Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What a morning! An Incredible Adventure!

I thought yesterday was a great adventure.  Truly, it was.  I posted on social media that it was a great day.  I met a new friend and got to "kick" him in prayer, learn about him and his story, share some resources with him.  I also had lunch with my Mom and brother.  I got to hang out with my husband on his lunch break that they now get at work.  I spoke with two pastors on the phone yesterday, one who is retiring and is at the churches I am projected to go to and another in South Carolina who is also a spiritual director and in Hearts on Fire.  I attended my kid's final middle school band concert last night and that was a super blessing!  Then I came home to a fire in the fire pit.  Ah, what an adventure yesterday was!

Today did not need to try to out do yesterday.  This is not "Survivor".  Though, after this morning, I can definitely reiterate that my life is TRULY an adventure.

Here is the devotional I read from Jesus Calling this morning as I started my day:

I knew my choice-points-- walking, TKD (taekwondo), Bible Study, homework, a meeting this evening.  I was reminded here to make choices one at a time.  Not a problem.

I captured a beautiful picture of the sunrise from my deck and posted this on Facebook before my morning walk:

"A new day is dawning. A wonderful cool breeze. I have to finish exegetical notes for an assignment. The other thing on my mind today is my first staff parish meeting at my projected appointment. Tonight I meet them and they meet me. This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. Holy Spirit, you are welcome here!"

I went walking at the Greenway.  I met up with my walking partner, Heather, and off we went.  We ran into another black belt, Dana, and walked and chatted with her for a while.  After our walk, my car battery was dead.  Just like had happened to us on vacation in Florida a few weeks back (an adventure I didn't share with too many folks, though I did post on Facebook).

I got out the jumper cables and connected them to Heather's car.  I shared my morning devotional with Heather, laughingly.  I figured I would take the car to get it looked at because the folks in Florida said it was okay.

On my way to the mechanic, right smack dab on Hixson Pike before you get to Big Ridge road traffic light, my car died.  Dead.  I stopped for the light and it just died.  I noticed when the light turned green.  I turned on the hazard signals, but there was no reaction.  TOTALLY DEAD.  Not wanting to get hit from behind, I hopped out and started directing traffic like an airport person, waving folks over to the other lane.  (I was in the left hand lane.)  Lauren, a manager at Starbucks who was about to go hiking, came out and helped me direct traffic while I called 911.  I got my insurance information out of the car to call a tow truck.  Somehow the car automatically locked when I closed the door.  I didn't know that until several people were going to help move the car out of the street. 

Lauren and I waved off traffic while waiting for the police.  I didn't want someone to hit a stopped car.  The hazard lights finally came on, but because of the sunshine, you couldn't see them.   And, evidently it was difficult to see two woman waving down traffic at times too.  Then Shannon showed up.  Even three women are difficult to see.  Shannon and Lauren were life savers.  A friend from church, Laura, stopped to ask if we needed anything.  There really wasn't anything to be done.  There were several offers to move the car, but with it locked.  OOPS!

Finally, the police man came and gave us a protected blue light barrier.  My first words to him?  Can I kiss you?  That probably shocked him.  I meant on the cheek.  That's how grateful I was.

Lauren took off to go hiking (I can't wait to hear about her adventures) and Shannon went to work.   Thank you ladies!

With the policeman there I called my husband at work to call the wrecker.  I didn't have their number programmed.  Nor was I going to take the time to go through insurance and wait any longer.  There is a time and place for that.  Today wasn't it.

You see, today is my initial interview with my first projected assignment.  I am projected to the GAP Parish and I meet this evening with the staff parishes of the three churches.  Initially I was only to meet with the staff parish of the Parish, but we are all getting together.  That is cool!  But today of all days for my car to die?!?!  And to die not once, but twice?!?!  And in the middle of Hixson Pike?!?!

After I make the phone call about the towing truck, the policeman invites me to sit in the cruiser, in the back.  COOL!  As I'm back there, I faintly here something about amazing grace.  Hmmm.... sounds like faith music.   I asked him what the radio was and he responded 88.9.  That he keeps it there.  I knew that to be Moody Bible Radio.   I mentioned that God sent me a fellow kingdom walker to my rescue.

We continued to talk off and on as we waited for the tow truck.  I asked his name.  He said, Martin.  Martin Santos.  I caught my breath.  I switched over to Spanish and in Spanish, said to him, then I guess you speak Spanish.  We spoke Spanish for a moment or two.  I told him that not only did God send me a fellow kingdom walker, but God sent me an angel who spoke Spanish.  On the day that I go meet with my first (projected) churches, God sent me someone who speaks Spanish.  Wow!! 

Why does that mean something to me?

I continue to be amazed, frankly, that God has called me into pastoral ministry and that God has continued to affirm CLEARLY my gifts and graces to and for the Hispanic people.  Yet, I haven't seen things work out.  But, obviously things are working in the darkness, in the cocoon, back behind the scenes where I cannot see.

My two year bilingual Academy experience affirmed my calling with Spanish over and over again.

After talking with Martin, he said that if I had told him I spoke Spanish when he first saw me, he would have responded with 'yeah, right... it's going to snow.'  Remember, I don't look latina.  I only am one by heart, «por corazón».   God used Martin to affirm my calling this morning.  Wow!  Tears literally came to my eyes when I realized that this policeman spoke Spanish and was puertorriqueño.  Spanish is my heart language.  My heart was overwhelmed and blessed this morning.

The tow truck came.  Somehow the car was thankfully in neutral and they were able to load it.  I asked Martin for a ride to BiLo so I could get my husband's car and the other set of my car keys to take to the mechanic.

I got to ride in the back seat of the cruiser!

Before Martin left, I asked if I could pray for him.  I didn't have the guts to ask if I could "kick" him. ☺  I also asked if he knew "tic tac" and passed along a message of greeting for him. ☺

If you think you saw me standing in my Dalton High t-shirt today on Hixson Pike in front of the BP Kangaroo, you did.  That was me.

me, back at home, safe and sound

There were a few moments that I didn't think I would still be here.  But, like I said, I didn't want my car to get hit or others to get hurt and cause more of an issue.

God is good.  I experienced God as protector today.  I experienced God as guide today.  I experienced God as messenger today.

Thank you God for the messages, the guidance, and the protection.

Thank you for all the hands and feet that offered help and that stayed by my side today.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for each of you.

Gracias, Señor, por siempre estar conmigo.  Thank you, Lord, for always being with me.

Life truly is an adventure for me.  There are days when it is more adventure than I could bargain for, but I will live into it the best I can.  My morning post on Facebook?!?!  Am I still rejoicing?!?! You bet I am.   To rejoice is a choice.  Regardless of the circumstances, I can rejoice and count it all joy.

How is your adventurous journey going?

Blessings and peace!

Debra  ☺

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Have you been kicked today?

"Have you been kicked today?"

That is what I was asked by someone I had just met yesterday as we stood in a parking lot alongside Hixson Pike across from the Harvest Grocery.  It is a strange question to begin with and even stranger when it comes from someone you have just met.

I looked at my new friend Byron and told him no, fully expecting to be kicked in the next moment or two.  (I am known to kick folks gently while walking side by side with a side twist kick, something I started doing long before I ever took taekwondo.) He reached over, put his hand on my shoulder and started praying for me and my family.  Wow!  When he finished, he told me I had just been kicked.  Wow!

Byron "kicks" people all the time.  He kicked everyone of us, not leaving a single person out.

The entire time Byron was "kicking" all of us, I was thinking that we should be "kicking" him, praying for him.  He was the one out job hunting on this day.  He was seeking a solid job opportunity. Before we went our separate ways, we did get the opportunity to pray with and for Byron, but not before Byron had beat us to the punch, so to speak, and in a very creative way.

Let me ask you, have you been kicked today?

If not, this is for you:  Father God, be with my friend reading this today.  Meet them in the circumstances of life where they are, guide them, and provide for them.  Encourage them and fill them with peace and joy.  Amen.

Consider yourself kicked.

Blessings on your journey,


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Reflections provoked by a church sign...

"Can you figure God out?  Um no.  But keep trying."

That's what the church sign stated.  I passed it the first time heading to TaeKwonDo (TKD) class today and it started me thinking the rest of the way to my workout.

Then I passed it again later while running errands and it continued to speak to me.  On the way back from my errands, I stopped to take a picture because I was still "chewing" (thinking) on what it said.

The first part of that message grabbed my attention.  Obviously.

"Can you figure God out?"

My response and thought as I saw that?  "No."  In fact, the sign told me, "Um no."  But I already knew that.  God is mystery.  God is bigger than I can fathom, imagine, try to think.

It was the next part of the message that sent me on a "roll" (so to speak).  The sign states: "But keep trying."

I got confused here.  What did they mean by that?  Why would I keep trying to understand an entity that is mystery?  God, Creator, cannot be fully understood.  Why would I spend time and energy trying to understand something that I will never be able to understand?  This part of the quote/message did not make sense to me.

I don't see how it is necessary for me to "understand" God better and even how me trying to do so is profitable.

Now, before you think I'm more alien than the blog title states ("The Journey is an Adventure; I am an Alien) or than you already knew, let me continue.

Let me begin by repeating one thing I already stated-- God is mystery.

It's not that I don't want to know God or be in relationship with God, but I think that is different than trying to understand God.  I am more than willing to keep spending time in relationship with God in silence, in solitude, in prayer, in Scripture, in community, in worship, in Holy Communion, in creation, etc. in order to know God better in that relationship.

I do believe that we can grow into some understanding of God through our relationship, but to think that I/we will ever figure God out?!?!  No, I don't believe that.  Honestly, I don't want to figure God out.   I want to be in relationship with God, but I don't want to figure God out.  There is something there that doesn't sit right theologically with me.  Maybe because I like God being mystery and God knowing more than me.  God being Creator God is the One in charge, not me.  ☺  That doesn't take away my responsibility to take care of myself, those in my life, or creation.  But it does free me up from having to take on things that aren't mine to take on.

And one of those things that isn't mine to take on (in my humble opinion) is trying to figure God out.  I'm not going to try.  Sorry, message sign.

What I will do is continue to invest my time and energy into growing into a deeper relationship with God through the practices and disciplines I mentioned already.  I will also seek to love God in that relationship and love others as I love myself.  I will also try to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.  These are the things that I believe are more worthy of my time and energy.

Blessings on your journey,


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter 2015... a mixture of emotions, a time of transition.

This is a crazy time of life for me.  Focusing diligently on my studies so I can graduate in May.  Even last week during my Reading Week and my kid's Spring Break, I had work to do.  Though we took a family vacation to Seagrove Beach, FL (beautiful!), I spent hours READING and writing!  It was a profitable working vacation for me and worth every moment.  It was also a good time of relaxation and being at the Gulf of Mexico and getting to enjoy some scenic hikes.  (I hope to make time to put a blog post together about the vacation at some point!)

It was Holy Week last week.  A time of reflection even though I didn't attend any services until today.  Because of the year anniversary of Will's accident and death, I thought often of him and his family.  Will's life continues to inspire me.  This morning I posted a tribute to him on my Facebook page:
"Hey Little Buddy. You may be wondering why so many here on earth have been struggling this week since last Sunday. You've been living the good life, free from pain and suffering. We have been remembering your journey from the accident to today. How appropriate that journey has been this year being from Palm Sunday to the cross to today, Easter Sunday, resurrection. On the very day that last year you went home, today we celebrate new life, risen life. Though it is still ...difficult because we miss you, Will, we do rejoice that you are healed! You have new life. And not just you. Because of the beautiful decision your parents made, your life allowed other people to have continued life. Those families today celebrate life in gratefulness and appreciation in honor of you. Throughout this past year, there have been tears, Will. But there has been laughter. There have been stories shared about your life. There have been people who have been inspired by your life. You have continued to be a witness of love, joy, compassion, intentionality, and abundant living for many of us. I wanted to say thank you today. Love you little buddy."

My grandmother (Meemo) who passed in January 2014 would have been 98 yesterday on April 4th, so I've thought about her life too.

Today's sunrise service at Camp Dixie and the service at church were both powerful messages that ministered to me today.  Two of the pictures I took this morning:

Today's sermon at the 9am service was about dying and the dash, being intentional about the time we have in living.  Death allows us the opportunity to consider how we are living.  Are we living well?  Are there things we would change?  What about all those fears and concerns that we know about?  And then what about those things we don't yet know about, but will learn about?  Hope can and will defeat fears and concerns.

There is a purpose to living.  There is something worth living for.  And in this time of the dash, how will we live?

I was blessed by the songs sung by the chancel choir, the special music by Wil and Matt, the prayer led by Pastor Amy, and the message shared by Pastor Rowland today.  Intentional living, abundant living is one of my favorite topics.  I do want to live well during my dash.

My life isn't free of pain, suffering, worries, concerns, brokenness, or woundedness.  But, there is hope. There is joy.  And, it IS well with my soul.

I am grateful for those saints who have gone before me, many in the past 12 months, who have modeled intentional living.  And then the others who have gone on before them.  I am also grateful for a Creator who continues to draw me into relationship, holding me and guiding me along life's journey.

Today was my final Easter Sunday service as a lay person.  Next year will be my first Easter Sunday as a clergy person.  There will be quite a few lasts and firsts as the transition continues.

As I watched my pastors lead the service today, I thought about all the pastors and churches that have been a part of my journey.

From my home church, St. Mark's Episcopal in Dalton, GA to Christ Church UMC on Long Island, NY to First Dayton UMC, Dayton, TN to Hixson UMC, Grace UMC, Red Bank UMC (didn't join but was active in Bible Study for a time), Burks UMC.... all in Hixson, TN.  Then there are the churches for whom I've been able to fill the pulpit along the way.... Christ Church UMC (my first sermon in 1988), Grace UMC, Payne's Chapel, White Oak, New Salem, Fairview, Burks, and St. Luke (next week for the first time).

I started naming off pastors at these churches and then realized there were so many more in the Emmaus community, through Hearts on Fire (FUMSDRL), through the Academy for Spiritual Formation, through local ministry, etc. that have impacted my life.

Then there are the laity who have spoken into my life.  To name them would take forever too.  There are SO MANY through GBOD, the Academy, Emmaus, many churches, the Upper Room, family, friends, ETC.

Wow!  I have not only been surrounded, but truly carried by a great cloud/community of witnesses..... past and present.

I am deeply humbled and grateful.   There is hope that because of this great community, I will be able to continue defeating the fears and concerns that come my way.  But it's more than just this community that surrounds me, past and present.  I know THE HOPE that resides within me, that guides me, that carries me, that speaks truth to me when I hear thousands of other voices.  The ONE VOICE of truth, the hope that lives eternally--past, present, and future.... that is the greatest hope of all.  Because God lives, there is hope.  I can face today.  I can face tomorrow.  It is truly well with my soul.

Wherever you are in your life journey, may there be hope and may it be well with your soul!

Blessings on your journey,


Easter sermon from Burks UMC 2nd service, April 5, 2015:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Study Break... sharing life's lessons from the comic strips

I don't get to read the daily paper thoroughly as often as I'd like.  I want to know what is going on locally, nationally, and internationally.  I also enjoy reading the editorials, the various columns, and the comic strips.  I get lots of life's lessons from the newspaper.  Often, many of them come from the comic strips.  Sometimes there are just some chuckles as I read "Baby Blues" or "Zits" and can relate to the life situations and challenges.  At other times there are things that make me stop and think, those "cause for a pause" moments.

There was a comic strip in the Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago that caught me attention.   It was February 22, 2015.  The comic strip was "Jump Start".  Take a look:


Wow!  That last block left me paused, sitting there in silence, waiting.  Waiting for the next frame to miraculously appear and begin to tell me a story of desegregation in the church, but nothing appeared.  It could be that the author did intend to share with us that the young man's church was also desegregated, but the lesson here felt rather like, 'we have learned to live out desegregation in the community, yet we haven't done so well in the church.'  

That's the message I took away from the comic strip.  I don't know if it was the intended message or not.

I am a proponent for multicultural worship.  Add multigenerational to that.  You can add multidenominational (ecumenical) and multilingual if you'd like.  We can learn much from one another when we come together in worship.   Worship for people of different cultures and languages has components of worshiping with heart, mind, soul, and body.  People worship differently.  People tend to worship within their comfort zones, on many levels. 

I also know that for some folks it is important to worship in within one's community, to share the deep and rich traditions, to be able to express oneself freely without feeling out of place.

It's not an either/or situation for me, but rather a both/and. 

An example.  I am Caucasian.  Or white if you prefer that term.  Or non-hispanic as it is listed on some forms.  Most of my life I have worshiped in primarily white congregations.  That is mainly because of where I have lived.   However, take me to to an African American church, a Spanish speaking church,a Native American worship gathering or to Jamaica or Costa Rica and my spirit finds its home in worship there.  I can easily and freely worship within those contexts.  I may look out of place, but my spirit is at home.  

I love the spirituals from the African-American culture.  I enjoy the songs from the African culture that have life in them.  There is a Zulu song, "Walking in the Light of God" (Upper Room Worship Book #433) [similar to "We are Marching"] that I cannot stand still when I hear.  I have to walk.  At our 2 year Academy we would walk around the worship space when we sang that song.  At Soulfeast this past summer, when that song was sung, I couldn't remain still, I started walking.  

If I hear the gospel song "I'll Fly Away", I'm likely to fly.  Yep.  It's true.  I don't always "fly" when I hear that gospel song. In fact, since I felt spirit-led to "fly" a couple of months back in my home church and did..... and later realized the District Superintendent was worshiping with us that morning (GULP!), I am sometimes more hesitant to fly. ☺  However, having said that, if it truly is spirit-led, then my worship is not about me or others, it is about God.  So if you see me skipping, flying, walking, or marching, you can guarantee the Holy Spirit has "ahold" of me.

Worship for me is a time and place to surrender it all to God.  For me to be in community with others who are open to the moving of the Spirit is truly a joyful thing.

Spanish is my 2nd language and I am able to engage in worship in that language.  Another language, silence, has become a powerful language of worship for me over the past several years, teaching me that as I listen and wait in the presence of God I am transformed.

The comic strip "Jump Start" makes a point.  I think the point is that we are a little too segregated still in our worship.  I think we can do more to bring together the kingdom for worship and learn from one another aspects of worship.

The purpose of coming together at church for worship is not about us or our comfort, but rather about God.  Maybe if we were able to keep that perspective, we would be able to be more open to worshiping with others that look, speak, and worship different than ourselves.

Maybe, just maybe, we could get to the point where our churches are desegregated. 

I realize that some churches are doing it well and others are growing in their desegregation, little by little.  I also realize that some folks are happy where they are, regardless of race or language.  

My point in sharing is that this comic strip got me thinking.  Not only did it get me to thinking about how we don't share with one another in worship often enough and therefore miss out on some significant kingdom sharing, but it also got me to reflect on how the Spirit has worked and moved in my own spirit to allow me to worship among God's people.

What about you?  As you read the comic strip, what strikes you?  What reflections does it bring to your mind?

Blessings on your journey!


P.S.  I thought I would share the Zulu song with you.  I found a version of it.  ☺

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Healing the Wounds"-- sermon preached at Grace UMC and Fairview UMC on March 15

Fairview UMC
 Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach 2 sermons in one morning.  Though I have done that before in one church several times, I have never done that where you preach in one church and go to another one.  And, in this case, you leave immediately after the service ends and get to the next one.  It was odd to not stay and visit with folks, but they are accustomed to that. 

I am part of a group of folks filling in for the pastor who is on leave for two months to take care of her beautiful new son.  For me this is a great opportunity to not only preach, but experience what a 2 point charge feels like on a Sunday morning.

The first church was Grace UMC in Soddy Daisy, a former home church for me.  It has been about 6 years since we worshiped there.  I first went there in December 2000.  I got back into leadership in that church.  I started seminary while in that church.  I preached a couple of times there.  Being back there at this stage of my journey was meaningful for me and I shared that.  God has raised up quite a few folks into lay and ordained ministry through that church and it is powerful to recognize that.  My leadership skills in ministry were started there.

Though I hadn't planned to do the children's message there, I had one planned for the next church and mentioned that and was able to do it there.  That was neat.  I haven't done a children's message in a while and it definitely keeps one on their toes and going with the flow and the Spirit.  It went well.  The hardest part was doing a simple prayer at the end because they repeat everything you say.  I was thinking very carefully during that to keep it simple.

It was good to be back at Grace UMC for worship, to see folks we knew and to meet new folks.  I was blessed and encouraged by being with them again.

After preaching at Grace UMC, it was time to drive up to Fairview UMC.  I have preached at Fairview UMC about a handful of times over the past several years.   It's a wonderful community of folks that make you feel at home.  We got up there a few minutes before the service started so I was able to settle in a bit and get oriented.  Though it wasn't as much time as it would have been if I hadn't been coming from preaching elsewhere, the time was adequate. 

The only thing I noted in preaching back to back services like that yesterday is that I didn't have as much time to decompress, empty out, and fill back up again with the Holy Spirit prior to the beginning of the service.  But, that is what the prelude and worship did for me.

The prelude was perfect.  It was a recorded song that I recognized and immediately spoke to me.  I was able to enter into worship and prepare.  As we sang our songs of worship and prayed as community, I continued to be filled up.

It was a blessing to be with the Fairview community again yesterday.  They are always welcoming and kind.

Here is the written sermon from which I preached.  It's not exact to what was said in either church, but it gives you an idea.  The sermon was recorded because it will be used for my preaching class assignment. I may post that later.

Blessings on your journey,



"Healing the Wounds"
Grace and Fairview UMC
March 15, 2015

Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent and we continue our journey toward Easter.  Today's Scripture passage takes us to a section of the Israelites' journey as they wander through the wilderness.  Before we look at today's passage, let's get a little background.

The Israelites are at Mount Hor which borders the land of Edom.  In Numbers 20 we learn that Moses' brother Aaron has recently died on Mount Hor and Israel mourned his death for 30 days.
Previously on the journey out of Egypt the Israelite people rebelled against Moses and Aaron. They complained and quarreled about what they were eating, that they had left Egypt, that they had no water etc.  They mentioned that they would have been better off if they had stayed in Egypt. (three examples--Numbers 11:1-6; Numbers 14:1-4; Numbers 20: 2-13)

In Numbers 20:14-21 we learn that the Israelites attempted to pass through the land of Edom but they were refused passageway and forced to travel a longer route around to the Red Sea.  The wilderness area that they were forced to travel was a more difficult path, was hot and barren, and had narrow and steep ravines.  

With this background in mind, let's look at today's passage together of God's word:

Numbers 21:4-9 (NRSV)

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

LEADER: This is the Word of God for the people of God.
PEOPLE:  Thanks be to God.

Almost immediately after Israelites set off on their journey once again, they became impatient.  They weren't happy that they had to go the long way around.  They spoke against God and Moses and started complaining once again.  Those grumpy, grumbling Israelites.  What's with them, anyway?

If you've ever been stuck in traffic, had to take a detour route, or simply been on a long journey, maybe you can relate.  This past week there have been two major accidents causing delays and rerouting around the Chattanooga area:  (1) a mudslide on Lookout Mountain has closed Nick-A-Jack Road for the week, causing folks to drive a longer route up and around the mountain to get to their homes and to Camp Lookout and (2) a tractor trailer accident in the median on I-75 caused delays on both the interstate and alternate routes for hours.  I imagine impatience and complaining were among the responses to both of these incidents. 

In the background from Numbers 11, 14, and 20 we learned that the Israelites had a history of complaining when things didn't go their way.  Here they are again.  They are complaining about being taken out of Egypt (which was in truth being set free from slavery in Egypt).  The very next words of complaint out of their mouths are: "there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." (v.5)  If we looked at other translations, we would see that they are saying there is no "bread" and they are complaining about the manna.  Numbers 11 also records complaints about manna.  

Remember that they were very grateful for the manna at one time, when they were starving in the wilderness without sustenance (Exodus 16).  But now the manna is no longer satisfying their wants and they consider it "miserable".  The Israelites also complain about not having water here, but they just experienced the situation with Moses bringing forth water from the rock (Numbers 20).  How quickly they forgot the blessings and provisions upon becoming tired, hungry, and thirsty.

But it isn't just them, is it?  When we become tired, hungry, and thirsty, our impatience begins to show and our complaining comes through.  Like the Israelites, we can quickly forget the recent blessings and provisions we experienced or received.

Back to Numbers 21 and the Israelites.

They are complaining to Moses about being in the wilderness and the lack of food and water.  Before Moses has a chance to address their needs as leader, God steps in.  This isn't the first time that God had heard the people complain.  God's response to them?  God sends poisonous snakes among them.  The snakes bite the people and many of them die.  

I don't know about you, but when I see God's response to the Israelites, I don't let out an "Amen".  My response is more "Ouch" or "Oops."  God's response here is an attention getter.  It is surprising.  It worked.  

The Israelites realize their error pretty quickly and go to Moses, saying in verse 7: "we have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us."   The wilderness, the lack of water, and that nasty manna don't seem so miserable any more.  The Israelites have been shown dramatically what matters most to them and they have a change of mind and heart.

Moses prayed on behalf of the people and the LORD responded to Moses to make a serpent and put it up on a pole.  Those who are bitten can look at it and live.  Moses did as he was directed, making a bronze serpent and putting it on a pole.  Whenever someone was bit by a serpent, they could look up at the bronze serpent and live.  

In God's grace, God provided a way out for the people.  Even after all their complaining, God met them where they were and provided a way of healing for them.  It wasn't just a healing for their wounds, but a full healing of their woundedness.  Because of God's love and God's grace, they were allowed to live.  The Israelites repented of their sin and God provided a way of healing and wholeness for them.  That reveals God's love and grace for the people.

Can you think of another example in Scripture where God showed love and grace to undeserving people?  How many are so familiar with John 3:16 that you don't even need to look it up?
Let's hear it: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."(NRSV)

You might not be as familiar with the verses preceding verse 16.  Look with me at John 3:14-15:
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Because of God's love for the world, God provided a way for all of us to have healing. God provided a way for us to live through Christ.

The Israelites experienced wounds because of their complaining in the wilderness.  Though our wilderness journey is not likely a physical journey through a difficult land like that of the Israelites, it might be.  Or it might be some other aspect of difficulty.  In life on the journey we may find ourselves tired, hungry, and thirsty like the Israelites.  We might begin to complain in our worn out state and woundedness.  

When we find ourselves bitten by the snakes of this world and require healing, there is a wounded healer to whom we can go for healing.  

Henri Nouwen has written a book, the Wounded Healer and shares thoughts on "Wounded Healers" in his devotional Bread for the Journey.  Hear these words from Nouwen: 

"Nobody escapes being wounded.  We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.  The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.
            Jesus is God's wounded healer.  Through his wounds we are healed.  Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life.  His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.  As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others." (July 8)

Jesus Christ is the Wounded Healer to whom we can look and live.  In God's grace and love, our wounds can be healed and we can continue the journey.

As the Israelites were instructed to lift their eyes up to the bronze serpent upon the pole to be healed, may we lift our eyes up to the Lord, the Savior, the author and sustainer of life. 

Will you pray with me?

#335 (Book of Worship)

Everlasting God,
because of your tender mercy toward all people, you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross, that all should follow the example of his great humility.  
Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of his patience and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(The Book of Common Prayer, U.S.A., 20th Cent., Alt.)

May the God of the wilderness be with us as we wander through the desert of our lives.
May God keep us from being impatient and complaining
and walk with us as we learn to live as wounded healers.  Amen. 

(adapted from Donna Sinclair's prayer #19 in Worship & Song)

Grace UMC sanctuary
laughing Jesus, on the wall in the prayer room at Grace UMC
stained glass window at Grace UMC in prayer room

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Living the transformed life...mid-week vespers service and reflections

Last night's theme at the mid week vesper service was "living the transformed life".   As always, the theme comes from A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God.  The week's rotation of worship and song was the Holden Evening Prayer by Marty Haugen.

A reflection reading from the weekly reflections was shared after prayer requests and afterwards we were asked to write down on a piece of paper what question we had for God, what question was in our heart, soul, mind.

Here is that reflection:

"Our questions can serve us well in a time such as this, a time of grave uncertainty, of soaring potential, of fragile, yet resilient hope.  Our questions and questing are crucial, because they can help us live into the answer of the future.  I am certain of one thing: the love that is God is at the heart of the answer, just as it is at the heart of each moment--past, present, and future.  Faith today, tomorrow, and always seeks to live, to love, and to be loved fully.  It seeks the Holy and waits (though not always patiently) to be found; it nurtures and activates wisdom and compassion.  It chooses to embrace hope and to be embraced by hope, even when overwhelmed by despair; it seeks life even in the face of death.  We act in faith, knowing that we see only dimly.  But living in faith, we act anyway, choosing and doing the best we can.  We act and live in confidence that someday we will see face to face, that we will live into the answers.  For God's grace embraces our questions as well as our answers and our blindness as well as our vision, just as the sun shines steadily through the night, waiting to illumine the sky at dawn." ~From Wrestling till Dawn by Jean M. Blomquist (p. 142-143, A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God)

[After I read this quote by Jean Blomquist, I found myself wanting to know more about her and this book she wrote about wrestling and struggling.  A link to the book is included above.  It was published in 1994. She is a writer, speaker, and retreat leader.  Here is a link to something else she has written: Holy Ground, in/for/on Weavings.]

I found that to be a very powerful reflection to being our service.  As I thought about a question to ask God, that took a while, but one finally came.

We began the Holden Evening Prayer service.  I've mentioned it in blog posts before.  The first time or two you experience it, it might seem a little odd or different, because it is.  Yet, for me at least, it settles in deep into the soul and my soul finds rest in the litany of it, the rhythm of it, and its message.

The Scripture for the evening was 2 Corinthians 3:12-18.

Jim Lewis shared a meditation from the week's reflections.  Sometimes he shares something straight from the readings and at other times he combines that with his reflections during the week.  I believe he did both last night because he shared some personally and mentioned Rueben Job who has a reflection quote in the book.

A couple of quotes from the Rueben Job reflection:
  • "Living a transformed life is not possible on our own."
  • "We know that living a transformed life means living at God's direction with grace-given capacity."
  • "It means trusting more and staying close to the only One who can make us more than we are."
(all from page 141)

We read a prayer together by Norman Shawchuck:

     "Here, O God, I pray for a realization of my condition in your eyes. Help me to see and know myself as you see and know me.  Give me clear insight into my relationship with you.  Let me know myself as you know me.
     Give me assurance that I belong to you.  Remove from me those nagging doubts and needless fears that I may not be good enough to be numbered with the great company of heaven.
     On the other hand, if I am living in separation from you, if I am more a creature of evil than a child of God, O Great Physician, use your convicting scalpel on me.  Perform within me the surgery necessary to heal me of all soul-sickness.
     Christ, I abandon myself to you.  Do with me every necessary thing to assure my entrance into eternal life--and the heaven already prepared for me." (p 142)

When the service was over, I stayed in the sanctuary for a while before heading to the fellowship hall for coffee, cookies, and fellowship.  The atmosphere in that sanctuary is always peaceful and calming.  It's a place where you can breathe and slow down, allowing your soul and body to rest.

Hanging out in the sanctuary for a little while, I was able to engage in conversation with someone.  The evening's service had touched this person.  In the conversation, she asked some questions that caused me to reflect on my journey of living a transformed life, of becoming who I am today.

I shared some of the insights that have come to me through the seminary and 2 year Academy journey and last summer's two week retreats back to back.  As I've come to see myself as who God created me to be and as I am learning to live into that and learning to lead from that, I recognize it as an ongoing transformational process.

One can note the verb tense of "living" in the phrase living the transformed life and note that it is the gerund form, the present participle, meaning it is an ongoing process.

An analogy that comes to mind is the onion.  Layer after layer is peeled off as we learn and grow along the journey.  Throughout the peeling off of layers and ultimately at the core, we are still the unique person God created us to be.  However, there are layers of us that surround our core being, our center.  To get to the center, those layers need to be peeled away.  Upon peeling away each outer layer, the next inside layer is tender and raw.  It might bring tears to our eyes (unless it is a Vidalia onion ☺).   One can only take analogies so far.  This one may not fully work, but maybe it can help somewhat explain the layers and getting to our center, our true self.  If not, throw it out.

Take a look back over the Scripture above (it is linked to Bible Gateway) and the different reflections for the theme of "living the transformed life".

What speaks to you today?  What question(s) do you have for God on your journey?  What is your greatest need today?

Wherever you find yourself today on the journey of a transformed life, may you know that you are loved.

Blessings on your journey,