Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why Adjusting Right Now Feels Like Straining Forward

The world feels shaky for some of us right now.

We have encountered something in the sphere of our earthly residence that is unprecedented. And knowing how to approach it feels confusing and frightening. In March, questions emerged: How long will this last? How do I protect myself and others? What does the future look like if I am unemployed? Who do I listen to?

Uncertainty remains. Despite the dip in COVID19 cases in some parts of the world, proceeding from a collective quarantine raises more questions: What does “normal” look like now? How do I adapt to this new territory? This place feels new for many of us. But the truth is that historically and globally, collective hardships (even pandemics) are nothing new. Some parts of the world experience them on a daily basis. In the midst of the uncertainty, how do we respond?

Paul’s prophetic words speak through hard times: Not that I have already obtained this (Philippians 3:10-11) or have already reached the goal;[g] but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[h] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[i] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[j] call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14.

It’s not easy to let go of securities. They shape our earthly narratives without realizing it. There is a reason why Paul uses the word “straining.” Recognizing that obedience to God’s redemptive plans supercede anything else we thought brought identity and safety: career, financial status, church infrastructure, educational setting..doesn’t come naturally. .Without a doubt, life as we knew it will change for a while….or longer.

None of this is easy to embrace from a human perspective. But recognizing that facing hardships is nothing new and embracing the blessing (whatever that looks like) as we “strain ahead” reminds us that God is still at work in his world. We just must expand our view.

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Embracing the Breadth of the Church: What We Can Learn From Each Other

“Are we doing ourselves a disservice when we raise our kids in a “church bubble?,” asks Traci Rhoades in her new book All Who Wander (spiritually) are Not Lost. She throws out an interesting question. Certainly, we don’t want our children to become “church consumers” where multiple congregations repeatedly become one stop shops to meet spiritual cravings. On the other hand, what do our children miss when they do not experience the diverse traditions that make up the the Church (with a big C)?

Learning About the Church

As I read her book, I realized the ways my own encounters with multiple churches have shaped me. As a child, my family found roots in a Methodist church about 20 minutes from my home. Mostly our rhythms consisted of Sunday trips for Sunday School and worship but occasionally we attended other events. Initially, this building and it’s members were the only images I had of the Church. To me, church involved developing relationships with people who had a common goal in a confined setting.

Expanding my Narrative

The location of our church extended beyond our neighborhood. I saw no one from school there or anyone in my periphery. Several of my friends got out of school early once a week for catechism class at the local Catholic church. I felt a bit jealous that a) they got to leave school early and b) they got to be together at school and church. For me, church was a once a week destination.

But then my eyes opened up to a bigger picture. Friends invited me to a vacation bible school program at a local congregation. The language was familiar and I learned that walls do not define a church. They too spoke of God’s love and shared the same Bible stories I knew.

The Importance of Organic Connections

This new church building became a familiar place not only to attend VBS but also the location of my girl scout meetings. Though these encounters never resulted in my family changing congregations, they shaped my faith journey in ways I didn’t realize at the time.

Despite the brief “back door” interactions with this church, I experienced repetitive interactions with Pastor Andy. He was friendly, funny, and seemed well liked. I even remember him preaching one time (probably at a VBS centered Sunday service) and he talked about Bozo the clown. My understanding of God, the body of Christ, and its mission expanded through these seemingly small interactions. In addition, I felt comfortable engaging in more church settings outside my own. Church represented a safe space where I felt welcomed and where I could explore the vast and diverse Kingdom of God.

Identifying the End Goal

Often, congregations lurch toward the big gains of inviting people into their midst. How many people will be added to our number? What will be the financial benefits? When programs and building usage do not result in seeing the participants return for regular involvement, the church is discouraged. Shouldn’t fruit appear from the investment?

It depends on what kind of fruit is being sought. My experience as a child, disciple, parent and pastor informs me that any interaction with the church acts as an introduction/touch point through which Jesus is made known. Even opportunities to use space for community events. Those who cross the path may or may not result in settling at “our” church but that’s not the end goal. We as the Church are in this together.

Traci Rhoades’ question points to the need to be mindful of a bigger narrative of Christ’s church than one with which we are familiar. Her own journey through multiple traditions witnesses to the beautiful ways we can connect with God and others when we step outside of comfort zones. When I do pulpit supply, I find blessing in experiencing the breadth of the church. My children come along as well because my husband and I want to expose them to this beauty.

As we learn to embrace these differences rather than responding with fear, labels and avoidance, others will see God’s love tangibly. “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25.

When God’s Mercies Appear In a Mother’s Day Gift

Beauty radiates from this basket. And I’m not just referring to the goodies.

My nineteen year old daughter bought these gifts for me. With her own money. I told her that dad could have paid for them when they went shopping. But she resisted, stating that she specifically wanted them to be from her.

Her choice of items here represents her intimate knowledge of my likes. She knows from a lifetime of shopping trips together that I have occasionally dropped a bag of iced animal crackers into the cart. I have negotiated with her about sharing the peanut butter snickers from her Halloween bag. And, together, we have taken advantage of Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee Happy Hour more times than I can count. Plus we have enough syrups at home that we could open our own coffee shop.

Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. We try the best we can but inevitably words said in anger and postures of withdrawal rather than embracing wound. And guilt ensues. Questions fester. Why did I say that? How did I get to this place? The temptation is to let those moments define us and our relationship with our children. But God’s mercies abound.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

So we forge forward, securing our feet in God’s promises. Today, I am thankful for the grace offered to me through my daughter’s gift. Sometimes a healing balm looks like peanut butter snickers,a coffee cup, and iced animal crackers.

What We Learn When We Change Perspectives

Perspective matters. And sometimes we forget that there is more than one.

In an age of virtual non-stop, often one-way communication, the competition to win disagreements is fierce. Unfortunately, the temptation to participate in group think social clusters makes hearing other points of view limited. The trade off of comfort for knowledge results is damaging. We decrease our understanding of God’s character and weaken our connections to one another. There is beauty in diversity.

Author Michael Kimpan shares his observations on the ways he sees Christians communicating with others who think differently than us. He calls these people the “others”. He writes, “We struggle to “put skin” on the words and message of Christ with anyone who thinks differently than us. Too often, we demand conformity prior to connection. When we approach one another as brothers and sisters—image bearers of the God we claim to serve—and celebrate what we have in common, we better position ourselves to participate in helpful dialogue in the midst of disagreement. ” https://relevantmagazine.com/current16/being-holy-age-being-right/

We naturally begin discussions out of our own narratives. It’s what we know. But what if we come to conversations in a posture of listening for the unknown? How would that action not only expand our view of our world but our own identity?

Listening does not require agreement. But it does require submission to pride, presumptions, time. We may walk away with unchanged minds but we also may recognize that we only saw part of a picture.

The photo up above? What’s your first guess? It’s actually an image of snow covered pine trees captured from above. But if your view of pine trees is usually ground level and in warmer temperatures, pine trees may look differently. Both images are accurate. Yet, awareness of landscapes outside of yours is necessary to see both.

We live in a vast world, with different landscapes, cultures, and experiences. May we open ourselves up rather than shutting others out. There’s much to learn if we change perspectives.

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Re-imagining the Church in an Age of Quarantine

What does church look like?

This crisis has challenged all of us to reflect on the framework of our lives. And, in some cases, begin the process of deconstructing of previously held world views. Being stripped of familiarity has a way of catapulting us into figuring out where we find security, identity and purpose. Maybe it looks different than we thought.

In a season of quarantine, “Church” as we define it has been altered. Sure, we are aware that Church is not defined by a building. Of course, we recognize that Church knows no borders. Yet, our rhythms and definitions are often informed by culture not necessarily scripture. Suddenly, our Church nuances became disrupted. What does it mean to be in community with each other when we can’t be together in one place?

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25.

My friend Michelle Van Loon, in her book Becoming Sage, takes us “out of the box” when understanding these verses. “We remember that commitment to a local body of believers is the primary way in which these relationships are formed, as well as the place in which we share together in corporate worship, learning, communion, and service. But we must also remember that Hebrews 10:24-25 isn’t a goad to get us to attend church. It describes the nature of our lives together, whether we meet at church or run into another believer in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store.” And I would add: on a zoom call, an online worship service, through a letter, text, or a social media interaction.

Because our “church” experience has been transformed, we have the opportunities to create new ways of connecting. For me, I have been blessed to watch other congregations’ services online. I also have been able to share time and resources through joining other members of the body of Christ.

The “Church” has always had to learn to be flexible and hold together in challenging circumstances. Christians living in other countries and/or through previous generations and even in certain parts of our country are well aware of this truth. Most of us have held onto familiar rhythms with other believers and security in a culturally informed view of the church. Change becomes the pathway to which we can reflect where our identities and purpose lie. Thankfully, the good news is that following Jesus and bearing witness to our passion for building his kingdom here on earth knows no boundaries.

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How God speaks “more” into our “less”

Amidst the confusion and fear of the coronavirus, a truth emerges that we have known along: we cannot control everything.

Waves of panic flood through us when we encounter that reality. Fear permeates in the air. As we inhale the heavy air, our lungs struggle to regain their regular rhythm. How will I survive this storm? Where do I seek refuge?

The disciples knew a bit about feeling helpless.

“One day he and his disciples got in a boat. “Let’s cross the lake,” he said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” Luke 8:22-23

Storms were nothing new. But being trapped on the water in one? Terrifying. How will we survive this storm? Where do we seeks refuge? Left to our their own minds, hopelessness blew with a powerful force.

But they weren’t alone.

“Getting to his feet, he told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!” They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.” Luke 8:24

The storm calmed. But that really wasn’t the point. The one who has that kind of authority had not left their side. And never would. Then he said to his disciples, “Why can’t you trust me?” Luke 8:25

We live in a broken world. Escape from the pains in this place is not guaranteed. In our moments of panic, our desire to control our circumstances kicks in. And sometimes we realize we can’t. We simply have less control than we want to acknowledge. But Jesus meets us there. In the storms. And the voice that can silence the raging winds can make us “unshakeable.”

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33.

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Journeying Through Life With Those Who Came Before Me

Recently, I made a startling discovery. While exploring an ancestry site, my son discovered our family has royal lines. Granted, the royal lineage dates back to the 12th century at the earliest, but the revelation spurred me to investigate my history further.

Navigating through through the family tree, I encountered the names of people I have never heard and hidden stories I know nothing about. And I craved to know more about them. They laid before me as a mosaic of names and titles. Husbands, wives, pastors, queens, kings, and children.

As I scanned their movements and milestones, questions surfaced. What led them to pursue life in a different country? How did spouses meet? Why did nobility come into play and then go away for a few generations?

With curiosity coursing through my veins, I googled some of the more public figures. I wondered. Did they use their power for good or for evil? Fortunately, I found them to be characterized positively. Despite their distance from my life now, it mattered. Because we are connected. Their decisions shaped my life.

Those who became before me encountered the same intersections I do. Where do I go? Who should I marry? How many children should I have? Whats my purpose? How do I respond to tragedy? How do I parent?

I am a kindred spirit to those before me and those after me. I wonder how I am shaping others’ lives as I go my way. In the brilliant movie “About Time”, the narrator says “We’re all traveling through time together, everyday of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.” And I’m thankful to God whose hand is weaving through it all.

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Learning From the Experiences of Courageous Women

We learn so much from each other.

Recently, I finished reading When Others Shuddered: Eight Women who Refused to Give Up by Jamie Janosz. Exploring the lives of women known throughout history for their courage and perseverance brings me pleasure. I imagine a dinner party or afternoon tea gleaning wisdom from their experiences.

I may not live in their time frame but character knows no bounds.

Convictions catapult us into action. Risks are inherent. But, as Morecai says to Esther, “…. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” So God uses our talents and skills to make his voice heard and his love known.

Women have challenged the status quo through writing (Jane Austen, Hannah Moore), teaching (Mary Bethune), advocacy, (Dorthea Dix, Elizabeth Fry), preaching (Amanda Smith), generosity (Nancy McCormick), hospitality (Sarah Dunn Clarke) , and even military spies (Emma Edmonds, Elizabeth Van Lew)

“We’re all traveling through time together, everyday of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride,” says Richard Curtis through his movie “About Time.”

Who inspires you?

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Embracing Sacred Relief When Something is Found

I noticed it was missing.

The diamond on my engagement band adorned my finger for 24 years. After a while, certain pieces of Jewelry become second “skin.” They form familiar senses in your movements and often carry stories of your life.

If my engagement ring could talk, it would share it’s adventurous and somewhat scandalous journey. My now husband found the jeweler through a friend who agreed to offer a whole price deal on it. It’s trek to my finger included meetings between strangers in a mall parking lot to exchange ring for currency. And a funny story about my husband proposing to me on a Thanksgiving morning and me thinking he was joking at first. The ring has immense value to me.

So when I glanced down on a July evening two years ago and noticed an empty spot between the prongs, it felt as though my heart stopped. How could something that means so much to me be gone?

Immediately, those in my midst began searching. Fortunately my home is small. But so is a diamond. On our hands and knees, we crawled. Exploring every corner and examining every crevice.

And then my teenaged son found it! He went down to the basement with a flashlight. There, near the washing machine on a gray concrete floor, laid my gem. His shout of discovery caused a flood of relief through my veins.

The story reminds me of the “lost parables in scripture (Luke 15). We are worth so much more than the diamond yet God seeks us. May we be reminded of our immense value and proclaim it to others in word and action.

We love  because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

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Why Sacrifice Results in Abundance

Jesus reminds me there is a cost.

In October, I traveled with 30 companions on a Sankofa journey. My denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, offers this enlightening and transforming opportunity to journey toward racial righteousness. “Sankofa” comes from the Twi language in Gana which means to go back and fetch. Together, our racially diverse group engaged in hard conversations regarding historical civil rights events in Southern locations. How does our past impact the present and the future? What is necessary for restoration of a people and a country to take place?

My senses absorbed the sounds, sights, and smells of these prominent places where evil was confronted and liberation from earthly kingdoms sought. The faces of those who crossed bridges, boycotted buses, arranged sit-ins, carved out escape tunnels and gave up their lives remain etched in my mind. They remind me of the cost.

I ponder: what would I have done? What am I doing? To love neighbors as ourselves, demands movement into places of discomfort, vulnerability, and risk. Because that is what we long for from others. What am I willing to sacrifice?

“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.” Luke 14:33.

Being a kingdom builder involves sacrifice but the result is abundance: for all.

I embrace Martin Luther King’s words, “I admire the good Samaritan, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to spend my life picking up people by the side of the road after they have been beaten up and robbed. I want to change the Jericho road, so that everybody has an opportunity for a job, education, security, health.”

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