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

Investing in Life

Today I attended the funeral of one of my childhood best friend’s father, Willie Martin.  Willie was a good guy, so very funny.  You could laugh with him and at him his antics were so entertaining.  As I was listening to my friend share about her father tears came to my eyes as I heard her grief and felt her sadness.  But we celebrated a life well lived and  a person well-loved today.  Our church and community has a funeral coming this Saturday for a saint that certainly had a life well lived and was a person well-loved.  I couldn’t help but wonder have I lived a life worth celebrating and have I been a person that is well loved?  When we consider the stewardship of our own life don’t we all wonder this at some point?  As I listened to stories today and reflected on the drive home about my own life I remembered a quote I had earmarked in my devotion book a few weeks ago.  It was a Helen Keller quote I had not remembered hearing.

I will not just live my life.  I will not just spend my life.  I will invest my life.  – Helen Keller

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Helen Keller

Have I invested my life well?  Such an interesting question to ponder.  I know there have been times when I have just lived life not caring about anything other than just functioning.  Lay low, not cause any trouble but not contribute anything either.  I’ve never been one to just spend life but I’ve seen it.  Lay it all out there, give it all until there is nothing left.  Live recklessly as if there is no tomorrow.

But to invest one’s life is to put it to use in something “offering potential profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value” according to Oxford.  How have I invested my life in a way that brings a profitable return of some sort?  That appreciates in value?  What does it look like to measure the spiritual profit of our lives?

Jesus probably would have been a pretty aggressive investor.  He was willing to take risks on a regular basis.  He also seemed to have confidence in the long shots.  He saw value in everyone, even when others wouldn’t consider investing.  Certainly those who spent any time with him found their own lives increasing in value and multiplying in interest.

I’m going to spend some time looking at my own life this week and seeing how I am doing more than just living or spending my life.  A long time ago I gave my life to Christ.  I have certainly invested in the church and I have invested in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And I pray that there has been some return on this investment sowing seeds of Christ’s love in the lives of others. I hope all of us can name ways in which we have made choices and decisions that have allowed us to give of ourselves to make this world a better place rather than just taking and consuming our whole life long.

Here’s the thing about investments.  The profit can’t come until you spend something first.  You have to give of yourself first and then trust Jesus to generate the profitable return and appreciate your life value.  How much of yourself and your stuff are you willing to invest for the Kingdom?

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

60 days until Christmas… Eve Offering

It’s hard to believe.  One of our staff members starts in July giving us reminders of how many days until Christmas.  Two weeks ago within a 24 hour period I saw my first Christmas TV ad, heard my first Christmas Radio spot and received my first Christmas Card (that was awesome as one of the children of our Dinner for 6 couples made cards how-many-more-days-till-christmas-7czysr5hfor our whole group- made my day!)  But this blog is not THAT article lamenting the materialistic tendency of Christmas and loss of the sense of Advent preparations.

Instead, I just want to remind the folks in our Centenary community of our Advent Offering this year and explain how it will work.  We are making a paradigm shift from budgeting all of our Missions funding through our operational budget and instead, supplementing our missions outreach by emphasizing our Advent Offering.  We have the opportunity to give generously during the season of Advent in order to impact our Winston-Salem community and those most in need.  Here’s how that works:

  • Both offerings taken at the Lessons and Carols (December 10) as well as all 4 of our Christmas Eve Services will 100% be designated for local Missions.  (Should you place a check in the plate and designate operations, of course it will go towards our budget.)
  • While we will support some global mission causes through budgeted funds, 100% of our Advent Offering will be spent locally helping our neighbors close to home.
  • We trust our Missions Committee to make good choices about how to disperse those funds.  They will choose a multiple of agencies, causes and missional opportunities to support.  So our gifts will meet a multitude of needs!
  • We know that Christmas is a time when we celebrate the good fortune and opportunity most in our church family enjoy.  So this is a chance to balance our personal celebration with family and friends along side support of those in need and the agencies that are faithfully meeting those needs.  Christmas Eve in particular is a time for charitable giving remembering those who are struggling.

I want to challenge you to have a conversation with your family now about how you might celebrate Christmas this year.  Some families look at their Christmas Budget and decide that they will spend half on themselves and half they will give away.  Others make the promise that whatever they do spend on themselves they will give an equal amount to charity.  Others decide that instead of gifts, they will support good causes.  Whatever sounds meaningful to you is wonderful, just make a plan now.

One reason I believe that our Advent Offering is even better than some other options you might be considering to support is that our giving will support a multitude of causes in positive and healthy ways. If you have not read the book When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, it is an excellent explanation of how to go about helping others in healthy ways.   They say that helping the poor happens in one of three ways:  Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development.

Relief is crisis assistance  when people are unexpectedly unable to help themselves.  It should be seldom, immediate and temporary.  Good Samaritans give assistance in order to bridge that gap until they are able to get beyond crisis existence.  Examples of this would be Hurricane Relief or someone has an accident or surgery and is unable to work and lives paycheck to paycheck.  They need help until they have healed and return to work.  Rehabilitation is when the bleeding has stopped and assistance is needed to restore the people to the pre-crisis condition, helping partner with people until they can get back on their feet.  This is essentially poverty alleviation.  Development is the ongoing work of moving all people into a right relationship with God, self, others and Creation.  It’s helping people move to a place where they are able to work and support themselves but this work is done with people, not for or to people (City With Dwellings is a good example of this).  Our Missions Committee has the ability to support all three kinds of financial assistance versus just one good cause.

So as we consider our wish lists, shopping lists, cooking lists and travel plans for the upcoming holidays, I hope we will also pause to have a conversation about what our Helping Plan will be for 2017.  And I hope that your family will consider giving generously to our Advent Offerings so that we can overwhelm our Mission Committee with so much support that the Extravagant Generosity of Centenary United Methodist Church will be experienced by neighbors and people downtown and throughout the Winston-Salem region.  We have 60 days until Christmas!  Let’s make a plan.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Stop Selling Sugar Water

Last night I watched the movie Hidden Figures again and was just as moved by the story the second time around.  The movie tells the untold story of three African-American women and the role they played working at NASA helping to get a man on the moon.  Katherine Johnson, the mathematician; Mary Jackson, the engineer; and Dorothy Vaughn, the first computer operator. I was inspired by their stories of courage, charting new territory and trying something for the first time.  Of living a life of deep meaning even if they had to struggle in order to do it.  And that is what I have been reflecting on, the courage to live a life of meaning and how easy it is to just coast through life.

I did laugh at the reminder that computers used to be the size of a large office room and the change it brought into our lives is immeasurable.  The capacity of the computer was not fully grasped at its origin by most of the world surrounding it.  But a few figured that out, including Dorothy Vaughn. That in turn, reminded me of another story I came across researching a sermon a few weeks ago.  Maybe one you are also familiar with but I had missed or forgotten this along the way.

Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple Computers at age 21 managed to invent the Apple computer, fitting it into a box small enough to sit on your desk. Realizing they had made a major breakthrough (in the garage of their parents’ home) they offered their invention to Atari.  They weren’t interesting in the big dollar signs, they just wanted a salary that would allow them to continue their work.  Atari said no.  They offered it to Hewlett-Packard who also said no. (Kicking themselves later!!!)

It seemed only Jobs and Wozniak wearable to see the value in what they had created.  So Jobs sold his Volkswagen and Wozniak sold his calculator and pooled together their $1300 in order to form Apple Computers.  (Named Apple after fond memories of a former summer job Steven Jobs had spent working in an orchard.)  Off they went , Jobs as the visionary and Wozniak as the engineer.

It didn’t take long to realize that the vision was bigger than what the two of them were capable of doing.  They needed greater management expertise.  So Jobs approached John Sculley, President of PepsiCo.  When you think about it, there is no logical reason why Sculley should leave a highly paid, secure job at one of the top companies in the world to1862625614_da7753a674_m join a bunch of computer nerds in California in an untested industry.  He said no.  But Jobs was relentless and approached Sculley again and again.  Finally, Jobs gave it one more try using his best visionary passion painting a picture of what could be.  He asked Sculley:

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”  – Steven Jobs

Indeed, Sculley and Jobs went on to change the world.  I imagine it was a similar scope question that Jesus used to approach the disciples.  “Do you want to fish for fish the rest of your boring life or do you want to learn how to fish for people and make a life changing difference in their lives and yours?”

 

Jesus offers us the same transformational opportunity today.  Most of us spend our lives making sugared water,  going to work to accumulate more possessions and perhaps finding space for God and the world in our spare time. But Jesus had a vision to change the world. His was the vision of the Kingdom of God and he calls us to place it at the center of our lives, to make it our reason for existence.  If we have the courage and the will.

33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33 CEB

Are you living a life of deep meaning or are you just – living? Do you want to make sugared water the rest of your life or do you want a chance to change the world?

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Salt

I’ve been thinking about salt today.  Random?  Maybe.  Theological?  absolutely.  Relevant? I think so.  First of all, I have bypassed the candy bowl in my office all week-long and the thought keeps recurring how these days I prefer salty snacks above sweet ones.  It’s like my sweet tooth is disappearing.  Things that used to make my mouth drool, not so much anymore.  Give me salty snacks and savory food choices and I’m all in!

thThen I started thinking about all of the uses for salt.  We salt fresh meats in order to preserve them.  Bacon is good!  (Sorry Vegetarian friends, I just couldn’t give it up)  I even came to love beef jerky these past several months.  But ultimately it preserves food so that they have a longer shelf life.  Salt preserves.

Salt helps wounds to heal faster.  It may sting like crazy but as the salt cleanses and help dry up wounds it promotes your body’s natural healing. Salt heals.

Salt makes food taste better by enhancing flavor.  While it’s all in the palate of the taster we know that if food tastes bland to us we an add salt and it brings out the natural flavors that already exist and bring balance to super sweet food (that’s why some of us love salted caramel!)  Salt flavors.

So if you have mosquito bites or irritated skin, salt can relieve your itches.  Same concept as the healing, it dries out itchy wounds and cleanses and calms the skin so that the itchy places can heal. Salt relieves.

The granular salt also comes in handy when it comes to cleaning.  It can help clean your teeth with baking soda or it can be used to scrub disgusting sinks or places around you household.  It exfoliates your skin leaving you feeling smoother and fresher.   Did you know that if you spill something on your carpet or your shirt that if you soak it or apply cold salt water it will help remove the stains?  (I definitely needed this handy trick as spastic as I can be!) Salt cleanses.

If you have managed to set something on your stove on fire, salt can snuff out a grease fire.  It suffocates the fire saving your kitchen from a complete disaster.  Salt extinguishes.

Salt also helps melt ice and snow.  Greg and I learned the value of putting down a little salt on our sidewalk and driveway when we lived in the mountains.  By lowering the freezing temperature of water it helps snow and ice disappear faster with a little help of the sunshine.  Salt deices.

There are more uses but you get the point.  Salt can accomplish so much and has great value.  No wonder Jesus said to us “You are the salt of the earth!” (Matthew 5:13) We have so much to offer the world around us.  We are called, even commanded to be salt to our weary world.  We as Christians have an opporutnity to enahnce the world, if we so choose.

I am pleased to be a part of a program called SALT – Spiritual Academy for Leading Transformation.  Our District is working to help lift up lay persons in our churches to hear how God is calling them to be salt in their communities.  What ways might God be calling them to help serve or further God’s Kingdom?  Because ministry does not have to wait for a pastor to be initiated or created!

 

It brings life, it preserves life, it enhances life, it comforts irritated life, it cleans up messes, it puts out messes, and it melts the frozen places in our lives.  I’m pretty sure Jesus meant for us to be a part of all of those things.  Because the world needs all of those things.  So your turn.  Go and be salt.  Not salty- to be clear.  Salt.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Enough

I have been at a loss for words regarding the mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas.  The loss of life and infliction of injury by one person reveals a level of disconnect with humanity I cannot wrap my head around.  Over 50 dead and over 500 wounded?  Over 500?  The impact of this event is staggering.  My initial reaction was that I didn’t even know what to pray for.  Words wouldn’t come to my lips, at least not any that made any sense or carried any weight.  Then I remembered:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. – Romans 8:26

At this time we do not know why Stephen Paddock did what he did.  Maybe that will become more clear as authorities learn more about what happened.  It is not lost on me that tonight my church hosts a guest speaker and panel discussion on Shining Light on Mental Illness with a focus on belonging.  Did Stephen feel like he belonged anywhere? I don’t know.

As I watched the news last night trying to pull my thoughts together I bet I heard “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their friends and families” a million times.  It sounded like everyone was reading from the same script.  And the words, quite frankly, rang hollow.  It’s the same thing we said after Orlando.  It’s the same thing we said after Sandy Hook.  Is that all we will have to offer after the next time a mass shooting takes place?  Enough.  We can do better.

I know I do not have a solution for this problem.  But it is a problem.  I know doing nothing is not an appropriate response for the magnitude of these tragedies.  I hear people say that someone who was going to do this would get hold of guns illegally and couldn’t be stopped.  Maybe.  But I also know that after Australia had a mass shooting in 1996, the country united behind tougher, sensible laws on firearms. As a result, the gun homicide rate was cut almost in half, and the gun suicide rate dropped by half, according to the Journal of Public Health Policy.

I have good friends that are hunters who own and use guns.  While I do not care to own a gun, I completely understand and respect that others feel differently.  Hunters in my family point out that you cannot hunt animals with assault weapons.  You ruin the game and render it inedible.  With the increase in gun violence in our country and the number of deaths caused by homicide and not hunting accidents, I believe we can do better.  Certainly the kinds of guns people Reported-Shooting-At-Mandalay-Bay-In-Las-Vegas.jpeg.CROP.promo-xlarge2can buy and the legal conversion kits are worthy of debate.  Can’t we talk about what is best for our country from both sides of the perspective and not immediately devolve into hot political debate?  Please?

It strikes me as bizarre that we have an elaborate, multi-tiered regulatory and training system to teach people to drive a car and get a drivers license, but pretty much anyone can buy assault style weapons, conversion kits and thousands of rounds of ammunition without serious impediment.

Interestingly, Caleb Keeter, a guitarist with the Josh Abbott Band, tweeted a shift in mindset after living through the events of Sunday.  Read more about his thoughts [here] on the need for gun control after being a life long supporter for the right to bear arms.  Maybe it’s time for all of us to come to the table and talk about ways in which we can put words to our actions.  That surely there is more that we can do other than offer our “thoughts and prayers”.

I may not be able to name the different kinds of guns and explain how they work.  But, I do know that shooting thousands of bullets into a large concert crowd with no other recognizable purpose than to cause harm breaks God’s heart.  And I know that what breaks God’s heart should also break my heart.  And it does.

The post-shooting cycle is starting to take hold as I type today.  Those on the left yell about gun control.   Those on the right engage in fear mongering about the government coming to take guns away.  Those in the middle, like me, feel lost.  Meanwhile, publically traded gun companies see their stock values surge as sales suddenly bump up in reaction to all the gun posturing.  And, we as Christians continue to pray.  We pray for the dead, the wounded, and for answers and peace.   We pray for wisdom and to spread God’s love.

No matter what side of the gun control/gun lobby spectrum you find yourself, isn’t it time that we acknowledge that our system is broken?  Doesn’t this pattern of behavior teach us that something needs to change?  Hasn’t enough bloodshed happened on our own soil unrelated to terrorism or war to warrant some kind of response on how people access particular kind of guns or upgrade kits?  How we provide care for mental illness?  Are our prayers and our thoughts enough?

Or maybe there are other strategies for how we can help our society step away from the propensity towards violence.  I am reminded of the life of Oscar Romero, Archbishop in El Salvador who spoke out against social injustice, violence, and poverty in favor of Christ’s love.  His life story is a difficult one but his message is a powerful witness.

“Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.” -Oscar Romero

We must not tire of preaching love.  Enough violence.  More love.  Enough.

Grace and Peace,

Lor Beth

 

A Change of Perspective

It’s been the strangest two weeks.  Although at times I like to play it by ear, I still always have a big picture plan.  To find myself, very unexpectedly, with two weeks of my life free and no plan at all, although for some people sounds delightful, to me was stressful.  And confusing.  Not a place I am used to being.  So while I thought I would be sharing lessons I learned from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, instead I find myself reflecting on lessons learned from limbo-land.

First let me say that it was crazy disappointing to have to cancel my trip to Kilimanjaro with 3 days to spare but after twisting my ankle the week before, I just didn’t feel secure enough on it to try tackling a mountain.  Too big of an experience not to postpone until I could be 100%.  So yes, I will have to either stay in shape or retrain next year when I reschedule.  There’s that.

But then my wonderful, adorable husband (love of my life!) scrambled at the last-minute to plan a trip for the second half of my vacation for us to go on together.  He rearranged work, arranged all the details, luckily got reservations for everything we love including a Halloween Party at none other than – Disney World.  Wait for it.  Enter Hurricane Irma.  So one week apart, we found ourselves canceling yet another trip full of fun and excitement, getting too familiar with customer service and requesting refunds.  I realize that people who have had to deal with the actual damage and distress that Irma caused is worth your pity and concern, not me.  But dang- what is going on here?  As a friend said to us- “the travel gods are not being kind to you.”

As I noted each day that passed what my Kilimanjaro team was scheduled to be doing I counted the days until they summited.  (All but one of the team made it to the top!) It took me until about day 4 to stop doing email and unfinished work I didn’t complete before vacation started.  (Had I been in Africa, I couldn’t have done anything about it anyway. But knowing my computer was sitting a few feet away, it is maddening not to tend to unfinished business.)  I visited my mom (who was not so secretly glad I had canceled my climb!) who is slowly recovering from her broken arm and torn rotator cuff from this summer.  I went to Linville to our condo and wallowed in a little self-pity.  It was hard for me to mentally shift gears from focused, limit testing adventure to- nothing.

Two things happened, though, that have made all the difference.  The first was the opportunity during the first week off to spend time with some of my closest friends and women I deeply respect and love.  Seven of us went to the lake for a few days of laughter, talking, eating, more talking, pontooning, and for me, healing.  To be with sisters who let me be me even though I was a little off my normal happy self and encouraged me in spite of my stupid ankle, was a gift.  Time spent with friends is life-giving and happens too infrequently in my busy life.  I have to do something about that.

The next thing that happened was kind of random.  As I was facing this second week with nowhere to go and as Greg’s work closed back in on him making him unable to get away, I was bound and determined to go somewhere.  After running 2 or 3 scenarios through my head and pricing them out, my spirit was still not settled.  All I could say to Greg was that I can’t stay in Winston-Salem or Linville. I needed a change of routine and perspective.  That’s when, while surfing the internet for best last-minute travel destinations, I discovered The Lodge at Woodloch – in the Poconos in Pennsylvania.  Never heard of it.  But it looked like a place I could enjoy.

It’s like summer camp, Gold’s Gym and the Rock Barn Spa combined into one.  I figured this would be a good place to do some water therapy for my ankle and take care of body

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Yoga Wall- talk about your change of perspective!

and soul for a few days. It has been a gift.  I’ve tried everything from floating (sensory deprivation floating in salt water – bizarre but the best Centering Prayer I have ever done!), water aerobics (never done it but certainly easy on my ankle), to the Yoga Wall (so much better than regular yoga for me right now because the straps took some of the body weight off my ankle- and how many times do you get to hang upside down like a monkey?), walking the labyrinth daily, and of course- massage therapy.  But my favorite therapy?  Simply reading in the hammock.  I want one someday.  But the yoga wall was pretty cool, too.  When you are hanging upside down in a strap attached to a wall, it reminds you that there is always another way to look at any situation.  Even though it might take some effort to figure out how to change your perspective.

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Walking the labyrinth one step at a time

For me, knowing  I had some emotional work to tend to, reflecting on my work at Centenary, my calling, my disappointment of hopes unmet, some personal and professional relationships that aren’t where I long for them to be, this has been critical to giving my body and mind space to step away from my life for a few days so I could tend to my spirit, and then reassess how I will reenter it in a few days.

16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16 (NIV)

Jesus took time to go and be by himself.  His work and his friends and colleagues at times had to press pause.  Like the sensory deprivation, when we have some difficult personal work to do, it is often times easy to distract ourselves with business or entertainment and avoid the self-reflection.  But when all of the senses are finally neutralized, the focus becomes crystal clear.  I know myself well enough to know, sometimes I have to withdraw to a lonely place and pray.  Whether that is all the hours one spends climbing a mountain.  Or at a new place designed to bring healing and reflection.  Mission accomplished, finally.

So thanks for all of the kind words of encouragement.  For those close to me, thanks for

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All time favorite way of “elevating my ankle”!

your patience as I wrestled through my vacation time.  For those I have not responded to, I promise I will, when I’m back on the clock.  For the prayers for healing, I’m most grateful for.  It will be a while before I’m running and jumping as before.  But I’m learning new forms of exercise as I rehab- and learning new things is great!

May you find the time and space- whatever that might look like for YOU- to withdraw, pray, play, heal, reflect, learn something new, or just breathe.  It can change your whole perspective on life.  I highly recommend it. And I argue- so does Jesus.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth