Thursday, March 31, 2022

Wonderings--March 31

Most days this blog serves a few purposes. . . I hope that it is a tool to help you reflect and recalibrate your day with Christ. As I encounter and share each author's wisdom, I wonder where in your life their words find resonance and meaning. But this blog also serves to share how I am learning from God and what I wonder about as a continue to "work out my salvation with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12).

Today I think I have encountered and engaged all three purposes. . . 

Yesterday I met with my surgeon for my 6-week checkup. X-rays were taken and pain levels measured. I spoke with him about my recovery and he was 'impressed' (his words) with how well I am doing. More PT was ordered. We talked about my prognosis and how I will continue the recovery process from this point onward. Then I asked one final question: what about all the medication I am taking, do I need it? 

He told me that I didn't need it anymore--unless I thought that I did need it. Going through each medication Dr. Weiss explained the purpose of them and told me how to scale them back and which order to follow if the pain returned. 

So, as he suggested, I took my final aspirin and did not take either of the two other medications for pain. Off to sleep I drifted knowing that I was doing great! . . . Well, great until 1am. 

At 1am I awoke in searing pain. I could not move my right leg without great effort. I struggled to roll over and remain silent because I didn't want to wake Jennifer. I tossed and I turned trying to find a way to get a release from the pain. It hurt so much. I even wondered if I needed to go down the hall and get an extra pillow to place between my knees as I did weeks ago but didn't know if I could make it. 

By 3am, I was only dozing off and still in great pain and depressed. Slowly rising onto my left I fumbled for my first pain medication. This first medication is designed for arthritic pain. I gulped it down and tried to sleep. It helped some but not enough. 

As my 6am alarm went off I grabbed the second medication--the one for nerve pain--and downed it fast. 

Right now my pain is managed, but the effect on my day is noticeable. I am sore and I worn out, and here is where this reflection becomes personal for you, I wonder how you handle those sore and worn down times in your day? 

I tried all the normal fixes. Caffeine to fight off fatigue. Breakfast to soothe the savage beast. Some of my best Twinnings tea to relax my soul. Reading one of my favorite books to engage my mind. But notice what is missing. . . 

Understanding how much I am struggling today I took my devotional Bible and sat back in my Ikea chair and rocked for five minutes as I moaned silently in my heart. Slowly opening my tired eyes and soul, I opened God's word and found myself in 1 & 2 Timothy. These are some of Paul's final words to Timothy and the church. They are gloriously emotional and raw. Page after page I read them--slowly--as I listened to the Apostle's expression of faith and hope.  

Breathing in Paul's words of fatigue at the end of his service to the church, I sat my dimly lit office and I listened to the rain. Then I read them again. . . 

When we are worn out, and regardless of the reason for that fatigue, I wonder if we use God's word not just as a teaching tool but as a balm to comfort our souls? Think about that for a moment. God's words as a balm to touch your soul and comfort it? We all know that the Bible is God's perfect words for us as His children. We know that the Word teaches us; it inspires us, and calls us onward. But today I encountered it differently. . . and it helped.

Paul says: "I have run my race." and "The saying sure and worthy." These are words of hope and can be words of healing. I found Paul energizing my tired mind. Now as I finish writing these words, my mind goes back to you, perhaps today you need to heal, to feel that balm placed on your heart and soul that only God can place. Maybe spend a little extra time with God and see how you feel afterwards...

Rev. Derek 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Wonderings--March 30

Finishing my morning devotional reading from Matthew, I slid my Bible across the desk and read a chapter from a book I working through. This book is an easy read and I come back to it often. The book contains a number of essays and stories from a doctor who spent her career caring for all types of people. 

At the end of the first story was the following sentence: "Our expectations may actually blind us.

Stop and think about that for a moment. . . As I sat at my desk, I nodded slightly as I thought about her words. Let me share some of my morning with you: 

Today at 3pm I will meet with my knee surgeon. This appointment is the 6-week checkup that I have been looking forward to. All of my work, my struggle, my exercises and therapy built to this appointment (and I am not being melodramatic). So knowing this, I decided to press a little bit. . . 

Having placed my backpack and coffee down in my office I took a deep breath and left the office. I walked past the church and down the driveway toward the cemetery. Slowly I took each step and watched to insure that I was properly bending and flexing my new knee. Reaching the street I turned around and walked slowly back to the church. 

I looked down at my Apple Watch to note my per-mile rate and sat down. . . I was slow. Very slow. Before surgery my mile pace was close to 17 minutes. I hobbled and walked to the best of my ability. Now after surgery my pace is much slower: 24 minutes. 

Sitting down I shrugged. While I expected to walk further, and wanted to walk further, that extra little bit was enough. 

We always expect to do as Christians. We expect better stewardship, better evangelism, better . . . better. But I wonder if what you do, and how you serve, and how you encounter God, could that be enough??? 

I am sitting here having walked a slight bit more than normal, at a slower pace, and yet I feel God. I am proud and happy. God only expects us to do what we can. . . He will do the rest. 

Rev. Derek 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Wonderings--March 28

As I picked up my black coffee cup from the counter today, I made a startling discovery. . . There are grounds in the cup! 

For anyone who drinks coffee this problem can surface regardless of how you choose to brew your coffee. No matter how it happens, it is still annoying. Sometimes the filter tips over in the basket and thereby fills the pot with those little black particles of annoyance. 

If you use a single cup brewer you could still have the filter fail and grounds trickle into the cup. Even those who use a French press are not immune to the struggle. Even though th wire screen is designed to stop grounds from escaping it is not a perfect solution. 

I suppose that the only perfect way to insure that grounds never enter the delicious black liquid is to brew your coffee as it first was done in the 15th century. At that time water was heated to a boil in a large pot and then the whole beans were dropped into the water and the brewing occurred. . . (Wow a lot of coffee talk on a Monday morning. I suppose tells you how well is slept last night). 

So back to this morning and my struggle. . . As I take the cup from the brewer I see those little black pests resting on top of a cloud of coffee cream. Now I am presented with a choice: 

Do I pour the coffee out and start again? That would take more time and I have things to do this morning. 

Do I attempt to filter the coffee into a second cup? This one seems problematic. When I do this I am likely to pour coffee all over the counter (perhaps I know this to be true because I have tried it before. . . perhaps not, you decide).

Do it pitch the coffee and stomp off to the church without my morning companion? Absolutely not, right. 

Or, do I just work around the grounds because I have filled my morning to such a degree that I cannot find room or time to re-brew a fresh cup of coffee. Those 2 minutes are inaccessible to me because of the pace of my life. . . 

Perhaps you see my point today. 

I wonder if you are living as I am today? I wonder if the pacing of your day is such that when a little bump occurs in your day you are unable to correct the course because there simply isn't time or you don't have the mental bandwidth to address this? I wonder if you are so stretched and pulled that it seems you are being asked to climb a great mountain? 

Maybe for today you could just pour that symbolic cup out, take a deep breath, and see what lesson God might be attempting to teach you. 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Wonderings--March 24

After finishing my. morning time in God's word, I sat down in my favorite 'reading' chair and grabbed my book. Besides the few book that I am reading about psychology and the sleep, I have been working my way through a collection of writing from Thomas Merton. 

I enjoy reading Merton often. I find his words clear to my ear and yet challenging to my soul. Today's passage found me reading about the idea of contemplation and how we communicate with God. As I read his words, the words that I going to offer now, I paused. . .

Merton said: 

"The ever-changing reality in the midst of which we life, should awaken us to the possibility of an uninterrupted dialogue with God. By this I do not mean continuous 'talk,' or a frivolously conversational form of affective prayer which is sometimes cultivated in converts, but a dialogue of love and of choice. A dialogue of deep wills."

As Christians we have some familiarity with Paul's words to pray with out ceasing (I These. 5-17). We also know that the Sprit prays for us perpetually before God and that Jesus prayed for us to commune with God always in John 17. 

Perhaps you have heard of people like Brothers Lawrence whose book "Practicing the Presence of God" speaks to the church about talking with God always throughout the day. But do you actively practice, or at the very least try to practice, Merton's "dialogue of love and of choice" but welcoming God into your every-moment practices of life? 

I understand personally how hard this can be. As someone whose mind runs a million-miles-per-hour being still before God so that we can talk is hard. I find myself moving back and forth across books and topics one after another. 

Yet, like you, I wonder if we can find a way in our lives to speak to God uninterruptedly? What would that look like and how might you practice it? I wonder if it would be the help you might need today as you continue to strive for faithfulness in your day? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Wonderings--March 23

On a cool rainy morning I wonder if you deny that which is there to help? 

For the last two weeks since my full knee replacement I have tried to sleep in bed at night. As with my time sleeping in my recliner in the den, I cannot sleep through the night and so I am often tired. I wake two or three times per night with an aching in my knee. Sometime the pain tracks along the inside of my knee; other times the pain is only on the outside. Truthfully I cannot find a reason or cause for this pain besides that I had a joint replacement and my body is working to accept the assistance--and I know that it will take some to heal. 

Two or three times a night, I roll over quickly and grab my knee. 

Rubbing my knee until I feel some heat building, I turn, twist, or move to find a place to 'escape' the discomfort and try to sleep again. Early on I would reach for pain medication. . . Now I only need Advil. Yet still I wake routinely at night and clutch my new knee. . . Some nights, when my frustration is high, I even wonder if I will ever sleep through the night again! (Don't worry I will and I know that this is temporary).

But let's go back to my question. . . Do you deny or spurn that which is there to help? 

My doctors, and my physical therapist, have both offered me a solution to help me sleep: a pillow. They tell me to put in under my knee from thigh to heel so the knee locks out. Or, my care team tells me that I can also put the pillow between my knees and lay only on my left side--the non-surgical side. 

But being unbalanced in bed (not laying level) means that I am still waking often. So, I discarded the pillow a few days ago and attempted to find a remedy on my own. It didn't work. When I don't have my pillow I still wake up, but now there is a consequence of not listening to my doctors. I hurt. 

While before I woke and was uncomfortable, now when I deny the pillow, I wake up in pain. Great pain. So, then I have to walk/hobble down the hall to the guest room and retrieve the pillow. 

Placing it back where it belongs I try again to rest. . . and it helps. 

I still wake up throughout the night (probably because the pillow falls off the bed), but I sleep better. I rest more evenly.

There are things in our lives that God puts there to help us in our spiritual walks. God gives us our own 'pillows' to help us through the pains of our days that keep us up at night and keep us suffering in spiritual pain. His word. Prayer. Spiritual listening. A church community. A loving family. . . These are just some of the ways that God offers us support when we hurt. 

The question is will we accept what is offered to us, or will we deny what is there to help? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Wonderings--March 22

Following my morning scripture reading from Matthew, I picked up a book that I have been reading and read the next chapter. It was a short chapter and easy to read but the 'call' of the chapter is still with me as I think about Jesus' words in the Matthew. 

Let me paraphrase the story briefly that I read from Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal

The main character in our story, Jessie, suffered from a temporary obstruction in her bowel. This produced in her tremendous pain, severe pain, that lasted for a day. As the pain began to spike in Jessie, she realized that something was wrong, so she packed a bag and headed toward the hospital. This seems like a sensible choice, one that you and I might make also. 

The author of this book asked Jessie how she managed to drive because the pain was so severe, so debilitating? 

The response was shocking. . . Jessie would pull over when the pain was too great and wait for it to pass. A time or two she vomited because of this pain. Yet she still drove herself, alone, for the 25 miles that it took to get to the hospital. 

The author asks Jessie, "Why didn't you call a friend to take you to the hospital?"

"It was the middle of the day," Jessie said, "They are all at work. Besides, none of my friends know a thing about intestinal obstructions." 

Our author pressed onward: "Then why not call me! I am a doctor." 

"Well, it's really not your field either," Jessis said matter of factly. 

"Jessie," the author says, "even children instinctively run to others when the fall down." 

With a great deal of heat in her face Jessie said, "Yes, I've never understood that. It's so silly. Kissing the boo-boo doest help the pain at all." Our story comes to its high point in the author's final words: 

"It doesn't help the pain, it helps the loneliness."

As I have said many times, pain comes in all shapes, sizes, and degrees. It sneaks upon us and has an ability to isolate us from one another. We can feel like we are the only ones who feel the way that we do in that moment. . . How many times have you heard, or said, "No one understands how bad this is."

But sharing what we struggle with, sharing how it feels to us, can help us to be unified one to another. This  sharing can also help us in our relationship with God. We know that he (Jesus) shared all of our experiences and emotions. We know that he empathizes with us in this. 

So I wonder today if there is a way, or a moment, that you can share with another person? Perhaps that sharing will be more impactful than you first realized? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, March 21, 2022

Wonderings--March 21

Last evening as I arrived home, I was greeted with a curiously by Emma. . . 

Our Session meeting went well and I was ready to enjoy a late dinner. The dogs greeted me at the door and everything seemed as it should. Well, almost everything. I smelled cleaners in the air. Their scent was thick and I worried that something bad had happened that required extra cleaning. 

Jennifer assured me that Emma had just finished cleaning her bathroom and that was why it smelled so strongly in the den. Then Emma came in. "So," she began, "I've got a little problem." 

I rubbed my forehead and smiled as I thought, "O Lord, now what."

"I broke the bathroom." 

"You broke the bathroom," I respond curiously. 


I sighed, "let me put my stuff down and show me what happened." As we walked down the hall she said, "Remember I am your favorite child." 

Turning to look at her, I could not find any words besides again, "O, Lord" as I shook my head a little while smirking. 

Without going into great detail, because I don't totally understand plumbing, Emma's tub had a nice trickle of water coming from the spigot and the nob that she turned so that water will flow out. Something was broken and I couldn't stop the water from coming out. I asked how she did it, and as expected, she had no idea. (Why do teenagers never understand what they've done when something is broken?)

Fast forward to this morning. . . Darius is at my door at 8am to fix the tub--which he did. But that is not what I wonder about today. 

Instead I wonder about trust and about peace and how you choose to adopt them in your life. I wonder how you practice trust and peace when life 'breaks' and water is coming out of places its not supposed to and the temptation is to become quite upset?

As Darius and the guys worked to fix the water, Luna (our German Shepherd) and Bianca (our Shih Tzu) barked constantly at them. Anxious barks. . . Questioning barks. . .  Barks that said, 'get out of my house.. . . ' And barks of ''come play with me.' 

That is one response to the challenges that life brings to us. "Bark" and attempt to assert your control or influence over the situation; work to dominate.  

But there is another choice. . . Nala's choice (Emma new Springer Doodle). 

I lifted her onto the bed as the guys walked down the hall toward Emma's bathroom. She walked slowly towards her pillow and laid down. For the entire 30 minutes while they were in our house, Nala barely raised her head. In fact, one of the guys thought that she was a stuffed animal because she was so still. Yet she knew they were in her room and didn't respond. 

From my perspective Nala was displaying trust and peace in me. . . I had reassured her that everything was okay as they came into the house. Myself, I was not upset or anxious, and so, Nala was not anxious or upset as she walked toward her pillow while Luna and Bianca constantly barked . 

After the plumbers left, I opened the door to our bedroom, Luna and Bianca were out of breath as they came into the hallway. Breathing hard they went for a drink and emptied the water bowl totally. While Nala just rested in bed the whole time. They were exhausted from the ordeal. . . Nala was still and at peace.

Two choices. Two different ways to address stress and anxiety as it surfaces in your life. Trust or control? 

I wonder which one you'd choose today when the option is presented to you? 

Rev. Derek 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Wonderings--March 17

Happy Saint Patrick's Day. . . Oh, and as I sit at my desk I am not wearing green. I forgot, and as I think about it, I don't think I have a green shirt.  

But what I am is worn out. Let me explain: 

Yesterday during an afternoon meeting my iPhone began to vibrate on the desk next to me. Not recognizing the number, I sent the call to voicemail immediately (truth be told, since I was with people, I wouldn't have answered anyway). As I finished the meeting and prepared to head home, I checked my voicemail to see if the call was important or if my extended warranty ran out again. 

Emily, from my Physical Therapy office, called wanting to move my appointment up a day. She wanted me to come on consecutive days to rehab because of a scheduling conflict.

Doing PT on consecutive days didn't bother me in principle. . . well it sorta didn't bother me. 

I asked if my therapist was okay with this switch. I was told that she was, so the appointment was changed. This change would also give me more time with JonMark before he heads home early Saturday morning. (Perhaps Southwest will cancel all flights to Pittsburgh from now on and he will have to stay, but I doubt that sadly).

So shortly before 8:30 I walked into the PT gym and began to stretch, to lift, and to improve my range of motion while grunting a little. This was hard work. . . It was hard because I am still healing from the full knee replacement that brought me to PT. It was hard because I just did most of these exercises less that 16 hours ago. But it was also hard because I sneak an extra rep or two into every exercise. Nothing excessive, I just want to do well. 

Now as the afternoon is upon me. I am sore. Happy, but sore. My mind is sharp but the aching in my knee is asking me to wonder if I need to grab a pair of Advil. 

Yet like you might do, I press on because that is what I have been taught to do. Press on toward the goal, right? Isn't that what Paul tells us! Do not give up. Keep at it. But I wonder if life is offering me the chance today to do something different? 

I wonder if life is standing before me and saying with a smile, today I want you to rest. Today I am giving you the gift of some much needed peace and stillness. Will you take it, Derek? Would you take it, reader? Katherine May, whose book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, continues to speak to my heart months after I finished it, this book sits on my shelf and quietly asks if I, or you, might find the gift of rest being offered by life? And wonder: Will we accept it? 

I am not wondering with you about being lazy. . . instead could life be offering you a chance to enter a liminal space and dwell there for a moment or two? I wonder if that is a gift from God today that is meant to help? 

Rev. Derek

Now I am going home to rest. . . 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Wonderings--March 16

Honestly, I have tried to write this post for several hours now. Up until now my soul has been busy in prayer and reflection--that's a fancy way to say I've got a busy mind today. 

It all started around 9 when my therapist called me back for my next round of physical therapy. I was anxious and yet excited for the work. At home I've been working quite hard to strengthen my leg and improve my range of motion. Little did I know how Janie would attack me today. . . 

We did not begin with normal stretches or warm-up activities. Instead, as she watched me walk the decision was made to begin on the stationary bike. I was told to ride for 10 minutes as she cranked up the intensity from 0 to 2. Normally this would not be an issue, but today it was. 

For a distraction I opened my iPhone and continued reading my newest book: The Cloud of Unknowing. This text is one of the oldest Christian texts outside of the Bible that exist. The author has remained unknown to history but their words are important. So as I read the next section, while listening to the rain,  I felt God speaking to my heart. 

I offer you these same words now that blessed my soul (please forgive the outdated language): 

"But one thing I tell thee. He is a jealous lover and suffereth no fellowship, and Him list not work in thy will but if He be only with thee by Himself. He asketh none help, but only thyself. He wills, thou do but look on Him and let Him alone. And keep thou the windows and the door, for flies and enemies assailing. And if thou be willing to do this, thee needeth but meekly press upon him with prayer, and soon will He help thee. Press on then, let see how thou bearest thee. He is full ready, and doth but abideth thee."

Throughout my entire day those words have been with me. They are an affirmation of how God comes close and what a relationship with God looks like. Truly we are pressed upon from all sides by our common adversary. But we must never forget that he is ready to abide with us. 

On busy days. . . God is ready.

When we feel bruised and hampered by life. . . God is ready. 

When we find our faith lacking. . . God is ready. 

I wonder today if these words from a long-ago written text will warm your heart as they did mine? I wonder if God will show you someone how you can dwell with and listen to--for God is ready to be with both of you. 


Rev. Derek 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Wonderings--March 15

I wonder how you handle it when life gives you the chance for a reboot--to put aside what you elevate and dwell with God? Do you embrace it or do you push it away? I wonder if that opportunity could help you as you live faithfully? 

Yesterday JonMark surprised us with a visit. He is here for a week as it is his spring break at Slippery Rock University. He has worked very hard this semester and has earned (in my view) some time to rest and enjoy his dog Luna. But his arrival forced me to reboot my day and plans.

Shortly after 9:30am his flight arrived in Charlotte. I circled the airport waiting for him to come down. Knowing it could take some time I had little expectation as to how long it could be. After my 6th time around the arrival area, I began to worry. Where was he?  

I called him. . . no answer. 

I texted him. . . silence. 

Did he make the flight? Where was he? During that lap around the airport, he finally called me. "I'm here," he said, "but there might be a problem." It turned out that his luggage did not arrive with him. It was delayed a whole day. He wasn't upset by this. On my lunch today he and I are going out to get his bag. 

But without his suitcase JonMark didn't have anything to wear besides the clothes on his back. That outfit, which was arranged because of snow and sleet in Pittsburgh, was unnecessary here in the warmth of South Carolina. We needed to stop and purchase some provisions for the day while we wait for his luggage to come to us. 

Following that trip my son, who missed us terribly, asked, "can I stop and surprise mom on lunch?" Of course, right! Jennifer cried when she saw him. Her heart was blessed and warmed by hugging her son whom she had not seen since December and they stood there in the parking lot for a long minute. 

No sooner did I get him home, then I had to leave for some physical therapy. 

That was how the rest of my day went. . . one appointment after another until dinner time. The entire schedule that I created, with many things that I needed to do, was a left aside. I had to reboot, and reorganize, my day. 

Now at first this was a bit annoying. Remember I did have a schedule to keep, but then I began to wonder if this reboot and reorganization was a blessing from God that could serve me? Perhaps God was telling me that I needed some time to 'be still' and rest with Him? Perhaps it was time to attend to the things that mattered the most--family, faith, and rest as a community? 

Maybe you have been in that place as well recently? Busy and frustrated because you are not accomplishing as much as you'd like. If so, perhaps remember my day and remember my first question? How do you handle a reboot from God? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Wonderings--March 10

I wonder if today you have time for awe? 

As I write this I am a bit agitated and anxious about how my day is going to take shape. 

At the top of the hour my full day's activities will begin. I have an introductory meeting at 10am in York with a group of ministers. Then I have my next round of physical therapy 90 minutes later in Rock Hill. I have been invited to second introductory meeting at 12:30. Then I have a scheduled call to make after 2. I am awaiting a pair of calls to be returned at some point today. Neither of these calls are terrible urgent but both will require time and energy to complete. 

And if that isn't enough, today it's raining. So I must walk slower and more carefully under my newly-replaced knee. 

Yet, as I look at my day's schedule, and perhaps you are like me, I can't find where I have left some time for the experience of 'awe.' This bothers me and I also wonder if it bothers you? 

Author Brene Brown writes these words for use about Awe. She says:

"Researchers have found that awe 'leads people to cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice for others" and causes them "to fully appreciate the value of others and see themselves more accurately, evoking humanity." Some researchers even believe that "awe-induced events may be one of the fastest and most powerful methods of personal change and growth."" 

There is a lot in these words to consider. . .But for today, I am stuck again noticing that I have not marked out time to be in awe and I am disappointed in this fact.

There are countless ways to live into and experience awe. From a time in prayer where God speaks to us, to when the Bible comes alive, to when we serve another person or group and find ourselves changed, awe can happen anywhere and any moment. But we have to be willing to make the time and create the space for awe. 

Going back to my full day, I am still agitated because I don't know how I am going to experience awe today and I feel that my soul needs it. Perhaps yours does as well. Try looking in an unexpected place, try being present with God for a small moment or amount of time. 

If we make the space, if we carve it out, I believe that God will show up. 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Wonderings--March 9

I wonder if you have ever felt God absent? 

I wonder if you can identify a moment or season in your life when the circumstances of the time were mixed, laced, with so much pain and suffering that any sense of God being close or present seemed an impossibility? 

I do not know a single person who has not experienced the Dark Night of the Soul, as John of the Cross labels it. They, we have all felt God absent and yet although this is a shared, common, experience, we deceive ourselves that we are alone in it and that God is far off. 

You see I believe that this feeling of absence is normal. I believe that it shows us that we might just be growing spiritually in a positive direction. Now I know that this conclusion might seem counter to what we have been taught in the church previously. Let me explain by using an image that I read from Phileena Heuertz. In her book, Mindful Silence: The Heart of Christian Contemplation, she writes: 

"Surprising to some, darkness is a central part of a faithful life. But before darkness sets in, generally we have learned from experience that God can be trusted, at least to some degree. Deepening trust allows us to give God more access to our life and being. Then the love of God burns stronger and brighter [in us].

The love of God is intense and radiant when it burns. Like a camping log, God alights us with flames. Then, at some point in the journey, God's consuming love obscures that which it's burning. And so, often times when God is at work in our life, we are overcome with the sense of darkness. Just as the log is consumed and reduced to ashes, we are overcome."

Hear those words again: "we are overcome with the sense of darkness." It is a sense that God is far off or that God is not listening to our prayers or attending to our needs. But this is not true at all. 

Our Loving God is always close at hand. He is consuming all that we are and refining us into a people who can share the burning presence of God in their community. And so I wonder today again, have you ever felt God absent? 

If so, perhaps He closer than you realized. . . Maybe that might be the good news that someone you know needs to hear today? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Wonderings--March 8

Besides being my sister Meleny and my Uncle Allan's birthday, March 8th is significant this year for a personal reason. After having my right knee replaced on Valentine's Day, March 8th was the first night that I slept without any pain medication in my system to help me. My only accompaniment for sleep was a pair of greenish-blue Advil. 

Now for some background to why this is significant. . . Because of the pain associated with the recovery, I have only been able to sleep in my bed for about a week now. I never sleep through the night now. Normally, (and I am not kidding) I wake around 11pm, 2am, 3am, 5am and then when the alarm goes off. (Now don't feel sorry for me, I can take a nap later if I need it). 

At each interval of the night, I have a few options to work with. I use some or all of these 4: 

I massage the inside of my knee for a minute.
I go 'strap on' my ice machine and let it work. 
I go for a short walk around the house to help move the joint a bit. 
Or I reposition the pillow that I need under my knee and try and endure. 

Regardless of which I select, I try to be silent as I do this, because even though it hurts, I don't want to wake Jennifer. 

But last night, I took no medication for pain. Sure I still work at midnight and 3am. But my healing is progressing. . . Last night, as Jennifer read her book, I pulled my blanket up to my nose. I took a deep breath and tried to let my knee 'settle' into a locked-position. I could feel gentle little pops and stings as the joint sank into the pillow that helps ease the pain. Then I thought about the words of Richard Foster who has helped me often in times like this. 

In his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, he wrote: 

"Simple Prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father. There is no pretense in Simple Prayer. We do not pretend to be more holy, more pure, or more saintly than we actually are."

Foster continues throughout the rest of the chapter to help his readers to understand that prayer to God need only be as honest as the breath that we take each day, each moment. Flowery words and ornate phrasing is unnecessary, and perhaps cumbersome. When we need to fall into God's loving embrace in prayer, openness and simplicity are needed. 

So back to last night. . . As I felt my knee sink into the pillow and the pain begin to increase slowly, I closed my eyes and thought, "Lord, I want to sleep now. But if I can't do that, then let's talk."

I still woke up at 2am in some discomfort. I rubbed my sore knee and went for a short walk to get some water. Neither dog stirred and Jennifer slept. Sitting her now, I again return to Simple Prayer and say, "Thanks for that."

I wonder if today you might find some time for your own Simple Prayer? Nothing ornate. Nothing dramatic. Just a moment of honesty between you and God. . . Notice how it feels and what happens.

Rev. Derek 

Monday, March 7, 2022

Wonderings--March 7

I have spent some time this morning thinking about the effect of Jesus' teaching on our lives. 

To me spending some time considering the radically of call of the twelve disciples is an important exercise to engage in. For there was a cost to be paid in following Jesus. While the Messiah had yet to fully unpack and present the Good News that He was sent to teach and share, something was at work in each of the 12 that helped them realize the power of the choice they were making. The very nature, mission, and message of Jesus would call much of what they believed into conflict. 

These were fishermen and tax collectors. They were regular people with regular jobs and regular understanding of life and faith in Yahweh. They were as unremarkable as anyone that we know and interact with now. But when they met Jesus, and heard His teaching it called out a response. . . a response that might come as a surprise to us. 

Father Richard Rohr says it this way: 

"It’s hard and very rare to call your own job into question. When Jesus called his disciples, he also called them away from their jobs, and their families too (see Matthew 4:22). Of course, jobs and families are not bad things. But Jesus called them to leave their nets, because as long as anyone is tied to job security, there are a lot of things they cannot see and cannot say."

If we choose to follow Jesus' teaching we will find that a lot of things that we value are called into question as well. Or as I read this week in a different book: 

"I have trusted your (God's) teaching all these years. Now I have to trust where it has led me."

In Lent, Christ may not call us to leave behind everything and follow him, but we should take some time, and we must take some, to consider what the teachings of Christ mean for our lives. What things does Jesus ask us to leave behind? We have trusted in the power of the gospel, I wonder if we can notice where that choice takes us and what it calls us to do? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Wonderings--March 3

What a blessed evening we just celebrated together. Ash Wednesday was a powerful evening at Bethesda. We felt God's presence and movement in the church as we gathered for our regular Wednesday supper followed by worship. With 50 friends and families in worship, we: 

"Remembered we are dust
And to the dust we shall return."

It was a powerful night of prayer and silence and reflection. As I gingerly stood to administer the ashes in silence, my heart was warmed by the love of God that I could see in so many faces and eyes. Returning home I settled into my chair and began to read my newest book, Holy Envy, while I iced my knee.

The story of the book follows a group of college students who together signed up for Religion 101 from a famous author who teaches at a small college in Georgia. As part of the class the students visit a number of religious houses of worship. A Buddhist temple, a mosque, a Jewish synagogue, a Hindu temple, and of course a Christian church. 

By the end of visits the professor, herself an Evangelical Christian, is surprised to see how some of the students are responding to site visits. One student chooses to get a tattoo on his foreman of the ying-yang symbol and he asked where the nearest Taoist worship space was. 

Another young lady begins the long and challenging process of converting to Judaism. 

Another young man started wearing jewelry that indicates Buddhist leanings in his heart. 

Each of these students reactions, while not totally unanticipated based on a pre-class survey that was taken, surprises the professor for a reason you may not expect. 

It seems that for the searching college-age person a physical declaration is necessary when professing their new-found faith--or at the very least acknowledging that they are starting a faith journey. This was surprising because as our author notes, this type of choice or behavior does not often occur in the Christians that she sees falling in love with Jesus Christ. 

And I wondered why is that? 

Why do we see many other people outwardly display evidence of a faith that is not based on Christ Jesus but we in the church do not share that outward-facing posture? Why are we quick to proclaim our faith in worship, but outside of the worship space that passion dies?

As we are not fully into the Lenten season, I wonder what this account says to you? What choices does it ask you to make and how does it challenge you faith practices out in public? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Wonderings--March 2

I hope that as Ash Wednesday has come that you will find some time to worship God, time to reflect on His choice, and find a moment to consider the cause of Jesus' choice to become Incarnate for us. Only a love that we cannot fully comprehend could make this choice. Only a love that is from God would send Jesus to die for us so that we might be reunified to God in heaven. 

Finishing the last gulp of coffee this morning, I began to listen to an interview with two musicians whose work I appreciate: Korey Cooper of Skillet and Lacey Sturm formerly of Flyleaf. These two women were guests on an interview show that talked about their faith and their journey to serve God musically. 

About mid-way into the interview both Korey and Lacey talked about the convergence point between wishing they were at home taking care of their kids and yet feeling grateful for the blessing of God sing and play music professionally. 

They love music and they love the Lord, but in the very next statement both women agreed that their musical careers could go away and that would be okay. If those careers, and the trappings that come with it went away, because of their love for Jesus they would still find fulfillment in Christ. He is the all in all.  

I have been pondering that idea all morning. . . As I walked into the office today I wondered: Are we fulfilled in all that we do because we do it with God? 

When reflecting on this idea James Finley says this: 

"In our zeal to become the landlords of our own being, we cling to each achievement as a kind of verification of our self-proclaimed reality. We become the center and God somehow recedes to an invisible fringe. Others become real to the extent they become significant others to the designs of our own ego. And in this process the ALL of God dies in us and the sterile nothingness of our desires becomes our God. . . ."

As I think about James' words, I believe they reinforce the them that Korey and Lacey spoke about: fulfillment and union with God. This must be the center of our lives and it if we are going to live faithfully in this world.

My devotions today took me to the Book of Ecclesiastes. The book, attributed to King David, begins with the King of Israel condemning everything in this life, all the things that he accumulated, sought, and gained, as meaningless. The first two chapters of the book lay out in great detail how David has introspectively considered all of the trappings of the world and found them to be inadequate. Or as he says at the end of chapter 2: 

"This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." (NIV)

Where do we find our fulfillment today? In relationships? At work? In recreation? Somewhere else? I hope today, as you make space for Ash Wednesday, you will notice and remember David's words about what is meaningless in this world and hold that idea up to James' words: "All of God dies in us."

We want the Lord; we affirm Him. I wonder if what it looks like to find fulfillment in Him? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Wonderings--March 1

Several days ago as I continue to recover from my knee replacement I stared some thoughts on Facebook about praying. At that time the Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent; a reality poised to take shape. In the dark of our living room I sat each night trying to find the words that could erase the stain of war that was coming from us. 

Today, like you, I still search for the words. . . I search for understanding. We know that God does not call out war. We know that he takes no pleasure in the suffering of anyone, and yet, because of choice, these things happen. And we try and find God at work in these moments of suffering.  

As I thought about how I would pray I found the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While living in a Nazi concentration camp, he wrote these words in 1943 that can be helpful for us. 

Morning Prayer

O God, early in the morning I cry to you. 
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone. 

In me there is darkness, 
But with you there is light; 
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace. 
in me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience; 
I do not understand your ways, 
But you know the way for me.

I like this prayer a great deal because of its honesty. Most of us aren't that honest when we pray. I am feeble. . . I am restless. . . I do not understand your ways

Even someone as notorious for his faith, and trust in God, finds himself wondering and questioning at times. This gives me hope. For as I see war, and the effects of war happening before my eyes, I am reminded that God has a way for me in this world. In God, when any event in my life tries to take my eyes off Jesus and his presence in me, I fall back on these word and I gain stability and I gain hope.  

In him there is patience, love, and understanding because in him there is union. I wonder today if this prayer might be echoed in your life? For I suspect that you have been in those places where prayerful words don't come smooth enough or clearly enough. If so, use this prayer. Make it your own and notice how God comes near. . . 

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...