Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Oh, Lord! Have Mercy!

Psalm 19.7-14

7 The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living. 9 Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair. 10 They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb. 11 They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them. 

12 How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. 

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Hard to believe it has been over a month since last stopping in here to share a few words. Life. It just gets so crazy! Being appointed to a new community in July, I have been working with the new staff and leadership as I learn where they have been and where they are going. At the same time, I am working with my current staff and Leadership to prepare them for the change. Did I mention I took several classes this year to grow as a Christian?? Yah. Might have waited on that if I had known about the move. But they are great and certainly help fill me back up when I empty out. Add to all this, trying to schedule and plan and officiate many funerals and weddings that were either put on hold last year due to Covid or simply want before I leave and we have quite the busy late winter and spring at MUMC! 

And yet... God calls for our attention. God knows that in the midst of busyness it is easy to lose sight of the One who can help us through the maze of life. That's why daily devotions are so important. They ground us, reminding us of who we are and whose we are. 

Psalm19 has always been a go to text for me. "
The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul." Who doesn't need a revival of soul coming out of last year?!?! Cheez whiz! That was a crazy one. Of course we need revival of our souls. So we take the time and read God's word. We quiet ourselves in case God has something to say to us. And we allow God to direct our path, to keep us safe from temptation and sin, to heal our brokenness and give us rest. 


Take a look at that spoon full of honey. Think about all the work it took those busy little bees to make it. All the work they had at protecting their Queen. All the work farmers had to harvest it, sifting it, bottling it, and getting it to each of our tables. It pours slowly like molten gold. Bubbles of oxygen trickle throughout. And when it touches our tongues?? Sheer delight. 

God's word and instruction is the same. Yes, it takes work and dedication to absorb it daily. Yes, it takes an effort to fit it all in. And yes, when we do, it will taste like fresh honey from the combs, dripping like gold all over our hearts and minds. Oh Lord! Have mercy on my soul. Have mercy on my schedule. Have mercy on my days and hours. May they include you at every step.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Why Are You Leaving?

The First Disciples
Mark 1.16-20 

16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon[g] and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him.

19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.

1:16 Simon is called “Peter” in 3:16 and thereafter.

What a week. (...sigh...) 

I received a call from my District Superintendent (my supervisor/pastor) and was told I will be serving next in Eaton Rapids. It is just 15 minutes from our farm, so that is pretty amazing considering I could be moved anywhere in the lower or upper peninsula of Michigan. I also think it is a good match of needs and gifts. But leaving the family that has already been placed in your care?? Now, that's the hard part. 

"Why are you leaving?"
"Are you kidding me? Seriously, you're leaving??"
"I am so pissed right now!"
"I don't want another pastor! I want you! You are my pastor!"
"You were the reason I started attending MUMC! You can't go!" 

As I read this scripture in Mark earlier this morning, I wondered if Peter, James, and John's family all cried out similarly. 

"Why are you leaving?"
"Are you kidding me? Seriously, you're leaving??"
"I am so pissed right now!"
"I don't want you to go! I want you here! You are my son!"
"You were the reason I started fishing! You can't go!" 

Yet, when Jesus called, they went. It's funny how we all read scripture and mostly, agree with it... until it turns and applies to us. Then we're like "I don't think so!" It's like we understand the needs that God shows us in scripture, but we just find it hard to believe those same needs are in our lives. 

Of course, when God calls, we should follow. 
Of course, when Jesus is in need, we should help. 
Of course, when others down the road are on God's heart, then they ought to be on ours. 
But "our" pastor?? Our friend?? Our teacher or counselor or leader?? 

And so we listen, we love, we offer words of comfort and hope, knowing all will be well. It will work out. God is also calling someone else (with gifts I don't have!) to come and care for my family at MUMC. They will fall in love, in time, as we had. And one day, they too will be called onward. 

So goes discipleship. 
Jesus calls. 
The disciple follows. 
Others cry out "Why!?!" 
And the answer is always the same:

Jesus calls. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

All Right, All Right! I'll Go!

Jonah 3.1-10

1 Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”

3 This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all.[a] 4 On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” 5 The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

6 When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. 7 Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city:

“No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. 8 People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. 9 Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”

10 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.

3:3 Hebrew a great city to God, of three days’ journey.

Jonah. Servant of God who wants to pick and choose who he serves and who he doesn't. So he stands firm. "No God. They aren't worthy and I'm not going." And then he runs. He jumps on a ship and tries his best to run from God. Only problem is, God churned those waters until the guys on the ship started to freak. 

Jonah already told them he was running from God, so they had a pretty good idea where the stormy waters were coming from. Jonah did too. So, following Jonah's orders, they toss him overboard and sure enough, the waters stop. Smooth as glass. Only now, Jonah is in the belly of a big fish... until he begins praying, calling out to God. And God heard him and had the fish spit him out onto the shore. 

It's kind of funny. God doesn't miss a beat. He sends Jonah right back to where he was sending him when Jonah ran away. This time, he went. But he still wasn't thrilled. Jonah didn't think the people of Ninevah were worthy of being saved. He knew they were sinners living in ways that offended God and felt they deserved to be wiped off the earth... even though God gave Jonah a second chance! 

So Jonah did what God told him to do this time and the Ninevites heard him. In fact, they repented, turned from their evil ways, and re-committed themselves to God's ways. I would love to tell you that Jonah felt bad and did the same. But he didn't. He was kind of miffed that they actually listened. He truly wanted God to wipe them off the earth. 

As I read this scripture today, it got me thinking about the way God calls us to work with or reach out to specific people, and sometimes, we just plain disagree. We don't want to work with them. We don't want to share Jesus with them. And we certainly don't want to share the love of Jesus with them. So we run. We jump ship and head in the opposite direction. But where we go, there God is. On turbulent waters, in the bellies of fish, on long unwanted journeys. 

And so we cry out... and God hears. And just like Jonah, God doesn't change direction. God sends us in the same direction he did before we ran. Oh, surprise! So here's a thought: What about just going where God calls, doing what God asks of us, and celebrating when what God calls us to do, actually works. Now there's a thought! 

All right, all right!... I'll go. 
How about you?

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Go Back to Bed

The Lord Speaks to Samuel

3 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.

2 One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle[a] near the Ark of God. 4 Suddenly the Lord called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” 5 He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.

6 Then the Lord called out again, “Samuel!”

Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”

7 Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. 8 So the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.

10 And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

The voice of God. Few ever get the opportunity to hear it. I mean, "hear it!" with our very own ears. We certainly do our best to listen for it, but most will go their entire life and never actually hear the voice of God speaking to them directly. 

So is it any wonder that this young boy doesn't recognize God's voice? 

We are told early in 1 Samuel that Hannah (Samuel's mother, eventually...) had no children. Yet, even though her husband's other wife (culturally, multiple wives was proper at this time) was able to provide children for him, he loved Hannah most. 

One day while Hannah was praying at the Tabernacle of God and weeping loudly, the High Priest Eli was sitting near the doorpost. She was praying, asking God for a son and in return, she promised to give the son back to God to serve him. The desperation of Hannah's prayer shows just how much she wanted to be a mother, even if it meant she could not keep the son she had wanted all her life. 

Hannah's promise to give her son back if God placed him in her womb was so crazy to Eli, that he questioned her about being drunk! But when she explained her pain with being barren, Eli blessed her. Hannah went home and conceived a son. When he was born, they named him Samuel, "Heard by God". Hannah enjoyed her son, holding him in her arms, rocking him to sleep, and feeding him to her breast... until he was weened. 

Then she took him to the temple to serve God by assisting Eli, the High Priest. And so we come to today's text. We are told that Samuel didn't know the Lord yet. He served God by serving God's priest, but he didn't have a personal relationship with God yet. In God's time. And here, God's time came. 

In God's time and in God's way, we will each hear from God. For some, though rare, it will be a voice in the night. For others, it will be a tingle as hairs stand on your arms and neck while singing a song. Or maybe you see a Cardinal or a sunset and feel the presence of God surrounding you. Or maybe, you just know deep within your being, where you have asked God to dwell, what it is that God is saying to you. 

Maybe you have never heard God's voice, or Holy bumps, or signs of the Spirit or anything else. That's okay too. Actually, Jesus says that it is one thing to hear or see and believe. But true belief comes from not hearing or not seeing and believing anyway. 

I've always thought, maybe I have heard God's voice a few times because my faith wasn't that strong and it was the only way God could get my attention!  So don't be hard on yourself if you haven't heard or seen a thing when it comes to God speaking to you. Be ready though, just in case. 

And if you aren't sure who it is calling you by the second or third time, hear some wisdom from Eli: 
“Go and lie down again, 
and if someone calls again, 
say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Visitors From the East

1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”

3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]”

7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

2:1 Or royal astrologers; Greek reads magi; also in 2:7, 16.
2:2 Or star in the east.
2:6a Greek the rulers.
2:6b Micah 5:2; 2 Samuel 5:2.

Wisemen, Magi, Three Kings. Known by many names, the visitors from the East came with determination to find the One who was to be born. Not only did they want to find the babe, but they wanted to worship him, as well.

It should be no surprise that the powers that be were threatened by this joyous event. If it was important enough to mark this birth with a star, shining brighter than all others, then likely this special person would be born with power and authority. Any time someone's power is threatened by a newcomer, those in current power hunker down to hold onto the power they have available to them, as long as possible. Even if people get hurt. 

Yesterday was a day in our nation that crushed spirits and placed fear in our hearts. As the entire world watched, we all asked "How far will they go?" If one person shoots, will it be a maylay? A massacre? Will everyone start shooting? Would people be taken hostage? Or be beaten? The Capitol Building was breached with such speed, we all just watched in horror. 

A peaceful transfer of power is central to our democratic government in the U.S. Yet, when the reality set in that the people chose a different leader, the current leader in power wasn't willing to pass that baton. At least, not peacefully. So lies were told, fear was placed in the hearts of followers, and an invitation was given.

"Come and create chaos! Be strong and powerful!" 

And so they came. In the thousands. Breaking windows, scaling walls, pushing past law enforcement and barricades. Pushing past democracy and decency. Power does that. The Lord of the Rings comes to mind. "My precious..." Power once held is a very potent thing. It is why we have laws and processes, institutions and guidelines. That way, we don't have to depend on the human spirit to do the right thing. We simply follow the path laid out before us... no matter how we "feel". 

The visitors from the East came by Light.
They were eager to meet this new leader.
They brought gifts of great value. 
They became Light to a weary mom and dad who had just recently became parents. 

How can we become Light today? 

When the nation is whirling and the images never stop replaying.
When people are still dying, in the thousands every day, from a pandemic left unchecked.
When the divide between "the aisle" is wider than even our differences.

How can you become Light today? 

Stop using "us" and "them" language. 
Stop relying on others to make the change. 
Start searching out someone with differing views to begin a friendship with.

Do something Light-filled. 

The Wisemen put in much effort traveling a great distance, bringing very expensive gifts, and had to dodge the wrath of a leader who sensed his power would soon be challenged. 

They did something anyway. 
Will you?

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

2 Samuel 1
David Learns of Saul’s Death

1 After the death of Saul, David returned from his victory over the Amalekites and spent two days in Ziklag. 2 On the third day a man arrived from Saul’s army camp. He had torn his clothes and put dirt on his head to show that he was in mourning. He fell to the ground before David in deep respect.

3 “Where have you come from?” David asked.
“I escaped from the Israelite camp,” the man replied.

4 “What happened?” David demanded. “Tell me how the battle went.”
The man replied, “Our entire army fled from the battle. Many of the men are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.”

5 “How do you know Saul and Jonathan are dead?” David demanded of the young man.
6 The man answered, “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear with the enemy chariots and charioteers closing in on him. 7 When he turned and saw me, he cried out for me to come to him. ‘How can I help?’ I asked him.

8 “He responded, ‘Who are you?’
“‘I am an Amalekite,’ I told him.
9 “Then he begged me, ‘Come over here and put me out of my misery, for I am in terrible pain and want to die.’ 10 “So I killed him,” the Amalekite told David, “for I knew he couldn’t live. Then I took his crown and his armband, and I have brought them here to you, my lord.”

11 David and his men tore their clothes in sorrow when they heard the news. 12 They mourned and wept and fasted all day for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the Lord’s army and the nation of Israel, because they had died by the sword that day. 13 Then David said to the young man who had brought the news, “Where are you from?”
And he replied, “I am a foreigner, an Amalekite, who lives in your land.”

14 “Why were you not afraid to kill the Lord’s anointed one?” David asked.
15 Then David said to one of his men, “Kill him!” So the man thrust his sword into the Amalekite and killed him. 16 “You have condemned yourself,” David said, “for you yourself confessed that you killed the Lord’s anointed one.”

"Tell the truth and you won't get in trouble." We teach our kids this from a young age. It is always better to tell the truth than to concoct some story to save our butts. This story turns that theory on its head. Here we have a young man showing respect (kneeling, covered in dust) and trying to do the right thing, sharing the truth of what had happened. And David responds by having him killed. 

Can you imagine, for a moment, being out in that field and seeing the King impaled by his own sword, bleeding out, and begging for help... and you do what? Pretend you never saw it? Walk away? Allow him to suffer in agonizing pain? I don't know. I can't say I could lay a hand on anyone and take their life in my hands, but at the same time, I can't imagine allowing them to continue to suffer, either. 

I have a new dog. She is a rescue Pit and has extreme anxiety issues. I worry about her running into the road and being hit. In fact, the other night, she pulled out of her collar when my husband was taking her out potty and she wouldn't come back. Two and a half hours I searched for her in the yard, around barns, in neighbor's yards, and along the roadside. Several times I thought "Oh, if she's been hit by a car but is not dead, I don't want her to suffer!" and yet at the same time, could I have done anything if I found her that way? Probably the only thing I would have done is gone to get my husband and have him "do the dirty work." Thankfully, I didn't need to. I found her next door at Hillside Dairy Farm at 12:30am. 

It is easy to hear a story like this one and think we know what they "should" have done or what we "would" have done. But we are not them and they are not us. So instead, we try to understand the views of each involved and form empathy for them, trying to understand their motives. For the young man, I believe he was showing compassion by not only taking Saul's life, but by returning to David to let him know what happened. He could have just walked away. As for David, my guess is he was in great despair. He loved Jonathon and certainly had love for Saul, even though Saul had lost his mind and done everything possible to take David's life. And so in his grief and dismay, he found a scapegoat... and took his life, instead. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Reset 2021

What a year.
What a mess.
What chaos and loss and emotional distress.
Elections, pandemics, and zoom meetings... oh my!
Who isn't ready for 2020 to leave this earth?
Who isn't placing huge expectations on 2021 being a better, kinder, and healthier year?? 

And so... as I respond to all these in my own life, I have decided if I want 2021 to be different, then I have to do something different. So I am. 

I have had 11 joint surgeries (degenerative joint disease) in the past 7 years, making it difficult to work out regularly. In addition, I sit waaay too much for work. I live on a farm and love to garden, but it is not year-round. So rather than waiting for it to be easy or convenient to be physically active, I have decided that 2021 will be the year of commitment and change. I am planning on working out 3 days a week from here forward. 

For the past several years, I have been Bible Journaling. Most mornings I start the day with a scripture reading, an entry in my Gratitude Journal, and some form of artistic expression of the scripture I have just read. Sometimes that is scrapbooking, sometimes a drawing, a design with decorative tape, or using old greeting cards I have received from others. What I have been missing is reflecting on the Word. 

So I will be returning to my blog in 2021. My hope is to add a personal reflection several days a week. I'll start with the actual scripture reading, then an artist's rendering or photograph that reflects that portion of scripture, and then my reflection. Feel free to add your reflections in the comments. 

No one wants a redo of 2020. So let's move forward into 2021 together, not hoping it will be different, but making choices that will ensure a new and different year ahead.