Monday, October 31, 2011

An Interesting Footnote on Hebrews 2:14-15

Here's the note from the Wesleyan Study Bible-see what you think.  Agree or disagree?

"When people think that death is the final word, fear of death will keep them from fully obeying God and seeking God's justice.  Fear of death diverts their energies toward worldly achievement, amassing wealth, and seeking pleasurable distractions to 'make the most out of life' while they can.  Because Jesus faced death and emerged victorious from the grave, we can be freed from this fear for joyful, unrestrained, undistracted obedience."

Do people accumulate wealth and strive for recognition and acclaim because deep down they fear death?

Interesting question to ponder.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pay Attention to Whispers from God

I haven't talked a whole lot about Leadership Institute on my blog but I had a friend ask me to share some of what I learned and what I thought and what I came away with from those two very busy days.  So, I started going through all of my notes again trying to put it all into perspective.  There is just so much information!

As I looked through my notes though, one thing really jumped out at me and it is something I have been mulling over ever since the conference, without consciously being aware of that fact.  Bill Hybels was the guest speaker on the last day and this is actually the last point that he made in his talk.  He said "pay attention to the whispers from God.  Big things start with a whisper."

A whisper or that still small voice.  What is God saying to me about my life?  What is God saying to me about church and ministry and where is it all going?  How is it growing?  Do I listen?  Do I hear?  Am I acting on what I hear?  Big things, visions, dreams.  That's the stuff that the future is made of, something to work towards.

If I have to be honest with myself (tough but necessary) here's the honest truth.  I'm leery of dreaming.  I'm hesitant to hope.  Things are changing alright, but not necessarily for the better.  When you deal with people who think everything is just honky dory and have no clue as to what you're talking's like speaking a foreign language.  Add to that the day to day realities of just confronting what pops up and has to be dealt with, I feel like I'm too busy dealing to do much dreaming.

It's not that I don't dream-I have plenty!  It's more feeling like they are simply pipe dreams.  They are nice, warm, fuzzy thoughts without any possibility of becoming reality.  Perhaps this is my cynical wandering in the desert stage.  On the plus side, the desert is usually the stage when I find the most growth spiritually.  If you survive this, you can take on the next big challenge!  Toughened up by one challenge at a time!  Walking by faith, not by sight.

And perhaps that is why the whispers are becoming so much more constant and insistent.  I hear them and do not see how these dreams can be accomplished.  But God is so much bigger, he can see so much farther and he is able to do all things!

Trust, believe and dream, the whispers say to me.  What is just beyond the horizon is going to be awesome to see!  I hope so!  Lord help me to believe!  Help me to believe in your big God given dreams!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not Much to Write Home About

Ecclesiastes-the definitive book on pointless striving!  Here's the gem from chapter 2 in The Message paraphrase that inspired the blog post title this morning:
"Call me 'the Quester.'  I've been king over Israel in Jerusalem.  I looked most carefully into everything, searched out all that is done on this earth.  And let me tell you, there's not much to write home about."
And here is another little gem from chapter 1:
"What was will be again, what happened will happen again.  There's nothing new on this earth.  Year after year it's the same old thing...Nobody remembers what happened yesterday. And the things that will happen tomorrow?  Nobody'll remember them either.  Don't count on being remembered." 
In other words.  History can and does repeat itself.  Why?  Because lessons learned by a previous generation are forgotten.  And we have an arrogant blind spot-we think that we are much better than previous generations.  We're brighter, smarter, we won't make the same mistakes that they made!  So, if that is the case, then why do we have Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movements here in the United States?  If we are so much smarter, and we learned past lessons so well, then why do we have the "great recession?"  (Cause heaven forbid we call it what it is-a national and world wide depression.)

I bring this up because I just finished reading a Teddy Roosevelt biography last week and I was struck by how similar the scenarios were to what is going on now.  There was an interesting comment by the author about Teddy's opposition to monopolies.  He wasn't opposed to the accumulation of wealth, he had a problem with how the power that came along with that wealth was used.  It really comes down to ethics and morals and the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself.  The events in the book took place at the beginning of the 20th century and now, here we are at the beginning of the 21st century and we are grappling with the same issues yet again!  We forgot the lessons learned and here we are again, nothing new or different-repeating the same scenario just at a different time and with different individuals.

Life makes a strong case for the importance of knowing history and for reading your Bible!  The Bible reminds us of how important it is to treat each other well.  For Christians it tells a much greater story than that because it tells us about Jesus and how God sent him to complete a mission that could only be accomplished by the Son of God.  The hope is there contained in the book for a better way, no doubt!  But it also is a very practical book-it is a hands on book.  It contains stories of flawed people who sometimes got it right and sometimes got it wrong.  It reminds us that struggle and pain are part and parcel of living on this side of heaven.  But it also teaches us to have hope, to have faith and to love others and treat them fairly.  It's like a book that screams "read this and learn from our mistakes so you don't make the same mistakes!"

The vast majority look at it either as a collection of myths, or they open it when going through times of crisis but they don't read it on a daily basis as a means to learn how to live a better life.  It really is a wonderful guide if you take the lessons to heart!

I am begging you-if you don't read the Bible on a daily basis-make a decision, today, to start, TODAY!  Start with Psalms, start with Proverbs, start with the Gospels, doesn't matter-just pick a spot and start reading!  Use a translation that you can easily understand-read and absorb and underline and write notes, whatever works for you!  Just start!  You would be amazed at how much information is contained in this one book and how practical it is in your life, now, today!  You will find, my darling readers and friends, that the more you read, the more you will think "that is something worth writing home about!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Death, Stewardship and Show Me the Money

It seems like, at least recently, there is not a week that goes by that I don't hear about a death of someone that I either know well or at least know who the other person is talking about.  It's weird, I don't remember so many people dying when I was younger.  I think it's because I wasn't paying quite so much attention.  When I was younger, someone who was my age dying was a shocker!  Young people are not supposed to die.  Young people don't die.  I still think of myself as "youngish" but death doesn't surprise me as much any more.

United Methodist churches and many other churches pay close attention to death rates for one reason.  Many of our members are older and those same members have been the individuals who have consistently put money in the offering plate week after week, year after year.  Finance committees could set the budget with a high level of confidence year after year based on these members annual giving.  Stewardship was not a big deal because giving was pretty consistent.  That's not the case today.  Older members are dying and younger members are not coming along.  I understand the need to set a budget and to take pledges from members about their giving because the Finance committee needs to know if they can plan on enough money to be able to keep the lights on at the church.  But I don't ever remember annual Stewardship drives happening when I was growing up, nor do I remember taking a Sunday church service to collect pledge cards.  And now, it's gone beyond just one Sunday to a month of Sundays where the focus is Stewardship-meaning, fill out your pledge cards and show me the money.  The meaning of Stewardship has been narrowed to mean cash flow.  I really hate Stewardship drives!

I know, I know-you have to have them to get an idea of how much you can expect to come in over the next year as far as cash.  But Stewardship in my mind is so much more than just cash in the coffers!  What about the person who comes early every Sunday and makes the coffee?  What about the member who sings in the choir faithfully?  What about the member who volunteers year after year to teach Sunday School?  Oh, those are gifts and graces-that's totally different.  Really?  So their contribution as a member is not as important as the member who writes the $100 check every week?  So we choose not to do something because it might offend the check writer, even though it could be very important to the community?  Think about it-how much money do you save because someone volunteers to do something so you don't have to pay someone to do that task?  Doesn't that contribution have some impact in the Stewardship equation?  Rarely does that conversation come up in a Stewardship pledge drive.

Stewardship is about taking care of what we have been given.  It's about planting seeds and carefully tending.  It's about watering, weeding and pruning when necessary.   Money matters but it is only part of the equation. At our church, someone years ago must have been a pretty good steward of the children through Sunday School class and Youth Group because many of those younger generation members are coming back and bringing their children with them!  Not only are they coming back, they are finding ways to actively participate!  That is a pretty powerful legacy worthy of celebrating!  Yet, in many churches that probably would not even get a passing glance or mention.

It should be mentioned.  It should be celebrated along with a lot of other small tiny details that keep things running.  Our definition of Stewardship has gotten too narrow and we need to broaden it once again.

Let me quote Paul's words to Timothy in 1 Timothy, chapter 6 (NRSV)
"But those who want to be rich fall in to temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains." 
Money itself is not evil, it is the obsession with money that causes the problem.  If I had to point to one thing in the church in general that we have become overly obsessive about, this would be one of the items that would make my list.  We need cash to pay the bills and support missions, no doubt.  But as a church we need more than that-we need faithful stewards who will help out in any way they can and do whatever is needed to spread the message!  Just because someone can not write a big check, do not undervalue their contribution.  Take the time to acknowledge their value as well!

If Stewardship could be viewed and shared through that lens, perhaps less people would feel the need to skip the entire month of November at church.  If, like my church, you added a section for volunteering on to the Stewardship card, members wouldn't feel the overwhelming need to throw up when that pledge card is pressed in to their hands.  Just a thought, but I think it is a thought worth considering!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Good Question from a Fellow Blogger

I have a very sick child today so no blogging for me!  We'll be heading out for Urgent Care pretty soon.

So today, I am going to share a link with you to a blog post by my long distance friend and fellow blogger David.  He asks a very good question that it is well worth thinking about!

How do you do "church"?


Monday, October 24, 2011

A Word Out of Your Mouth

Have you ever seen something that just made you shake your head?  It's like watching a train wreck about to happen-you can see it coming but you're not sure you can do anything about it.  Do you try to say something or do you keep your mouth shut, hoping that the tragedy will be averted?  Do you say something even if it falls on deaf  ears?

James chapter 3 in The Message Paraphrase says this:
"A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything-or destroy it!"
One might conclude that this is the "permission" to speak clause.  But, he goes on and says this later on in the same chapter:
"Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others.  It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.  You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor."
On the one hand, if you say something, even if it is true, someone's feelings are going to get hurt.   If you say something because you see others being disrespected and taken for granted does that change the situation?

Tough call to make sometimes.  It's an even tougher call to make when you are dealing with the people closest to you.  Hard truths are tough to hear sometimes.  They're even tougher to deliver!  But before delivering that "hard truth" we have to stop and ask ourselves what is our motive behind saying something?  Is it simply because we don't agree?  Is there a bit of ego behind what is driving us to feel that we have to say something?  The motivation matters.  Can we say what we have to say while still treating the other person with honor and dignity?

I don't think that James was implying that we should never speak up.  I do think he was warning us to carefully think it through BEFORE we open our mouths.  What we may think is insignificant, others may see it as a way to build them up or tear them down.  Our words should be chosen carefully.

The bottom line to this really comes back to loving our neighbor as ourselves.  If we treat other people with honor, dignity and respect.  If we think before we speak or act-well there would be a lot less train wrecks waiting to happen!  Speak the truth, but do it to build people up, not tear them down.  If you have to bring something up in order to correct them, do it in as loving a way as possible.  Hopefully, when you or I stick our feet in our mouths, others will be kind enough to do the same.

Words really do matter!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Crispy Fried Goodness and that Proverbs 31 Chick

Today's daily Bible reading-Proverbs 31-the one that describes the perfect, virtuous woman and all that she does.  I'm depressed, cause by those standards I would fall under the category of epic fail!

It's not for lack of trying!  I don't know if it is because the weather has been so awful the last couple of days, or the fact that I have been pushing really hard to get things done (which I know better but tend to ignore).  Either way, I am crispy fried yet again and have worked myself into yet another fibro flare.  sigh....

So here I am with plenty of things to do and no energy to do them.  It's all about balance and I've gotten out of whack again as my body has so physically reminded me!  I feel like I've been hit all over with a sledge hammer!  The cure is to rest but as a mother, that's not always an option as my mind runs through its mental checklist of items.  It's a very long list!

I want to do it all-to be super wife and super mom and super church member, doing good things for everyone.  But I have to remember that God did not ask us to do it all or to do more than we are equipped to do!  He doesn't want or expect crispy fried goodness!  All he expects is that we use our gifts and graces to run the race that he has set before us-at his pace!  My guess is that the Proverbs 31 woman of virtue understood the need for balance and pace.  She didn't try to do everything at once.  She tackled life one thing at a time and she rested when necessary.

Logically I understand this, but it doesn't make me feel any less guilty.  There are people depending on me and when my health gets in the way, it is very very frustrating!  I prefer to be moving and doing not sitting and resting!

Today though, that is pretty much what I will have to do-sit and rest.  The sun has come out and it is shining on a gorgeous fall landscape.  There's a chill in the air but not oppressive.  It's a beautiful day that my Lord has made-now I have time to rejoice and be glad in it!

The Message Paraphrase has this to say in Proverbs 31:
"She always faces tomorrow with a smile."
As for me-I intend to face today with a smile.  I may be exhausted and in pain but I'm alive and surrounded by wonderful family and friends!  I have the goofiest 3 legged dog who makes me laugh.  I have beautiful scenery to look at all around me! I have friends to pray for and songs to sing.  I have the sun shining on me and birds chirping merrily along with the songs of the wind.  I have much to be thankful for today!  I'll take the time to rest and enjoy all of my blessings.  And tomorrow, I'm sure, will be a much better day!  Pace the race, Miss Trudy, pace the race!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's All About Caring Enough to Share

I have a good friend who has been going through a tough time.  He has been incredibly courageous confronting this hideous disease called Cancer.  My friend, over the years has given much to the community through his teaching and coaching and his example of just being an all around great guy!  His family is a treasured part of FUMC Washington's faith community!

So, some of our members decided it was time to do something to help.  We're hosting a dinner and asking for free-will donations.  It's time that we step up to not just help out with prayers and presence but to help out practically with finances.  Co-pays, medicine, transportation costs-that's not cheap!  There are some brilliant people planning and coordinating this event.  I'm not the brilliant one, all I did was post it to our church Face Book page and start sending out invites.

But wow!  What an impact already!  We have 122 followers on the First United Methodist Church, Washington, Missouri Face Book page.  I posted the event somewhere around 7:00 last night (so it hasn't even been a full 24 hours).  As of 9:40, we had 45 confirmed attendees, 24 "maybe" responses, and 34 "unable to attend" but here's the big whopper number-there are still 763 outstanding RSVP requests for a total of 866.  Two hours earlier, that total number was 662.  I did not send out all of those invites!  I don't think the other administrators on our Face book page sent out all of those invites.  This has happened because friends invited friends who invited friends.  One by one, "word of mouth", spread the word!  My oh my, how the word has spread!

I am so incredibly grateful and humbled by this small community who are coming out in droves to help!  They care enough to share in the "for better" and the "for worse" times in people's lives!  This is community.  This is Christian faith and fellowship at work.  This, my darling friends and readers, is what it's all about!

Here's what Paul said in Hebrews 13 (The Message Paraphrase):
"Make sure you don't take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others."
I intend to be there on November 5th to do what I can to help.  If you happen to be in the Washington, Missouri area on that day come on by!  Care enough to share-that's what we do in our walk of faith!

It's nice to hang out with brilliant, caring people!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Boys of Summer Bring it Home to St. Louis!

As a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, I would be remiss if I didn't congratulate my team for making it to the World Series!  Congratulations!  I'm looking forward to game one on Wednesday!

My husband, the ever eternal optimist, kept reminding me in August that "statistically" we had not been eliminated from the wild card berth.  I did not hold my breath.  But the Cardinals reminded us all that they play at their very best when their back is against the wall!  And lo and behold-we made the wild card!

That was nice, but I didn't think we would beat Philly!  They are a great team, a tough team!  The Cardinals surprised me yet again!  Maybe, just maybe we could do this and go all the way.  But we were facing one of the toughest teams out there-the Brewers!  They had played well all year and thanks to their help, the National League ended up with home field advantage for the world series!  They have a great team and they had their mojo going all season long!  But like I said, the Cardinals are at their best when their back is against the wall.  All of our guys hit the ball, and our bullpen pitched extremely well!  The boys of summer are bringing it home!  We're going to the world series!

I'm waiting for some intrepid entrepreneur to make a flying rally squirrel T-shirt with the banner "Hap-pee Flight!  Hap-pee Flight" on it!

Cardinal Nation hear us roar!  Hap-pee flight!  Hap-pee flight!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ethics, Morals, Society and Systems

Hang with me, darling friends and readers cause this is going to be a long one today!  It's taken me a couple of days to really simmer down and think this through and I didn't want to write out of a place of anger.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still angry but I can at least "speak" in a tone that is not spiteful!

Let me take you back to about a month ago, when my husband and I attended an awards ceremony for work.  Sitting at the table, the discussion came around to politics.  One individual clearly leaned towards the Tea Party, one individual was clearly a Liberal Democrat.  There was also a moderate Republican and two Independents.  The conversation group covered a broad spectrum of political beliefs and perspectives.  Here's the interesting thing-not once did the conversation become hostile.  Everyone kept talking, and bottom line, we were all in agreement that in the best interest of the country it would be best if our politicians would work together!  The "change" that we all voted for, regardless of political persuasion was for communication and cooperation-not gridlock!  Although we might not fully agree with each other's positions we could understand and see merit it some of the points that were being made from both sides.

Now, let's talk about this week.  I got a call from school (never something that a parent wants to get because usually it's not good news-7 children, 4 graduates, I have yet to get a "good" phone call).  My son is a Senior.  He is due to graduate this year.  He's having some issues but they couldn't give me anything specific.  Meanwhile, I'm sitting at home trying to figure out what is going on and my "mommy senses" are tingling!  Life hasn't been easy but I try not to complain because it could be so much worse.  Long story short, my son would like to change his course load (which isn't going to happen because the system just can't handle that sort of thing) so the other option is, he could graduate at semester.  But it looks like they won't let him because again, the system is not designed to handle such a choice.  Which leaves me with a really tough choice-force him to go when he is wanting to move on or pull him out of school and let him get his GED so he can move on to doing what he really wants to do.  You need to understand that my son is super oober brilliant (and I'm not just saying that because I am his mother).  In all seriousness, he is not only artistically talented, he is Tesla/Einstein/Edison smart!  He used to get really bad grades in one of his math classes which made no sense until I found out what was going on.  He was doing the math homework, he would put down the answer (and it was right) but he wouldn't show his work.  That's because he was doing it all in his head!  Because he didn't write it down, he got marked down, even though the answer was correct.  That's how the system works.  Thank God, he has a couple of teachers who see his talent and encourage and support him, which is why I think he's been able to hang in there this long!  Both assure me that if he decided to go in to engineering as a career he would be utterly brilliant!  And they tell him that fact over and over again!

Basically, I feel like the school district is writing him off.  If a child can not or does not fit the system, there is no mechanism in place for those who march to a different drum beat.  I do not, in any way, blame the teachers.  As far as I'm concerned there are gifted individuals who deserve sainthood for what they try to do for the students!  I have friends who use their own money to buy not only supplies, but food because they care so much, that they want to do whatever they can to help these children succeed!  There are things that they would love to do differently, but they have the same problem-the system was not designed for variances in ways of doing things.  They are as equally frustrated as I am!

Frustration-it seems to be a season of frustration!  As a society, there is frustration from all sectors-right, left and in between!  We, as a society, have agreed to certain laws and procedures, and there are certain systems in place.  There's a fly in the ointment-the systems are not working, change needs to happen and it's not happening so people are frustrated!

A lot of my blog posts feature thoughts from Proverbs, but I've been struck by how much the Bible talks about treating each other fairly, helping the poor, giving voice to the voiceless.  It is a theme that runs from one  end of the Bible to the other-Old and New Testament!  A just society acts in the best interests of everyone, not just a select few.  It doesn't mean that individuals are not allowed to be successful.  What it does mean though, is that those who are well off have a responsibility to help others (and I don't mean just money).  A just system contains two words that lots of people get very uncomfortable using or talking about.  A just system has ethics and morals.

Here's how my Webster's dictionary defines these words:
ethic-conforming with an accepted standard of good behavior
moral-concerned with right and wrong and the distinctions between them 

Which brings me around to the American education system.  I understand the need to have a basic set of standards that we expect all of our children to know before they graduate.  What we fail to acknowledge is that some students learn faster, or differently.  Not every student will be able to learn simply from a book.  Some students need hands on experiences.  Some students need to hear the information to process it.  Some students need alternatives so they do not fall through the cracks.  Teachers need to be given the flexibility to teach in multiple learning styles.  New Hampshire had an idea that they proposed a few years ago-I don't know if they followed through with it or not, but it was a pretty good idea!  Students would take a standard course load through Sophomore year.  After that, they could opt for a college track or a vocational track.  The idea is that it would lower the drop out rate and it would use a child's natural "bent" (or as we say in the church world gifts and graces) in order to prepare them for something that fit their learning style.  Essentially, they would create an individualized education plan (or IEP).  As a community, they looked at the problem (the drop out rate) and worked together to come up with a viable solution.  Perfect?  No.  A step in the right direction?  Yes.  That's where a just system begins.  Ethically, morally, we have an obligation to help our children learn the skills they need to be successful.  To achieve that, we can not talk past each other and point fingers, we need to talk with and work with each other to come up with solutions.

The bottom line ethically and morally can be summed up in this one thing-do unto others as you would have others do unto to you.  I have yet to hear anyone say "what a terrible idea!"

Pray that we can all choose to work together with this simple rule in mind.  We have more common ground with each other than we think!  We can get the system on track again if we're willing to work together!  That is what individuals in a just, ethical and moral society do-they work together, without putting each other down.  What a concept!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wesley Sermon 79-On Dissipation

I'm sharing this because it hit home with me today and I think when you read it, you will have a similar reaction.  Also, I have lots to say, but right now I'm still spitt'n nails mad and I just don't think I can write a civil blog post.  So enjoy a far more civilized post courtesy of the good Rev. Wesley!

On Dissipation

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Mother's Prayer

I don't know what is going on.  I don't know the full story.  All I know is my mommy senses are tingling.  So I sit here and wait, hoping to get more information to understand the whole picture.

And I'm praying.  A lot.  Without words.  A mother's prayer.

Because at this point it is out of my hands.  It's in God's hands.  Which is where it has been all along.

I wait.

I pray.  I pray some more.  Still I wait.

I have to trust and believe and have faith.  But when it's your own kid that is mighty mighty hard!

Peace.  Be still.  Know I am God.

I'm trying Lord.  I'm trying.  Father God, hear my prayer!  A mother's prayer.

Monday, October 10, 2011


In the wee hours of Sunday morning life suddenly became exciting in "Trudy's world" for all the wrong reasons!  My husband decided to let our dogs out, sometime around 3ish, when the civilized world is fast asleep.  We have two younger "pups" (they are not quite two years old yet) and two older dogs.  The pups seem to be under the illusion that anything outside is a living chew toy, meant to be chased.  The skunk in the woods did not share their perspective and proceeded to make his objection known by a full on spray!  My husband, hearing the commotion and wanting to bring peace to the neighborhood, let them in the house!  And that is the point, that I woke up from my blissful slumber due to the most wretched, eye watering smell known to man!  Thanks to the dogs, my house was skunked!

We did manage to get them back outside but the damage was done-the house reeked!  So Sunday was spent washing-anything and everything, trying to get the smell out of the house.  When family and friends stopped by to visit, the first thing I asked was "how bad is the smell in the house?"  A lingering odor but by acting fast and going deep we managed to eradicate most of the unpleasantness!

As I was fighting what seemed like a losing battle, I thought about the section in Hebrews that I had read on Saturday.  In chapter 10 Paul is telling the Hebrews to hang on, to not quit, to stick it out.   The Message paraphrase says this:
"If we give up and turn our backs on all we've learned, all we've been given, all the truth we now know, we repudiate Christ's sacrifice and are left on our own to face the Judgment-and a mighty fierce judgment it will be!"
A little further on in the chapter:
"But you need to stick it out, staying with God's plan so you'll be there for the promised completion." 
This got me thinking about the people who come in the front doors at our church and leave out the side door. Is it that they have given up on their faith, or have they just given up on the church?  I've talked to some of those people who went quietly out the side door over the years.  I've even been one of them, to be honest!  A lot of them left not because they lacked faith, they left because the church lacked depth.  I remember in particular, a conversation with a former member who ended up going to a different church down the road. He said to me "I love the people here but what I got was milk.  What I get at this other church is meat and I needed that!  There came a point in my spiritual walk when I needed more than just milk on Sunday morning."  I think on the times when I had to walk away from a church and those occasions had to do with the fact that I just got burned out.  I'm one of those "willing volunteers" that gets over volunteered and there doesn't seem to be any graceful way out!  So, rather than cause a conflict, I quietly exit out the side door.

We talk a lot about evangelism and outreach in general.  We want our members "going out in to the world".  I agree, that we need to be "out and about" more.  I do wonder though, are we equipping our members to do that?  Are we giving them the depth of teaching that they can go out confidently?  Are we also giving our members who do volunteer and do go out, an opportunity to take a break when they need to?  Do we recognize what our members already do as far as volunteering in ways that may not be connected to the church?

Tough questions!  No easy answers for me at least!  One thing that I do see though is that there seems to be, in some circles, a desire to look at each thing as a separate entity and I am not convinced that is such a wise thing.  Let's take evangelism for example, if we don't teach members well about what we believe, why we believe it and why it is important (in other words, give them some depth) then how will they respond if they are challenged when they try to share their faith?  If you feel like you're going to lose in the first place, then why would you battle through the frustration and exhaustion in order to win the battle?  The average member in our church will not be standing out in front of a crowd talking about their faith walk, they will be doing it one on one.  So, knowing that this will be the "style" of evangelism that the majority will be doing, isn't it worth looking at the depth of teaching that we have in our own church to empower them to share confidently?  To me, this is not an "either/or", this is a "both/and" situation.

This has been percolating in me for awhile but it really came to the forefront for me after attending the Leadership Institute at Church of the Resurrection.  I don't think I'm making a mountain out of a molehill on this idea.  I don't think I'm barking up the wrong tree.  The Methodist tradition and Wesleyan heritage has depth.  We just need to work on how we teach that depth to our members.  Without depth, our members do not have the tools to evangelize or to hang in there for the long haul.    

The pups had never run in to a skunk before.  The older wiser dogs knew to stay clear.  The younger two got sprayed and then came into the house where they "shared the love".  Hopefully the pups learned their lesson and will steer clear of skunks in the future!  I worked hard to get the smell out of the house and by the time I was done, I was exhausted.  But I knew if I acted quickly and stuck with it, eventually I would gain some ground.  And when all was said and done, I could take a break and recharge my batteries.  Asking our new members to go out and evangelize is like sending the pups out to face a skunk.  Without some depth of experience, they could end up getting painfully sprayed.  And when they do get sprayed they run for home.  If we do not have experienced leaders there to help clean them up, then the smell will stay.  And the leaders-they need time to recharge their batteries as well.  Whether it is a minister or a volunteer, they may have the experience but they can get burned out if they are expected to do the work all of the time.  Balance is the key.    Looking at one area specifically is not a bad thing in and of itself.  But when we isolate from the "both/and" realm of experience and depth than we are short changing our ability to address the problem.  We need to reach out, we need to evangelize but in order to be effective we also have to recognize the need for teaching.  Depth and experience and time for rest, need to be part of the equation as well!

And I am positive that "both/and" sure beats getting skunked!  I speak from the voice of experience on that one!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lord, Give me Strength to be Gracious!

Has anyone else had to deal with this issue?  I say "the sky is blue."  The next person points out to me that actually, there are shades of gray.  In other words, no matter what I say, it is never right and the other person must go out of their way to correct my "error".  I can say something positive, and they will do their very best to tear it apart.  And it takes every fiber in my being to bite my tongue!  Is it really that hard to just say it's going to be a nice day?  Would it be the end of the world if, just for once, instead of saying something negative, something positive comes out of your mouth?

Logically, I know that the second greatest command is "love your neighbor as yourself", which means being gracious.  I'm having a hard time with that one as of late!  Wanting to reply back in a snarky manner is overwhelming!  I want to ask "do you engage your brain before you open your mouth or do you just like hearing yourself talk?"  I think it, I oh so desperately want to say it, but I don't, because in the whole scheme of things I know that it's not nice and it won't help further the conversation!

Needless to say, my prayer as of late is "Lord, give me the strength to be gracious" because right now I am feeling anything but gracious!  I'm feeling cranky!  Forgive me Lord, but it's true!  The favored definition of insanity these days is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  That's what is going on, and I see it!  Do you confront that reality head on or do you try to be gracious and gently turn the direction?  Personally, I favor the gentle approach.  It doesn't seem to be working!

Forgive me my crankiness Lord and give me strength, patience and wisdom to be gracious even on days like this!  It's a beautiful day!  The sky is blue, the leaves are turning, the breeze is gentle!  I will rejoice and be glad!  I'll acknowledge the gray and say "yup, it's a bit hazy!"   Mama said some days would be like this, I just didn't realize that there would be so many in a row!  Lord oh Lord, give me strength!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sermon 74-Of the Church

What is the church, really?  If you lost your church building would you, could you, still meet together?

For those days when you just can't say it any better than what has already been said-bring on John Wesley!

Of the Church

I am the church.  You are the church.  We are the church together!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

If You Look for Him, He Will Let Himself Be Found

In chapter 15 of Second Chronicles Azariah goes out to meet King Asa to deliver a message.  Here's how The Message paraphrase words the Prophet's message:
"Listen carefully Asa, and listen Judah and Benjamin:  God will stick with you as long as you stick with him.  If you look for Him, He will let Himself be found; but if you leave Him, He'll leave you."
The story of Asa is such a great story!  (Seriously, if you have never read it, take the time today and read it for yourself!)  Asa made the decision early on that he was going to follow God, really follow to the best of his ability.  He tore down the pagan altars and shrines.  He even removed his mother from the throne because she had built an image of Asherah, which he tore down and burned.   Asa is a reminder to all of us that one good follower can make a difference!

Further on in the chapter we read about the people gathering together to offer sacrifices and to worship and it says that after the sacrifice was offered:
"They bound themselves in a covenant to seek God, the God of their fathers, wholeheartedly, holding nothing back."
 Asa and the people seeking God together.  Can you imagine that?  It must have been an awesome sight!  The power of the praise and the prayers going forth.  The expectant waiting to hear the word of the Lord.  The Message paraphrase goes on:
"Anticipating the best, they had sought God-and He showed up ready to be found."
Wow!  How cool is that?!

Reading this made me start to think about how often I truly seek the Lord.  Do I do it wholeheartedly?  Do I seek without holding anything back?  I'm not talking about those times when things are crazy busy and hectic and I have enough time to utter a 50 second prayer.  I'm talking about intentional times when I am determined to hear a message.  I have to be honest.  I think there are times that I hold back.  Why?  Because I'm not so sure that I want to hear the plain unvarnished truth.  I know that probably doesn't make a lot of sense but for those who know me well, they know that I am my own worst critic.  I am far harder on myself than I am on anybody else!  I know this because I have family and dear friends who have told me "cut yourself some slack!"  They are the ones who tell me that I am too hard on myself!  So when I talk about "the plain unvarnished truth" I mean being afraid of hearing love spoken, I mean being afraid of hearing that I am forgiven.  Criticism I can take, cause I know my laundry list of faults.  Knowing that God loves me, warts and all is hard!  Because I fail.  I fail so many many times, I don't deserve that kind of unconditional love!  Seriously, how can someone who knows all, and sees all; someone who has been, who is now and ever will be, perfect in all things, love someone as utterly flawed and imperfect as me?  It boggles my mind!

That's what grace is all about though, isn't it?  It's about accepting what I don't deserve and have in no way earned, simply because God loves me.  Sometimes it is harder to accept love and forgiveness then it is to accept criticism.  I expect criticism, but I most definitely do not, always, expect love!  For me, I have to say that I don't go into a situation expecting the best.  This is perhaps, what holds me back-my own flawed expectations.

As individuals, are we afraid of hearing the truth as far as our shortcomings or are we afraid of hearing the truth that we are loved, despite our shortcomings?  Do we seek God but only go so far?  Do we seek God anticipating the best, or expecting the worst?  How different would our spiritual lives be if we could just trust enough to seek God, without holding back and anticipate the best?

Asa's story reminds me that God is waiting to be found by those who earnestly seek him.  Am I willing to step out a little further?  How about you?

Look for Him because He wants to be found!  Because He loves you and He Loves me!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Penance, Prayer and Depth

Penance is a really old fashion word that we historically associate with punishment, and that understanding is reinforced by the dictionary definition of the word.  I'd like to draw your attention to a few of the descriptive words in the definition:  "sincerely repent, confess and perform acts required".  I really got to thinking about this word as I read through chapter 5 in John Ardt's True Christianity (just a quick note if you decide to follow the link and read this yourself-it looks like it is all one big document but it does break down by chapter, you just have to look for the start of a new chapter in the body of the text).  Back to the topic at hand!  John Ardt made this statement:
 "For true conversion does not consist in putting away great and outward sins only, but in descending deeply into your own self, searching into the inmost recesses of the heart, the secrets and closets, all the windings and turnings thereof; changing and renewing them throughout, with the grace, that is given you..."
For an individual to really embrace the gift of grace, they need to understand that they have a need for forgiveness in the first place.  That's why we see Peter in Acts chapter 2 of The Message paraphrase saying:
"Change your life.  Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven." 
 Many did repent and were baptized.  Yet, we find Paul talking in chapter 5 of Hebrews about the fact that those who should be eating "solid food" are still drinking "baby's milk."  They understood on the surface, but they had not gone into the depth that John Ardt talked about.

We have the same problem in the modern church!  Think about it-why make the effort to go to church, or to fellowship with other believers if it does not make a significant difference in your life?  Depth matters!  I was reminded of this at a workshop that I participated in at the Church of the Resurrection's Leadership Institute.  Rev. Constance Cherry led the workshop and it's focus was on prayer-specifically corporate prayer.

Rev. Cherry asked a question that we should all ask and seriously consider: "if the people in this congregation only had me to teach them to pray, what would their concept of God be like?"  As leaders, we need to remember the importance of teaching others how to pray.  Corporate prayer is a conversation between God and people and what we say, the words we use, should reflect that understanding.  And true conversation not only involves speaking, but it also involves listening.  It involves acknowledging that God is present. Corporate prayer done well can be a model for individuals to use in their personal, private prayer time.  It can help us move towards a deeper relationship with God.

As I reflect on the information that I gleaned from this wonderful workshop I realize that prayer is one of the things I struggle with personally.   Particularly the quiet "listening" part and the admitting my shortcomings and mistakes and asking for forgiveness.  When was the last time that I sincerely repented, confessed and changed my ways?  It's not that I don't want to do these things, it's making the time to do them!  I long for that spiritual depth but I honestly didn't know where to begin!  I have the distinct impression that I am not the only one out there that struggles with the this issue!  The further down the road you go, the more you realize, the less you know!  Nothing like a little reminder that nails you squarely between the eyeballs!  (Yes, Virginia, God does have a sense of humor!  He puts up with me, that should be proof enough!  hee hee hee!)

So two lessons learned from this particular workshop.  One is that I need to work on my own prayer life and listen more and ask for forgiveness for my mistakes more often.  The second is that corporate prayer is important and I hope that my church will make this small change in our services to include more prayer time.  Modeling prayer in a corporate setting may be just the thing that an individual needs in order to make a significant change in their own life.  Isn't that what our faith walk is about?  Penance, prayer, grace and change.  Seeking depth rather than superficiality.  I pray that our faith community chooses to lead the way by example because it is a powerful and meaningful way-following in Jesus footsteps!

Time for me to go eat some more humble pie!