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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, August 22, 2016

#healthypastor - Play

   It doesn't matter what age you are, we all need times and places to play. When I think about playing, I think about doing the things that I find enjoyment in. These things change with time.
   I've been thinking a lot recently about Sunday evenings when I was younger. We would throw frisbees around our yard as bases and would play a game of kickball. Or go for a walk to Dairy Queen. Or play badminton. We played together as a family, and those times were so special to me.
   In college, we would have movie nights. Or plan adventures.
   Currently, I am single, which means a lot of what I consider to be times of play are things I enjoy doing alone. Playing with my pet chinchilla. Reading fiction. Working on sewing projects. Taking hikes in the local parks.
   What is a fun time of play is different for each of us, but what is important is that is not work. Yes, you can enjoy your work and find it fun, but you still need times to be separate from work. A time to simply act like a kid again or play with your kids or find a hobby.
   For years I have worked with college students in Bible studies. I was sharing with one mom of a high schooler recently that what I see more and more colleges looking for are well balanced students - not simply someone who excels at one thing, but a whole person. Pastors we need to learn how to be whole people again, how to be well rounded with interests and hobbies that extend beyond the local church so that we can be the healthiest pastors possible.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Incredibles

“The Incredibles: Courage” Deut 31: 6-7
Psalm 31:24

To have courage. The ability to do something that frightens you. Strength for whatever you may face. Courage. 
We are now in the third week of our sermon series of finding gospel themes in Disney Pixar movies. I’m so excited for this sermon series because it gives us an example of how to use things around us to point out the message of Jesus Christ! What a gift we have to share with the world brothers and sisters, and there are so many different platforms to share the good news.
The Incredibles came out in 2004 and tells about a family of superheroes who are forced to hide their superpowers in order to better fit in the the world around them. In fact, the world is so disenchanted with superheroes that they are put in a relocation program that helps them fit in better with other civilians. Yet, at the the end of the day, they are still endowed with superpowers, so they are drawn into a battle to save the world from the villain and his robot, when Bob, the superhero dad, came home to a mysterious message on his answering machine asking him to become Mr. Incredible again. 
When we think about people who have courage, most of the names that comes to our minds are our own personal superheroes, those that we think have extraordinary power and gift to change the world. For me, those are people like Martin Luther King Jr, who was the face of the civil rights movement and Dietrich Bohnhoffer, who stood up against the Hilter-reigme. But the truth is there are every day heroes among us who share their faith in God and deeply love people. These are the people I think show true courage.
In this mornings scripture from the book of Deuteronomy we find that Moses’s time is drawing short. God has told Moses that he will not be the one to lead the children of Israel into the promised land, instead one among them will lead the charge, following God, to take the promised land - Joshua.
Whenever I read scriptures from Deuteronomy and the book of Joshua, I find myself wondering what the people of Israel really thought about Joshua. Years before, he and one other spy sent by Moses to assess the promise land said to go and seize it, but the people refused because they were scared by the reports that others had brought back that scared them. Did they trust Joshua? Were they willing to follow Joshua at this time? Did they know Joshua for his leadership or did they think that someone else should have been called upon?
Then Moses spoke words that are oft quoted - be strong and courageous. Have no fear. Very often in scripture when someone - a person, an angel, or God - shows up and tells people to not be afraid it is at a moment in time when they should be most afraid. That is certainly the case here. The people were losing their leader. While things were not always smooth sailing with Moses, he was familiar to them, and now they were being asked to follow someone new. They were also being asked to actually claim the promise land. Sometimes people think that the Israelites wondered around for 40 years and then just ended up in the promise land, but we are told in scripture that other people and tribes were living there. They had to fight for the land God had given them. The Israelites, under new leadership, were actually gearing up for battle. 
Yet, the people are told to be bold and not afraid, for God was going before them and with them into the promise land. They were told that they would not fail. The promise that we will not fail is a rare one in this lifetime. All around us, it seems as if there is much to struggle and fail at, yet in this particular case, God is telling the people that if they trust in God they will not fail.
Far too often today we let the fear of failure block us from working towards God’s kingdom purposes. But God tells us if we work for the Kingdom, trusting God, we too, will not fail. Now we may not have success by the world’s standards. We may not have a lot of money or attract a lot of people, but if we are faithful we will plant seeds so that others may come to claim Christ as their savior in their own lives - and that, friends, is what matters most. That is what we must claim the courage to pursue.
But Joshua was not the only one who needed to have courage. In the Psalm this morning we also find the Psalmist writing to be strong and have courage in your heart as we wait upon the Lord. Here is the thing about courage, you don’t just wake up one day and magically have it. In other words we don’t just simply react with bold courage in certain situations. No. Instead we are training our hearts each and every day to react with courage if we ever find ourselves in a situation of need. So how do we train ourselves?
In 2015 I was part of a group of young people who asked just that question - how do we get to the point where we can react with courage in the situations we face? First, you pray. You pray for God’s strength and wisdom, for the ability to follow God’s leading. You pray for opportunities to show courage. You pray. Second, you make yourself avaibale to God. Stop and think about it - Joshua could have refused to serve God and the people at that moment. He could have avoided God’s calling on his life. He could have ran the opposite direction. But he didn’t. He trusted that God had appointed him to be a leader for such a time as this and he claimed it. How often are we so busy that we can’t be present to what God may be calling us to do at any given moment? Third, we have courage when we realize what is our responsibility and what is not. This can be super hard for us church, and is often what can lead us to feeling like we are burning out or failing. We are called to plant seeds. To offer acts of mercy. We are given the opportunity time and time again to share the gospel story, but we cannot make someone accept Christ - only the Holy Spirit can do that. We simply present ourselves as an offering to be used by God to share the good news and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. Lastly, we have courage when we hope. When we hope that a different future is possible. When we catch a glimpse of the vision of what God is doing among us. We have courage when we hope. 
Courage is the ability to overcome fear in order to do what is right. But courage does not give us permission to do whatever we want. Courage goes hand in hand with love, grace, and mercy, especially as we share the good news of Jesus Christ. As Christians we have courage in the first place because of our trust and confidence in God alone. Courage gives us the ability to stand up when others are being hurt or intimidated. It gives us the ability to stand with those who are being treated as if they are small and weak. Courage allows us to offer the hope of Jesus Christ. 

The truth is it is easier to be a coward, giving into fear. It would have been much easier if the Incredibles would have said that saving the world wasn’t their problem. It would have been easier to think that someone else would come around to defeat the robot. But they didn’t. They had courage. Brothers and sisters, it would be easier to think that other people will do the hard work of making disciples. It would be easier to think that its only the superheroes in our life who are called to act with justice and mercy. It would be easier to think that our faith is a private thing. But we can’t. Because we are called to follow the leading of Christ, and to be strong and courageous. Let us be bold in how we share our faith and how we proclaim the hope of the Kingdom of God. Amen. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

#healthypastor - Rest

   Let's get honest for a moment - it is not a bragging right that you have skipped your Sabbath or haven't taken vacation. Yet, too many pastors think that its important - as if when they leave the church building, even in the evening to go home and sleep, the Church will cease to be the church.
   We all need rest. Its scriptural. Yet, sometimes it can be hard to come by, which doesn't make us indispensable, it actually makes us a liability.
   At the beginning of the appointment year I sit down with my calendar and schedule a few different things. First, I schedule vacations. I don't schedule all of my vacation time, in case something comes up, especially with friends and family, but I pencil in a good chunk of it. Next, because the beginning of the appointment year is during the summer I pencil in some day trips I would like to take, just to get away, hike, and clear my head. Then, I schedule in times of mini-retreat. Time to get away and pray for my congregations.
   At the beginning of the appointment year, I also make sure that my PPRC and I have clear understandings around what is considered vacation and what is not considered vacation. I once had a DS tell me that sick time does not count as vacation time for pastors because when we don't take our vacation time for rest it more likely makes us sick. I also explain that things can happen that make me miss a sabbath here and there, especially funerals and church events, but that I expect them to hold me accountable to making up that day of rest an renewal as soon as possible.
   We need clear boundaries around rest, because without them we can think it is our job to work all time. What boundaries and practices do you have in your life to encourage rest?

Monday, August 8, 2016

#healthypastor - Finances

  No one likes to talk about money. Period. We like to think that finances are a private matter and how we spend our money doesn't effect other people, but that simply isn't true. Far too many pastors find themselves knee deep in debt, not knowing where to turn.
   It wasn't until I arrived at my current appointment that I could firmly say that the churches I served handled my pay correctly. I could tell you stories that would make you cringe. Combine that with the fact that pastors do not make much, especially when taken in the context of the level of education we need to have, our different tax categories, and a growing number of congregations that struggle to afford to pay their pastors and you have the perfect storm. 
   Many of the above listed factors are beyond our personal control. I am at the minimum salary for my years of service, because that is what my congregations can afford. But there are some choices I need to make in order to stay healthy financially. Whenever I receive a raise, I put more towards my personal contribution to my pension. It is my goal to be as close to debt free in the next 6-12 months as I can be, by paying as much towards my outstanding debt as what is feasible. I put 10 percent of my pay check into savings and give 10 percent as a tithe to the local church. In addition, I try to make one small contribution per month to a charity of my choice in order to support their wonderful work. I try not to live beyond my means - I don't get new phones or cars until the old ones are no longer usable. I have a great accountant who understands the complexities of tax law for pastors and helps me navigate any confusing points, both so that I understand personally and so I can explain it to my congregations as needed.
   We need to be in a place where we can talk about finances and encourage each other to live healthy financial lives. This may be one of the hardest changes we need to make, but it is so important so that we can free from the stress that finances can bring. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Bug's Life

08/07/16 “The Gospel According to Pixar: A Bug’s Life”    Proverbs 28:5
Micah 6:8

Stories are a vital part of life. We tell other people stories about our lives to draw connection points to relate better to them. We tell children stories to teach them lessons. As Christians we have a book full of stories that help us understand the character and power of God more so that we can be in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. 
I have always loved stories. As a child I devoured books. There are many pictures of me sitting in a small rocking chair with a book or snuggled up to my parents as they read to me. As an adult I still love to read, but I also recognize that stories come to us in many different forms in the age we live in, and perhaps one of the most prevalent story tellers of our age is the Walt Disney/ Pixar studios, who tell story through films that countless people watch each year. Many go on to become classics because of the message they present. For the next four weeks, we are going to join together in looking for Biblical messages in Disney films.
Before we begin this sermon series, I want to have a word of caution. I know some of you may be asking, “But Pastor Michelle, why are we looking at movies? Is that really Biblical?” - to which I reply that it certainly is. I am not saying that Disney movies are THE Gospel. What I am saying is that Bible speaks to the condition of our spirit. The Bible is a collection of stories and letters and laws that tell us who we are, that are are pat of our story. Because it speaks to our human nature, the lessons it is trying to present can be seen lived out in the world around us - in movies, art, theater, literature. If only we take time to look. Further, Jesus preached using stories. He took things that people knew about like family and farming and money and wove them together in narratives for the purpose of teaching the people of God. So for the next four weeks we are going to be taking modern stories, as presented by Disney Pixar, and look at what they can teach us about who we are as humans and the Lord we love, if only we look at them differently. 
To kick off our sermon series, we are going to explore a lesser known Pixar film from 1998, A Bug’s Life. This movie tells the tale of a colony of aunts who work for the Grasshoppers, who act as overlords. The ants have a certain quantity of food they have to collect in order to appease the grasshoppers, only one year things went a bit amuck, when Flik, a worker ant, who likes to invent things to make their work easier, accidentally knocked all of the food that had been collected into the stream. As retaliation, the angry grasshoppers tell the ant colony that they now had less time to collect double the amount of food they need. 
But Flik has a plan - he is going to leave the ant colony in order to find bigger bugs to help them fight off the grasshoppers. The colony agrees, but mostly just to get Flik away from them so they can go about their work. As Flik stands on the thresh-hold of his journey he makes the statement “For the colony and for oppressed ants everywhere.”
While A Bug’s Life came out when I was younger, the first time I sat down to watch it was in college when I was studying religion. There was an undeniable connection in my mind between the oppression of the ants by the grasshoppers and the oppression of the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt. Do you remember the story? The Israelites worked hard labor for the Egyptians, building structures for them. But one day the Pharaoh looked around and realized how many Israelites there were in his Kingdom and he began to get nervous they would have an uprising so he devised a plan to work them so hard that they wouldn’t have the energy for insurrection - he made them work longer hours, asked for double the amount of buildings to go up, took away their straw to make bricks and told them they had to find their own building materials. The people were bone tired. The Pharaoh’s plan worked, until God showed up and called Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land.
For our Jewish brothers and sisters their release from captivity in Egypt is essential to their history, is a vital part of their story. They celebrate it every year at Passover. They memorize it and tell it to their children and grandchildren. It is that important. Yet, the prophet Micah comes to the people on behalf of God and accuses them of forgetting - of forgetting their story, their history, their relationship with God, all of which has caused them to go astray and treat other people badly. Their ethics and sense of justice aren’t as they should be because they haven’t put first things first. 
Where we pick up in the book of Micah this morning the scene is set like a court-room. This is a lawsuit from God against the people of Israel. And they have no defense for what they have done. God is deeply disappointed with Israel. The people have been unfaithful to a God who has always been faithful to them. The people have dismissed the faithfulness of God, and by not remembering the story of how God brought them out of captivity, they have also forgotten the power of their God who saves. 
Micah reminds them who they are and reminds them that their God is just - in fact justice is part of the very character of God. But there is a difference between human justice and divine justice - for God doesn’t make any mistakes. But God is also merciful, filled with loving-kindness (or hesed) that allows the people to repent and come back time and time again. 
There is an age old question of what does God want from us or what is God’s will for us? Micah, after reminding the people who they are and whose they are, lays it right out for them. The Lord requires them to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Theologian Carol Dempsey points out, “Only when one walks humbly with God will one come to learning understand how to do justice and love kindness”. God’s will for us as the people of God can only be realized when we approach God with an attitude of reverence and openness, but when we do so, we are changed, completely. Our very ethic changes. But it can’t be something we just believe in or speak about, it has to be something that we live into daily by how we treat other people. That is what obedience to God looks like. That is what God is using the prophet Micah to remind the people of Israel about. God’s sense of justice that stands up for the poor and the oppressed, heals relationships in communities, and  seeks to equally distribute goods, benefits, and burdens, becomes our ethic, our sense of justice. It becomes part of our human morality.
Back to Flik the ant. Flik has a sense that things aren’t right. That he shouldn’t be collecting food for the grasshoppers while ants are overworked and don’t have enough for themselves. But the other ants prefer to not rock the boat, to not risk things being even worse for them until later on, when they find out that Hopper, the leader of the grasshoppers, has a plan to kill their queen. But Flik never acted in a way that compromised who he was or what he believed, even in seeking justice. While we are seeking justice we cannot fall to the temptation to act unjust ourselves.

So what does the Lord require of us when it comes to our ethic? To seek justice and love kindness - to respond to God’s love by sharing it with others, all because of our relationship of walking humbly with God. Simple words but hard to live into. Justice is hard, brothers and sisters, especially God’s sense of justice which can be so distant from our own. But may we seek to live in such a way that God’s justice is realized as we stand up for the poor and the oppressed, and heal relationships in our communities and beyond. Amen. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

#healthypastor - Intellect

  I love to learn. I've always enjoyed school - reading, writing, formulating thoughts and debating ideas. One of the things I appreciate about this vocation is that you can never be done learning. My denomination requires continuing education to be planned and to result in 10 credits every 4 years, the equivalent of 100 hours of learning.
   I hear a lot of pastors grumble about the necessity of continuing education - that it takes up too much time or isn't worth the money, but I have never found that to be the case. There is something about hearing someone else talk about how they got through a situation in their church that you are currently facing that can prompt new ideas. Continuing education lets you hear ideas and adapt them to your context in order to encourage vitality.
  But as important as it is for the local church to have pastors that are continually learning, it is equally as important for pastors to be engaging their brains. To be reading books. To be in group discussions with other pastors. To be asking deep, though provoking questions. Because if we don't engage our brains enough we can get to the dangerous place of thinking that we know all there is to know, which isn't true.
   I have a continuing education plan that balances leadership topics with spiritual formation seminars. I have a four year plan, that often changes, that allows me to address the needs I am feeling as a leader as well as the needs of the congregations I serve. But in addition to taking continuing education classes for credit, I also have topics I read on. A large breadth and depth of topics at my own pace. I try to read a chapter of something about the church every day, so that I can keep my mind wide open and healthy.
   Learning never ceases for pastors. Let us continue to be intellectually engaged and healthy.

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.