Changing Views

Many people have a particular season of the year that is their favorite. What I love and appreciate the most is the transitions from one season to the next. By the time fall is nearing I am usually ready for the cooler temperatures it promises. Likewise, when spring begins knocking on the door I am ready to shed the blankets and coats and bask in the more natural warmth provided by the sun. As dry brittle leaves of various shapes and sizes and hues continue to litter my lawn, my focus is less on where they have fallen and instead is looking where they have fallen from. A standing army of skinny skeletal tree limbs stands guard around my home. As I sit working at my desk I can look left out the window and be rewarded with a glimpse of the pond that rests beyond those wooden sentries. As I sit in my living room peering out the back window, I find myself slightly amazed to be visually reminded at how sharp the rise of the hill is that sits on the other side of the creek trickling at the bottom of the small hill that shapes the end of my back yard property.

Of course, both the pond and hill have been in their same place all summer. Yet, I am not afforded a view of either due to the heavy vegetative growth during the summer that shields them from my sight. Part of what I enjoy about fall and winter is this change in scenery that I see as I gaze out my windows. The landscape itself has not changed, instead previously hidden areas have been revealed by the curtain of leaves that has been removed.

My spiritual formation within my Christian faith has its own parallel aspects regarding transitive seasons. Here too, there are periods of beauty and greenery that inspire thoughts of life, vitality, and growth. But, I have also experienced fall-like moments where everything appears bleak, dark, and dying. What was once blooming promises of God’s grace, mercy, and love begin to fall into heaps of dry brittle remnants on the ground where I tread grimly through the days.

It is at these times I have to remind myself to not look down and focus on the things that have fallen. But instead to look up to where they have fallen from. God’s landscape has not changed. Everything that was there before is still there now. His means of renewal and regeneration are not always easily grasped. God does not cause the bleakness and darkness in my life. Yet, he uses these periods for his own good as either a lesson to be learned or a reminder of where our reliance should reside. It is up to me to take something from this varied perspective and changing view.

Soon, I will tire of the view of the pond and hill outside my windows and will be longing for some color to brighten the lay of the land. Fortunately, but not accidentally, this usually occurs around spring time when the world of nature is beginning to awake from its winter’s slumber.

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Stepping Out on Faith

Following is a link to the copy of the Sunday morning message I delivered on April 29, 2012 at Reeps Grove United Methodist Church in my role as a Lay Speaker filling in for our pastor.

Stepping Out on Faith

My Waltz Lesson

Saturday night was spent with family and friends at a little place called Sims Barbecue which provides an all-you-can-eat buffet and a night of great bluegrass music complete with plenty of dancing space.  In between the band sessions, they play a few line dances and the ubiqitous Chicken Dance for the children.  Although, from my experience it seems that the adults enjoy the Chicken Dance way more than the children do.  They may say they are only out there showing the little ‘uns how it’s done, but I think that secretly they are just glad to have them for cover and as an excuse to look crazy.

I am not and have never been much of a dancer.  As a child, I quit dance lessons after one class.  It may have been because I saw pictures of other little girls in tutus and decided to get out before anyone decided to wrangle one of those things on me.  I shudder now, thinking how close I came to maybe wearing one of those things.  Subsequently, throughout my pre-teen and teen years I was exposed to short term dancing lessons in various forms.  I learned a little clogging and some square dancing moves along the way.  In my early twenties I danced a few line dances at times when out with friends.  However, by and large if there was a dance floor involved I was usually hugging the sidelines, not unhappily, watching other people dance.

When it comes to rhythm, I can spell it a hundred times better and with much more fluidity than I can produce it. Tending to the shy and introverted spectrum of human nature, I just find it difficult to free myself up to move around without constantly worrying about looking like an idiot.  I know I shouldn’t care about how I look because those on the sidelines watching probably are in the same boat I am and would empathize with me, and those on the dance floor are too busy enjoying themselves to care what kind of moves I have (or more truthfully, don’t have).

So, I was shocked at point to find myself out on the dance floor at one point dancing with a very pleasant and polite, unknown to me, older gentleman.  The band had struck up a waltz and I had pushed mom and dad out on the floor, knowing they can (and often do) dance together.  When first asked by the gentleman to dance I politely declined saying I wasn’t much of a dancer.  But, for some reason as soon as I said it, I felt like that was the wrong answer.  Even more, I felt like that was not the answer God wanted me to give.  So, I relented and told the man, if he would lead the way and show me what to do I would try it.

Was it a disaster?  Yes and No.  Yes, because I kept missing steps, especially when I would try to talk while I danced.  I’m just glad I wasn’t trying to chew a piece of gum as well, who knows what would have happened then.  No, because what did it matter that I kept missing steps? I didn’t hear anyone booing me off the dance floor.  I didn’t hear anyone saying you aren’t good enough to be out here.  I didn’t see anyone laughing and pointing at me.  Even if they had been, I was too focused on the task at hand to notice.  What I did hear is the voice of an experienced, older, wiser dancer calmly say “it’s okay”.  What I did see was his smile when he said it.  What I did feel was him gently taking the lead and helping me find my steps again.

Thank goodness I do not have to see a replay of that dance, because I know I would cringe.  I know it was far from pretty and graceful.  But it was fun and it was enjoyable.  And most important, I was reminded that I don’t have to be perfect at something to take part in it.  I don’t even have to be as good as those around me.  All I have to do is take a step off the sidelines and onto the dance floor and give it a whirl.  Life isn’t always pretty and graceful.  And my attempts to live out my Christian faith are not always pretty and graceful and I often get out of step.  Fortunately for me though, God is holding my hand and leading the dance.  If I focus hard enough on the task at hand I can ignore the naysayers and see and hear and feel only Him.  Smiling, saying “it’s okay,” and gently leading me back into the rhythm that He wants me to follow.

Ash Wednesday Reflection

Part of the Lectionary Reading for Ash Wednesday included Psalm 51.  This psalm is a plea for pardon, forgiveness, and renewal and thus makes it a good prayer with which to begin the season of Lent.  In verse 1 the psalmist asks God to “blot out my transgressions” and in verse 9 to “blot out all my iniquity.”  Other verbs are used throughout the psalm as well, such as wash and cleanse; however, the wording blot out reached out to me and grabbed my attention.  The phrase sill implies doing away with or erasing, yet the process involved is a little different. 

One definition in the dictionary states the meaning as “to dry with an absorbing agent (such as blotting paper).”  In the case of our sins and transgressions Jesus serves as the absorbing agent.  He absorbed our sins and took them as his own to the cross.  God doesn’t require us to pay for our sins.  He does require us to search our hearts, acknowledge our failings, and strive to better follow Christ’s example of holy living.  As Christians, that is to be our focus for the next 40 days as we wend our way to the cross of Good Friday and then ultimately, and triumphantly, to the empty grave of Easter.

Creating a New You

Doubtless, many thoughts on the New Year and resolutions are focused on losing weight (or at least healthier eating) and exercising routines.  And I must confess that I too am planning to get a new start in both of those areas.  These are definitely two important aspects that we should consider and incorporate into our lives.  Yet, the message can’t be repeated enough that it is not the outside of the person that matters the most – it is what is inside that counts.

In Psalm 51:10 David implores, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” 

Predictably, we approach the beginning of a new year with a vision of a new slate, and hope for a fresh start in various aspects of our being.  Like David, we want to start anew with an unsullied past free of past burdens, mistakes, and regrets.  It is appropriate that a popular symbol of the new year is a baby in a diaper.  It’s hard to find anything more pure and sinless than a new baby.  Additionally on the first day of the year, we feel a new charge of energy – a surge of that youthful vigor we remember from our childhood. 

Yet, my exhortation to you this year is to remember this feeling, this hope, this surge of vigor does not have to be relegated only to January 1st of every year.  With David, we can pray for a pure heart and renewed spirit on a daily basis.  Remember every day can be a chance to start over with our failed dreams, missed chances, and words spoken in haste to others.  The sun rises every morning and God waits and stands ready to Forgive, Inspire, and Love.  Take Him up on His offer and then turn and offer the same to others in your life as well.   

Christmas Eve Reflection

Since the pastor of our church is spending time with his family tonight on Christmas Eve, I volunteered my services to be at the church for a certain time period this evening so that those who needed a brief respite from all the hectic and chaotic stress this time brings could stop in for a spiritual fill-up.  Mom graciously offered to assist me with this as well.  My plan is to have Christmas music playing in the background and just to stay back and let the people spend their time as they see fit in either prayer or meditation.  However, I did write this short piece that I am sharing below in the hope that it will help open their mind and heart to receive whatever message may be awaiting them.

 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means ‘God with us’.”  Matthew 1:23

 We all struggle with the chore of picking out the right gift for the right person.  Is it what he or she wants?  Is the right size and/or color?  Do they already have it?  Sometimes with certain clothing items you may find a tag that says, “One size fits all” or to decrease the chance of a lawsuit, “One size fits most.”  Oh if only that were true.  If only there was a magical perfect gift that could work for everyone.

 The truth is there is one gift that does fit all.  Regardless of your age, gender, class status, problems, or needs God’s gift to the world of his own Son is that magical perfect gift.

  • Do you need someone you can talk honestly and openly with about your deep dark secrets, your fears, your misgivings, and worries?   Here is a Wonderful Counselor.
  •  Do you feel weak and powerless in some area of your life, unable to take control of a situation?  Here is a Mighty God.
  • Do you need the stability, support structure, comfort, and unconditional love that an earthly family sometimes falls short of providing?  Here is an Everlasting Father (Mother).
  • Do you have strife and discord within your life, whether it be external among others or an internal struggle?  Here is a Prince of Peace.

This Christmas Eve strip away all the bows and wrapping paper that religion (the man-made institution) has dressed the baby Jesus in.  Instead see him as the gift as he was first presented to the world. Immanuel – God with us.  The Creator has become the created to share in all aspects of our life with us.  Our hurts, our sorrows, our joys, our celebrations.  Make an effort to know Him on a personal and intimate level.  Not as the world or even as the church tells you to view Him.  Instead, allow him to reveal Himself to you in the unique way that makes Him the perfect gift for you.

Smoothing Out the Rough Edges

The Old Testament portion of today’s Lectionary Reading includes selected verses from 1 Samuel 17 which recounts the story of David and Goliath. To read the passage in its entirety please click here. There exists a multitude of Sunday School lessons, Bible Study lessons, and Vacation Bible School lessons that focus on this particular story. I know this because I have participated in many of these myself and have encountered this epic battle numerous times. Most of these studies highlight the theme of the Weak overcoming the Strong because they have God on their side.  This is a great lesson to take away from this passage; however, today I want to direct the focus somewhere else in this story.

As David prepares for battle, King Saul adorns him with his own armor including a helmet, a coat of mail, and his sword.  The trouble was, David was not use to such trappings and could not walk with all those things bearing down on him.  So he stripped himself of the heavy armor and instead armed himself with five smooth stones from a nearby stream bed for use in the sling that he carried while he tended his father’s sheep.  David then proceeds to march into battle against the biggest, baddest giant of the Philistine army with a child’s sling and a couple of rocks.  Oh yeah, and complete faith in the Lord to protect him.

As I read this passage yesterday my attention was drawn to the selection of the stones from the stream bed.  David didn’t just pick up five random stones; instead, he carefully chose five particular ones he wanted to take with him.  Picture him as he picks up a stone and perhaps then rolls it between his hands, runs his fingers over the surface, checking for any imperfections that may cripple it in the performance of its duties.  And think of how long it took for that stone to become smooth.  Years and years of sitting in that stream bed as the raging waters during the flood season would rush over it, taking off the rough sharp edges until it became exactly the shape and formation that David needed that day.  One could think that a rock with a sharp edge may have been useful to help inflict damage.  But what David needed was a stone that would fly straight and true so that it would hit its mark.  Any rough edges would have caused wind resistance, thus causing it to stray slightly from its flight pattern.

It was no coincidence that the stone David needed was there at the right time.  Unbeknowst to the stone, God had been preparing it for many years so that He could call it into service at this time for this reason.  And in the same way God prepares each of us the same way.  We aren’t always aware of the shaping and molding that is taking place within us, but rest assured that it is happening.  God is smoothing out our own rough edges and at the right time and the right place he will use us for whatever purpose(s) He has planned.  He needs us to be able to fly straight and true so we too will hit our mark.

So, as you go through this week and whatever joys and troubles it brings, rest in the assurance that God is working in your life even if you don’t see the evidence of it at this time.  If you are troubled and dismayed and feel that you aren’t making a difference, know that God has His own plans in place and works on His own timetable.  We sometimes have to spend time in the river bed with the flood waters rushing over us to help make us who we need to be.