Monday, April 18, 2011

What is Whose?

Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:21

My friend Eric Folkerth was pondering the confluence of Tax Day, Earth Day, and Easter all in one week on facebook this morning. One commenter quoted the above scipture. Linking those two ideas together was a huge aha moment for me. Thinking about my week ahead and wondering what I would give to God that belongs to God.

The taxes thing is a done deal for us, for 2010 and first quarter 2011. But I asked myself what I will offer God in terms of caring for the gift we call earth, and in terms of worship during the busyness of this week. Will I take I offer my time to simply be in the presence of God, to pray, to read? Or, will I get caught up in the 102 details that need to be taken care of. Will I examine my reuse/recycle practices and see what long term change I could make, offering my effort to God?

Giving to God can mean offering to God, but it can also mean relinquishing. Will I relinquish all of the busyness, the special services, the fellowship meal to God? Allow room for the Spirit?

Only time will tell how I do on these things, but I have to feel like simply being aware is a start.

So, in your life/world,how do Earth Day and Easter fit into giving to God the things that are God's?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Love is Blind - Thank Goodness

A friend's facebook post about a loving act from her husband started my train of thought down the track. It may take some detours, but here we go.

All of us have been in or have watched someone in a relationship where we were blinded by love and couldn't see the flaws that seem so obvious to everyone else. Now, it's never healthy to turn a blind eye to harmful habits or abusive behavior, but there is a sense in which I am grateful that sometimes love is blind.

I am grateful that God sees past my flaws and shortcomings, to all that I am created to be.

I am grateful that my husband looks past so many things and keeps on being my partner in life and love.

I am grateful that my congregation watches me muddle through my first year as a pastor, overlooking my mistakes and inexperience.

In response to my "Love is blind" comment on my friend's facebook page, someone posted, "Love is gentle, love is kind." Perhaps Paul should have included, "Love is blind." in his description of the kind of love God calls us to in I Corinthians 13.

So today, I'm asking myself, "Where am I called to lovingly look past an unintentional slight or hurt, or some imperfection so that I can offer love to someone?"

How about you?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Gift of Ministry

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

In my morning reading, this verse jumped out at me for two reasons. First it fits well with the scripture for my sermon this coming Sunday, I Kings 19: 1 - 21. In this story of Elijah's wilderness experience, Elijah does indeed lose heart for his ministry - in the worst way. I wonder if Elijah failed or forgot to see his ministry of prophecy as a gift from God. I'll be honest there are parts of my ministry that I find tedious (things that don't involve people) and I don't always remember that it is by God's mercy that I am engaged in this ministry. It is a gift, and I need to treat it as such and engage in it with gratitude. Because, truthfully, I am many times blessed in my work and I am thankful.

However, I don't believe this passage speaks only to those of us whose occupation and vocation are in the church. We all have ministry to engage in where ever we are and whatever we are doing. This verse reminded me of Jimmy's (see post below) response when I thanked him for crawling under the building and fixing our leak. He said, "I'm glad to do it. How many people can say they get to work on God's house." Jimmy understood his ministry as a gift from God.

Lord, remind me often that all I am able to do is by your mercy and is a gift from you. Forgive me when I let fatigue or frustration make me lose heart. Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Not to Do or What to Not Do

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.
Lin Yutang

I stole the above quote from Joe Dan Boyd's facebook page. It struck home with me because yesterday and today I had this feeling that I really needed to do something about a situation that I really couldn't do anything about. Does that make sense?

There was a plumbing related problem at the church. No buildings were being harmed, but a great deal of water was accumulating in/on the ground. The main water had been turned off and it was arranged that a trustee with knowledge of this sort of thing would check it out this morning.

My plumbing knowledge could fit in a thimble. Never the less, I still felt I as the pastor OUGHT TO DO SOMETHING. Since there really wasn't anything I could do, I went home. I spent the evening fretting over what should be done. This morning I contemplated whether I should go up there, even still knowing there was nothing I could do and my being there wasn't going to change a darn thing except I'd have to go to the convenience store if I needed to use the facilities.

In the midst of this wrestling with myself, I found the quote, and was reminded that sometimes whatever it is that needs doing is still not mine to do. What I needed to do was wait and trust the gifts God had given those around me. What I needed to do was be patient (I wasn't) until I heard from the trustee and then be involved in making decisions if further action was needed. What I needed to do was recognize that it was only ego that made me think I had to be instrumental in solving this problem. What I needed to do was get out of the way!

The trustee went. The issue appears to have been resolved, and he's going to check on it later today just to be sure. Why on earth did I think this situation needed me?

Lord help me this day and this week and this life to know when I am called to act and when I am called to trust the gifts you have given others. Amen.

P.S. Thanks Jimmy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Keeping Faith

Warning: This post is a result of my meanderings through an informal word study. These are simply my ponderings about what some words mean to me. They are not the be all, end all definitions. As you will see one train of thought pulls into the station only to send another one off in a differnt direction. My understandings have evolved even in the writing of the post, and I'm sure I won't stop learning and growing now that I've written them down for all the world to see. I hope this post is simply a trigger for your own consideration of what it means to keep and/or lose faith and I hope you will share your ponderings in the comments.

The first scripture reading my devotional sent me to this morning was Psalm 116. The Psalmist talks about having kept faith in a time of trial.

My second scripture reading this morning was Jeremiah 3: 1 - 14. This is only one of the places in scripture when the metaphor of an unfaithful wife is used to describe the breaking, bending, or tearing of the relationship between humans and God. In the Jeremiah passage, Israel and Judah have both soiled their relationship with God by turning to false worship and false gods. In other words, seeking to have their desires and needs met through someone or something other than God.

In marriage we often think of being unfaithful as seeking to meet one's sexual or emotional desires and needs through someone other than one's spouse. But there are other ways in which we often fail to stay faithful to our marriage vows and to the one we love. Marriages fall apart due to neglect of the relationship much more often than they are torn apart due to one or the other partner having an affair. So too is it often with our relationship with God. When we fail to tend to our relationship with Christ, we find ourselves moving away from a God centered life and slipping into me centered living.

As I began to think about this blog post, I began to explore the words and phrases that have faith as their root; faithful, faithless, unfaithful, having faith, keeping faith, loosing faith. To have faith is not only to believe in something, but also to trust in it. To lose faith rarely means losing one's belief. More often it refers to losing one's trust. In it's definition of faith, Miraim Webster refers not only to belief and trust, but also to loyalty.

To be faithful to God requires us to continually remembering and honoring our commitment to God and God's commitment to us. But loyalty is more than that. Loyalty is a sense of dedication that grows not out of shoulds or have tos. It grows out of our devotion for the person, organization, or for God. It grows out of love, not out of rules or expectations. Perhaps this is what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 5 and 6 when he talks about moving above and beyond the law.

If loyalty is action born out of love, then keeping faith is about more than keeping one's trust. It is also about continuing to act according to one's faith. Keeping faith in God means continuing to believe and trust as well as living out that belief and trust in our relationships, in our actions, in our choices, and in our world view. Keeping faith means attending to our relationship with God.

Like I said earlier, just some thoughts about what some words mean to me. What do the words faith, faithful, unfaithful, faithless, keeping faith, losing faith, and having faith mean to you?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

God is Great. God is Good.

How many times have I said those words as part of a before meal prayer both as a child and with my own child? Hundreds, perhaps thousands, but only recently did I really stop to think about the distinction between great and good in this prayer.

I have begun working my way through The Workbook of Living Prayer by Maxie Dunnam. On the third day, Dunnam explores the meaning of God is good in terms of prayer. As a child (and I imagine that most kids go here too)I assumed God is great, God is good referred to different degrees of the same characteristic.

As I contemplated the lesson for the day, I began to see God's goodness in terms of God's love for us, God's desire for good for us, God's goodness as caring. God is good. Yet this doesn't adequately cover my understanding of God's goodness. I don't have the vocabulary to describe the mental, physical, and emotional reaction I have when I ponder God's goodness. It just is.

So the questions I came to were;
How is my prayer life changed or enhanced when I remember that the God I pray to, the God I crawl to, or cry to, or shout at, or sing with joy to is indeed God.

Does it change whether I pray in faith or in fear?

Where does this line of thinking send you? Do you pray to God who is good? How does/did/might that change your prayer life?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Living Words of God

I came across this quote by John Calvin this morning, "Hence the scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when [people] regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the living words of God are heard."

"As if there the living words of God are heard" - how beautiful is that. And how often to we open our Bibles expecting to hear the living words of God rather than simply reading an assigned passage or look up a particular saying?

Now I read my Bible most every day for a variety of reasons. Some for study, and some for personal spiritual growth. I'm going to start a new habit of asking God to open my eyes and ears for "The living words of God." I believe it will make a difference in my reading experience.

I invite you to join me in this discipline - where ever the scriptures are read, in you home, at work, at church - I invite you to open your heart to "the living words of God,"

Monday, January 24, 2011

Uncertain Blessings

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Psalm 25:8-9

There is a little town in Texas called Uncertain. There are days when I feel like I live in the town of uncertainty and it doesn't feel good. Read on to see what the verse above has to do with being uncertain.

You see, there was a time when I knew what I was doing. I had been teaching for many years, and had pretty much figured out what worked and what didn't. Of course every student with special needs is different and repsonds differently to various teaching techniques. But, I had collected a pretty big bag of tricks and it didn't take much trial and error to figure out what would work best. I was pretty sure of myself as a teacher.

Then, I left teaching and became what I refer to as a mid-life rookie. I started seminary where everything was new and only a few of my teacher skills were helpful. Since then I've been a rookie two more times - first as a hospital chaplain and then when I went to work at the North Texas Conference office. Now as a first year solo pastor I'm back in the rookie role, and weekly I am faced with new situations that I'm not certain what I should be doing or how I should be handling it. Needless to say, I.pray.a.lot. It feels like I'm always asking God for direction and guidance.

Last week was definitely one of those weeks. If you come to church this Sunday you'll hear about my grandmother who didn't like to be wrong. Well, I simply don't like feeling uncertain about what to do or unsure of myself.

However, this morning's reading brought me to Psalm 25. It's a good Psalm and I encourage you to read the whole thing, but the verses at the top of this post really spoke to me about when I can best learn from God - not when I'm most sure of myself, but when I'm most uncertain and most willing to lean on the Lord - in other words when I am humble or more importantly have been humbled. When there is less of "what I know," there is more room for what God desires.

So as I move through this current "rookie" period, I am reminded of the blessing of uncertainty and the opportunity it affords me to be open to God's leading and to learn more about God's path. I'm also pondering what this means for a congregation who is seeking God's will for their future.

My question to you dear readers (if there are any left out there after my long absence) is where are you being opened to God's guidance? Talk amongst yourselves.