Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Expectation.  Maybe during this time of the year, expectation runs at one of its highest given the season.  Children are bouncing off the walls to see what will appear under the tree in a matter of ten days; others are excited for this major snowfall; some have great anticipation as they are going to experience that first Christmas with a newlywed or a new born.  Maybe it is the first Christmas in a new house, or you perhaps are even celebrating it in a new way.  Whatever situation people find themselves in; there is a level of hopeful expectation. 

However, as we know and often experience, sometimes our expectations are not met.  Sometimes things do not turn out the way we think they should.  Sometimes we are expecting happiness and we overlook joy....
What are your expectations?  How do you expect God to come to you this season?  Where are you looking?   Do we sometimes look in the wrong places?  Do we miss it when it happens?  Are we caught up in seeking happiness and missing joy? 
(From Pastor Randy's Sermon) 

From Pamela -- My life has rarely been filled with expectations that are met.  For some reason my greatest sorrows and my greatest joys have generally been unanticipated and unbidden.  There has generally been a balance of loss/gain, pain/pleasure, brokenness/reconciliation.  
Just recently I experienced a situation that seemed that it would be, at best, "positive" -- My younger brother is seriously ill.  My older brother arrived from out of town and we were debating about going to the hospital.  Why debate?  Because these two men have not spoken for nearly a decade, and have not seen each other for 7 years.  What was always a strained relationship had become totally alienated.  
Yet, as is so often the case, with grave illness hitting my younger brother, the older man felt that he "should" see his younger brother while he could.  
I did not see how the visit could be anything but painful -- my younger brother is very skilled at cutting himself off from others without ever looking back.  
Yet we went to the hospital room.  
Upon seeing my face, my "little" brother's face lit up as it so often does.  Then I announced:  "There is somebody else here to see you!"
When my older brother came around the corner, my younger brother's face was, literally, like the young boy seeing Christmas Morning miracles.  Then he said:  "Oh my God, I have missed you, brother!"
No words can contain the abundant joy in that moment -- totally unprecedented.  unexpected and mysterious.  
With the grave illness still raging, happiness is still elusive when it comes to my younger brother.  However, JOY is very much alive, well, and vibrant!  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Preaching judgment is the easy part.  Sometimes we know other Christians who are ready to announce this judgment on people or other faith denominations; sometimes those people are us too.  When people talk to others who aren't interested in the church, it's almost always because they believe that the church is more interested in judgment than it is in peace, acceptance, grace and salvation.  Sometimes, we have communicated really clearly about sin but not so clearly about the love of Christ.  What an indictment of our core message!  Perhaps Christianity has given the impression that our sinfulness is more powerful than the saving One, Jesus Christ, who is the heart of God beating in the world. The one who is coming is more powerful than me, even more powerful than my brokenness.  It is only the relentless and ongoing announcement of love and peace coming that will inspire us to change and to live from its power.

Jesus is the one who enters into the heart of human life, takes into himself all those things that separate us from God.  He steps into the gap between our inner life and our external behavior.  His work ends, not in self-righteous satisfaction of letting sinners have it.  It ends at the cross. And then, on Easter morning, what the broken get is new life.  Judgment may burn us up, but grace ignites us to be alive again.  

(From Pastor Randy's Sermon)

From Pamela:  Lutheran homiletics (the art of preaching) always teaches a balance of "Law" and "Gospel".  The Law part impresses upon us the high priority God's will should have as we make choices about behavior and relationships and priorities.  (That part usually makes us squirm, because we feel judged, yet we know we really can't effectively ALWAYS toe the line -- at least I can't).  Then there is the Gospel that says, you know what?  God knows you can never fully abide by God's Law, so therefore God sent His unconditional Love and Acceptance (in Christ) to complete the gap between God's Law and God's fulfilled promise that we are utterly forgiven and eternally reunited with God.  
I think about the flow of any given worship service -- greeting, confession, forgiveness, scripture, sermon, prayer, offering and then Holy Communion.  Lots of Law and Gospel stuff.... and the Gospel wins!  We are sent out as Gospel People, children of God free to love abundantly and serve others with lavish generosity.  
Yet, even before we walk out of the sanctuary we often kick into judgement of some sort -- and often the worship leaders are the worst -- 
(That didn't work, won't do it that way again, note to self:  next year ...... )  
Let's promise to let the Glorious Gospel of Christmas linger, at least for a while, this year.  Let's resist the temptation to pay attention to anything that disappoints, annoys or (in worst case) offends.  Let us not be ones who gather around critique or analysis of a better way to do Christmas!  Let us hear the amazing news -- the reign of Love has broken in -- no more judgement, no more bondage.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Last Word

From Pastor Randy's Sermon:

Jesus' words pointed to a future that he knew would be rough for his disciples. He wanted his disciples to be prepared, but also to know that their allegiance and faith in what he was doing would be the final marker to all events that would and could occur.  This can also be the message for us today as well.  Jesus doesn't sugarcoat what lies ahead, but he gives meaning to it.  All of us in our journeys, in one way or another, to one degree or another, will feel persecuted, will feel cheated, will feel great despair, and though our faith does not promise that these things can be avoided, it does tell us that in the end our future is guaranteed.  The last word of God to us and to the world, will be a good word.  A time when all questions are answered, a time of hope and joy that we perhaps cannot even begin to imagine.

From Pamela:  

Do you know anybody who seems to always want the last word in a conversation (or argument)?  You know, the person who comes up with just one more comment or question or gripe?  Or the one who can't leave the space just blank -- 

I can remember how one of my family members would often stomp from the room if he didn't get his way.  We would begin to breathe more freely, and then we would hear him come out of his bedroom, back into the living room with an angry:  "Oh, and just one more thing ...."(and the negativity would begin all over again).  

I must confess, it got to the point where we would laughingly wager on how many minutes would pass between stomp out and re-entry.  

The last say is the speakers effort to control the situation and have lasting impact.   

Jesus proclaimed to the people of his day and to us today that God will have the last say, and that say is a resounding "YES!" to life....  

When disappointment, suffering and loss of any kind seem to close the door of possibilities we are called to stay alert, watching and waiting -- and proclaiming to one another boldly the YES which is God's last word to us.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Blessed are they

From Pamela:

Pastor Randy proclaimed the good news on Sunday:   Blessed are you when you mourn!  Blessed are you when you are cursed or abused.  What?
And then he proclaimed our part in setting things right by praying for our abusers or enemies or those who persecute us.  What?

From Pastor Randy's Sermon:

Today’s text really gets at the core of some of the more difficult things of life, some of the things that we may agree or desire mentally, but yet are much more difficult to live out.  How do we do good to those who hate us – as Jesus advises us to too?  How are we loving our enemies?  How many of us when we have been struck, hurt or injured, have simply offered up our other cheek?  How many of us, as Jesus literally requests, give to everyone who begs from you? How do we make sense of this?  These are the very words that come out of Jesus’ mouth, how do we deal with them – ignore them, skip over them, soften them, or even sidetrack them?  Do we catch a glimpse of why people of Jesus’ time reacted harshly to what Jesus was saying, so much so that the religious among them, plotted to kill him?

From Pamela:  

I don't know, Pastor.... can it be true, as you said, that praying for our enemies gives us strength?  Praying in our weakness moves us to see how we have been blessed?  
Oh, that is right.... praying constantly, fervently, and trying to discover God praying with us doesn't change the situation or take away the pain we have suffered or caused.  Praying brings us closer to God, the source of all blessing.  Even when I hurt, or am ashamed, or enraged, praying brings me into the heart of God -- where all is "blessed."  
That's the good news!  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Becoming nimble wrestlers

The world floods in on us all the time.  We seek to find avenues to cope with it in a positive manner.  When things are going great, good things buoy us even more, and when things are going sour, favorable weather can serve to bring in some rain to relieve an emotional drought. 
Sometimes life is great and we feel so fortunate to be alive, other times the world can be an appalling place.  We can look around us and see the suffering and devastation that occurs and have our disposition sink fast.  When those issues hit close to home, whether they are within our community, our neighborhood, our family or even ourselves it often can cause us to deflate emotionally, spiritually, mentally, socially, and even physically. 

It is then that we often find ourselves wrestling with issues of life.

(From Pastor Randy's Sermon 10/20)

From Pamela:  One of the things I have noticed about skilled wrestlers (I am not talking about the sensational WWF style) is that they are nimble.  Whether they are looking into the eyes of their adversary or if they are entangled on the wrestling mat, they are fully engaged.  The rhythm of one wrestler helps to guide the action of the other.  
A pressure hold can be broken, sometimes by a complete relaxation followed quickly by a sudden withdrawal. 
An offensive move can sometimes be dodged, at other times countered. 
When one is "pinned" the moment is "called".... but then the one who has been pinned can spring back up and engage once agin.  

Nimble.  Flexible.  Alert.  and persistent.  

One more aspect seems to be an ability to regain balance, even when being knocked or twisted around.  No balance--no more ability to wrestle.  

How do you regain your balance?  How do you practice flexibility?  How do you enhance your alertness?  How do you act with persistence -- staying with the issues for the long haul?   

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Commitments-- blessing and privilege

When we talk about commitment in our faith to discipleship, an author writes that there are certain patterns that seem to always appear in scripture, and very much to our own lives both as individuals and a community of faith.  First of all, there is a call.  We are a called people.  Each of us in our own unique gift of life has been called by God to play a role that enhances our own faith journey and demonstrates God’s love of this creation.  Second of all, there is always fear.  God has an inextinguishable habit of asking people to do things that are scary to them.  We can remember stories of Moses and Jonah and their response to God.  Many of us can also relate to taking those fears as we have embarked on new paths, often all we have is our faith.  However, there is also a third pattern to commitment in our faith.  There is always reassurance.  God promises to be with us always.  God does not guarantee that there will not be storms, but does promise to walk, and even in some cases, carry us through those times of challenge.  Fourth, there is a decision, a commitment.  There is a point in our lives, in our faith journey where we come to forks in the road.  We often do not have the luxury of coming back and picking the other if one path does not pan out.  We have to trust and make decisions in faithful discipleship.  Finally, scripture demonstrates to us that when we understand our call, recognize our fear, recall God’s continued presence; make a commitment, lives will be changed.  We, and others, will not remain the same.  We have opportunities to grow deeper into understanding God active in our midst.  This is what it means to become a committed disciple of Christ. 

From Pastor Randy's Sermon last weekend

From Pamela:   In Christian Discipleship, total dependence upon God is a requirement.  Oh sure, we can always take a safe path, doing what we know we can do, what works well, and what we have always done.   But even it that path was new to us "once upon a time", God's call is so dynamic that it is rare that we are continually called to go upon the same path in the same way year after year  

God is creative, always making things new, always taking what is there are reforming it.  Part of the reformation process builds upon what is there and continues what has begun.   But another component of Christian Life is transformation -- We are changed, in ways that are sometimes minute and at other times huge, whenever we active, alert, and obedient in response to God's call.  With every consent to serve others, we are also offering our consent to God to use us as God wills, and as God knows best. 

I think that is where the "fear" comes in for many of us -- we hesitate to step out if we can't know in advance the outcome of our commitment.  The outcome includes results that are external as well as internal. 

Perhaps we need to take all of those jokes about Lutherans resisting change and flush them down the toilet.  Perhaps we need to halt our pert quips about "we have never done it that way before."  Perhaps our tendency to hunker down and protect what always "was" our way is thumbing our noses at God saying:  We know more about our "call" than God does. 

This past week we did something we never did before.  We changed the time and place of worship.  We abbreviated the worship service and dedicated our morning to a couple of hours serving others.  Had we gotten up on concern about the logistics and details and possible repercussions of taking such risks, we never would have done it.  Yet most people said the change was "good"....

Our commitment to discipleship needs to be one that is firmly rooted as well as open to the ongoing formation and transformation that God works in our midst while we are at work. 

And we need not fear -- God will not take us anywhere where God will not be with us guiding and supporting us through the love of Christ! 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Who has your back (and side and front???)

An author writes:  “One day I was walking with a couple of friends in front of a bar, when all the sudden a bar fight, like an old Western, spilled on to the street right in from of us.  Three men were beating up one lone opponent.  Being Christians, and feeling the need to stand up to stop the violence, I took a risk to yell at the men to stop fighting.  Preparing for my first fistfight in years, the thugs suddenly looked up at us, and with fear in their eyes they started to slink away.  This caught me by surprise, and I almost ran after them to ask them why they were running away.  Then I looked behind me.  There standing behind us was a huge man.  He was the bouncer at the barroom.  The man stood about six seven and weighed probably 250 pounds.  If Hercules had married Xena the warrior princess, this would have been their child.  We later called this man: Mongo, though of course not to his face.  He just stood there with his muscles bulging.  He looked as though he hoped that the fighting men would take him on.  In that moment, I wanted to yell to the fleeing fighters: “You better not let us catch you hanging around here again.”  I was now ready to confront with resolve and firmness.  I was released from anxiety and fear.  I was ready to serve someone who needed help.  Why?  Because I had “Mongo” standing behind me.  I was convinced that I was not alone.  The middle of a barroom fight was perfectly safe for me.

 If I were convinced that Mongo were with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I could take a different approach to life; I could face many fears.  The reality is that as Christians we already do, he is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  He is the one who has promised to be with us.  Yet all too often our lives do not reflect it.  All too often we shrink back when we should confront; we worry when we can pray; we cling when we could generously share.  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin the clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…”  Perhaps, it is so easy to get caught up in our own particular paths of challenges as we live today that we forget that we are not on this path alone.  For not only is God present with, and sometimes carrying us through things, but also we have a family of faith that surrounds us.  This family of faith is our own devoted family members, those who have witnessed the Gospel to us through the years, whether they are physically here or not, and this particular community of faith, Christ the Redeemer Lutheran.  Sometimes it is about sharing each other’s burdens, celebrating each other’s joys, beyond the high importance of coming together for worship.

From Pastor Randy's Sermon on 8/18

Monday, August 12, 2013


The meaning of our lives is always bigger than our experience. And because the meaning of our lives is always bigger than our own life experience, we hold to a promise that points beyond our mental capabilities. In holding to our faith, we then can take risks in our beliefs, we can dare to think another way. We can be challenged by the Gospel so that we may be enriched further in faith.

"We're announcing the future with the way we live." Because we have faith we can make those transitions in our faith, have it grow deeper as the Spirit penetrates into our lives. "Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see..."

(From Pastor Randy's Sermon 8/11)

From Pamela

I am glad that there is always more going on than meets my eye.  I am glad, too, that I can't always see the results of my actions (done or left undone).  My prayer at the beginning of the day is usually "help me stay out of the way of what you are trying to do through me, gracious God."  and my prayer at the end of the day is often:  "I am sorry I got in the way." 

So I know that I will never announce that I am infallible or that I will ever get "it" perfect  ("it" being the Christian life).  However, I want to announce the hope that if I keep trying, and if I keep saying "use me as you wish, gracious God" I will leave behind me a wake of experiences that are for the "good" of the world and other people. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

As Christians, the oneness we seek is the oneness of living in Christ‑‑being an incarnational presence of God. Paul asks that we live in Christ, be rooted and built up in Christ, abounding in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a prayer without boundaries, for prayers of thanksgiving do not seek to control or manipulate, only celebrate.  Paul cautions us to allow ourselves not to be taken captive through "philosophy or empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe..." In other words, whatever binds and controls and limits - keeps us from being fully embodied in Christ. The mystery is that being embodied in Christ is a boundary‑less experience. Our point of entry into oneness with Christ is our baptism, which is a time of dying to the old and the beginning of living into the new.   To achieve this, like Jesus, we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This, as our Gospel passage for today points out, can be the thrust of our persistence in prayer.
           Because the human will is so strong and there are so many pitfalls, we can seek each other's help, and coming together for worship and hearing again the core of our life and faith goals, helps us to get at that.  As each of us grows stronger in our relationship with God, the whole community grows stronger in its relationship with God; and the realm of God, which is in our midst, becomes ever more known to us and to others who walk through this door, and to others we encounter through the week.  How can we grow stronger as a community of faith?  (From Pastor Randy's Sermon 7/27-28) 

From Pamela:  I remember when the issue of "boundaries" was the current most necessary topic for workshops and inservices.  Issues regarding time, space, personal intimacy, public interactions all factored into the discussion of boundary violation.  

I understand the importance of these considerations, and I also appreciate the freedom unleashed when we are securely rooted and built up in Christ.  When we abound in thanksgiving we are in a mode of gratitude (and appreciation).  We see others as gifts and blessings, and we are compelled to be a gift and a blessing to the other in all we do and say.  No manipulation, no controlling, no violation, no judgement.  

So here are my questions:   Whenever we are with another -- where do we see Christ in the interaction?  How did the encounter bringing us closer to one another and closer to Christ?   

Monday, July 22, 2013

Martha was caught up in what she had to do, and she was missing what was being done. Jesus tells her "you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing." As Christians we can ask ourselves today: Where is our attention? Where is our focus? What is blocking our path? What are our distractions? It is when we can step back and take a look at our lives, that often we open the door for the comforting presence of the Spirit. May each of sit at the Lord's feet and listen to what is being said to us.  

(From Pastor Randy's sermon last weekend)

 From Pamela:  I believe that sitting at the Lord's feet is, ultimately, activating.  God's presence can be comforting, healing and transforming.  It is also instructive; and once we have moved aside from our own preoccupations and received what God is offering, the next movement is often to "Go and do"(something) in the name of Christ in response to the blessing received from God. 

I pray often and I pray, sometimes, for long periods of time.   Yet it isn't about just sitting around enjoying the feel good feeling of being in God's presence.  After praying (that is, sitting at the Lord's feet) I set about "doing" whatever is before me in a more clear (not distracted) fashion.   I benefit from the way God helps me perceive people and places differently than if I am left to my own devices. Listening to God opens my ears to hear the requests or the opinions of others through a filter of God's love and wisdom.  

Sometimes that makes all the difference!  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Powering through or sailing with the wind filling your sails?

The journey.  Author John Ortberg talks about our journey in life being a one of piloting a motorboat or a sailboat.  How are you living your journey?  In the motorboat we become so goal minded, sometimes so obsessive that we are focused only on gassing up the tank, and setting our course, that sometimes we miss God’s gifts happening around us.  We start the motorboat engine and we live life being in control as much as possible.  But a sailboat is a different story. We play a role in hoisting the sails and steering the rudder, to be sure, but we are utterly dependent on the wind.  The wind does the work.  I am not simply speaking about being laid back assuming that God will do everything and I have to do nothing.  It is much more complex than that. Our task is to be spiritually transformed by our course in discipleship.  And our spiritual growth requires discernment.  As our journey continues we look for God’s spirit, which literally means wind, we look for God’s wind to direct our sailboats.  An experienced sailor can simply look at a lake and tell where the wind is blowing the strongest.  The wise sailor knows when to raise and lower the sails; so to it is for us as we mature in the faith.  We learn to respond to the fresh wind of the Spirit, for God does provide them. 

Where is God’s wind in your life?  What is the Spirit directing you toward?  Are you going there?  Or are you going the opposite way?  And how many times in our lives when God called us one direction, did we try to go another?  How many times have we tried to flee God?  Have you ever had an experience when you simply could not see God in your life and even rejected the whole notion of faith?  Perhaps sometimes we become such a motorboat in our life thinking that we don’t even realize that we are not stopping to let the wind of God direct and redirect us.  

Listening and watching for God’s wind, God’s Spirit, is not a call to sit back and watch the world go by.  It is not a call to let everyone else make decisions and do all the work, it is not a directive to say we are not influential in the direction of catching the wind in our sails, instead the journey is about being wise enough, and faith filled enough to know that living and sharing God’s grace, is bigger than my one boat, is bigger than my one engine, and receives its power not by my own supplied gasoline, but by God’s wind and Spirit.  May we catch God’s wind in our journeys, may we watch for signs of the times, that let us remain open enough to have our life redirected along the way.

 From Pastor Randy's Sermon 6/29-30, 2013

From Pamela:  

Most of the readers know that I am an experienced sailor.  Years ago, I would go out on the lake, often single handed, and sail for hours wherever the wind was blowing.  If I had crew, I would go out on the edge of storms (the best wind is often on the edge of a storm) and press craft and crew to maximum capability.  

Now my boat is almost 40 years old.  I am over 60. Although I am confident my boat could manage "sailing on the edge" of the storm, I am not sure my body or my psyche are interested.  It is all about allowing life to provide lessons about taking risks, pressing one's resources and respecting the desire for longevity (that is, I would rather stay in port and sail into the future than confront a passing storm).  

The boating metaphors relate well to the practice of spiritual discernment.  In life and ministry (as well as in sailing) it is wise to check out the craft (ie, physical resources) the crew (ie, the people involved) and the wind (ie, the sense of God's inspiration) when making choices about vision and mission.  

It is true that passengers on my boat often are frustrated with the amount of time I spend checking my rigging, "ship shaping" the lines and the gear.  But I always remind them that things happen very quickly in a high wind, and that is not the time to be working with fouled lines.  

In the same way, people may get frustrated or impatient with the amount of time we take to pray and discern God's will for our individual lives and our shared ministry.  But time taken to prepare our hearts and minds to confront the hard facts and details of life in this world is time well spent. 

Prayerful discernment is a source of balance that enable me to travel safely through the changeable paths of life and ministry.  When I am balanced I can navigate safely through all sorts of winds, with maximum effectiveness, by staying under the wings of God's sheltering wisdom.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fighting and screaming?

Many times I have followed the devices of my own heart, and other opportunities to be brave, kind and honest, I have not followed at all.  But the reality of it all is that, all of us, each with our own memories and past, have not given up, and that tells us that despite our weaknesses, despite our foolishness, enough wisdom, enough hope, enough faith has flickered in our lives that our hearts and selves have moved forward.  (from Pastor Randy's Sermon 6/23)

From Pamela:  Once upon a time a long time ago somebody said to me:  "Pamela, you can choose to ignore God's Will for your life, but you can't change it!"  
That is wisdom! 
And time after time I have noticed the difference between running away from God's call and leaning towards it.  How awesome, that God's call applies not only to the big picture of my life, but also to those daily (or even hourly) nudges to either receive something from God or take action in Christ's name.  
Here's another thing:  Accepting God's call to do something that is not necessarily my preference provides an opportunity to be utterly dependent upon God.  And as I am dependent upon God, I find joy, hope, and love that spill outward.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

This Far By Faith

In Pastor Randy's most recent sermon (part of the series, "This Far by Faith") he quoted the following from one of his favorite authors:

 “In unexpected ways and at unexpected places and times people of all sorts, believers and unbelievers alike, make their way to us, looking for something that often they themselves can’t name any more than you can well name it to them.”  But our lives with our people and events continue to shape us.  Perhaps that is why the early church, and apostles like Saint Paul, continued to hold up the significance and impact of a community faith.  All of us here, in a way, are merely passengers on a journey, in a slower way we are sitting here together in this building as passengers on a train.  We are co-riders together with our hopeful destination being a full life, a faith filled life, and a grace filled life.  We are partners together on this journey, and people come in and out all the time, and whether a newcomer, whether we move away to another train, whether our mortal life ends, we are still impacted and affected by each others’ presence.  And often times in life, “the decisions that we think are most important turn out not to matter so much after all, but whether or not you mail the letter, the way you say goodbye or decide not to say it, the evening you toss everything aside and go and watch the sunset, these are apt to be the life changing moments for ourselves and others.”

From Pamela:  As Pastor Randy said, not all lasting moments come in spectacular packages.  I experienced a formational moment long ago when words of one of my adult children reminded me of the importance of paying attention to what is TRULY lasting.  The situation was pretty typical:  
     My husband and I were preparing to paint the living and dining room.  I was eager to try something "creative" with color. I wanted to paint the walls a couple of differing shades of the same color, and have the ceiling be something other than the predictable "white" it had always been.  My husband wanted it all the same (which would, of course, shorten the amount of time needed for the project).  At one point in the conversation (my child was also present,but wasn't saying anything) the voices were getting a little testy. 
     My adult child sat there listening and finally said:  "Can I offer an opinion?" Ah, I thought, now we will have a "tie breaker".  But instead, this is what was said:  "I really don't care what color(s) you choose, but this room will be less enjoyable for me from now on if the main thing I remember about this project is your raised voices."  
     Wow....  that event happened almost a decade ago, and I quite honestly don't remember how the color debate turned out.  But I know the voices immediately lowered and some humor was interjected which changed the tone of the entire project.  I think of that one sentence now when I am discussing plans or projects -- the words spoken and the tone of voice are what will echo long after the observable results take their place in history.  
     Spontaneous words can be life changing!  

Monday, June 10, 2013

 Who was it that said things to you that you continue to quote in your head?  What experiences with people did you have that shaped, changed or molded you along the way?  Part of this series intent is for each of us to remember, relive, and recall those moments, those events, those people that equipped you for your life confidences and direction and your ongoing spiritual formation.
 Who are those people,... chance or obscure encounters?....
        .......The reality is that people enter into our lives all the time, and we never know what act or phrase they may make that will forever shape us no matter how old we are.  Maybe that is the excitement of the new creation of each day, we are forever a work of clay in God’s hands, and God uses the ordinary places, people, and events in our lives to continue to direct and support us.  It could be today that it happens, and rare are the times when we actually know that it is happening in the present – most of the time it is only with hindsight that we realize it.       
          (From Pastor Randy's sermon 6/9/2013)

From Pamela --  I love the statement "we are forever a work of clay in God's hands.  The possibility of being molded or shaped or reshaped every day provides so much hope! 

It is important, I think, to remember that each person is being molded every day.  It is unfaithful to declare "that person can NEVER change", whether it is myself or someone else.  

If God is always up to something new, then part of our job is to recognize and appreciate qualities that are sprouting within that make us "wonder".  

One of my chance encounters was with a man I met at a Lenten Supper when I was "new" in the faith.   He was near me only a few minutes. Our conversation was fleeting.  He asked me "what do you do here at Pearl Road UMC?"  I said:  "I don't know.  I am just starting to wonder about this church stuff and Jesus and all of that."    

He held my hand for a moment.  He looked into my eyes and said:  "Stay close to the fire!"  

I have never forgotten that encounter or his words or his eyes.  But I have no idea who he is or what he does or where he came from.  I never saw him before or since.  Yet it was a formative moment to which I return regularly.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

We Have Come This Far By Faith

Perhaps it is equally threatening and comforting to us to know that throughout our lives we are forever ending some type of journey only to begin another.  But the reality of things that have occurred in our life and now have changed, does not mean they still don’t shape us.  We are forever turning a page in our own book of life and each page that is turned would be hollow if it were not for the pages before it.  For though buildings,groups, and people have come and gone, if we are blessed to be of good mind, those memories can take us back in a flash.  (From Pastor Randy's sermon 6/2)

From Pamela:  Here is one of my favorite memories about story telling:  

When my kids were little we had a night time ritual where I would begin the story:  Once upon a time there was a girl named Jackie (or a boy named Benjamin).  On a ______ in ______ 
she/he (fill in the blank with something that happened)....  

As the "story" progressed, I would recount some of the details --- my little listeners participated in the story telling, sometimes elaborating, sometimes correcting.  Sometimes I threw in something totally imaginary and they would giggle with delight.  

The memory of these evenings spent with my little ones (who are now in their 30s) takes me to a tender time -- the minutes before bedtime, tucking them in:  Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite.  It was tender time that connected me to the memory of being "tucked in" by my own parents -- it transports me to my childhood bedroom, sleeping with my cat Mittens by my side.

Revisiting our life story can be instructive, healing and (at the least/most) amusing.  Looking at our life from a faith perspective is a meaningful and effective spiritual practice -- and it is not difficult.

Take any event or phase of your life:

Remember the physical details.  What was going on?  What people were involved?  What were you doing?  What were others doing?

Here is the opener for the faith perspective:  What was God doing?  Do you recall anything in the event that offers comfort, or hope, or love or insight?  What do you appreciate most about the memory?  As you look "back" at the memory, do you see something you didn't see before?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It is sufficient

At the very heart of the Gospel, we are not saved by how much we know, and finding out the meaning of life.  We are saved by what God has done in Christ in our behalf.  We do not know everything, but we know everything that is essential.  What is our response to all of this?  It is to acknowledge that we live by faith.  Living by faith is not living without question.  Living by faith is not living without struggle.  Living by faith means living with a proclamation.  Living by faith is staking our lives on the belief that what we know about God through Christ and the Holy Spirit is enough to sustain us in this world and the world to come.  This is best summarized in our second lesson from Romans, and the text is an important one for the Christian life: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  (From Pastor Randy's Sermon -- May 25-26 2013)  

From Pamela:  (previously posted on the Faith Formation Blog)

The mystery of  the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit -- three in one all at once -- is one that stretches the imagination of the faithful. We use words to wonder about Trinity, but the words point to a meaning that goes deeper and beyond words.  We sing about the concept: "Holy, Holy, Holy" in a familiar hymn. In our statements of faith, The Nicene, the Apostles', and the Athanasian Creeds, we declare our belief as a community in the various persons of the Trinity.

Lots of words that boggle the mind of the one who is rooted in rationality.  Few of us have a mental understanding of how to explain the Trinity, and only the most courageous of preachers attempt to offer such an explanation in the context of a 12-17 minute long sermon.

Some simply tell a cute story:

A priest was in a public place where he witnessed a man who collapsed and was clearly in mortal danger. The priest (of course) ministered to the man, kneeling by his side: "My son, do you believe in God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit?" The man opened one eye partially and said...
"What... I'm dying.... and you're asking me a riddle?"

I suppose light humor can help us get around the frustration of our own inability to articulate the MEANING underlying our songs, our prayerful phrases, or our statements of faith.

Other teachers, preachers and theologians use images.  C.S. Lewis pondered a cube as one way to get his mind around "Trinity".  

Consider the geometric figure of a cube. A cube is comprised of 6 squares joined in a three dimensional fashion, right? And squares are comprised of four lines of equal length... and lines are created by connecting two points (taken even further... the connecting lines are nothing other than a series of points)

So you are looking at the cube... and it is a matter of your focus or the intention (choice) of your mind as to whether you are looking most closely at a square, a line or a point, or the cube as a "whole" comprised of many parts. Also, as you look at various squares, look at what happens when you gaze at the bottom line. (do this for 5 seconds) Now look away from the figure (for 10 seconds) and look back, but focus upon the space above the TOP line. Then slowly move your focus to the space on the right of the cube (5-10 seconds or until you see the figure "flip")

It is amazing how we can see the points, lines and squares in so many ways all at once, simply by allowing our senses to be open to a variety of perspectives and places of full attention.

So.... back to the idea of the Trinity. God's mystery of creation, compassion and abiding/eternal/infinite presence is one that we can experience "all at once in totality". Still, there are moments in our life when our spirit, heart or mind seem to be most fully aware of one aspect of the three in one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In closing, we are reminded, though, that we can never, ever fully comprehend the mystery of God through the limited vehicle of OUR understanding. We are reminded, too, that it is not at the moment of understanding Father, Son and Holy Spirit that we are activated in our mission as Christians: It is the moment when our hearts are ignited in belief!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pastor Prepares For Trinity Sunday

Looking towards the scriptures for this week, these questions are on Pastor Randy's mind:

The complexity of the Trinity stands next to the simplicity of Paul's statement in our second lesson.
"We are justified by faith" is a simple statement.  And the faith we profess is faith in a mysterious God who is manifest as "One in Three persons" -- Blessed Trinity (and so complex) 

How do we live in the mystery and simplicity of it all? How do we accept the simplicity without losing the awe?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mini death. Maximum life.

        Mini-deaths are those situations, or significant events, that occur in our lives that cause a part of us to feel as if it has died.  We experience mini-deaths throughout our lifetime.  A mini-death can occur from something simple, to something major occurring in our lives.  When we experience a sort of mini-death, we are often left with a kind of depressed feeling, which has been described sometimes as a hollow feeling.  Something that was a part of you is now gone.  Mini-deaths can include things like a son or daughter getting married, for even though you might be caught up in the excitement of that event, there still may be a part of you that feels hollow inside.  Or it might be that something in house, something that has sentimental value to you is suddenly gone, and you can't stop thinking about it.  ..... The disciples must have certainly experienced a mini-death as they watched the resurrected Jesus ascend away from their immediate presence and into heaven.  The disciples most likely experienced that hollow feeling.  However, it is what happens to the disciples in the wake of the time period that begins the church season we celebrate today, namely this day of Pentecost.
         ..... Pentecost, as we might have heard many times in our lives, is the birthday of the Church. The disciples, the followers of Christ, receive Jesus’ gift of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.  So in the midst of their feelings of being down, depressed, and questioning their future, the Advocate, the Spirit arrives to give them a new beginning, a new birth. That's what the Pentecost season focuses our Christian lives upon.  Pentecost is the season of growing, but in order to have growth; we must have a new life, a new beginning. That is where part two comes in from the mini-deaths, because for every time we experience a mini-death, we also experience a new beginning, a kind of mini-birth.  It is very much like the season of Easter, when part of us dies; there also is a new part of us born.  

(From Pastor Randy's Pentecost Sermon) 

From Pamela

Many people have experienced the "surprise" of something new and fresh peeking out from the debris of mini- death.  Sadly our media has been replete with images of significant loss in the wake of this week's tornadoes.  For many, the loss is permanent.  Life and loved ones are gone.  

Happily, for many, the loss is material.  Even more happily, for some, what was initially declared destroyed is being found -- pets, friends and family are being returned to the hands and hearts of those who endured hours or days of wondering "is he/she gone forever?"

Across the board, those who testify to the experience of survival speak about the indelible lesson.  It goes something like this:  This miracle has taught me to value what is really important.   Never, ever take love and life for granted.  We can rebuild "stuff".  

Life will always include mini-deaths.  Grief and the hollowness of loss are a part of life, and there is no point in minimizing their impact.  However, God's spirit always, always, always invites us to look through the rubble of what seems to have collapsed and see the glimmers of hope and life.  When we can't see it individually, we gather in community to remind each other new life is most certainly present -- and we will welcome it even if it is dramatically different from the previous (precious) experiences.  

One of the fundamental powers and privileges of the church is the capacity to live in hope!   We lean towards new life even when we can't see it.  Life becomes maximized in the midst of a mini death.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

More than a makeover. Made new!

Unlike the early Christians who lived in fear of being killed for their beliefs, today our challenge as faithful followers is how we live out our lives with our community, with our world, with other Christians, with our mothers and fathers, and all our family, and even at times with ourselves.  For the truth of the matter is, that as broken but loved people, as humans who have been saved by the Gospel, we still maintain the capacity for messing up our lives.  (from Pastor Randy's sermon 5/12/2013)

From Pamela:  

Not long ago, reality shows about "makeovers" were very popular.  Sometimes it was a home that was being made over, at other times a wardrobe.  Sometimes it was a torso or a face.  And sometimes it was a family.  The episodes started with the mess and then step by step, enhanced by the dramatic flair of some narrator, the viewers were introduced to the miraculous result of some transformational process.  We were welcomed into the understory of liposuction, closet purging or whole house deconstruction.  We hung on the edge of what the new creation would be and then at the climax the host said, "and now, here it is!!!!"    

End of show.  We see the glorious product.  

But we never see what happens in the months ahead.  Not to be a skeptic, but I can't help but wonder how sustainable the result was, particularly if the people involved did not internalize the lifestyle needed to let the fruit of the transformation flourish.  Even the most dramatic makeover will fade unless the life is made new!  

Consider now the sustainability of our new lives in Christ.  We regularly get glimpses of the product -- we experience surges of joy or compassion.  We spring into energetic service or we burst with understanding of how Christ redeems us each day.  

And then the muck and mire of our brokenness begins to accumulate again.  Something is done to us. Or we do something to someone.  Or we do nothing at all.  The old way hovers in the corner, just like old eating or thinking or living habits hover at the perimeter of even the most extreme "makeover".  

The difference for Christians is that the love of God continually (and intentionally) surrounds us.   To be sure, every day we face the risk of backsliding. We can't stay "in Christ" on our own.   

But with every day God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, meets us and says "even now, I am making you new." The transformation from within expands daily, assuring us that what God has promised to accomplish for God's people, God does!  And what God does, is done forever!  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Story Continues

40 years. 1973. While work went into this ministry well ahead of that timeon May 27, 1973 the official beginning of this mission station, of this community of faith was celebrated.   Did the group of disciples that gathered there that day even envision that we would be sitting here in this facility forty years later and talking about them? That this group of people here today would be about Praising God, Serving Others? I think in many ways the answer to that question is yes.  Because all the work that went into those moments were not just about those moments, it was more so for future moments, for a people that had yet to encounter the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was about mission.  It was about sharing the Good News.  It was about the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, which would come to the church, as Jesus announced in our text.  It was about vision.  
(From Pastor Randy's Sermon on 5/5/2013)

From Pamela:  I recall a statement of one of the Native American Indian principles of decision making.  It went something like this: 

"Everything we decide to do today should be for the good of the next 10 generations".  

That is about vision.  It is about standing in the present, looking at all that we have before us, and using everything that we have with the future in our minds.  It is about trusting that what and who is beyond the horizon is in some way dependent upon us. 

I know that many of those who were present 10 or 15 or 30 or 40 years ago are no longer with us in "fact".  However, we are the way we are because of the way they were.  We at CRLC represent the current sum of the hopes and dreams and prayers of everybody who has been in this place.  

However, we are but a subtotal of what will ultimately unfold in our mission.  

So we celebrate the subtotal of 40 years of shared ministry, knowing that our commitment to the good news of Jesus Christ will affect all of the others who will praise God and serve others here long after we are, in a word, history!  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chardon .  NewtownBoston.    Fertilizer Plants blowing up.  Chemicals sent in the mail.  Maybe when we hear these words and the horrific events attached to them we want to yell out with the Jews: "'How long will you keep us in suspense?’'' If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.  We do not want the suspense any longer.  We want God now.  In the midst of the calamities, in the midst of senseless we want the full resurrection peace, now, today. These inconsolable events and the families attached to them, leave us with our mouths often dropped in our own disbelief of humanity's in humanity to one another.  Jesus does give us, I guess, a partial response in his answer:  “I have told you and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me...   My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.'"  

From Pastor Randy's Sermon on 4/21/2013 

From Pamela:  
How true.  When despicable and senseless tragedy hits us, the voice of fear and doubt says, so where was God in any of this?  If God is all powerful then why didn't God prevent this from happening?

Then we remember that we (as CS Lewis said) live in enemy occupied territory.  True, most Americans do not live with the daily background sounds of gunfire, explosions and keening voices.  However, the possibility of tragedy is with us every single day. And in recent days, tragedy has erupted and traveled in shockwaves, and we are reminded of our vulnerability.

In our most vulnerable moments we are called to look and listen for the sights and sounds of hope.  They are there -- they beckon to us and gather us into heart of God.

It is not easy.  It never has and never will be.  But our faith assures us that it is possible -- Nothing and no one can ultimately snatch us from the hand of God.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What is your comfort zone?

.  I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want to be comfortable.  Whether it is financially, whether it sitting behind a new car during a test drive, whether it is the mattress on your bed, the people you hang around, the couch or the recliner that is positioned just right in front of the television, we seek comfort.  But sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances, and things out of our control, good and bad life changes, among some of the first group of feelings we find ourselves dealing with, is this sense of being uncomfortable.  And the human reaction to being uncomfortable is to seek comfort.  Again, it doesn’t matter if these changes are good or bad, expected or unexpected; we still seek out a new comfort level.  It may be leaving for college, it may be getting married, changing jobs, or moving into a new house.  And it might even be a new worship service, or a new church program, or doing things in a different way. 
 What about the disciples’ comfort zone?  How much of their world had been turned upside down?  Just about everything.  Each week since our Easter celebration we have heard these accounts of their encounters with the risen Lord.  How was their comfort level?  For now no matter what they experienced they knew that the tomb was empty, the Lord had risen; death had been conquered through their Teacher, Savior, and Messiah.  For them the world would now be forever changing, but the one level, the one thing that would remain the same, was their comfort in knowing completely that the tomb was empty.
(From Pastor Randy's Sermon)

From Pamela:  It seems to me that we have an abundance of comfort objects (or activities or substances) that actually decrease our need for understanding NEED for comfort zones.  To be sure, we have developed many patterns for increasing comfort -- think of the ice breakers or team builders at fellowship gatherings -- or the cocktail hour at business conferences.  They are all aimed at softening the raw, uncomfortable edges of unfamiliarity.  
I think about our worship services and the moments when I begin to feel on edge or uncomfortable.  (Chuckle... in another place, I will tell you about mine if you tell me about yours!!)  
Then I remember to remember the Empty Tomb.  I remember to remember that Jesus is with us, wandering around, saying "when you begin to feel uncomfortable, focus on me.  Together, we will see how this all works to help us praise God!"  
So... think about YOUR uncomfort zone.  Be honest about it.  Let Jesus walk with you into the comfort zone.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Perhaps an unlikely model for us can be, of all people, the disciple Thomas. Thomas doubted, but yet he came back and stayed in the room with the disciples.  As Christians, we too are free to doubt.  God has created us with a mind to think and act freely.  God can handle our tough questions.  God can handle our moments of desperation, and certainly God can survive our doubt.  God, despite often our own acknowledgment, is there in our times of questioning, as well as our moments of great faith.  There is a saying that reads: "I respect faith, but doubt will get you an education."  As Christians we do not have to feel guilty that we sometimes question the things of God. God is there. God understands. But faith too, has an important role. We need to hold on to the example of Thomas when we doubt ourselves and our faith. Thomas was open and honest about it, and most importantly he stayed with the group of believers, despite the despair of this own thinking. We too, in times of frustration, in times of working things out, need to hold on to our community of faith, our church.  
 (From Pastor Randy's Sermon 4/7/2013)

From Pamela:  I think doubt is a universally shared human experience.  Everybody has moments when what we believe to be true is not validated by information or perceptions that moment.  Our beliefs and opinions benefit from regular affirmation, even if proof is not possible.  
You probably have heard that "the opposite of faith is not doubt, but, rather, indifference".  Indifference terminates the conversation (or the relationship).  The doubter still has a partially open mind that leans toward the matter at hand, waiting to learn more.  In many ways, doubt invites civil presence, and sometimes even civil conversation.  
So, when we "doubt" matters of God, in many ways it is an invitation to see what more (or what else) God is revealing to us.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

We know the final outcome, we know the final word. The tomb is empty!
And it is exactly because of this empty tomb that we can know that the light that has burst into the world and has given us a hope that can rise above all things.  For the resurrection hope is what the human heart can run on. 
Hope is what prompts a man and a woman to stand before family and friends and promise “I do” even though they have no guarantees.  Hope is what fuels those same couples despite years of promises broken and hearts damaged, to give their original promise another try.  Hope is why human beings keep bringing children into this fallen world.  Hope is why we build schools and colleges.  Hope is why we build hospitals.  Hope is why there are therapists and counselors.  Hope is why parents agonize over what to do when their children are going through different issues and trials.  Hope is why the farmer plants seeds.  Hope is a composer who starts a piece of music, an artist who picks up a paintbrush, or an author who begins to put words down on a piece of paper.  Hope is why we set our alarms in the morning.  Hope is why the Cleveland Browns even bother to have training camp! 
Hope is why Abraham left his home.  Hope is why Joseph tells dreams. Hope is why Moses is willing to take on the Pharaoh.  Hope is why Samuel anoints the kid David.  Hope is why the prophets are willing to take on the society.  Hope is why John the Baptist begins to baptize people with water.  Hope is why Peter leaves his nets, why Zaccheus climbs down the tree, and why Matthew gives up tax collecting.  Hope is why these same disciples huddled together, stayed together and then were willing to risk their very lives for the hope that they had witnessed. Hope is why we gather to worship the resurrected God.
(From Pastor Randy's Easter Sunday Message) 

From Pamela: I have experienced tiny hopes that flutter with timid understanding of what might be possible.  I have also felt hopes emerging from probability that nothing, most likely, will get in the way of an expansive and joyful future.  
Yet the fulfillment of the hope is what leads me toward the unknown with confidence.  In the situations where hopes were shattered, I may be timid to set out on the same or similar path again.  But hopes fulfilled provide the inspiration and motivation to keep stepping on a path even if its way is obscured by the unknown.  
We can follow Jesus with hope.  Even when we find ourselves walking steps through suffering our major challenges, as long as we are following Jesus we can keep moving -- the fulfilled promises of the resurrection -- Death does not win! --  activate hope even in the midst of the unknowable mysteries we face.  

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Are We Willing to Accept Our Cross?

Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.  Psalm 31:5

"Jesus does not say "make a cross" or "look for a cross."  Each one of us has a cross to carry.  There is no need to make one or look for one.  The cross we have is hard enough for us!  But are we willing to take it up, to accept it as our cross?"  Henri Nouwen 

Today is the day when it is important to set aside the plural "we".  Jesus said pick up YOUR cross and follow me.  It is the day to look into the eyes in the mirror and say "Will you pick up your cross and follow?"

Yesterday you heard the "snap" of being broken and poured out for others.  Today take time to look at the realities of your life and see the cross which is yours.  Even today you have the freedom to  choose to ignore, reject, refuse or hate whatever suffering or tribulation is yours.  You can even stay on the sideline and cheer along the other cross bearers, sending out attaboys.   And then, if you wish, you can choose to simply carry on with the life you protect as your own.  Jesus will not force you in any way.

But he said:  "Pick it up.  Follow me."  What will you say?  What will you do?  When you look at this image

do you see Jesus or do you see yourself?