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. 

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...