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My heart beats for love. I want to be different. I want to be who I am called to be. WORTHY and LOVED!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Tea Cup Journey - "Find Your Happy Place"

    As I was unpacking my many mugs about a month ago, the idea for new blog entries emerged. What would it look like to think about what each mug I used met to me. What memories it told. What it was pointing me to in the future.
    Those who know me best know that I find comfort in cups of tea. I usually start out the day with a strong cup of black tea, followed by a green energizing tea in the afternoon, and a soothing herbal tea before bed.. There is something almost magical about tea, the way 2 steaming mugs can draw strangers into a conversation at a coffee shop or reunite 2 friends that haven't seen each other in a while.
   One of my newer mugs has one of my favorite Disney characters on the front, depicted amongst a scene from the sea - Finding Nemo. Finding Nemo tells the story of a little fish who was the prize of his dad's eye and whom he feircly protected because others saw him as not quite whole with his smaller fin. Nemo defies his father one day, which leads to him being captured and the rest of the movie is spent with his father passionately doing whatever it takes to bring him back home. I could watch this movie just about every day and find something new that speaks to me.
   This morning my Finding Nemo mug was filled with Mango Ceylon tea. Steam coming out of the top. As much as the picture on the front remind me of my favorite movie, its the words that speak to me: "Find your happy place". My happy place isn't a physical location, per say. Its situations where I find joy. Reading a good book. Talking with my congregation members about their hopes and dreams. Visiting a shut in and enjoying a cold cup of water over life stories together. Sewing gifts for friends. Cooking elaborate meals.
   Two different friends this week commented on how much happier I seem in my present situation. Not because everything is perfect or because the last situation was bad. Simply because I have found a happy place, a place filled with joy and peace and support. We all need such places in our lives, safe places, where we can retreat and simply be who we are and do what we love. Sadly, I'm not sure many people have such a happy place in today's world, for a variety of reasons.
   What would you need in order to find your happy place?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gal 6: 1-10 “Bearing One Another’s Burdens”

As I was preparing to leave my last appointment, one of the churches that I served was knee-deep in visioning, which is essentially the process of discerning who we are and who God is calling us to be as a particular local church. One of the things I did during this visioning process was ask a lot of questions. Why do people need Jesus Christ in their lives? Why do people need the Church universal? Why do people need this particular local church? How would the town we were located in be effected if this particular local church no longer existed? But one my favorite questions was what makes the local church different from any other club or organization. We took time to really dig deeply into that question before my lay leader started talking about her experience as part of a local knitting group. She said the difference was that the church was family. While she though she could probably call on her knitting group if she was going through a tough time, she knew that she could call on her church to respond. 
This is our last week of learning from the churches in Galatia. We have talked about leaning on what the word of God says about who we are and whose we are. We discovered what it means to have true freedom in Christ - a freedom marked by the grace of God who will not let us stay where we are in our faith journey. This week we are going to delve into what the lay leader was trying to describe - bearing one another’s burdens. 
Show of hands - how many of you have at least one person in your life that you know you can trust and turn to when times to get hard? A burden bearer? Someone who loves you unconditionally? If you raised your hands know that you are in the minority. Most people have a hard time identifying a true friend they can trust in their lives. I have been blessed with three such friends, who I know would be here in a heartbeat if I needed them, and I would do the same for them. They are my confidants. My prayer warriors. My burden bearers. 
The truth is the Church struggles with this idea of bearing the burdens of others because we often take it to extremes. Some churches function as if they need to know everyone’s business in detail before they can respond. They function more like gossip mills then burden bearers, and the result is often a breech in trust. Such behavior often leads two of the pillars of the Church to come tumbling down - love and unity. Is it loving to talk about someone behind their back? Do we hold the struggles of our brothers and sisters gently in our hands, or do we try to beat them down with advice?
The opposite is true of other churches - they believe that everything is everyone’s own business and don’t trust one another enough share anything. But this is just as detrimental to relationships within and outside of the Church because we aren’t living into the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ - who showed us what it looked like to bear one another’s burdens on the cross.
I think we struggle as churches with what it means to bear one another’s burdens because we haven’t really taken the time to look into what Paul meant when he wrote about bearing one another’s burdens in a way that fulfills the law of Christ. What is Paul talking about when he wrote about the law of Christ and how does it apply to us today? 
Different folks fall into two different camps when they study the law of Christ. The first set of folks believe that Paul is trying to make a distinction between the law of Christ and some of the Jewish law found in the Torah. Those things that can be described as the work of the law about ritual eating and other things that separate Jews from Gentiles. Whenever Paul would enter into an area to raise up disciples of Christ he would preach both to Jews and Gentiles, not about the things that make them different under the Jewish law, but more importantly, what unifies them in Christ. So the law of Christ was that which unifies not that which divides. 
The second camp of folks who study the Scriptures think that the law of Christ is that which Christ summed up in his teachings: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (which came from the scriptures in Deutoronmy) and love your neighbor as yourself (found in Leviticus). That was the law of Christ that was seen on the cross, of being obedient ever to the point of death and loving those who persecuted and killed him for the sake of their salvation and ours. 
Whether Paul was writing about building up those things that seek to unify people in Christ or loving God and neighbor with all we are and all we have, Paul goes on to say that we need to be about the work of the law of Christ. This doesn’t mean that we seek to live into the law of Christ because we believe that works can save us, instead he is saying that what you work at is a reflection of who you are. 
But here’s another place that churches can start to falter when they study about bearing one another’s burdens. Paul says that we need to be about our own work and people need to carry their own loads - and some have used this to justify ignoring the needs of others. A test that I use with scriptures like this, or others that can be confusing, is to ask is this a reflection of the love of Christ? Would it be a reflection of the love of Christ, as written in scriptures and experienced in our own lives, to ignore the needs of others? Or to assume the worst about people? Or to tell someone that they need to help themselves? No.
There are some cultural adages, or sayings, that we have confused with scripture - like we need to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, or God helps those who help themselves. Is that a reflection of Christ’s heart? If not, then it shouldn’t be a reflection of ours!
We cannot read a verse or two of scripture in isolation and use that to justify our thoughts and actions if it is contrary to the way of Jesus Christ. If the Church would read on, we would find Paul writing about reaping what we sow. Are we sowing that which represents our own wants and desires or the heart of God? Will we reap our own flesh or the Kingdom of God? What example are you using to live your life and what do you hope that it will produce? Author of Leading the Way through Galatians, Michael Yousseff sums up this teaching on sowing and reaping by stating, “We cannot sow jealousy and hatred, then reap love and friendship”. 
But here’s the thing about bearing one another’s burdens and sowing and reaping that which reflects the love of Christ, it takes time. It isn’t instantaneous. That’s why there are times that the church would rather leave it alone. But all good things take time. And all good things take risk. 
In his book Fields of Gold, Pastor Andy Stanley tells the story of one man, Jeremiah Clay’s, worry. Maybe you can identify with it...
Jeremiah was a farmer during the Great Depression and was lured west by promises of fields being ripe for the harvest. So he packed up his family and headed out to a new life - only to find out those fields were more like a dust bowl. From year to year he didn’t know if there would be enough water for his crops, or if they would be flooded out, or blown away. Each month, for five trying years, he could spend an entire salary on seed - seed that he didn’t know would take or not. Jeremiah was now finding the courage to replant hard to summon. He hadn’t made a profit in five years. He found himself worrying each day about the next storm that may come and blow away his investment. He wondered if he should even bother planting another bag of seed.

If we take time to examine our hearts, many of us probably can identify with Jeremiah Clay. We don’t know is sowing into relationships where we are called to bear another’s burdens is worth our time and energy. In fact, we don’t know if any relationships are worth our time and energy. We worry that we won’t see fruit. Or that we will be hurt or taken advantage of. But we are called as the body of Christ to take that risk. To be there for other people. Fully there. We are to show others the love of Christ. Who are you being called to show that love to this week by bearing their burden? Amen. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Remembering the Context

   Timelessness is something that is greatly misunderstood in our present day. We believe that timelessness means that something never changes, that it has the same truth today as it did when it was said so long ago, when really timeless is simply defined in the dictionary as staying beautiful or fashionable as time passes or lasting forever.
    I love to read. I blame my parents for this, reading to us when we were little. I devour books and thoughts and seek greater understanding of life through them until my fingers are covered in ink smudges and my heart is full. One of my favorite subjects to study was literature. But literature is funny in some ways, for you cannot fully appreciate it if you do not know the context in which it was written. Do not know the social and political climate that helped birth the words. If you divorce a book from its context, you may still find something meaningful in it, yet you have surely lost more than you will gain.
    Yet, we continue to go through life, ripping context away and trampling down the precious meaning to be found. We do it with others life experiences, trying to fit our experience with theirs, even if the context makes it so they aren't the same. We do it with works of art. And we do it with the Bible. Somewhere along the way we, as the church, bought into the lie that the King James version is the text in its original language (it is not) or is the best translation (it is not). We think that words mean the same thing today as they did back when it was written (they do not). And we believe that we don't need to know what context the words arose out of (which we do). Shame on us. We have taken the beauty and truth of the Bible and have trampled on it by not being good students. We try to shove our own experience upon the pages when the text pushes back and does not allow for this. What would it take for us to be students of context first, before trying to place ourselves and our situations in the text? What would it take for us to live into the full beauty of the Word?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sabbath and Judges

    For the past year or so I have been collecting books to read about Sabbath. I was so captivated by the idea of Sabbath because I knew I was failing at it. So I spent hours reading, thinking, praying about what God was doing with the creation of the Sabbath. I finally settled into the comfort that the Sabbath was made for worship and rest. This morning during devotions and last night, listening to the most recent sermon from House for All Sinners and Saints, I realized that when I'm really tired, bone tired, I often push God away. All I want to do is drop into a deep sleep, not rest in the presence of God. Sabbath rest is about renewal - growing closer to God. Worship, eating long meals with friends, reading good books, snuggling with cups of tea. I try to have Sabbath moments throughout each day, but I also know that I, and others, need one full day where the totality of our attention in intentionally pointed at God to remember who we are.
     This past Sunday, the liturgist asked from the pulpit why I put my schedule in the bulletin and included my Sabbath. She said that it was really just my day off and didn't give me a chance to explain myself. There is a chasm that exists between Sabbath and day off. Both are vital, but they do not exist for the same purpose. A day off is a time to run errands, fill with what you want to do, and just go through life, minus working for a day. Contrast that with a day totally aligned with feeding your soul. Do you see the difference? We need both in our lives, but the culture that we live in says that any day you aren't at your job, is just another day off. What a tragedy.
     For me this is especially important as a pastor. It isn't just about semantics, because my work days are filled with caring for other people. They are filled with gingerly holding other people's pain and stories, and there are times when it just seems that one day flows into another without any time to rest and reflect. Yesterday during devotions I was reading the story of Micah in Judges 17, how he took a Levite into his home and made him his own personal priest. I live in fear of slipping into that type of situation, where other people start to own me in my profession before I even realize it, and compromise who I am as a beloved child of God. I need Sabbath to prevent that. I need Sabbath to remember who I am and to stand firm in my call. We all need Sabbath, and not just another day off.

Friday, July 17, 2015

"Soaked" in the Spirit

   I returned a few hours ago from serving as the camp pastor at Soaked Jr/Sr. High Camp. My dad thinks its humorous that my brothers and I never actually went to camp as a camper, in all honesty we refused each time he presented it, but each of us have had powerful experiences at camp serving as counselors. This week was not an exception for me.
   I find at camp that I feel free. Free to think, write, reflect on everything tumbling around in mind. Free to just invest in the life of the campers. It is currently my third year back serving at the same camp and I just saw so much fruit in the stability of serving year after year - in campers seeking me out to talk and trusting me with their stories, prayers, and questions. It is also my third year serving as a camp pastor, a new program launched by our annual conference in 2013, which allows me to lead worship and share what is on my heart.
    This week I kept noticing the Spirit moving in ways that are even hard to put into words. In folks giving powerful testimonies. Hearing some of the most sincere and honest prayers I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. In the interactions of one of the counselors and her brother, which made me desperately long for my brothers and I to be counseling alongside each other again.
     Two brief thoughts I want to try to express, knowing I will fail miserably.
Frist, my cabin wasn't in the main building (we were completely full as a camp and had to utilize all possible space). As I was walking back the board walk one night, I found myself reaching for the porch light outside of the cabin to turn it on for the girls I was counseling who I knew would return much later than I that evening. I found myself struck by the through that God always leaves the porch light on for us - inviting us to be in relationship, longing for us to return - no matter how long we've been away. The porch light in my family is left on expecting that someone will return. God eagerly awaits our return in an expectant manner.
      Second, there were some great themes this week, but Thursday's struck me the most, "Jesus as Healer". One of the counselors who had struggled with health issues shared how Christ had healed him and I was dumb-struck by how much that rings true in my life as well, especially over the past year. I struggled for almost eleven month trying to figure out what was leading to intense, almost crippling, stomach pain. Ever test came back negative and I felt like I was being shuffled from doctor to doctor. But now, four months after a diagnosis, I feel pain free. I feel as healthy as I have ever been (atested to by the almost 60 miles we walked this week, according to one counselor's pedometer). I feel healed not only physically, but from the pain of a friendship that went south, where I ended up feeling un-valued as it was not life-giving.  Jesus truly is the healer, but it took me coming to camp to be able to see all the healing that has taken place in my own life.
    There are so many other stories - stories of people being powerfully transformed, but they are not mine to tell. I just praise God for the camping program and what it has meant to me since 2007.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Smell

   What I find hardest to deal with during moves to new places are the new smells - or more accurately the lack of familiar smells. The scents of my home are gone because there hasn't been time for the candles, loose leaf tea, and dryer sheet smell to seep into the wood. Perhaps there is a good lesson in that for all transitions - it takes time to seep into a place - to become firmly established and comfortable - to become part of what it means to be from that place.
    In many ways with this move I am returning home, but at the same time I need to make this place my home.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

1 John 1:9 “How Do We Forgive Ourselves”

Way back before Lent we entered into our mini sermon series on forgiveness  by asking how we can forgive others when they hurt us. But this week we are going to flip the question, instead asking, how can we forgive ourselves when we hurt others.
When we are in relationship with others, we tend to hurt them from time to time. But after we wrong someone we have a choice to make - or rather a series of choice. First, we need to decide if we will humble ourselves to say “I’m sorry” or not. Second, if we choose to say “I’m sorry” we have to decide how we will say it and how we will respond to the one we have hurt.
Because we are all in relationships, we need to learn how to say “I’m sorry” - yet it seems that for some of us, these can be the hardest words to ever utter. They admit our shortcomings. They make us vulnerable. So some people avoid admitting that they have hurt anyone in life, refusing to say “I’m sorry”, and eventually causing even more pain. 
But others choose to say “I’m sorry”. After examining the distant that they are feeling from someone close to them and considering the part they have to play in creating that distance, they begin to ask how can I be reconciled to the one I’ve wronged? Reconcile is a difficult word. It means restoration of friendship or relationship. But such simple definition can trick us into thinking that reconciliation is easy - which is far from the truth. Reconciliation is difficult because it is beyond our control. We cannot make someone we have wronged restore relationship with us - we can only put our best foot forward. We can only control our part in seeking the reconciliation, not if someone else will it accept it, what terms they may present, or the timing. And that is hard to swallow. When we say “I’m sorry” to another person, we cannot expect the automatic response to be “I forgive you”, especially if we have deeply wounded someone. Forgiveness, like healing, takes time.
So why would we want to take the risk of saying “I’m sorry”, not knowing if the other person will accept our apology or not? Because right relationships matter to God. I often tell people that for Christians, our relationships with God and others are linked together. When we are feeling closer to God, when we are in right relationship with God, after confessing our sin and seeking to restore our relationship with the Holy One, we are usually in better relationship with the people who are important in our lives. The reverse is also true. When we seek to be reconciled to those important people in our lives who we have hurt, we often find ourselves growing closer to God. It is very difficult to love God and hate our neighbor, or to love our neighbor and be estranged from God.
We are meant to be loving, truthful, and kind to one another, but when we slip into the sin of selfishness, putting our needs and focus first, we are bound to hurt other people. I can think of no sin that is a private sin, for many times such sins end up unintentionally hurting others and most certainly hurt God. This is why we are told in today’s scripture verse to confess our sins. When we confess our sins earnestly to God, God meets us with grace and purifies us. This doesn’t mean that we will never make a mistake or sin again, it simply means that God, through Jesus Christ, intervene on our behalf. While we do not know if another person will accept our apologies, we know God will. According to Pastor Adam Hamilton, we must talk about sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation all together when he states, “But the process of forgiveness begins with our awareness and understanding of sin, for if we are not aware of our sin, we go on living self-absorbed lives hurting others. So the purpose of preaching and learning about sin is to open the door to healing!”
A caveat, however. Our confession to God and apologies must be sincere. How many of us have seen a little child hurt another person, only to have the parent demand that they say they are sorry? While this is certainly teaching a good skill, the child often half heartedly says “I’m sorry” without admitting what they did wrong or how it hurt another person. This is a bad trait we carry into our adult relationships. Making statements such as “I’m sorry, but….”, or making an excuse with our apology, or gloss over your mistakes, or seeking to place blame on the other person. Part of apologizing is thinking about and stating what you wish you would have done differently. Thinking about how you can seek through not only words, but also actions, to be in right relationship, as you answer the question, will I do my best to not harm this person in this way again?
But what if the wrong or the burden lies in the past? Too many of us are carrying around loads of unconfessed and unforgiven sin against other people. How can the burden of guilt from such instances be removed? Through prayer. And through seeking a right relationship with God through confession. If the person you have wronged is still living, try to seek them out and reconcile. I was reading a book this week and approaching death in the hospice program from a chaplain’s perspective. In one of the vignettes, the chaplain tells of a woman who was estranged from her brother for twenty years, but wanted to be reconciled to him before she died. Not knowing how to do so, she wrote him letter, essentially saying, I forget why we are estranged, but I am sorry that I continue to hurt you by keeping my distance. Before she died, he brother wrote back, saying he too, did not remember why they were estranged, and wanted to be in relationship again with her. When we confess our sins to God and others, we lighten our load and lay the burden of our guilt down. Part of the reason we pray a corporate prayer of confession each week is to get us in the habit of confessing and to remind us that we have fallen short in our relationship with God and with other people.
But what if the person we have hurt is no longer living or will not forgive us? Then take it to God in prayer. We may not be able to have the relationship with the person we once had, but we can ask God to keep us from committing the same sins against people in other relationships. We still need to lay the burden of guilt down. As long as we have tried our very best to restore the relationship and have earnestly repented, we can be assured of our pardon. 
The journey of seeking forgiveness for wrongs you have committed against others is not something we should enter into alone. Just as there are no private sins, there too are really no private confessions. For too often, we confess our sins to God alone, we do not have accountability from other people, which we deserpately need. This is why we need the Church. I’ve heard far too many people tell me that they are not good enough, too bad or too broken to come to Church. But the Church is for sinners. The Church exists to support one another on this journey towards forgiveness because we’ve all been there. We need a place to put what God has touched our heart with into action. To practice reconciliation. To seek to lay our burdens down. To both ask for and accept forgiveness.
I can think of no better way to end my time with you than with this sermon. To say I am sorry for the times you feel that I have not made the right decisions. To say I’m sorry for not being the pastor that some of you wanted or was able to fulfill your every expectation. But I ask that you do not carry any un-forgiveness you may be feeling towards me into your relationship with Pastor Tim. God has given you a clean slate - a fresh start. Embrace it. Learn from him. Love him and Brittany. And let him be the pastor God has called him to be. 

Brothers and sisters, what guilt of damaged relationships are you carrying around? Who do you need to say “I’m sorry” to? What unconfessed sins do you need to bring before God? May we leave this place, knowing that we have the support of one another as we seek to restore the relationships in our lives in need of healing - be it with God or with other people. Amen.