Thrive: Boundaries

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:15-20

Last December Andrew and I rescued Tala – then an 11-month old salt-n-pepper miniature Schnauzer. This is a photo from a few days after “Gotcha Day!”

IMG_0139

We are Tala’s fourth family, which is a lot in 11 months of life. Her first family gave her up because they did not want a mini Schnauzer with a natural tail. Most Schnauzers have their tails docked – our Samson does – but Tala has a full tail of glory. Sometimes I would forget that dogs have tails…now I have Tala who frequently smacks me with her tail as she perches around my shoulders on the back of the couch. She will not let me forget.

Tala’s second family gave her up because they did not have the energy to help train and raise a puppy. Tala’s third family gave her up because they did not have time for her. During this season she spent most of her time in her crate – not a lot of exercise or opportunities for interaction with humans or other dogs.

Tala joined our family and it was a long adjustment period. An addition to my apology for her making a mess or causing commotion was “She has no boundaries.” As a young pup she had not been taught what was to be done inside and what was to be done outside. She had not been taught how to play sweetly, how to walk on a leash, or how to relate to others. A little over nine months later we are still working on these skills. She has calmed down…a little…we think. She is learning and positive reinforcement sure does help. She is familiar with her boundaries and the consequences associated with them.

Boundaries help Tala feel safe and learn to thrive within stated expectations. Knowing her boundaries (our boundaries!) helps guide her behaviors so she makes good choices that lead to cookies and head-scratches and not bad choices that lead to solitary confinement in puppy-not-so-playland.

In our text for this week God’s messenger names the boundaries for the land of God’s people. The focal point of the land is God’s temple; all of the boundaries are defined in relation to the temple. These boundaries are an invitation for God’s people to root and thrive anywhere within this land. This is also an invitation to remember, above all else, that the people are here – we are here – because of God’s provision and our gratitude for God’s provision should continually lead us to offer praise in God’s sanctuary.

During her final semester of seminary theologian and homiletician Barbara Brown Taylor recalls praying fervently to God that God would answer her most dreaded question, “What do I do after graduation?” One late evening atop her favorite prayer space, an abandoned fire escape, God’s answer came to her, “Do anything that pleases you and belong to me.”* That is an incredible boundary. There is so much wideness and so much nearness within that boundary. God’s people engaging in behaviors that were not pleasing to God resulted in their exile and separation from not only God but also from the image in which they were made. Examining present and future behaviors and actions in relation to how they reflect our belonging to God draws us into a cooperative spirit with God as we thrive in relationship – created with Creator.

Thriving in this relationship draws us towards the image in which we were created – holy and whole.

Prayer: “Nothing between my soul and my Savior, naught of this world’s delusive dream; I have renounced all sinful pleasure; Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between. Nothing between, like worldly pleasure; habits of life, though harmless they seem, must not my heart from him ever sever; he is my all, there’s nothing between. Nothing between, like pride or station; self or friends shall not intervene; though it may cost me much tribulation, I am resolved, there’s nothing between. Nothing between, e’en many hard trials, though the whole world against me convene; watching with prayer and much self denial, I’ll triumph at last, there’s nothing between. Nothing between my soul and my Savior, so that his blessed face may be seen; nothing preventing the least of his favor; keep the way clear! let nothing between.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 110.

**”Nothing Between,” The United Methodist Hymnal 373.

Thrive: Steward

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:13-14

Some years ago the Warren Willis United Methodist Summer Camp in Fruitland Park altered the way they serve daily meals. When I was a camper we would proceed through the food line cafeteria style. After a long day of running through the camp, skills, small groups, and free time, our eyes were usually bigger than our stomachs. Yes, we would eat, but we also wasted a considerable amount of food.

In efforts to be better stewards of the food that is purchased, prepared, and consumed, the camp switched to family style serving. Instead of waiting in a line – which took for-ev-er – the food was prepared and served on platters placed on each table. This decision is helping the camp achieve their goal of greater stewardship, cost savings, and less food waste.

During one meal at camp this summer I participated in a meal that was unlike the others. The counselor at the table serves the campers before him or herself. At all the other meals I served the campers and they immediately dove into their plates; some campers asked for seconds before I served their fellow campers or myself. Some took food and did not eat it; seeing food wasted always pains my heart.

But this meal was different. The campers waited patiently for their plates to be served. Each camper waited for everyone else at the table – even me – to have our plates prepared before they began to eat. We talked about our experiences that day as the plates were served. We all experienced the joy that was that glorious first bite of mac-n-cheese at the same time. We were grateful for what we received. We checked in to make sure everyone else was full before we proceeded to eat more than our prepared portion. We enjoyed the meal; we did not just consume it. There was no waste: no wasted food, no wasted time, no wasted opportunity to look into our neighbor’s eye, share an experience with them, and build community.

When I think about eternity I always picture a table. The table expands as it needs to so that there is room for everyone to sit together…and oh my goodness there is so much food. Everyone has enough. Everyone has the opportunity to share and connect. The people gathered around the table are patient and grateful. And since it is an experience that will last for eternity we enjoy it all; nothing is wasted.

In our Scripture text for this week Ezekiel is tasked with sharing or stewarding the plentiful blessings of the restored Promised Land to all God’s people. Everyone will have a portion. Everyone will share. Everyone will have enough. This is a vision of the Kingdom. This is a vision of true community. This is a vision I believe that God is leading us in fulfilling at Tuskawilla as we come around tables for meals, for leadership, for stewardship, and most especially for worship.

I am privileged to serve you. I am grateful to steward with you. And thanks be to God for being the source and guarantor for all our many blessings.

Prayer: “Father, we thank you, for you planted your holy name within our hearts. Knowledge and faith and life immortal Jesus your Son to us imparts. Lord, you have made all for your pleasure, and given us food for all our days, giving in Christ the bread eternal; yours is the power, be yours the praise. Watch o’er your church, O Lord, in mercy, save it from evil, guard it still; perfect it in your love, unite it, cleansed and comforted unto your will. As grain, once scattered on the hillsides, was in the broken bread made one, so from all lands your church be gathered into your kingdom by your Son.”* Amen.

*”Father, We Thank You,” The United Methodist Hymnal 563.

Thrive: Plenty

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:6-12

When Andrew and I first started dating we did not have very much money; so, our date nights were pretty simple: dinner at home (Thanks Mom, Dad, Dale and Bill!) and a movie. Sometimes we would splurge and head to a Blockbuster (now I am really dating myself!) so we could watch something outside of our normal repertoire. What was (is) our normal movie fare? Animated Children’s Movies. The more singing the better.

At one time we practically had The Prince of Egypt memorized – every line and every chorus. One song from that film in particular resonates quite profoundly with me as I marinate on our Scripture text for this week. Feeling down on himself, his circumstance, and his life, Moses mopes. His burden and disappointment weights his brow as well as his shoulders. To encourage Moses, his father-in-law Jethro sings, “Through Heaven’s Eyes.”

As a guide and mentor Jethro challenges Moses’ assumptions about himself and about his ability to thrive in the midst of his difficult circumstances. He sings, “So how do you measure the worth of a man? In wealth or strength or size? In how much he gained or how much he gave? The answer will come, the answer will come to him who tries to look at his life through heaven’s eyes!”

In how much he gained or how much he gave…that is a beautiful description of the word plenty. Do we measure our lives in the blessings we have received and continue receiving from our God? Do we measure our lives in the blessings God has led and continues leading us to pour out on others? I do not think this is an either/or scenario. This is absolutely a both/and.

In how much he gained or how much he gave – that sounds to me like the most abundant life. And I believe that is the sort of life that God desires for us. We, like Moses, may not think that we are worthy of such a life because of present circumstances or past decisions. That sort of thinking needs to be abandoned. That sort of thinking needs to stop. That sort of thinking begs for transformation like that which flows out of God’s holy temple and down God’s holy mountain bringing life and plenty wherever it goes.

If you are struggling, hurting, scared, or lost, and seeking hope or a new direction, I encourage you to look for the plenty in your life. What have you gained? What have you given? Consider these questions and give thanks. Look at your life through heaven’s eyes and you will see where and how you thrive.

Prayer: “I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up; you didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me. Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. Lord, you brought me up from the grave, brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit. You who are faithful to the Lord, sing praises to him; give thanks to his holy name! His anger lasts for only a second, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay all night, but by morning, joy!”* We wait for your joy, O Lord. We pray for the morning in our longest nights and we celebrate how you are breaking the night before our eyes. We love you, Lord. Amen. 

*Psalm 30:1-5.

Thrive: Depth

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:3-5

While practicing yoga I frequently hear my teachers inviting me to deepen my practice. There are a number of ways to deepen a yoga practice:

  1. Take a more full expression of a pose. For example, if you are in a pose that calls for your legs to be in the shape of a lunge (like Crescent Pose or Warrior One), you deepen the pose by increasing the bend in your front leg towards a 90-degree angle with the goal of stacking your knee over your ankle.
  2. Move to your edge. An “edge” in yoga could be the extent of your comfort zone with a pose or the extent of your familiarity with a pose. Moving to your edge means that you try on something new in the pose by bending a little deeper, growing a little taller, or extending a little longer. The goal is to not cross your edge but to increase your edge – that is how you grow in yoga.
  3. Bring awareness to the breath. What is the quality of your breath? Is it shallow and quick? Is it deep and slow? How can you lengthen the breath? How can you bring a sense of calm to a very active practice? How can you breathe with the entirety versus a portion of your lungs?
  4. Turn inward. Yes, yoga is a physical practice, but the physical practice – known as asana – is only one portion of the practice. Yoga encompasses physical as well as mental activity. It is an outward and an inward practice. It unites movement and meditation. When a practitioner turns inward, the mind settles allowing clarity to increase while distractions decrease.

As Ezekiel follows God’s messenger out of the temple and into the rushing river’s flow, he becomes increasingly aware of the river’s deepening. His expression changes as he witnesses God’s river take on its full expression as it cascades down the mountain. He moves to his edge as he wades in the water. If I were in Ezekiel’s shoes I would want to ensure a calm and even quality to my breath as I ventured into water where neither my bare nor stiletto’d feet could touch the riverbed. And I would want to focus and settle my mind. In that state of awareness and presence I would be safe and I would see and experience all that God desires to reveal.

In order to grow in my yoga practice I am committed to deepening my practice. The same holds true for my – for our – spiritual practice. God invites each of us to deepen our spiritual practices so we can deepen our relationship with God. There are a number of ways to mature in our faith:

  1. Take a more full expression of prayer, worship, fasting, service, and stewardship.
  2. Move to the edge of our comfort zones so we increase the area of our comfort zones as it relates to sharing our faith with and witnessing to our neighbors. I desire God to transform my comfort zone so it defines all that God enables me to do and that I serve in those roles with joy rather than separating what I will do from what I will not do. Continue my transformation, Lord.
  3. Bring awareness to God’s life-giving breath – God’s Holy Spirit – that dwells within us and guides us. Centering our attention on God’s breath and following the guidance of God’s Spirit will not lead us astray; it will lead us farther into the Kingdom.
  4. Turn inward away from the distractions of the world so that we may gain clarity about God’s purposes and God’s purposes for us.

(This is by no means an exhaustive list. This is what I have experienced and I would love to hear about your experiences, about how you specifically grow in your faith!)

Consider how God may be calling you to deepen your faith during this time and season. What full expression might you try on? How might you increase your comfort zone? What is God’s Holy Spirit breathing in you? When you turn inward, what do you see and how does that compare to what you would like to see? I invite you to pray about these questions this week. Ask. Seek. And share what you discover with someone you love.

Prayer: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, Alleluia. Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you. Allelu, Alleluia.”* Amen.

*”Seek Ye First,” The United Methodist Hymnal 405.

Thrive: Source

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:1-2

When I was in elementary school I would spend a week with my brother at my grandparents’ home in Merritt Island. They lived on Pelican Court and it was paradise: bike riding in the cul-de-sac, spying fish off the dock, imagining wild adventures on my grandfather’s boat while it was still safely anchored in the canal, and all of the orange-flavored Flintstone push-pops I could eat.

Nothing – and I mean nothing – beats an orange-flavored Flintstone push-pop.

When you opened the door of my grandparents’ home the hallway that started at the front door came to its end at what we would now call a chair and a half. At the time it was blue with flecks of white; presently, it is covered in a cream colored fabric with cranberry toile accents. No matter the fabric, that chair and a half is a seat of blessing.

As a child I would sit in that chair and listen to my Gramps lightly snore through whatever show he was watching. No one dared to change the channel because he would instantly awake! I would also sit in that chair and my Nonnie would read to me. I would sit so close to her that when she tucked me into bed I would smell like her Coco Chanel No. 5.

My grandparents no longer live in that home on Pelican Court and that chair is no longer blue with flecks of white. I still see that chair each time I visit my grandparents and when I see it I remember the laughter, the lessons, and the love that I lived sitting in that seat of blessing near and with my Nonnie and Gramps. I like to think that chair was built purposefully to have more than one person in it…I never felt like I was crowding or being crowded. I felt like I fit. I fit there with my grandparents, and there, so close to them, I received blessings that I will never forget.

In our Scripture text for this week Ezekiel stands near the source of blessing in the newly constructed temple of the Lord. He sees the water flowing east from under the temple’s threshold and out into world – and as we continue studying this chapter we will learn that this water from God brings blessing wherever it goes. God’s people have been in exile – estranged from their God, their homes, and their true selves. In the vision cast before Ezekiel in Chapter 47 God gathers all that has been scattered and broken back together and brings healing. It is a vision of blessing; after a time of trial and sorrow comes a new dawn and new day. Because of God’s goodness and faithfulness to God’s people, there will be time for laughter, and lessons, and love. These blessings flow from the temple just as they flow from that chair in my grandparents’ home, only what I experienced and experience of blessing from that chair is but a glimpse of what we experience and will experience from God.

And that, my friends, is such incredible blessing.

I hope you will join us in worship over the next several weeks as we learn more about God’s blessings and our invitation to steward them to all our neighbors to the glory of God’s Kingdom. This is an important time as we discern, pray, and plan for our next season of ministry. I look forward to worshipping with you.

Prayer: “Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.”* Amen.

*”Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 400.