Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gratitude: Prayer Waves

This week. I am grateful for social networks on the internet. This week I have prayed for people I don't know but I know about through blogs and facebook. I have prayed for people in life's deepest sorrow during this time of year we insist should be sugar coated and joyful. I have prayed God's peace on each situation and each person involved. I have prayed for others who wait in ICU's and hear sad news that I don't even know about.

I wonder how much the "prayer traffic" has increased over the last few years since we began sharing prayer requests in ways other than printed newsletters and phone trees? My gratitude for these technological developments is not simply that God hears more prayers these days or people feel more prayed for. It goes beyond that.

I am grateful because the reminder to pray without ceasing comes via email and on facebook throughout my day. My prayer life is being changed. I am being changed. My relationship with God is being changed as I examine whether these long distance prayers are prayed in faith that God is indeed present everywhere and will respond to our prayers. So, this week I am grateful for the interwebs and the equipment that allows me to connect with others around the world and with God.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Church Gratitudes

This week I have been thankful for all the people who keep the ministries of Oak Grove running smoothly: for those who care for and teach our children, for our awesome youth director, for our talented music director and those he directs, for our trustees and everyone else who keeps our building in good shape, for those who lead adult Sunday school, for those who handle our finances, for those who welcome, for those who help with a million clerical and communication details, for those who prepare for worship each week, for those who offer comfort and hospitality though gifts of food, for those who organize and carry out our missions, and many more I've failed to list.

The list above seems pretty generic, but each category represents real people who give of themselves and through whom I am blessed each week. I love all of you and I'm so glad God has put me in the midst of you.

Have a blessed week and I'll see you Sunday!
Pastor Liz

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Deeper Gratitude

Okay, I felt a need to get a gratitude posted this morning, but I don't feel like I came even close to doing justice to the gratitude I feel toward Caleb's birthmother. This gratitude for the person who brought an end to my pain and made my greatest dream come true runs deep in a way I have never been able to fully explain. My friends who have also experienced the gift of a child through adoption get it, but we all have a hard time finding the words to express it.

I think deep may be the best word I can come up with. Deep because it is always with me, everytime I look at my son. It doesn't get pushed aside with the busyness of my world or the "I wants" that often make us forget to be grateful. Deep because it feels like it comes from far inside my heart - that my heart is bigger than it looks from the outside or in an xray. You Harry Potter fans will get it when I say my heart feels like one of those magical tents that look small and ordinary on the outside but are huge and beautiful on the inside.

This gratitude runs deeper than any other in my life. As a pastor, I probably shouldn't say that. I should say my gratitude to Jesus for the gift of his life, death and resurrection runs as deep, but honestly it doesn't.

So as I work my way through this Advent of Thankfulness, I wonder what would happen if I nurture and foster my gratitude for the gift of Jesus so that it too runs deep.

What is the absolutely best gift physical or otherwise that you've received? How deep does your gratitude run?


Family Gratitudes

This week of the year is always poignant for me as we remember how our son came into our family on this very day 18 years ago. I love to tell the story, so if you haven't heard it, and want to know ask me sometime.

At some point today, we will watch the video of the placement ceremony held in the hospital chapel. I heard that later that week at a church meeting, our pastor told the story of being a part of the service where there was grief and joy all stirred up together so that we were beaming and crying all at the same time. The moment Caleb's birthmother placed him in my arms is etched in my memory forever and has greatly influenced how I understand God's sacrificial love for us.

This week, I am grateful for our son Caleb, and for his birthparents who gave him life, and then made a loving sacrifice and gave him life with us. I'm grateful for all of our family and friends who supported us through the dark years of infertility and who celebrated with us when Caleb came into our lives. I am thankful to God for the blessings poured out on us through all these people. Thank you Lord.

Bonus: Here's a link to the song Rik played and sang at the placement ceremony. I've never been able to get him to do it again in public. He says it would be just too hard.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Today, I'm thankful for a vocation that actually expects me to spend a whole morning delving into scripture. No matter how familiar the passages are, I always find some new insight or viewpoint. I get so excited to share what I've learned. The hardest part is pairing 4 hours of study down to a 15 - 20ish minute sermon.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Thanksgiving

Dear Oak Grove Friends,

I discovered an interesting phenomenon that happens for pastors last week. While everyone else was planning Thanksgiving meals and family gatherings, I was working on Advent and Christmas worship planning. I was also aware of the importance of not skipping Thanksgiving. I don’t mean the big turkey dinner, I mean the season of giving thanks. This year I have much to be thankful for here at Oak Grove and I wanted to make sure I took the time to be thankful. Yet, at the same time I was looking ahead to Hanging of the Greens, Advent Sundays, Victorian Christmas and Christmas Eve.

Our theme for Sunday School and worship this Advent is “Christmas Gifts that Won’t Break: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace.” As I began to contemplate each of these gifts in this weird melding of Thanksgiving and Advent, I wondered what would happen if we carry our sense of thanks giving right on through Christmas Day. What if we take time to thank God for these gifts of hope, love, joy, and peace and for the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ?

What if we are careful to take an attitude of gratitude with us into the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparation? Will it change the way we deal with the frustrations that are bound to come? Will it redirect our focus as we consider gift giving and receiving and who really needs our gifts? Will it change the condition of our hearts as we welcome the Christ child? I believe it will.

Many of my friends keep gratitude journals either privately or more openly on facebook or blogs during the month of November. I have decided that I will keep a log of that for which I am grateful as a spiritual discipline this Advent. Perhaps you will join me in this endeavor by leaving comments or starting your own gratitude list.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Prayers from the Rollercoaster

Sermon tease for tomorrow:
How is praying with faith like buckling oneself in for a roller coaster ride?

Personal Observation not found in sermon: I generally only like rollercoasters found on the mild end of the spectrum. One exception is I'll ride almost any rollercoaster in the dark. You see, what I don't like about rollercoasters is that awful anticipation of going up and up - the big fall is coming sometime. If the rollercoaster is in the dark, I can't see what's coming and I just enjoy the ride - for the most part.

Knowing this about myself, it's not surprising that I struggle with dread in my daily life. I often waste much more time and energy dreading a task or event than actually doing it. It's something I've worked on for years. If my faith analogy works, I'm going to have to buckle up, hold on, and just go for it, knowing God is with me. Nike made a lot of money with "Just do it." For me there's lots of wisdom there.

What are the rollercoaster challenges in your life?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lessons Beyond the Books

Today I have a great deal going on in my mind and on my computer. I'm being productive, getting stuff done. I try to settle to read a devotion and some scripture, but my mind goes off in every direction. Finally, I let go of the should of "quiet time" and pray this:

God, I'm antsy and ready to get moving and doing. The book thing just isn't happening. So instead Lord, I ask you to open my eyes today to all the lessons you have for me that are not found in books. Show me the wonders that are found in people I meet and in your great creation all around me. Love, me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Leftovers: stuff that didn't make it into the sermon.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:16-20

As I studied this passage there was so much more than can go into one sermon, especially a sermon that needs to be on the short side as there's lots of other stuff going on in worship tomorrow.

Here are a few thoughts that didn't make the cut:

According to one commentary - making disciples is about bringing folks into the community of faith, then comes believing, baptism, teaching. So if we use this understanding of making disciples, we work to get folks into community with us or others before we worry about their beliefs. Or, as some denominations would put it, before they are saved. This particular commentary would say community comes first.

I also found myself asking about the directive about "teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." Here's my question - do we teach people or do we teach content? You see, when you ask a teacher what they teach, most often they will tell you the subject they teach. I couldn't ever answer that way. Sometimes I would say I teach special ed (which really describes a population of students), but sometimes I would say I teach students with special needs. Do we teach people or topics? In Hebrew the word teach = to cause to learn. No question there as to who/what the object of the verb is - people not content. In this passage, the direction also indicates that we teach people not the content. It doesn't say teach all that I have commanded you to the people.

So how, you might ask, are the paragraphs above related? Funny you should ask in just that way - related, relational, relationship. These are what these two paragraphs have in common. Making disciples (bringing into the community) and teaching are both relational activities requiring at least on some level, relationship.

With whom do we as the body of Christ, commissioned to make disciples, baptize, and teach need to be fostering relationships?

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I preached last Sunday about "right worship" being much more of a function of our expectations for meeting God and the condition of our hearts than about what style of music is played and which liturgy is read.

Today, my meditation time was peppered with interuptions by my mental "To Do List." As I pondered the readings for the day, and struggled to stay with them, I asked myself, "Self, do you expect to meet God in the midst of all those "to do's" today?"

The truth is I was in grave danger of letting all the "to do's" swallow me up and keep me from seeing God in the world around me, in the people I meet, and in the tasks I do.

Forgive me Lord, for getting swallowed up in tasks and failing to notice you. Raise my awareness Lord. Help me see you, hear you, and feel your presence today. Slow me down Lord, my breathing, my thinking, my being that I may not miss the miracle of your presence today. Amen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When is enough enough?

I had a call today telling me to not stress out. It seems some of my interactions in the past two days had revealed that I'm a bit on overwhelm these days. There is sooooo much good and exciting stuff happening at Oak Grove UMC, I'm having trouble keeping up with all the details. So I'm asking myself when will what I've done, what we as a congregation are doing be enough?

In someways, it will never be enough because there will always be someone who needs the love of God in their life. On the other hand, trying to do it all could mean we don't trust God to take care of what needs to be taken care of. Trying to do it all often means someone else isn't having an opportunity to offer their gifts in service.

So I'm trying to sit back and say, "Enough," How do you know when you need to say, "Enough?"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Arc of the Story

Can you name one defining moment in your life that you could share with someone you've just met and they would be able to understand who you are; your character, your history, your hopes and dreams? Probably not. Neither can we read one verse, or one chapter, or even one book of the Bible and get the whole picture of who God is; God's character, God's role in history, God's plan for the future...

A few weeks ago, the kid's Sunday School invited me for what was the equivalent of "Stump the Pastor" with a list of really great questions they had written. The kids asked me how reading the whole Bible would help them grow closer to God. First I told them I didn't think they needed to be reading every word right now, but should continue to read and learn throughout their lives. After all it took a seminary professor in an advanced Hebrew class to teach me how to read the "begats." I did tell them I think it's important that they read the whole story of the Bible which shows us the whole arc of God's role in the world from creation to fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

For the last couple of weeks, I've been printing a list of passages that relate to the theme of our service that week. I've been careful to include passages from both testaments, trying to show that theme across the arc of the story.

So when you open your Bible, or go to your preferred Bible website, I hope you will consider the passage you are reading as part of a greater story, a greater message of God's love and care for the world.

Pastor Liz

Monday, August 9, 2010

Synergy = Energy!

Miraim Webster on-line defines synergy as "conditions such that the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects." That is exactly what happened at Oak Grove UMC yesterday. We had meetings - four of them - to look forward in terms of hospitality and to plan for worship, children, youth, and adult ministries in the fall.

What Webster's definition doesn't take into account is the work of the Holy Spirit that creates synergy. At each meeting the sum of the energy, faith, wisdom, and dedication of those attending resulted in something greater than any one of us or even each of us separately could have come up with.

Beyond that, the sum of the whole afternoon - all four meetings - is greater than what each meeting could have been on it's own. Over and over again, someone would present an idea that sparked an idea that connected with an idea. At the end of each meeting, more than one person said, "This is great!" expressing their enthusiasm for the plans that are being laid.

I can't wait to see how the Holy Spirit is going to take our plans and make them into life transforming ministries.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Isaiah 43:19 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

When babies are little the "firsts" seem to come one right after another. First time to roll over, first baby food, first steps... As children get older the "firsts" seem fewer and farther apart. I remember thinking there wouldn't be many more "firsts" when our son lost his first tooth. I was wrong. Yesterday, I went to a meeting of parents of high school seniors. We have plenty of firsts coming our way this year.

As I think about my own life and how many firsts there have been just this year - first local church appointment being the biggest and most recent - I see that God is constantly doing new things in my life, in the life of our congregation, and in our world. What new thing is God working in your life right now?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Noise of Life

This morning, I went to a park near my house. There are walking paths covered with tiny gravel that go around and through the grassy area of the park. There are also trails that go a bit into what as a child I would have called "the woods." These trails are not covered with gravel. Just plain dirt hardened by many feet over the years. When I'm on the walking paths, my steps are loud - crunch, crunch, crunch. When I step of onto the trails, my steps go silent, or at least much more quiet.

I find I can hear myself breathe. If I listen, I can hear my heart, not the beating, but the emotions - joy, fear, hope, and anxiety all stirred together. Then if I listen harder, I can finally hear beyond myself, beyond my own footsteps and my own self awareness. I can hear birds, and insects, and something small scurrying through the leaves on the ground. Finally, I can hear the hearts of those around me, my friend who started a new job today, and another whose mother was finally freed from a world of machines and tubes and released into eternity.

As I leave the woods and step back on the path, the crunch, crunch, crunch threatens to drown out the really important sounds of life. I must strive to focus my listening as much as I focus my vision to hear what our God would have me hear.

What are you hearing today?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

God is good all the time....

we just notice it more at some times than at others. Life in the world of Oak Grove UMC has been great today. God has been at work through frustrations and through successes. Many folks are working to bring together our VBS which will be tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. (Friday, July 30) and Saturday morning 9 a.m. to noon. I promised to take a pie in the face if we have 25 kids. We have 19 registered and that doesn't count our youth volunteers. I'm seeing a pie in my future!

On days like this it is easy to say as one parishioner says, "I'm blessed beyond measure." Now the real trick will be remembering, "I'm blessed beyond measure," on a day when nothing goes "right." That is, the way I want it to go. I'd love to hear your stories about times when you've been blessed on a "good" day or a "not so good" day. Feel free to share in the comments.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

From the Seed

This blog is written by Pastor Liz giving her a place to share some of her insights related to living a Christian life. Hopefully you will share your insights in the comments. Some posts will be related to sermons past or future. Others may record something I learned or felt during the week. When I'm short of material, I'll probably go with "Stump the Pastor." The kids in Sunday School gave me a list of great questions they had about God, the Bible, and Christian beliefs. I'll save those and post an answer or two when I need something to write about.

When I was considering a name for this blog, there were several suggestions. I chose Acorns from the Grove because like acorns, some of these posts may grow into something bigger. Others will simply lay on the ground and do nothing.

I look forward to our explorations of Christian Life together.

So here's our first discussion topic: Last Sunday, I preached on incarnation and the blind man who felt the hands of God on his face when Jesus healed him. Who else in the Bible was literally touched by God in their interactions with Jesus. How did that experience change their lives?

One I hadn't thought about is John the Baptist who baptized Jesus. This marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry and the fulfillment of John the Baptist's ministry.

Let me hear from you.