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?  

Monday, June 5, 2023

I Wonder--June 5

Finally back to work after a week of vacation and I feel rested and recharged. This time out of the pulpit was more of a 'stay-cation'--and I loved it. Turns out I needed to 'stay' and not go. 

JonMark and Autumn left Tuesday morning before breakfast, and as Jennifer backed out of the carport, I began to wonder how I would fill my days without going to the office or considering a Bible passage for Sunday morning? 

I wondered what to do next. . . 

Well that wondering didn't last long as Flynn came bounding into the room announcing, as he does so silently, that it was time to go outside. He sat by the door and looked up at me as I slipped on my flip-flops. Like all puppies, Flynn behaved as you might expect. He did what needed to be done but not before picking up every twig, branch, and leave that got in his way which leaping and prancing around. 

As he and I went back inside I told him, "Flynn let's read." I hoped to complete a new book that I bought this week. So I slid back my recliner and tired to start; but Flynn would have none of it. 

By Thursday I was able to read about 20 pages of the book with Flynn wanting my attention. But something was nagging at my heart. Something was back there that I heard. Sighing I stood up, called Emma to come take Flynn, and headed to the shed. 

There in the corner sat my father's blue golf bag. Since he passed away I have not touched a golf ball except to roll my foot over it to help with a sore plantar tendon from time to time. Today was going to different. I took out his pitching wedge, filled my cargo shorts with around 8 balls, and walked into the yard. 

Over the next few minutes I poorly pitched golf balls across our wide yard while Nala and Flynn (who by now have joined me) chased them. With each stroke I noticed how much I miss playing golf with my dad. 

In the book, Life in the Five Sense, Gretchen Rubin writes this: 

"One of my most important realizations was that we can build a happy life only on the foundation of self-knowledge." 

In my golf story that is true. The memories flooded back as I thought about my time with dad playing golf. My self-knowledge grew in many ways as well as I thought back to our time together. 

But Gretchen's point does not only relate to golf or some other activity. Her point can be true in our spiritual walks as well. There is always something foundational, something that you remember, something that you were taught that helps you learn more about yourself and about God. 

I wonder what that thing might be today? I wonder how learning about that foundation might help you deepen your love and faith in the Lord and how that self-learning might help you in your community? 

I Wonder--November 29

I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met?  Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart...