's Word. But God showed up in her life and made sure we were aware of it.
I paused and just looked at her with a smile. She got it!
Affirming what she said, I commented that I left that part out last night, but that she was absolutely right. When God and Moses met the space was Holy. It was my moment of surprise. A surprise in the faith can happen at any moment. It can touch any life, and if we are willing to dwell with each other, God does indeed show up and changes people.
The rest of the evening my mind was focused on this little brown-haired girl for God had indeed been with her.
I wonder if you have had this experience recently? I wonder if God might be getting you ready to surprise you in your faith walk? How might you respond to it?
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Last evening we had a great experience with VBS here at Bethesda. It was our first day and the children who came to Bible School were excited. They were ready to learn and encounter God. And I saw that passion throughout the program. Whether they 'crossed the Red Sea' with me, or sang with Donna, or created their crafts with Liz, or played games Jennifer and Leslie, God was with them. Even as we ate dinner that Edie, Linda, and Esther provided, we could sense God was going to be there.
It was such a good evening that, as we get ready for Day 2 I wonder if we have the energy to do the whole thing again?
The program of VBS stretches the church and its members at the convergence point of faith and service. Certainly we believe totally and completely in how God is at work with us, and how God is at work with the children. But VBS also offers us the time to wonder: can we truly do this?
As I thought about this question I remembered something that I read in preparation for my Doctoral Final Paper that still sticks with me. In his book, Incarnational Ministry: Being with the Church, Sam Wells says this:
"The conversation we're about to have, this conversation we're now having, could be the most important one of your life. It doesn't have to be-- I can laugh, I can relax, I can have fun, I can just be with you in joy or in sorrow. But it can be. It may not be the right time for you, but it's always the right time for me. I will never tell you [that] I'm too busy. I will never make light of your struggles. I will never tell you something more interesting actually happens to me. . .
I'll never do any of those things because all of them in different ways are saying I'm out of my depth. . . I am someone who, however deep you wish to go, will never be out of my depth. You can trust me to listen. You can trust me to withhold my personal investment in the issues for another time and place. You can trust me to be alert to the ways of God however strange the story you tell."
This is the ministry of VBS I think, as it is also the way that Sam describes the ministry, from his perceptive. At VBS, as in Sunday and in instances throughout our church life, we find ways to show up and care for the children by granting our children the time that they need to be with us as they are also with God.
We always have time for them. We always let them push our patience and ask us just one more question. We always grant them to opportunity to derail a conversation because something special in them is beginning to feel God at work. . . And as God is at work in them, we are in the perfect place to listen and dwell and encourage.
I wonder, can we do it? I believe we can.
Monday, June 20, 2022
VBS at Bethesda begins today. Quietly, and diligently, the preparations have come together. Crafts are being laid out and demonstrations prepared for the children. The food for dinner rests in the kitchen in a neat row. Jennifer and I have talked out the games that she will play with the kids and I know that she is excited to begin working with them.
For my part, the Bible story is ready. I am pretty sure that I can tell the story of the Red Sea parting from memory, but props always make a story better and more memorable--and so the props are ready too. My decorations are siting in a bag across from my desk on the chair. I still need to place them, but that will not be hard. I am ready. But as I get ready I cannot shake an interesting reflection that continues to return to my mind.
What will this year's VBS be like?
This is my first VBS here at Bethesda. I have experience leading the stories at every church I have served. Each story and program requires a bit of an adjustment based on the culture of the church. I am sure this will be no different tonight. And I also know that the numbers tonight may be smaller than Bethesda remembers, but that does not matter.
Instead we are called to give all we have to God.
Annie Dillard talks about this idea in her book, The Writing Life. Even though she speaks about writing and how to 'do' it, I feel her lessons are applicable to us as VBS begins. She says:
"Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. . . . [T]he impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."
Whether you believe that she is speaking about writing a book, or serving at VBS, or sharing God's word with the community, it does not matter. The message is the same. We are not called by God to hide our "light under a bushel basket" anymore than we are called by God to hide the blessings of God with us in a safe where no one can receive them or learn from them.
We must give it all away. . . All of it. Hold nothing back but faithfully and continually give what God has given to us so that others can learn who God is and how God changes our lives. I wonder who God might be putting in your path that would benefit from you taking what you've learned from God and share it with them in totality?
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