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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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Monday, July 25, 2016

#healthypastor - Spiritually

  I come from a denomination that had a very important tradition of asking one another in small group gatherings "how is it with your soul?" I think we need to reclaim the time and space to honestly answer that questions - especially as pastors. How is it really with our souls?
  Far too many pastors I know neglect their own spiritual life as they care for the spirituality of others. The only devotional life they have to speak of revolves around preparing for Sunday's sermon and the only time they pray is when they are asked to do so publicly. When our spiritual lives are languishing as pastors, how can we be expected to lead others deeper in their relationship with God?
   Like exercise, I don't have a set devotionally schedule. The generally gist is doing a structured reading in the morning - but the time varies depending on the day, and a personal scripture reading in the evening. Currently, I am using A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals in the morning which has a guided time of prayer and singing, a psalter reading, and a new testament and old testament reading. I usually change the book I use for structured devotional time once a year, but for the time being I have been using this for two consecutive years because I really like it. Then in the evening I read one chapter from the Hebrew Scriptures and one chapter from the New Testament.
   We all need to find what works for us personally in terms of spiritual growth - we are all different so different types of readings appeal to us - but we each need to be doing something to tend to our own souls so that we can tend to others without our cups running spiritually dry.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

“A Servants Healing” Matt 8: 5-13

I attended a college that had a very clear goal - to develop scholar servants, also referred to at time as servant leaders. When we had our baccularette service the evening before commencement, each of us was presented with a towel, to remind us that Jesus modeled what it was like for us to be servant leaders when he washed the disciples feet. We were then sent out into the world to do the same. 
I think of that commissioning to go and serve every time I see that towel sitting in my office. But in today’s scripture text we find a servant leader in an unexpected place - in a centurion whose servant is sick. This story begins with a twist - it is not a servant who is coming to Jesus on behalf of his master, but instead a master, a leader of the Roman army, who was coming to Jesus on behalf of his servant. The centurion was modeling servant leadership by even coming to Jesus in the first place, because this servant was so sick that he need someone else to come to Jesus and plead his case for healing. 
Jesus, didn’t even bat an eye. His immediate response was that he would go with the centurion to see his servant and heal him. Healing with Jesus is a tricky thing. The centurion was asking that his servant’s body be physically healed from the distress that it was in - and it would seem that was certainly what Jesus went forth to offer - but God’s healing through Christ touches us in so many different ways. Jesus doesn’t just heal our bodies. Jesus can heal relationships. Can heal the way that we see ourselves as he frees us from past sins. Jesus can heal our present and our futures by reminding us that we are in Christ.
A few months ago I had the wonderful experience of participating in the Philipsburg-Osceola High School Baccularette service. The pastor giving the mediation kept encouraging the graduates and those present to seek out the good life - not necessarily the good life as the world defines it, where nothing bad every happens to you, and you are wealthy, and live the American dream - but the good life in Christ - where we are so centered in the Lord that we can get through whatever we may face. That is the type of healing and hope that Jesus offered, far above and beyond the physical healing that took place in his presence as well.
Jesus has agreed to go and do what the centurion has asked for - but then there is a twist. He declares that he is not worthy to even have Jesus come under his roof, so instead he encouraged Jesus to speak the word of healing over his servant right then in there. The centurion had so much trust, so much faith in Jesus, that he believed that he could bring healing across distances. Jesus has that much authority. 
A centurion would have commanded one-hundred foot soldiers in the Roman army. He had authority over their lives - so much so that he said go or come and they would respond accordingly. The centurion believed that Jesus had so much authority over disease and sickness that he could change everything with a single word.
Jesus was amazed at hearing these words. Here was a Roman, not a Jew, who understood the power of God. Here was a solider, who had his own authority over people’s lives and yet he understood faith better then others Jesus had encountered up to this point Here was one who would be worthy of anything he wanted, by the world’s standards, yet in all humility he recognized that he wasn’t worthy to have Jesus enter into this home. Here is someone who could have commanded anyone else to come and make this request on behalf of him, because he was that important, yet he came with a servant leaders heart to plead his case. He came and humbly asked Jesus to simply speak, and change this servants life. 
Friends, the centurion in today’s scripture treated Jesus with a level of respect and authority that I sometimes fear that we are missing today. He acted with a faith that is seen only in glimpses in our culture. Do we ascribe to Jesus the authority he is due, or do we only go to Jesus when it is a last resort? Do we live as if we believe that a simple word from Jesus can change our lives, or do we try to gain everything by our own strength and determination? Do we act as if Jesus has a say in our lives, let alone the ultimate say in our lives, or not?
I mentioned before that I attended the high school baccularette service, but perhaps one of my greatest joys came few days before that. Every year the miniterium offers a scholarship (and sometimes two) to students who write an essay based on a prompt given. This years prompt was about living out your faith, and we had seven applicants, more then we have ever had in years past. Each of those essays were filled with stories of Jesus directing these graduates lives as they tried to give their very all to the Lord, trusting that Christ would use them to change the world and believing that they were to serve him in all they do every day. That is faith. Some of the students went on to speak of Christ changing their lives and redeeming awful situations they encountered. That is faith. And the winner spoke of seeing miracles every day - that is faith. 
Maybe we don’t have the faith of the centurion but do we have the faith of these teenagers right here in our community? Do we strive to live by faith - giving Jesus control and praise? 
The funny thing about the faith of the centurion was that it wasn’t about knowing all the scriptures - he honestly probably knew very little, if any, as a Roman. It wasn’t about knowing all the God speak or theology about God or what Jewish people believed. His faith was about trusting in the power of Jesus and knowing that he had the authority to change things for his servant, so he risked himself in humbly asking Jesus to do so. 
And you know what  - Jesus did it! He spoke over the centurion’s servants life - which wasn’t his original plan - remember he was originally going to go and heal him face to face -  all because of the faith of this particular Roman. 
Brothers and Sisters, sometimes we miss the point. We can get so caught up in making sure that we believe the right thing, or that our God-speak in just right, that we miss the beauty of having the simple faith to trust Jesus. The simple faith to risk ourselves on behalf of others, both in action and prayer. We miss opportunities to be amazed by Jesus, because we don’t give him the authority that he is due. Let’s change that. Let’s step out in faith, on matters great and small, and give Christ our trust. Give Christ his authority instead of pretending that we have everything under control. Let’s praise God as Jesus breaks through barriers in our lives and the lives of others. Let’s pray for healing in this community. Let’s let Jesus be Jesus. Amen. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

#healthypastor - Relationships

   At annual conference this year we heard a wonderful sermon during the ordination service that made a great point - even the lone ranger wasn't actually alone. He had a side kick. He partnered with different agencies and local people. Yet, far too many pastors take pride in a different definition of being a lone pastor - actually being alone.
   We are made for relationships. It's in how God created us. For those who know me best, they know I'm an introvert. Sometimes I need to be alone for a short period of time in order to recharge, but I also need people. I need my prayer partners and my spiritual director. I need to talk to my best friends and family. I need to interact with people.
   But pastors can have another problem if they don't embrace the "alone ranger" mentality, they can also swing too far the other way and thing that their congregation members are their confidants and friends. This can be dangerous for a few different reasons. I love everyone in my congregation, but if I start to treat some people differently, acting like friends to some but not to all, some people feel left out and a divide starts to form in the church. Second, if I look for people in the congregation to constantly be meeting my needs instead of me serving them, I'm on a quick slope to violating boundaries and ethics, even if we don't mean to. (Check out https://www.keepingoursacredtrust.org for more information and an informative training on this). Third, what happens when you leave? It is hard enough for pastors and congregations when there is a pastoral change - but what happens if they feel that they aren't just losing a pastor but losing a best friend? How will this possibly hinder the ministry of the person who is following you (who we always need to be thinking of as pastors).
    We need relationships. We are made for relationships. But they need to be healthy relationships - where we can be fully ourselves and not "pastor" and relationships that do not even appear to violate any boundaries.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Treasure in Heaven

The Lord’s Prayer. Powerful words that we pray each and every Sunday. Powerful words that I know many of you pray daily. But have you ever stopped to consider exactly what we are praying together with this prayer? Have you ever thought about what Jesus is trying to teach us not just about nature of prayer, and how to pray, but about the Kingdom of God with these particular words.
We are now in our third week of exploring some of the stories found in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is the Gospel of Matthew found teaching through stories and parable to be crucial to his ministry. He certainly healed people in the text and performed miracles, but Jesus spent more time in the gospel of Matthew instructing the disciples then in the other three Gospel writings. Specifically, Jesus was intent to instruct those who gathered around him about the Kingdom of God. 
Today’s text starts off with Jesus teaching about prayer. In fact Jesus doesn’t start of with the philosophy behind prayer, he simply tells the disciples how to be in an attitude of prayer. Remember that the Gospel of Matthew is written to a primary Jewish audience - they are used to stories from the Hebrew Scriptures about leaders who prayed for them as a people and are used to hearing the great prayers of the Psalmists - but this is a different type of prayer - a personal prayer between them and God. Further, note that in comparing those hearing the teaching to the Gentiles, Jesus is not condemning the Gentiles - that simply isn’t Matthew’s audience here so he is using them as a contrasting point of comparison. 
We are to pray in a way that is simple and straight forward. We are to tell God what is honestly on our hearts. Prayer isn’t about seeking attention or who can talk the longest or getting all the words right. Prayer is about communicating with God. We pray in order to be in deep relationship with God. 
One of my favorite praise songs isn’t sung very often. Maybe because its not upbeat. Maybe because it just isn’t known very well. But its entitled ‘If I Could Just Sit With You Awhile’. “If I could just sit with you a while. If you could just hold me. Nothing could touch me though I’m wounded, though I die. If I could just sit you a while, I need you to hold me, moment by moment until forever passes by.” Friends, we have a holy, loving, God who invites us to just come and sit in prayer. To cry. To be silent. To express our heart’s joy. To tell God about our day. And to be loved. That is the attitude we approach prayer with.
At the same time, Jesus is teaching us to pray for big things - not just empty requests that we feel like we have to say. This can be a scary prayer to pray. Maybe you don’t want God to actually occupy all of your life. Maybe you want to hang on to control. So you don’t think about the boldness in the request “Thy Kingdom Come”. You avoid praying it in your own prayers, yet alone praying it first and foremost and instead settle for smaller requests. Personal wants and desires. What is God grants our heartfelt prayer to have the Kingdom of God come? What would that mean in our lives? In our town? In our nation? In our world? Our God invites us to make this request. Our Lord instructs us to pray in this way, that the Kingdom of God come and be known among us! Praise be to God! Do we believe our request will be granted? Do we pray as if it is coming? Or do we simply recite the words, not seeing and believing the power behind them? Jesus tells us not only to pray that the Kingdom of God come, but that God’s will be done. But once again, do we realize the power behind what we are praying? Time and time again in scripture we see the disciples just not getting it. They expect Jesus to come and overthrow the Roman government, even though Jesus came to overthrow the power of sin and death. They expect him to be a conquering King, not a humble Messiah. The walked with Christ for three years and still didn’t get what the will of God was.
God wants us to pray prayers that have the power to change the course of history. God wants us to ask for big things for the Kingdom on Heaven and Earth. But we shy away from this. Maybe because we are afraid that we will be disappointed, or that the answer will be no. We don’t want to take that risk, so we’d rather not pray for big things, life changing things at all. I think we all can tell stories of times we have pleaded with God for something and haven’t received the answer we wanted. And brothers and sisters, I can’t tell you why that happens, it is the way of God. But even if I don’t understand God’s ways, I do know that we are encouraged to keep praying for these big things, because sometimes God answers yes to our requests and lives are truly transformed.
God doesn’t just want us to pray prayers that can change the course of history, but also prayers that can change our very hearts. We can probably all think of someone who has hurt us. Someone who has wronged us. Someone who owes us something - maybe a thank you or an apology. Maybe something much more. Some of us are carrying around the weight of wounds from several years ago. The wounds of debts that we feel that someone owes us. Maybe you even have a list of “should haves”. People that should have treated you differently. But have you ever stopped to consider the times that you have been on someone else’s debt list? Times that you have hurt someone else?  Brothers and sisters, when we pray “Forgive us our debts as we have been forgiven” we remember the powerful truth of the cross. We remember the undeserved and unearned grace that we received through Jesus Christ and we desire to show others that grace, letting it shine through our lives.  We cannot control what other’s do with the forgiveness we offer them, we are simply admonished to forgive. To not let things eat us up or define us, for in the end that will harm us even more.  When we pray this prayer, we remember the people that we have hurt in our lives. We seek reconciliation. But even if they do not forgive us we know we are forgiven by God.
But Jesus didn’t just teach people about prayer, he went on to link it to acts of devotion. Remember that we often miss the links in Jesus’s teachings because we read bits and pieces about them or expound on smaller chunks in Bible Study or on Sunday morning. But Jesus kept teaching after presenting the Lord’s Prayer. He spoke about how to fast as well, and how fasting, like prayer, should be done in a way not to attract attention but rather to connect deeply with God. 
The final piece of this teaching I want to look at this morning is one that we rarely connect with prayer - our treasure. Treasure is defined as anything that is of value to us. There are some things that seem to have universal value - property, money, etc. But there are other things that we highly value for their personal memories for us. Treasure is more than something that has a monetary value, it can have an emotional value as well. 
Jesus teaches to not store up our treasure here, on this earth. And that is a really hard teaching we can consider another day. He says instead to store it up in the Kingdom of God. In ancient society treasure was stored in places, temples, shrine - the royal dwelling place. For us the royal dwelling place of our God and King in heaven. But here is the important line in this teaching “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Do you pray about what you treasure most? Do you pray that others will be blessed with what you treasure? Do you treasure things like forgiveness, mercy, all being fed, and God’s Kingdom coming, as expressed in the Lord’s prayer? Or do you often find yourself focused more on the here and now - gaining what you think you need. What would it look like if we took time to consider if what we treasure is the same thing God treasures? How can our hearts and attitudes about treasure be changed through praying the Lord’s Prayer? Lord, change us we pray. Amen. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

#HealthyPastor - Emotionally

   There have been several studies over the years that have found that pastors have a rate of depression as high as the general public (1 out of 4) or even higher. There have been several reasons attributed to these statistics, least of not is the stress of the job and the expectations of other people.
   But I want to take a moment and weave the two together - pastors have become the punching bags for people in some congregations, at least emotionally. Some people don't express themselves well, so when they disagree with a sermon (or what they thought a sermon said) or a decision, instead of coming and discussing it, they either cause havoc in the congregation or come and lay into the pastor about everything they have done wrong - all under the guise of being helpful.
   Let's call it what this is - bullying. We have have too many emotional bullies in our congregations for too long, and pastors have to deal with them more than anyone else. In some cases, they push pastors out and make them move on, other times they wear away until they destroy the pastor from the inside out.
   I like to believe the best in people, so I have to think that most people who behave this way don't actually know that they are doing it, yet how are healthy pastors to respond.
   First, get trained. In my annual conference their is a great program called Tending the Fire (http://centerformation.org). Find out how to lead your congregation in a healthy way.
  Second, get help. Check out what resources are available through your conference and insurance. My spiritual director recently suggested that I find someone to talk about stress in the workplace, and I ran across a wonderful resource offered through my health insurance called EAP (www.liveandworkwell.com). I called someone to chat and they gave me resources around stress I had never received before and were able to affirm some of the positive steps I had already taken.
   Three, don't go through it alone. Find a friend, a family member, or a colleague and talk with them about what is going on and how it is making you feel. You are not the first person to deal with emotional bullies in the church, but it is going to effect you. Find someone to talk it through with so that you aren't carrying the burden alone.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Matthew 5: 1-16 ‘The Beatitudes”

“Blessed are” followed by the situations most of us would never choose to be in. Would never want to be in. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Those who mourn. The meek. The list goes on and on. Jesus, in this series of teachings referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, speaks startling words. In these particular teachings, in the words of theologian Larry Bouchard, we find that “God’s reign interrupts the usual expectations of life”.
We are now in the second week of our sermon series on the stories of the faith found in the Gospel of Mathew. We have found Jesus speaking about the Kingdom of God above all us and redefining exactly what that Kingdom means, even for us, here, now, today. 
Jesus begins the sermon on the mount with the Beatitudes, or blessings. Blessings were used to show the favor of God and curses or woes to express God’s displeasure. Some of the greatest blessings God could bestow during biblical times were around family and land. To have a large family, especially sons, and an abundance of crop. But if blessings show God’s favor, how many of us would consider these beatitudes to be blessings in our own lives? I think many of us would actually consider what Jesus is saying to be more of a woe then a blessing. Even those that are are not as intense in emotion as those who mourn, are not looked upon well in today’s society - the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. 
The truth is deep down inside many of us want the opposite of what the beatitudes are expressing. We want to be rich, successful, powerful. We want to be the ones on top of the world, without a care. It is as if with teaching, Jesus is redefining what it means to be in God’s favor. It’s not what we think it is. It is not being the most popular. Or having the biggest church. Or having the fanciest programs. Its about seeking peace, being meek, being merciful. Not the most popular things by the world’s standards, but are reflections of the heart of Jesus Christ. 
For far too long we have tried to take Jesus’s teachings and lay them over the ideals of culture. But brothers and sisters, that simply won’t work. Because there are too many areas were they are simply atitetical. They won’t meld together no matter how hard you shove. For a period of time, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, it seemed like we could make a go of it - the church and the world’s standards being melded together, but in the end, we found that it couldn’t work, because the church, reflecting the heart of Jesus, was more about embedding the beatitudes then power and success, and we drift far from the heart of the gospel message when we forget that truth. We are to be transformed by the heart of Christ, not transformed by the other ideals. 
In a way, the beatitudes were a gift to the disciples and to those gathered at the foot of the mountain. They are a gift that reminds us that above all, God’s ways aren’t the same as our ways - so we need to make a choice - will we follow our own path or God’s? And they are a gift because they free us from trying to be like everyone else - trying to fit in to a mold of success that was never meant for us. They free us to live differently, intentionally, so that other’s may see the light of Christ shining through us. 
Which is exactly where Jesus went next in his sermon on the mount. In many of our Bibles there are breaks in the text in big bold letters, which help us focus on topics or scriptures that go together. But in this particular text those big bold letters can be a hinderance - causing us to forget that these verses, were part of one teaching together. Jesus moves right from the blessings, the Beatitudes, to talking about what it means to be salt and light. 
I used to teach at a mini-camp for students in the northern part of the annual conference. One year, we were learning about the sermon on the mount and for one of the lessons I gave the students flashlight. We talked about this passage about being salt and light and what it means to share our light with the world. And those kids - starting in fourth grade got it, they got it church! They understood that that Jesus was using us, all of us, as vessels to shine forth the light of God. A light that had already changed some of their lives! 
In the ancient world people under stood how important salt and light were. Salt was the chief way of perceiving food. It was used in worship. It was a small thing of great worth. Light was also important. It dictated when people could work. Illuminated what they could see. Both salt and light were ordinary things that had extraordinary importance. 
Sometimes we forget just how important the gift we have to share as the church is. We have the light and love of Jesus Christ. We have a message that cannot be contained. Yet, at times thats exactly what we try to do - especially when we try to fit in with everyone else. We stop looking for opportunities to share the love of Jesus and start looking for ways that we can be just as successful as everyone else. We stop trying to reach out to new people to share Christ’s love with and start thinking that we are good enough as we are. The result, church, is us hiding our light and losing our flavor. 
I love the word choice of Jesus in this section of his teaching. He isn’t saying we should be salt and light, or that we will be salt in light, rather that we are. We are salt and light. By virtue of our faith in Christ we are sent forth to share the message with the world. Because we have been adopted into the family of God, we have a task to share the life-giving love of Jesus with others!
One of my professors told the story that every time he goes out in public – even to buy something as simple as socks for his feet – salespeople recognize him as a preacher. He is not a well-known man even inside the circle of the church, yet alone outside of its community. He does not wear a cross around his neck and he dresses like any other working person. But people recognize something inside of him that he cannot escape from – he is a preacher. Oh that we would live in such a way that those around us would know that we are Christians. Live is such a way that pushes aside the standards of blessing that the world holds – of popularity, wealth, and health, and pick up the radical cross and immerse ourselves in this peculiar way of living. A way that is just as peculiar today as it was when Jesus spoke it over the disciples sitting at his feet. Some may say that we are foolish. Others may say that it is impossible – but we know that it is not. For our Lord and Savior walked the very path of blessing that he laid out to be our example – to show us that it can be done. One step at a time – one blessing at a time. For you are blessed.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Historic Examination - Be Punctual and Be Diligent

Question: Will you observe the following directions?
a.) Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spent any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary.
b.) Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience' sake.
Answer: Yes.

I call these the practical ministry questions of the historical examination. Essentially will you do what you say you are going to do with integrity.

Once again, however, these questions can be abused. I know pastors that feel like they have to fill every moment of every day or they are trifling away time, which leaves them feeling exhausted and after a period of time, resentful about their ministry. Here are the wonderful instructions my DS has given me about time: In addition to your Sabbath, you need one day a week off (whenever possible) simply to run errands and do what you need to do. Divide your day up into three sections - morning, afternoon, and evening - and don't work all three sections. In the event that something gets canceled, don't rush to fill in that time, but instead see it as a good gift from God to rest. Don't work every evening during your work week. You need free evenings once in a while to simply be, spending time with family and resting.

Friends, we are called to hard but wonderful work, but often we make it even harder because we insist that we need to do everything and be on the go all the time. No. This is not what we are being asked to do, either by the denomination or by God.

Being punctual is also about being practical. I was sharing with a few colleagues at annual conference that I was much later than I anticipated in picking up my lay delegate because I got held up at a visitation where the gentleman was very chatty with concerns that were weighing on him. My lay delegate completely understood, even though I wasn't punctual in that instance. One of my colleagues shared how he was firmly addressed by his PPRC for being 1 minute late to a meeting. I share with him that for me, my lay delegate understood that a.) being late is completely out of character for me - I am usually the person who shows up early b.) I give approximate times I will be at places knowing that I need to leave room for travel and things running a bit late and c.) sometimes things are beyond your control and you need to live into the ministry moment God is blessing you with.

Let's be practical, friends, in how we approach ministry so that we can run this race with endurance.

This concludes our series on the United Methodist Historical Examination.