The Blessing Of Giving

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 20:32-38.

I spent a lot of time in reflection this week. Little did I know a year ago this week would be my last week before maternity leave.

I think God was merciful; my preaching in flats for one Sunday was enough!

We thought our due date was November 5 – actually it was November 12 for reasons that still do not make sense to Andrew and me – but Joshua had other plans entirely.

I think he wanted to redeem October for me. Now I would think of this month for him first…and for LOFs…do I have to assign them a number?

This time last year we had just moved all our furniture back into the parsonage following the new flooring installation. We were still unpackaging shower presents. I had no idea where the special hospital folder with all the paperwork in it was – you know the one you have when you go to the hospital!? (Turns out you do not have to have it…)

That week I worked patch shifts. We unloaded the second truck. I spent the day in a district meeting. And then I went to a doctors appointment – and they were astonished I was walking and talking. They were also slightly terrified when I said I drove myself to the appointment; according to the blood pressure machine I should have been in the midst of a seizure or a stroke.

Andrew picked me up and we went to the hospital – without the folder. We waited and waited and waited. I did not respond to any of their medication – to reduce my blood pressure or to start labor. We waited and waited and waited. We cried. We rolled our eyes. We hoped. I wanted Joshua to be safe. Andrew wanted both of us to be safe.

And then Sunday came. And with Sunday – peace. Great friends and leaders stepped into the pulpits, and Trunk or Treat leadership, and Charge Conference participation and we stepped into the operating room. Britney Spears’ Wrecking Ball played over the speakers. “Sometimes there are weird noises in here,” the anesthesiologist said. Moments later, soft cries. Joshua was here. And his presence erased all the fear and anger and worry and mess from the preceding days. That day I received the third greatest gift in my life. The first is my relationship with God, the second is my relationship with Andrew, and the third is the relationship with our son. We delight watching him grow in knowledge and love of God and the world God made each and every day.

Andrew and I joke from time to time, “We have kept Joshua alive [this length of time].” On Monday we can say, “We have kept Joshua alive for a whole year!” But the truth is that he has given us life – he has given us life for a whole year. Joshua has given us a life we never dreamed could be until October 22, 2017.

I tear up when I think about all we have received since receiving Joshua in our arms nearly a year ago – all the encouragement and gifts, all the hugs and crazy stories, all the honesty and care.

The generosity of others in our lives – especially in Joshua’s first year of life – teaches and encourages our generosity. This is a beautiful lesson learned as a result of living faithfully in a community of believers.

Thank you, dear friends, for welcoming and loving our son so well in his first year. Because of what we have received from you, we are inspired to give, and to give more.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

 

Advertisements

The Big Ask

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 3:1-12.

Last Sunday I was out in the patch with our Little Orange Friends when the first family of visitors arrived. They headed to the far end of the patch – the children’s eyes on a on a not so little Little Orange Friend. I grabbed the Patch Visitor Stickers and headed their way.

The first sticker I offered to a little boy; he looked to be about four. He seized that sticker and proudly donned it on his shirt. The second sticker I offered to his sister; she looked to be about two-and-a-half. “Would you like a sticker for visiting the pumpkin patch today?” Her eyes met mine…and then…she slowly…edged…behind…her father’s…leg.

Mom and Dad tried to coax her out, but I affirmed her choice. “You do not know me. I am new to you. You made a good choice in sticking close to Mom and Dad.” Mom took her daughter’s sticker from me. As they left the patch I spied the sticker on the little girl’s collar.

I was a new person to that little girl and the enormity of what I was asking her was clear on her face. I was not asking her if she wanted a sticker. I asked her if she would trust me; the sticker was simply the evidence of our trust exchange.

Trust comes with time. Trust builds through relationship. Trust is learned and strengthened through our faith.

I find that on the whole I trust people easily and quickly because I hope for the best in people. I seek the best in people. And I encourage the best in people. “God did not give [me] a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (II Tim 1:7). God’s spirit of power humbles my pride. God’s spirit of love drives out suspicion. God’s spirit of self-discipline reminds me that I was made for relationship and I was sent to make of all disciples. Together God’s spirit of power, love, and self-discipline draws me to acts and feelings of compassion towards all people. This is the work of the Kingdom – to fuel the trust that is foundational to our faith – and living out our faith! – rather than fuel anxiety and fear.

And my friends, the Kingdom has had to wait long enough.

I will be joined in worship leadership at both Morningsong and 11 o’clock Worship this week by Bob Spitzer, TUMC’s Finance Chairperson. Together we will share about the vision for Tuskawilla UMC’s stewardship in 2019. I am grateful for Bob’s leadership and for the faith-filled message he will share on Sunday.

Prayer: “Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home; gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin, there, forever purified, in thy presence to abide; come, with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.”* Amen.

*”Come, Ye Thankful People Come,” The United Methodist Hymnal 694.

Example of Greatness in God’s Kingdom

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 21:1-4.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to partake in one of my more glamorous pastoral duties – throwing away straw and rotten pumpkins in the dumpster.

*pause for dramatic effect*

I set to work quietly with a wheelbarrow and a shovel. And it was not before long that I heard another voice and then another voice. And then two hands became four hands. And four hands became six hands. And before long, all of the straw and rotten pumpkins were relocated into the dumpster.

Thank you, Jose and Lila.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude by the number of kind voices speaking and helping hands serving at the church recently. Light bulbs are changed. Closets are organized. Weeds are pulled. Special events are planned. Telephones are answered. Bulletins are folded. Copies are made. Invoices are recorded. Powerpoints are crafted. Small groups are led. Communion is served. Prayers are prayed. Shepherds are raised. Community members are welcomed. LOFs are sold!

The list could go on and on.

To some these acts may seem so small. To me, these acts are incredibly generous and incredibly important. I am so grateful to the persons that bless me and bless our church with these offerings. I am grateful that you are quick to respond and lend a helping hand…even when that helping hand might crush into pumpkin guts. Thank you for what you do. I honor your service. I honor you.

And God does too.

Join us Sunday as we learn about the widow’s offering – another small act that examples for us greatness in God’s Kingdom. We will also join with our brothers and sisters in faith around the globe as we celebrate The Lord’s Supper on World Communion Sunday.

See you in worship.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. You give yourself to us, O Lord, then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.

Jesus Said What!? ~ Sell What You Have

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 10:17-22.

If you ever visit the parsonage, watch your step just inside the front door. Why, you may ask? Because there is always a pile of donations by the front door.

Always. Ask Andrew.

While serving New Horizon in Haines City/Davenport I was introduced to “31bags” – not the company, but the concept. Ladies in the church told me that on the first day of the month they went around their homes and placed one item in the bag for everyday of the month – so 28, 29, 30, or 31 items depending on the month and the year. Once the items were collected they would place their 31bag in a closet. If they returned to the bag during the month to take hold of a particular item, they would keep that item. All undisturbed items were donated by the month’s end. And on the first of the next month they would repeat the process.

Why did the ladies do this?

  • To de-clutter.
  • To simplify.
  • To help their families so that their loved ones would not have to de-clutter and simplify later.

The practice of de-cluttering and simplifying feels natural to me. If I cannot use something, maybe someone else can. And if I am not using something, do I need to hang onto it? Itinerancy also helps with the discernment to keep or to donate; on more than one occasion I have asked myself in a store – “do I like this enough to move it?” – and more often than not, I leave whatever it is on the shelf.

Donating items and clearing out what is not being used is also a spiritual practice for me. These acts are acts of stewardship. I am making room – physical, spiritual, emotional – for what is really important. I feel like letting go of stuff here – on this side of eternity – further prepares me for what awaits in the fullness of eternity. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:19-20).

I do not want to be bogged down. And I do not think there is “baggage check” where we are going. It is like the wonderfully poignant Polk County bumper sticker reads, “Ye who dies with the most toys…still dies.”

Take a look around your home. Are there places you could de-clutter and areas you could simplify? Is this the time for you to create your own 31bag? These are big tasks and they can quickly become overwhelming, but doing a little bit at a time is better than doing nothing at all. It’s for you. For your family. For your stewardship. For your preparation for eternity.

Prayer: “Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure-store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, and Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.

 

Given Everything

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 12:38-44.

When I think about “my pastor” I think about Riley Short. He was appointed to my home church – First UMC Lakeland – when I was in elementary school and retired the year I graduated from high school. I grew up with him as he grew up my church.

When I was in seventh grade I drew the “short straw” – as in I was not in Sunday School one day so I was “voluntold” the next week that I would be preaching all three services at our upcoming Youth Sunday. I was terrified. The sermon was on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. I used way too many “air-quotes” and talked way too fast. It was awful.

Riley asked me to stand with him in the greeting line after the 11 o’clock service that day. He had his arm around my shoulder the entire time, the look of great pride and pleasure across his face. When we concluded all our greetings, Riley squeezed me a little tighter to his side, looked me in the eye, and said, “You will be a great preacher one day.”

I do not know about the “great preacher” part – but those words that Riley spoke in my life and into my life have profoundly shaped me to this day. And they will continue to shape me beyond this day. Those words, which to some may have seemed so small, so minor, perhaps even flattery without any real grounding in reality, gave me everything.

They offered me life.

The offerings that we make throughout our lives – with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness – with our words, actions, and deeds – with our hugs and handshakes – with our taking the time rather than rushing the time – make all the difference in the world. What may seem like just a small drop in the bucket create ripples of change – and if we are aware – we see that the change impacts not only our neighbor, but us as well.

If we move too quickly in life, we will miss opportunities to give and therefore receive. If we think too highly of ourselves, much like the Scribes in our Scripture passage for this week, then our behavior is not only a detriment to our neighbors – it is also a detriment to ourselves. God asks that when we give, we give what is most valuable in that moment. Therefore, what we give may change from moment to moment – that we give is to remain constant…constant and dynamic.

Our offerings – be they our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness – our words, actions, and deeds – our hugs and handshakes – our taking the time rather than rushing the time – make all the difference in the world. Our offerings are opportunities for us to speak life and speak into the lives of one another and our neighbors. How awesome it is that our God gives us this privilege – this responsibility! Receive it with care. And share your offerings with great joy.

In the words of Riley, “And that’s the truth…Amen.”

Prayer: “Give thanks for tomorrow, full of surprises for knowing whatever tomorrow may bring, the Word is our promise always, forever; we rest in God’s keeping and live in God’s love.”* Amen.

*”What Gift Can We Bring,” The United Methodist Hymnal 87.

 

Where You Go, I’ll Go

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ruth 1:1-18.

Following the events in Las Vegas late Sunday evening and early Monday morning, I saw a number of people quoting phrases from Warsan Shire’s poem entitled, What They Did Yesterday Afternoon. Shire is a British poet, activist, writer, and teacher, born to Somali parents, and originally from Kenya. Her poems stem from the tension between suffering and belonging – and in that place – she, from writing, and others, from reading – experience healing.

what they did yesterday afternoon

by warsan shire

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Once again – maddeningly, frustratingly, horrifically, crushingly – we as a society, as a species – find ourselves trying to make sense of life after a senseless tragedy. Innocent blood spilled. Questions unanswered. Joy stripped away. Peace voided.

We know too well the environments Shire describes in her poem. We see our places of origin or the places that we spend most of our time “thirsty” and “on fire” – meaning that we see them – we engage them experiencing – great need and crying for help. People are hurting. And unfortunately, hurt people hurt people.

Following a tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas it seems the the hurt compounds further as everyone from family members to neighbors to religious leaders to law makers argue over Second Amendment Rights, gun control, responses to gun violence, and access to quality mental health care. Tempers flare and arguments rage to a boiling point…and then the conversations start to cool…but the hurt remains.

“Where does it hurt?” “Everywhere everywhere everywhere.”

In our Scripture passage this week Ruth covenants to journey on with Naomi, her mother-in-law, though it would make more sense for Ruth to return home to seek better future opportunities. Naomi feels so poorly treated by God that she wishes to change her name to Mara to capture the experience that the Almighty has “dealt bitterly [and] harshly” with her (Ruth 1:20-21). Naomi looks at her life and as her heart bleeds over the losses in her family, she feels abandoned and wants to give up. But she is not alone. Ruth is with her. And I believe Ruth’s presence is the very embodiment of God’s presence – a present gift and promise – of which Naomi needed to be reminded.

In a hurting world we have the opportunity to be the very embodiments of God’s presence – God’s present gift and promise – of which our family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and elected officials need to be reminded. We bear with us the message of the cross – that life has the final word, not death – and that our God’s preferred future for us is one shaped by peace rather than violence.

We bear this message in our bodies and it is also our responsibility to communicate this message – to share and advocate this message – through our words, actions, and deeds. A mentor of mine once told me that hope is a beautiful gift, but hope is not a strategy. We cannot “hope away” conflict, no matter the subject of the conflict. We must come to the table, as hard as it may be, to have conversations, to hear points of view different from our own, to accept that all parties – all sides – must give and take to reach a life-giving solution. I believe these are vital, necessary, and immediate steps that must be taken as we journey in life together.

God calls us to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper; God calls us to be Ruth for whoever is experiencing a period of Naomi.

Wherever Naomi went, Ruth was with her. In the joy and in the hurt. Everywhere everywhere everywhere.

In our journeying together – in compassion, empathy, and advocacy – I believe we can change the answer of Shire’s atlas.

“Where does it hurt?” “Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.”

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’ Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 338.

 

 

From Wreck to Restoration: God Shapes Us

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 18:1-11.

In a farewell to summer before school resumed I joined my dear friend, Holly, and her son, Gage, at the beach one afternoon. There is something so soothing about the sound of crashing waves upon the beach. 

After several rounds of cards and watching Olympic Beach Volleyball, we headed down to the beach ourselves. Gage, in his creativity, wonder, and joy said, “Let’s build sandcastles!”

Now growing up a native Floridian, I spent many a summer day on the beach, but I have not built that many sandcastles. Gage and Holly are experts. We built a pyramid-shaped castle, complete with a mote. We built a drip castle. And then we set about our biggest endeavor – a sandcastle in the shape of a turtle. 

Yes – a turtle. 

Our assignments: Holly – sculptor | Gage – water | Sarah – sand

With great ease and steady hands Holly modeled a sea turtle out of that mound of sand. First the shell, then the flippers, then the head, and lastly a little tail. Holly took care in shaping each piece and didn’t move on until every grain was just so. 

Then, Gage invited me to crosshatch the shell – pressure. So much pressure.  

It was incredible to stand back and admire our work. The turtle would remain until the tide returned and would begin its own sculpting to smooth some of the mounded sand and take others back into the Atlantic. While our turtle will be gone the materials remain for the next group of friends to come and create.

I am thankful that just as we had the opportunity to shape the sand into our creations, God continues God’s shaping of us in our lives throughout our lives. God builds us up, God smooths us out, God gathers us, God separates us.

God shapes us for a particular task. Then, God shapes us again.

God’s shaping comes through our stewardship – through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. God’s shaping comes through our interaction with Scripture – through our study and response. God’s shaping comes through the hands of the Holy Spirit and through the hands of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sometimes we are ready for God’s shaping and at other times it catches us by surprise. Sometimes we are hungry for God’s shaping and at other times we wish God would pass by us. God’s shaping is part of our sanctification, part of our life and living in holiness. We may not want it, but we need it. We may not welcome it, but we are better for it. God will not force God’s shaping upon us; this shaping is part of God’s gift of grace and desires us to accept it.

I encourage you to find your way to some sand this week. Spend some time shaping and creating. Feel the grains of sand in between your fingers. Gather and separate the sand. Build it up and smooth it again. Think of how you have experienced and received God’s shaping in your life. Give thanks and prepare – for God’s shaping and for the shaping that God will do.

Keep our brothers and sisters in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, throughout Florida and along the Southeast Atlanta Coast in your prayers in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Please stay safe and check in on one another.

Prayer: “Take my life, and let it be concreted, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of thy love. Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, And Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.