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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, October 17, 2016

#heathypastor - Community

    Who are your people, your tribe, the folks you turn to when times are hard and when you have joys to celebrate? While it is important to have friends, I think it is just as important to have larger communities where you can support one another in your needs. For me, such community comes from two places.
     First, the Young Clergywomen Project (http://youngclergywomen.org), is an online community for folks up to the age of 40 who are ordained. We represent a variety of denominations and ways to live out ministry. We ask each other for ministry ideas, advice about how to get through difficult situations and we celebrate life's amazing and joyous moments with one another. While many of us may not meet face to face, we support one another and share the love of Christ without one another as a community.
    Second, the Order of St. Luke (http://saint-luke.net), is a religious order who pray for one another and commit to a daily office with one another. We focus together on liturgy and the sacraments, but as whole we also support one another through the practice of ministry, education and scholarship.
    These are simply my people - but I have to ask, who are your people? We can't do ministry alone, we need community to lean upon and who point us back to God continually. We need a healthy community to be a healthy pastor.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

“Shiny Gods: Be Faithful, Save, and Give” 2 Cor 9: 6-12

John Wesley, the founder of the early Methodist movement, had advice about everything. Some was more sound than others, but what he taught about money has rung true through the ages, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” He lived into his own words, living off of the same wage from the time he began his ministry, allowing him to give away accumulated wealth over his lifetime to the glory of God.
When I think of John Wesley, the words abundant life ring out. What does the abundant life look like for you? Is it about having everything you want or having a certain amount of money in the bank set aside for a rainy day? Is it about what you will have to pass on to your children and grandchildren as an inheritance? Or is it about how you live your life, here and now? 
We all need to think through what it means to have the abundant life for us. In this mornings scripture lesson, Paul points out the abundant life for each of us is based off of what we sow. That old adage that you reap what you sow? It’s biblical. The truth is that God provides for us through work. While some of us may dream of winning the lottery, or having an older relative leave us an inheritance that would make us comfortable, God’s plan for creation involved work. 
Think back to the garden of eden. Before it was corrupted by sin. Even then work was part of the plan. Adam and Eve tended the land and looked after the animals. They walked with God in the garden. It was their purpose. God provides each of us with different talents, gifts, and resources that enable us to work. That give us a unique calling and purpose in our lives. Not just so we can pay the bills, but rather so we can have fulfillment. In the words of Rev. Mike Slaughter, “Work is a gift from God and all of us are called to contribute to God’s creation and to serve God’s people through it.”
The second part of what Wesley taught was to save. In 2005, Americans went into a negative savings rate, spending $1.22 for every $1.00 they earned. We were living by impulse instead of saving and it caught up with us during the recession. Unfortunately, there are many people who are still spending more than they make, either because they don’t realize it or out of necessity, causing much uncertainty and anxiety around money.
The Bible speaks about saving. Remember that in Biblical times, especially during the times of the Hebrew scriptures, money wasn’t necessarily the paper and coins that we have today, but rather crops and craftsmanship. Think back to the story of Joseph. Many folks know the part of Joseph’s brothers being jealous because of how their father lavished love upon him, especially in the form of the coat. But sometimes we forget the rest of his story. Joseph was sold into slavery, but through a series of dreams and wisdom given to the Pharaoh, he was given the position of overseeing crops in the land. During a time of abundance, a seven year stretch that God had revealed to him in a dream, he saved grain. He set some aside, knowing that the seven years of famine were on the way. 
While others may not have understood Joseph’s idea about saving in a time of abundance,  they lived as if it was to last forever. Only Joseph knew it wouldn’t. When the famine hit, Egypt had people from other countries coming in search of food, because they were one of the only places that had any! Joseph exchanged livestock and other goods for grain and food. His saving plan helped the country not only survive the famine, but prosper. 
Too many Americans live like folks in the seven years prior to the famine. We don’t save. We spend what we have here and now. Saving requires us to live below our current means. Many of us don’t like the particular concept. Why should we save for later if we can spend it now? Because far too many Americans don’t even have $500-$1,000 set aside for an emergency. What happens when you need an expensive dental procedure, a major appliance breaks in the house, or something happens to our vehicles? We charge it, going back into debt or even further into debt, because we didn’t think of a plan to save. 
However, saving does not mean hoarding. Remember Wesley’s last piece of advice about money - give all you can. The apostle Paul urges the Corinthians to prayerfully consider what they are going to give. Not to give what is left over or compulsively pull out a few dollars to put into the offering plate as it goes by - but instead to be intentional about what you are giving. In the words of Rev Slaughter, “Our giving, as an act of worship, should never be sporadic or unprepared. Don’t just toss your leftovers into God’s offering plate. Plan giving ahead of time and make it a priority in your life.” Now there are many ways to give, but I first and foremost want to talk about the tithe. The word some church folks dread. A tithe is the first ten percent of whatever we have earned that we give back to the glory of the Kingdom of God. For me, this is the first check written out (or rather checks - one for each church I serve) after cashing a paycheck. Some folks are not in a financial situation where they can give ten percent, and that’s fine. The question is two fold - one are you being intentional about the percentage that you are giving and two are you working towards a tithe? 
But when Wesley and Paul are talking about giving, they are not only talking about the tithe, though that is surely address, but additionally, giving to those in need. Those who give to the poor. Who provide seed for the sower. In addition to my tithe, there are a group of charities that I work through giving to every year. Non-profits, some in the church and some outside, who I want to partner with through my finances to lift up the amazing ways they are transforming people’s lives. Places like Thistle Farms, which takes women who are struggling with addiction due to past traumas and gives them a place to live and a job. And the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which is often the first agency in after a natural disaster and the last to leave. I give because I believe in being generous with what God has gifted us with. In the words of today’s scripture lesson, “God is able to provide every blessing to you in abundance, so by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
We are to be channels through with the generosity of God can flow to others. In the words of Mike Slaughter, “Generosity is evidence of the Spirit’s work in a person’s life.” Think back to some of Jesus’s teachings about money. In Matthew when Jesus is speaking to his disciples about how to give alms. He didn’t say if you give, he said whenever you give. The assumption is that we should be generous to others because God has been so generous to us. 
Giving is a spiritual exercise. Think about exercise. Do you always want to do it? Probably not. So it is with spiritual exercises. We may struggle with doing it sometimes, but through repetitive practice, something changes within us and we grow closer to God. This spiritual exercise teaches us to trust God - especially when it doesn’t make sense to give. We have to trust that our God will provide of us so that we can provide for the work of the Kingdom in ways that bless others. Let us live our lives in a way that magnify the teaching of the Apostle Paul and the words of John Wesley - earn all we can. Save all we can. So that we can give all we can. Amen!

Monday, October 10, 2016

#healthypastors - Ask for Help

   I had a follow up interview a few months ago with an organization I have partnered with quite a few times. The interviewer was surprised at my admitting, repeatedly, that I asked other people for help. In fact, I ask for help a lot. I ask it from my superiors when I have no idea what to do. Though my time of officially needing a mentor is over, I find unofficial mentors at each appointment who have more experience than me to help navigate some situations that crop up. I ask lay folks for help that have more experience in related fields that I do. I ask colleagues for help and lay people in the congregations. I need help and I readily ask.
   The interviewer commented this was a sign of my wisdom and maturity. Friends and colleagues, if it is now considered mature to ask for help, how far we have fallen. This shouldn't be a sign of maturity it should be standard. Every time. When we don't ask for help it is as if we are saying that we should be able to do everything on our own, which isn't true at all. I also have a hunch that if we are hesitant to ask other people for help, we also probably struggle with asking for God for help - and lets be honest, you can't lead the church without help from God.
   Where do you turn when you need help with ministry? How is this a sign of health for you?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

“Shiny Gods: Money, Work, and Debt” Deut 28: 12-14

Last year, following our stewardship sermon series, a few people approached me and said that I should have went into finances. The truth is, today’s topic, while one about finances is a passion of mine, more importantly, because of its biblical basis. Today’s topic - money and debt. 
We are now in the second week of our sermon series on holistic stewardship. But it is hard to be a good steward of what God has entrusted into your care if you are always worried about debt related to bills. In 2012, the average american had 15,000 in credit card debt alone. With the interest rate on credit cards, even if you never missed a payment, that is money that will be tied up for years. Proverbs, the book of wisdom, has a lot to say about debt, but one that I find the most prudent is 22: 7 “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lenders slave.”
Far too many people in America have become enslaved to debt. Unnecessary debt. Debt that comes not because of things that they need to survive, but rather because of things they want and not knowing when enough is enough. And maybe thats the hard question that each of us needs to be asking ourselves, how much is enough? 
In the 12th chapter of the gospel of Luke we find Jesus telling a parable about a man who had a rich crop one year. The man looked around at the blessings of his fields and started to wonder what he should do with all that was left over. His first thought was not to share it with his neighbors in need. Or to give it to the orphan and the widow. Instead his first thought was to tear down his barns in order to build bigger ones in their place. Then he could relax and not worry about anything for years because of how much was stored away. But God came to him and called him a fool - saying that very night he would die and then what good would all he had stored up be?
We hear Jesus’s teaching but it doesn’t quite sink in. For as we compare ourselves to our neighbors and the people we see on the TV, we believe that we don’t have enough at all. In fact, we may never had really sat down and asked ourselves, let alone prayed to God about, how much stuff is enough? So we go each day to work in order to accumulate more stuff, most of which will be disposed of in one way or another following our death, the day God calls us home. We toil after the illusive idea of having enough when really we are already blessed with more than enough.
In this mornings scripture we find the nation of Israel, being told that they, a people with no place and very little possessions to their name, will be a nation of abundance. That God will bless them in a mighty way. That they will be the place other nations turn when they are in need and that they will be well known - if they follow God’s commandments. 
Now this scripture has been abused over the years in one of two ways. It has been the root of the prosperity gospel movement which essentially says name it and claim it and God will give you whatever you want. I’m not sure about you, but that hasn’t been had God has worked in my life in the past and its not how I expect or even want God to act in the future. I want to follow a God who is Lord, not a magical genuine who grants wishes. I want to follow a God who helps me become a more whole person as I learn to follow, not a God who gives me whatever I want just because I want it. 
Second, this scripture has been used to say that as long as we follow God’s commandments then God will bless us with riches and abundance beyond our wildest imagination. Once again, this can be a dangerous way to read this scripture because it makes it seem like following God is about getting what we want - if I follow God’s rules then I will get whatever I ask for, when the truth is our faith in Jesus Christ has an abundance of riches unto itself, simply not material possessions.
But here are the people of Israel who have been salve for countless years, owning nothing, and then wondering around the dessert for another forty. God is telling them that they will no longer be in bondage to anything or anyone because God has chosen to bless them abundantly. 
While we are surly blessed, far too many of us also live in a bondage of our choosing - debt. I could weep over the stories I have been told of people who just keep digging themselves in more and more and wake up every morning with the burden of financial worries. On a recent survey for my health insurance there were even a series of questions about financial health, because far too often the stress of financial issues can lead to health issues. 
There are two types of debt that we can have. The first is never good - consumer debt. This is credit card debt. Debt that comes from needing more things but not having enough money to buy them. Another way to state this is that consumer debt comes from living well beyond our means in a buy it now, pay for it later society. The second type of debt is investment debt - debt from mortgages and school loans. 
I am very honest with folks - I carry investment debt in the form of a school loan. By the grace of God and lots of planning, this debt will be paid off by the end of next year. It is a debt that I do not regret because it has enabled me to fulfill my call and stand before you today as a pastor. But whether it is consumer debt or investment debt we still need a plan as to how to pay it off. Rev. Mike Slaughter says this about debt, “The problem with debt is that it means I go to work tomorrow to pay for the past instead of investing in the future”. The problem with debt is that it makes us a slave to the lender as we try to pay it off, instead of a people looking towards the future.
But tied to this idea of debt, is an even bigger question - why do we work? I know a lot people who would say that they work in order to pay off their debt or pay the bills. But God sees gift as a work. Notice that God didn’t tell the Israelites that the grain would simply fall from the sky immediately becoming bread for their plates. There was still work involved, even in the blessing. Work is about more than having an easy life or simply earning money. Work is about having a purpose - a purpose to serve God and serve others. We work because we have been given the gift of life that enables us to work! 
Now this does not mean that everyone who is retired amongst us needs to go out and get a paying job. Or that if we don’t have a job that pays that we aren’t in God’s will. Certainly not! But it does mean that we need to ask ourselves if how are spending our days - working a paying job, serving tirelessly as a volunteer, or teaching others our wisdom - is a righteous use of our time that honors God. 

Brothers and sisters, may we be people who examine how we spend our time and our money to make sure it glorifies God. If we have a problem with debt, thats okay, but lets admit it and ask for Gods help in forming a plan to alleviate that debt. And above all may we be a people who work for the Kingdom of God to be proclaimed in and through us! Amen. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

#healthypastor - Plan

    People who know me best would describe me as a planner. I plan my days and I plan long term with a calendar. I plan in my personal life and for work. I plan because it cuts down on stress.
   Now, I will be the first person to tell you that not everything can be planned. Emergency hospital visits and funerals come up. But most things that other people try to make an emergency in your schedules, actually aren't. They can be scheduled just like they would be with anyone else. One of the things I started at my last two parishes was suggesting time frames for non-emergent phone calls to the parsonage. The truth is we serve a wide variety of people - some of whom think its okay to call at 7am and others who think 10:30pm is a perfectly acceptable time to make a phone call. By suggesting a time frame, it also helped people think about what is emergent and what can be scheduled, since emergency phone calls could happen at any time.
    I also schedule preaching. I have a spreadsheet that is a year long with the topics and texts of where I am going in the liturgical year. My folks know it could change from time to time, but it helps ease their anxiety around planning at the last minute as well - allowing them to pick anthems and special music well ahead of time that match the lessons we are studying.
   I write my sermons ahead of time. I am usually 6-8 weeks ahead in writing my sermons. And I write on Mondays and Tuesdays each week. The intent here is two fold. First, as I said, sometimes things happen. And if those things come up, I don't have to worry about trying to fit in writing a sermon, especially if it isn't going to be the best I can give. Writing early in the week also allows me to be truly at rest by the time my Sabbath comes on the weekends instead of constantly worrying about a sermon that still needs to be prepared.
    All too often we are our own worst enemies because we don't plan. We create unnecessary stress that builds up until it breaks out, usually in unhealthy ways. We need a plan to take care of our bodies, but we also need a plan to take care of our stress. What works well for you in terms of planning?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Stewardship Pt 1 - Shiny Gods

“Shiny Gods: Naming Our Idols” Exodus 32: 2-4
Psalm 135: 15-18
Luke 10:27

How can people tell that you love God? Is it simply by the words you say or do your actions declare it as well? We find in the reading from the Gospel of Luke this morning the response Jesus gave those inquiring about what the greatest rule is in our faith journey. He responded with two - love God with all you are and all you have and to love your neighbor as yourself. But perhaps that is easier said than done. 
We are now entering into a four week sermon series on stewardship. I know that is a word that many church folks cringe at when the pastor says we are going to talk about stewardship. But the truth is Jesus talked about money and stewardship more than most any other topic. In fact, the only thing he talked about more was faith. So if Jesus talked about it, so will we. However, as we discuss stewardship we are going to do so through the lens of that wonderful verse from Luke. We are going to look at it holistically in relationship to how we love God and love our neighbor. 
The people of Israel had a heart problem. They had seemed to have lost faith in the God who provided for them time and time again. While God had brought them out of Egypt in dramatic fashion - including the drowning of Pharaoh’s army, they can be found time and time again in the book of Egypt complaining. Thinking that God had abandoned them or that God hadn’t given them enough. That’s one of the reasons they wandered in the dessert for forty-years, to try to stress to them that God is the provider and to get their hearts back in check.
Yet, in this mornings scripture passage they are right back where they started - disbelief. Moses has left them for a period of time to go up on the mountain and receive what will be known as the ten commandments, the rules of living for the Israelites as a free people. He’s been gone for so long that they are starting to worry that he isn’t coming back or that he has left them. So they go to Aaron, Moses’s brother and the second in command, and start to complain again. Start to say that they need to see the god they worship like they did back in Egypt. 
They must have complained a lot because Aaron caved - he gave in to what they wanted. He asked everyone to bring all of their gold to him and he crafted a golden calf, which the people then started to worship. Worse they declared that it was this god seen in this calf that had brought them out of the land of Egypt! 
Idolatry isn’t a new problem, as we can see from this mornings scripture lessons, but it is a big problem still. An idol is anything or anyone that receives our primary focus, energy, or resources instead of God. Rev. Mike Slaughter describes the problem plaguing both society and the church today like this: “Instead of making our primary life passion to worship the Lord our God and to serve only him, we begin to separate our spiritual life from the practical aspects of our life. We use our idols, instead of God, to provide identity and meaning to our lives.”
I would take a fair guess that none of you have golden calves that you are worshipping in your homes, but the truth is we still struggle with idols. The Psalmist describes idols as they work of our own hands that we begin to worship, but perhaps more frighteningly they can also be the good gifts that God has given us that we start to abuse. Even our virtues and gifts can become our vices. 
Rev. Slaughter writes in his book Shiny Gods: Finding Freedom From Things that Distract Us (which this sermon series is based on) about a question that he posed on Facebook about the things that his followers have turned into idols. Most of the responses were good gifts from God that people had began to substitute for God or put before God. They wrote about things like food - a good gift from God that we need to function - that people started to abuse in a way that distracted them from God. One woman wrote that she was putting the desires of her husband and children before her worship and obedience to God. Once again, relationships, especially families, are a beautiful gift from God, but we need to make sure that we don’t place more importance on them then the relationship that should means the most to us - our relationship with God! Amongst church folks, almost all of our idols are really good gifts from God that we have abused. 
What we worship is what we place worth or value upon. Worship of God should demonstrate the value and place that God has in our lives. But too many of us are claiming to worship and follow God, while still trying to serve our idols, and it just doesn’t work. Which brings me back to my original question - How can people tell that you love God? 
Let’s take a look at two places that reveal the depths of our hearts this morning brothers and sisters. First, lets look at our calendars. If you gave your calendar to a stranger and told them to decide from it what was important to you - what you valued - what would they say? Our calendars often reveal what you worship. Now that doesn’t mean that your entire calendar needs to be filled with church activities, but if our lives should be about loving God with all we are and having our hearts directed towards Jesus, does your calendar reflect that? What do you do with your week that shows how you love God and love your neighbor? For those of you who have jobs - how can you love God and love your neighbor at work? For those of you who are retired - what are you doing with your days that glorifies God? How does your time express your passion or love for God? Because stewardship isn’t just about stewardship of money, but of time as well. 
Second, lets look at our checkbooks. How do you spend your money, friends? I know many people who would say that they are just trying to pay the bills or just trying to get by from paycheck to paycheck, and if that’s you, how many of your bills are because of the possessions you thought you had to have? 
Now I’m the first to admit that sometimes bills just can’t be avoided. I have student loans from seminary I’m paying off. Many people have car payments and house payments. And there is nothing wrong with that. But are the things you have within your means? Can you afford them? And how many of your bills - like credit card bills - aren’t so much about things you need - like shelter - but about things you want? Because there is a difference. 
The problem with our checkbooks comes when we give God the leftovers because we perceive that we don’t have enough. And sometimes we truly don’t have enough because we are spending more money on our shiny gods, or idols, then we have to spend. Sometimes our idols lead us away from God, keep us in debt, and make it so we don’t have anything to give to the work of the Kingdom of God. 

We live in a society, according to Rev. Slaughter, where we have become marked by three verbs, or three actions. To want. To have. And to achieve. On the surface there is nothing wrong with any of those things, but Christ invites us towards a different verb - to love. How do the things that we are stewards of - particularly this week our time and our money - reflect that we love - love God and love our neighbor? Let us go forth from this place and have a check of our hearts, as we examine our lives and priorities and confess before God any shiny gods or idols that we have propped up in place of the lord of our lives and Savior, Jesus. Amen. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

#healthypastor - What Feeds You

    Have you ever taken time to consider what feeds your soul? The people, places, and activities that make you flourish? We all have a list of them. Now do you intentionally weave those things into your life?
    For me there are different time frames for how to engage the things and people that nurture and feed me. First, there are things that I do daily - reading a devotional, exercising, reading for work, and reading fiction. While I attempt to do these every day, sometimes they can't happen, and that's okay. I don't beat myself up about it. I simply acknowledge that each day is different and try again tomorrow.
    Then there are the things I schedule quarterly. Trips to visit friends and be in places that make me feel alive. Places like NYC - where I like to visit my favorite sandwich shop, walk around, and catch a show. People like my best friends and their families, who have seamlessly become part of my family.
   Lastly, there are the yearly things - continuing education events and travel to places like the beach that are deeply important to me.
   The key here is being intentional about engaging what feeds you and not being apologetic about it. We tend to overwork as clergy and make excuses as to why we can't take our time off. But the truth is we need that time in order to be whole people. In order to be the best at our vocations and living into our call that we can possibly be. So what feeds you and how are you weaving it into your routine and schedule?