Thursday, December 29, 2022

Wonderings--December 29

It has been a while since I talked Bianca on this blog. 

For those who don't remember, or have never met her, Bianca is our 8-year-old Shih Tzu. She is beyond sweet and kind and gentle. But Bianca also displays some territorial sassiness, a get-away-from-my-bowl attitude, that is so endearing. We frequently find her standing on the hearth in the den because that is the spot where Luna's dinner is served and perhaps, just maybe, if she is good, Bianca will find a morsel Luna left behind--or better yet, she might find Luna's bowl. 

But Bianca also has some issues--one big on in particular that I witnessed again today. 

She lives in a constant state of pink eye. Dr. Love gave us medicine for her eyes and it works well. But some mornings, like today, the infection is so significant that one of her eyes is sealed shut because of the discharge that comes with pink eye. Not to worry, a warm compress and a few drops and she's back to trolling for food and 'grunting' happily around the house. 

Like I said, today was not a good morning for her. Her left eye was completely sealed off and before I could get a warm washcloth for her, she trotted off toward to door. But again, she has only one good eye in this moment. So as you can imagine, she bumps into things. Doors, walls, Bianca gets too close to everything. 

I reach down to pick her up but she scampers toward the door and into the yard. 

On her way back inside, Bianca is trotting--happy as can be. She will get a treat now and that is reason for celebration. After treat-time I fix the eye and she can see again and runs off for a drink and look for breakfast. 

But as I walked over to work I wondered. . . 

We all have issues in our lives. Some spiritual. Some physical. Some emotional. And likely some are a combination of all three. They weigh us down. Blind us. Discourage us. Isolate us from each other. Their painful sting is often something we do not think other people can endure. 

But as I thought about Bianca's issue, I wondered, why is it that she chooses contentment when discouragement would be understandable? Perhaps there is something in Bianca's example that can speak to you now? What would it look like to choose contentment in the face of a discouraging moment? Where might you find God in that space? 

Blessings . . .

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Wonderings--December 28

Today is the day that we remember Herod's heinous act of killing the children in Bethlehem. I read the story from the gospel of Matthew as part of my devotions and spent some time thinking and reflecting on it. 

Can you imagine what the mothers and fathers in Bethlehem thought as the soldiers went from house to house carrying out their orders? I am not just taking about the terror and grief of each parent, but the desperation. The helplessness. Trying to keep their children silent so as to avoid being discovered. . . 

Think about how those same parents would return to God when it was over? 

What could they possibly say to God? How would they express themselves? Tears? Sadness? Rage? Feelings of abandonment? I imagine the responses were as diverse as the people of Bethlehem. I wouldn't have the words to speak to God in that moment; it might take me a while. I know that I would want to talk to God, I would know that I need to talk to God, but what could I possibly say? 

How could I express myself? 

How could I find "thy will be done" when I hurt so much? Ache so much? Want to curl up in a ball and disappear? 

And while we have not experienced the torment those parents did on that horrible day, we do experience our own pain each day that we might know is too much. Even as Christmas is still so close to our hearts and minds, we might find that we do not have the words for God today. 

If that is you, then I offer you a short little practice today to help: 

Find a quiet moment, a quiet space (even if that space is in a crowded room), and sit. . . Breath. 

Begin with a prayer, something like: "God, it's me again, And here's the messy, unsettling truth of it all. . ."

Take time to unpack the whole of it with God, every detail you feel is important, don't leave anything out, until you experience the 'sigh.' . . Finally a word of grace: be patient with yourself, 'the sigh' will find you. 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Wonderings--December 27

It has been quite a while since I sat here and wrote about what's on my mind. But as advent ends for 2022, and the new year is this weekend, I thought about something that I read recently. 

In a recent edition of Christian Century I read the following thought and I lingered over it for a bit. 

"We have no idea what it cost God to make all things. But we can see what it cost God to be with us in Christ. The cost of our living with God forever is a cost we could never afford. . . [it is] beyond our capacity or ability to pay." 

But that cost is not beyond God. The God of heaven and earth paid the cost for us to come home in the simple act of sending his only Beloved Son to earth. And while I know that it likely did not happen on December 25, as this week begins I cannot help but reflect on what God was willing to give up for me. . . 

In a 2022 novel, Goodnight, Vienna, we read the story of Gretchen a 12-year-old girl living in Vienna in 1937 and Katya, her caregiver and physician. In the story when the Nazis take over Austria, Katya realizes that she must help Gretchen, a neurodivergent child, escape before she becomes a medical test subject for the Nazis. 

So they board a train each with forged passports and the process of the escape begins. While on the train, the two women meet Shulamit, a Jewish woman who uses a wheelchair. 

When they reach the Hungarian boarder (which is the final leg of their escape), the Gestapo guards stationed there scrutinize the passports glowering at the women. They are looking for a 12-year-old girl traveling with a woman. As the tension rises in the story, and it appears the game's up, something dramatic happens. Shulamit comes over the guards. . . 

She begins to belittle them for not noticing that she is Jewish, and what's worse, she's plotting to kill Hitler! The guards march Shulamit in her wheelchair to the nearest train and in doing so they completely forget about Gretchen and Katya. 

Gretchen can't believe what's happened, but Katya somberly says, "I think she planned to do it all along, if she saw you were in danger." 

Gretchen sobs, "I can't thank even thank her."

Katya replies, "I think she knows that you will thank her with everything you do in your life." 

Advent cost God so much. It cost God the perfect relationship with Jesus on the cross. And while that event will not happen for some time, in the life of the church, the cost must still be paid so you and I can go home. Like Shulamit in our story, God did something amazing, something self-sacrifical, something that only God could do. 

I wonder what that miracle means in your life today? I wonder how you might go about thanking God for what He did in sending Jesus to earth for us? 

Rev. Derek 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Wonderings--October 25

On the advice of a friend, I took some extra time this morning for a bit of self-care. My friend noticed that I seemed a bit tired and suggested the following action to restore my soul: 

First, leave your cell phone on your desk (check. . . that was easy). 

Second, go around the church to the large side yard opposite the cemetery (not far away and easy to get to). 

Third, find a spot and sit down. I found the stone benches and table under the cover of a large tree. Sighing I sat down and instantly felt the cold of the stone on my legs. 

Finally, listen and observe. 

The air was cool. Closing my eyes, I felt the warmth of the sun on my eyelids and I smiled. Slowly and deliberately I breathed in and out. No thoughts filled my mind, just the gentle ring and falling of my chest; the dryness of the breath coming in cool and out warmer. 

After a few minutes (I think) I began to hear something--popping. It was all around me. I didn't know if I was hearing a bird or squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. But in my heart I knew that my question didn't matter. The gentle popping was coming from around me. Opening my eyes I scanned the trees slowly to see if I could spot a furry-friend who was at work in the trees--nothing. 

The popping continued. 

I looked slowly around to see if the leaves were blowing in a breeze that I couldn't feel on the ground but was present high up in the treetops and therefore knocking something out of the trees--nothing. 

Realizing that something was happening, I closed my eyes and returned to my peaceful state. Breathe in. . . breathe out. . . The popping continued for some time until I reached back for my journal and wanted to document what I was experiencing. And as soon as I did: the popping stopped. 

After writing three sentences, I looked around at the now silent yard before me. Something was different. I sat perfectly still for a long moment. Where was the popping? What had I done? Closing my book and returning it to its place behind me on the table, I closed my eyes and listened. In and out I breathed. . . The popping came back, but this time with company. 

I heard crickets out in the distance and birds chirping around me. The natural symphony began again but this time richer than before. 

When it was time to return home for lunch, I rubbed my knees and stood. Walking away I wondered: how many times do we interrupt a blessing for practicality? What lesson can you learn from my story in the side yard of the church?  


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Wonderings--October 19

This morning I walked into the sanctuary, switched on the lights, and sat down. It was 9:30. In five minutes I would be joined by six children from our 4-year-old program and about a dozen 3-year-olds. The would sit in the second pew of the sanctuary and together we would have chapel of the next 15 minutes. 

Chapel is hard for me because I only have a few minutes and I want to faithfully present the gospel to these kids and help them continue to grow in their faith. Yet it is also a joy. The children are lively and energetic. They point at the pictures that I show them and want to 'touch' Jesus on my iPad at every moment. The energy is infectious and I leave chapel feeling my heart warmed and blessed as they wave and say 'thank you.'

Today was another chance to teach them.

Scrolling through my notebook on my desk I found the next set of stories that I wanted to share with them. Mentally thinking each story through, I settled on the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus tells the crowd, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Great lesson1 

I would leave out the adultery part and state that she did a very bad thing. Emphasis would be added and we would speak about forgiveness and how God forgives us when people around us don't want to. It was a simple lesson and straightforward. . . until it wasn't. 

As I got to the part where I would make the subtle change, the children began to recoil in anxiety. (She did a bad thing remember). The would tuck their noses into their coats or sweaters. They sat back in the pew to be away from me and furrowed their brows as I read and talked to them. I could see it in their eyes that they were getting worried. 

"What would happen to the woman," their eyes begged me--again she did a bad thing!

As we finished the story, the tension was broken. God forgives us. God welcomes us. Jesus loves us. But for those few moment when the whole picture was in doubt, that conclusion was also suspect. 

Now as I sit here and think about the children I wonder about the seriousness of God's word and the redemptive nature of the gospel. We know the good news and can speak about it to others. But do still feel the tension that lives in the original narrative? 

I wonder if you stop and linger over God's words when you have a devotional time with Jesus? Do you pause and let the gravity of what is happening in the text truly shape your heart? Or do you just rush on by that tension because you are busy and need to get moving? 

The children taught me a lesson today about lingering with God. I wonder what their experience said to you? 


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Wonderings--October 18

I started writing this blog as covid-19 gripped our world. As I watched and listened to leaders and news outlets comment on the pandemic-that-was-to-come I felt something in my heart twinge. . . It sounded like everyone was enjoying the suffering and casting out of despair and pain. Don't we know the phrase, 'everyone loves a tragedy.'

At that time, it sounded like only bad news was being sown. I heard more and more leaders in the church speak hopelessly and faithlessly and I worried. . . and I wondered. How can I help, Father? 

So I started writing. 

As a pastor wiring is what I do often. I sit and I write. I jot down thoughts in notebooks and post on social media. I write in the margins of books that empower my soul and capture my imagination. So in the beginning steps of the pandemic, when I worried the most and was anxious, I wrote. 

I thought, "If I could just offer a tiny word of hope to the church that God has called me to serve then maybe I can help; maybe we will be okay." Was this naive, maybe, but it was what I felt called to do.

I offered words of spirituality and contemplation. I reminded myself that, as my doctoral teacher would say, 'the most powerful word in the Bible is "with." ' This act of writing became my practice; my source of contemplation and reflection. It helped my spirit grow and breath again.  

Yet as you realize by reading this, I haven't written in quite some time--and there are many reasons for that. Death has come into our family again. The slow and painful process of saying 'good-bye' has been with Jennifer and I and her family. 

I stopped writing because my children needed help in their own ways. So I listened and I tried to 'be with' them. 

I stopped writing because I was too busy. 

Now it has been almost three weeks since I wrote. Three weeks since I put my faith into practice and thought about how God is 'with' us. And you know, that break has not been healthy for my spirit. 

While not practicing the one little thing that God asked me to do, I stopped practicing my faith in my own way and my spirit became dry. I got tired. I became complacent and my attention was drawn away from my faith practices and toward practicality. Now practicality is necessary at times, but I wonder if I, if we, sacrifice faith for practicality? I wonder if as we stop doing what God asks us to do, I wonder how we might dry out as Christians? 

And so, today, I write. . . I wonder what God is asking you to begin again? 


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Wonderings--September 29

As you might remember I have been thinking a lot about how we care for one another as a church. With hurricane Ian bearing down on South Carolina and the presenting issues and that this storm brings us, combined with the day-to-day needs of the Body of Christ, our friends and family, the call from God to be caring and present has seldom been more necessary. 

We like to say that there is no time like the present when it comes to caring for each other, but seldom is that more true than in times such as this. I appreciate seeing the Body of Christ step out of its comfort zone and sacrificially dwell with their community as Jesus taught us to do.

I doubt that a day goes by where you have not had an opportunity to care for another person--family or friend. Caring for each other can be quite a diverse and personal task. But part of our willingness to care, is the mindset that we bring into the act of support and care when stop and think about those whom we care for. 

My friend, Graham Standish says this to us as he thinks about how we treat each other: 

"Christianity may be a faith that recognizes the sinfulness of people, but it never, ever advocates for treating people as though they are sinful."

I encourage you to re-read Graham's statement because it is quite profound if you take a moment and realize what he is saying to us. 

We are called by God to care for each other--and at Bethesda we do a wonderful job of living faithfully in this calling, but notice how you might labels and thinks about those whom we care for. . .  Do we love them?  Do you think of them as part of Christ's body or are they just another face in the crowd that you have to think about? 

Perhaps today as the storm prepares to wreak havoc on this community, and your need of care becomes greater, take a moment and think about what Graham has to say to the church. . . maybe that reflection will help you as you strive to be faithful to God in a new way? Notice how we think of the people of our community? What lesson is God trying to teach you as you care for another person?


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Wonderings--September 28

The summer of my Junior year of college I worked as a church camp counselor. The days were long; the kids great. The work was hard but I believed in it. The camp where I served was also the camp where I built my Eagle Scout project so this place meant something to me. 

A few times during the summer I went up to the chapel that I built and I just sat there and dwelt with God. It was a bit of a trek getting to the chapel. I was always out of breath when I go there. This was because I needed to build the chapel on top of a very steep hill with a great view.

That summer flew by! 

But as I think about it now, I remember the preparation time for the summer was also very involved. There was a lot of inventory to take and supplies to run to various locations which are spread out all over the property. As the four counselor for the summer we had to clean and clean and clean every building and make sure we had every supply for every conceivable accident or emergency (we were 30 minutes from any doctor's office).

I also remember the times that I retreated into the field adjacent to my cabin to be alone and rest. There in the tall grass (which I am allergic to) I lay down often in the sun. I'd spread my arms and legs out and look up into the clouds and let my imagination run wild. Breathing deeply I would consider whatever came to mind. Sometimes it was silly and sometimes I sat in stillness listening to the grass blow as an act of prayer. Either way, that time in the field was a blessing to me.

Thinking about imagination I remembered something that I read recently. Walt Kallestad in his book Turning Your Church Inside Out wrote:

"Nothing is more powerful in an organization than setting free the imaginations of the people who love the organization and are committed to its health, effectiveness, and faithfulness. This is certainly true of the church. If the imagination pictures a different tomorrow, they will can begin taking steps to realize it."

Thinking about imagination I wonder what you imagine as possible for your local church? What is God going to do at Bethesda? Not in a general sense, but notice how your mind distills these hopes and dreams into something tangible and personal. My imaginative dreams are not yours, and even though they share the same God, there is diversity to be found. 

So take some time today and let your imagination direct you. Perhaps you will learn something from God that needs to be shared with someone else? 


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Wonderings--September 27

Yesterday afternoon I had the blessing of sitting with a family who had to plan a funeral. And while death is seldom known or expected (even when we have a terminal diagnosis before us), I could sense that this death, in this moment, was one that took a lot out of the family emotionally. They were here. . . but truly they weren't 'here.' 

They were in the in-between place of grief and numbness and feeling God's grace. 

There was conflict living beneath the conversation that we had yesterday afternoon. There was also the obvious pain that comes with the loss of a loved one to contend with; it could not be denied or avoided. Their stories this family shared vacillated between funny accounts and anecdotes to ones of confusion and hurt. 

I simply listened to them because when we hurt, we want someone to be willing to listen to the 'hurt' without judging it.

Around the grave we confront any misconceptions about our faith and the faith of the deceased. While death is something that all of us will address, when death comes it feels like an uninvited, un-sought-after companion. And yet even in that pain, I wonder if we can find God? 

Father Richard Rohr once wrote these words for us:

"Everything visible, without exception, is the outpouring of God." 

We know that God is always in the room with us; always listening to our prayers--vocal and silent. We confess together that we are always closer to God than we realize in any moment. Even when we are in pain, or hurting, or numb, or confused, or feeling alone, or grieving the outpouring of God is close at hand. I wonder if we can get our hands around that blessing?

As I spend the entire afternoon listening to this family, certainly I could hear their pain and suffering. It was unmistakable. But in their pain, I tired to make sure that I reminded them that God's outpouring is present--when our faith is certain and when it is weaker than we might like. 

And so I ask you to consider Richard's words, and as you do, I wonder who you might know today that needs to be reminded of the outpouring of God that is close at hand? 


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Wonderings--September 21

This morning I read the words of Kathleen Dowling Singh. In her field Katherine was well-known for her wisdom on the topic of death and dying. As I read her words today, I wondered if what she was saying could be applicable to us as we seek to faithfully care for our community. 

She wrote: 

"Many of us still cling childishly to so much that is unreal and inessential. Many of us still cling to reputation, to imagined security, to unexamined habits of attitude and behavior, and to self-image. We have deep aversion to having all of our cherished illusions stripped away by life-in-form’s seeming indifference."

And again, although she is speaking about the challenges that come with agingI wonder if she is also speaking to you about something more personal? I wonder if her words address something in your heart that speaks about how you live out your calling from God in the community? Perhaps we can take a moment and notice how deeply her words cut us. . . 

Reading Katherine's words, I pause and imagine what she could be speaking about when she identifies things as "unreal and inessential" in my life.  I sign and think, 'there is a great deal that seems inessential in my day when I stop and consider it.'' My mind moves to the instances where I waste my time on things and practices that do not support my faith or bring glory to God. 

Certainly here is a place for rest in each day. I understand the necessity of letting your mind and body take a break as you scroll through social media or read a book. We cannot be, and we are not called to be, all things to all people. That is God's domain. 

But there are also more toxic choices that we make each day that keep us from serving the Body of Christ as God asks. I imagine right now you could think of a couple instances in your day that have already taken place where your mind was focused on that which was 'unreal and inessential.'

But rather than turn this into a practice highlights those poor choices, I wonder if we could find opportunities to turn back to God in each of these moment? I wonder what might happen if your focus was drawn back to God? 

Maybe today take some time and consider Katherine's words and ask yourself, 'what is God calling me to lay aside for him?"


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Wonderings--September 20

I wonder if you have heard the story of the Night Pastor? His story is unique and the application of that story wide-reaching. . . 

In the 1960s a man named Robert Owen was called by God to serve others in a non-traditional sense. You see, Robert loved music--jazz specifically. He loved playing it on Chicago's Rush Street and enjoyed the passion of music. he loved the camaraderie of a jazz band and loved how his music blessed other people--people he didn't know. Then a strong thing happened. At the end of each night's set, Robert was placed by God into an important place. 

Here is the exert from Christian Century where his story is told:

" “When we stopped playing, the musicians would start telling me their troubles,” he told a Chicago Tribune reporter in 1965. “I began to see there was a real need for a ministry to the night people.”

Press coverage from the early days of the program suggests that his office, above a hamburger stand at Rush and Oak, was well trafficked by those seeking counsel long past business hours. The DeKalb Daily Chronicle: “Chicago Night Pastor Believes God Doesn’t Go to Bed at 10.” The Daily Herald: “Night, Loneliness, Jazz—The Life of Reverend Owen.” Wearing his clerical collar, Owen walked along dark sidewalks and dipped into bars to minister to people late into the night."

And so the Night Pastor ministry was born, and lived, in the Chicago diocese of the Episcopal Church. Robert held the position for six years faithfully playing music, listening to people, and pastoring the local community. He did this faithfully before he died. 

The church attempted to uphold his position and installed a new individual to serve as the Night Pastor in the same community, but it was not to be. The work ended and the Night Pastor went away. But for a set time, a set season, God helped one individual care for his community in a unique way.

Robert's story sparked a question in my heart. . . As the church we are called by God to care for one another. We are called to pray for each other; to listen as stories and concerns are shared. But perhaps you have been called to you own Night Pastor ministry in your local community? Maybe God has placed something on your heart to step outside of what  seems outside of the normal path and course of the church. 

If that is true, then I wonder what faithfulness might look like in your new ministry? Maybe God has placed you there because you are the only person able to be present for someone else? 


Monday, September 19, 2022

Wonderings--September 19

I want to share with you a story from the book that I am reading. Entitled Lila, the book tells the story of a young woman from a difficult childhood who encounters a minister in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. Their relationship is the story of the book.

In the book, the minister of the town writes a letter to Lila attempting to answer a question of faith for Lila. She does not know that it is a faith question as she asks it, but the back and forth that ensues speaks to us of God and of how we live our faith out. He writes: 

"A father holds out his hand to a child who is learning to walk, and he comforts the child with words and draws the child toward him, but he lets the child feel the risk it is taking, and lets it choose its own courage and the certainty of love and comfort when the child reaches his father over--I was going to say choose it over safety, but there is no safety. And there is no choice, either, because it is in the nature of the child to walk."

These words got me thinking about how we practice our faith each day. How we live out faithfully what God asks us to do. . . 

I believe that it is in our nature as Christians to choose to believe, choose to walk to each other, choose to care, and choose the risk. We choose to answer the phone when it rings even though the ringing phone will draw us away from whatever task we are busy with in the moment--often a task we do not want to abandon. 

We choose to listen to another story from a friend or neighbor even though we know how the story ends and how it moves and shifts. We choose to look at what the Lord has given us and wonder if we could offer those gifts to another person because we sense that they need it. We choose to look at the suffering of a friend and believe that God has heard their prayers and that God will stay close by. We are walking toward our Heavenly Father with each step, and I agree with the Reverend in the book I am reading, it is our nature to walk toward God. 

It is comforting to hear God's voice whisper to us and encourage us to take one more step. Trust the strength of our faith to hold us up when we offer what we have and what we are to someone else. I wonder toady how the story of a father and his walking-child speaks to your heart? How does it call you to practice your faith and what step could you take now to obediently respond to God? 


Thursday, September 15, 2022

Wonderings--September 15

This week has flown by for me. As the church calendar fills, and events begin again in earnest, and plans are discerned and implemented, I have been quite busy--and at the same time, quite blessed. 

I have shared meals with church members and listened to others share their needs. This week I have prayed with the sick and supported individuals who are still working through their own grief and sadness. I have laughed with folks and learned from them. And although I awoke today quite early because our dog wanted attention, and a bowl of water, my spirit feels free and unhindered. . . I believe this is because of the friendships of the church of Jesus Christ. 

As I think about friendship and how we might define it, I thought of something I read from Henri Nouwen on the subject not long ago. Nouwen famously wrote these words for us: 

"Friendship is one of the greatest gifts a human being can receive. It is a bond beyond common goals, common interests, or common histories. It is a bond stronger than [any] union can create, deeper than a shared fate can solidify, and even more intimate than the bonds of marriage or community. Friendship is being with the other in joy and sorrow, even when we cannot increase the joy or decrease the sorrow. It is a unity of souls that gives nobility and sincerity to love. Friendship makes all of life shine brightly. Blessed are those who lay down their lives for their friends."

At church the friendship of the Body of Christ does so much more than we realize; it accomplishes God's will just by existing and 'being with' others. The friendship of the church is hard to quantify, but each of us knows and time and a moment when the friendship of the church has been just what we needed. 

I wonder today if you can feel the friendship of the church? I wonder how it has healed and helped you? And I wonder if you are called to share that friendship with someone new as well? 


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Wonderings--September 14

I wonder how you handle a morning of stops and starts?

For the past two days three electricians have been working hard at the church. After a light fell from the ceiling about 2 months ago, we've been waiting for them to return and resolve a number of electrical issues that were discovered in the replacement process. 

No fire hazards were discovered. Instead the electricians found just a few small issues that could be handled by them. And like I said, they have diligently been replacing and rewiring the fellowship hall and church office for 2 days. 

But there is some collateral damage that has cropped up. . . Namely, wifi and battery issues as I try and work. Although I get a little frustrated when the lights go off in my office and my laptop stops charging regularly, truly this isn't a major issue to deal with this morning. All that is required is an ounce of patience and little flexibility. 

Sighing I think, 'well I can be flexible and I can practice patience,' but when so much of life and ministry is handled on-line, this can be easier said than done. I can forget to be patient because it is easier not to be. 

In the book Bird by Birds, Anne Lamott writes these words for us: 

I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”

As a Christian I am confronted nearly every minute of every day with the choice to be patient or the choice to become frustrated, anxious, jaded, resentful, and angry. Every minute of nearly every day I have the choice of how I will respond to the person driving below the speed limit in front of me, or taking too much time with the doctor, or holding up the checkout line, or. . . replacing the electrical in the fellowship hall. 

While we might thing that this is not much of a choice at all, as a Christian it is an important distinction for us. For far too often I see people not practicing their faith in these moments because it is easier to let the emotion of the moment rule the encounter. 

But I wonder what might happen if we practice Lamott's 'revolutionary patience?' I wonder how your day and your faith walk could be different if you just showed up, did what God asked, and never tired of doing good? 


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Wonderings--September 13

Recently I have spent some significant time helping a friend with a difficult task. My friend is capable of doing the necessary work, but as I learned as far back as Kindergarten, "many hands make light the work." So I do what I can to be of help. 

Now the task that the two of us are working on is straightforward. I have not been surprised by any aspect of it. Frankly since I have been friends with this person for since college, I knew that together we would see this through. . . and as I reflect on the process, I can see that the work is almost done. 

But as with all things, there is a bit of a cost that must be paid. The cost of this project is simple: time. 

There are only so many hours in the day, and when the hours are spent, the day is done. 

As the project nears its completion, I find my mind is floating toward the work more and more. I am aware of what I must do to get this accomplished. I think about it when I have some free time. While previously my morning walks were filled with devotional readings and prayers, now I find that now I am spending a portion of my morning in reflection on the task. 

I devote part of my sacred time with God to thinking about something that a friend and I are working on, and while this is not a bad thing, I wonder if I am becoming distracted? I can ask this same question of you today for I know that you too are busy and have projects to complete and tasks to be done. But have those tasks infringed upon your time with the Lord? 

Perhaps saying it this way might help: what things in your day keep your focus away from God? 

I do not mean to forsake time with God as I walk in the morning, but I find that it is happening more than I would like. Again, I wonder if I, and if you as you read this, are becoming too distracted? 


Thursday, September 8, 2022

Wonderings--September 8

As I have been preparing for Sunday worship, God has brought a number of scriptural texts to my heart that seem to center on a central theme. 

I have listened to readings from gospel's in the morning as I walk and enjoy God's creation--even if the text's which are selected bring with them a word of judgement.  

The first reading for Sunday is from Exodus 32--the golden calf. I have thought about how painful an experience that story must have been for both God and Moses. God wanting to be left alone with his anger; Moses petitioning God to forgive the people. If I was to walk up Mt. Sinai in that moment I suspect I would feel a great deal of tension between God and Moses. 

The gospel reading for Sunday is the story of the Lost Sheep. Jesus leaves the other 99 behind to go searching for the one who has wandered off, wandered away. He carries that sheep back to the fold, but I can't help but wonder if the remaining 99 sheep felt alone, suffered maybe, when the shepherd was not close at hand. Even if he was doing the good work of restoration, it had to be a tough time.

As I reflect on these scriptural experiences this week, I am reminded of something that Thomas Merton wrote: 

"As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by a very contact with one another; because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones."

Perhaps you are aware of suffering in your church; you can speak to the sting that accompanies it. Maybe a family member is sick, or has died recently, and the hole that they leave behind seems too massive for anyone to fill it. Perhaps our communal suffering makes you feel isolated and encourages you to distance yourself from God and from His Body. 

However, I agree with Merton in this moment. God offers to 'reset' the brokenness of our lives. That does not mean that we will not feel or experience pain. We will be let down and frustrated by the needs of our world. Yet we are united together in a love for God. Yes, that love also brings with us some pain, but it is a momentary pain. 

I wonder today, and for the rest of this week, if you can speak to the idea that Merton is addressing in his quotation? I wonder if you might be able to help another person find the love of God even if at the same moment they feel themselves being 'reset' and even if that 'resetting' is painful? 


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Wonderings--September 7

As I walked to the office today I glanced down at my iPhone's calendar. Already knowing what I would find there I smiled as it opened. I have a full day ahead of me--and this is not a problem at all. 

I have a lunch appointment with some colleagues to discuss scripture. A home visit follows my lunch today. There are a few phone calls that I need to make as I prepare for the weekend's ministry. And tonight the weekly fellowship supper's begin again here at Bethesda. 

Each item in my calendar is important and I know that each is a task from God. But before all that could begin today, I needed a moment. . .

I woke today with a slight headache and that fact put me a step behind in my morning routine. There would not be enough time for a morning walk around the grounds of the church. Yet I knew that I needed it. Sometimes we do not have the time that we need, so we must just pry it away from our schedule. 

As I slowly walked down the driveway toward the cemetery path, I heard my devotional app speaking to me about 'enjoying' God; noticing how God is with me in a busy day. I saw the leaves at the top of the trees just beginning to turn yellow, felt the breeze on my face, and saw the blueness of the sky, as I thought about God enjoying time with me. 

Sam Wells tells us this as he thinks about how God enjoys time with us: 

"To enjoy is to revel in the abundance of the present moment, to soak up all that is here, now, present and available, to put one's hope and trust an energy in things that never run out, to plumb depth rather than anxiously scan for the breadth." 

I think that is what I did as I took a short 10 minute walk. I enjoyed the abundance of the present moment with God. We will always have filled calendars and schedules. I don't know anyone who has ample time and space in their day. But what do have is the choice how to manage our life. We have the call from God to find just a short moment to be enjoy being with Him.

I wonder what your day might look like when you find those moments? 


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Wonderings--September 6

I have been going through a challenging season recently. While the challenges of this season are great, and painful, they are also challenges that I witness to first. In a manner of speaking these challenges do not directly affect me, but they touch people I love and care about. And so while they are someone else's pain, they become my pain too because I care for the other person and I want God to help and heal those wounds.  

Watching Jennifer's father's health decline has been hard for me. I see the tears in his eyes, in Jennifer's eyes, and know that the pain of death is coming toward the Eikleberry's. I cannot stop it; the best that I can do is be as present as I can for all involved. The best I can do is help by making phone calls offering silent prayers and support to Don, to Jennifer, and to the family. But yet powerlessness can creep in at any point in this journey. 

Like every church, we at Bethesda have people in worship who suffer. I see it in their eyes and hear it in their greetings at the door as they leave. They are thankful to be in worship, but the struggles and the pains of life stalk them--as they do us all--when we are not physically together. I can't prevent this pain and I can't make it go away either. 

The lesson that I want to share with you is in response to the famous words of a Russian dictator. Lenin once said: "Freedom is good, but control is better." 

Now as you read those word you probably will shake you head a little as you remember how Lenin's Russia was filled with stories of a dictator who broke the spirit of his people. You might think about the destructive nature of the quest for control. But notice how that quest lives in us when people around us suffer. We want to make it stop. . . 

As I have watched Jennifer's father, Don, become weaker and weaker, and as I hear our prayer list grow longer and longer, it might be easy to either feel overwhelmed and attempt to manage or control what happens in our lives. We are a people who like to fix things. 

But I wonder if today we can just take a breath and allow that "out of control" feeling float over to God? 

Can you take a deep breath and slowly let God comfort and strengthen you?

God is the one who controls all of creation and all of life. When I feel powerless, or when I go through a time of challenge as I am now, I have to remind myself that God is big enough to handle this. Can we adopt this choice today? 


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Wonderings--August 31

Having returned from Ohio, I now sit at my desk and think. My morning walk did little to distract me from serious consideration. . . This was a good weekend, a necessary weekend, and yet one filled with emotion as it ended. 

Driving to Ohio on Friday, through torrents of rain in West Virginia and darkness in Ohio, I could feel the fatigue gripping my mind. I would make it safely to Norwalk, but I knew that a good night's sleep would not fully restore me. This trip was not a vacation but a mission trip.

I did not know what to expect as I walked in Jennifer's childhood house for the first time in over 11 years. But whatever I thought I would experience, I was completely wrong. It was quiet and a bit dark--that was normal. Closing the door, I heard the hum of an oxygen machine vibrating away and I saw Jennifer looking down at her father in his chair with a look of empathy on her face. Emma stood over Jennifer's shoulder and matched her gaze. 

The deep baritone voice of Don Eikleberry was all we heard.

For the next three days we listened to him tell stories. He laughed and cried; we laughed and cried. Then on Monday it was time to go home and so I said good-bye. Don was still with us as left but his health was worsening. 

As of today, he waits to meet his new Savior. As I drove home alone with Jennifer and Emma following me, I wondered about the God who suffers. . . Bonhoeffer, in his Letters and Papers from Prison wrote: 

"The Bible directs us to the powerlessness and suffering of God; only a suffering God can help. For the God of the Bible. . . conquers power and space in the world by his weakness." 

Much has been written over the years wondering if God suffers with us or if God stands above or away from humanity while we suffer. Men and women much smarter than I have debated the issue back and forth and drawn their own well articulated conclusions on the topic. As I drove back to South Carolina, I affirmed that I felt the presence of a 'suffering God"--a God who dwells with us-- in the room. Regardless of how that pain is defined, experienced, or felt, God experiences it with us, I believe.

And because of this fact, I can trace a line of God's presence with my family. As I spoke with Don yesterday and reassured him that Hospice and other services were on the way for him and for Rosie (Jennifer's mother), I knew God was there. I wonder how a "suffering God" might help you and those you love today? 


Thursday, August 25, 2022

Wonderings--August 25

What is the responsibility of the Church? 

Now if there was ever a more wide-open question, I don't know what it is. . . Consider the responsibility of the Church of Jesus Christ? What are we called to do? To whom are we called to go? How does Jesus define the mission of His Church in the scriptures? 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this question over the past couple weeks, and as I have thought about the question, God has given me some instruction and teaching. 

Normally we would affirm that our mission is starts with our relationship with God. We are called to spend time with God. Read the Bible. Pray. Consider what the lessons of scripture mean for us moving forward. Then after we consider each lesson for a bit, we return to God and seek more answers and more learning. It is a cycle that we live into--and it is a true cycle. 

But are we called for more? 

Well you might then respond that we are called to be with the sick, the wounded, the grieving. Perhaps you would tell me that our mission is to remind each of these individuals and families that God is with them closely and intimately. We are called to pray with and for them. We are called to bring them the Word of God as a tool to remind them that God never leaves or forsakes His people. And again, that is true also. 

But again, is there more that we called to as the Church?

I just finished reading an article by Melissa Florer-Bixler. At the end of her article she says this to us as we wonder what the mission of the church is: 

"Church is the place where people have chosen one another's mess. People are complicated and lovely. They disappoint us, then exceed our expectations. We long for one another, and we come up empty. It is messy, this [Christian] life."

God calls us to dwell with each other when the dwelling is neat and tidy, and when the conversation ends and we feel blessed. But we are also called to dwell with each other when life is messy, dusty, confusing and the answers to our struggles do not come forward. When the diagnosis is not good and the prognosis is even worse--God wants us to dwell in that space with our community. 

When we pray and our prayers are answered in ways that make us scratch our heads, and when answers come quickly--God wants us to dwell in that place together as the Church. For as we dwell together in these messy places we find the sacredness of what it means to be the Church.

I wonder what messy place God could be sending you to right now? 


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Wonderings--August 23

As far back as my first D.Min. class I heard a familiar sentiment taking shape. My colleagues and classmates expressed it as did most of the instructors. And before I tell you what that sentiment is, let me say that none of them are wrong in their hopeful aspiration. Ministry is based on this idea in many ways and forms. Here is that sentiment: 

Things will be better in the future. 

I heard those words from so many people. But they would say it differently. . . "When I graduate I will be able to make a difference," one person said. Another told me, "This work will help me fix my church's struggles. I can finally put words to what's wrong." A few brave souls even said, "I will be a better Christian when I'm done." 

 Now don't get me wrong, I had a similar sentiment--a first--as I think most Christians would have. 

We possess this feeling that the future will be better. Even if we cannot articulate how the future will be better, we hope for it. We trust in it. Dr. Roger Owens assigned us the book: Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, and it helped reshape my mind. As I read the book, and am now re-reading it, I find the idea of a vague, better, future to be incorrect. 

Midway through the book the author offers us this idea:

"The future doesn't take form irrationally, even though it feels that way. The future comes from where we are now. It materializes from the actions, values, and beliefs we're practicing now. . . If we want a different future, we have to take responsibility for what we are doing in the present." 

While you could conclude that the author is speaking about social change only, she actually addresses how the church can be present and caring for its local community right now. She speaks about how that 'today's presence' will lead all of us together into a new, richer, presence with God.

Sure I can, and I do, worry about what will happen in the church and world in the next year(s). But rather than dwell on that, and let that concern dictate how I attempt to live faithfully with God, what if God asks me to make a small change in how I life today and speak with people today? Perhaps that small change could lead me into a new path that invites creativity and is based on hope and it could also reshape our future? 

Notice where you are now, who God is putting before you today, and let that revelation shape how you live out your faith. 


Monday, August 22, 2022

Wonderings--August 22

As you might recognize, I have been spending some time considering how we care for one another both as the church corporately and individuals personally. I have talked about the impulse to care in Sunday school and I wondered about when that impulse is felt, how we choose to respond. Do we act quickly? Decisively? Biblically? 

Where is God in our desire to care and how quickly does the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts before we choose to act and care for someone? 

Part of the care that I have been reflecting upon, and perhaps a large portion of it, involves a ministry of presence and a ministry of touch--a ministry of holding hands. Marcia A. Owens and Samuel Wells in the book, Living without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence, offer us these words to help shape this dynamic: 

"All words of ministry in the wake of [pain and violence] emerge from a relationship based on being present in silence and overcoming fear through touch." (Emphasis in original text).

Silence and touch. When I have been with someone who is in pain, and regardless of how that pain is named or felt, silence and touch are often the best way to care for that person. Being still and holding the hand of a friend can be just as profound of an experience as praying with them.  

In the rest of the chapter Owens and Wells speak about a process of caring for one another that is less service-based and more present, more still, more dwelling with. Part of the presence they are speaking about is a willingness to abide with the other person. AS we abide we grant that person space for the acknowledgment and solidarity that they need. Here is an example that they provide for the reader: 

"I am allowing this pain, I'm not pushing it away. It is mine; this is as it is. This is. And I'm not going to move away from it. I'm going to allow it to hurt. I'm going to feel my hurt."

In the church we love to care for one another. We appreciate finding ways to dwell with the other person and take pride in how we hear the Holy Spirit speak to us and call us onward. It is a blessing certainly that I feel is active at Bethesda. This is part of who we are and who we long to be in Christ Jesus.

But notice what happens when we still our voices, hold the hand of a loved one or friend, and help them to affirm in their own way, "I hurt." It is powerful and it can be transformational. 

I wonder if there is someone in your day who you could be present for in this way? I wonder how their relationship with God could be nurtured if you took Wells and Owens' advice in how to care for them? 


Thursday, August 18, 2022

Wonderings--August 18

I wonder if you would consider your heart with me for a moment. . . 

This morning my devotional app shared a reading from Ezekiel with me. They are words that I am familiar with; words I have heard before. But right in the middle the narrator of this morning's devotions pauses and she asks us to consider our hearts together. 

Ezekiel writes these words: 

"And I will give you a new heart, 
and I will be put a new spirit in you. 
I will take out your stony, 
stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart." (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT).

As I listened to the soft music playing in the background, the narrator invited us to be still before the Lord and consider a stony heart and a tender heart. 

So I want you to consider the stone heart? 

It is heavy. Solid. Un-moldable. I imagine if my heart was stone that it would feel heavy to carry around in my chest; a burden I am forced to lug around and one I cannot be freed from. The edges of the stone are rough, and in their roughness, the stone can slip from my grip or cut the fingers that carry it. I wouldn't like to have a stone heart. 

What does that say spiritually to you about your own heart or the times when your heart has felt like stone? . . . 

Now in contrast I wonder about the tender, responsive, fleshly heart that the Lord promises to give you and me as recorded in Ezekiel? It is living. Easy to carry. Flexible. While stones are not alive, a tender heart is alive and it beats/pumps life from God to us, and by extension to the world. 

It is understandable that our hearts today feel stone-like. The world has bruised and beaten the church's heart under the heavy weight of division and judgment. But today notice your own heart. Notice if it feels hard like a stone or soft and tender like flesh. 

Perhaps you and God could find a way together to move away from practices and choices that harden the heart and back toward health and well-being? 


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Wonderings--August 17

It has taken me a long time to get to this point, but I am happy that I am there. Let me explain. . . 

Over the course of a few months (perhaps years) I have modified my Apple News Feed into a direction that I want--a direction that supports me. Now don't get me wrong, I have not created a silo or an echo chamber that supports and sustains my beliefs only. Instead, through a painstaking process I have accepted, and rejected, certain types of stories from certain writers and companies. 

This has made all the difference. 

Do problems still exist in the world? Yes, or course they do! 

But my choice of how to digest and accept the news has helped me greatly as I seek to be faithful to God. As part of that choice, I regularly read stories and accounts of people helping each other rather than dividing and separating. 

You see I believe, as I read God's word, that the solution to our problems is not a blanket statement or policy. It is not a political agenda or direction or candidate as it is also not a set of harsh judgments or choices that are applied across culture. 

As I read, and I as I think and pray, I join Margaret Wheatley in thinking that we, as the Body of Christ, can be the solution to our problems because we are always better together. 

She writes: 

"People are the solution to the problems that confront us. Technology is not the solution, although it can help. We are the solution--we as generous, open-hearted people who want to use our creativity and caring on behalf of others. . . nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals who can go it alone."

I wonder today how you might be asked by God to help heal and restore the world around you? What would it look like to become the solution for another person rather than be part of the social machine that divides? 


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Wonderings--August 16

I just returned to the office from visiting a sick member of the church. This person's health is not well and I am grateful that this church has spent so much time praying for healing and restoration. This is part of my calling that blesses me. To be able to sit with folks and remind them of how closely God comes to us in all seasons of our lives is a cherished part of my call.  

Sitting back down at my desk I opened the book I am reading. Half way down the page,  was the following statement that spoke to my soul. The words are so simple, so easy, and yet so convicting at the same time--for I know that I do not practice what I read often enough. 

Margaret Wheatley offers us the following words: 

"We promise ourselves everything except each other."

What a profound statement. While visiting the sick member of the church all that I could offer was what I had in that moment. . . Certainly I have theologically-trained knowledge to offer anyone who I encounter--and I know there is a time and place for that. I could offer stories of God's restoration found in the scriptures and testified to in the life of the Body of Christ--that to is appropriate at times. Both are necessary and I have done both before. 

But what was needed most today was just neither. 

Instead 'presence' was needed. Presence was all that mattered as I walked into that room. I walked into the room, held the hand of my church member, and spoke with their family, presence was all that I carried in with me. Now I know someone will say 'well you carried God too'--and they would be right at some level. 

The family today didn't need an advocate or a sounding-board to talk about their suffering. They needed presence. I showed up and that mattered so much to them. I wonder what might happen in your life if, and when, you choose to follow Margaret's advice and 'promise' to offer yourself to another person? I wonder how the encounter might be different? 


Thursday, August 11, 2022

Wonderings--August 11

Do we have to have the answer? I understand that we want to have an answer, we might think that 'answering-finding' is part of our faith practice. But does God require us to have all the answers to the questions that the community is asking? 

I thought about this question as I read the following story from the Desert Fathers:

"Certain of the brethren said to Abba Anthony: We would like you to tell us some words, by which we may be saved. Then the elder said: You have heard the Scriptures, they ought to be enough for you. But they said: We want to hear something also from you Father. 

The elder answered them: You have heard the Lord say: If a man strikes you on the left cheek, show him also the other one. They said to him: This we cannot do. 

He said to them: If you can't turn the other cheek, at least take it patiently on the one of them. They replied: We can't do that either. 

He said: If you cannot even do that, at least do not go striking others more than you would like them to strike you. They said: We cannot do this either. Then the elder said to his disciple: Go cook up some food for these brethren for they are very weak. . . If you cannot even do this, how can I help you?"

If you noticed in the story no concrete answer was offered. Instead Abba Anthony reflected back onto the people a position of presence and relational submission. When they could not practice what Jesus taught them directly, he instructed them to dwell with others and care for them.

Perhaps that is the answer to my first question--the one about needing to have all the answers. I wonder if today what is necessary from God is that you don't offer anything except your presence? I wonder how just showing up today could be the balm another person needs to heal and could help them find the necessary space to grow? 


Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Wonderings--August 10

I wonder, do you feel tranquil today? Peaceful? Is there a sense of a deeper spiritual strength that holds you together? 

While on the surface I suspect that most people would affirm that 'yes' they feel tranquil, peaceful, and strong. But right now, as you read this, as you sit at home, or quietly in a public space, would you agree? Do you feel those emotions right now? 

I suspect that a vast majority of the Christians today do not feel this way. I suspect that we are anxious about much, worried and harried about nearly everything. While on Sunday we confess that we depend and rely upon Christ alone, those words, while easy to confess, and hard to live out. 

So today I offer you the words of Evelyn Underhill. While reflecting on the work of St. John of the Cross she writes these words for every soul that feels itself pressed upon by the local culture: 

"All our action. . . must be peaceful, gentle, and strong. That suggests, doesn't it? an immense depth, and an invulnerable steadiness as the soul's abiding temper; a depth and a steadiness which comes from the fact that our small action is now part of the total action of God, whose Spirit. . . 'works always in tranquility.' Fuss and feverishness, anxiety, intensity, intolerance, instability, pessimism. . . every kind of hurry and worry--these are signs of the self-made and self-acting soul. 

Tranquility, gentleness, and strength, carry us through the changes of weather, the ups and downs of the route, the varied surface of the road; the inequalities of family life, emotional and professional disappointments, the sudden intervention of bad fortune or bad health. This is the imprint of the Spirit on the souls that surrendered to His great action."

God's Spirit is a gift for each of us. It is a gift that helps remind us how the Holy Spirit can be a steading force in our lives. For any Christian who reaches out to God when the hustle and struggle of the day becomes too much will find God offering them something wonderful. 

If you feel that tranquility, peace, and strength are far off, I wonder what might happen as you read Evelyn's words and reach back out to God? 


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Wonderings--August 9

I want to share with you a prayer that I read this morning from theologian Kate Bowler. As she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, Kate confronted two things: her failing body and the God who is always with her. She wrote about her struggles and named how it felt to be weak and worn. I hope that as you read and consider her prayer that you will find places of resonance in it. I hope you will notice where God's voice speaks to you through Kate's struggle. 

She wrote: 

"But God [you know] what it’s like to live in flesh. . . . If God too lived in a body, then God knows the ache of growing pains and the feeling of goosebumps on a brisk day and the comfort of a warm embrace. He felt the gurgle of a hungry stomach and the annoying prick of a splinter after a day of hard work. He wept over the death of a friend. Ours is a God who sneezed and rubbed His eyes when He was sleepy. Ours is a God who knew longing, heartbreak, excitement, frustration—the full range of what it means to be human . . . [and] live in a body.

So when my own body drags me down, when my muscles ache, when my worries keep me up at night, when my fear for the future leaves me motionless, when I feel lonely and exhausted and burdened, I do not worship a God who is far off.

This is a God who knows my humanity inside and out. God has counted every hair on my head (Matthew 10:30) and bottled up every tear I have shed (Psalm 56:8). Not simply because the Word formed us (Genesis 1:27), knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13), was there from the very beginning . . . but because God wore our skin

It can feel like God does not empathize with you; He does not feel as you feel. Your theological mind can confess that God is above the daily struggles of human life--and in part you are correct. But you are also incorrect in that assumption. For God knows, and God feels, exactly how you feel right now. Jesus has been there. 

God knows, and God feels, the pains and anxieties that stalk you and the wounds that still sting you. While temptation exists to believe you walk this path alone God is beside you in this time and space. 

I wonder what this prayer says to you? I wonder what it reminds you of and how it asks you to progress with God at your side? 


Monday, August 8, 2022

Wonderings--August 8

Being part of the Body of Christ means being part of an ever-growing community who share a common mission from God. Regardless of how the Body constitutes itself, or how its culture takes shape, or even how it feels called to respond to the local culture, the church must participate in the on-going work of Christ with the rest of Creation. 

We are not passive; we are not called to sit on the sidelines and comment on the culture of the day from a judgmental position. We live in it the world and as such we have a mission to fulfill. 

As I thought about that mission today and how it can take shape for us, I read something Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote that I want to share with you. She says: 

"Every created thing was fraught with divine possibilities; wasn't that what he [Christ Jesus] was telling them? Every ho-hum detail of their days was a bread crumb leading them into the presence of God, if they would just pick up the trail and follow."

Like I said, we are all part of the Body of Christ and as such we have the chance to find the bread crumbs from Jesus that lead us into a deeper communion and participation in his work. We have the call to join him in speaking God's word. 

But as I re-read Barbara's words and think about them, I find a challenge also present that we cannot ignore. This is a challenge related to time. Will you take the time, practice diligence, and look for this spiritual bread crumbs? There is a lot of distraction in the world around us; a great deal to call us away from God. I wonder how today you might make room to look for God?

Perhaps take some time right now to look at the 'ho-hum' things of the day. They might just be a gift from God? 


Thursday, August 4, 2022

Wonderings--August 4

Last night as Sweet Caroline's was a wonderful time in so many ways. I could spend all day commenting on how the evening was a joy and blessing. 

On a personal note it was a blessing to see Emma playing with The Sounds of Grace. When I was across the room, as far away from her as possible and greeting a group of members, I could hear Emma singing with the band. Her voice was distinguishable from the others and I felt a tinge of pride as her father. This band has been such a blessing to her and one that I cannot express clearly enough. 

As the evening progressed I continually counted members and friends of the church who came to supper and stayed to hear the band. I stopped counting at 50 and I am sure I missed some. It was wonderful to talk with so many people who love God and each other.  

It was amazing that when my knee and feet were sore from walking around and spending a moment with church members, to have them come to me and love upon me. They encouraged me to sit down and then we talked together.  

Of course the food was great and it was good to sit with Jennifer and Emma for a nice dinner and know that we are among friends and extended family. On and on I could go, but today I wan to offer just one conclusion that I think we should meditate upon. . . 

The Body of Christ longs to be together. 

 That's it. Case closed. 

As I watched families greet on another, as they laughed and 'poked' each other in love, I could see genuine care in their actions. Even though I could not hear what they talked about across the room, the feelings of acceptance, friendship, faith, and community spoke for themselves.  By creating a way to gather in a public space, outside of the sanctuary, the church came and they cared for each other. 

So my question is: If the body of Christ wants to be together, then what little thing can you do today that helps foster community and creates a way for you to be with others? 

All we did in preparation for the evening was call the restaurant and ask if we could play some music on a Wednesday night that worked for them. The band practiced and picked their material. We put a few advertisements on Facebook and through email, but really we just asked people to come be together. . . And they came. The church always comes when they can be together. 

Maybe this is choice can be duplicated over and over again both inside, and outside, the church? 


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Wonderings--August 3

Tonight we have a special evening planned. The Sounds of Grace are playing at Sweet Carolines. It will be an evening of food, fellowship, and community building. I am very excited about this and hope to see a great crowd gather in support of The Sounds of Grace.

The entire concept of the evening was a simple idea, and yet in its simplicity a deeper modeled behavior is displayed for our community. As I through about the evening, and how the idea grew, I thought of the words of Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im. 

They wrote: 

"Studies show that the higher the standards of biblical teaching, the longer people remain engaged. Today's seekers are seeking depth. They won't interrupt a fine Sunday morning of sleeping in to attend a church that serves up shallowness, at least not for long."

Like I said, this was a simple idea: let's gather together to eat, and while we eat, we can support a ministry of the church that we believe in. But behind this idea, a deeper biblical truth was living. From my experience a deep biblical truth can live in most of what we do--if we are willing to engage the text consistently. And so this becomes my question for you today? 

If the community at-large responds well to a deeper biblical truth being lived out before them by the church, then what are you doing that helps support God's truth that lives in you? Maybe take some time today and consider this. . . 


Monday, August 1, 2022

Wonderings--August 1

It is a beautiful morning here in York, SC; the type of morning that asks for a walk. And so I was happy to oblige. I put my things down in my office, turned the AC on so that it would be cool when I was done, and left for my walk. 

This morning my prayer app offered me a musical rendition of the prayer of St Teresa. The singer's voice was beautiful and the words of the prayer brought me into God's presence gently. The gentle breeze from the west cooled my face as I walked around the church grounds. 

As I finished my walk the words of St. Teresa's prayer were still fresh in my heart. She said: 

"Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you,
all things will pass away.
God never changes;
patience obtains all things,
whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.

It was that final phrase: "God alone suffices" that lived in my heart as I sat down at my desk and began to think through the week that lies ahead for me. Like you, I will be busy. . . But in hectic and franticness that you and I will face today, I wonder: does your life prove that "God alone suffices?" 


Thursday, July 28, 2022

Wonderings--July 28

Do you listen to each other? 

This question has been on my mind all morning and I worry about how the Christian church might honestly answer it if they were honest. . . 

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote words that convict me every time I think of them. He wrote: 

 "So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to 'offer' something when they are together with people. They forget that listening can be a greater service. . . Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either." 

Culturally those words should ring in your ear. For how many members of the Body of Christ do not practice a posture of listening to each other? They happily listen to people who affirm and support their worldview or their political leanings, but do they truly just listen? It feels like much of the cultural conversation, both inside and outside the church, is based less upon listening to each other and more on bulldozing and obliterating anyone who does not agree with us. 

The danger in this choice is that as we stop listening to one another, we risk no longer hearing God's voice. Slowly we replace the voice of God with a voice that sounds more like our voice and supports our choices and feelings. 

But to address this idea, and to begin getting us back on the correct path of discipleship, I wonder if a short story from here at Bethesda will help? 

A number of faithful members of the church have been working for months on the second floor of the Christian Education building. Furniture has been thrown out or replaced. New, fresh, coats of paint have been applied. Rooms reorganized and cleaned. Furniture purchased. The building is quite old (not as old as the sanctuary which is over 200 years old). So it needs so 'attention' from time to time. 

But as Heidi Neumark reminds us: "With aging churches, the repair work never ends. There is much to dismantle and much to rebuild." 

Over the summer I have watched this work being planned and completed from my office--and there is still one more room that needs some attention. 

This is a slow process of updating the second floor of the Christian Education building. It is a big job that one person cannot complete without totally exhausting themselves. In this way, the work has been a group project and the results are being seen slowly--but consistently. 

We don't re-learn to listen over night. It cannot be even done in one week. But slowly over time, by making some deliberate choices, we can find things around us changing for the better. The second floor of the Christian Education building looks nothing like it did when I first toured it in August of 2021. It has been transformed slowly and consistently and God is with us every step of the way.

I wonder how God might be asking you to grow and listen more attentively to the community around you? Maybe think of the Christian Ed building and practice that same model as you listen again. . . 


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Wonderings--July 27

I read a story that I want to share with you today from the book: Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong to

The story revolves around a garden party that the author's mother planned. Because of the work that would go into the party, the host spent a year preparing and visioning. She dreams of welcoming her friends and family to her back garden where a surprise would await them. When they arrived they would see a host of daffodils blooming all around the yard. She planted these flowers a year before the scheduled party. . . But things didn't go to plan. 

However, the spring leading up to the garden party was unusually cold. The precious daffodils, those who were planted a year ago, were nowhere close to blooming as the days ticked off before the party. 

But when guests arrived, they were surprised to see the back garden filled with beautiful daffodils. The party was a smashing success and the guests would rave about the flowers for a long time. The author continues the story as she lets us in on the secret: 

"My mother went through the yard carefully removing all the cut daffodils she had bought at the florist, that she painstakingly attacked to chopsticks with wire twist ties, that she had then carefully stuck in the ground. . . Those daffodils weren't fake; they were just short-lived and flimsy, with no bulb under the earth to allow them to survive. . ."

I thought about this story and wondered about you and me? 

I wonder how often do you and I encounter folks whose spiritual life is like the daffodils in the garden party? They have no root; no foundation. On the surface everything looks great, colorful, perfectly at peace, but there are no roots. Nothing to hold the individual safe when the challenges of daily life continue to press upon them.

I wonder how you might be called to care for them? Not judge them or criticize them for how they got to this point. But how might you help them find the roots that live in each of us through Jesus Christ? 

Perhaps a little work, done together, done in love, might help that person not wilt under the challenges of their day? 


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Wonderings--July 21

More often then I like to admit I find that my peace is. . . volatile. I do not mean that I am angry or become upset easy, but instead the peace that I feel in my heart, my peace from God, peace that leads me toward my service of God, seems to bubble away so quickly. . .  Quicker than I would like. At that moment I feel the volatility of peace around me. 

And this is just the spiritual side of how I am feeling now. There is much in our social lives that causes my peace to feel rocky and unstable. As covid has come into our home and Emma slowly recovers, I find myself antsy for life to return to 'normal' for her and for us. This says nothing about inflation, gas prices, social violence, and political dissent. 

Finding peace can be hard in these moments. . . 

In response to this idea I thought of the words of Hadewijch of Antwerp as I read from the Old Testament. She spent her life in a state of poverty and contemplation considering how God's peace, and our call to serve the Lord, intersect. 

She wrote these words for us: 

"Be on your guard, therefore, and let nothing disturb your peace. Do good under all circumstances, but with no care for any profit, or any blessedness, or any damnation, or any salvation, or any martyrdom; but all you do or omit should be for the honor of Love. If you behave like this, you will soon rise up again. . . Be good toward those who have need of you, devoted toward the sick, generous with the poor, and recollected in spirit beyond the reach of all creatures. 

And even if you do the best you can in all things, your human nature must often fall short; so entrust yourself to God's goodness, for his goodness is greater than your failures."

It can be easy to loose your peace these days. I find it happening more often then I would like to admit to myself. But if we follow Hadewijch's words then we can find ourselves relying on God in these moments to smooth out the rough edges of life and calling us toward faithfulness once again. We can rediscover our peace. 

I wonder if you have found yourself feeling as I do--your peace being shaken? If so, I wonder what response or words you might offer to God? Perhaps the two of you could find a way to recenter and care for your community. . . 


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...