Thursday, May 21, 2020

Pastoral Thought--May 21--Ascension Day

Church family, 

I am excited to tell you that today has been a busy morning at Plains!

First, I recorded a prayer service with Y108 with Stoney Richards, again. It was a joy and blessing to be with them on the radio and I hope to do that again in the near future. The audio from that service will be shared soon through the podcast, website, and email.

Then, I recorded a short worship service for the podcast, and the Plains Church website, that Tom will also be posting. The theme of that service is the Ascension—which takes place today (May 21). I invite you to take some time and listen and pray with me during that service as a way to remember and celebrate the ministry that Jesus entrusts us to .

One theme that ran between both services is the idea that prayer anchors us to God in a way that we often do not comment upon. We know it in our souls, but we do not often confess or acknowledge it. St Gregory of Sinai says it this way: 

“The true beginning of prayer is the warmth of the heart
That scorifies the passions, 
Fills the soul with joy and delight,
And establishes the heart in unwavering love
And unhesitating surety.”

When we spent time with God, we can find a strength and sureness that transcends all the uncertainty and hesitation of our day. Whether we are in the “Red” or “Yellow” level in Pennsylvania, God is still available to anchor us to his very nature and self. Today I hope that you find some time to pray and feel the surety and anchor that prayer offers.

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Pastoral Thought--May 20

Church family, 

Thomas Kelly’s words and work have always been a source of strength and depth for me. He was born in 1893 on an Ohio farm. As a Quaker he worked both in the pulpit and classroom to spread God’s love and message. After fully “converting” to Orthodox Quakerism some time later, Kelly returned to the classroom to work on his Ph.D from Hartford Seminary. He felt this would be the pinnacle of his career and he threw himself headlong into the work without taking time away from the pulpit. 

It was there that the seeds of God’s message grew in a special way. 

After failing his first oral defense for his Ph.D at Hartford, Kelly’s health began to fail rapidly. His failure to defend his position before his Ph.D committee lead him down a deep dark road where he suffered from “woozy spell.,” He would lose his equilibrium often and his mind would go blank while both preaching and teaching. Kidney stones were frequent. Aggressive bouts of hay fever often set it. 

His academic failure seemed to be taking a toll on his spiritual and physical nature. But from that dark place, and with the help of the church, and God’s presence, Kelly returned. The words he offers the church after that dark time speak so wonderfully to us. 

As I said, I love reading Kelly because his story reminds me that when we fail, when we find ourselves in our own Dark Night of the Soul, God’s vivid presence can be found. For God is always present and seeking us out—especially if we think we are alone. That “aloneness” feeling has a place in our lives, and in our spirits, as we work through this covid-19 isolation and transition. I hope you will be blessed by Thomas’ words:  

"The Quaker. . . message has always been that God still lives and moves,
works and guides, in vivid immediacy,
within the hearts of men [and women]. For revelation is not static and complete, like a book,
but dynamic and enlarging,
as springing from a Life and Soul of all things. This Light and Life is in all men [and women],
ready to sweep us into its floods, illumine us with its blinding,
or with its gentle guiding radiance, send us tendered but strong
into the world of need and pain and blindness. Surrender of self to that indwelling Life
is entrance upon an astounding, an almost miraculous Life. . . .
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” [Rev. 3:20] In the silence of your hearts
hear Him knock.

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Pastoral Thought--May 19

Church family, 

Today I was reading a selection from John Baillie to start my day. He was born in Scotland in the 1880s and served as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1943. Educated in his homeland of Scotland, he was a seminary professor in Edinburgh, Toronto, Chicago, and Auburn, Alabama. 

His “Morning Prayers” contain beautiful language that invites us to come closer to God as we start our day not just in reverence but in honest reflection of ourselves. When you read them, you are encouraged to “Read each one slowly, praying it and making it your own."

“My First Thought”

"Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought today be of you, let my first impulse be to worship you, let my first speech be Your name, let my first action be to kneel before You in prayer.

For Your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness:
For the love with with You loved mankind:
For the love with which You love me: 
For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life:
For the indwelling of Your Spirit in my heart:
For the sevenfold gifts of Your Spirit:
I praise and worship You, O Lord.

Yet let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend my day in forgetfulness of You. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day. . . "
Those prayerful words are beautiful, but I am specifically held in the last paragraph from above. More than that generally, I am struck with the idea that when my morning prayers (or devotions) are done, let me not think that my worship of God is over for the day. So much of our lives, even with the coronavirus, is performed at a torrid pace and we cannot escape that fact culturally. 

We confess this openly in worship, or secretly in our hearts. But does that fact make its way down into our very being; down to the place where we honestly confess that not enough of our day is spent in prayer and reflection on God? This prayer is not meant to rid us of attachment or make us resentful for the work of our days, but instead to realize, and then apply, the fact that God is with us at each moment. And so, if God is with us, there is always the chance to worship God in those very same moments—even if what we do at work does not feel like an extension of our Christian walks. It can be. And I think, Baillie believes this is possible. 

I hope today that you will read John Baillie’s prayer a couple times today. . . Slowly. . . let it seep down into your heart and continue to worship God throughout the day.

Rev. Derek

Monday, May 18, 2020

Pastoral Thought--May 18

In 1937, Christian mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote a wonderful little book entitled: The Spiritual Life. It's a short little book that I treasure. Page after page, we find her writing powerful words that are applicable to us as we still live with, and in, the covid-19 crisis. In this book she wrote: 

"Sometimes we are servants, left year in, year out to the same monotonous job. Sometimes we are conscious fellow-workers with the Perfect, striving to bring the Kingdom in. But whatever our particular place or job may be, it the means austere conditions of the workshop, not free-lance activities of the messy but well-meaning amateur; clocking in at the right time and tending the machine in the right way. Sometimes, perhaps, carrying on for years with a machine we do not know very well understand and do not enjoy; because it needs doing, and no one else is available."

Those words of Christian determination speak loudly to us, if we listen. I encourage you to read it again. . .  Her also words remind me of Isaiah 6:8 where God asks:

 “Whom shall I send? 
And who will speak for us? 
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

The prophet did not wait to learn all that was required of being sent into the community preach and live out God’s word. He was not well trained necessarily for the work. He did not fall back on any teaching or learning for his past—that we are aware of. Instead, he honestly responded to God amid the heavenly court that he was before. He was vulnerable. He was determined. He did not hold back but realized that he was called to a specific job that he might not completely understand, but God’s call could not be ignored. 

I wonder, where Evelyn’s words hit you today and what they call you to press on toward? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Pastoral Thoughts

C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, The Four Loves:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Consider those words with me. 

Lewis is not admonishing us to stop loving or being loved. He does not seek to turn us into robots who are only task oriented. Instead he is illustrating for us what happens when do not apply the love, from God, we have properly. We know, and we can affirm, that human love involves taking a risk. When we are vulnerable in that way we run the risk of having our love rejected or not reciprocated by the other person. 

But what about our love of, and for, God? We may feel that this type of love is not the same thing as the love we express humanly from person to person. But consider what God’s love meant for God and the great lengths God was willing to go in order to continue to love those who did not express, or maybe feel, love for God in themselves or in their choices.

God was willing to be vulnerable in order to love us. God’s vulnerable love, is a love that takes God to the cross for humanity and the ultimate place of separation.  It is a love that causes Jesus to constantly be placed into a position of choice in his earthly ministry—to love or admonish and rebuke those who do not understand the gospel’s message. But the love that Jesus shows to his critics is a vulnerable love as well, if we think about it for a second. He cared for them, he loved them, when they may have rejected him.

I wonder how you can express a vulnerable love today? And if you express it, I wonder who it will call you to be present for? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pastoral Thought--May 13

MaryAnn McKibben Dana, a Presbyterian pastor and writer from Virginia wrote inn her book, God, Improv, and the Art of Living

“The Art Institute of Chicago has an exhibition of the photography of Gordon Parks paired with the prose of Ralph Ellison, the goal being to combine images and stories from Harlem. When I visited, one photo caught my eye: a client at the Lafargue Clinic, his head in his hands. The caption read, “The Larargue Clinic aims to transfer despair, not into hope but into determination.” I was struck by the substitution—despair into hope is a common cliche. Yet sometimes hope is beyond our fumbling grasp; determination is the best we can do."

When I first read MaryAnn’s story, I found it helpful. I liked it. I nodded in approval of what she was saying in that section. But God continued to bring me back to that page over and over again. Each time I read it, I found myself being drawn into tension of “hope” or “determination” that the author is presenting for us. Since March we have hoped things will get back on track with our mission and ministry quickly. We hoped the governor will allow us to meet again, and we hope that our devotion and worship of God has taken on a new, deeper level. We have hoped for many things. There are probably too many to count. 

But have you stopped to consider that saying all that we hope for might be "beyond our fumbling grasp?” Maybe what we are saying to God, and to each other in this time, is that we are determined not to let our love and devotion of God slip. We are determined to continue sharing God’s love, telling our stories, studying God’s word, passing the peace, embracing what it means to be the church in Cranberry. So that, when the time comes, when we are together again, our hope can fill the sanctuary because we were determined NOT to give up. I hope that MaryAnn’s word will give you cause to pause today.  

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Pastoral Thought--May 12

I don’t know about you, but I think that I have had just about enough snow in May. I don’t usually complain too much about the weather because there is nothing that I can do which will affect it. My whining about the cold is just that—whining. As I told my kids when they were little, “no one wants to hear you whine.” So I don’t say much about it but mutter to God while standing in the yard watching our dogs. The snow combined with the quarantine that is about to be lifted have burdened my soul a lot recently (I am sure you feel the same way). But a different possibility is out there if we will take a second and consider it.

Benjamin Zander wrote in his book, The Art of Possibility the following: 

"A young pianist was playing a Chopin prelude in my master class. He understood it intellectually, but he was unable to convey the emotional energy that is the true language of music. Then I noticed something that proved to be key: his body was firmly centered in the upright position. I blurted out: “the trouble is you’re a two-buttock player!” I encouraged him to use his whole body to flow sideways, urging him to catch the wave of the music with the shape of his body, and suddenly the music took flight. A new distinction was born. . .” 
Besides the coronavirus self-quarantine, and the snow in May, there are a lot of instances in our lives when we can lose the passion that sits right before us. In the case of Zander’s story, the passion was Chopin’s music that young pianist didn’t see but was still there. I wonder what passion is sitting right before your eyes today, inviting you to flow with it? What invites you to let go and allow God’s presence to ’sway’ you back and forth on a chilly Tuesday? 

I walked to the office in shorts and a sweatshirt today. The air was a bit crisp but I was defiant. It is supposed to be spring so I wanted to dress like it was. During my second lap around the church I stopped hearing traffic on Plains Church Road and just heard the breeze and the birds. I am sure you agree that those sounds are spiritual in essence. 

Take some time today and flow with God. Take time to allow God to catch you up in the way of his presence and see what new distinction is born. . . 

Rev. Derek

Monday, May 11, 2020

Pastoral Thoughts--May 11

Church Family,

Today I have been thinking about the writing of Sadhu Sundar Singh as we prepare to move back into public gatherings this upcoming week. Singh has been called the St. Paul of India and writes reflective, timely words for us to consider and meditate upon and reflect on how God sustained us while we worshipped virtually. Although raised in a home where Sikh religion was taught, Sadhu found God one night after his mother tragically passed away. All night he lay in his bed saying to God, “if you are real, speak to me.” At the end of that night he had an experience that transformed him and gave him a unique perspective about God. It was an experience he compared often to Paul on the Road to Damascus. 

He says to us today:

In comparison with the big world, the human heart is only a small thing. 
Though the world is so large, it is utterly unable to satisfy the tiny heart. 
Our ever growing soul and its capacities can be satisfied only in the infinite God. 
As water is restless until it reaches its level, so the soul has no peace until it rests in God

It has been a few months since we have worshipped together, and that in itself has felt like a peace-less act or place. We may have felt stripped away from what we wanted or how we experienced God. But we are preparing to come together again and as we do so, we have learned that the world cannot sustain us—even if it tires to do so. Only God is capable of this and only God is who we will gather in worship with. 

Rev. Derek

Friday, May 8, 2020

Pastoral Thought--April 8

Church family, 

Well, we are getting closer to being together again, aren’t we. According to the governor’s office, on May 15th, Butler County moves into the Yellow Phase. I have great hope that this is just the beginning of us returning to Plains and life transitioning back to normalcy—or whatever the new normal looks like. When I read that we will move on May 15th to Yellow I remember something that was shared with me this past week that I want to share with you:

David Steindl-Rast wrote about gratitude in this way:

"What counts on your path to fulfillment is that we remember the great truth that moments of surprise want to teach us: . . . everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is the measure of our gratefulness. And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness. . . In moments of surprise when we are truly alive, we experience life as a gift. We also experience life as a surprise."

I am grateful that we are moving toward a new phase or level, and I am grateful that God has been with us when we are not together. I am grateful whether we worshipped together physically or virtually. I hope that, even as the snow flies a bit as I write to you, that you will take a moment a pause over David’s words, and by doing so, remember that God is with us and that we are grateful for every little blessing that happens during this pandemic.

Rev. Derek

Thursday, May 7, 2020

God is with Me--Pastoral Thought, April 7, 2020

I was reading Simone Weil (pronounced ‘veil’) this morning in a book I cherish and was blessed by what I was reading. 

Simone was a French activist who lived and worked during the World War I. She is perhaps best known for her work on the relationship between prayer, God, and Holy Communion where she senses Jesus “taking her by the hand” and leading her into great reflections. In her book, Waiting for God, Weil reflects on the the Lord’s Prayer clause by clause for us inviting us to consider how deeply they are connected to God and to us. 

Considering “Our Father which art in heaven” she writes:

"He is our Father. . . 
We belong to him. He loves us. . . and we are his. 
We do not have to search for him, we only have to change the direction in which we are looking. 
It is for him to search for us.

She will go on to say: 

He is always there at the door of our souls, 
Wanting to enter in, though he does not force our consent.
If we agree to his entry, he enters. . . 
We cannot bind our will today for tomorrow; 
We cannot make a pact with him that tomorrow he will be within us."

I found those words to be encouraging to me. In the time of this pandemic, and as we inch toward re-opening, it is comforting to know that God is ever-searching for us—today. We may not think that this is so. The solitary walks that we take each day while we cannot be together may make us feel apart from something, but they should not. God is actively looking to commune with us; if we have the courage to receive this truth. When I struggle to know what to say, or how to live my faith out, or even how to fill my days in a meaningful way, it is helpful to know God is tangible with me right now.

Rev. Derek

Pastoral Thought--April 6, 2020

As we continue moving toward, hopefully, returning to worship together physically, I came across this exercise in my morning devotional that I wanted to share with you. I have used practices like this for years in my own life and found them helpful, as well as, necessary. This practice can be helpful in times of stress and also times of internal peace. A repetitive practices helps to focus the mind toward what God calls us to do and become.   

I know there is a lot of anxiety mixed with hope about returning to our “normal life.” So try this out for. A few minutes, and see if it helps still your soul and hear God’s voice again. . . 

"Take a simple sentence like “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want,” and repeat that quietly during the day until the truth of it enters the center of your being. You will always continue to have feelings of depression, anger, and restlessness, but when God dwells in the center of the storm, the storm is less frightening and you can live with trust that in the midst of all of the darkness you will be led to a place of joy and peace.
Rev. Derek

I Wonder--November 29

I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met?  Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart...