Fresh Expressions means church anywhere, any time: Live faith out loud to make disciples of Christ anywhere, any time, any way you can.

Yesterday I participated in a webinar that featured Rev. Luke Edwards from Kings Church in Boone County, North Carolina.  Wow!

 

My brain has thought of so many possible ways to have church, and I have talked about my ideas with others in the church.  But I am a cradle Methodist.

 

Cradle Methodists are born into the church via their parents, and have attended a Methodist church throughout their life.  I am a product of that.  But I am also a product of John Wesley.

 

The mantra that runs through my head, through my work, through my faith is the classic Wesley quote:

 

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

Rev. Edwards is Methodist. Listening to his talk about Fresh Expressions, how it is implemented, and how it functions echoes that basic Wesleyan thinking.

 

The key to bringing others to Christ is relationshipswhich Wesley knew.

 

Being raised Methodist, I was also raised to be quiet about my faith.  Now that seems counterintuitive doesn’t it?  But being raised during the 1950’s through the 1960’s and graduating from high school in 1972, one’s faith was simply one’s business.

 

Still being quiet about one’s faith does not mean I did not rely on my faith.  Our life centered on the farm, much less our farm was surrounded by cousins living on small family farms.  We all were Methodists and no one argued about going to church on Sunday morning. We lived faith.  Every meal began with a table grace.  We knew to pray.

 

Fresh Expressionsis a movement and going to the website for the United States, one finds this explanation:

 

     A Fresh Expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of those who are not yet part of any church.

     Fresh Expressions is an international movement of missionary disciples cultivating new kinds of church alongside existing congregations to more effectively engage our growing post-Christian society.

     Beginning in 2004 as an initiative of the Church of England and the British Methodist Church, the movement has resulted in the birth of thousands of new communities in the UK alone and brought renewal to scores of established churches. The movement has spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Germany. In 2010, the movement began taking shape in the US through the vision and generosity of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and a growing number of partners committed to a new era of missional ecumenism, a unity around the mission of God the Father through the resurrected Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. [Accessed on October 17, 2018 at https://freshexpressionsus.org/about/%5D

 

Rev. Edwards is passionate about the movement and openly explains that his work is Methodist.  I believe Wesley must be doing handsprings for this movement.

 

The problem:  I have lived my life as a quiet Methodists, not someone who goes around openly sharing about my faith whenever I run into others. But I should.  I have to some extent for those who know me and that I have been trained as a licensed local pastor or who may know me personally. But I am so accustomed to and comfortable being a quiet Methodist, that I do not automatically testify about my faith.

 

I know, that is almost diametrically opposite of my professional life:  trained journalist, English teacher, and pastor.  I am good at talking/writing so why shouldn’t I be able to share openly about my faith.

 

Step in the internet. I am learning to do better.  I do believe that we should live our faith “out loud.”  And over the past ten years, I have.

 

Serving in the pulpit forces one to be open about one’s faith, but that does not mean we are comfortable outside the church walls.  I am learning, and working to do better and the internet allows me a vehicle to live my faith out loud.  Now I see that Fresh Expressionshas the potential to be a second vehicle.

 

Rev. Edwards referenced Jesus’ style of ministry:  outdoors, walking with others, talking with others, sharing with others, teaching others about God.  He was establishing relationships: Fresh Expressions encourages that.

 

We are tasked as Christians, regardless of denomination, to make disciples of Christ.  We are to love God and love one another, as we want to be loved.

 

Those are foundational principles to being Christian.  Being Methodist, Wesley’s definition of being a servant is foundational, too.  Whether we are quiet Christians or loud Christians, we must do whatever we can to develop positive relationships with people in all types of settings.

 

I cannot predict what my spiritual journey will move into yet, but I have ideas that I want to work through in an effort to share the value of God in our lives.  Whatever task I am called to do, though, hinges on Jesus’ commandments and his commission.

 

Today, I am opening up my quiet Christian, Methodist mind to the ideas that Rev. Edwards shared about Fresh Expressions.  I am looking around my community and wondering where and with whom can I be out loud about my faith.

 

Maybe it is through the internet.

Maybe it is simply through written words.

Maybe it will be back in a traditional church.

Maybe it will be at the local library, restaurant, or beauty shop.

 

Whatever God calls me to do, I pray I hear him clearly and answer that call to the best of my ability. I may be quiet, yet I still am willing to learn to live my faith out loud.

 

Please join me in prayer:

 

Dear loving Father,

I know it is so easy to be quiet,

     But all Christians are called to be loud.

I know your call to serve is private,

     But be loud enough for me to hear and follow.

I know there are those who are quiet

     But are seeking answers how to find joy in life.

I know there are leaders who are breaking out

     And I pray that their Fresh Expressionof faith

     Makes new disciples of Christ,

     Filling their lives with joy and hope.

Make me an out loud Christian who joins

     In any movement, any venue, any effort

     That brings the lost to discover Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Hearing God speak really difficult when life interferes with listening

Last week a sudden realization walked through my brain:  summer break was over.  Now for many that might really seem like an epiphany, but for me it answered the state of mind I found myself dwelling.

 

Having lived all my life on an academic calendar until I retired from teaching in 2015, my psyche functioned along the year beginning in August, ending in May, and then taking a three-month break.

 

The last three years of serving as a licensed local pastor on a part time basis should have erased that internal time clock, but last week I realized it had not.

 

Stepping out of the pulpit as of July 1, I was mentally thinking I would take the break to refresh myself and return to work.  But, that is not what my internal time clock understood.

 

Last week it occurred to me that my ‘summer break’ was over.  Three months have passed and my year is not resuming as my brain thinks it should.

 

This realization has caused me to stop and reflect on why I feel so scattered, so unorganized, so lost—so to speak.

 

I need to listen more carefully for God to speak to me.

 

Listening for God is not easy.  Our humanness wants to be in control, and all that is going on around us easily distracts us. It interferes.

 

This pushed me to consider all the different factors that seem to deafen my hearing and I propose that this is a common trait that is interfering with our ability to fulfill God’s greatest commandment as Jesus answered the Pharisees:

 

35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

Consider the setting in which the Pharisees were talking with Jesus.  They were the powerful and the ones who thought they knew everything. They were feeling threatened by this newcomer, so by trying to find a flaw in his teachings that would discredit him, they themselves were no longer listening to God.

 

We do the very same thing. We live being in charge of our world. We live without thinking about the Golden Rule.  We live without spending time studying the Bible.  We let . . .

 

There is the problem. We let the world around us step in between God and us.  How in the world can we possibly hear God to speak to us personally when we listen to so many other influences?

 

Just like my personal calendar has long operated on an academic calendar and taking a break from teaching for three-months, I had taken the last three months and refreshed.

 

Or so I thought.

 

Last week I realized that my need to refresh really is defined as a need to listen to God.

 

Listening for/to God is not something that can be done in a pre-packaged time frame, neither is it a singular event.  Listening for God is part of the Christian lifestyle.  My time to refresh must become a time to realign with the practices that refresh my Christian lifestyle and encourages me to listen for God’s direction in my life.

 

John Wesley has a method for improving one’s piety or living as a Christian who is listening for God to direct one’s life.  The United Methodist Church’s website provides a list of Wesley’s works of piety:

 

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

[Accessed on October 10 2018 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

 

I must confess that I know these Wesley’s works of piety, but I do not always center my life on them. I do fair, but I must do better. We must all do better.

 

With no need to prepare a sermon each week, reading scripture is easy to put aside—especially on a daily basis.  My personal discipline needs improving.

 

Admittedly I do read, and since July 1, I have already completed thirteen books—eleven novels and two church-related.  The choices have been fun, and they do lead me into reflecting on how God can be found even in our literature choices.

 

Participating in a small group who reads the Common Lectionary is part of my weekly routine, too. But, I keep thinking of how I could study even more with other small groups.

 

I do try to live healthy especially in terms of food choices and exercise, but I can do better with this too.

Probably the most difficult part of Wesley’s works of piety is fasting.  I am not good with this practice.

 

I have long struggled with dieting and finally realized that fasting can be done differently for instance, eliminating a specific food or an activity for a set time.

 

Time to rethink fasting as a way to step away from the thingsthat interfere with my focus on living as God asks me to live.  I need to think about this, so I can use more time to listen to God.

 

Prayer is certainly one area that I continue to improve.  I have studied prayer.  I have come to realize that prayers fill my thoughts when no one is talking to me. Prayer is thinking aloud with God as the listener.  Now I need to listen for him.

 

Maybe you, too, need to improve your prayers.  I offer this one that may be helpful, tool:

 

Lord, God,

The world around me is so loud that I cannot hear you speaking to me. Guide me in making better choices so that I can silence all the interference that separates me from you. Thank you for the encouragement of others who knew I needed time to refresh; but as the months slide by, help me to hear your next call.  May what I do reflect the work you ask of me now and on into the months and years ahead. –Amen

 

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Reading, learning all the time: All the time reading, learning.

 During the past week, my focus has waivered.  I started off on Sunday facing a medical emergency with my pet, Possum (really my 4-year-old Havanese).

 

For the first time, I had to take a pet to a vet and leave him not knowing what would happen. Luckily, 48 hours later, he came home—exhausted.  Today, you would never know he had been so sick.

 

This experience has made me think about how much unconditional love we experience with our pets and I cannot miss the lesson that gives me about God’s unconditional love for us.  There is no better example of unconditional love of a pet and for a pet.  Why, then, do we even question God’s unconditional love for us?

 

The more I read, the more I learn.  I was on line reading all I could on Sunday trying to understand the problems Possum was having.  This equipped me with the best words to share with the vet on the phone.

 

I learned a lot and I am reminded that we all have much to learn about God, too.  I ended Sunday studying the lectionary to prepare for the lectionary discussion on Monday.  Always reading and always learning even though the verses are familiar.

 

This week the reading from James seemed to echo words I read in the late 1980s while working to establish a dyslexia program at Wentworth Military Academy.

 

During that time period, I was fortunate to be guided by alumnus and co-workers to learn more about the business leadership structures.  As the 1990s passed, I also learned about educational leadership. The common denominator was the concept of democratic leadership.

 

No, this is not a political issue; this is a leadership style.  Reading James 3:13-4:10, I discovered that even James, Jesus’ brother, shared the same principles of leadership:

 

True Wisdom Comes from God

13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.[a]

Drawing Close to God

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

You adulterers![b] Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.[c] And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”[d]

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

 

If all leaders, in all phases of our culture, used these principles, one might only wonder at the changes it would bring to our world.

 

For years, my reading was limited to professional materials and curriculum demands of the Course of Study. Yes, I was reading all the time in an effort to continue learning all that I could.

 

But my learning was to streamlined, that I was in a tunnel.  Since stepping away from the pulpit, I have broadened my reading.  I am also broadening my learning through the reading.

 

Just like God expects us to read scripture (as well as John Wesley does), we also need to see how it is applied in the real world.  Joining the lectionary group has broadened my learning by sharing and listening to others ideas.

 

Reading is how we learn things that interest us, to entertain us, and to educate us.  With the base of knowledge and ideas and skills that we develop, we still need human interaction to take that information into our real world.

 

My reading during these past two months have included following the KC Star’s opinion pages—stepping beyond the front page news; and I have picked up books again.

 

I am reading and listening to the ideas and experiences of others.  I am reading and learning to think beyond my own immediate life experiences. The reading leads to learning. The learning leads to reading.

 

Even the fiction reading I have jumped into has shared themes that I find in scripture.  I learn how these themes affect our lives and continually intertwine with the themes in scripture.

 

Whatever denomination to which we chose to align ourselves, the scriptures continue to drive our lives forward. John Wesley knew this.  The theological instructors know this.  The believers who read scriptures know this.  Why, then do we continue to ignore reading scriptures?

 

Reading a historical fiction novel about the Biblical figure Sarah is teaching me to think about Sarah differently.  It triggers a desire to learn more about the ancient cultures that are woven together in the book.  It makes me want to read the Biblical story again, along with study notes and analysis.

 

At the same time, the novel brings up the same principles of leadership in James and in the business and education materials concerning democratic leadership I had read 30 years ago.

 

Read to learn, but also learn to read.  We have a huge responsibility to make sure that we are doing that for ourselves, but also that we are imparting that skill to the following generations.

 

Dear God,

Thank you for the words so many have written

Creating the scripture through which you speak.

Thank you for the words authors continue to write

Creating books to share ideas in new ways.

Thank you for the ability, the gifts your provide

Creating the learning we gain from reading.

Guide us through the words, but also through the power of the Holy Spirit.  –Amen

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Reflecting on changes since 9/11

 

Yesterday I tried to gather thoughts for sharing, but I just could not find a thread to bring them together. Today, this day especially, a thread begins weaving thoughts together.

 

As an American, one cannot escape the memories of 9/11.  But there are other days that are cemented in my memory that have bound us together: JFK’s assassination, the OKC bombing, the Challenger tragedy, not to mention the natural disasters such as the hurricanes, earthquakes and forest fires that keep us spellbound to the news.

 

Throughout all these historical events, I am constantly reminded about how key a faith system is to the way in which we manage these experiences.

 

The denomination is irrelevant.  The common element is—GOD.

 

I recognize that many of our younger generations—note the plural—struggle to understand the ‘need’ for a faith system, but I also know that there is an underlying curiosity about why faith is so important to their parents and grandparents.

 

On Saturday, the Missouri Methodists held a kick-off event for the three priorities the conference has established for the current year:

  1. Pathway out of poverty: to deepen & grow partnerships between schools & churches
  2. Creating new places for new people: introducing church (faith) to one person not involved in any church for at least one year
  3. Missional leaders: to identify & mentor new leaders in the church

 

Today’s churches are facing the global community that continues to be rocked by disasters whether at the hand of humans or at the mercy of nature.  The challenges each person faces has the potential to destroy one’s security, one’s family, one’s confidence to wake up each morning and start fresh to live a new day.

 

During the kick off event, the question Roger Ross presented sums up the concern the long-established churches must consider:  Why on earth do we start new churches when so many existing ones are struggling?

 

The United Methodist Church is recording losses in membership, but I propose those losses signify a shift in the demographics more than anything.  The denomination has not adapted well to the cultural changes that began in the 1960s when Vietnam was the primary news story shortly after JFK was assassinated.

 

Ross went on to explain why the conference has decided to emphasize the need to reach out to new people in new places:

 

“. . . Over the last 10 years, the Missouri Conference has started 40 new churches—30 of them are still reaching people today.  We’ve found that new people, younger people and more diverse people show up in disproportionately higher numbers in these new churches than our existing ones.  . . . “

 

Today, as we remember the horrific events of 9/11, I cannot ignore the enormous effect that faith has had on the generations that lived through that attack.  Look at all those who raced into the horror to do all they could for all they could reach in any manner that they could—with no regard for their personal safety.

 

These people were images of God incarnate.  They were moved into action by training, yes.  By a sense of purpose, yes.  By an unseen force those in the faith community know as the Holy Spirit, yes.

 

I suggest that every single person has the foundation of faith within his/her psyche.  I suggest that God is within each individual, waiting, struggling, and anticipating to be acknowledged

 

God’s church is not a denomination, but all denominations.  Any church who identifies its purpose and works together to become the arms and legs of God in any way that it can, will shine the metaphorical light to those still searching to know God personally.

 

For Missouri Methodists or any denomination to succeed in making disciples of Christ (remember Jesus’ greatest commandment), the purpose must be defined, and the current disciples must reach out to others to develop relationships with others.

 

The methods to reach out to others should not matter.  Whether meeting at a local restaurant or coffee house or gathering in a cathedral, establishing relationships with one another is the key to others learning about how God operates within their lives.

 

I have walked through the tragedies of life, but I have my faith.  I know that I can manage anything as long as God is my partner in this life. I know that doing all that I can for others—whether in a classroom, within my family, or as I walk in and out of stores.  God is my operating system.

 

This does not mean I am perfect.  I am human. But as long as I keep my eye on God and follow the teachings of Jesus, I should be alert to the power of the Holy Spirit within me equipping me to manage in this life.

 

With my faith system in place, I see glory in the sun’s morning rays shining in my eyes.  I hear the hymns sung by the birds and even the evening insects.  I feel the warmth of the sun, the hug of a friend or family member, or even the warmth of a sweater wrapped around me.  I taste the sweetness of honey created by the bees or the strength of the beef and pork raised by the farmers.  I smell the perfume of the sweet autumn clematis or the spring’s lilacs, the freshly mown grass of summer and even the snow’s freshness as it blankets the grey world.

 

I love God.

 

I love life that God created and gifted to us.

 

I love others, too, and want to love them as I want to be loved.

 

I pray that as we continue to face the evils of this world, that The Church continues to transform into the body of Christ whether it finds a home inside a church or whether it moves into action along the sides of people in need anywhere within our global community.

 

Dear God,

We certainly do not understand everything

     within this enormous world you created.

We certainly struggle to understand the disasters

      that challenge us at any time in our lives.

Open our minds so that we may hear, see, taste,

     smell and touch all that you have created.

Open our hearts so that we may share in the joys

      of our lives and the pain, too, so we move

      to love one another in all the ways we can.

Open our doors not only of our churches but

       of our homes and businesses so others

       may come to know your love above all else.

Thank you for all that you have given to us.

Thank you for continuing to love us when we err.

Thank you for the promise of eternal life

       because you stepped on this earth with us,

       taught us how to love one another,

       and then died so might live eternally.

In your name,

In the name of your son Jesus Christ.

And in the name of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

 

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Labor Day & Sabbath

As I listened to the news and considered the benefits of Labor Day in the United States, I found myself comparing it to Sabbath—a day of rest.

 

One of the biggest concerns I had for this holiday is that it really is not a national holiday in which the stores close and there is a sense of community as everyone steps away from their daily jobs for a day of rest.

 

The problem is that there are so many who are still working on Labor Day.  The stores, in many cases, remain open, restaurants of all kinds are still serving money.  How does a country honor workers and then still expect them to work?

 

The twist that this discussion developed in my head then shifted to just what is Labor Day.  If Labor Day is supposed to be a day of rest for the working force, then everything should stop and everybody rest.

 

That, of course, is not realistic, esp. in terms of the nation’s secular emphasis at this very time. Right now the demand on all workers is to bow down to the bosses and/or the CEOs and keep working the hours deemed necessary to be a financially successful.

 

These thoughts then started spinning around in my head as I hear Jesus telling me to take a Sabbath:

 

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  –Matthew 11:28

 

Labor Day is not Sabbath, but I wonder how many workers feel a need for a Sabbath even though life demands keep them not only from the rest they physically need, but also from the need to remain in a faithful relationship with God.

 

Today’s society fails to understand that one day honoring the workers is not a successful way to provide honest rest.

 

To fully refresh and to fuel one’s life to live out the Christian lifestyle, maintaining Sabbath is a practice that needs encouraging, developing, even promoting.

 

The prophet Isaiah explained how to honor or to keep a Sabbath:

 

13 “Keep the Sabbath day holy.
Don’t pursue your own interests on that day,
but enjoy the Sabbath
and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.
Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,
and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.
14 Then the Lord will be your delight.
I will give you great honor
and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”  –Isaiah 58:13-14

 

Compare that to the instructions Paul had for the Hebrews:

 

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. 3 For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said,

“In my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest,’”

even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5 But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:

“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts.”

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. 10 For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. 11 So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.

12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.  –Hebrews 4:1-13

 

Keeping Sabbath is a discipline that goes much further than honoring workers one day each calendar year. Labor Day is an American invention that does honor all those who work hard to keep our culture running–from farming to manufacturing to transportation and even to all the service industries that are essential to this country’s success.

 

Yet, keeping a Sabbath on a regular basis is a key factor to how well one manages the daily demands, the weekly workweek, the monthly budgets, and the annual reports.

 

By practicing a regular Sabbath, God assures us that we will receive the rest we need.  And in Jesus’ words, the rest that we receive will go beyond the earthly work experience.

Keeping a Sabbath day each week is a win-win situation.  It wins on so many different levels in our earthly lives, but it exceed even that with the promise of heavenly rest.

 

Labor Day needs to remind each one of us the need for weekly Sabbath.  This is one day that all individuals need to stop and evaluate the quality of one’s Sabbath.  All the bosses, the business owners and leaders need to evaluate just how honestly do they value the workers.  Are these industry, business leaders doing all they can to assure workers are provided time for Sabbath.  Rested workers are better equipped to do their best in the work force, too.

 

Dear Father,

All too easily we rush around in our lives,

     Wearing ourselves way too thin.

As we continue the work week and leave

     Labor Day behind,

Guide us into the practices that grow us

     In Christian fellowship. 

May we find the rest for our daily lives

     As we work to receive heavenly rest with you.

In the name of you, the Father,

      In your son Jesus Christ,

          And in the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

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Soaking up more summer: Thank you, God

 

This morning, I am sitting outside on the porch swing.  The wind is blowing; the sun is shining;

the birds are chirping; and the wind chimes are playing melodies.

 

My summer office is often my porch swing.  Possum, my Havanese, sits with me—sometimes Ralph the Bassadore, and today add in the 8-week-old chocolate labradoodle Sturgis in for a visit, do too.  It is a piece of heaven here on earth.

 

When I sit outside like this, I am in awe of this world God created for us. I have shared how I enjoy sitting outside at night, too, watching the heavens glisten, counting jets, satellites and meteors.

 

I sit, I read, I listen, and I feel such an integral part of God’s world. How anyone can deny such a reality baffles me.  I understand evolution.  I understand nature’s cycle of life.  I feel a relationship with my pets.  And I know I have a responsibility to care and nurture the world around me.

 

For years I have used a signature in my emails that places a perspective I have:  Love God.  Love life.  Love one another.

 

Hopefully those three statements are self-explanatory; but some might not fully grasp the all-encompassing statements.

 

Love God.

As the air blows my hair and refreshes my skin on this hot summer day, I sense God with me.  All the stories of creation come alive in moments like these.  I thank Him for all of creation and for me to have all the senses (sight, taste, smell, hear, and touch) so I can experience this world in which we live.

 

Love life.

Obviously I have already referenced loving the living world in which I life, but to love life is broader than even the living environment in which we reside.

 

Loving life means our human life, too.  Sometimes it is difficult to see the good in one’s life due to illness, financial stress, poor relationships and more.  But life is what God has given us and I pray that I use it to the best of my ability; to use it for the glory of God—as we have heard proclaimed in worship and in conversation.

 

Loving life means living life as Jesus teaches us to live.  We must respect our own selves, but also others. No one lives in solitude, so our interactions map out our life’s journey.  The journey will not be easy as potholes, steep mountains and deep valleys will dot the road map of our lives; but loving life allows one to manage the challenges .

 

Managing means following the example of Jesus.  Look at others and remember the Golden Rule:  Love one another as you want to be loved.  How straight forward, how simple can Jesus make it.

 

Love one another.

Loving our family and our friends may be easy; but truly loving others who are beyond that spectrum can be challenging.  Maybe a neighbor just rubs one the wrong way.  Maybe a driver cut you off.  Maybe the store clerk was rude.

 

Yet, love others unconditionally.  Behind each face, each action there is a story.  Even each of us has a story that is not perfect.  So while listening to the news, practice listening with love and asking what is the story behind the action or attitude.  Ask if God loves them, too?

 

Sitting out in today’s summer elements, loving God, life and others seems easy.  I pray that I am filled up and ready for the challenge of loving unconditionally at all times—with God’s help, of course.

 

Dear Loving Father,

 

Thank you for giving us this day of summer.

I hear your music in the chimes behind me.

I feel your Holy spirit brushing past me with the wind.

I smell the aroma of sunshine and flowers.

I taste the sweetness of the water that sustains us.

I see the glory of you in all that lives around me.

 

Guide me in all that I do to share with others

The unconditional love you have for us.

Guide me to love this life and serve as a steward

To protect, preserve and promote your creation.

Guide me to demonstrate unconditional love

To others who cross my life journey.

 

Praise to you for the gift of life,

for the gift of your son Jesus Christ,

and for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Going home . . .

 

Over the weekend, we made a trip back to my hometown, Montgomery City, where the annual Old Threshers was the drawing card.

 

Old Threshers is a trip back to the past.  The old steam engines were on display working like they did when they first joined farmers in the hard work that had to be done—harvesting, cutting logs into boards, and more.

 

And that is not all.  The tractors of my childhood and even before all line up for everybody to review and remember.  I always look for the Oliver 66, which is the tractor Dad taught me to drive and the one I like the best.

 

There are other displays and activities, but there is something about seeing that Oliver 66 and the others from my past.  There is a magic that occurs when the steam whistles sound, the steam puffs up toward the clouds, and not to mention the smell of the freshly cut cedar planks.

 

But Old Threshers, this year, was special.  I visited with old church members, cousins, and neighbors. Recognition had to be awakened. Stories had to be shared.  But most important was sharing the past with the future.

 

For the first time, my grandchildren walked the fair grounds with me.  They saw the equipment for the first time.  They heard some of the stories of my parents and my childhood.  And I felt my heart soar.

 

And the day expanded as we returned to the farm.  I got to share the house with my daughter-in-law for the first time.  I watched the awe as she and her son/my grandson looked at Mom’s piano.  It continues to sit there waiting even though the keys are in bad shape and tuning has not been done in decades.

 

And the grands met their cousins!  Yes, the next generation met for the first time.  My kids with their cousins.  My grandkids with their cousins.  My brother, too, along with me and our cousins.  Wow!

 

I know, the experience was everything to me and not so everything for everybody else. But I am reminded that family is family. I am reminded that when we expand our family by joining in new families, home never really changes.

 

For years, I have thought about why I was so eager to leave home after college.  I have wondered why home always stays with you.  I went home regularly.  I really did not divorce myself from home.

 

But life divorced me from home.  Life circumstances can distance us from the very foundation of our lives. True, I became distanced from home; but I never became distanced from the foundations taught me at home.

 

My parents came from different faith backgrounds.  True they were both Protestants, Mom a Presbyterian and Dad a Methodist.  But when they married, the decision was to be a Methodist family.

 

My faith journey began with their faith journey.  And my faith home remained Methodist, even with a brief visit with a Presbyterian congregation.

 

When I returned home over the weekend, the first face I recognized was a member of that Montgomery City Methodist church.  How warming it was to feel that sense of recognition and to glory in that relationship.

 

The recognition reminded me that we are all of one family.  We may have different parents, different genetics, but the common ground of faith makes us so close to one another regardless of location or distance defined by years.

I find myself thinking about Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son:

  • How many times do we walk away from the foundations of our lives thinking we could do better?
  • How many times do we avoid going home?
  • How many times do we ignore what we are taught, esp. about God?
  • How many times does our life decisions risk poisoning our lives?
  • How many times do we think we cannot go home?

 

The parable shared in Luke , speaks to all of us at so many different levels.

 

As a parent, we do our best to raise our children so they know they are loved and will always be loved.  We know we have to discipline them at times.  We know we have to let them grow up.  We know we have to accept their decisions even if we disagree. Yet, we pray they succeed and that they come home; not permanently but emotionally.

 

As a child, we all know that as we grow up, we look forward to living as independently.  We grow up and move on.  Maybe like me, I never wanted to be labeled a teacher, marry a farmer, and stay in my childhood community.  But, I also never expected to face some of the challenges I did.

 

Thank goodness my parents laid the foundation for me life that included God and church.  I fled that farm life, but I never left the church.  My life challenges certainly knocked me down, but with my faith in God, I kept going.

 

The story of the Prodigal Son is as much a story of me leaving and returning as it is as a parent who watches children leave.  God provides unconditional love to all always.  It is us who must find our way home.

 

Going home is tough, true.  But going home warms the heart and the benefits are immeasurable.

 

Going home this weekend was a delight.  My family that remains in Montgomery were there.  My family who live outside of Montgomery, were there. My heart was warmed by all the memories, all the relationships, and all the promises of the future.

 

My prayer is that all of my family and friends from my childhood, from today, and from the future know that they are loved.  There is enough unconditional love from God to accept all the mistakes we make, but we may not know it until we stray away.

 

Thank you, God, for all the love and all the grace and all the forgiveness that you provide.  I hope I model it for others, too.  –Amen.

 

Luke 15:11-32:  Parable of the Lost Son

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

 

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

 

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

 

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]

 

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

 

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on.27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

 

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him,29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

 

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

 

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