Walking on Water

John Ortberg wrote a really good book several years ago called If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat.  It’s about the famous story of Peter trying to walk on the water to get to Jesus. (Matthew 14:25-32)  There are so many interesting perspectives in this story.  What was Peter thinking when he tried to do the impossible?  Well, he was thinking originally that he was going to be faithful and obedient and take a risk.  313620

Ortberg says “You need only enough faith to take the net step.”  How many times do we look at the big picture and completely psych ourselves out?  If we are trying to do something big and important and meaningful, often times that means it’s hard.  It can overwhelm us and cause us to freeze up.

We can learn a lot from Jesus and from Peter in this story.  For the next 4 weeks we will talk about having courage and taking risks as Jesus calls out to us.  We will talk about what we can learn from failure.  Failure is not the worst thing in the world to have happen to us even though it can feel pretty rotten.  We will talk about what extreme discipleship looks like and keeping our eye on Jesus.

So for you to ponder this weekend, what is your next step?  Can you see Jesus in front of you?  Do you have Jesus in your line of vision?  How far is he from you?  So what does that next step look like for you?

I don’t know about you but when I take a moment to reflect on these questions I have a lot in the way between me and Jesus at the moment.  I am working on clearing out some of the obstacles, because I’m pretty sure that none of them are nearly as important as I might think they are.  And if they aren’t stepping stones, than they are obstacles to be worked around.  But before I get overwhelmed, I remind myself of Ortberg’s encouragement I only need enough faith to the next step in front of me.  That, I can do.

If we want to be with Jesus, and being with Jesus is the best and most amazing place we can be, we are going to have to get our feet wet.  After all, Jesus is in the water.  Man, do we have lots to talk about this month!  Hope to see you in worship or on our Lifestream.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Remembering Your Baptism

Water.  A simple substance.  2 atoms of Hydrogen and 1 atom of Oxygen.  Absolutely necessary for our body to survive.  We can survive longer without food than we ever could without water.  Life giving substance not only for humans but for all creation.  And the vehicle by which God offers us renewing grace.  Cleansing grace.  Fresh start grace. Child claiming grace.

imagesDo you happen to remember your baptism if you have ever been baptized?  If you grew up United Methodist like me (or Lutheran or Presbyterian or Episcopal) the answer is probably no because we baptize infants.  I’ll talk about why that is this Sunday at worship.  But we do have an option for those of us who don’t have that memory.  We have a beautiful service of remembering your baptism.  A chance to remember the promises that were made for us or by us if we were youth or adults.  It’s one of my favorite Sunday’s of the year and I can’t wait for this Sunday.

One of my most precious memories was when we did this at Centenary for the first time 3 years ago and one of the older ladies came through my line to touch the water, receive a shell and a blessing.  She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said in 80 years she had never participated in a service like this before and how powerful it was to reconnect with something so important that happened in her childhood.  A life well lived as a faithful child of God, marked by the grace of baptism, reignited in her heart again.  That’s the stuff that makes us pastors act like a cat high on catnip!

Remembering the faith of our childhood might be a beautiful thing for some.  A terrible or painful memory for others.  Or increasingly a non-existent one for others. But when we remember our baptism, we are not remembering what we have done.  We are not even remembering what the church has done.  We are remembering what God has done on our behalf.  It is a gift of grace that lays claim to us and says we are a Child of God.  It is a grace given to us that says we are offered a life with Christ and a death and resurrection with Christ.  It is a grace that acknowledges God has the power to forgive us and renew and wash us from the sin and evil in this world.  And finally, it is a grace that is given with the touch of hands and an offering of the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives each and every day.

Almighty God, the life you birthed in us
by baptism into Jesus Christ
will never die.
Your justice never fails.
Your mercy is everlasting.

Your healing river flows.
Your Spirit blows where you will.
We cannot stop you, God!

But sometimes we try.
We try to block the flow,
we redirect the winds of the Spirit,
or we walk so far away from the life-giving Stream
that we do not hear its sound,
and we forget its power.
We parch ourselves.

We are dry and thirsty, O God.
Come, refresh us!

Come upon us, Holy Spirit!                                                                                                 Come upon these waters.                                                                                                            Let these waters be to us drops of your mercy.
Let these waters remind us of your righteousness and justice.
Let these waters renew in us the resurrection power of Jesus.
Let these waters make us long for your coming reign.

Amen.                                                 (United Methodist Baptismal Liturgy)

Water.  It cleanses.  It refreshes.  It sustains.  It’s powerful.  It’s calming.  It is one of the ways in which God offers you grace.  I invite you to join us Sunday and let the grace filled waters of Jesus once again renew your spirit, cleanse your soul, give you new life.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

The Year of Persistence

It’s December 31st.  A day in which I always write an extra long journal entry and reflect on the past year as we turn the corner to embrace a new year ahead.  Some years are a joy to review.  Others are more difficult.  This year as I think back on some of the highlights, they paint a difficult picture.

On the difficult side are the barrage of current event stories that wounded my soul over and over again.  Those range from the Charlottesville clash around statues and white supremacy to the Las Vegas mass shooting to one sexual misconduct scandal after another coming to light.  We can’t forget the series of intense and damaging Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.  The political division and viciousness taking place in our country is like nothing I have ever witnessed.  I have historically not been someone who worries a great deal about things, finding it a drain of precious energy and emotion.  But this year, I have learned how to worry.  The lack of trust and acceptance of untruths in our culture is growing at an alarming rate and civil discourse is all but disappearing.  To disagree with someone is to be accusatory or unpatriotic or simply wrong.  Instead of iron sharpening iron it is a fight to prove who is right and who is wrong.  And even then, facts don’t necessarily prove someone to be right anymore.  It’s confusing and disheartening to see the acceptance level of our society shift in what feels to me like an unhealthy shifting of our moral compass. I have been surprised at how much this cultural dynamic has weighed down my soul.  Leaning into my faith has once again, proven to be critical to my spiritual well-being.

Of course the biggest disappointment for me this year came personally.  Although Greg and I lost one of our beloved pet cats, there was another more significant loss for me. After training for 8 months to tackle a personal goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, 7 days before boarding a plane to set off on a 2 week adventure, I stupidly twisted my ankle resulting in an injury I could not overcome in a week.  The trip was canceled, my hurting ankle and deep disappointment sent me into a funk this fall that tested my inner strength far more than that 19,300 foot peak ever would have.  To literally think about something every single day for 8 months and then have it slip between your fingers threw me for a loop I didn’t easily mentally or emotionally recalibrate.  For various reasons, I’m not sure I’ll make it up that mountain this year but some day.

Lessons learned from not climbing Kili has and will prepare me for many other disappointing moments in life, I am sure.  Professionally, I look back at the year and wish some things were in a different place.  As faithful as I have tried to be to God, my calling, the church, and my God-given giftedness, it still hurts when ministry doesn’t go the way you hoped.  And serving in a career where the church is in a mighty struggle with culture and society that is causing seismic changes to the way we do ministry faster than we seem able to adapt appears to be the new norm.  That is not easy for any organization nor its leaders.  But as always, ministry is an adventure and that is one of the things I have always loved about the work I do.  You never know what challenges the church has the opportunity to embrace or solve.

So before I sink any lower into the year in review I must celebrate one of the most thoughtful gifts I received for Christmas this year.  A friend gave me a t-shirt that said “Nevertheless, she persisted.”  Before you go all political on me just remember after the year I have had personally, this meant a great deal to me no matter the original cause for the tagline.  When I think about some of the positive highlights there is a theme of persistence I can’t ignore.

First of all the Tarheels won the NCAA Basketball National Championship almost as a year of redemption after coming so close in 2016.  It was a year of persistence for them that ended in a moment of triumph and joy.  And of course I celebrate the release of the Wonder Woman movie- a childhood hero brought to the screen reinforcing the message that women are capable of being so much more than our stereotypes define for us.  Which brings the upside to the sexual misconduct scandals, for the first time people are actually listening to the women.  The upside to the Kilimanjaro fiasco is I still trained to be in the best physical shape I’ve attained in years.  I know I can do it.  And in lieu of my adventures in Tanzania I experienced two new things I have never done before – hanging upside down on a wall and meditating in a deprivation tank.  Excellent but unusual experiences.

Persistence.  As we head into a new year that I hope will be and feel different from the one fading in the distance I believe I will bring persistence with me into 2018.  Persistence in my faith to remain grounded in my love for God and God’s love of me.  Persistence to not let my moral compass waver a single degree in spite of the vacillating ethics of our times.  Persistence in my calling that in spite of the rapid changes in the spiritual landscape surrounding us, helping people develop their relationship with Jesus Christ matters.  Persistence in taking care of my body, mind and spirit no matter the extra effort that seems to take as I get older. Persistence in loving others no matter how challenging.  Persistence in believing I was created to discover peace, contentment and God’s unmerited love.  And so were you.

1 John 4:7-9 (CEB)

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him.

So I am claiming it now.  The Word of the Year for 2018 is going to be Persistence.

Happy New Year,

Lory Beth

 

Brilliant! They Won’t Be Expecting That!

I cannot believe Christmas is upon us!  I will keep this short and sweet because if you are like me, there is far too much to do then time allows.  So if you want about a 5 minute break that will make you smile and think (and practice hearing a New Zealand accent) as well as get you ready for Christmas, check this out! Video

This vignette called An Unexpected Christmas is performed by children  and gives an explanation for why God chose to send an answer to struggling humanity in the form of a new born baby Jesus.  My absolute angelfavorite character is the little boy with big glasses wearing random costumes repeating, “Brilliant!  They won’t be expecting that!”  (By the way, there is an American version of this but these New Zealand accents are so much better to listen to!)

May this depiction of the nativity make you smile and deepen your gratitude for God’s amazing love for us that we celebrate in a few days.  And all day long on Christmas may you find reasons to say, “Brilliant!  They won’t be expecting that!” as a reminder of God’s unexpected but amazing love for us.

I wish for you a very Merry Christmas.

Lory Beth

Happiness Strategies

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What makes you happy?  Christmas trees, hot chocolate, golf, taking a nap, taking a drink, shopping, making money, spending time with family and friends? Many of us find ourselves in an ever-increasing pressure cooker kind of search for happiness.  Particularly during this season of the year, it’s supposed to just ooze from us naturally, right?

Well, maybe not.  But there are some things we can do in our lives that can increase the happiness quotient within us.  And I think these things, in general, increase our quality of life and helps separate what is contentment and what is simply temporarily pleasing to us.  God longs for joy and peace in our lives.  God does not promise 24 hour happiness.

But first, I need to come clean with you.  I will read articles or listen to podcasts and take notes and then tuck away for a sermon or a blog.  I found one of those pages of notes but there is no notation on what I was reading or listening to.  So I’m sorry.  I don’t know where I got some of this information.  I think it was an interview with a happiness researcher on NPR.  But I think it is still worth sharing for our reflection as we count down the days to Christmas.

Happiness Strategies:

  1. Gratitude- First up is living a life of gratitude increases the happiness quotient.  Studies have found that people who literally counted their blessing every Sunday night were happier than those who were not so intentional with practicing gratitude.
  2. Doing Acts of Kindness- Studies also show that doing acts of kindness for other people is the most effective way to increase your happiness quotient.  If that is true than that also explains why people really do appear to be happier during Christmas if they have not experienced a serious loss.  We tend to do more generous acts for others during December and that makes us feel better.
  3. Nurturing spiritual emotions – Emotions like gratitude, compassion, love and altruism are spiritual emotions that when present in our lives lead naturally to growth, living a life paying attention to things larger than ourselves.  This stimulates the frontal cortex of our brain where happiness is felt.  Worship is indeed good for your long term happiness!
  4. Physical Activity – Increasing the release of Dopamine inside our brains makes us happy and physical activity most easily leads to the release of that brain chemical.
  5. Responding well to Adversity – This always leads to greater happiness.  When we are devastated it hurts for a short period of time then we usually successfully overcome great stress because God created people to be resilient.  When we are happy, it is fleeting at best.  It lasts for just a while.  So when we are able to overcome adversity, we are able to have sustained contentment.

One caution to try to avoid that is our consummate human trap – the “hedonistic treadmill”.  This antidote to happiness is when we find ourselves wanting more and more and more.  It’s not possible to sustain and eventually that treadmill gets to going faster and faster and we can’t keep up.  An interesting finding a study discovered is that the difference between people’s happiness quotient is pretty big for people who earn a $5000 salary compared to those who earn $50,000.  That makes sense because it’s very hard to cover our basic needs with only $5000 a year.  But the happiness quotient difference between people who earn $50,000 and $500,000 is negligible at best.  How interesting.  We think money is the key to happiness but it is not.  People who have enough but not much figure out how to be happy with what they have.  People who have much often want more.

One final thought to leave you with again during this season of supposed abundant happiness.  There are a list of things that studies have found consistently bring people happiness.  They are play, new experiences, friends and family, doing meaningful things, and knowing how to appreciate what we have.  The interesting common denominator in all of those things is that they are free.  Maybe these are the kind of gifts we need to try and share with one another as we figure out Christmas gifts to give those we love.

My prayer for you this Christmas season is deep and meaningful happiness.  If reflecting on the findings of this new area of research into our happiness leads to choosing happiness inducing behaviors than wonderful for you.  Life can work against our happiness quotient and even our own choices can adversely affect our happiness.  May you find ways to nurture the compassion and well-being within you so that your happiness quotient flourishes.  Personally, I highly recommend making sure regular worship is on your list, but then again, I’m a little partial when it comes to that area.

Merry Christmas,

Lory Beth

 

 

Why Now?

I hesitate to even write about this topic but it seems avoidant to not even name the recent phenomena happening all around us.  Every day when I turn on the news, another man in a position of power or celebrity has been accused of sexual misconduct of varying sorts and degrees.  I won’t list the accused and their accusers.  But I am very curious as to what is different now that the reaction appears to be less about blaming the victim and more about acknowledging the misconduct.  Why now?

I’m not sure why now.  What changed that we moved from a place of brushing under the rug or ignoring to firing prominent figures and shaming men for inappropriate and damaging behavior?  As we have learned, all ages, colors, political affiliations, and levels of fame have participated in inappropriate behavior.  The one common denominator is being in a position of power or authority.

images-3I am thankful that I, personally, have experienced nothing more than a few off-hand or disrespectful sexist remarks along the way. Nothing that wounded me or that couldn’t be easily ignored.  I feel lucky I couldn’t post the #metoo response from a month ago.

I know that God’s heart has been broken by these harmful behaviors.  Ways in which we dishonor the body, dishonor women, dishonor the covenant of marriage, dishonor the workplace, and dishonor basic human decency and respect of one another.  We can do better.  We must do better.

I pray that this may be a reminder to people of faith everywhere that our ethical standards and measures matter.  They are guides to keep us from harming ourselves or others.  They are guides to lead us to celebrate life and God’s good gift of created men and women.  They are guides for helping us as a society determine how we will treat one another, what is acceptable and what is not.  That there are consequences when we choose to behave badly.  And grace when we choose to repent.

Acknowledging that I don’t really have any answers and mostly observations and wonderment about what is happening, I do offer a prayer to ground our reflection spiritually.  There’s a lot of hurt in our world.  Prayer seems a holy and appropriate response.

Prayer for Healing for Victims of Abuse

Praise to you,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
source of all consolation and hope.
By your Son’s dying and rising
He remains our light in every darkness, our strength in every weakness.

Be the refuge and guardian
of all who suffer from abuse and violence. Comfort them and send healing
For their wounds of body, soul and spirit.

Rescue them from bitterness and shame and refresh them with your love.
Heal the brokenness in all victims of abuse, and revive the spirits of all who lament this sin.

Help us to follow Jesus
in drawing good from evil, life from death. Make us one with you in your love for justice as we deepen our respect
for the dignity of human life.

Giver of peace, make us one in celebrating your praise, both now and forever.

Amen.

And amen.  Be kind to one another.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

 

I Gotta Little Change in My Pocket…

I love all kinds of different music.  Well, almost all kinds.  Sorry to the fans out there but I don’t do country music.  I’m from the south and talk with a twang of sorts but I do not enjoy listening to it in music.  But there is one song I remember from my high school days that has been on my mind this week.  Maybe that’s because this Sunday is Commitment Sunday where we celebrate our pledges and financial commitments made to the church.  [Admittedly, it is only this one line that is relevant – the rest of the song is about a girl…]

I gotta little change in my pocket going jingle lingle ling – Georgia Satellites

I remember when I was studying the Bible for the first time seriously as an adult (it was Disciple Bible Study before I entered seminary) and I read all of the places in the Old Testament where God called the Israelites to offer God first fruits from the harvest as a way to honor God with our very best.  (Deuteronomy 26:1-11Verse page” data-hasqtip=”3″ aria-describedby=”qtip-3″> , Nehemiah 10:35-39) That’s when I began to understand that stewardship was not just about giving God our money.  It is about using something we value very much in order to value something even more important in our life – God.  By giving God our very best and most prized possession, we show how much we love God.  And how willing we are to be obedient to God.  Not an easy lesson for most of us.

But it’s not only giving back to God a prized possession, it’s giving our very best.  God calls for first fruits when giving our most prized possession was from our harvest.  Think about it- you work so very hard for so very long to raise the harvest – whatever it is.  When the crop finally ripens to harvest time, how badly you can’t wait to partake or sell that which you have labored over.  But God asks that we offer the tithe out of that first harvest.  Not wait until the end with whatever is left over.

I think God asked that of us humans because God knows how we operate.  We will take 141022-emptypockets-stockcare of the things we like most or the things that put pressure on us first and then we will give away that which is left over.  Inevitably God gets the change in our pocket if we are not intentional.

But what has always amazed me since I first understood and began to practice first fruits giving to God is that whenever I give my tithe at the beginning of the paycheck, inevitably we have all that we need.  God’s theology of abundance is that simple.  Honor God with your best, and God honors you for your faithfulness.

For those who approach their giving to the church from the standpoint of giving what they can out of what they have left at the end of the month, I challenge you to try for 3 months to tithe 10% out of the top of your monthly income.  Yes, even over the holidays.  And see what happens.  Because the God who blesses us with so very much deserves so much more than the change leftover in our pocket.  God deserves our very best.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth