As is true of most all congregations, the little church I serve really treasures the children we have in our church family. We are a small congregation and we love having our young families with their children in worship. It just makes things feel more alive and vital to see those young faces and to hear the voices of the children. Most of the children go to the nursery after at a certain time in the service, but some of them stay throughout the service. Either way is fine with us.
We are blessed, at this time, to have several two year olds among us. They are comfortable with one another because they have been coming to church regularly since they were babies. In fact, they were all born fairly close to the same time and it was a great joy to see rows of pews with moms or dads holding infants.
These children also know each other well because some are cousins and a couple are “play date buddies.”
Now these two year olds love to come and sit on the step “up front,” ready for their time with the pastor. (That doesn’t mean they sit still through the entire time with the children, but we don’t care!) One comes with his binky in his mouth. Another brings her blanket. I love that they are so comfortable in the church that they just come, bringing the important things with them!
One morning, a few Sunday’s ago, the congregation was in that time where we say a corporate prayer of confession of sin and then we take a moment for silent, personal reflection before hearing the assurance of forgiveness.
We had finished our unison prayer and were in that quiet time when one of the two year olds said loudly “Uh oh!”
In just a few seconds his friend across the isle echoed that “Uh oh!”
Then we heard it a couple more times through the congregation, finally along with a few stifled giggles.
What a great opportunity that was for me, as pastor, to tell the congregation that they are forgiven for all the “uh oh’s” of their lives!
But I keep reflecting on that joyful morning and wondering more about the “uh oh’s” in our lives. Of course, there are so many ways that we sin. To me, sin is best defined as turning away from God, trying to “do it myself” as if I were God. And that kind of self-centeredness leads to greed and pride and hatefulness, among other sin-sick diseases, and if not checked soon, those can lead to great catastrophes sometimes.
There are so many little “uh oh’s in our lives that can build up until they become great big “uh oh’s” that keep us awake at night. Things that were said without thinking about how it comes across to the other person; turning someone’s problem around and making it about you, instead of focusing on the person you care about; innocently (or maybe not so much) sharing a confidence that you were told; speaking in a condescending manner to someone you love. Things you can’t really take back.
We can say we’re sorry and ask for forgiveness, and we can receive the sweet blessing of grace when forgiveness is given. But the thing that was said has already done its damage. And we can only hope that in time the memory of it will be less because of trust and love that we have worked to build back.
These little “uh oh’s” in our lives can build up until they rob us of sleep. We toss and turn and lament – “Uh oh! If only I hadn’t said this; if I just would have done this instead!”
Maybe our prayer should be that an “uh oh” warning sign would pop up in our minds BEFORE anything comes out of our mouths. We should just hear a huge, loud, booming “UH OH!” bonging away in our heads that tell us to keep shut that hole in our face where the river of words come spilling out all over the victim in front of us.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need this prayer:
Lord, grant that when I hear an “uh oh” from you, it is not after I’ve said something I wish I could take back. Make the “uh oh’s” come through loud and clear as a warning that I should be still and tread very carefully so that I don’t make the blundering “uh oh” that is so close to my lips. Amen.
I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how we interpret the Bible; how many of us look at the Scriptures through different lenses. There are many good Christians who read verses in the Bible and whatever they read they translate it as literal. If it is in the Bible then it is God’s Word. End of story. No debate.
And then, there are many other good Christians who read the Bible from a different perspective. They take into account the culture it was written in and the context surrounding that verse and what was happening. They still believe it is God’s Word. No doubt about it. But it is important to realize the when, why and where of those words written. They believe there is something to be learned and valued in every verse but that it is the over all message of the Bible that is the Divine Word of God.
But here is what saddens me … it is the closed minded stance of people (on both sides) that seems to be a problem. If a literalist posts scripture after scripture, verse after verse, on social media, it isn’t long before those who do not read the scriptures as being literal just quit reading those posts. They skim right past because they assume they already know it is more of the same – taking a verse and pounding it into people’s faces to try and make a point. And so often it feels judgmental, even if that wasn’t really the intention.
These people who skim past the literalists posts are people who look at other verses (rather than only the one that is supposed to make the point) and they wonder how it is that one verse is the absolute truth – yesterday, today and forevermore – and yet we overlook other verses that seem not be so important or true today: Like selling our daughters into slavery. The bible says that’s okay. Or forcing our daughters into marrying their rapist? That was expected! Or what about getting a divorce and marrying again? Jesus said that is adultery, yet it happens all the time today! What about women in the church? Paul said they should not speak. They certainly should not teach men. They should always wear a head covering and they are always to be submissive to their husbands, who are the head of the house. Yet, many churches ordain women as ministers today. And most people believe in equality in marriage.
How do you reconcile the things we do today, that the bible says is sin – yet we think is okay – but then quote a verse here and there, using that verse to proof that a certain thing is absolutely wrong?
It seems that some people, rather than having discussion, automatically decide that anyone who says anything different from them is not a real Christian; is a liberal, and should not be taken seriously, but perhaps should be avoided, lest that person fall into a trap.
So I ask … whatever happened to honest, loving discussion? Why can’t we express our concerns and our fears and our questions or our thoughts openly without judgment and condemnation? (This absolutely applies to political issues as well as religious issues.)
Why can’t we be open to hearing what the other side says and truly listen with open ears and hearts, and then ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern together what is the truth?
I am amazed at the hateful posts on social media that I see regularly. I hear things that just make me want to cry – things said by very good, thoughtful people – people from both sides of issues.
I want to be a disciple of Jesus. I want to follow in his footsteps, to love as he loved and teach as he taught. I want to sit with sinners and I want to be one of those sinners who experiences the forgiveness and mercy of Christ. Jesus is the focus of how I want to model my own life. He went against the grain and rules in so many ways. He healed and taught on the Sabbath – a sin that caused them to want to stone him. He raised the dead and they wanted to kill him. He went to hated tax-collectors homes and sat at their table and ate with them. He went to the cross willing to die for anyone because of love. And he said that the most important commandments are two things – to love God with all your heart, and to love others as you love yourself.
I pray every day that I will not lead one person astray; that I will preach the truth; that I will not assume that I know everything; that I will continue to learn and be open and sensitive to all God’s people, and most of all, that I will love others and help the Body of Christ come together in unity with the same mind as Christ Jesus.
How can we ever come together in unity if we won’t even take the time to openly and lovingly listen to one another? Most of us who debate these things call ourselves Christians – Christ followers.
And those who don’t – perhaps don’t because of how they see us act toward one another.
It’s been such a long time since I’ve posted anything here! It seemed with the busyness of Lent, Holy Week and Easter I found myself pretty much drained and spun dry. I guess I needed time to just “be” … to rest in resurrection joy.
But, as much as I believe and am grateful for resurrection, I have to admit the news was getting to me. Hearing about brothers and sisters in Christ being taken prisoner and being asked to deny their Christian faith and then being killed was (and is) causing distress in my spirit. I pray for them but I needed another outlet for releasing some of the anxious stirring within me. Yet, I could not think of anything. Most of my life I’ve been a writer – writing prayer and journaling but I could not get motivated for writing.
This past week, however, I attended a 5 Day Academy for Spiritual Formation in Alabama. (Find out more by going to www.academy.upperroom.org. ) The focus was on praying the Psalms; Psalms for Life. Our wonderful, leaders, Dr. Don Saliers and Dr. Roberta Bondi, gave presentations on the Psalms that motivated and inspired us to write our own Psalms.
In writing this psalm of lament that can be sung to the tune of Amazing Grace, I discovered the outlet I needed to be able to release a bit of stress and to feel some connection with those whom I am praying for.
Here is my Psalm. You can probably expect more to come!
Remember Us, O God©
A Contemporary Psalm of Lament
Dedicated to Christians around the world who are losing their lives because of their faith
How long, O Lord, we cry how long
must we wait here in fear?
Have we been left alone to die
or are you really here?
From light and joy we’ve fallen now
into this slimy pit.
We’re overwhelmed with tears and grief
in this hell where we sit.
Our enemies threaten us day by day
“Deny your God, or die!”
Are you still here protecting us,
or, is it all a lie?
Remember us, O God of love
give strength for what’s ahead.
To know your Presence in this place
gives peace instead of dread.
I will remember you, O Lord,
Your promises of grace.
I’ll hold my head up high and sing
your praises in this place.
You are my Light, my Life, my Hope!
You’re love will be my song.
In life or death I will profess –
to you my soul belongs!
Dr. Sharlyn DeHaven Gates, May 2015
Today I’m completely immersed in thoughts and preparation for Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent. Each year, I revisit what I believe are the reasons why we put ashes on our foreheads and are willing to be reminded that we are dust and that we will return to dust. That is, we are mortal; we won’t be here in this earthly life forever.
Looking back at the time when I was growing up, I can’t remember one time when the church I was a member of talked about Lent, or Ash Wednesday. That doesn’t mean we never did, of course. At least by the time I was a teenager, when I should remember those things, I’m pretty sure I had my mind on a certain handsome young man. I was not thinking about being dust! I was alive and glad of it!
But, over the years, I’ve come to love this season in the church year so very much. Life gets to be such a whirlwind, doesn’t it? Do you ever just feel like you can’t catch your breath? Time, and all that is in it, year after year, just swirls around and flies by and before you know it you are old. Or on the verge of old. Where did the time go?
In the last stages of life we are usually thinking about what we accomplished and whether or not we are pleased with where we’ve been, or, if we have regrets for what might have been.
That’s one of the reasons I like this season so much. It calls me to think about my life before I get to the end. It invites me to sit down in the ashes of my own making and just reflect. It is a time for being sober. (You can take that quite literally, or you can take it to mean being serious.) If I sit long enough and be quiet long enough, God just might reveal something to me. I have this frightening thought that when I die I will have to see a rerun of all the stupid things I did while here on earth. I really hope, if that is true, that God has a good sense of humor! I think my cheeks might burn from embarrassment. If that’s the way it is, then so be it. I have a belief that Jesus will be there with me, holding my hand and helping me to get over that regretful scene and move into that place of Shalom.
But, isn’t that kind of how Lent is? We start out with those ashes and that sober reminder that we truly are frail mortals and that we need help. And as we walk through that journey of Lent – through the wilderness – we can’t help but see those stupid things we did over the past year, and we have this great opportunity (even before we get to the real end of our life) to repent and to turn back around again. And on this journey, even now, we have Jesus, who walks with us. We are never alone.
So, whether you go to church tonight and actually have the sign of the cross made on your forehead, or not, I invite you to take a few minutes for silent reflection, just realizing how mortal and dependent you are on God – God, who created you, and loves you, and calls you into relationship; God, whom you can trust to get you through your darkest nights; to carry you through your self-made ashes; God, who will forgive; who gives new life. That’s the joy at the end of the journey. New life. Transformation. Easter awaits on the other side!
This morning I took my husband, Fred, to the Bone Clinic where he had his 10th compression fracture filled with bone cement. On the last day of 2014 he had his last two fractures filled which, at the time, added up to nine. Within the first week of the new year he had three more new fractures!
Today the doctor talked to us about a medicine that is taken with a daily injection. It is expensive and has some side effects and Fred was hesitant about it. But our doctor told us that Fred is two or three times more likely to have a broken hip, or wrist, or some other place besides the back, and he believes this is the best possible medicine for him to take. The mention of a nursing home for care, if a hip were broken, is reason enough to seriously consider this medicine.
Last weekend I led a retreat for our Christian Education Team from our church. It was a much needed time away for every woman there. Each one had experienced a great loss over the past six months and they were all just hanging on, trying to do their best with the task of teaching.
We talked about our congregation and how it is very much a caring, loving family to all. It’s a place, not only for worship and learning, for fellowship and fun, but it is a great place to go when you are emotionally and physically drained. One woman described it as “a safe place to fall.”
I thought of that description this morning as the doctor was talking about Fred possibly falling and breaking a hip. I pray, literally, for a safe place for him to fall.
The problem is we never really know when we are going to fall. If we did, we would always make sure it was in a “soft place.”
Our congregation has been a soft place for Fred and for me to fall as we face these broken back issues. The encouragement and the prayers, the love and care mean so much to us, and we’ve witnessed that same soft place being there for others so many times.
There are many different ways that we fall, don’t you think? We fall off of our diet; we “fall off the wagon” when trying to stop drinking; we fall away from our new year’s resolutions; we fall away from a commitment in a relationship. Sometimes, we fall far away from our Creator. We veer off the path where He leads us and often times end up falling into that dark, slippery pit where we end up sitting in the muck, crying out for help.
But, even there, when we are at our lowest possible place, God gives us something soft to land on. Slimy muck is fairly soft, even if it isn’t pleasant. And it is there in that pit, where there is no place to run, that we face the things that have caused us to fall. Perhaps it is a burden so heavy to carry that it breaks our back, causes us to stoop and then to fall. Perhaps it is our own careless choices we make that caused us to slip into this hole.
But, just as Fred and I have found great hope in our new doctor and the procedures he uses to “straighten Fred up,” so God, the great Healer, can use those dead-end pits we fall into to speak to us, to give us hope, to straighten us up.
In God’s own Son, Jesus, we have seen mercy, compassion, pure redemption and grace that straightens us up and sets us back on the right path – the path He has set for us. God has provided a soft place to fall.
Today, I’m thinking about the story in Mark 1:14-20, when Jesus walks along the seashore and finds Andrew and Simon, James and John. They are fishermen by trade.
James and John are apparently in business with their Father, Zebedee. Mark tells us that when Jesus invited them to come with him, to follow him, and told them he would make them “fishers of people” they dropped everything and followed. They dropped their nets and they left their boats. And, in the case of James and John, they left their father sitting there in the boat. Mark says they immediately left it all. (We discover as we continue reading Mark that he loves the word immediately. Perhaps that might be a good topic for a blog!)
So, today I’m wondering why. What was it about Jesus that would compel these fishermen to leave their business, and their father, and go off with this man named Jesus? Yes, he was preaching good news about the kingdom of God, but if someone came along preaching those things to me, I would probably want to do a lot of research. I would want a background check.
I’d love to hear some comments from those who are reading this, my very first blog. I’m excited about this new place where I can do something I love to do ... write. I’m thankful for 5 Block Radius – a great new business established by Craig Powell. Without his help I would still be trying to figure it out!
I hope to hear your thoughts. Peace and grace!
I am a woman with many interests, yet most of them flow into what is my source of life, my very breath, the reason I do what I do. I am Called. That means, for me, I have experienced a call on my life to serve as a pastor to God’s people. In that calling I love to write, to speak, to lead, and to teach. My deepest desire is to pass on to others what I have experienced in my own journey of grace. I am human, and in that humanity I have known passion and joy, sin and disgrace. Yet, in God’s love I have known nothing but love and redirection and total grace.