Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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, lungs, BP, etc. all were good. I enjoy seeing my doctor; he is a good friend to boot! As the appointment ended I was sent to the lab for my yearly blood work--this too was expected just ask my grumbling stomach (I was fasting and had not eaten yet). 

The young lady working the desk called me up to give blood. I went into the room and the normal small talk began. But then God walked into the room, sat down. . . 

The young lady asked me, "What do you do for a living?"

"I am a preacher." I replied. Pausing I asked: "How can I help?" Her eyes widened. 

Then she told me her story. It was unremarkable; it was not tragic. But in her story she faced a choice--a moment of discernment that she was struggling with and she wondered where is God in that moment? And in her moment she did not know what to do or even where to turn. She had some faith, but she said she talk like Job standing before God. 

She asked me for a scripture and maybe (her words) a prayer. I offered her both. 

Then she drew my blood. 

We talked a bit more and I left and began the remainder of my day. 

But walking to my car I wondered: how often do we follow up with a promised statement? She asked me to pray for her; it was clear that she needed prayer. Had I done that? Had I kept my word? Would I continue to pray for her later in the day when I thought about the morning and the events at the doctor's office? 

Or would her need float away the further away from the office that I got? 

That is a temptation that we all face. We know we should pray; we should care for others. We should serve them as Christ has served us. But do we follow through with this most simple act of Christian faith and practice? 

So today, I wonder, will you pray for someone you do not know? Someone who does not know you? 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

I Wonder--November 28

I wonder how do we learn to work together? 

Now that is a loaded question with deep, complex, and personal, answers. Trying to answer this question too quickly will result in platitudes and niceties. Answering to quickly will lead us to answers that fit on Hallmark greeting cards or Instagram posts surrounded by various nature scenes. 

For the last month I have spent time thinking and considering this question as it surfaces at various points in life? 

How do we work together when we come before God to ask Him "Why?" . . . "Why did this have to happen?" Or more personally, "Why did you do this God?"

How do we work together to teach the lessons of God's Word to children--some of whom are not listening and do not desire to listen? 

How do we work together as the Church when we see the hungry, the cold, the needy drive into our community and ask for help without actually hearing them say 'help?"

How. . . How . . . How? 

We are conditioned to answer "How" questions in a certain way. In my experience, asking "How" means finding a solution and then implementing the solution repeatedly. But I want to resist that temptation. I want to resist trying to 'fix' anything that I define as broken. Instead, can we notice what the "How" question makes us address and wonder about? 

I read a story recently of a man who visited a L'Arche community. These communities, which exist all over the world, serve and support the needy--no matter how 'needy' is defined. 

This man spent a time with a group of folks who are handicapped. During his visit he would work alongside of them at a task that he never did before. To increase the challenge, this man did not speak the language of the people, and if that is not enough, one of the group members did not like others translating for their visitor. She believed that he would learn and understand words he never heard before, if he just listened. (fascinating I think). 

Interestingly enough, he did. He mirrored the work of others. He followed their nonverbal leading. He was gentle and allowed the other people in the room to have the place of authority and power. And at the end it was a wonderful experience. 

So to return to my question: how do we work together? . . . Perhaps if we follow the Lord silently, allow the nonverbal communication of the Holy Spirit to guide us, and trust that God places us in the exact right position or moment, we might learn something about working with God in the kingdom. 

I wonder, how might you respond to the question? How do we work together? 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

I Wonder--November 15

This morning as I was walking I listened to an interview with the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma. His gentle words spoke deeply to my heart and caused me to wonder. . . 

The story he told was about Mr. Rogers--a man he had the privilege of meeting and working with. Once Mr. Rogers was in front of congress seeking funding for his television program. As a PC(USA) minister Fred was deeply familiar with God's Word and voice. Yet he was gentle and did not lash out when congress pushed him on topics.  

At an important moment in the hearing, when the tension was high, Mr. Rogers offered the congressmen and women a pair of Hebrew words which translated: "Heal the world." 

He did not provide any direct programming ideas and did not offer any solutions/platitudes (or even a rebuke to the leaders of congress who didn't 'get it.')  about how he felt called to do this work. It was just simply his mission: Heal the World. 

We have a lot of opportunities in our days to practice what Mr. Rogers taught that day. While we know that God ultimately does the work necessary to heal the world, we are offered a place in partnership with the Lord. We are offered the chance to step outside of ourselves and be the hands and feet of Christ working with other people. 

But the choice is ours. God does not force His will upon us. We have the choice to respond to the call. The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives each day. The Spirit speaks to us; invites us. I wonder, will, and how, will you practice what Mr. Rogers taught? How will you serve to heal the world? 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

I Wonder--November 14

While I know that this week is going to be quite busy at Bethesda because of our turkey giveaway, the mindset that called us toward this mission project should be the same mindset that is at work in each of us as Christians. 

We did not have some special revelation from God; there was no voice from heaven announcing to us that we were solely called to support our community for our glory and pride.  

Rather as we spent time in God's Word together, and as we prayed, we heard, and we felt, God's call on our lives. God moved in our hearts and helped us to wonder. It is a similar sense of call that each member of the Body of Christ is offered by God. The Lord asks us to spend time in His Word; He asks us to meditate upon it. Then after spending time with God, and in Christ, we move out into our community. 

Majorie J. Thompson, in her book Soul Feast, wrote these words to support what this call looks like. She said: 

"If the Word I hear Sunday morning or during my private prayer has no bearing on the way I relate to family, friends, and foe, or how I make decisions, spend my resources, and cast my vote, then my faith is [a] fantasy."

Again, we are called by the Lord to practice our faith. We can do that in large scale projects (like our turkey giveaway this week). We can also do it intentionally in seemingly small daily choices. God calls us to practice our faith not just on Sunday when we come to church, but God asks us to practice our faith in response to His revelation in our lives. 

I wonder how might God be asking you today to practice your faith? 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

I Wonder--November 9

This week I have spent some significant time reading and considering the work of Stanley Hauerwas. Specifically, I have been reading a longer essay that he wrote on a major social issue that we are facing as a culture. 

Now I am not going to comment on, or identify, the issue here. It is far too polarizing for an appropriate discussion in this space.

Instead as I read Hauerwas, I was struck by how his answer to the problems our society is facing is community and community caregiving. In his work Hauerwas does not critique and rebuke either side of the issue alone. Rather he takes the reader on a journey through both sides of the argument and wonders if being a Christian might call us to practices of community-building rather than division?

Division is what the community focuses on. They prefer to divide and categorize. Us/them language and practices are more common in the community that lives outside of the church.  

Now, certainly there is a place for judgment and correction as we read God's word and consider what God says to us. That is one of the basic messages that we find in the Bible. Time and again God's people are confronted with their poor choices and called to change their lives in response to God's self-revelation. 

But while we read, pray, and consider God and His voice, maybe we are invited to dwell with our community? Maybe as we think about how God asks each of us to live, we can abide with our neighbors, our community members. . . Maybe God wonders if we might dwell with them a little longer and as we dwell, perhaps we can offer them the care and support that we find in God's word? Care that was given to us once.

It is easy to judge and divide when we look at the choices that our community members make. But I think God is pleased when we opt to abide with them and to care for them first. I wonder if that is how the gospel is shared authentically? 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

I Wonder--October 31

At some point tonight, pallets of Christmas decorations will finally come out of their hiding. Shrink wrap will be cut away and boxes opened. Any last vestiges of Halloween candy, costumes, and decoration will go on clearance; room must be made for Christmas. 

Now I am one who loves Christmas and the joy that comes with the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. But I wonder. . . have we not forgotten something? 

And no, I don't mean Thanksgiving (which is also important). By rushing past Halloween, and headlong into Christmas, perhaps we are missing what All Hallows Eve truly means. It is not about unlimited amounts of sugary candy and it is also not about haunted houses or smashing pumpkins on the street. That is what the culture has taught us. Instead, All Hallow's Eve (better known as Halloween) literally means "the day before All Saints Day"--which is November 1st. 

All Saints Day celebrates the lives of the saints of Jesus' church. It celebrates the known, and the unknown, those who served the Lord faithfully before entering into the Resurrection. November 1st is a time of memory and reflection. It is a time where the church comes together reflectively and considers the faithful of every time and place who served the Lord. 

On All Saints Day I will call to mind members of my family who have returned to be with God. I will remember the lessons that they taught me about faith.  I will choose to remember. . . 

I will remember the church my grandparent's, Len and Carol, helped found in Cleveland and how I can still see grandpa's labelling in every church cabinet. I will remember singing around my grandmother's piano--sometimes in tune with her (often not) from her red hymnal. 

I will remember my father teaching me about the importance of church attendance and how my faith would grow if I listened. I will remember the Bible that he bought for JonMark when my son was first born. He told me to give it to him when JonMark was ready. 

I will remember my Nana, Adeline, talking to me about the saints of the Catholic church and how important her little parish in Pennsylvania was to her faith. And I will also remember how she whispered when she came to grandpa Frank's grave as he let him know that she was there and gently pulled the weeds out from around his stone.

There are many others that I will remember. . . and I know it is a practice that the Lord will be with me in.

Tomorrow is the day that we can intentionally remember the saints of our church. As you sneak a Reeses cup tomorrow, I wonder who might you remember? Maybe take some time on All Satins Day to practice remembering and see who God calls to your mind. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

I Wonder--October 30

If the Church is not careful it can become too practically-based, or too praxis-oriented. In doing so, the church can move away from its primary calling to dwell in Christ. If we become too practical in our mission work, we could lose the theological underpinning and the call that motivated us to leave the church grounds and care for the community.

From my perspective the temptation is real and we need to pause and consider how we move forward with Christ.  

I witnessed this temptation firsthand here at Bethesda recently in the number of mission programs that we began recently. Bags of food to our community, lunches to children who are out of school for a week, candy at Trunk or Treat, Grief Share support, we could become so focused on the practice of mission that we miss the Christ who walks with us into the community. We could miss the Christ who dwells. 

At Trunk or Treat I saw a familiar face come around the corner. This person, whose name I do not know, received several lunches from us during the second week of October. During that week, I walked to this family's door and handed them a couple brown bag lunches each morning. I handed them a full sack of food on one day. On the final day of the lunch program, we included an invitation to Trunk or Treat which was coming soon. (Seriously who does not like a little Halloween candy!) 

And this family came. 

Did they come for free candy or did they come because we displayed Christ's love for them? 

The only one who knows that answer for certain is God. 

This family and I made eye contact--but in a quiet way. They did not acknowledge me or anyone from the church who brought them food that week. But they did smile ever-so-subtly as their daughter came up for candy, a pumpkin, and a cross necklace. 

Stanley Hauerwas wrote: 

"The most important social task of Christians is to be nothing less than a community capable of forming people with virtues sufficient to witness to God's truth in the world." 

I wonder how often our social practices as a church, or your personal practices, seek to 'witness to God's truth in the world?' 

Maybe take some time and reflect with the Lord about this. . . 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

I Wonder--October 25

This morning while preparing for the day, I took my eyes off my task and sliced into right thumb on the outside. (If you want something to slow you down, try cutting the thumb on your dominant hand and see how productive you are). 

Although it bled and bled, the cut was nothing a band-aid and some peroxide couldn't handle. Honestly, as I write these words it's that thumb that keeps tapping the spacebar on my laptop. I think I will live through this one. 

But then I noticed something else that I want to share. . . while cooking my breakfast I felt an odd pain radiating down my thumb. JonMark walked by and I told him about the incident and he chuckled--perhaps he made a comment about my eyesight failing and me getting old. . . (cue my eye roll). 

I told him the cut was not deep but that my knuckle hurt. Shrugging I went back to the stove and flipped my egg over before putting it on my bagel to complete my breakfast. 

He told me that it was probably sore because there is very little skin and tissue on the thumb around the knuckle. He said, 'you probably bumped the bone.' As I walked to my office I thought about that for a moment. . . something so little, seemingly so insignificant, caused pain in an unexpected way. A 2-inch nick of my thumb isn't significant in itself, but the impact it has on functionality could be. 

So I wonder, each of us have little wounds that we carry with us. They are small (like my thumb-cut), but yet the ache (like the knuckle of that same thumb). You can still go about your day, and you still be productive. But the ache, even if it is small, it is deeper than you might realize. 

I wonder what that wound you are carrying around with you looks like? 

What does it affect? How is it limiting you? And if it is limiting you, perhaps you could think of someone who could use some grace because of their wound? I bet it is limiting them in the same way. . . 


Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I Wonder--October 18

Today is a day of distractions for me. It is every year. And I imagine that it will be in the future as well. 

10 years. . . I can't believe it has been 10 years and I also can't believe that it has only been 10 years. Looking at pictures from 10 years ago seems like a lifetime ago--and in many ways I suppose that it is. Yet I keep looking at them and remembering. . .  

Compound this idea with the struggle that has come into our home this week, and wow, I feel dislodged from my anchor points. 

My office has become my kitchen table. The soft jazz that normally plays on my laptop is drowned out by the rumbled of the washer and dryer and by a certain puppy leaving his toys on my lap so that I will throw them for him, then dutifully, he will bring them back.

Oh to be a puppy. . . Today is a day of distractions for me. . . 

But I suspect that I am not the only person who gets distracted. So I wonder how you do you handle your day when the distractions get the better of you? I wonder how do you make sense when the distractions of life seem to overtake you and you find yourself gazing out the kitchen window in the vain hope that something out there will inspire you to continue progressing? 

The struggle is present for all of us. 

I know that God's word will help. I also know that prayer will help. I know that community will help. But yet sometimes those foundational things don't seem available to us. And again, we gaze out the window wondering what to do next. 

So today, if that is you, if you know what it feels like to have the challenges of the day overtaking you, then take a moment and dwell with God. Speak to the Lord honestly and deeply about those things which could take you away from him. 

Maybe as you speak to God, you might reconnect with your anchor. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

I Wonder--October 17

Sunday evening I was on the campus of Duke University to listen to a talk by two individuals who have shaped my theology and ministry. The primary speaker's work influenced my doctoral work greatly. 

As Sam began to speak he told his family's origin story. He spoke about how they escaped from Stalin-led Russia only to settle in late 1930s Berlin. The family finally crossed the border into the Netherlands eventually making their way to the UK. It was a hard story to hear. 

I have heard Sam's story before. I have read it in his books. But sitting in that auditorium listening to him re-tell it in person was powerful. It had a profound impact on my heart. The rest of Sam's talk was good. Frankly I have always found his works and words inspiring. But to watch Sam, in-person, tell his story got me thinking. 

At Bethesda we have just finished a week-long program where we offered lunches to children and families living in adjacent communities. We did not know what to expect when we went out on Monday, but God showed up. Along the way we met some community members and we shared time with them in their driveways, on their porches, and sitting side-by-side in vehicles in front of their homes. 

Each day, as we handed lunches out, the potential of our relationship with our community grew. I can think of one particular older woman who I spoke with as an example. 

On Tuesday, she told us about the two granddaughters she kept during the week. 

Wednesday, we learned that she was struggling to feed these two girls--and she did not say it directly. Our listening and dwelling helped us learn this. 

Thursday, she asked us for help in making ends meet at home. 

Then on Friday, the veil dropped and we learned something profound that allowed us to care for her deeper. 

All of these truths came out in the story that she shared with us each day. She shared a tough story; a story where I shook my head when we pulled away silently. But so was Sam's story from Sunday night. But God can, and God does, use even the tough stories to help move us toward Him. 

And so I wonder what story is God asking you to tell today? Who could benefit from listening to you and who could you pause with and listen to? 

Thursday, October 12, 2023

I Wonder--October 12

As I climb back into the truck this week, smiling as I wave back to another family who received a free lunch from Bethesda, I take a moment and I wonder. . . 

Once again God has exceeded our expectations. We loosely held this program and did not overdo our process or our expectations. We let God have the room in our hearts and we believed that God would move--and God moved. God came. 

Each day as I tally up our figures I am amazed by what I am seeing. More and more people are coming out to see us; some even are waiting on their porches for us. Every house and every family makes me smile.  

So what response can I give? What can I offer to God? 

The Lord of heaven and earth needs nothing. He aspires to nothing. But I know in my heart, as I climb back into Jimmy's truck and head for the next stop where another polite child will thank us, I know I need to respond. Yet I struggle with how to do this. . .

Perhaps in your life you have been in this same spot. God has come into your midst and done something and whether God's movement was subtle or dramatic, God moved. As you felt God move, you knew that something was needed on your part. You might have heard the call to respond begin in you. 

But maybe, like me, you struggled with how to manifest it in the moment. You wondered: "What am I supposed to do now?"

I wonder if it is possible to believe that all God wants from you is something small, something personal. I wonder if right now you could take a moment, maybe even bow your head, and whisper whatever comes into your heart. 

I bet that is the exact response God would like to hear. . . .

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

I Wonder--October 10

Today is Day 2 of our lunch program for the children who live around the church. On Day 1 we went out with some general uncertainty--would anyone come and pick up a bagged lunch from us? Where would be find them? Would they feel comfortable taking food from us? 

All of those questions were answered by God in ways that we did not anticipate. We met our community; we cared for them. And it was good. . .  

As we set up the tent and divided up in cars to travel the area, our questions outnumbered our answers. 
But with the Lord, all things are possible. God exceeded our expectations and a great number of families learned that Bethesda will care for you. The work was based on Hope. 

Today I have been thinking about what hope looks like and how we might define it. We throw terms like 'hope' around often when we are together. We apply it to sporting events, social causes, and eventually, religious experiences and encounters. But I believe hope is a spiritual discipline and practice that God calls us to engage in. 

Hope is why we met to pack lunches in the first place.  

Hope carries a sense of wonder to it; of expectation and anticipation. When I hope for something there is a sense of belief that takes shape in my heart. When I practice Christian 'hope' I am asking God to come into my situation, come into my life, and act. 

I might now always know how my hope will be manifested--like prayer I do not always know what the fruit of my prayer might look like. So when I hope, I am asking God to step in do what only He can do. 

And so, I am about to walk out to the lunch program. I am about to see how many kids will come today and receive. I hope a lot of kids will be fed and I hope those who need a bag of food will come and receive. But that is up to God. And so I continue 'hoping' in the Lord knowing that God has never let me down. 

I wonder where is God asking you to practice hope? 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

I Wonder--October 5

As any church prepares for its next mission project a temptation arises that could derail the entire project. This temptation can be defined as a lack of culture and community. 

We see this in many places. . . Some individuals work at a task or project alone, and by being alone, they become jaded and frustrated and could feel any host of negative emotions when they think about the work. In the church we must constantly strive to be the Body of Christ together for when we are together, God does something profound. 

Simon Sink thinks of it this way: 

"The strength of the culture, and not its size or resources, determines and organizations ability to adapt to the times, overcoming adversity and pioneer new innovations. When the conditions are right. . . We do what we do best. We act in the manner for which we are designed. We pulled together." 

Simon is speaking to an audience that is primarily business leaders but he might as well be talking to the Church. Our resources do not matter as much as our sense of community matters. 

When our culture aligns with God's words, when we dwell together as the Body, we do our best work for God's glory. Even if we are still a bit worn down from the last mission project or task, when we come together, when we pull together, God shows up. 

So I wonder, when the next project comes into our community or church, what steps could you take to pull together for His glory? 

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

I Wonder--October 4

I wonder how tired do you feel right now? 

The answer to that question, for me, is 'very.' I am very tired; I am very sore. 

The benefit that we had at Bethesda this weekend was a tremendous blessing. Regardless of the metric that is applied to it, this was a successful event. Spiritually. Relationally. Fiscally. Saturday checked all the boxes. 

I feel like I was everywhere all at once and my body still aches. And as the days have gone on, I still feel tired and worn out. But the next project is just over the horizon and it needs my attention as much as the last one did. This is not a uniquely 'pastoral' feeling. I wonder if you, as a member of the Body of Christ, have felt so worn out that you don't know how you will address the upcoming program/project/task? 

Perhaps the words of Hannah Whitall Smith might help? 

". . . What is needed for happy and effectual service is simply to put your work into the Lord's hands, and leave it there. Don't take it to Him in prayer, saying, "Lord, guide me; Lord, give me wisdom; Lord, arrange it for me," and then rise from your knees, and take the burden all back and try to guide and arrange for yourself. Leave it with the Lord; and remember that what you trust to Him you must not worry over nor feel anxious about. Trust, and worry cannot go together."

If you feel tired and worn down by the requirements of life, give them to the Lord. Leave them there. And trust God to care for you in the midst. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

I Wonder--September 28

Saturday morning, shortly before 7:30am, we will gather in the parking lot at Bethesda to pray. 

Vendors for the craft fair will begin to arrive at 8am. They will fill our parking lot with their items as they are carried into our Family Life Center and set up. It will be a morning of hustle and bustle. . . and that is before the music and food begin around 11:30am. 

Already I am aware that this is going to be a full day. It will be a day of 'stretching' and 'growing' for us as much as it will be a day of caregiving to family that we are serving.

So again, a little before 7:30am, we will gather in the parking lot at Bethesda to pray. 

The reason for this act of prayer can be summed up well by Heidi Nuemark. She wrote: 

"Prayer is not a magic-carpet ride carrying us off to some utopia. It is an act of attention grounded here, alert to connections wherever we wait. The root of the word 'attention' is 'to stretch toward' and comes from a word meaning to stretch thread as on a loom. The connections of prayer weave their own sacred carpet, joining the varied threats of our lives one to another and to all things. The threads take color from the stains of our blood, sweat, tears, dreams, and disappointments, creating a design we cannot fully discern, but stunning even now."

Indeed prayer is stunning. . .

We will pray Saturday morning just before 7:30 to ask God to help us ground our attention in this moment. We know, and we believe, that something sacred happens when we stand together in the early morning light, hold hands, and ask God to be with us. 

We do not ask God to bless us only. Instead, we place our trust in God because we believe that the plans which have been laid, and the work which is being done, is accomplished with and in His presence. And so I wonder, how might you join in the work of prayer as Heidi suggests? Can you now see the stunning beauty of your prayers before God? 

Perhaps talk with God today about this see what the Lord says to you in return. . .  

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

I Wonder--September 26

We are getting ready for a benefit fundraiser this weekend for a woman who needs a liver transplant. 

Over the past few months we have visioned, planned, and talked about this weekend's event in great detail. Last night we have our final planning meeting. It's the meeting where we panic about what we do not know, and excitedly attempt to finish planning and implementing what we are discovering on the fly. 

And walking home in the dark after the meeting, I feel a sense of gratitude in my heart about what we are going to do Saturday as a church in the name of the Lord. 

Thinking about gratitude, I remember the words of Sam Wells who said: 

"Gratitude knows what such [worldly] solutions [to life's problems] can never comprehend. What gratitude knows is that existence is made up of setbacks, mistakes, challenges, and obstacles, and it is in facing and tackling, and sometimes in during those adversities that mortality is discovered, dependence, recognize, and relationship sought. And it is in such relationship, and the unanticipated benefits that accompany it, that true joy lies."

We seek to grow our relationships with our community. We seek to be present amidst all the challenges and troubles of the day. It is in that presence where joy is found and gratitude is felt. It is a deep, soul-filled, feeling. 

I know this weekend will wear our physical bodies out, but if we keep our eyes focuses on a gracious, thankful, heart, I wonder how much joy will bubble up in our spirits?  

Thursday, September 21, 2023

I Wonder--September 21

Sometimes mission work begins organically. Slowly. It can begin subtly and without fanfare. But when it begins in Christ, something dynamic can happen that transforms the community. 

Consider the story of Mother Teresa. 

Most people don't know much about her whole life. They think that she must have been born to be a nun, and to reach out to the poor in Calcutta. The fact is that before she began her mission to the poor, she was the headmistress of an elite girl's school in Calcutta. Each day she looked out her window and saw the poor on the streets, and her heart broke for them. God used her breaking heart to transform her gradually, and to call her to minister to the poor. 

She did it the only way she knew how. She left the school each day armed with a bag of rice. She stopped at a corner and, using a stick, begin writing in the dust to teach the children to read, making a promise that each child who learns the lesson is given a handful of rice. Over time her mission grew, and each step of the way, she continued to pray and seek the Lord.

And God was with her. 

Even the most dynamic ministry and mission programs begins with a prayer. I wonder today, what prayer is God asking you to pray? 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

I Wonder--September 20

Today I do not want to offer you a story or a short lesson. I do not have something for you to consider and then wonder if a reorientation is both necessary and possible for you faith. . . Instead, I want to offer you to the words from my morning devotional. 

I offer you a word about hope. 

Kate Bowler and Jessie Richie write these words for us as they think about hope: 

"God is not done yet. When all we see is death and decay and destruction and disease, God sees hope, but not an empty optimism or empty phrase. God sees hard-won hope. Hope with feet. Hope that takes work. Can these bones live?. . . In these moments, when it seems God has abandoned us, look and listen. God is there, shocking us with the resurrection of hope itself." (Emphasis in original text)

I wonder where in your life today do you need to hear these words? Where does God ask you to look and listen and see the hope that is only possible in the Lord? 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

I Wonder--September 19

Life and ministry around Bethesda this week is busy. We are planning a benefit for a local family who needs an organ transplant next weekend and we are also getting ready to hand out food to the needy of this community on Thursday. This is to say nothing about the active programs already in place here that are caring for people and children.

God is with us and we feel blessed. 

Sitting next to me on my desk right now is my notebook that I use for sermon notes. More recently that book has served multiple purposes. I still jot down ideas and thoughts as I read and pray through the text for Sunday. 

But now the book is also used for Sunday School reflections and lessons. It is filled with weekly prayer needs that are shared with me throughout the week. On many pages I have stuck post-it notes with extra details that I do not want to forget and my iPhone is now reminding me more and more of things to do. And yet. . .  

God is with me and I feel blessed. 

Yet I wonder what might happen if I don't take the necessary time each morning (and at important intervals throughout the day) to silence my mind and heart and draw close to God? 

You too are likely quite busy. Work from the Lord mixes with the daily grind and it can overwhelm you. But I wonder what God might say if you closed your eyes, took a deep breath, and drew close to Him?  Maybe give that try. . . right now. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

I Wonder--September 14

You know we all do certain things well, and when we do something well, we free pride in that skill, or habit, or practice. 

In my house Emma is an excellent baker while JonMark has other skills in the kitchen that he excels with. They both do certain things well. . . and yet at the same time, they both have things in which they are not as good at as they might like. And as you know that is true in all houses, all families, and for our purpose, it is true of all churches. 

We do some thing well and other things not as well as we might hope or want. 

But often the "thing" that we do not do well becomes blight on us. It is something that we would rather not talk about or highlight or contemplate. We prefer to sweep it under the rug, but maybe that is not the best choice? 

Today I was re-reading a section of Graham Standish's book, Becoming a Blessed Church, in preparation for a Session meeting on Sunday evening, when something jumped off the page that I want to share with you. In his book, Graham wrote: 

"Churches that become alive to God's presence may not be perfect (no church is), but even in their imperfection they are alive because Christ--God as Presence--is in their midst."

As I reflect on Graham's words, I notice their truth. If Christ is with us, if we are living lives of spiritual vitality, then even in our weakness Christ is being proclaimed. And so I wonder, can you notice something in your life today, in your faith, that is imperfect? Notice it. . . Think on it. . . And then, notice that Christ did not shy away from you because of it. . . Perhaps have a conversation with God about this 'thing' and let God tell you what to do next. 

Monday, September 11, 2023

I Wonder--September 11

Fresh in my heart is the memory of yesterday's worship service that I want to share with you. 

Yesterday we welcomed our friends and neighbors from Mt. Zion Baptist Church to Bethesda, and we worshipped. This combined service was part of our past as churches but, because of covid, we had not been together for a while. 

So shortly before 10:30am our two churches gathered for worship. I could spend the rest of this year's posts thinking and commenting on the service I believe. But let me share one tiny (yet profound) story with you. 

Let's first set the table. . . Generations ago, the membership of Bethesda gave their blessing to the families of their former slaves to found their own church. And at that moment Mt. Zion Baptist was born. They live just about a mile away down McConnells Highway. 

Now let's fast-forward back to Sunday's service. . . Before we left the service and headed to lunch as the Body of Christ, Pastor Anthony Johnson from Mt. Zion stood in Bethesda's pulpit to pronounce the blessing and pray for the meal. Before he did this he offered these words: "Thank God for Bethesda, because without Bethesda there would be no Mt. Zion." It was a profound moment. 

Whatever you think of our combined history that statement pushed aside everything else that could fill our minds during this service and reminded us that: together we are better.

There is always the chance to see things in this world through negative eyes or a negative perspective--our world seeks and offers these perspectives. But there is also that chance to look at what is doing in our midst and speak to it because God is there. 

And so I wonder: has God shown you a place where you could give thanks to Him in a new and profound way? Perhaps that action on your part might change someone else's life? 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

I Wonder--September 6

As I continue thinking and praying about the text for Sunday, I spent some time in Deuteronomy noticing and wondering. . . 

While the book of Deuteronomy is not often the first place the church goes for fresh revelation from God, the words are powerful. They are relational; they have stood the test of time. The words of Deuteronomy do not speak only to the exiled Hebrews, as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, they speak to us as we seek a faithful response to the Lord in our daily lives. 

In Deuteronomy 6:4 we read the famous Shema: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One.

This is as foundational of a statement as we will read in the Old Testament for the Hebrews--and the word order got me thinking and wondering. What must it be like, I wondered, to put hearing God ahead of being heard by God? 

Think about that for a second. 

So many of our liturgical prayers, and so many of our personal prayers center on God hearing what it is we are saying and taking notice of what we want to highlight in our prayers. Do our devotional lives offer God space to speak and be heard or do we fill all the available room with the sound of our own voice and our own needs and by doing so we forget the sound of God's voice?

I wonder if today, these words might be an invitation to hear from God, rather than speak to God? 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

I Wonder--September 5

 This weekend we are getting ready to welcome our neighbors from Mt. Zion Baptist Church to worship with us. It will be a wonderful service with an opportunity to 'be the church.' 

As I begin preparing for Sunday I came across the words of Scott W. Sunquist. He was the mission professor at Pittsburgh Seminary when I worked on my M.Div a number of years ago. In the book that I reading, Scott addresses the meaning of the gospel. 

As part of his reflection, he said this: 

"The gospel takes on particular cultural expressions, and speaks to the particular needs [of a person]. Some give witness to the coming of the gospel, saying that they were freed from the power of the spirits or from the ancestors. For others, the gospel came and liberated the poor from oppression and hunger. Others have been liberated from idolatry and materialism, or from bondage to alcohol. All, however, are giving testimony to the heart of the gospel, the work of Jesus Christ for the redemption of creation."

This is a powerful statement when you stop and consider it. 

So if Scott and his statements are is correct, then I wonder about how the gospel has transformed and remade you? If you had a need, regardless of what it was or how it was manifested, and the gospel of Jesus Christ spoke to you and help you find the Lord, then what does that transformation ask you to do? 

Perhaps take some time today and consider this, and as you consider it, share the gospel with someone who needs to hear it speak to them. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

I Wonder--August 31

 While getting ready for worship this weekend, I came across a story that I want to share with you from the Desert Fathers. It is a story about attending to the needs of another person in our community and church. 

The story goes like this. . . Some older men go to see Abba Poeman, and they ask him what should they do if they see a brother fall asleep during divine worship. "Shall we wake him up?" they inquire. The Abba smiles at them and offers his brothers this response: 

"As for me, when I see a brother who is falling asleep during the Office (during worship), I lay his head on my knee and let him rest."

This is a story about attentiveness and our willingness to care for those who need just a quiet place or moment. Attentiveness stretches out toward care--deep care. I don't know a single Christian who has not told me that they are worn down by the burdens of life and faith. Yet what are we called to do?

As the Body of Christ we are full of love; full of the revelation of it. We are full of the experience of being loved by Jesus in such a way that the hustle and bustle of the day meets the warmth of God. As Jesus taught us by his very presence, ministry stop, ministry holds, attends to all the fatigue and struggle. This the place where God is found. 

So as you get ready for worship this weekend, and as you finish another week, perhaps take a second and notice who needs your attentiveness? Who needs your care? 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

I Wonder--August 24

In a world that gives so little space, how do we find room to forgive? 

It seems that the slightest offense sets off a chain reaction or rebuke, rebuttal, and eventual punishment. The preferred punishment of the day is exorcism from communion and relationship. Step out of line, and social fabric of relationship is destroyed--often completely. 

And if you think I am being hyperbolic. . . just look on social media or read your news feed. The proof is written all over the place.  

Society is quick to cut off all ties and lines of communication when someone sins against them--real or imaginary even in the slightest way. And so this week I have been wondering about how we recover that relationship? I wonder how we forgive? 

H.R. Mackintosh spent a great deal of time writing and thinking about forgiveness as he taught in Scotland. The title of his book, The Christian Experience of Forgiveness, offers us a hint at what he believed and taught. He said:

"The real truth is that man's forgiveness, at its noblest, is no more than a faint echo or imitation of that eternal and transcendent Divine pardon made ours by Jesus, with which everything began."

If forgiveness on our part is an imitation of the forgiveness that takes place in Jesus at the moment of atonement, then perhaps the weight of Mackintosh's statement can help us offer grace and forgiveness to those who have wounded us? 

Maybe today spend a little time thinking about the implication of Mackintosh's words in your life? Does the weight of those words call you to change your thinking and living? 

Monday, August 21, 2023

I Wonder--August 21

I am a lectionary preacher; it is how I was taught in seminary. I read the daily lectionary often and I use it for devotions in some of the meetings in which I lead. I find its rhythms and cycle help carry me through the scriptures in a specific way. 

But I am not the only person of faith to have a 'lectionary' that they follow. This year, on October 7, members of the Jewish faith will gather together for Simchat Torah. 

This is the day when the cycle of Torah readings come to its end, and the new cycle, for the new year, begins again. On that day, the scrolls of the Torah will be paraded around the perimeter of the worship space to cheers and singing and even. . . dancing. Seven times this will take place. And then, as quickly and passionately as the celebrating started, the celebration will end. 

The scroll will be placed back where it belongs before the congregation. Folks will return to their seats--usually winded and place their prayer shawls back into place. Then the worship service will continue in its normal flow. 

Once, at the close of the dancing and singing, a rabbi stepped forward at the end of the parade I just described. He adjusted the microphone and said to the church:

"You know, sometimes those of us who are here every week get so used to things that we forget how important they are."

I wonder, what spiritual practice, what act of devotion, do you engage in and yet you can forget how important they are? How transformational they are? How needed they are in your life? 

Perhaps take a moment today and notice . . . and as you notice, maybe try a little singing to the Lord. . .  

Thursday, August 17, 2023

I Wonder--August 17

I am freshly back from a week in Black Mountain, NC. Jennifer, JonMark, Emma, and I spent the weekend away celebrating our 24th anniversary. It was a wonderful time of family and friendship as we shopped, ate, and enjoyed ice cream together. 

I look this picture one afternoon as I sat out front of the house while reading my book. This tree strikes me as symbolic of the struggle that we face as the church and as individual Christians living and working in this world. 

Our host told us that about this tree when I asked. But before I tell you what he said, take a moment and examine the tree for yourself. . . What do you see? What has happened to the tree? . . . (I will wait.)

I was told that this tree was assaulted by one of the local black bears who frequent the area. This bear enjoys the berries that live on the trees all over the mountainside. I learned that this particular bear came up to the tree and, well, broke it half while searching for more berries to enjoy. Now what is left of the tree blows in the wind and sits before you as it sat before me that day. 

And I wonder if you feel like that tree? Assaulted by life? Broken? You were going about your day and suddenly something as sharp and painful as a bear breaking a tree came in your life and split you nearly in half. . . 

As I sat there thinking about this tree and enjoying the cool afternoon breeze, I began to wonder about what steps I should take when I feel as broken by life as this tree? The tree looks like I feel sometimes--and I bet it looks like you feel at times also. 

If that is the case then maybe take some time, right now, to talk to God about it. Be honest about feeling broken and wounded by something life as painful as a bear attack. 

God will listen. In fact, I think that God enjoys listening to us share our hearts. Perhaps that might be away to move away from the wound and toward healing in Christ? 

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

I Wonder--August 9

For the last couple of day I have been thinking and reflecting on something that I read from G.K. Chesterton. He said:

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.

That is a very strong statement and it is a very true statement. Take a moment and read it again. . . and by the way, it never gets easier to consider. I have read it every day this week and still feel the weight of the words on my heart. I have held up the work that I do in the name of the Lord to this quote and find myself burdened by the implications of it. 

We often say that being a Christian is hard (and it does take work to be faithful). Serving our community and practicing evangelism with our neighbors can be a challenge, but hold Chesterton's words up against those feelings right now and notice the shift that takes place in your heart. "It has been found difficult and left untried." 

As you look out into your community, and into the work that God calls you to, I wonder where are the places where you have left the faith 'untried?' Where are the places, and who are the people who need you to press in a little longer? 

I wonder how your witness and service to the Lord might shift as you consider the strong words of G.K. Chesterton? 

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

I Wonder--August 2

It has been one week since Jennifer and I made the trip to Slippery Rock to pick up JonMark. We drove to Pennsylvania on a Sunday afternoon, loaded to trailer on Monday morning, and returned to York on that same Monday evening. . . It has now been a week since he has been here. 

Part of that week has involved running around the area with him to help him get settled. We made 3 trips to the DMV to get his license transferred (the camera was broke. Never seen that happen. . .). We ran here and there buying groceries, a side table for his printer, and getting his mail transferred home. 

For this last week I have sat either in the passenger's seat or backseat of his Jeep--he loves driving. And as I sat there I did something that I don't often get the chance to do because I normally drive. I looked out the window at my neighbors and community. 

I noticed a lot-- far too much to comment on in this medium. But when I compare what I saw out the window with the food distribution program that Bethesda is leading, I remembered the words of Kate Bowler. There is so much need in this community.  

In a recent article, Kate, who teaches at Duke Divinity school, wrote this statement which has stayed with me. She said: 

"Bless you, you who are so worth caring for.
You are worth having your needs met.
Your pain does not disqualify you from love."

I wonder today if know what Kate is talking about? I wonder if you can feel the emotion of those words in your soul? Whom do you know who fits into these words because I can think of people who I saw this week as I rode with JonMark or sat with him in an office. . . Their pain, their need, does not disqualify them from your love and from your care? 

Take a moment today and notice them. . . What is God saying to you? 

Monday, July 31, 2023

I Wonder--July 31

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 their rooms I wonder, 'will they get better? What does 'better' look like?'

One of the ugly parts of long-term illness that I witness is that it robs the individual of hope. 

They are sick and without the intervention and skill of others, their illness will not be healed, helped, or resolved. In that room we are confronted with our own stuff--mortality, regret, a lingering desire to be reunited with others. In that room there is little to do but contemplate and wonder about what it will be like to end the humanly suffering and be with Jesus. . . and for most, even those with a deep sense of faith, there is uncertainty that sits on the bed or in the chair next to us. 

You see, I don't know what it feels like to stop breathing and feel my heart stop for the final time. . . and neither do they. . . 

We can have a strong faith, a deep faith, a faith taught to us generationally by loved ones and lived out in the church, but when it comes right down to it (and I have experience to back this up) we are anxious--in that room.  

And so I wonder: What does it look like to show up and dwell in those lives? I wonder what happens when we leave everything go and just sit down in the chair, take their hand, and remind them that they are sacred, they are loved, they are cared for, and they are redeemed?

Perhaps that is the good news that we can offer. .  

Thursday, July 27, 2023

I Wonder--July 27

Well it has been terrible hot this week; the humidity today makes the air look hazy outside my office window. The heat, as expected as it is, impacts much of what we do in York. 

The truth of this statement was on display last night as we gathered again at the fellowship hall door to distribute food to our community. 

Walking the first table out under the canopy we setup, I saw a vehicle pull up a little before our posted start time. Didn't matter. We handed the couple in the blue car a few bags of food and offered them a warm, sweaty, smile. Before long we had 3 trucks in line and the bags of food were flying out of the fellowship hall door and out into the community. 

It was an amazing night! 

But we could have lost track of something as the sweat poured down our faces and we carried food to the folks sitting in their air conditioned cars. . . We could have stopped listening. 

Like I said, it was very hot. Add to the heat, that we needed to communicate from person to person as we coordinated our deliveries, and we could have been so preoccupied with our work that we missed what God was doing. Now before you guess what I think God was doing: pause. 

Certainly God was at work as we cared for the community around us. God was also at work with us as we smiled and worked together as the Body of Christ. But God was also with the people in the cars--and that fact often gets overlooked when the Church serves its community.

Over and over we heard words of thanks and appreciation. I expected that. It was not necessary, but I heard it anyway. What was wonderfully-surprising was the amount of 'God bless you' that we heard. Could it have been lip service, sure. But I don' think that it was. It felt genuine; it felt sincere. And again, that blessing also was not sought. Yet it was given. 

But I wonder if we are so busy trying to be productive as the Church that we miss the blessing that people are literally saying to us? Maybe today just listen a little more--a little closer. Perhaps there is a blessing being given to you. . . 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

I Wonder--July 19

A short time ago I finished listening to a talk given at Duke Divinity School. It was recorded some time ago at the retirement of a famous faculty member. The question the speaker asked as he began his lecture was: What difference does Jesus make?  

Now I do not want to argue his point with you in this post anecdotally, but just wonder about the question being asked in your life? 

You see the speaker's point is that Jesus came to earth, He came to dwell among us, He came to be with us, and He made a difference in that choice. We can argue if the second person of the Trinity had a choice to come for us or of God the Father just sent Jesus without discussion. And that argument has little if any value in actuality because Jesus came. 

He made the difference. 

While people around Him scoffed at Him, and those closest to Him denied Him in public, Jesus was busy making a difference. When He retreated to pray and submitted Himself to God the Father in heaven in the Garden on His last night, Jesus was making a difference for us. He was making the choice.  

Yes, much of what He endured cost Him terribly. He was hated by His critics and beaten by the authority of the day. We know well the narrative of His torturous death, but again He made the difference by His choice. 

There is always a reason, perhaps a valid one in your mind, why you can opt to not make a difference in the community which God places you in. But that would be your choice. . . a choice to NOT make a difference. You could stand on the sidelines and question and bemoan what is happening around you. 


Like the Messiah you could enter into the work and world and speak about how Jesus made a difference in your life. I wonder what that story might sound like and how God might use it today? 

Monday, July 17, 2023

I Wonder--July 17

I wonder what stops us from trying? 

And let's be specific when we think about answers to the question. . . What truly stops us from trying? 

Last night the youth at Bethesda challenged the 'older youth' (adults) to a game of kickball in the Family Life Center. After the game concluded the ice cream churns would produce their bountiful offerings to soothe the tired souls after a nine inning game. 

52 people came to the game last night. Some played. Some watched and cheered. But everyone laughed and everyone participated in relational growth. As I took pictures I noticed the faces around the Family Life Center: lots of joy, lots of happiness. 

It was a night of fellowship and fun. . . But let's be honest, it was also a night that could have failed. 

The dozen-or-so youth who took one side of the court could have looked back at home plate and saw 5 'older adults' standing there who were only their parents and no one else. It was possible that no one from the larger church family would come. After all, it was 91 degrees yesterday in York. 

I might have offered a little tongue-in-cheek barb to encourage the church to come while we were together in worship, but that may not have worked. They could have laughed off my joke and then continued on a previous course.

What mattered last night was that we tried. It was that simple. We tried. When there were plenty of excuses that could keep people away, the excuses lost last night because the church practiced what it believed--trust in God to bring the people. 

I believe that trying is what the Lord asks of us. God does not demand success or perfection (that's a human thing). No, we just try and trust the Lord.

Perhaps that is a message, and a question for you to consider today in your faith walk. . . What stops you from trying? 

Maybe just step out there and let the Lord work in your life. . .  

Thursday, July 13, 2023

I Wonder--July 13

Do you enjoy a good conversation? I do. . . Let me tell you a story.

Not long ago this church was presented with an opportunity to care for a neighbor. This family does not attend Bethesda. This family has no ties to our church--except--that they work in close proximity to our physical space. So that makes them part of our larger community. 

After an initial conversation, I brainstormed with some folks at the church. I hoped that together we would find a solution or a pathway forward to care for this person. But at that time I heard a lot of questions put to me. None were especially negative; they were just questions that needed an answer. Questions which sought clarification. These answers would help move the project from 'blue sky' toward implementation--and they were necessary. 

I listened to the questions, and I thought long and hard about what was being asked. 

Some time later I spoke again with some of the folks who asked me questions the first time. This time our conversation was decidedly more hopeful and energetic. As I shared what I learned from their first questions, I saw heads begin to nod. I saw eyes beginning to fill with energy and creativity. 

Now the project has some legs and has a clearer vision. 

But I wonder. . . What might have happened if I took the questions and gentle pushback and allowed them to personally discourage me? How would my future conversation take shape if I shut down people who do not completely and wholly agree with me? 

Perhaps in that thought there is a lesson and way forward. Perhaps listening and questioning can help us find better solutions to life's problems in the Lord? The only way we will know for sure is to come together, listen, and grow our trust. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

I Wonder--July 12

Yesterday, after quite a bit of back and forth, I was finally able to meet with someone in our community who needs our help as the Body of Christ. They are looking for someone to partner with them in an act of caring--and their need is pressing. 

As I got ready for the meeting, I was running through a number of scenarios and responses.

If this person said "X" then I could counter with "Y," and together we would find a way to support this new need, and care for their need, and be faithful to our missional call from God. 

So as the time came for our conversation I was getting excited about the possibilities that were available to us. But if I am totally honest, I was also a bit guarded. I wanted to help but there are only so many things that we can do as the church. What if the need was greater than our ability and gifts? What if I had to look at this person and say, 'sorry we cannot help you.' That is not the response I wanted to offer. 

Thankfully, as we talked it became clear that my fears were unfounded. This person was far more gracious and flexible than I initially thought they might be because I did not have the whole story laid out before me. An initial plan was formed and now we are working on getting this idea off the ground. 

But my tension, my fear, my hesitation could have been a stumbling block to the whole project. 

I wonder, do you find yourself in that same situation? Is an idea accessible to you, a plan possible, but tension, fear, and hesitation could stall the whole thing? 

Perhaps this can be an opportunity to lean into God; to trust God. What could happen if you loosely held the idea and let God work out the details? Perhaps a new mission and ministry could be about to burst onto the scenes in your life? 

Monday, July 10, 2023

I Wonder--July 10

As we finished our first food distribution on Thursday evening I had such an overwhelming sense of joy and hope. . . but not only for the reasons you might suspect. Let me back up a bit. . . 

I was unable to be present as the distribution began since I had Bible study at the same time. So for the first hour and a half, I taught from the gospel of John and prayed that God would bring our community to the church so we can feed them. 

As I left the class and walked over to the tents where bags of food were being passed out, I wondered how the work was going? I wonder who from our community was coming for food, and I wondered what we were learning as we pass the food out? I wondered how God was calling us to adapt to meet this presenting issue? 

I then took my place in the food-line and began running bags out to the cars that pulled up into our parking lot. 

Over the next 45 minutes I spoke to a lot of people--people that I did not know. People that I had never seen before. Their responses, while diverse, carried a familiar and consistent tone. They were grateful and they offered us a blessing. Many people responded to us with a "God bless you" and/or a "thank you so much." My heart was touched. 

As I walked back to the house with Jennifer, I was reminded of something Lillian Daniel wrote. She said: 

"We had a feeling that there were people in the [community] who has something to teach us."

What a powerful statement! Trusting in people that we do not know to teach us something important--something from God. 

I wonder: Are we willing to listen to what our neighbors were offering to each us? 

That is not only a challenge that we deal with here at Bethesda as we pass out food to our community, but I believe it is a challenge that we should address each day as we meet and encounter our community. 

And so I wonder about you: are you willing to listen to your community? Because they might just have something to teach you too. . . 

Thursday, July 6, 2023

I Wonder--July 6

Tonight a new mission and ministry begins at Bethesda. And while this is not a completely knew mission project, it has been a while since Bethesda undertook a ministry like this and so the air here feels charged with possibilities. 

Around the church there is an air of excitement, anticipation, and hope being passed from member to member. 

We have done all the preparation and all leg-work that we can. We have prayed diligently to God about this idea--just as we prayed with God about the idea itself. Listening to God has also been part of our work. We do not want to do anything that is outside the will of God for us. Now tonight we will see how the Spirit of the Lord moves in the lives of our community. 

But I wonder what happens when we are done tonight? What happens next? 

This is a question that each member of the Body of Christ struggles with on a regular basis. Regardless of seasons of blessing or seasons of trial, we wonder, what's next. . . and we wonder how are we going to remain faithful. 

Perhaps the next thing, the next action, is one that is grounded in sharing? Perhaps the next thing that God asks us to do is just talk about the things that God is doing in your life? 

For whether tonight goes well (which I believe it will), or not, God is still with His church. God has never forsaken any of us.

I wonder what might happen in your work, your faith, and your call if you shared what God is doing with someone else? Because one thing I know for certain, God is at work in your life? 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

I Wonder--July 5

While hauling trash to the dump, I was listening to a conversation on a podcast that spoke to me. Kelly, the host, was talking about how her relationship with her mother has grown and evolved over time in an unexpected way.

With laughter filling in the silence of the story, Kelly talked about how she and her mother could not be more dissimilar. Then Kelly recounted a number of social and theological differences that exist between her mother and herself--all the while chuckling about the apparent gap between them. 

The story reaches its high point when Kelly realizes that for her entire life her mother has just let Kelly be Kelly. Specifically she says, "In that moment I realized that mom never tried to edit me. She just let me be me." And while that conclusion might feel very self-help-y to our ears, I was held in the depth of the statement for a few minutes as I noticed that God lets me be me. God trusts me enough to find Him and grow as I spend time in His Word. 

Mom just let her daughter be who she is. She did not try to smooth out any rough edges or correct any errors in thinking or living--which were present the whole time. She just loved her child and trusted her to find her way forward with the Lord's help. It's a brave choice, but it left a mark on Kelly. 

From that point on, when Kelly would visit her mom she just let mom set the pace for the entire encounter. Mom picked supper. Mom picked what to watch on TV without judgment. Mom could watch her favorite news channel right after the ballgame was complete. Mom could even pick the wine for the evening. 

In that choice a tremendous amount of relational growth happened. . . it germinated. 

And that got me thinking and it got me wondering. . . 

I wonder, who do you know, who do you encounter, who could you care for who needs the world to stop editing them so that they can be held close to the heart of the Lord? Who needs the community, or the church, to just embrace them for who they are and help them find the Lord? 

Perhaps letting God do the editing is a far better way to disciple the community? Maybe my job, our call, is just to care for them authentically and fully? 

Thursday, June 29, 2023

I Wonder--June 29

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 watched the children sing, play, listen, and participate at each station. Their smiles and joy can be infectious as is their passion. Yet at the end of each evening, I slump down into my chair tired and sore. 

I cover a lot of ground at VBS and my feet have a story to tell about that. 

On one particular evening as I pushed my recliner back to elevate my feet, Flynn began hopping in front of me. I had been so busy on that day that I did not have time to play with him. So he decided that now, when I was very tired, now was the best time for a little playtime. But again I was tired and did not want to play with him. 

Sighing I pulled him into my lap, pushed my chair back again, and waited. I figured I had about a minute before I put him back on the floor and needed to 'tug' against a toy to make him happy. But that did not happen. 

Instead, he hopped up my lap, kissed my face on the way by, and continued upward. I did not know where he thought he was going. But once he got to his final destination, which was my collar bone, he spun around and sat down and sighed. My face now covered in a blanket of dog hair. Flynn just sat there. On my collar bone for what felt like all evening. 

While I assumed that he wanted to play, in fact all Flynn wanted was affection and attention. He wanted to be close. 

Perhaps Flynn can teach us a lesson today. . . 

For we have all be worn out. We have all felt a longing in our hearts to be close to God. In those moments it seems that what is needed most is find a way to be close to God physically. To crawl up God's lap and perch yourself close to Him.

I wonder what might happen if you found a way to be near to the presence of God? What blessing and grace might show up, when you persist in getting close to God and remain in that place?   

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

I Wonder--June 27

Last evening VBS at Bethesda began. 

We welcomed the children into fellowship hall for supper and spent the evening with them. God's Word was taught. Songs that brought glory to God were sung. Crafts that helped reinforce the evening's message were produced. And the children laughed and played their games as a group. 

It was a good first day of VBS and a blessed day..

But sitting here thinking and comparing the number of volunteers to the number of children who are present at VBS, I am reminded of something that I read recently. 

As St. Francis was discerning his call from God, and listening to the voice of God, he asked several people who he trusted to pray for him and ask God what it is that God would call him to. So Brother Silvester prayed as did Brother Masseo. Sister Clare also spent time praying before God also. All three of them heard God speak to their hearts and so when Francis returned to hear what the Lord God wanted from him, the answer was clear and it was concise--it is also the same message that I have today as Bible School is progressing here at Bethesda. 

This is what God told Francis: "He wants you to go about the world preaching, because God did not call you for yourself alone but also for the salvation of others."

Called for the salvation of others. . . What a powerful statement! Regardless of how many people come before you or come to our VBS program, we are called to help in the salvation of others. Called to be present; called to preach. We are called to teach and called to serve. 

We are called for the salvation of others as Francis was, I wonder what that looks like in your life? 

Monday, June 26, 2023

I Wonder--June 26

Today my mind is cluttered. . . a bit more than normal if I am honest. And this 'cluttering' is having an impact on how I engage my faith and practice today. Let me explain:

Yesterday was a full day; a blessed day. I taught a Sunday School class on why we read God's Word and what it teaches us. I wondered if the Bible helps not only reveal God to us, but I wondered if the Bible helps reveal us to ourselves? We had a thought provoking discussion in class and as I headed into worship there was a lot swirling in my mind that I wanted to think on. 

Worship was meaningful for me. We commissioned VBS leaders for the program that starts tonight. There is still a significant amount of work to do and that too is floating around in my mind. 

My afternoon was filled with the work of the presbytery and a great deal of important conversations and reflections that I was borough into. I got home later than I imagined that I would, but still I felt that God was with me and with our presbytery in the work that we did. 

Then this morning as I prepared my weekly prayer request email, I was stuck by how long the list can grow at times and also how significant each of the needs of God's children are here at Bethesda. 

The overall affect of these last 24 hours has been a deluge of thoughts and reflections--a deluge of information. Somehow I need to sift through all the noise that is living in my mind and focus on who God calls me to be and how I might help 'be the church' for the community I am living in. 

Into that space I read the words of author and professor Yuval Noah Harari. He wrote these words: 

"In a world deluged by. . . information, clarity is power." 

And so I wonder today how you and I might gain clarity in the work that God calls us to? How might we focus on what is necessary and life-giving when we are constantly bombarded with information and choices?

When we are clear prayer flows easier.

When we are clear the Word of God can open up to our hearts continue to help transform and remake us.

When we are clear our union with Christ is more readily felt and accessed. 

I wonder what it looks like to find that clarity in your day today? Perhaps take some time and consider what practical steps you might to take to gain clarity in Christ Jesus? 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

I Wonder--June 22

I have had an interesting day that caused me to re-orient my entire day and some of my choices, and in this case, that may not be a bad thing. Let me explain. . . 

First thing this morning, after taking Luna and Flynn out, I stood before our coffee maker. It was very early and I knew both Jennifer and I needed some coffee to help us chase away the sleepiness. As Jennifer's cup brewed I reached down to pet a 'hopping' Flynn. As my left hand extended down toward his head I felt a pop in my left shoulder. It was debilitating; it was very painful. I couldn't take a deep breath. As Flynn continued hopping up and down, I stumbled down the hall and informed Jennifer that I think I either put my back out or pinched a nerve. 

A hot shower helped some. Advil helped some more. My shoulder is 'back in' (or whatever was wrong with it). Now it just aches, and that aching, has impacted my whole day. 

Finishing my lunch, I reclined back in my chair for a few minutes of quiet. Only a certain boy was again hopping next to my chair looking for my attention. I scooped up Flynn and pushed the chair into a reclined position. 

Almost instantly Flynn began to offer me some affection and attention. But this came at a price. I was no longer able to hold my iPhone up and listen to a podcast. I could not keep sipping my glass of water that I brought with me to the chair. I just had to sit there and let Flynn love me. 

Now sure I could put him down and get back to the things that I define as meaningful and purposeful in my life. . . Or, I could sit there in the moment and receive. 

I wonder if my story is not just about a sore shoulder and a hyper puppy? Perhaps this story is about being present in the moment to allow someone to love you-- someone like God? 

While we may think we are too busy, and too multi-tasked-oriented to hear from God, maybe today find a few moments to experience the love of God without any distractions. Notice how that feels and what it tells you? 

Monday, June 19, 2023

I Wonder--June 19

On Friday, I walked down into our backyard to work on our pool. I noticed that the water was not 'spinning' as much as normal which meant that filters needed to be cleaned out. This has to be done about once a week to keep the pool crystal clear and sanitized. 

Step by step I began the process. . . 

Unplug the filter. Close the intake and outtake valves. Unscrew the top of the filter container. Remove the filters and wash them in the dump sink. Then working backwards, I put things back where they belonged. The whole process takes about 15 minutes. 

Today would be different though. . . As I threaded the top plate of the pool filter, I turned my head and saw the power cord laying in the grass. Something was off. Examining it I saw that one of the two prongs was about 1/2 an inch longer than the other. Sighing I came to the only possible conclusion: the plug was broke and needed to be replaced or the pool filtration system would not work. 

I am not an electrician; at the time I did not know how I was going to replace this cord. I have never done this before. 

Amazon delivered a new cord after supper Saturday and yesterday, with a little help from Emma, I removed the cord, stripped the wire, and attached it to the pool pump correctly. Taking a deep breath I plugged the pump in and the unit immediately came to life. Water was being pushed through the filtration system and back into the pool. 

While the job was small, and not as complex as I feared, I walked back into the house with a sense of pride. I did something that I was not sure I could do before that moment. 

As I think about that experience I wonder about your spiritual practices. I imagine you have a set of practices that you engage in each day. Over and over you do what you know how to do. You serve as you know how to serve. You respond as you have done previously. 

But as my time with the pool pump taught me, perhaps God is inviting each of to grow our spiritual practices. . . Pray differently. Witness to someone else. Care for an individual or family that you have not before. 

Who knows. . . you might find a little blessing when you step out in faith in a new way. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

I Wonder--June 13

Today is a day filled with appointments. Already Jennifer and I have been to the doctors to care for her; soon I will head to Charlotte for another set of tests. Then shortly after that 80-minute test is concluded I need to be back in Rock Hill to for a follow-up appointment to understand what the results are saying to my doctor. 

Between these appointment I find myself trying to make sense of an already fully-formed day. Perhaps like me, when your day gets this full, you too find yourself taking time to make sense and understand where life is taking you? 

Knowing how much we had on our schedule both Jennifer and I awoke before our alarm went off. I would like to think that this was just a coincidence, but I know better. We are both anxious; we both want some answers and direction. The full day is on both our minds in some form or another. 

Into that mental space I found the words of Kirk Byron Jones. At the conclusion of an article that I read was this sentence. He writes: 

"In any given moment, God can be as direct and personal as God is mysterious."

Because there is a great deal traveling around in my mind, I am seeking the directness and personal-ness of God. I know that God's presence helps to provide meaning, purpose, and structure to my day and to my life. Yet at some points that clarity is not forthcoming. God seems, as the quotation states, mysterious. 

I don't understand what God is up to; I am unclear about the pathway forward. There are times when I cannot see how this current circumstance is leading to a place where God is glorified and blessed. . . While I believe and trust that God will illuminate my path forward, that conclusion can be hard to find in these moments.

And so I wonder. . . I wonder how do you approach God, the mysteriousness of God's presence, when the substance of your day is full, crowded, and unclear? Is there a word you could utter to God, a phrase, that might help draw you close to God in this moment? Perhaps that might be a way forward for your soul and a way to help you find God at work? 

Monday, June 12, 2023

I Wonder--June 12

A short time ago I finished a conversation with JonMark that has me thinking. . . Our conversation has been on-going for the last 2 days; we have added bits and pieces to it through various platforms. It started with a text message while he was at work and then moved into a phone call today. 

He wondered about prayer. . . and I wonder about prayer. 

A few days ago while at work JonMark engaged a co-worker in a conversation about God. This person stated that, although they were raised in the church, they consider themself to be an atheist. 

This person's statement triggered JonMark's mind and he has been considering how to pray for days now. He asks good questions and in our back and forth and I hope that we have blessed each other as we think about prayer. 

Today's call was about the Book of Prayer that sits on my office shelf. 

I talked him through the book and commented on various sections that have helped me over the years as I practice praying. Opening the book to whatever page it likes, I settle on page 22. There written on two pages is the "Breastplate of Saint Patrick."

I re-read portions of the prayer to him over the phone and we move on to other prayerful-thoughts. 

But this was not my first exposure to St. Patrick's prayer. As I read the prayer out loud, I am reminded of how it was taught to me 20 years ago. The words become more than poetic; they become my prayer with my son over the phone. 

"Christ be with me, Christ within me.
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, 
Charts to comfort and restore me, 
Christ beneath me, Christ above me."

The prayer is much longer than this, but these few lines have the impact of changing how I think and how I reflect on God with me in this moment. 

You too have been taught to pray in many forms and ways. Perhaps today take some time and remember how you were taught to pray. . . Perhaps like the Breastplate of St. Patrick, you may find God speaking once again to your heart. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

I Wonder--June 7

On a beautiful South Carolina morning such as this I can think of only one thing to say: "Lord I am tired." 

Shortly after 11:30pm last evening Jennifer gently woke me up with her voice just above a whisper--a frantic whisper. "What is that sound?" She asked. 

Peeling Flynn off my head because he wanted to play, I turned my head and listened. . . I didn't hear anything at first. 

Then after a moment the sound became distinct as the cobwebs cleared from my mind. There was a small, quick, tapping sound on the ceiling above the bed. A scurrying sound. Like nails clicking across the floorboards of the attic. . . Then a pause. . . Next we heard a rustling sound like a Walmart bag being shook around. 

We had a visitor--an uninvited visitor. 

Flynn is now wide awake and he has decided that it is time to grab his squirrel and squeak away on it since it is obviously time to play and not sleep. Luna does not even move a muscle; she gently sleeps on her bed. That little visitor in the attic isn't going to bother her. But the humans in the house, well, we have been startled awake and it will be very hard to go back to sleep. 

I will deal with 'our guest' later today. I didn't really want to lower the steps and try and attack our intruder late at night and stir the house up. I knew he or she wouldn't be that big of a problem for one night. 

But now. . . now I am very tired. Distracted. Wondering what was up there and wondering if it isn't a mouse, then how do I trap it? Wondering how I will clear my mind out and begin to focus on reading and studying God's word again?

And then I notice a new sound in my office. It has been present the entire time that I have been writing. . . I hear water running. I hear kids squealing in joy. I hear sounds of splashing and stomping in puddles. The Day Care kids are outside next to my office window having 'water time.' And they are loving it!  

In the blink of an eye my frustration and cloudy-mind floats away with each joyful screams of the children. Each shout makes me smile more and more and reminds me that even the challenges that keep us awake at night, the ones that interrupt our sleep, and hold us away from that same sleep, even those moments cannot compare with God's blessings--like the sound of happy children enjoying being together and playing. 

I wonder if today as you spend time with God, as you pray and read His word, I wonder how God might be offering you a way to re-focus, re-orient, your day back to practices of joy? 

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

I Wonder--June 6

Today I have been considering the idea of 'gathering.' And before we go too deeply into the idea and craft our own witty definition, let me tell you another story from last week. 

As I said, last week I took dad's golf clubs out and 'pitched' some golf ball across the yard. The seven white golf balls weighed down my cargo shorts pocket and made the act of swinging noticeably different. So I sought a solution. . . 

I found a small, mesh zip-up bag in the closet to hold all of dad's (now my) golf balls safely. 

Walking into the shed I unzipped the blue golf bag and began to grab fist-fulls of white golf balls (and one yellow one). I placed them into the new white mesh bag and closed it up. Slowly the bag became fuller and fuller. With all my little treasures rolling around in the bag, I confidently walked into the yard to practice some more. 

I had gathered my treasures; my tools.

The bag made a distinctive thud as it hit the ground; the balls bounced off each other in the bag but they could not escape. Then one after another I took one out, and hit them across the yard. Then when I was done, I placed them back in the bag-- and eventually back on the table. 

The act of gathering these little white golf balls was enjoyable. Dad's bag always seemed to have just one more golf ball should I lose one or need one. The act of gathering was a practice in memory as much as it was a practice of hope--a hope that I would remember the lessons that he taught me years ago. 

In this way my story carries a sense of spirituality. 

When I come before God, or as I prepare to meet God devotionally, I practice gathering the things that I will need. My Bible. A journal. A pen. My devotional book. They are all needed. 

But I also need to gather before the Lord myself, my attention, my presence, my struggles. I need to deliberately think about the baggage that I will take into my time with God. For all that I bring with me before God will impact how God and I spend our time. 

I wonder how you practice gathering before the Lord today?  

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...