Thursday, December 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday

I've been reading, reading, reading lately.  I'm so enjoying it.  Right now I'm reading several books but the one I'm reading this morning is called "The Unfinished Gift."   It is wonderful.  It is set during WWII.  It's been so interesting being in that time period.  To see how our country handled being at war at that time and to compare it to present day.  This morning as I was reading I came to a part that just really struck me.  Here it is.

"The crowd in Times Square is growing by the minute, already numbering in the tens of thousands.  The multitude is happy and peaceful, yet somewhat subdued from years past, considering we are a nation at war. And because we are, it's been decided- now for the second year in a  row- that the Big Ball will not descend from its post high atop the Times Tower to ring in the New Year...

Click here to continue reading...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Remembering, Loving

Well, I didn't have a sermon to prepare last week so I didn't get around to reading the lectionary until Sunday.  It's funny, now as I read scripture and hear sermons on that scripture, I find myself listening and thinking what would have been the message I would have found here?  What would have jumped out at me and led my writing?

Sunday's readings from the Lectionary can be read here.  As I read the verses from Isaiah, my wheels started turning.  Certain phrases seemed be bold themselves, to highlight themselves, to just jump off the page at me.

He has sent me to bring good news to the OPPRESSED
to bind up the BROKENHEARTED
to proclaim liberty to the captives
release to the prisoners
to comfort all who mourn

For I the LORD love justice
I hate wrongdoing

Then from the reading in Luke more...

He has BROUGHT DOWN the powerful from their thrones and LIFTED UP THE LOWLY
he has filled the HUNGRY with good things,

As I read these verses, I couldn't help but think about things going on in our world today.  I couldn't help but think of those memes I see on Facebook talking trash about the poor, about the strangers, about those who are different from us.  I couldn't help but think about the people, some friends, many Christians, who are sharing them.

I was at the store the other day, and I just so happened to get behind someone on WIC.  They had their items lined up according to each voucher and yes, it was taking a long time.  I didn't mind.  I suddenly remembered being on WIC when my children were little and we were living in Hawaii.  I remember having people get in line behind me and the sound they would make when they realized I was using WIC vouchers.  The disgusted sound.  I remembered the instant shame I felt, the embarrassment I felt as I tried so hard not to make eye contact.

Suddenly, I remembered the early days of our marriage and our struggles to make ends meet.  I wanted these parents to look my way so that I could give them an encouraging smile.  So that I could show them that I knew how they felt and I didn't mind waiting so that their baby could have what it needed.  To show them that it was ok and life can and hopefully will get better.

Then we have the verses from 1 Thessalonians...

PRAY without ceasing,
GIVE THANKS in all circumstances

hold fast to what is GOOD
abstain from every form of evil

may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless

You can bet that as I waited in line behind this family,  I was giving thanks for where my family is now.  I was rejoicing that we had help when we needed it and that that help is there for others.  I was abstaining from being impatient, from judging, which is not always easy, let me tell you.

I was reminded of my sermon last week about preparing the way of the Lord.  How we can do that by showing love in all things.  How we can do our part to make the path straight.  I was reminded again
of the company Jesus often kept, the people he often helped, healed, reached out to, loved and I wanted to try to be just a little bit like him.  I wonder what he would think of those memes on Facebook I mentioned earlier.  Would he think they were just?  Personally, I don't think so.  I don't think he would want us to judge with these memes, of course I don't think he wants us to judge those who post them either but I do think that sometimes we need gentle reminders that what we share, what we say can hurt.  Sometimes we need to gentle reminders to LOVE in all things no matter what.  Sometimes we need gentle reminders of what it is we are truly supposed to be about in this life.  LOVE

PRAY without ceasing,
GIVE THANKS in all circumstances

hold fast to what is GOOD

may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless


Monday, December 8, 2014

While We Wait

Waiting is hard.  It requires patience, of which I, personally, have very little. I googled the word wait, and the first definition that came up defined as “the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or until something else happens.”  Interesting. Hmm... I didn’t feel good about this first definition so I scrolled down the page to look at what other online dictionaries had to say.  It was actually rather interesting and kind of funny too. The first definition from Merriam-Webster was, “A hidden or concealed position - as used in the expression lie in wait.”  This one made me laugh.  Definitely not what I was looking for here.  The second definition was better and more what I had in mind... “a state of attitude of watchfulness and expectancy.”  That’s better. That is the kind of waiting that I think we are to be about during this season of Advent.  

Well, after I typed that sentence, I, of course, had to look up the word Advent. The first definition that came up was “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.”  Then there were several definitions that spoke only of the Christian season of Advent but then The Free Dictionary defined the word advent as “The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important.” And both of these definitions fit perfectly for what we are experiencing during this church season.

Waiting isn’t easy.  I remember as a child waiting for Christmas.  I didn’t think it would ever come!  I was always so excited.  When I was really little, I remember dying to open presents.  It was so hard to wait.  I remember begging to open at least one gift on Christmas Eve.  Usually, there would be a gift under the tree from someone in the church and my parents would let us choose one of those.  That’s my early memory of Christmas.

Then the later memories are of me sitting outside my parents bedroom door at 4 or 5 in the morning, begging them to get up so we could go see what Santa brought us!  Actually, I have a similar memory from my adulthood.  When my husband and I first got married, I’d wake up begging him to get up.  I was always so excited only now it was because I couldn’t wait to give him his gifts!  Eventually, after the kids were born, I would wake up and sneak out of our room and wake up the kids, (because my husband would say we had to wait till the kids got up) and tell them come in my room and ask to get up!  I’m a bit of a Christmas morning fanatic and can be a bit devious.  I’ve taught this to my daughter Susan too, but we love Christmas!  So, waiting is hard, especially at Christmas, but for what are we really waiting?  

Sometimes these days it seems we don’t have to wait long for Christmas.  We are playing Christmas music earlier and earlier.  Personally, I’m not complaining because I could listen to it all year long!  People are putting up their trees and all their decorations earlier too.  We start buying gifts early if we are smart, which I was not this year.  So what are we really waiting for here?

About a year ago, I was trying to figure out what we were going do for Advent in our Sunday School class and I read an article about the season of Advent. It was talking about several different aspects of the season but as I was preparing this sermon, one aspect of the article really came to mind and it was the part about what we are waiting on, what we are expecting.  As children when we learn about Advent, our Sunday School lessons all focus on the birth of Jesus.  We hear about the Angel coming to Mary to tell her she is with child.  We learn about Joseph and how he was going to quietly leave her until the angel explained things to him.  Then there is the part about their being no room in the inn and their having to stay in the barn and Jesus being placed in the manger and shepherds coming after the angels appear to them and so on and so forth.  So as children we think and learn we are supposed to be focused on the birth of Jesus.  So I guess, since I went from being a kid in Sunday School to teaching children’s Sunday School this just kind of stuck with me and it is what we think of when we celebrate Christmas. 

But really, as this article says, the season of Advent is a time for waiting, for expecting, not for the baby Jesus, that already happened, but it’s a time of anticipation of his reappearance!  I's a time for us to "prepare the way of the Lord" while we wait.  Well, it’s time for us to really focus on this, as we are supposed be living this way all the time.

So, what do we do while we wait?  How do we prepare the way of the Lord?  Now, it’s easy to get caught up in all the “Christmas” hype.  On the one hand we have society, the secular world.  They are pushing, rush, rush, rush, buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend!  Go BIG!  We have over the top decorating, over the top gifting.  We have schedules that are pushing us constantly to do more, go here, go there, you have to try to fit it all in, the movies, the baking, the music, the shows, the parties, the services, the lights... there is so much it can make you dizzy just thinking about it!

Then you have the “Keep Christ In Christmas” group.  I do think we need to focus on Christ during this season, but I think we should be doing that every day.  And as I think about it, I often find myself wondering how Christ would feel about this movement.  First, Christmas wasn’t a thing in Bible times.   Second, is that phrase "Happy Holidays" that seems to make so many go up in arms, to get so upset.  Is it really so bad to say “Happy Holidays?”  I mean, I think it’s nice to wish everyone a happy holiday season.  That phrase to me has always meant, Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, and even Happy Thanksgiving!  They are all so close in timing that in saying Happy Holidays, to me, just meant that I was wishing you happiness in all of them!  It wasn’t taking Christ out of Christmas for me.  I never thought of it that way because I still said Merry Christmas when I wanted too, still do! Honestly, I don’t know that I have really ever said, “Happy Holidays” or even had it said to me much.  But as I scroll past post after post or email after email about keeping Christ in Christmas I have to wonder about this movement. I even read an article just the other day about how the term XMAS is really a Christian term!  The X is Greek which is short for Christ and has been used for a 1000 years to mean Christ by Christian scholars.  But too often some Christians are looking for ways that we are being hurt, looking for ways that people might be trying to take Christ out of things but we shouldn’t be looking for that!  That is just looking for something to be angry about and that’s not good, healthy.  Instead we need to remember that first of all, humans are not capable of taking Christ or God out of anything!  That is limiting them and well, we know that they are limitless!  If Jesus wants to be a part of something, he will be! When we get all up in arms over this stuff are we really being very Christlike?  Is it really preparing the way for him?  Sometimes people’s posts or rants are down right hateful.  Now how can you be hateful and speak out for Christ at the same time?  I think Jesus taught tolerance, respectfulness, love in all things.  He told us to love our enemies and pray for them.  Are we doing this when we keep making such a big deal about something that wasn’t even a thing when Christ was here on earth?  Are we really preparing the way for him or are we mucking up the road a bit?

When I think of preparing the way for him, I think of showing his love.  I think of kindness.  I think of how in the Bible, Jesus was often surrounded by those who didn’t always seem worthy.  He was with prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers, Gentiles.  These were people that Jewish people didn’t usually associate with at least not in public.  But Jesus showed them love and forgiveness.  He cared for them, he healed them, he included them in his flock and through that, he changed them.  Not by ridiculing them, not by cramming his beliefs in their faces but by loving them first.  By loving them in such a way that they wanted to know more.  That they wanted to be with him, to listen to him.  They wanted to love him and be loved by him.  He prepared the way for all that he taught just by showing love.  Love that we can share.  

When we are rushing to this program and that, or from store to store, or from service to service.  When we are crazily decorating and baking, we have many opportunities to be preparing the way.  We can show love and kindness.  When you are in a crowded store and it’s loud and people are rude, you can offer an encouraging smile, you can help someone get something on a shelf out of their reach.  When in traffic you can let someone in front of you.  You can not yell when someone cuts you off but smile and say a silent prayer for God to bring peace to their hurried life.  We can teach our children by example and that is a great way to prepare the way.  Teaching our children to love.  When we are baking and the kids make a mess, we can loving help them clean it up instead of fussing at them.  We can make a little extra to share with neighbors and friends.  We can make extra to take to a shut-in and spend a few minutes visiting with them, loving them.  There are lots of lonely people during the holidays.  Holidays aren’t always a happy time for everyone.  Take time to remember that and make an effort to show love to them, to show understanding.  There are so many ways, so many opportunities to do this everyday, not just during the holidays.  We should be living this way all the time.

Remember the definition I read earlier for the word wait that made me laugh?  “A hidden or concealed position...”  That’s not the kind of waiting we are to do.  We are not to hide, we shouldn’t conceal ourselves.  We need to be active in our waiting, actively preparing the way through love while we wait.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Christmas always sneaks up on me but this year... well, my life has been just out of sorts so it especially feels that way.  I feel so behind!  I've been getting up early trying to get caught up but there just seems to be so much to do.

Decorating, shopping, baking, meetings for which to prepare, sermons to write, driving DD to all of her rehearsals, cleaning, and the list goes on and on...  This morning, I got up and just got busy.  I finished my sermon for Sunday, I cleaned in the kitchen, I put up a few more decorations and put the storage boxes back in the basement, vacuumed the family room and added a few touches to the decor down there, swept the kitchen floor and called my mom all by 7:30... Whew!  Now I need to make some carmel puffs for church and bag them up, get some cards ready for a meeting in the morning, edit and print off my Lay Speaker report for Charge Conference, and I still need to put up the outside lights...  But I'm hoping to be able to relax this evening and do a little crocheting.

I'm wanting to relax and enjoy the season.  This hustle and bustle is just too much for me.  It's time for me to reevaluate somethings, to think about how I'm spending my time during this season but also all year long.  I want to be able to be with those I'm with and those I want to be with.  I want to think about what this season is really all about, the anticipation, the waiting, the preparing.

How do we prepare? The scripture for Sunday is from and Isaiah and Mark.  It talks about a voice in the wilderness calling us to prepare the way of the Lord.  How do we do that?  I think the best way, is to show the love that we've been shown by God to all those around us.  To forgive as we've been forgiven.  And then by doing all this, by forgiving and by (most importantly) LOVING be changed and help make change in the world around us so that we can all be ready.

This is what I want to focus on this Advent and honestly, everyday.  I think if I do, I will experience all the things of Advent ~ Hope, Love, Peace, Joy and Christ.

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Do Hard Things"

Well, I don't usually share or post my sermons but I really liked yesterday's and my cousins have encouraged me to share.  Before I share it here, I need you to know that I do write out my sermon but there is always a lot that I add and change as I go so the text you see here isn't fully what I shared with the congregation.  Sorry, if you want the full experience, you'll have to be present sometime. :)  Also... I only mildly proof read it since no one but myself usually sees it in print so please excuse any and all typos, omissions, and so on...  Ok... here it goes.  This was written for Youth Sunday at Mason Memorial UMC in Kansas City, Nov. 30, 2014...

Several years ago, my kids and I read a book together called “Do Hard Things; a Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations”. It was written by 18 year old twins, Alex and Brett Harris.  It’s a book challenging youth to do hard things.  They believe that society has come to expect less and less from young people, to underestimate what young people are capable of and therefore young people don’t push themselves to do more than expected. It’s an interesting theory and one I think has merit.  In their book, they encourage youth to expect more from themselves than what society expects, to push the limits on what youth are called to do.

This book and a website run by the young men who wrote it share stories of young people who have done hard things, who have pushed the limits of expectations, who have raised the bar on what youth can and have done.

Have you heard of N’Jhari Jackson?  He is 14 year old who has made a difference in the lives of sick children by collecting stuffed animals for hospitals to give to them.  He also collected blankets to give to the families of wounded soldiers staying at the Fisher House on the campus of the hospital.

Or what about Maria Keller, a 13 year old who has collected books for needy children so that they have every opportunity to read. Or Hunter Gandee, 14, who walked 40 miles with his brother on his back to try to put a face on the muscular disorder he has called Cerebral Palsy.  Or what about Nathan Han who at 15 developed a software tool that predicts the cancer causing DNA mutation.  Or Riley Banks, 17, who has been on a mission to help youth in Kenya to have an education and a home by raising money to build school and now an orphanage.

My daughter was in the 4th or 5th grade when we read it.  It was really a little beyond her age, look there I go putting limits on what she was capable of!  It’s so easy to do.  Anyway, she doesn’t really remember much of the book but she does remember one story they told about elephants. It just really stuck with her. In India when they are training young elephants, they will tie one end of a heavy rope or chain around one of their hind legs and the other end to a tree.  When the elephant tries to move around it can’t.  It can’t break loose and can only move so far.  As it gets older, it learns not to try to move about too far or try to break away so they are eventually able to just tie a string or thin rope to it’s foot and stake it to the ground with just a wooden stake.  The elephant’s spirit is broken and it believes the limits that have been placed on it.  It stops trying.  It’s really kind of sad, I think.

As I read the scripture for today I thought about this book.  Certain phrases really stood out to me.  “For in every way, you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind”,  “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”  “He will also strengthen you to the end,”   “You were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

These phrases tell me that we have all we need to go out and do hard things for Christ.  We have the spiritual gifts we need to do this AND we are told that He will strengthen us to the end!  I find that comforting.

When I spoke with Ms. McReynolds about my coming here this week I asked about the youth here.  She told me that even though your numbers are not as large as some, you are very active.  She told about your helping with VBS this past summer and how you decided to organize a community carnival.  I thought to myself, This is great!  These youth are really out doing the work of God.  They are already stepping out to do their part!  That’s wonderful!  Thank you for being willing to share your gifts with your church and your community.  Thank you to all you adults who encouraged them and helped them to do these things.  You have much to be thankful for in these youth and also in the encouraging adults.  Not all churches have this.

You guys are doing great but it’s not always easy to do hard things is it?  Sometimes it requires us to step out our comfort zone.  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Comfort zone?  A place where we feel comfortable?  It’s a place that makes us feel safe, so stepping outside of that isn’t always easy.  It requires us to put ourselves out there.  We might fail, we might mess up, we might look silly but if we never try, we’ll never know, will we?  I’m sure you’ve noticed that God often calls us out of our comfort zone.  When he does, we have to rely on him to lead us, to guide us, which for some of us is in and of itself out our comfort zone... letting go of our control and letting God, someone we can’t see or physically feel, be in control.  Yes, that’s hard.

Have you ever felt called out your comfort zone?  How did you react?  Did you go?  Did you rationalize why you shouldn’t go?  Moses did.

When God called Moses, Moses kept giving him reasons why he, Moses, shouldn’t be the one to do it.  I’m not good enough, I’m not a good speaker, I won’t know what to say, they won’t listen to me.  Excuse after excuse and with each one God assures Moses that he can do it.  That God will be with him and will give him what he needs to make it happen.  Just like our scripture in 1 Corinthians says, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift... He will strengthen you to the end.” 

I actually really like my comfort zone, don’t you?  I feel very comfortable and safe there.  Things are familiar there, they know me there and they usually like me there too!

But can you imagine how the disciples must have felt when Jesus called them out of their comfort zone?  He called the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John.  They were there in their comfort zones fishing and mending nets and this guy just came up and said, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men!”  Now, I’m betting that these guys were pretty comfortable where they were.  They were earning a living fishing.  They had food to eat and a home.  They could have very easily have said, “I don’t want to fish for men!  I happy fishing for fish!”  But they didn’t.  They trusted Jesus as he called them out of their comfort zone to help them, to guide them.  

Then you have Matthew. He was a tax collector.  Tax collector’s usually pretty well for themselves.  I bet he was comfortable where he was doing what he was doing and then one day this guy walks by his booth and says, “Come follow me!”  Now, Matthew could have very easily laughed him off but he didn’t.  The Bible tells us that he “got up and followed him.”  Then he even had a banquet at his house where other tax collectors joined them so that they could meet Jesus too.  That might have been a bit awkward, but he trusted Jesus to be there, to help him, to guide him.

There are stories like this through out the Bible, Samuel, Paul, Jonah, Noah and so on. They all had to rely on God to help them do what he called them to do.

So, what hard things is God calling you to do?  
I have to tell you, I am a huge introvert.  I’m terrified of people.  I’m incredibly shy.  Always have been.  Then I married a guy who decided to join the military and he took me WAY out of my comfort zone.  To other countries and states.  We were constantly moving and I was having to meet new people and make new friends every where we went.  Then he kept having to leave for weeks at a time at first, then months and eventually for over a year!  I had to learn to live in new places with two kids alone.     WAY OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE.  But... I did it.  God was always with me and put the right people in my life at the right time.  And now...  Well, my husband retired from the army and we have settled down and thought yea!  I get to stay in my comfort zone... but then... God started calling me out of my comfort zone...  He first had me apply for a job as a children’s choir director!  That was crazy!  I love to sing, and I love kids but I’ve never directed a choir before!  What is he thinking?  Am I even qualified?  Turns out I was!  I was terrified as I called and applied but what a fun adventure that was and I got to bless and be blessed by the children of our church.  

Then he pulls me even further out of comfort zone... see I think he just slowly over time stretches our comfort zone making it a little bigger all time so that we don’t feel like we are going as far out our comfort zone but I’m on to him!  I’m starting to recognize this!  

See, next he put Lay Servant ministries on my heart.  Lay Servant ministries is the path led me to being a Lay Speaker.  See when I first started I just wanted to serve more in my local church.  Maybe lead some small groups and assist the minister some here and there with maybe some visitation or in worship.  I didn’t want to preach or speak outside of my own church but before I knew it, God started pulling me further outside my zone to preach and you know what?  I’m so glad he did.  I love it.  It was hard and excuse me for saying it, but I almost threw up the first time I was asked to preach!  But it was so much fun!  God gave me what I needed, when I needed it in all of these situations, from being a military wife to preaching, and he’ll do the same for you.

What is he calling you to do?  What are your spiritual gifts?  How is he calling you to use them?  Do you sing or play a musical instrument?  Maybe you could share that here in worship or maybe go Christmas caroling to shut-ins or in nursing homes?  Do you love kids?  Maybe you  could organize an Saturday afternoon babysitting time when parents can bring their kids for a fun afternoon with you and they can go do some Christmas shopping!  Do you enjoy working with your hands?  Maybe you could offer to do some clean up here at the church or around the community or for the elderly?    We all have spiritual gifts, gifts given to us by the holy spirit to be God’s hands and feet in our communities and to further his kingdom.  

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind -- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you -- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful: by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

I do give thanks for you.  I’m am grateful for your spiritual gifts!  You are not lacking in spiritual gifts and I know that God will strengthen you to the end of what you are called to do.  So, what are you called to do?  What hard things can you do this week, this month, this year or in this life to further the kingdom of God?