Monday, August 31, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 31

Yesterday afternoon, as I thought more about my grandparents house (which was something I referenced in the message), I remembered another story from my childhood that seems applicable to our context and struggles today. . . 

My parents build a house out in the country when I was in grade school. It was build near a large, muddy, lake with ample room to run and play. With elderberry bushes flanking the property, the house was wonderful. One summer in the side yard I tried to dig a hole to center of the earth—it seemed like a good idea at the time. (I made it about 4 feet before I got too tired and thirsty). It was a lovely brown sided home with a garage as part of the home. In the garage my father hung a small baseball hoop for me. For hours I would go into that space and play. I could make a shot from almost any angle in that garage consistently. It was heaven on earth. I could run, jump, yell, or whatever, and no one ever saw me or heard me—truly a boy’s fantasyland. 

But one day, I flung the ball up into the ceiling truces—laughing and yelling as I did it. The ball bounced around like a pinball game before ending up on the roof of the porch which was adjacent. The ceiling truces, extended over a covered porch. My ball was gone. I warily went into the house and announced my dilemma. . . I wanted the ball, but I did something that was not advisable. My father was. . . not pleased. . . to say the least. 

He marched me right out of the house and over to the extension ladder, which rested on the wall, and said, “well you threw it. . . go get it.” 

The color in my face I am sure fell away. Eyes became as big as half-dollars. I have always been afraid of heights (still am if I am honest). Do not even ask me to go on the roof of the manse (I will make Emma do it). To make this worse, the ladder was sitting straight up against the wall of the house. He did not angle it; he did not move it. I was told to “Go on.” I cried. . . But slowly started climbing and looking over my shoulder to see if he was actually going to make me do it. About half way up, I was almost hysterical. But he was right behind me, telling me to keep moving. I remember thinking, “I’m not ready for this.” 

Now before you get too angry with my father for making me climb a dangerous ladder over a concrete floor at a 90 degree angle, remember these were ceiling truces that ran over my head. Even if the ladder fell backwards, which it wouldn’t, it would only fall a few inches before it caught the truce and sprung back into its home. . . that’s why he put it there. The ladder would never fall over. He was behind me so that even if I fell, he would catch me easily. He could simultaneously grab the studs on the wall and pull us back into place should the need arise. I was safe; I just thought that I couldn’t do this. 

With tears making it hard to see, I got the ball and then he showed me how safe I truly was—even though I thought he was being cruel at the time. He knew I was ready for this and that I was safe. (Truth be told, that place became another safe haven for me and my friends to sit and play). 

I wonder, when was the last time that you told God that you weren't ready for this conversation, or that task, only to find out, that on the other side of it, God had everything perfectly mapped out for you? You were safe, if you just decided to keep climbing and trust the one who cares for you?? Maybe you are ready for that struggle, or that conversation, or that choice. . . maybe your Heavenly Father is right there to catch you should anything threatening come along. . . 

Rev. Derek 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 27

Let’s have a brief history lesson. . . don’t worry they won’t be a test. 

In early March many colleges began to worry about their students safety. This strange disease was ‘over there’ but it seemed to be tracking toward us. What would happen if it made its way here? Then, by the middle of March schools were shutdown opting for a virtual connection from this point onward. My children brought home their material and completed their school years in their bedrooms. We didn’t understand much of this meant, or how to deal with it, and it troubled us. 

Our governor instituted a ’shelter in place’ order which lasted. . . I don’t remember exactly how long. But it was something we didn’t understand. I read that because of the limited driving that was occurring, the Richter scale showed that the earth was ‘rattling’ less. That conclusion was weird and we didn’t know what to do with it. 

As the church on March 15th, Ron, Tim, Kathy, and I started virtual services that were broadcast over Zoom and, eventually, Facebook. . . This continued through the end of Lent. We didn’t worship in person totally on Easter. It was rough. We learned a new way to partake of communion, and while we felt a little joy because we were being adaptable, this was still hard.  

At that time our schools were unclear about how to proceed for the upcoming year. Should they open? Should they be virtual? What about a combination? What about graduation??? Many of us have graduates and we want to celebrate with them. We couldn’t do that. . . and it hurt. 

Then the summer began and school boards met and took a lot of abuse by parents for what they were, or were not, doing. They made plans and then the virus forced them to change plans almost weekly. Now we are getting close to school starting again, and (insert ’sigh’) I don’t know what this new year is going to look like. . . 

I am wondering if you feel overwhelmed yet? 

Just re-reading that short narrative makes me shake my head in disbelief. How far have we come. . . and how far must we sill go? Now I know the cynical answer to my question is something like, ‘duh pastor, I’ve been overwhelmed since March. Nothing has changed except that everything has changed almost daily.’ But let’s stop and think about that for a moment (not the answer but the feeling). 

Today I got the chance to run with Luna again. This morning it was muggy and I didn’t run as quickly as I usually do. She was overjoyed to be with me, and I was happy to run with here. But as I ran, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was different. I still felt overwhelmed by the changes that I am being forced to make in my world. Yet as I finished the run, I walked up Plains Church Rd, I was struck by the need to breath (and not because I am beat tired after running—which I was). I need to breath with the Lord. I need to take a step back. Slow down. Recover. Fall into God’s presence and let God love on me and care for me? 

I wonder, am I the only one??? Perhaps if you feel this overwhelmed, this overworked, this tired, maybe it's an invitation from God to receive the care God intends for you? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 26

Throughout the summer, and in some of these pastoral thoughts, I have spent significant time re-telling you stories about running with Luna. From people being welcoming and friendly to her and to me, to being a bit rude while driving too close to us on the road, Luna and I have encountered the local neighborhood here at Plains together. And for the most part, I have enjoyed my time with her. 

But that has stopped. . . she and I have not been running now for at least a week and probably longer if I thought about it. As of this moment, I cannot put my finger on exactly why I have not run with her. 

She doesn’t pull much after the first half a mile, and traffic has not picked up any more than normal outside our home. Even as construction on new homes increases along our route, the workers have been kind to her and given us plenty of room. The extreme heat of July is past us, and while it is still hot out on the road, it is not too hot for her, or for me. She has not been bad and I have not seen more people walking their pets which would mean she needs to be more careful when encountering strangers. 

We just aren’t running together. . . and I wonder why?

Perhaps I have slipped into a posture of functionalism—which is a place where the function of a specific task becomes so habitual that it can replace the joy and spontaneity of that same action. So, as taking Luna for a run has become a more functional task, I have then found my passion and joy to run also diminishing in equal portion. I still enjoy it, but something is missing and that missing ’thing’ is important to consider today. 

Sadly, this functional issue, or transition, can also happen in the church. When it does, we find the necessary blessings of our day, the things that sustain us, or the ways that God is intimately present in our faith journey helping us to make sense out of something senseless, disappears. This idea is captured in Ben Campbell Johnson’s work. He writes: 

"When there is no sense of the Divine, people go home empty. Soon they forget the main reason for church and worship. As the awareness of God withers, joy evaporates and persons find it increasingly difficult to speak of God to one another."

So today, don’t let yourself fall into a place or position of functionalism. Whether you are blessed today or feeling a little beaten down, find that awareness of God with you. Then as you find it, you might just feel the joy and passion of how God is something that you can hold onto in times of struggle. 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 25

How alone are you? Notice that I did not say, “how alone do you feel?” That is a different question with a different set of answers to it. Often times, the expression of feelings (i.e loneliness) is different from perceived reality (being alone physically) that we are experiencing. . . 

So again, how alone are you?

For me that question is at the heart of a number of instances occurring in our community today. And that idea is working its way into the church as well. That question is one of the biggest stumbling blocks, or challenges, that we deal with in response to any form of suffering—covid-19 or not—in our lives. For in times of suffering, we follow a logic path in an attempt to resolve the suffering. 

First, we run to the conclusion that because I am in Christ, and because Christ loves me, therefore my perceived reality of being alone is not possible. Then, because that does not always resolve our struggle, our sadness and isolation only grow. . . We think, “maybe I am the only one who feels this way?” or "Maybe I am alone in this?” or worse, “No one can possible understands.” We might even begin to wonder, ‘Does God even love me?” In this case, the pain becomes so great, the separation so pronounced that we venture down an unhealthy pathway that often leads to more suffering. 

Many of us would answer that initial question with words like: very. . . or constantly. . .  We are very alone. . . We are constantly alone. 

If you feel this way today, or if you know someone who is suffering alone, then I want to offer you a word from the Rev. Dr. Samuel Wells. In his book, A Nazareth Manifesto, he writes: 

"Us—humanity, set amidst the good creation—is the object of God’s attention, made subject in the miraculous word, ‘with.’ This is not an exclusive choice, with losers or outsiders; it is an inclusive covenant, held with fierce intensity, as if each one were the only one. And this relationship. . . is made permanent. . . God’s whole life is shaped by the permanent resolve never to be except to be with us.” 

I have read Sam’s words over and over again for many years. They help me often when I feel that I am on the outside looking in. When the suffering of my day, or the suffering presented to me by another person, seems so great that I cannot even attempt to locate joy in those moments. When I sit alone—physically or not—I try to remember Wells’s words. We are not losers or outsiders because we feel alone; because we think that no one hears or cares about our issues. Instead God’s very self is inviting us to commune together. . . human with divine. . . the one who suffers now with the one who suffered so that we might not perish. 

Sure, no human may totally understand the suffering of our days. . . but we do have someone who is there, someone who permanently resolved to be there. So that when we feel alone, when we think healing cannot come, God’s presence says that this is not so. . . in fact, God is there even when we do not think that is possible.
Rev. Derek

Monday, August 24, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 24

Happy Monday Church family, 

This morning I was thinking about, and remembering, a time before I was called by God here. Specifically that memory brought up the phrase, ‘in the still of the night’—and that does not mean that I was singing the song from 1956 by Fred Parish with the same name, although its a great song, and it is worth singing!

Instead this story takes place about an hour west of Plains when I was once running in the neighborhood around our home one night. At that time, Jennifer and I lived on the edge of a farming community where small housed dotted the landscape. It was a nice area to run in and there was always minimal traffic. What traffic came could easily be heard so I was not in danger of being run off the road. That night, as I ran along listening to music, and huffing and puffing, I was protected, or watched over, by street lights. It was like running in any normal neighborhood. . .  

About a mile from our home the street lights stopped. The houses became more sparse. There were no more porch lights to show me the road and where to step when I ram. Nothing but corn fields in front of my eyes. The song I was listening to stopped, and I was running in the silent ’still of the night.’ This went on for a while as my iPod’s battery died at that moment (the battery had a tendency to drop suddenly on me when I least expected it). 

It was so quiet that night. No car noise. . . nothing. I could almost hear the silence through my earbuds. I found myself looking around a lot hoping not to come face to face with a deer, or stumble upon a groundhog or opossum who would scare me to death, and then run off into the woods likely more scared than I was. I wondered about bears in the field sleeping (as I had seen a few over the years in this area). What if someone came up behind me?? Never mind that I was running and they wouldn’t likely sneak up on me with me knowing it!  The ’still of that night’ was eerie. My breathing picked up just a little bit as I ran, and not because I ran. I was nervous. . .  

But what I missed the opportunity on that night? 

What if we miss the opportunity today? What if the opportunity was not to be afraid of what I could not seem or of what I thought could harm me, but instead to notice what God placed before me as a guide or blessing? Then, once I noticed that thing, that moment, that presence, could I trust in God to guide and shepherd me home in the dark? Maybe instead of being anxious or frightened or worried or hesitant about the future, or about what lies just beyond my sightline, what would happen if I just reached out to God, and let God shepherd me, guide me, and comfort me along my pathway? 

The more I thought about that night the more I wondered about where are the places in my day when I am so wound up, so anxious, so confused, so distracted that I miss the chance to just breath with God and live in the stillness of God’s presence? 

Rev. Derek 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 20

Last night before bed I picked up the book that I am reading to enjoy the next chapter before I drift off to sleep. Bianca is laying by my feet, tucked into her little ring of blankets. As I pick up the book, she snores and sighs as always. Truth be told, while I do love reading and studying during the day, when it comes to reading before bed, I’m lucky to finish a short chapter (I might be lucky sometimes to even finish a few pages). My eyes get heavy as soon as I lay down and turn down the lights in our bedroom to read. 

But that is not the case with this book. The book that I am reading is an easy read that requires very little concentration to follow the author’s story. This also helps my mind relax also as I end my day. 

The book, written by Erin and Ben Napier, is their story. It begins when they were children and, as of last night, the story is following them as they start a small business in their hometown of Laurel, Mississippi.  Each chapter is written in a different font—one font for Erin, and another for Ben. They are telling their story, in their voice, to us. 

In this chapter, just as they have begun their married life together, it is Ben’s turn to tell the story. At this point in his journey, Ben is a Methodist youth pastor who is preparing to give his “come to Jesus” talk to the kids of his church. He looks forward to it and has the talk polished up just right. He writes: 

Those were simple truths with enormous power" (he is talking about God’s love for us). He continues on, “Believing them and living by them could change everything about their future. Following the blueprint God made for you doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect or holier than or a model example of faith, honestly, and greatness. It doesn’t mean that you won’t fail constantly, because you will, But if you do, you’ll hear Him whisper, “It’s oaky. That’s in the plan. Now, keep going and keep your eyes on me. I’ll help you.” “ 

Jennifer and I have been watching the Napier’s for a while on HGTV and we love their honesty and their commitment to Jesus that comes out in the book, and also in their show. For me that last sentence which Ben wrote, about everything being in God’s plan, spoke to me last night. 

I. . . we. . . don’t like to believe that our failures, or our struggles, or the momentary weakness that we suffer from, are anything more than Satan harassing us. And while that may be true to some level, Ben’s words made we stop reading and consider, what areas of my life are ‘in the plan’ that I do not think are? 

We know that all things work for good for those who love the Lord, but where are the places in my day, or in your week, that God’s love and presence seem far off, and by seeming far off, they appear to separate you from the love and grace of God?

I put the book down, turned off the light, and thought about that until I fell asleep. . .  

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 19

I was reading an article this morning by Matt Bloom entitled, “A Commitment to Personal Rituals can Sustain Clergy, even During a Pandemic” that I wanted to share with you this morning. The full text can be accessed at: 

In this article, Matt begins by stating the obvious to the reader: we are living in a hard time that is filled with anxiety, He is careful not to make any judgments about those anxieties. Instead, they are simply affirmed. After he unpacks that idea, then Matt offers the reader some practices to help address the anxiety in which we live and work in. 

Whether you are thinking about the covid-19 outbreak, the state of the economy, or the upcoming election, there is plenty in our lives that can foster anxiety. There are also issues that I am leaving out which cause anxiety. . . And as you know, once anxiety begins to take root in our minds, it is hard to root out completely. For some it takes a long period of time. Others need help to root, and address, those anxieties.

While we know as Christians that there are many positive things, or disciplines, or moments, that we can think and dwell upon, those anxiety seem to occupy a large majority of our time. They keep us up at night. They rob us of an appetite. They can strip away our faith which felt so strong a few months ago. They can make us doubt almost everything in in our lives. Then once the doubts begin to surface, the cycle becomes harder to break. 

As a way to begin addressing this, Matt offers this following activity that I want to invite you to consider. He wrote. . .  

"Building solid ground continues by engaging in at least one joyful practice on a regular basis. Joyful practices foster positive, peaceful, hopeful thoughts and feelings. Examples include centering prayer, lectio divina, hymn singing, the reading of beautiful poems, walking meditation, listening to hopeful music and jubilant dance. . . . Even five minutes of a joyful practice each day will produce meaningful benefits over time."

I hope you can find some time today to try a joyful practice even as doubt, anxiety, and fear also could be an option for your day.

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 18

As you know I have long been interested in the idea of story-telling and sharing in the church for I think it holds the keys to the future of church ministry and growth. This idea formed the basis of my Doctoral studies and presented me with some strong conclusions about the future of outreach and ministry in this culture. Those conclusions became especially poignant as covid-19 ground so much of what we held sacred to a halt around March. 

We could no longer present, or receive, information in the church as we always had because we literally could not be in the same room with each other. We had to think of new ways to care for each other. When the time came to grieve, we learned to grieve from a distance, as we also learned to celebrate 6 feet apart. 

But as the social restrictions began to lift, a little, and meetings took place in the building again, something happened that supported my doctoral conclusions. We told stories.

The first group to meet here was the CNS Board. Comprised of eight individuals we came together in the basement, masks on, sanitizer close by, and we began to think about what the new school year would look like. At that time we had more questions that answers. We also had the luxury of time as we began those conversations sooner than many around us did. And while the meeting that night was positive and full of creativity, what happened at the end of our time, blessed me. 

We stood together, at least 6 feet apart, under masks, and we laughed and told stories of how we were doing. We shared some of our struggles with covid-19 and the local school issues. We lamented not being able to be together in the church. We laughed about going the wrong way down aisles at Giant Eagle or Wal-Mart. For about 30 minutes we stood together and we shared. It helped reorient the struggles of the day, and I think, is still applicable today even as the restrictions have abated at the end of summer. 

I was re-reading a portion from Brian McLaren’s most recent book entitled, The Great Spiritual Migration, when I came across these words that he wrote. . . 

“Maybe what really matters, maybe what always mattered, I said, isn’t the beliefs we're told to proclaim, but the stories from which the beliefs have been abstracted and derived through various processes of interpretation."

CNS did good work that night. You do good work as the church each day. But I wonder about the stories you share as the new school year is about to begin? I wonder about the content of those stories?? How are you making sense of this new normal? Is it positive? Do your stories contain elements of frustration that, perhaps accidentally, limits who God can be in your life today? Maybe, to use Paul’s language, this "slight momentary affliction” is preparing you for an eternal blessing which is to come?

I hope you keep sharing those stories because they are so fundamental to who we are and who God calls us to be. . .  

Rev. Derek

Monday, August 17, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 17

A couple weeks ago I found myself re-reading a book that I purchased some time ago. I have read it so many times that there are coffee stains holding some of the pages together. But every time I read it, the book speaks to my soul in a very personal way. The author, Dr. M. Craig Barnes, is the current President of Princeton Theological Seminary. When I found this book, Dr. Barnes was serving as both the pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in downtown Pittsburgh, and working on the faculty of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. 

As anyone who listens to Dr. Barnes’ sermons, or read his books, will tell you that he is an engaging speaker who rhythm of speaking draws you in. They invite you to imagine a different outcome to moments that feel too stuck to change or evolve.

I bought his book, Searching for Home, after completing one of his courses on Pastoral Care from a bulk book store. Dr. Barnes believes that we as Christians long to make our way home—which he would define as to return to God’s side and to God’s protection. We do not long to leave this earth and go to heaven necessarily, but we long to be in a state of communion with God that feels as warm and inviting as the idea of returning to a safe home. 

Early in the book, Craig is reflecting on the tragic events of September 11, 2001. As the story hits so many of our hearts, it was especially moving for Jennifer and I as JonMark was just a four months from being born. As many have said before when times of tragedy come into our world, I rubbed Jennifer’s belly and thought, “what kind of a world am I brining a child into.” Dr. Barnes has an answer to that question; one that I believe fits with the life of the church today when we find ourselves moving through a season of suffering, chaos, or crisis.

He writes, 

"So it is wisest to take seriously the crisis moments of life. 
They are our best opportunities to discover the sacred activity of God, 
who is constantly inviting us to leave the home of our illusions, 
but only to move closer to the true home he has prepared for us.” 

Again these are words of communion and solidarity with God. He continues later on that page to say, 

Why was worship so important in a time of national crisis [or I might add personal crisis]? 
For the same reason that people ask . . . to pray in the emergency room. 
Because when you’re in trouble and beyond the limits of your own abilities, what you want most of all is to go home."

We all know, and we all experience suffering, chaos, crisis, and pain in many forms. There have been times recently when you might have wondered “what kind of world am I creating for my child, my family, myself?” Perhaps you wonder, ‘how will I manage this world and the struggles of covid-19 and still remain faithful to God?’ If that is the case then Dr. Barnes’ words have something for you to hold onto today. . . God has prepared a special blessing for you that we might think of as home. It is a relationship of security; a place of peace. 

I wonder, if that is a word of comfort to you when life feels difficult and we think that we are alone?

Rev. Derek

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 6

Church Family, 

Before I head out for a week away to help JonMark get ready for college, I wanted to let you in on a little secret that has been with me since May. My ‘little secret’ helps me be more creative and relaxed. And while it may seem a bit childish to some, for me, it is an important part of my day. And it looks like this. . . 

Every day when I arrive in my office, after Ann and I talk about the morning tasks and what needs are arising for Sunday, I walk behind my desk, slide off my backpack onto the floor, and then I slip off my sandals.  . . For the rest of the day I will walk around the office bare foot. Yup. . . that’s it. I don’t wear shoes when I am in the office. 

When I take a phone call— bare foot. Zoom meeting with either my presbytery committee or my weekly pastoral check-in—shoeless! Sitting here researching a next message—sandals sitting next to my bare feet. Walking in the sanctuary to change the liturgical color—you know. . . 

If I know that someone is coming in to talk, or if the bell rings at the door, then I slip my sandals back on and life returns to normal. No one even knew that one minute ago I had no shoes on. 

In moments like this, where I am writing a pastoral thought for you to read, my sandals lined up next to me under the desk waiting for me to need them. My feet are resting on the feet of my chair with my arches being massaged by the hard plastic on the chair’s legs. And while I know that not everyone likes to think about my barefoot sitting behind my desk, I can say that it helps me to be at peace and I find joy in the practice. 

You as well have moments in your life that you created, maybe unintentionally, that are similar in function to my “bare-feet-in-the-office” moment. They are choices that we make that, perhaps out of necessity, that when we look back across the weeks and months of covid-19, or some other important moment in life, have become something that we cannot live without. These practices, or choices, are a necessity that helps us remain peaceful and bring us a sense of joy. 

I started taking my sandals off as the weather became very hot since I was too warm. It was a functional choice first. But the more I did it, the more I engaged the practice, the more I saw that it was becoming a habit. It was a necessity, and as such, I could use it to help peace and joy grow in me. It now feels good to flex my bare-toes like John McClain in Die Hard (in the movie, John hates flying. After someone on the plane suggests the practice of ‘making fists with your toes’ after a long flight, John learns that it does help and chuckles. He will do it from that point onward).

And so, I wonder, do you have those little moments of joy in your day? Those little choices that you make which seem insignificant, but upon reflection, are ways that peace can live and joy can grow? Maybe that is something that you and God could work on? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 5

Today I have been thinking about the connection between joy and grace. I have been wondering about these two important concepts intersect in our lives for God’s glory. . . For both are needed in times like this, and both are offered from God to us . 

If you have been reading along with these daily pastoral thoughts for the last week and a half, then you know that I want to be joyful in every aspect of my life (it has been the theme we are working with together). I want to think and live in a manner that displays my joy, and the joy of Christ at work in me, to others consistently. Whether the joyful experience is something spiritual or not, I want to find, and mediate upon, the places in my day where I am joyful. 

When I walk through the grocery store, masked and obeying social distance guidelines, I want others to see in my eyes that joy of God beaming over the light blue mask. I want to share stories of God at work in my life joyfully, and the life of my church family, as often as I can as a way to combat the cynicism and doubt of this generation. I want all my phone calls to be positive in nature and never have to have a difficult conversation with anyone. 

And yet, I hear something on the news after dinner, or I see it on a social media post, or I meet someone in the store who I have a relationship with, and after listening, I am back being frustrated and grumpy by what I am seeing, or what is being reported, or what I read. It is as if the week’s work to be joyful work is so early destroyed by one little instance, or even one little sentence. . . My joy is so easily zapped (and I bet I am not the only one who feels this way or can empathize with me). 

If are are struggling in maintaining joy as our summer continues and we see no end to the covid-18 troubles or the social unrest, then I wonder if the words of Paul Tillich will help reorient you, gracefully, back to God joy? He says: 

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. 
It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. 
It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. 
It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, 
when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, 
when despair destroys all joy and courage. 
Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted.” 

An important part of living joyfully is the realization, and acceptance, that we are truly accepted by the God we love and who loves us. God’s grace is available to welcome us back to God’s side, and as we are welcomed home, we find the joy that was tamped down being reborn or restored entirely. What once caused our shoulders to slump as joy evaporates in us no longer holds us prisoner. We are accepted. We are loved. . . and that should cause joy to live in us again.

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 4

Wait. . . Where’s Luna??? 

That was the sentiment filling my mind yesterday afternoon as I went for a quick 30 minute run by myself. But let me back up for a second and fill in some details. . . When I finished my work for the day in the office, the temperature outside was a warm 84 degrees with a slight breeze. That is not too hot for Luna to run with me, but it is getting a bit close, maybe closer than I would like for her. I mean, seriously I don’t want to be unkind to her. I know she would go with me if it was 110 degrees outside. She honestly longs to run. (I wouldn’t want to be out there running in that heat, but she would. . . She’s loyal like that). 

So it's pretty hot outside, and I decide that since she pulls so hard on my right arm and shoulder for the first 3/4 of a mile or so, and since I during that 3/4 of a mile I get irritated by her pulling and beg her to stop doing that, and I even think to myself, “why did I bring you!” she can stay home today and enjoy the AC. I will run alone. I will have some music to keep me company and won’t be literally pulled down the hill of Plains Church Road dangerously fast on knees that are not the best for quick downhill strides. 

But a funny thing happened as I was trotting down that steep hill alone. . . 

I missed her. Something was off. 

She’s a convenient distraction when the pain of running gets too great. I can count of her to turn her head when cars are coming and I don’t hear them yet. When I feel that I can’t go any further, her trotting serves to help spur me on. She’s a happy distraction while I run; she seems to make the time and distance go quicker than normal. Even on my best day when I can’t keep up with her, she is loyal and happily trots with me occasionally looking behind to make sure I haven’t died yet. 

However, here I am running down the hill yesterday, and turning onto Hope Road without her thinking, “Man I wish Luna was here. . .” 

In that way I think that my run, and our attempt to live and think more joyously as members of the Body of Christ, intersect nicely. We make choices every day that resemble my choice to leave Luna behind on a hot day—something done in the name of productivity, or ease of work, or practicality. At the time those choices seems right, and we might even feel complete assurance when we make them—initially. But then something changes. Things don’t go as we planned. We find that our choice has left us utterly alone or utterly missing what used to bring us a sense of joy. What seemed like a good thing at the time, now becomes something that is isolating and joy can be lost.

I ran the remainder of my time thinking about how I won’t leave her at home next time. I did not enjoy the scenery or the breeze. The music which often distracts me when Luna is there now didn’t fully keep my mind off my labored breathing. 

I wonder if today you are being confronted with the same problem. You may have left something behind today in the name of productivity and functionality. But that thing might just have been God’s gift to help you continue to see and receive God’s joy. If that is the case, then I hope that next time you will make a different choice, and by making it, your joy will live and grow. The work will be easier and the praise to God come quicker. . . 

Rev. Derek

Monday, August 3, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 3

Church family, 

This past week, I asked you to spend time thinking about, and practicing, joy. For as we know, joy comes in all shapes and sizes. From a free ice cream, to a posture of joyful appreciation while driving, joy can manifests itself when we least expect it. But when Joy comes, we find we need that feeling, or that response, desperately. So let’s not leave joy behind, or allow the starting of another week to diminish ‘JOY’ in us! Can we find a way to continue being joyful?? I think that it is important to continue reflecting on the choices and practice where joy is not just the proper response, but even the response we desperately crave. 

Margaret Wheatley, in a human resource article entitled, "When Change is Out of Control," wrote:

"It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. 
The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, 
to how well we know and trust one another. "

As I think about it, one of the greatest tools we use to limit joy, and there are many that we could select from our toolbox, is the fear of the unknown. That fear brings a ‘practicality’ to our mind instead of the passion of joy. This fear says things like, “well I know that you want to be joyful, but is this right moment, the right instance, the right response. . . “ On and on we go justifying why we could practice joy, but why we shouldn’t practice joy in this instance. 

It seems to me that while covid-19 has taken so much away from us right now relationally, and how we cannot share a physical space as the church, what it has not touched, and cannot touch, is the ability to praise God joyfully what what we have and who is in our sphere of relationships. There are quality relationships we have—if we nurture them. . . There are people we love and support and trust—if we reach out to them in our time of need. We will say that we trust those relationships, but why then don’t we reach out to them when covid-19 is inviting us to stop being joyful? 

I wonder what it would look like today, right now as you read this article, if what Wheatley is speaking about becomes something that you can adopt and apply? What would it look like to seek out those types of relationships, and I know that you have them, now? We don’t have to have everything planned out or determined before we are able to be joyful. So for today, let’s try to look at things as Wheatley suggests. . .  

Rev. Derek

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Pastoral Thought--August 1

We have spent the week reflecting on moments of joy and how to apply them. . . Let’s end the week with a story.

Last evening, Jennifer, Emma, my mother, and I went to Brusters for some ice cream (ice cream someone else pays for is so tasty). While we were in line, I witnessed the scene that this “thought” revolves around: 

In front of us was a family with three boys all under the age of 10 (I think). I saw one of the boys receive his cone from the server. The scoop was the size of a baseball! The bright orange color gave it away instantly—orange sherbet. He licked it once, and then predictably, it fell to the ground in a 'splat.’ He looked up, but at no one in particular, and said, ‘my ice cream fell.’ He didn’t cry. He didn’t whine. He didn’t make a scene (as I bet you thought he might). Instead, he began to lick what was left of the orange sherbet quietly and bit the cone in resignation. His mother notices the accident and grabs a napkin and puts the ice cream in the trash. Neither mother or father said anything about it. They didn’t yell or scold him. They just walked away as a family and took up a spot on an embankment near their SUV to finish their treat. Again, he didn’t protest or complain. . . He dropped it and it was gone. 

Our turn came, and we ordered and laughed. We spoke to the server who we knew and had a nice chat with him. We debated about the best flavor of ice cream and which coupon worked the best (oh and the best flavor is mint chocolate chip if you were curious). Then we took our order and walked back to my truck which was across from this family’s SUV. As I opened the door, this happened next. . . 

But let’s back up again. . . When we were ordering our ice cream there was a gentleman in khakis with a black polo shirt on next to us. He was by himself ordering. No family. No kids. He didn’t even look at us and seemed like a bit of curmudgeon (if its okay to judge some who I don't know and have never seen before on the way they buy ice cream). 

I opened my door to the truck when he came across the parking lot, hand extended. He was holding a scoop of orange sherbet in a cone for the boy who lost his. The man’s smile was visible even through his masked face. The mom took the ice cream from the man with gratitude in her face. The boy was thrilled and he came forward running and thanked the man without being promoted. 

Joy in Christ comes when we least expect it. Maybe it comes to us and maybe we are the tool for bringing joy to someone else. But if we are looking, and if we take the time to notice what is happening around us, God blesses us. We might just be able to care for someone else in our community and bless them. 

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...