Thursday, September 29, 2022
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
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
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
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.
"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 aging, I 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
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 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 : “Chicago Night Pastor Believes God Doesn’t Go to Bed at 10.” The : “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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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...
I just had the most wonderful experience that I want to share with you. And as I share my story, I wonder if you can find your own way to sh...
As Vacation Bible School wraps us for another year, I find myself feeling blessed. . . and a bit tired. It has been a great week. I have wa...
I just returned to the office from visiting with some members of the church in the hospital. Their health is compromised, and as I leave the...