When A Song Transports You

When I was in college my grandmother passed away. Both of my parents were the younger children of older parents and so I never knew two of my grandparents and felt like I lost my other grandparents too early. Gissy was my father’s mother and she was a character. She always dressed in these brightly colored tracksuits with matching Keds. Her closet was FULL of Keds in every color – some she had dyed herself to match a particular outfit. Her arms would rattle and clang as her many bracelets and bangles would swing around as she spoke. And she would never be seen in public without lipstick on her lips. Her outward appearance reflected her inner joy. Gissy was so full of life and love. She adored spending time with family and friends and was always ready for a good party.

When she got sick and was dying in the hospital it was hard for me to see that light slowly dim and her eyes reflect fear and sorrow instead of the love and warmth I had associated with my Gissy’s eyes. As the family was planning her funeral service, I was upset that they had chosen all hymns that I considered sad and funereal. These hymns didn't represent Gissy’s joy and light, so I offered to sing and roped my sister and cousin into helping me. We sang For the Beauty of the Earth arranged by John Rutter. (Here is a version of the song sung by a youth choir)

There have been a few times since that funeral service that this song has been sung by a choir for Sunday morning worship. This past Sunday was one of those times and I was immediately transported back to my grandmother’s funeral. I was hit with a mix of emotions that had nothing to do with the worship service I was sitting in and everything to do with my grief and joy in remembering Gissy.

Music is powerful. I am sure that you, like me, have songs or hymns that can transport you through time. They can remind you of times of grief like funeral services or times of joy like your first dance. They can bring you back to the first concert you ever attended or those late nights singing lullabies to your crying baby.  Whenever you hear music in church, on the radio, or in the store, you never know what journey down memory lane you are in store for and that is very exciting. 

New Year, New You

How many of you have a New Year’s resolution? In 2017, are you planning to quit a bad habit? Maybe you are adding something to your routine like exercise, organization, or a different diet. Some people find a great deal of hope in their New Year’s resolutions. They like having clear goals to work toward and a thought-out plan in front of them. For others is seems like making a New Year’s resolution is an exercise in futility as year after year they fail to reach their goals. This can be so disappointing and frustrating. It can lead to those people not just giving up on their plan for the year, but quitting the whole resolution process forever! 

As for me – I am no good at New Year’s resolutions. There have been times in my life that I have had a goal in front of me like getting in shape, journaling more, trying to eat healthier. I always start out with enthusiasm and excitement, but somewhere along the way I lose momentum. 

This can be as true for a diet as it is for our spiritual life. We might start off the New Year with the goals of getting to church more, reading scripture daily, getting back into the habit of prayer, but somewhere along the way life interrupts our plans and we stumble. The good news is that God is there through it all. He is there when we have renewed our focus on him and his Word and he is there when our daily devotion slips further and further down the to-do list.  If you want to keep your faith at the top of your list this year, here are some passages that might help you along your way! 

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
— Revelation 21:5 (NRSV)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
— Psalm 51:10-12 (NRSV)
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
— 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)

 

The Day After

About a week before the election a colleague in ministry from another local Presbyterian church reached out to pastors in the area with an idea. She wanted to collaborate on a letter that would be published in a local paper the day after the election. This was to be a letter from members of the clergy that would preach hope and peace regardless of the election results. I wanted to share this letter with you all because I believe it holds an important message. 

If you are discouraged or upset by the results of this election, I encourage you to strive to love your neighbors and lift up your hearts in prayer. If you are encouraged and happy with the results of the election, I encourage you to strive to love your neighbors and lift up your hearts in prayer. Remember that each and every person you meet is a child of God first and foremost. That label and identity comes before all others and we are called to love all of God's children. 

On November 9th, we awake to the results of an election that has bitterly divided our nation. It is tempting to proclaim winners and losers and to treat this election cycle like a sporting match where one party has emerged victorious at the expense of the other.
But to do so would be a grave mistake. In the aftermath of such an election season we will all need to work diligently to repair the damage done. Those who founded this country believed that there is more that unites us than there is that divides us. The candidates who celebrate victory on election night must rise in the morning prepared to govern for the good of all people, including those who voted against them. To forget this is to forget the history of this great nation, to forget the ideals and the hope of government of the people, by the people, for the people.
We are leaders of faith communities that, for centuries, have had many disagreements. And yet, we believe that what is more important than those things that divide us are those things that bring us together. In that spirit, our prayer for our community and for our nation is that we might set aside the rancor and bitterness of the campaign season in order to remember that we are Americans together. Together, we pray for the wisdom to remember the challenge of Isaiah: that our life together depends upon our ability to turn the swords and spears of hostility and division into the plowshares and pruning hooks of peace and unity.
May God be with us all, and the wisdom of the Divine guide those who lead the people, this day and every day. Amen.

Rev. Bruce Ballantine Morrisville Presbyterian Church
Rev. Wendy Bellis Morrisville United Methodist Church
Rev. Kyle Benoit Greater Grace Community Church
Rev. Josh Blakesley Warminster United Church of Christ
Rabbi Anna Boswell-Levy Congregation Kol Emet
Rev. Catherine Bowers St. Andrews United Methodist Church
Rev. Luky Cotto Casa del Pueblo Latino Ministry of Lehman Memorial UMC
Rev. Dr. Nancy Dilliplane Trinity Buckingham Episcopal Church
Rev. Chris Edwards Northampton Presbyterian Church
Rev. Susan Fall Forest Grove Presbyterian Church
Rev. Laura Ferguson Newtown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Joshua D. Gill Doylestown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Bailey Heckman Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church
Rev. Debbie Heffernan Morrisville Presbyterian Church
Rev. Doug Hoglund Woodside Presbyterian Church
Mary Dyer Hubbard Pastoral Counselor
Rev. Lynn Hade Church of the Advent
Rev. Keith Ingram Bucks County Seventh Day Adventist Church
Rev. Stacey Jones-Anderson First United Methodist Church Bristol
Rev. Catherine D. Kerr Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Rev. Nathan Krause Redeemer Lutheran Church
Rev. Bill Lentz Lehman Memorial United Methodist Church
Rev. Nancy Ludwig Lehman Memorial United Methodist Church
Rev. Joe Martin Fallsington United Methodist Church
Rev. Sam Massengill Newtown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. Kari McClellan First Presbyterian of Levittown
Rev. Mary McCullough Trinity Episcopal Church Ambler
Rev. Leah Miller Anchor Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dorry Newcomer Newtown United Methodist Church
Rev. Jake Presley Bux-Mont Baptist Church
Rev. Eric Reimer St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Keith Roberts Doylestown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Michael Ruk, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, New Hope
Rev. Janet L. Saddel St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Warrington
Rev. Michael Saunders Crossway Community Church
Chaplain Susan Sciarratta Counselor, Insight Christian Counseling
Rev. Barbara Seekford Chalfont United Methodist Church
Rev. Stuart H. Spencer Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church
Rev. Doug Stratton Hatboro Baptist Church
Rev. Mark Studer Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church
Rev. Jim Sutton New Britain Baptist Church
Rev. Bill Teague Langhorne Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lorelei K. Toombs Willow Grove United Methodist Church
Rev. Sarah Weisiger Ivyland Presbyterian Church
Rev. John Willingham Doylestown Presbyterian Church

Ever Hopeful

There are about three reasons why I load my dog into the car to go somewhere.  Bella, my 7-year-old runt of a St. Bernard is terrible around other dogs so we don’t spend a lot of time going to dog parks or for long walks on forest trails. No, Bella’s car rides only happen if she needs to go to the groomer, the vet, or the dog sitter’s house. These are not everyday occurrences and yet, whenever we walk past my car she is ever hopeful that I will turn to open the door and let her hop in for a ride.

Sometimes this can try my patience, but the other day when she walked over to the car door and sat perfectly still hoping her good behavior would make me open the door, I was reminded of a sermon I heard in seminary about Zechariah.

Zechariah was a priest in the temple of the Lord. He came from a long line of priests and it was their duty to make sure the proper rituals and prayers were said in the temple.  One day, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense. This was a once in a lifetime experience for a priest; some priests wait their entire careers to enter the sanctuary and are never chosen. The sanctuary was where the very presence of the Lord resided. It was a very special place that is set aside and holy. When it was Zechariah’s time to enter the sanctuary, he did everything he had trained to do, but then something he had not expected happened...

   Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord,
standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.
But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah

(Luke 1:11-13)

The professor who was preaching on this text paused at this point and pointed out how odd this was. Zechariah’s life had been leading up to this moment and yet he was surprised. He was in the most holy of places where the presence of God dwelled and yet when an angel appeared he was terrified!

Far too often we fall into the same trap as Zechariah. We know the rituals. We take part in the traditions.  We sing hymns, say prays and claim to worship God is his house, the church, each Sunday, but how many of us expect anything to actually happen. As we begin our worship we call on the Holy Spirit to come as we worship, but do we really expect a mighty wind to tear through the sanctuary?

What would our worship look like if we expected God to show up? What would it look like if we entered our worship or our time of pray with the sense of hope and expectation that my dog continues to have when she walks by my car?

Pastoral Care from a Salon Chair

This past Friday I had the privilege and honor of being a bridesmaid in my good friend Kaitie’s wedding. Kaitie and I have known each other since we were in elementary school. We met at AIM Club, which was the weekly kid’s club at our home church. We bonded during meals of mac and cheese and games of bombardment. We performed in the annual Christmas Eve Services and spring musicals. While other kids dreaded going to CCD, I was thrilled when Tuesday rolled around and I could go to AIM Club with my friends.

Kaitie and I continued to be friends through the awkwardness of middle school and we even played field hockey and lacrosse together in high school. We managed to stay in touch through college and sometimes you can find Kaitie and her mother in the congregation when I preach at Thompson.

On the morning of her wedding, Kaitie, her bridesmaids, and her mother piled into the car to head off to the salon. After a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts we arrived and began taking turns getting our hair and make-up done.

When it was my turn, I sat in the chair and began the polite small talk that always takes place when you are sitting in a salon chair. My hairdresser, Carine, ask where I was from and what I did for a living. And this is always when that perfunctory small talk turns a bit awkward. “I am a pastor”, I replied. There is always a pause, always, as the person tries to process this information. Once she had, Carine shouted loudly to Kaitie, “She is a pastor, what are you doing to me?! Is this a prank or something?” She was laughing as she said it. Next, Carine acted the way many do when they find out I am a pastor. She wondered aloud trying to think back and remember if she had said anything offensive, which she hadn’t. Then she proceeded to apologize if I had been offended, which I wasn't. Then there was some silence before the questions began. There are always questions that people ask me once they find out that I am a pastor. She asked if I could be married, could I drink, was I paid, who paid me, what kind of church is it, how is my church different from the Catholic Church, and so on and so forth.  

When I began to have these sorts interacts with folks, I was embarrassed. Not that I was a pastor, but because it seemed to make people so uncomfortable. It is not my job to make you uncomfortable or to second-guess what you can and cannot say in front of me. It would bother me that people felt they had to censor themselves around me. I actually appreciate people like Carine, because they are open to ask questions and maybe discover that pastors are not all scary or judgmental.

After a while Carine began to ask about more spiritual questions. “Do you pray everyday?” she asked. I replied, “Yes, I do.” “I don’t pray everyday, does that make me a bad person?” I replied emphatically, “No, absolutely not!”. Then she asked quietly, “Do you believe in heaven?” “Yes, I do.”

Then she proceeded to tell me that just two months ago she lost her father. They had been very close and she was still grieving his loss. She wondered if maybe her father had sent me, because he was always a good Christian and went to church and said his prayers. I comforted her the best I could and tried to speak a word of hope to her.

Maybe her father did send me there. Maybe God had a bigger plan for me that morning than just getting a nice up-do. It is truly amazing the way that God works. Pastoral care was not on my list that morning. It was a day off and a time I had set aside to be there for a friend on her big day. But God saw fit that I squeeze in a little more of his love that day to someone who was hurting and I was happy to allow him to use me as a source of comfort and hope. 

Holy Dance

One of the most complicated aspects of the Christian faith is the Trinity. Over the course of my Christian Education I have heard many attempts to explain how something can be three separate things and one thing at the same time.

I was reminded of a wonderful way to look at the Trinity at a meeting last month when a woman seeking to join our presbytery and I wanted to share it with you all. She was asked a question about the trinity and answered by equating it to a holy dance.  Imagine three persons in a circle, joined together by their hands. All are equal and all are moving together as one in a single dance with the same rhythm, with each following the same steps. This is not the picture of three people failing to communicate as they run around in different directions as they try to accomplish three different goals. Rather, this is the picture of three people working together to make something beautiful. That is the Trinity -  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who have been dancing together since before time began and will continue to dance into eternity.

And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not an impersonal thing nor a static thing—not even just one person—but a dynamic pulsating activity, a life, a kind of drama, almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.… The pattern of this three-personal life is … the great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality.
— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Our God is alive in movement and activity and our God is always extending an invitation to us.  You and I are invited to join in the dance, even in the midst of our imperfection and despite our failure to grasp the rhythm. We were not created to be spectators. The holy dance of the Trinity is not something for us to watch from our comfortable seats in the audience with our only contribution being polite applause. We are invited on stage to learn the steps, to follow their lead, and to bring about the same beauty and activity that has been moving since before the dawn of creation. 

Landon James


Landon James
was born on
February 29, 2016 at 10:29am. 
8lb. 14oz. and 22in. long. 

He and his mom are
both doing well.

 

There are a lot of feelings that come along when you are waiting for a baby to be born. For those of us who are stuck in the waiting room, the feelings go something like this; excited, nervous, fearful, bored, hungry, tired, guilty about feeling tired repeat. This is how it went as my mother and I sat in the maternity waiting room all day and all night.

Around 2:00am a new feeling washed over us – envy. Up until that point we had been friendly with anyone who came into the waiting room. These people were in the same boat as us as they waited for their new family member and worried about the women they loved. We would share stories and updates along the way. We would congratulate them when they heard the good news. Once a few of these groups came and went, my mom and I admitted to each other that we were a little jealous of the those who had already had their baby and had the chance to hold them. But around 2:00am that slight feeling of jealousy boiled over into full-blown envy.

Two people burst into the waiting room clearly in shock but also immensely happy. The man, who had just become a father for the third time, just kept repeating, “I can’t believe it, can you believe it? A leap year baby, I can’t believe she already had him!” The women, his mother, would answer, “I know, I know, it’s incredible!” This went on for a while until more details came out that this man drove about 120 miles an hour to get here. His wife was in the building 4 minutes before she had her third child. They were incredibly close to having the baby in the hallway, but everything went fine.

Meanwhile, my mother and I are sitting on a couch in the kind of haze that accompanies sitting in a waiting room 12 hours. Without speaking, we looked at each other and silently agreed that we would not be talking to these people. We would not celebrate with them, we would pretend to read or sleep until they were gone. Once they left my mother turned to me and said, “You have GOT to be kidding me!” I agreed.

Now I should remind you that my mother and I are both pastors and this is not at all how people of faith should behave. We should have rejoiced with our brother and sister in that waiting room. They were so happy and we should have shared in their joy. But we could not bring ourselves to do it. We wanted it to be our turn. We wanted my sister’s pain to end. We wanted to hold that little boy. We wanted to sleep.  

Envy is an ugly emotion. It turns us into people we do not like or recognize. But God is good and full of grace. We are forgiven for that moment and we have been given one of the most beautiful gifts God can give, a new life. We have a new member of our family to care for and love. Our family and God’s got a bit bigger that day and that is a very good reason to celebrate! 

Out with the Old

The season of Lent began today as we gathered together at the Anchor Presbyterian Church for an Ash Wednesday worship service. It is always a powerful reminder of how we are a broken people living in a world that admires wholeness, while God longs for us to recognize of our brokenness and our dependence on the grace and mercy God has to offer. 

Many people have a tradition of giving something up for the 40 days of Lent. The spiritual discipline of fasting has been practiced for millennia. The idea is that you find something in your life that you value, something that you use, eat, or do every single day. These are most likely the things in our lives that pull our attention away from God. By giving these things up, we refocus our attention on the one who deserves all we have to give. 
 
My Facebook Newsfeed has been alerting me to all those things my friends will be living without for the next 40 days. For some it’s a particular food, for others coffee, and some signed off of social media for Lent. Among all these, there was one post that caught my eye and I immediately knew that this would be my spiritual practice for this Lenten season and possibly many to come.  

Forty Days – Forth Items

Wednesday, February 10 is the first day of Lent. I have a challenge for you! Each day of Lent, remove one item from your closet that you no longer wear or need and put it into a trash bag. At the end of the forty days, donate these items to a place that can share them with someone who can really use them! 


It is such a simple concept, but so powerful. We all could do with a little less stuff in our lives and there are many in our communities who need our excess desperately. So, for the next forty days I will be locating one item from my closet or around my home that will be given away. I plan on donating my items to Good Stuff Thrift, because this is what they have to say about their mission, vision, and motivation. 

Our Mission - Good Stuff Thrift’s mission is to operate the most efficient Thrift Stores possible so that we can provide the highest level of funding for helping kids in need in our communities
Our Vision - That a lack of resources would no longer be an obstacle to giving a kid a “forever family” in our community.
Our Motivation - To obey the biblical mandate to help the widow, ORPHANS, aliens and the poor. (James 1:22)

As we enter into this Lenten season, I hope that our focus is once more on the one who came to save us. I pray that we set aside those things that stand in our way and ask forgiveness for those sins that separate us from God. Together let’s say, “Out with the old!” Because, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Women in Ministry

Today I had the privilege of attending a Women in Ministry get-together at the home of Ruth Santana Grace, the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Female clergy from all over the presbytery gathered together to drink coffee, eat bagels, and simply get to know each other. When I walked into Ruth’s home my first impression was – wow, it is loud in here. Apparently, when you place more than 30 women in a house the decibel level spikes. Who knew?

Beginning my called ministry in 2013, I didn’t have to worry too much about the fact that I would be a woman in ministry. So many women had gone before me to break down the walls that were built to keep women out of the pulpit. Many of the women who gathered in Ruth’s home today owe a huge debt of gratitude to the hard work of those women. As a matter of fact, some of the women who gathered today were the ones who did that work.

“So if I remember correctly, you are the first female pastor that Thompson has ever had, right?”
— Fellow Clergywoman

Someone asked me today, “So if I remember correctly, you are the first female pastor that Thompson has ever had, right?” This is true. Out of the close to 30 pastors and associate pastors in TMPC’s history, I was the first woman to be ordained to the office of teaching elder. She continued up with a follow-up question, “How is that going? How were you received?” 

It took me a second to answer her. My knee-jerk reaction was, “fine”. Which is a very lame answer to just about any question. So I continued, “Honestly, the fact that I am a woman has not really been an issue for me, at least not one that I have noticed.” This is true. In my time at Thompson, I have never felt that the fact that I am a woman had, in some way, hampered my ministry. 

The power of this did not hit me until I began to write this post. How incredibly blessed am I that this is my response? So many women, including my colleagues in ministry, battle to be heard, respected, treated fairly, etc. And here I am not giving it a second thought.  Now, other things have been an issue in my ministry; my age, my marital status, the fact that I do not have children, but that is a post for another day. 

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,...
When I called, you answered me;
you greatly emboldened me.
— Psalm 138:1-3 (NIV)

Today, I want take a moment to be thankful. To say thank you to the members and staff of Thompson who have welcomed me. To say thank you to the countless women who have gone before me in ministry, who paved the way, who inspired me, and who have dedicated their lives to the work of Christ. To thank God that he continues to call women and bless them with certain gifts so that they might be a blessing to others. 

A Lesson in Humility

It's the start of a new year, which means a blank slate and opportunity to change. Many people use the New Year to make goals and resolutions. Some want to quit bad habits, some want to make better choices, lose weight, spend more time with family, read more, travel more, etc.

I wouldn't say I made a resolution this year, but I am trying to get in better shape. The idea of hundreds of people looking at you in a dress as you walk down the aisle while a photographer captures that moment forever is a surprisingly affective motivator. And so before Christmas I joined a gym, which was new for me. When I was in high school and college I played team sports. I hated running, and still do. The gym was a confusing and off-putting place to me. That being said, I worked with a trainer and already feel much more comfortable in the gym. And yet, being a member of a gym, particularly in the month of January, is an excellent practice in humility.

I went to the gym on Wednesday, January 6 around 6:00pm. I regretted my decision the moment I walked through the front door. There were people everywhere. Nearly every machine was in use. I actually felt claustrophobic. All the same, I hopped on the only open elliptical and observed the masses around me. I quickly realized that many of these people did not have a clue what they were doing. I actually saw one trainer walk by a women who was on her phone while riding a stationary bike, which was not even turned on. Once he was out of her line of sight, I saw a smirk creep across his face as he slowly shook his head. I imagine I had a very similar look on my face.

A few days later I realized that was not fair of me. This woman left her warm house to come to the gym to try and reach her goals. Who am I to belittle that effort?  I am sure there are people at the gym who have much more experience with weight training than I do and would look at me with the same mix of amusement and exasperation.

In Matthew 7 Jesus says, “‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” As our friends and families set goals for the new year and possibly fall of the wagon, let us remember these wise words from Jesus. 

May God Bless You with Foolishness

During Stuart’s sermon on Sunday, he shared a Four-fold blessing. One of those blessings said, “May God bless you with foolishness; enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world.”

This is the kind of foolishness I tend to equate with first-year teachers. You know the ones who believe that they will inspire their students, topple corrupt and unfair practices, and fight for their students’ education and well-being. In college I minored in secondary education. One of the classes I took for that minor focused on the ways that teachers and education were portrayed in the media. When it was all said and done there were two predominate stereotypes of teachers. The first was the teacher as apathetic and detached. They were completely disconnected and ignorant of the world and the students could easily outsmart them and take over the class. The second was the teacher as the superhero. We watched clips from Dead Poet’s Society, To Sir, With Love, Stand and Deliver, and many more. These are all wonderful movies, but probably not the most accurate representation of our futures as educators. Yet, the professor surprised us all one day by saying, “I know you all think I am going to tell you it is a waste of time to strive to be like these ‘superheroes’, but I will not. It is my honest hope that each and every one of you works to be a Mr. Keating, but I will tell you this; it is not going to be easy. It is not that these ‘superheroes’ are complete fantasy, because you can inspire children and you can affect change, it just takes longer than a 90 minute film suggests.” She was right of course. It would be much easier to be an average teacher, but fools who work hard and pour their hearts into their students might just make a difference.

This blessing of foolishness reminded me of Paul’s words to the Corinthians.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’
— 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

I pray that I might remember to be a fool. 

How do you know you don't like it if you haven't tried it?

How do you know you don't like it if you haven't tried it?

I used to hate this question! I imagine that I was not alone in my experience of hearing this refrain around my dinner table. I was a picky eater and, worse than that, I was stubborn too. I remember one night when my mother had made flounder for dinner.

I hated flounder.

The first time she made it, I had refused to eat it, but she said, “How do you know you don’t like it unless you have tried it?” Reluctantly I tried it and confirmed for myself, and my mother, that I did not like it.  So, when she served the same dish again, I knew I would not be eating it. My mother had different plans. She told me that this was dinner and that I needed to learn to eat foods I do not like because someday I would be a guest in someone’s home and they would serve a dish I did not care for and I would need to eat it to be polite. To be fair, my mother was right. Many times in my life I have been a guest in someone’s home and eaten food I did not like very much to be polite.

For the past several years, I have intentionally been re-trying food that I did not like when I was younger. Strawberries, fish, certain veggies, and so on, because our sense of taste changes as we grow older. I am very glad I have re-tried more foods; because there were so many delicious foods I have been missing out on.

Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people Israel’… So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
— Ezekiel 2:9-3:3

 

There was a time when the prophet Ezekiel was told by God to eat a scroll. Now this sounds strange enough, but to top it off, the scroll was covered front and back with lamentations too.

I am sure Ezekiel did not want to eat that scroll. Eating a scroll covered in your people’s lament and woe, what could be worse? But he ate the scroll and it was sweet.

 

 

God’s Word does not always look appetizing. There are stories that we would like to eat around. There are passages we want to hide in our napkins. There are verses we have tried and we have no desire to try again (like my mother’s flounder).  But when we embrace the Word of God entirely, the creation of our beautiful world and the fall of humanity, the hymns of praise alongside the cries of lamentation, the beautiful birth of our Savior to the violent death on a cross, it will taste as sweet as honey.

Extended Family

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to worship at Carmel Presbyterian Church where my fiancé and his family have worshipped for decades. As a pastor, it is always nice to be a visitor to another church’s worship service. You are so often called to lead in a worship service that you forget what it is like to simply gather and receive on a Sunday morning. Please don’t misunderstand, I love leading in worship, but every once and a while it’s nice to sit back and let others do the leading.

This particular Sunday was doubly blessed for me. Not only did I get to worship with a new congregation, but I was also able to meet so many of the people who had watched my fiancé grow up in the church. I met his Sunday School teachers, choir director, and friends of the family who were all to ready to share a story about PJ as a child of the church.

This got me thinking about all the people who have surrounded me on my journey and how important they were in my faith formation. Mark DeVries would call these people my ‘Extended Christian Family,

“An extended Christian family is a community of believers who affirm and encourage growth toward Christian maturity.” - Family-Based Youth Ministry

These extended family members can be Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders and advisors, but the extended family members who make the most impact tend to be the ones who notice and affirm a youth out of genuine interest rather than programmatic involvement. I remember many of my teachers and advisors begin important influencers when it came to my faith formation. But, it was those members of the congregation who would seek me out to have a conversation or who would affirm a gift in me without being directly involved in the programs who connected me to the broader life of the church.

So many of my closest friends in middle school and high school were in my youth group. We were a very involved bunch. We sang in choirs, taught Sunday School and VBS, attended youth group, worship, and Bible Studies. A few of my friends have continued their journey of faith and found congregations and mission where they are involved, but many more of my friends have drifted away from the church. It makes you wonder, why was church so life-changing and formational for me and just a phase for someone else?

Ben Patterson in an article in Youthworker many years ago, made a very compelling point.  He said, 

“It is a sad fact of life that often the stronger the youth program in the church, and the more deeply the young people of the church identify with it, the weaker the chances are that those same young people will remain in the church when they grow too old for the youth program. Why? Because the youth program has become a substitute for participation in the church...When the kids outgrow the youth program, they also outgrow what they have known of the church.”

If young people feel connected with the youth program, that’s excellent! However, if we don’t take that seed and help it to grow and mature, it will wither and die just like a plant that has outgrown its clay pot and is not transplanted.

Helping to connect and involve young people in the life of the church is not just the job of those running children and youth programs.  Sure, we love to affirm the children and youth in our care and help them to find their way, but, as the African proverb says, it takes a village.

I pray that we all might recognize our role as members of that village and members of the extended Christian family for the children and youth in our churches. 

Mission Trips

It feels like I have been going on mission trips for my entire life, but really it has only been since I was an excited and nervous 7th grader. When I was 13, I embarked on my first mission trip experience to West Virginia with the youth group of my home church. After that trip, our annual mission trip was one of the most anticipated weeks of my year. The day we got back we would begin hounding our youth leader about next year’s location, we would fundraise throughout the year, we would try to convince our friends to come along with us, and my friends and I even had a tradition of going shopping the week before for all the essentials (candy, playing cards, and more candy). 

My friends and I would always have a wonderful time meeting new people, working to make our host community a little bit better, and spending time singing songs and playing games in God’s name. I never wanted the tradition of going on a summer mission trip to end. My friends and I even talked about continuing to meet up to go on trips together when we were home for college. Unfortunately, that dream very became a reality. However, the leaders of my home church asked me one summer if I would like to be one of the leaders for that summer’s Junior High Mission Trip. I have to be honest; I was a little hesitant. I loved going on mission trips as a student, but I wondered if I would have as much fun going as an adult leader.  Nevertheless, I hesitantly and skeptically agreed to help them out.

On that trip, something amazing happened. I got to see mission trips from another angle. These 6th-8th graders had the same excitement and nervousness I had on my first trip. I listened as they told me about the projects on their work sites, which they were completing and the residents that they had met. I laughed with them as we played games and sang songs. But my favorite part of the experience was watching as their faith deepened and their relationship with Christ grew stronger before my very eyes.

Annual mission trips continue to be one of the most anticipated weeks of my year. However, these days, I buy far more first aid supplies and far less candy in preparation for our trips. I feel incredibly blessed to take groups of really great youth to places like Long Island, NY and Kirkwood-Brainerd Camp.  On each trip I pray that the experience for our youth will be a good one and that they will grow in their faith and, of course, have fun while doing it.  These past two mission trips were incredible. I know all youth pastors think they their youth are the best youth in the world, but I honestly believe that God has brought together a special group of uniquely intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate youth here at Thompson Church and I am proud and honored to be a part of their walk with Christ. 

Ordination

This past weekend, I was blessed to be a part of the ordination service for Christopher Miller. Chris and I met at Princeton Theological Seminary while participating in the choir. After seminary, I was called to Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church and Chris was the intern there for two years. Chris was not only a wonderful colleague but also a true friend.

Many friends, family, and colleague surrounded Chris on July 5 to celebrate with and pray for him as he began his ministry as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church USA.  One of those friends was Rev. Brian Ellison who brought the Word of God for the people gathered. His sermon centered on this passage from Hebrews;

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Hebrews 12:1

Rev. Ellison used a wonderful image that stuck with me from his sermon. He said that when he hears this passage, he imagines a stage where he is standing front and center with the spotlight on him. The audience can only see him, but as he looks to his right and to his left there are tons of people back stage and in the wings who have helped him, who are supporting him, who are there to feed him lines, or give a nod of encouragement.

My favorite part of ordination services is the moment when deacons, elders, and pastors are called forward for the Laying on of Hands; a prayer of blessing for the newly ordained individual. Right before this prayer during my own ordination service, Stephen Heinzel Nelson asked me to stand up and turn around to look at all the people who had come forward. And it was at that very moment that I began to tear up. I looked around at the faces of Sunday School teachers, youth group advisors, fellow pastors, members of multiple congregations, family, and friends who had walked with me on my journey.  It was incredible!  Not everyone is blessed with a moment like this, but I want to remind everyone that no one is on the journey of faith alone. Each of us has a cloud of witnesses waiting in the wings. 

Caffeinated

Coffee is important to me. I wouldn’t say it is the most important thing in my life, there are many things that out-rank it, but I would be lying if I said, “coffee wasn’t near the top.”

I also know that I am not alone in this feeling. Many TV shows and movies feature main characters who take coffee very seriously and refuse to work without it. These characters reflect a reality in our own lives to which we can relate. Our society’s love of coffee, I’m afraid to say, probably has less to do with enjoying and appreciating the beverage itself, but rather the draw is to the feeling of renewed energy brought on by caffeine.  And why do we feel the need to rely so heavily on the limited effects of caffeine? Simple, life is really busy. We are all so busy running errands, running businesses, running kids to and from places, running households, running, it feels at times, in circles. We live in an age when we have unlimited opportunities to connect, learn, to be entertained, to be distracted. How many of us have said to ourselves, “There are not enough hours in the day!”

With this ever-moving lifestyle, where can on find the time to stop and prayer, or listen to a sermon, or delve into God’s Word? We rationalize by saying that God understands. God thinks family is important and would want me to focus on them. God believes in our vocations and so has called me to work hard on my career or my school work. Who in this day and age has any time for Sabbath rest? The Gospel of Mark tells us,

“The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27

God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. Then God created humankind and only after that did God establish the Sabbath. The Sabbath was established with us in mind and we need the Sabbath.

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things in space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Now, let me be clear, I still love coffee and I will continue to begin my mornings with a cup (or three). But it is my hope that my day, and yours can begin as consistently with God. What if we recognized our need to be in God’s presence as acutely as we needed our daily fix of coffee?