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sacrificeshoes2003

It takes a little practice…

“Practicing the Presence” can sometimes seem like an elusive thing. Often, that is because we have certain expectations about the outcome… what the divine will look like in our lives. Other times, it is because there is no real formula for success. It is more about practice than perfection. For some of us that is a challenging thought… especially if we want to measure results.

Practicing the presence is more about desire, inquisitiveness and grace. We practice certain spiritual rituals such as prayer, dwelling in scripture, and contemplation because we believe that God is present and we long to notice and experience the grace of the moment when our longing is unexpectedly filled by God’s love.

As I ponder the very peculiar story of Moses and the burning bush, I am struck with three important practices: Read more

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For such a time as this…

Over the next five weeks, we will take a look at the book of Esther.  If you haven’t read Esther, I’d encourage you to read it! It reads like a thriller or even a romance novel. And yet, we can learn much about what it means to live a life committed to God and to one another as the body of Christ during difficult times. Do you ever feel like your swimming upstream? That the choices you make and your commitment to faith seems so foreign to others that you find it difficult to stay the course? Perhaps you feel discouraged and insignificant or unable to change things anyway? These are some of the very things that we read about in the book of Esther.

As part of our study, we will look at the different characters in the story and the choices that each of them make in their own times; some in faithfulness to God and some quite faithless at all. we’ll be challenged to reevaluate our own choices. We will be reminded that each of us have been given gifts and passions for God to use to effect change and bring about justice in our own communities. Together, we’ll ask ourselves the famous question Mordecai asked Esther:”Who knows if you have not become royal for such a time as this?”

Join us for worship Sundays at 10:30!

Pastor Beth

Practicing the Sabbath... yielding for God's provision

A Quest for Jesus – Journeying toward a deeper relationship with Jesus

Practicing the Sabbath... yielding for God's provisionDear Friends,

Over the past year, I have found myself wondering about our country’s current expression of Christianity. I have often felt overwhelmed with Christian mud slinging in the name of Jesus, words of judgment and hate paraded across the Internet, and sometimes-downright heresy. I confess that at times I found myself feeling ashamed to call myself Christian.  How could there be such vast differences between the Jesus I have come to know and love through scripture and the political, pop culture Jesus that seems to dominate social media? It grieves me. It concerns me. It humbles me.

As I began to pray about our Church’s Lenten Season, I sensed an invitation to journey more deeply toward Jesus. I began to share my thoughts and feelings with some of my colleagues and they recommended several books. So, I picked four books and invited several persons in the congregation to prayerfully read them with me. As a pastor, this was more than a personal journey; it was a subject of prayer and searching on behalf of our congregation. The books we read together are: Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: the Historical Jesus and Contemporary Faith – Marcus Borg, Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for political Power Is Ruining the Church – Greg Boyd, The Jesus I Never Knew – Phillip Yancey, A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Gospel of Peace – Brian Zahnd

The brothers and sisters that I asked graciously agreed to read with me and ponder following questions: What is the most important thing you learned about Jesus and the Church from your book? How has that impacted you? If you could share one thing you have learned with the congregation, what would it be? What passage of scripture best demonstrates this new understanding?

After reading the books, we met together and discussed what we had learned. We shared new and fresh perspectives that we had gained about Jesus and Scripture. After a rich conversation, we identified the following topics that we will cover each Sunday in Lent. These are the things that the Holy Spirit seemed to highlight for us.

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Lent 1 – Sunday February 14th

“It’s. All. About. Love.”

Luke 15:1-32

Children’s thought: Did you get a Valentine for Valentine’s Day? Did you know that God sent you one too? God sent us Jesus to show us how much he loves us! No matter what we look like, or what we have done, or what kind of grades we make, God is in love with us! He thinks we are great! God wants us to share that valentine with others.

 

Lent 2 – Sunday February 21st

“The slow way: modeling power under as opposed to power over.”

Scripture: Luke 4:1-13

Children’s thought – Jesus was a servant. He served others instead of serving himself even when he didn’t have to.

 

Lent 3 – Sunday February 28th

“Live Christ-like now.”

Luke 6:1-32

Children’s thought – Has anyone ever done something nice for you that made you feel really good? How about when you didn’t deserve it, has that ever happened to you? It’s a really special thing when we think we are going to get in trouble for something we did but instead someone reminds us of how much they love us and does something kind for us! That’s how Jesus is! Jesus wants us to live that way too.

 

Lent 4 – Sunday March 6th

“It’s not about what we shouldn’t do… it’s about what we should do.”

Luke 10:25-37

Children’s thought – We hear a lot of “should not’s” in life don’t we? But Jesus spent a lot of time teaching us about “should’s”. He wanted us to know how important it is to love people. We should love. We should be kind. We should help people when they need it.

 

Lent 5 – Sunday March 13th

“The kingdom of God is happening right now, here, today.”

Luke 7:18-35

Children’s thought – Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? I know we all do! Jesus wants us to live today as happy as we would be when we are in heaven. In fact, he wants people to see what his kingdom is like on earth right now! Do you know how that’s supposed to happen? You and I are to help people see heaven by loving one another, helping one another and caring about one another.

 

Lent 6 – Sunday March 20th (Palm Sunday)

“It’s easy to fall into group thinking – take time to discern kingdom living.”

Luke 19:28-38

Children’s thought – We hear a lot these days about the presidential election don’t we? Did you know that when Jesus rode into town on the donkey that people were waving their palms because they thought he was going to be the president… or the King? Everyone was convinced! The whole group thought that Jesus was going to set the world strait by making Israel a powerful nation. What would you do if you were going to be president? Jesus did something completely unexpected. He decided he would be a servant instead. Can you imagine that? He washed people’s feet! He served them dinner… and he even went to jail and was punished in the place of other criminals. That’s a very different kind of kingdom isn’t it?

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As we begin this season of Lent, I invite you to consider what Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the light.” Jesus is the way. Jesus is the Truth. Jesus is the light that illumines our perplexing times. How much do we actually know and understand about His way? How much time do we spend reading His story in the Bible under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit? I want to encourage you to make a journey toward Jesus this Lenten Season. What can you strip away in your own life that will free you to relate to Jesus more deeply?

Journeying with you in Christ,

Pastor Beth

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2015 National Older Adult Conference

Seven members from First Church are attending the National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) in Lake Junaluska, NC, next week (September 7-11): Auburn and Ruth Boyers, Brenda Fox, Larry Glick, Sharon Helbert, Rosie Martz, Pauline Miller, and Carolyn and Larry Seilhamer. The theme of this year’s NOAC is “Then Jesus Told Them a Story.” The schedule […]

the grace of giving

bubbaIn May of 2000, I lost someone very dear to me… my stepfather, Daddy Bill. He died about three weeks before we returned from Italy. Daddy Bill was in a very real sense my father… he provided security, stability and love for me as a teenager desperately needing a father. One thing I loved about Daddy Bill was that he always had a dog… and he loved his dog very much… Bubba was his name. He was a yellow lab… very big, very loving, very smart and very, very loyal. When I returned home from Italy, I found Bubba depressed. He was lying on the floor and would not get up and move. The vet had decided that if he didn’t make an improvement, Bubba would have to be put to sleep. So I decided to take him back home with me to the farm and try to love him and nurse him back to health. After all, that’s what my stepfather had done for me. Our family extended hospitality to Bubba and were mostly blessed (other than when he had big mistakes that big old dogs make… but we won’t go there) He actually lived for another 5 years. He brought us joy and love while at the same time blessing us with the opportunity to show love and appreciation to Daddy Bill by caring for something that he loved very much.

In essence, that is what giving is all about. It has has to come from a place of deep identity and gratitude to God.  If we are honest with each other, there really is no earthly reason for us to just give away our hard earned money, time and energy away. The only real reason for us to do something that crazy is because we genuinely love God and are grateful for all that God has done for us. 

So how do we make the move from a worldly view of giving to a kingdom view? We do it because of our gratitude for the grace and love that God has shown us. You know, my dog Bubba was very large and as any of you who have had a lab know, they shed something terrible. I had to clean up the floors after him often. I even had to change my clothes before I could leave the house because I was always covered in white dog hair. He was old and had frequent accidents as I mentioned earlier that Harry or I would have to clean up. His special dog food sometimes cost more than our people food. We almost needed pet insurance to afford some of his medication for arthritis. Extending hospitality and being generous to Bubba came at a cost. But I have to tell you that I never regretted my decision to take him in, because I was motivated completely by the love of my Daddy Bill, my stepfather, who had shown such love and grace to me. Doing something that I knew would please him was enough motivation for me.

The spiritual discipline of giving can only come from that place; an awareness of God’s lavish love, grace and provision for us and a deep trust that if we were to ever need anything from our father in heaven that He would do the same thing for us. Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth says this, “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Ways to Practice:

  1. Take some time and remember times in your life that you were keenly aware of God’s presence and provision. Perhaps there were times that you felt special care from other people. Try making a list of all of the God moments and grace filled moments you have experienced in your life. Ponder how much of those things you actually earned? Allow yourself to be filled with gratitude to God. Try thinking of a way to express that gratitude in some measurable way. Notice how that makes you feel and how it strengthens your love and appreciation for God.
  2. Try giving a thanksgiving offering to church or an organization that helps others just because; not out of obligation but for the grace of giving. Notice the ways in which that kind of giving forms you.
  3. Try doing a random act of kindness trusting in God’s ability to multiply the gift.

Sabbath and Gratitude

As I reflect on what it means to cultivate gratitude and a generous heart as a spiritual practice, I am reminded of the importance of keeping the Sabbath. I found this blog I wrote a few years back that really captures my thoughts about this integral connection. It was a good reminder and I wanted to share it with you.

I have recently noticed that the more I practice keeping the Sabbath, the more I experience gratitude for the things that I have. Why, you may ask? I think, in part, it is due to the slowing down long enough to notice what I have;  long enough to take in the smallest things like a double rainbow that stretches across the sky after a thunderstorm, a flock of geese flying over my head in perfect formation, the hydrangea vine that bloomed for the first time since I moved into my current house, the sound of teenage guys laughing in the basement, the funny way my cat looks at me when he wants me to rub his tummy…

I have also noticed that when life is busy and I am unable to keep the Sabbath, I quickly become  unsettled. This unsettledness leads to a sense of loss, emptiness and longing. It soon moves to an unconscious striving to do,  fill, acquire, or accomplish something that will ultimately make me feel better. Missing the Sabbath drives me toward a kind of vortex that  sucks me into another way of being and drives me further and further away from a place of deep spiritual satisfaction. It literally sucks all of the resources and creative energy out of me and as each day and week passes, I find it harder and harder to slow down. I find myself feeling less and less fulfilled and consequently, less grateful and less generous.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day apart in silence and reflection at a local retreat center. As I sat in one of my favorite chairs to pray, I noticed that a painting was propped up on the floor in the corner facing me. I was captivated instantly… it seemed like a watercolor of a remote Italian village… along the sea. you could see its reflection in the background… but in the foreground, there was a little boat tied to a rock in a little cove surrounded by white flowers… gardenias I imagined at the time. I found myself reminiscing of our years spent in Sicily and soon became aware of a longing, an aching, even, to return.

Was I ever really cognizant of what I had in those beautiful years there? Had I taken the time to savor the beauty of the people, the land and the food? My mind was soon interrupted by the daunting thought of now… My scripture reading for that morning had been Psalm 16… Verse 6 reads “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance”. The invitation? Take it all in and receive God’s blessings that are all around, even the blessing of memory… savor the now.

Sabbath is a time of savoring what has been given; rejoicing in what God has provided. It changes things.

the longing

oh how I would love
to sit
in a boat
skimming smooth water
anchored
among fragrant flowers

to breathe
warm salt air
with hints of gardenia

to see the village behind me
that pauses
sleepily
for a moment
in the reflection
of quiet waters

to be rocked
gently
in the presence
of day

Playing with God

Just before I fell asleep last night, I told God that I was looking forward to our visit together the next day. I love to wake up early in the morning, drink coffee, read, and spend quality time in centering prayer. Perhaps it was this genuine enthusiasm that prevented me from finally falling to sleep at a respectable hour.  Or perhaps it was a sense that God was already stirring something in my spirit. Either way, this anticipation kept me awake long enough for me to recheck my alarm clock that faithfully told me that my alarm would ring 5 hours and 39 minutes from then. It would be hard to wake up at 5:30 the next day.

Sure enough, the startling sound of my cell phone awakened me exactly 5 hours and 39 minutes from the time I had checked it last night and amazingly, I jumped out of the bed before I had even turned it off. I put on my favorite bathrobe, brewed a cup of coffee for myself and made my way to my favorite couch. I read, pondered and then spent some time in centering prayer.

This time of prayer left me with the most unusual vision which I fully intended to blog about today… but as I began to put it into words, it came out as two poems:

Part 1
hopping, skipping, cartwheeling
across the beach
in my bridal gown
with the Groom
the earth is a trampoline
the sand under our feet
is as playful as the first snow
and yet
the sea is so calm and big
it soothes my soul
we fall into the sand
laughing
we make snow angels together
we look up into the heavens
and I wonder
before I ask, the Groom says
enjoy this thing
I am doing
this thing your heart has been longing for
we resume
our cartwheels, skipping, hopping
jumping
but the sea catches my eye
and I stop
to ponder its vastness
what am I to do?
I ask
He says in a gentle but probing voice,
play with me…
play with me

Part 2
It has been so long since I last played
I think I forgot how
there is a lifting in my soul
a memory flickers
of innocent times
sitting in the grass
and I remember
a place in me
of carefree rest
wonder
enchantment
play…
play with me, He says

Beautiful things…

Recently a high school student in our congregation introduced me to a new song, “Beautiful Things” to use in one of our worship services. Ever since I heard the song, I have continued to sing and repeat a line of the song over and over to myself… “You make beautiful things out of the dust…” Yes, it does remind me of God creating Adam out of the dust in the creation account, but the power of those words touch something much deeper in me.

I am reminded of Rahab the prostitute who selflessly protected Joshuah and his men… risking her life for someone who knew the most high God. In return, Joshuah gave her a scarlet chord which would save her life when the city was overtaken. How interesting that her life was then woven into the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1… she was one of the grandmothers of Jesus. God makes beautiful things out of the dust…

I am currently planning a service around the story of Rahab and a friend of mine who is preaching that Sunday highlighted yet another dimension in the story. Rahab is the only female mentioned as a hero in the great faith hall of fame in the book of Hebrews. She also wondered inquisitively what prompted the New Testament writers to include Rahab in such a radical way…

After I read my friend’s email, I could hardly sleep that night as the question and the words of the song invaded my heart and mind… it is as if the writers wanted to remind us that God makes beautiful things out of the dust… He delights in using what we may deem as unusable. Sin, background, qualifications, good-standing, race, gender and even religious background do not limit God in how he might use us… in fact it seems that dust makes a very good medium for God to use for the most beautiful creations.

This gives me such hope and life. In the past, I have felt so hurt by the church at times… because I didn’t have the right last name , because of my gender, or the fact that my father had taken his own life. I was often excluded from using my gifts in ministry because I wasn’t “ready”… when in reality, I think it was more likely that they weren’t ready for me. How heart breaking that along the way the church has lost the message of God making beautiful things out of dust.

When did we start deciding who is in and who is out? When did the church start requiring that people behave a certain way before they could belong? It seems to me that the birth of the church in Acts was all about the movement of the Spirit empowering the most unlikely candidates to minister… breaking all kinds of religious rules. Did we forget that our biblical story includes a beautiful heritage of murderers, prostitutes, sexually abused persons, foreigners, pagans, women, men, eunuchs and children? I don’t know about you… but I feel closer to a God who delights in making beautiful things out of the dust because that is my story.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves as the church if we are really ready for the beautiful things God desires to bring forth… if we are… we might just experience something spectacular…

Here are the words and a link to the song:

Beautiful things

All this pain…
I wonder if I’ll ever
Find my way
I wonder if
My life could really change
at all?

All this earth…
Could all that is lost
ever be found
Could a garden come up
from this ground
at all?

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust

All around
Hope is springing up
from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being
Found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new You are making me new
You make me new You are making me new

© worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor

For all my pastor friends and colleagues out there…


God…
what makes people like ourselves
follow this strange sensation
we describe as “call”
how is it
these resilient seeds
find a way to sprout
even in the most hostile environment?

we marvel as we watch
others
like ourselves
plunge
into the deep waters…
of church and ministry
with eyes wide open
and sometimes not

it is mystery
in its fullest sense
to watch
your resurrection power
breathe life
into our tired bodies
week after week, day after day

the thrill
of soaring to the undiscovered places
of your presence
and the sobering descent
into the depths
of uncertainty
and loneliness
keep this strange journey
perfectly balanced
in total dependency
on you

you who calls
you who gives rest
you who gives and takes away
so much power
and yet
you share graciously
with little co-laborers
who said
yes

a practice to remember…

Tonight, many of us will meet together to practice remembering the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his death on the cross. Some traditions will host love feasts, foot washing services and communion while others will simply take time to fellowship over a meal and remember together the significance of the events that took place so long ago.

This ritual, though very diverse, is rich with multi-sensory ways to engage more deeply into the words Jesus shared with the disciples gathered around the table. We touch the bread that represents the body of Christ… the white color reminds us of the Lamb of God, without blemish, who took away all sin from the world. We recall that Jesus willingly broke the bread and gave thanks for what it was and what it was to become. He invited the disciples to eat it… to fully take in and digest that his body would be broken for them. He would become the bread of life so that we may all have life.

He invites us to remember.

We feel the weight of the cup… the very cup that Jesus agonized over in the garden later that evening. The cup he said, is the blood of the New Covenant. We see the deep red fruit of the vine and it becomes a poignant reminder of Christ’s precious blood poured out for the world… We taste the warmth of God’s healing and salvation as we drink from the cup and remember.

We continue this practice because Jesus encouraged his disciples to remember and recall the significance of the things he said as often as they would eat the bread and drink the cup. It was to be a truly contemplative moment… a moment to more fully awaken every part of ourselves, every God given sense that we have , to the depth of Christ’s love for us.

Tonight, as we engage in this prayerful act of remembrance, may we slow down and take it all in. May we become aware of each sensory message that the bread and the cup hold for us. As our feet are being washed, may we be reminded and touched by God’s care for us… and may all of these things produce a soul felt “Thanks be to God” welling up from the depths of our being.