Hope

It’s such a weird year.  I find myself feeling a gamut of emotions these days and I do not think I am alone.  This week is no exception packed full.  A myriad of stressful deadlines, a too long “to do” list, contrasted with anticipated and coveted time with family is near. Not only is it Thanksgiving but my husband and I celebrated our 18th Wedding Anniversary as well.  I’m filled with such gratefulness for so many things.  My husband being top among them.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve a fabulous church filled with so many blessings.  I thankful for the lovely city we live in and all of the incredible things happening in Winston-Salem.  I am thankful for the resources to more than adequately meet my needs.

But the feeling that keeps bubbling to the top for me of late is a deep sense of hope.  Sounds strange as our nation rebounds out of a dark season of icky politics that has been quite the downer.  And yet, this seed within me, deep in my gut, remains grounded in feelings of unflappable hope.  Maybe its the season we are entering into this week.  Or maybe it’s the fruit of a deep faith in God.

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I can’t wait for the season of Advent to begin this Sunday.  One of my favorite things began happening this past week.  Some lovely women (there may be a man or two offering an assist) spent hours decorating our sanctuary and auditorium for Advent.  Trees with lights and Chrismons go up and Moravian Stars appear everywhere.  This year I walked by late one afternoon and the humongous star that hangs high above the chancel was down carefully sitting on a box waiting to be hung.  As you can see by the pictures – that thing is huge!  It’s almost as tall as I am.

As I stood beside the star imagining the next 4 weeks and all that would take place in the sanctuary, my heart just expanded with – hope.  Expectation.  Wonder.  All the things that we should be feeling as we embrace and await once again this great mystery of the birth of Jesus.

Hopefulness is such a future oriented emotion.  It drips with ideas about what could be.  It img_1613often lacks facts to substantiate it.  It is very hard to stamp out once it takes root.  And it has the power to shape that which is to come which in fact makes it quite powerful.  Hope comes in such strange packages, right?  For me this year it is in the Moravian Star.  (It’s not like I’m only going to see a couple of those around town!)  For others it comes in the helping hands of another (like the Overflow Shelter that begins December 1 to serve those on the street that don’t have a bed in the regularly operating shelters throughout the city.) For others hope comes in the energy and eyes of a young person that sees the world a different way.  Or maybe Hope’s package is a favorite seasonal song or a particular piece of music.

For some it comes in God’s word.

What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. -John 1:4-5

Or

“Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you.  Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.  He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” -Luke 1:30-33

What package does hope come in for you this year? I hope one of those packages will be in the form of worship.  Come, sit in our beautifully decorated holy spaces and listen to the music, pray your heart’s desire, be inspired by God’s Word and bask in the abundance of — Hope.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Advent Conspiracy and Haiti

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is one week away and three days after that the Season of Advent begins marking the days towards Christmas.  Maybe more than in years past I am looking forward to the Holidays.  I’m particularly excited for our Advent time together at Centenary because we are going to participate in the Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World.  It’s not a new idea for many but it is for our church.

419ewgivrul-_ac_ul160_How would you like to shed part of the Holiday stress by simplifying the gift giving and share more of yourself with those you love?  What if your family decided together to approach things a little differently and instead of focusing on wish lists and finding the perfect gift, you thought of fun things to do together or ways you could serve together or just spend more non-stressful time together?   One really cool example from the book is an adult son gave his father a bag of coffee.  The stipulation was he could only drink the coffee when the two were together so it created space for the two to spend time togehter.  A beautiful, thoughtful, relational gift.

I hope you will buy the Advent Conspiracy book and read as the Holidays approach and share with your family.  One of our families brought the book home and their 9-year-old son read half of it and announced to his family that he was not going to make a Chrismtas list this year and instead wanted to do something for a clean water initative in a third world country. How cool is that?

And most importantly, what if you put some of that energy back into the original intention of the season, to worship and give thanks to God for the amazing gift of His Son, Jesus Christ?  To truly worship with your full heart and attention the birth of Jesus.  I can’t wait for my heart to begin to prepare with the songs of Advent and the lighting of the Advent Wreathe.  I can’t wait for my soul to soar when the Christmas music starts and the familiar Scripture stories are told.  I can’t wait to bring my Angel tree gifts and start serving at the Overflow Check-In to show love to others.  I can’t wait.

Another piece of our Advent season I am excited about is our Christmas Eve offering.  As you will see with the Advent Conspiracy one encouragement is that families choose to give part of what they might have spent on unwanted or unneeded gifts to a charity or service project.  We spent some time trying to figure out what would be the best option for us to designate at Centenary and there was much discussion on the many possibilities.  We could not choose just one local option so folks will have the chance the give to Love Came Down at Christmas giving if you prefer (more info available on our website).  But the Christmas Eve Offering is going to be designated to go to Haiti Outreach Mininsty this year.  (Their mission is “Sharing the Gospel with the people of Haiti through evangelism, education and medical care.”  Not only do we have an ongoing relationship with the ministry (church/school/medical clinic) here where we send mission teams two times a year, but they have also suffered the unexpected set back of damage from Hurricane Matthew this fall.  It felt like for this year, this was the best designation for us to share some Christmas love with some of Jesus’ very “least of these”.  Here are just a few ways that our offering will make a difference:

$3.66 – covers the cost of one individual visit to the clinic, which serves about 30,000 people/year

$30 – sponsors a primary school student for one month (includes teacher salaries, uniforms, books & school supplies, hot lunch, and a health exam for primary students)

$50 – sponsors a secondary school student for one month

$75 – sponsors a college student for one month

$10 – sponsors a vocational training student for one month

$2,500 – covers the cost of medicine and supplies for the Cite Soleil clinic (the only healthcare available in Cite Soleil, one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere) for one month

$9,150 – covers the entire cost of running the Cite Soleil medical clinic for one month

$5,000 – supplies the school and community with clean, potable water for one year

$1200 – covers the cost of installing air conditioning in a new computer lab for students

If you want to know more about the Cite Soleil clinic then check this out.: https://vimeo.com/178765280.  If you want to know more about Haiti Outreach Mininstry than here is their website:  HaitiOM.org.

Whether children save pennies, or families budget a special offering or people show up for worship Christmas Eve and give as they feel moved, we know that this will be an opportunity for those of us who have so much to share with some of our brothers and sisters that have so little.  So maybe as you join us on the Advent Conspiracy you will be inspired to invite others to participate as well.  If you are not part of Centenary United Methodist Church than I hope you will have a cause that means something to you that your family can support in lieu of some of the excessive gift giving that we can get caught up in.

And I pray for all of us that instead of exhaustion from a too busy schedule and a long “to do” list that we can find time and space to worship God fully and to share some extra love with others.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Days After

I’ve intentionally waited a few days to write this blog.  Partially because I was without meaningful words for a couple of days.  Partially because I needed to just sit with the unexpected outcome of the election and not be reactive.  Partially because I have been observing the reactions of others.

I think my personal reaction to the election results is as much about seeing the great divisions within our country come out from the shadows and clearly reveal itself then it is about who won or loss.  And that is what has me off-balance a bit.  It’s not that I haven’t known there were people who felt very differently about our world but it’s been hard to tell how those different perspectives broke down.  It is much clearer now.

I think our political system is a real mess right now.  How our politicians pick up the shattered pieces of the rhetoric, bombastic campaign promises and name calling and put a functioning government back together will be challenging, and that is putting it mildly.  So I want to focus on us the people.

This morning I attended a Veterans Day breakfast at my church. I must admit that a few days after the election, a breakfast anything was the last thing I wanted to do on my Sabbath Friday morning.  But God has a way of nudging me where I need to be. What really moved me was when the various hymns of the armed forces were played the older men in our church who had served in that branch of military stood up.  Some of them had tears in their eyes.  Some of them sang with gusto the words of their hymn.  I was quite moved to clap for these gentlemen.  I was reminded that there are lots of reasons to love our country and be proud of it even if right now people find themselves in a shaky place personally, politically or nationally.

Here’s my very best advice right now as we all recover from what has been a very traumatic election cycle. Listen to one another. Start listening more. Maybe you are feeling elated about the election result.  Then listen hard to those who are upset.  Whether you agree with them or not, do not try to justify the results.  Just listen.  Maybe you are scared because you are afraid of how you might be treated in the future.  Then listen to those unknownaround you to try to understand why they voted the way they did and don’t assume their vote means they actually agree with everything a candidate said.  If you are a woman, or an immigrant or black or Muslim or any of the categories of people who are confused and scared  about what this means for what people actually think about you because of the political rhetoric, listen to the voices that are fervently saying we love and care about you.  But also listen to the frustrated voice of those who feel like they have been ignored or left behind the last several years because maybe there are some commonalities that none of us could have predicted.  If you are not one of those previously mentioned categories, listen hard to those who have grave concerns and try to understand why they feel afraid.  Listen for what is good and decent in all of us.  Don’t default to defensiveness or combativeness, try to listen more than you speak.

Most importantly, for you who are Christian, listen for God’s voice in the midst of this painful chaos.  Last week the Scripture I preached from in Ephesians said that Christ is in charge of everything from galaxies to governments – forever.  I believe that maybe now more than ever we Christians have the opportunity to be a shining example for how we treat each other and how we love one another no matter who is in the Governor’s Mansion or the White House.  I can’t control our political system or its outcomes.  But I can control my actions and my behavior.  I choose to place Christ as number one in my life and I intend to live by His commands to Love God and Love Neighbor with all of my heart.  If I do that and if you do that (and I mean ALL of our neighbors), maybe we will in fact create the world that all of us envision for our future.  Will you join me?

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.  -Ephesians 1:20-22  The Message

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Diary of a Large Membership Church Pastor – Part 1

Dear Diary (aka God),

So it’s been 15 months since I started this job.  There have been some incredibly awesome moments as I look back that remind me over and over why I do this work.  Moments where someone sent me a note, came to talk to me, or whispered in my ear on the way out the door on Sunday mornings sharing something important on their heart.  Or moments when I see a lay person using their God given gifts to further your Kingdom.  God, nothing brings a smile to my face quicker.  Or the privilege of being with a family during illness or the loss of a loved one.  Or seeing someone in the community or in our church experience the love of Christ in the broken parts of their lives.  This is what you called me to be a part of.

But God, there have been some amazingly difficult moments.  Moments that cause my calling to fade and at times even question who you have gifted me to be and some of the choices I have made.  But only momentarily.  In a large church, the concept of “you can’t make everyone happy” is only magnified and multiplied.  It’s strange, though.  Sometimes it feels like the weight of whether the church is doing well or not doing well gets projected onto the shoulders of the senior minister.  When you think about all of the many hands that work so hard to make church function it should be a team approach.  But it is a weight I’m learning to carry.

The hardest thing of all these days is trying to figure out how to deal with the mixed messages.  Some like my preaching.  Some do not.  Some like my leadership style.  Some are trying to figure me out. Some like the fact that I am a woman.  Some do not.

So I do the only thing I know to do that grounds me and gives guidance I can always depend on.  I pray.  Jesus is the one who got me into this work.  Jesus is the one who has guided me every step of the way these past 19 years.  Jesus is the one who will sit with me in my vulnerability and guide me as I empower laity and make decisions to help lead this flock of God’s sheep.  Most importantly, Jesus is the one who will love me no matter what.  And for each one of us, remembering that is what matters most.

But here is where my heart is this week in my prayers- this Scripture passage….

“…every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank.  I ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for Christians, oh, the utter extravagances of his work in us who trust him-endless energy, boundless strength!”

Ephesians 1:16-19 (The Message)

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE what I do.  I love this church.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  God has shown me such amazing possibilities in the life and future of this church.  But it is hard work.  And when people care deeply about their church, they have strong feelings about it.  I just wish I could help folks understand that first and foremost, it is YOUR church, God.  It’s not my church or their church.  And when we trust YOU to lead us, then maybe we can stop questioning one another and get on board with living into the joy of your hopes and dreams for us with endless energy and boundless strength.  A girl can pray.

Thanks for listening.

Your Pondering Servant,

Lory Beth