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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, 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?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

“Wild Goose Chase: Old-Fashioned Guts” Rev. 3: 7-8 1 Sam 14: 1-10

While sharing part of my testimony at camp I noticed that some of the campers were starring at something in the sky. After I finished, but while were still gathered together for worship, some of the counselors said they thought it was a beautiful crane. I immediately got back up in the circle and started talking about the Wild Goose. All week we had been talking about the Holy Spirit, and I felt led to get up and share with the campers exactly what we have been talking about the last four weeks together, that the Holy Spirit is like a wild bird, untamable and free to lead us. 
We are now in the final week of our sermon series focusing on the Holy Spirit. We have seen how the Holy Spirit leads us, redeems us, and frees us from past bondage. This week we be discussing how the Holy Spirit empowers us to do seemingly-impossible things.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you find yourself in a conversation that you never expected to be in? Or where you find yourself miles from where you expected to be? I’m a big believer in God-Ordained moments - those moments that are much more than coincidence. I shared recently with one of our Bible study groups that I have been walking in 5ks in the area - walking, not running. This is something I would never have done in the past, but a great way to be involved in the community. At the Healthy Heroes 5k during Heritage Days, I started out walking by myself, until cresting the top of one of the hills in the Chester Hill area. On the decline, I found myself talking to a woman who was near me. We did the thing you normally do when you are meeting someone new and she asked what I did. As soon as I shared that I was a pastor we started to have an amazing conversation - about some of the struggles in her life, the struggles in the world, and what it means to be the Church. Friends, that was a God ordained moment and conversation.
John writes the church of Philadelphia in the book of Revelation that doors have been open to the church that cannot be shut. But the truth is friends, sometimes we don’t follow the Holy Spirit through the doors being opened. We get so caught up in our own baggage and schedules and heads that we sometimes don’t even recognize that a door is present, let alone that Jesus opened it! As I was walking back home after that 5k and in the days to follow, I kept thinking about how the hand of God was present that day - what would have happened if I hadn’t signed up to walk? What if I would have ran instead of walked? What if, what if, what if. But God took all of the what ifs and arranged them so that God could be glorified! But I had to be the one to follow the Holy Spirit’s prompting and go through that door to that divine appointment. 
When we take time to stop and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit we can find that there are absolute spirit-filled moments in our lives that we have the opportunity to respond to. Some are little and some are big, but all have the opportunity to lift up God’s name. In the words of Pastor Mark Batterson, “Chasing the Wild Goose is recognizing which way the wind of the Spirit is blowing and responding to it. It requires a moment-by-moment sensitive to the Wild Goose.” 
Jonathan, friend of David and son of Saul, understood about following the Spirit’s prompting through open doors. Jonathan found a stirring in his heart to go into battle, even though his father and commander of the army, King Saul, had left him at home. So he turned to the man carrying his armor and prompted him to go to battle with him over the Philistine garrison. However, there was a catch, in order to get there they had to climb over rocky crag.
I have never had a desire in my life to go rock climbing, but that is exactly what Jonathan did. Even though mountains that seemed impassable stood before him, on either side, he was so sure that he was to be in battle, that he started climbing them. 
Sometimes our lives feel like we are caught in between rock walls, and we have to decide what we are going to do. Are we going to stay, trapped, or are we going to start climbing? What if the thing that the Spirit is prompting you to do is to go up and over those mountains? 
Sometimes we buy into the false belief that once we accept Christ, once we become Christian, that our lives get easier. That we will never be caught between rocks and hard places again. That mountains that need to be climbed won’t be in front of us. That it will be easy to follow wherever God leads us. But the longer that we walk with Christ, I think the more we realize that this is not the case. The truth is spiritual growth doesn’t make things easier, it simply prepares us to take even more daring and risky steps for the Kingdom of God! 
In contrast to Jonathan, taking a risk and climbing that mountain to follow where the Spirit was leading him, we find his father, Saul. Saul was commanding over 600 soldiers we are told, yet where do we find him? Not on the battle field with them. But instead sitting under a pomegranate tree. Saul seemed to think that he didn’t have to do anything and that God would simply show up and lead them to victory.
Friends, the Kingdom of God is not passive. Just as much as we need to not get in God’s way by insisting on our plans and our timing, we also need to be active participants in God’s Kingdom. We can’t just sit around waiting for God to act, especially when the Holy Spirit is prompting us to join God in doing amazing things! Pastor Mark Batterson states, “The will of God is not an insurance plan. The will of God is a daring plan!” It disheartens me when I hear Christians talking about just sitting back and waiting to get to Heaven. That’s not what our faith is about, brother and sisters. It’s about running hard after wherever the Spirit may lead. 
But what I love about this scripture in particular is the reminder that we often do not need to run after the leading of God’s Spirit alone. Jonathan had his armor bearer with him. As they were facing that rocky crag, that armor bearer declares that wherever Jonathan goes he is going with him. We all need people like this in our lives - people who stare at that rock wall and then climb it with you - encouraging you to follow the Spirit’s leading in your life. 
While at camp the dean and I planned a lot of the worship services together. We have been working together so many years now that we have a rhythm down. But we also trust each other when the Spirit starts speaking and encourage each other to follow that prompting. We were at the closing communion service, and I went over to him and said that something was pulling on my heart to scrap it all and then have communion and pray for our graduating seniors. That wasn’t the plan. At all. It wasn’t what was written down on the worship sheet or what we had discussed. But the dean looked at me and said go for it, follow the Spirit. And as we prayed over the four girls graduating from high school, for whom it was the last year of camp, we started to weep. It was a holy moment with words of life and encouragement being spoken over young women who so desperately needed to hear them. The camp dean, Dave, is just one of the folks in my life who will encourage me to follow the Spirit, wherever it may lead. 

Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is an untamable, indescribable force that can bring us to our knees in awe, but we have to choose to follow. We have to choose to go through open doors. We have to choose to follow, even when times are hard. And we need people around us who encourage us to choose the life in the Spirit. What will you choose this day? Who will you follow? Amen. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

#healthypastors - Friendships

    Everyone needs friends. Unfortunately in America we seem to not really know what a friend is. We substitute the word friend when we really mean acquaintance. But we all need friends who will be loyal, who will encourage us to be the best version of ourselves, who will lead us to grow. People we can have fun with, people who get us out of our ruts. While we may have many acquaintances, we have few true friends.
    My best friends live all over the United States. One hat is in the process of moving to the Midwest. One who lives in NJ. Another in the Southern part of PA. Part of staying healthy is spending time with them. Making time to FaceTime or talk to them on the phone. Going to visit when I can. Being part of their big life moments any way that I can.
   Far too many pastors claim that they have no friends. Or that their only friend is their spouse. This is unacceptable. We were made for friendships and need them as a release valve on our lives. Who are your friends and how do they keep you healthy?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

“Wild Goose Chase: A Rooster’s Crow” John 18: 13-27 Matt 18: 21-22

09/18/16 “Wild Goose Chase: A Rooster’s Crow” John 18: 13-27
Matt 18: 21-22

Guilt. That feeling in the pit of your stomach when you did something you knew you shouldn’t have done. That nagging sense that is always around you that something just isn’t right. Guilt. The feeling that can call us to repentance, when approached properly, or hold us back from following God if misunderstood. 
If anyone understood guilt it would be the apostle, Peter. Peter either is on top of the world or stumbling with his walk with Jesus. He is either watching the transfiguration or sinking in water. Being told that he is the rock on which the church would be built or denying Christ as in this mornings scripture passage. 
A lot has happened in the short time prior to this mornings scripture passage in the gospel of John. Peter and a few of the other disciples had accompanied Jesus into the garden, where guards had comes to arrest him for untold crimes. Peter, always the zealous one, takes out a sword and in order to protect his Lord, cuts off the ear of the high-priests guard. Jesus however, turns and tells him to put his sword away before healing the young man’s ear. 
Peter could have gotten into a lot of trouble for that swipe of the sword. He could have been imprisioned. He could have been chastised by Jesus. But instead, Jesus simply tells him that this is not the way his disciples are to live and heals the young man’s ear. No case could have ever been made against Peter, for no damage was done. 
Then shortly after the arrest, this seems to change for Peter. He still wants to protect Jesus, so while all the other disciples scatter except for one (the beloved disciple), he follows after him to the court of the high-priest, albeit at a safe distance. But somewhere on that short journey from the garden to the court, things change for Peter. It was almost as if his zeal was replaced by fear - fear of the unknown, fear of what was going to happen to Jesus, fear of what was going to happen to him. When the other disciple boldly entered into the courtyard of the high priest, Peter stayed behind. Surely he was just as well known as the other disciple - yet he held back, he lingered outside of the gate. 
How many times have we let our own fear of the unknown hold us back from following the prompting of the Holy Spirit? There are times I really don’t want to tell strangers that I’m a pastor, mostly because of the “oh you’re going to throw the Bible at me” looks I get if they don’t know me. Other well known pastors have tried to redefine their job title by tellings strangers they are an author or a speaker or a group organizer. All of those sound a lot better at times than pastor. But at the same time, I have to wonder what opportunities can be missed because of the fear of the assumptions that others have about what it means to be a pastor. Are we missing opportunities to share the love of Jesus because of how a few people (and sometimes more than a few people) have misunderstood or mistreated us in the past because we are a pastor? 
I think the same is true for many people about sharing that they are a Christian today. In fact, I think we’ve been conditioned to be apprehensive about identifying ourself with our faith. We’ve seen people do it badly. We’ve seen people use their faith to harm others. We’ve seen others shy away because of the word “Christian” so we hold back, just like Peter.
And what happened when Peter took that step of holding back - of not following the other disciple into the courtyard - he found it much easier to be in situations where he denied Jesus, repeatedly. There was a woman who saw Peter and asked if he was on of “this man’s disciples”? And Peter said No, I’m not. 
Can you imagine how fearful Peter must have been to answer in this way. How fearful he would have to had been to deny three years of his life, a deep friendship, the recent sword swipe that echoed what he had said so many times - that he would follow Jesus to the death. Now death was looking eerily closer than Peter could ever have imagined and he denied his teacher and Lord. 
Peter must have found safety and comfort in his lie because he kept standing by the fire warming himself after he denied Christ. But he was then asked two more times by that fire if he was of any relation to Jesus as his disciples - even if he was just in the garden with him. And he answered no, two more times. 
Oh the guilt Peter must have felt when he heard the cock crow and remembered Jesus’s words. Pastor Mark Batterson wondered if he felt that little twinge of guilt for some time afterwards ever time he heard the rooster. But what makes this passage particularly challenging, isn’t just that Peter denied Christ. What makes it even more challenging is that Jesus forgave him for that denial! 
Before this passage ever took place in the gospel of Matthew, we find Jesus teaching the disciples about forgiveness. Peter is struggling with the concept, as many of us do, and was asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who hurt him. Seven times? Or was that too many? To which Jesus replied seventy-seven times - a number that seems unfathomable. 
There aren’t limits to Christ’s forgiveness. Not a numerical limit and not a threshold of what is considered too bad to forgive. Peter did the unthinkable, folks - he denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, publicly! Yet Jesus forgave him. Yet Jesus forgives us. 
The problem is that for many of us, it seems easier to accept God’s forgiveness for our actions than to forgive ourselves. How many of us have confessed our sins to God, received forgiveness, but still wrestle with feelings like we aren’t good enough? How many of us confess the same sin to God over and over - not because we keep committing it, but because we can’t believe that God could ever really forgive us? 
Brothers and sisters, when we are weighed down by unnecessary guilt - the guilt that comes from not believing that God would ever or could ever truly forgive us for our sins - it makes it so difficult to follow the Holy Spirit - to chase after the Wild Goose. We cannot minimize the effects of our sin - we have all fallen short of the glory of God and we all deserve to be punished for those sins -  but we can also not minimize the gift of God’s grace and forgiveness which frees us from the bondage of that sin - including our guilt. 
Do you think Peter could have went on to be the rock on which the church was built if he would have been weighed down by the guilt of denying Jesus? Do you think he could have given his passionate evangelistic appeals in the book of Acts if he wouldn’t have accepted God’s gift of forgiveness? 

We need to embrace the forgiveness of God, friends. Embrace the gift we have been given instead of denying it. May we use the freedom from sin we find in Christ to empower and encourage us to follow the Holy Spirit to share the glory of Christ with those whom we encounter on life’s journey! Amen. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

#healthypastor - Prayer

   One of the things pastors do is pray. We pray during worship services and before potluck meals. We pray when we visit people or when folks are in need. But I know far too many pastors who don't pray for our own needs. We are so exhausted when we get to bed at night that we forget to pray. Let's reclaim being a people of prayer.
    Some pastors have told me that they so much feel that praying is part of the job that they feel disconnected in their own prayer lives. But we can't do this job without prayer, because we can't do this job by our own power.
    One of the ways that I keep centered in my own prayer life is to have prayer partners. Folks that I know are praying for me and I pray for them. We reach out to each other via texts and emails and trust one another that when a request is put forth it will be prayed over.
    Another way is to use centering prayer throughout the day. To just stop and pray. To focus on being fully present, even for five minutes, to center myself on Christ's power and love.
    What are your current prayer practices? How do you stay healthy in your prayer life?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

“Wild Goose Chase: Putting God in a Box” Hebrews 11:9 Romans 4: 18-21

Have you ever put God in a box? Maybe you didn’t mean to. Maybe its just that we come to expect things from God so much so that our faith life becomes predictable. But nothing kills the spirit of joy in our relationships faster than when we cease to have joy - when we cease to be thankful.
We are now in the second week of our sermon series about the Holy Spirit - or as the Celtic Christians refer to the Spirit - the Wild Goose. Together we will be exploring how we can seek to thrive in the Holy Spirit as we grow with God.
When was the last time you were surprised by God? Or when was a time when you were simply overwhelmed by the good gifts God has blessed you with? While it was not recently, every time I think about the overwhelming goodness of God, I’m drawn back to this picture which hangs in the parsonage dining room. It was taken quite a while ago, in 2007, when I was camping in Australia. Now, while I love the concept of camping, and have a particular joy for church camp, I also like camping with beds. That not being the case on this particular adventure, I had a hard time sleeping. At one point I woke up and simply couldn’t go back to sleep so I decided to exit the tent and get started with my morning. I was met by this sky in front of me. A pink and deep purple streaked sky off to the sides. This picture reminds me that God meets us anew every morning with surprises. I did’t expect to see this beautiful sight. In fact, I didn't expect to be anything other than grumpy that day since I hadn’t slept very well. Yet, God had a surprise in store for me. The Celtics had a word for these types of places and these types of experiences as well - they called them thin places, where heaven and earth meet and we experience the love of God in a new way. 
God had a surprise in store for Abraham as well. Abraham and Sarah were well up in years, over ninety years old, and they did not have any children. To not have children, especially boys, in ancient society was considered a curse from God, for their wouldn’t be anyone to carry on the family name and lineage. Yet for years, God had been promising Abraham decedents more numerous than the stars, yet not one single child did he and Sarah have together. 
There had been an unfortunate instance where Abraham had tried to make the promise come to pass himself by having a child with Sarah’s servant Hagar. The law allowed it, yet that wasn’t the way God intended to carry out this radical promise, and as a result there was more tension than blessing that came. 
But with the birth of Isaac, well past the age when people should be able to have babies, came the blessing of nations. For from Isaac came Jacob and from Jacob the twelve tribes of Israel. And from the twelve tribes of Israel -  specifically the tribe of Judah - came Jesus. 
However, as the book of Hebrews reminds us, Abraham had to take this promise, day after day and year after year on faith alone. He wasn’t seeing the results with his own eyes. When he tried to put God in a box and make the promise come to pass himself, the results were less than stellar. So he had to live by faith alone. Faith in the faithful word of God. 
The truth is sometimes we struggle with the idea of faith. We think faith is believing in what comes to pass or what happens with little evidence, but really faith is about believing in God. Believing that God’s words and promises are true and that God will be faithful. 
We can start to struggle with faith even more when we forget how faithful God has been to us in the past. That’s one of the reasons this picture hangs in my dining room where I see it every single day - so that I won’t forget. I won’t let myself slip into that place where we can find ourselves from time to time when we take God for granted. Or where I try to make God fit into my life or my routine by putting God in a predictable box. 
Sometimes it seems safer to put God in a box, doesn’t it? Now maybe its a big box, with an eight-foot ceiling, but its still a box, because we are afraid of what is going to happen if we let the Spirit of God lose amongst us. Its dangerous to ask what God wants us to do, both as individuals and as a local church, because the Holy Spirit, as we learned last week, is unpredictable and can’t be contained. The Spirit may just be leading us to minister to the last people we ever wanted to or do the absolute last thing we ever thought we would, all for the sake of the Kingdom of God. 
So instead of embracing the mystery of the Spirit, we try to contain everything or make it understandable on our own terms. The ancient Israelites did this as well. It’s why they had the law. They could understand the law and what they should or should not do. That made sense. But as Paul reminded the Romans, it wasn’t the law that brought the promise to Abraham into completion. Instead it was about God being God, and us having faith in God - even when it doesn’t make sense to us, or in the case of Abraham, even when it seems downright absurd. 
Abraham had hope and faith in this unpredictable and wildly creative Spirit of God who was doing a new thing in his life, the life of his family, and the life of an entire nation. Abraham didn’t hope in himself - he hoped in God. He believed that God was able to do what God promised to do. 
If Abraham had hope in this God, how much more so should we, since we have seen what God has done? How much more so should we trust God because God came to us in Jesus Christ to bless our lives and bring us the path to salvation. 
The trouble comes in when we won’t let God be God. When we don’t want God to disrupt our routines or when we becomes in such a hurry that we miss the moments God is trying to bless us with. We need to put ourselves in places, brothers and sisters, where we don’t try to hamper God or box God in, but instead where we are open to whatever God has in store for us, even if it is a change, even if it is new and beyond our wildest imagination. Let us set aside our assumptions that box God in and instead follow, willingly, wherever the Spirit leads, with the faith of children of God.

Rolf Smith is a researcher who looked into something interesting a few years back - questions. He found that the average child asks 125 questions a day. Guess how many the average adult asked per day. Six. From 125 to 6. He found that we stopped asking questions because we lose our sense of wonder as adult. Our sense of being amazed. Friends, lets seize that sense of wonder and awe again! Let’s be amazed by our God who is doing something new amongst us, even if we don’t quite know what it is and where it will lead. Let us let the Spirit of God soar free as we chase after, wherever it may lead. Amen!

Monday, September 5, 2016

#healthypastor - Let's Get Moving

    My secretary told me one day that she judges whether I'm home or not by if my car is in the carport. I told her that probably isn't the best indicator because I try to walk as many places as I can. If a shut in lives near me, I walk to visit them. I walk to the library. I walk downtown.
     We need to get moving again. Our bodies aren't made to stay in one place, yet all too often that is what we do every day. We sit at a desk for countless hours, getting up only to move a few steps. This is why I really like Fitbit's idea to get folks moving 250 steps every hour. At least get up and get moving. And once we are moving, our bodies don't really want to stop.
   What are some small changes you can make each day to get yourself up and moving again? What is your step goal for the day? How are you going to get there? What are some of the places you drive to that you can easily walk to? Let's get moving.