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?