Unexpected Opportunities

You never know when it’s going to happen.  That moment when someone realizes that you are a practicing Christian and they seek you out.  It happened to me yesterday at the beach.  I’m down with my family and we are renting half of a beach house.  In the other side of the house is a family with an adult son named Tim.  I’m not sure how best to describe Tim but the closest I can come up with is that he needs three doses of medicine for ADHD.  And I do not mean that with any disrespect at all.  His brain must be going a million miles an hour.

We were gathered on our deck and Tim comes over saying he wants to meet the “preacher woman”.  Now let me explain the reason I felt startled when he came over and asked me to pray with him.  He was over on his side of the deck taking apart a beach umbrella, removing the rainbow covered material from the metal skeleton.  He told his family he was going to make kites out of it.  Then it was like watching an improv sketch where you take an object and come up with different uses for said object.  He took the umbrella material and stuck his head through the top and called it a poncho.  It was like he had put on Joseph’s technicolor dream coat!   Then the next thing I know he comes over to our side and kneels down in front of me and asks if I will pray for him.  For a second we couldn’t tell if he was serious or not.  After babbling for 5 minutes about where he is from and the fact that he didn’t really go to church and that Winston Salem was too far from where he lives (I did invite him to Livestream our services on Sundays!) he reached out his hand and began a prayer with me.

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Request for prayer

I have to say, I was a bit nervous with my whole family sitting around watching this take place and this stranger kneeling in front of me in his Joseph poncho.  It was just a surreal moment. But the strangest thing happened- as soon as I closed my eyes and started praying with and for Tim, with the sound of the ocean in the background and the beach breeze blowing by, this strange moment became unexpectedly familiar.  I could have been holding the hand of someone in the hospital, in my office, or in their home, praying for someone I actually knew, with life circumstances I was familiar with.

But when I opened my eyes, there was this odd but interesting person named Tim, holding his unlit cigarette peering up at me.  He smiled, thanked me and off he went, I guess to go make kites out of his umbrella material.

Admittedly it was a moment that my family sitting around were trying hard not to laugh, partly out of the awkwardness of the situation, partly because it was a humorous sight to see.  But the more I thought about it and the more I have looked at this picture, the more I have appreciated the moment.  I have no illusions that Tim’s life was impacted in a significant way by that 5 minute moment we shared together.  But my life was impacted by it.  By the courage of this person to come up to a stranger and share a spiritual moment.  By the curiosity in his questions.  By the way the synapsis in his brain move so quickly that his ongoing monologues move from one topic to another smoothly and without break.  And by the fact that my family rarely prays together, other than blessing our meals yet there we were praying.  Giving thanks for the beautiful creation surrounding us.  For the reminder of the immensity of God as far as the horizon stretches and then beyond.  For the gift of time with family.  For the gift of the opportunity to just take a break from the rigorous rhythms of life.  And for new friends.

I hope you have an unexpected opportunity in the near future to share your faith practice with someone else.  Whether that is to pray with someone (you really can do it!  It’s not as intimidating as you think it will be.).  Or to have a meaningful conversation about what you believe.  To ask someone else questions or to answer theirs for you.  To express why Jesus is important in your life.  Don’t pass it up.  Even if it seems awkward or comes at strange times.  You never know when you might have the opportunity to make a positive impression.  And besides, who can pass up a Technicolor dream coat moment.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Addendum:  Tim thoughtfully picked up this special wheelchair beach mobile so both his mother and my mother could use it to get to the beach.  My mom fell this week and broke her upper arm and could not comfortably handle walking out to the beach.  As of Thursday night, he has not been able to talk his mother into using it.

It’s About the Community

Today I finish up a wonderful year participating in the Leadership Winston-Salem program. (woo hoo!)  I’m so grateful to Ed Pleasants for opening this door for me and

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My Action Learning Team- fabulous group of people!

encouraging me to apply.  Many cities across the country have a similar program that help leaders learn about their community, its origins, how things function, who leads what, what the current problems or challenges as well as the successes are.  I have learned more in 9 months than I ever would have in the next 5 years.

As I reflect back on all that I learned I am struck by this challenge from Micah 6:8,  “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  (NRSV)  Two of the three requirements cause us to focus beyond our personal selves and relationship with God.  God calls us to pay attention and care about what is happening in the community around us.  Doing justice and loving kindness are communal challenges.  My eyes have been exposed to all kinds of ways I personally and my church can “do justice” and “love kindness” for others in our community.  There are some amazing projects and work already taking place and merely need a helping hand, some public attention, or some well placed resources.  Friends, I discovered things that are not, in fact, overwhelming that can be done.  I did not leave feeling discouraged or helpless.  It’s actually not that hard to positively impact the community around us because there is good work already taking place!  And that is exactly what God longs for us to do as witnesses into this world of the amazing love of Jesus Christ.  This is the nature of the Church that God created.

This past weekend our church celebrated something we call Pentecost Festival and it was a glorious day of worship, music, and fellowship together around delicious food.  Our theme for Pentecost this year (the birthday of God’s Church) was focused around

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Pentecost Festival – notice the white dove flying through our sanctuary in the top left!

Spiritual Gifts.  We talked about how God has indeed gifted each one of us when we profess our faith in Jesus Christ with some sort of Spiritual Gift that we are given to build up the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God.  We have been gifted to make a difference in this world!  God has prepared YOU to do justice and love kindness in your communities!  I love that idea.  We are not tasked with some larger than life expectation to figure out on our own.  God has prepared you with all that you need to lend a hand!

I have had the chance to get to know 50+ wonderful classmates but to work closely with an eight member Action Learning Team.  What a wonderful opportunity to practice leadership skills among a diverse and talented group of leaders.  I’ve made friendships that I hope will stay with me for years to come. Our assigned group studied the challenge of raising public awareness around the issue of Universal Pre-K.  That fit nicely with our church’s work with Winston Salem-Forsyth County School System on the Pathway to K with our sister United Methodist Churches.  I have already seen the huge need for better preparations for all of our 4-year-old children for school (and last year there were over 400 children in this county on a waiting list for a spot in a Pre-K class!).

 

I am committed to helping raise awareness about this important need and support the work community leaders are doing to help bring Universal Pre-K to this community.  I believe this will help all children have a fair and equitable start to the learning environment and be ready for the classroom both socially and academically.  I may just be a pastor with no education background who has no children and shouldn’t really even care.  Except I do.  Because what helps children struggling the most helps all of our children be successful.

Thank you Leadership Winston-Salem for exposing me to so many opportunities and so much information.  I’m grateful for the new friends I have met, learning more about the community leaders that I admire.  And for the reminder that we, the church, have the opportunity to be a strong member and positive force in this community and that we, Centenary, have made, and will continue to make Winston Salem a just and kind community.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

When the Kingdom Grows

I realize that most of you won’t make it through this whole blog but hang in there with me.  I would like to give you a small glance into one of the most significant privileges in the life of being a minister.  Confirmation Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the church year.  [For all of my non-Methodist friends, in our denomination we baptize children as infants honoring the work the Holy Spirit does in their lives.  But as young teenagers we have a process called Confirmation in which we spend weeks teaching, mentoring, challenging and loving on our youth so that they learn about their faith, the church and what it means to profess your faith in Jesus Christ.  At the end of the process, youth can choose to be confirmed and join the church.  It is the personal choice part of Believer’s Baptism other denominations practice.]  Last Sunday we confirmed 33 young people into Christ’s universal Church.

Part of this process involves the pastor laying hands on the heads of each confirmand and confirming them into the faith.  They have answered the questions of faith in front of everyone, they have professed their belief as Christians.  And I get to offer them a blessing.  I grab hold of each one of those precious heads with two hands longing for every ounce of the love of God

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“Being born by water and the Spirit, may you live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”

that I have in my heart to pour into theirs.  I long for them to experience a lifetime of assurance that God truly does see them as a beautiful child of God and will be there for them during the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. I look at their faces and pray that they will always leave time and space in their lives for God when they are faced with so many choices and demands on their time and their hearts.  I hope that they will grasp the life-giving gift that having a faith in Jesus Christ will bring them.  And finally, that when they grow older and make their way in life beyond Centenary, they will find a church community in which they can experience the joy of meaningful Christian relationships that will live life together with them.

So much happening in the 20 seconds I have them in my hands.  I know they will go on to experience many more significant life moments beyond their Confirmation Sunday.  They will graduate from high school.  Many will go on to college which will be a string of significant moments packed into a 4 (or 5 or 6!) year experience. They will all experience their “first love”.  Many will get married.  Many will experience the birth of a child.  Many will experience the joy of their first promotion.  Some will experience the struggle of losing a job.  All will experience the loss of a loved one at some point.  So many memorable moments.  I know this Confirmation moment will get bumped down the memory lane of experiences.  But I pray that it hangs in there as a special moment in their faith journey when they truly began to own their place in God’s Kingdom.

Part of my joy during Confirmation Sunday is it reminds me of that moment in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original cartoon version) when they do an “X-ray” on the Grinch’s heart and show it instantly growing three sizes larger.the_grinch1-e1401029272580  It feels like the Kingdom grows a couple of sizes during Confirmation as these newly professed Christians join the ranks of the church family and take on their vows of upholding the church family with their “prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.”  Man, is that a win for Jesus’ Kingdom.  Because these young people are awesome!  They represent a multitude of gifts, an unlimited amount of love yet to be shared, hours of service offered for the good of others, and a new set of witnesses that powerfully remind others through their actions that they love God and they understand that God loves them.

And I am pretty sure that when the Kingdom grows in that way, God is smiling. And to be just a small part of that, makes my own heart expand a couple of sizes every year. Thanks be to God!

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Encouragement for A Weary Soul

Friends, I am exhausted emotionally.  It has just been one of those weeks that lots of good things have happened but some tough things as well and with all that is swirling around in the world around us, I haven’t been sleeping well.  My soul has been feeling weary and I realized I needed to find some extra spiritual nourishment soon.

I realize others may be feeling this way as well.  I want to offer two resources that have been life giving to me this week.  Maybe you can suggest some resources that have been life giving to you in the comments section so others can benefit!

The first is a series that is on the Netflix TV show called The Kindness Diaries.

“Watch my travels around the world on my yellow motorbike Kindness One. I rely entirely on the kindness of strangers and give back to unsuspecting good Samaritans along the way… The show is about sharing compassion and empathy with others. It’s  about smiling at the world and seeing what happens when the world smiles right back at you.”                     -Leon Logothetis

The-Kindness-Diaries-Screenshot-YoutubeI stumbled upon this on Netflix and discovered these short 20-25 minute segments revealing the very best of humanity all across the globe.  It gave me such hope in human kind and reminded me of the power of kindness and generosity.  You will enjoy this!

Secondly, while I was on the stair climber listening to music the song “Thrive” by Casting Crowns began playing in my ear.  I found myself hitting replay because the words so resonated with this desire to nurture my weary soul.  Click on the title of the song to listen but for those of you who do not care for contemporary Christian music here are the lyrics.  I invite you to pray over these words as a gift from the God who longs for so much more for us than weariness.  May you truly know the living water that God offers every one of us!

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water
We never will run dry
So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire
Just to know You and make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun made darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive
Into Your word we’re digging deep
To know our Father’s heart
Into the world we’re reaching out
To show them who You are
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive
Joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable,
Love unstoppable, anything is possible
Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun made darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive
Just two little things.  Nothing earth shattering here.  But life giving.  I’d love to hear from you what has been life giving this week?  Where do you go to drink from the Living Water?
Grace and Peace,
Lory Beth

Mother’s Day Reflections

As an adult, Mother’s Day has always been a difficult day for me personally.  Growing up- it was a chance for my brothers to show off their rhyming skills with some Mother’s Day poetry (Hallmark had nothing on us!) and our gardening skills by picking out the best potted plant we could find to show our mom how much we loved her.  I was home this past weekend and had the chance to spend some time in the home I grew up in.  It was interesting to look around at some of the things that just haven’t changed in 46 years.  So many memories of love shared.

I saw a bottle of Avon bubble bath and it brought back memories of “The Avon Lady” that used to knock on our door once a month to bring the latest catalog of Avon makeup, perfume, and jewelry.  It was kind of our little ritual mom and I would share.  I’d get to look in the magazine for the latest little girl makeup or trinket of jewelry.  My all time favorite was the pink and orange lip gloss that game in the plastic shaped hamburger!  I loved doing that with my mom.  Mom used that time as a way of teaching me how to grow into a woman.

My mom and dad in the early 70’s.  Mom holding me.  Yes, my room was originally the Raggedy Ann and Andy theme.  My bedroom almost 20 years after leaving home!

While I can spend the day giving thanks for all of the ways that my mom nurtured and raised me, I also always feel like I’m missing something.  As an adult woman who has been unable to become pregnant, I find myself in one of those categories of awkwardness on days like today.  I’m ok with it now.  Truly.  It has been enough years to lose the sensitivity around it for me.  But I am acutely aware that not everyone feels like I do and it’s a day of loneliness or feeling inadequate for some.

I appreciated an article that went around Facebook this week that empathized with all the women who lost their mothers prematurely in life.  It invited us to give an extra long hug to our moms and not take for granted celebrating this day with them in person while acknowledging that for some, the loss of their mother was still very tender.

Of course there are those whose biological mother just wasn’t able to be the kind of mother that cared for their children in all of the emotional and physical ways that we assume mother’s will provide.  And there are those who have never known their mother.

But there are also those women in our lives who have been surrogate mothers with seemingly never-ending love to share with everyone.  There are those women who have mentored or encouraged, stepped in when we needed them most impacting our lives like a mother.  Thank you, women of significance.

My best word on this day is we celebrate and give thanks for the mother’s of the world.  It is important work that women do.  It’s not the only work women do and not all women choose or get the opportunity to be mothers and that is ok, too.  And in all the ways that we think of mothers at their very best- I also give thanks to God because God models those very same motherly characteristics in the ways God loves and nurtures us, God’s children.  So moms, I hope the works of art that your children have given you and the clumsily written poems or specially cooked meal or flower arrangement has brought joy to your heart.  Because momma-like love is some of the best in the world.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

What is happening in the United Methodist Church?

I realize that some folks follow the happenings of the larger United Methodist denomination and some members at Centenary do not.  But there have been some big things taking place in the realm of human sexuality in our denomination and we need to understand what they mean.  Let me be clear.  I am not sharing my opinion on these happenings and this is not a political statement about these happenings.  This is merely an opportunity to educate ourselves about what is taking place beyond us as a church but will affect us as a church.

umc_prays_logo_final-690x380The United Methodist Church has been wrestling with the issue of human sexuality for a couple of decades.  But events within the last year have brought a new dynamic to the conversation.  Here are a few bullet points to give you a general picture of these events.

  • May of 2016 at General Conference the delegates representing the United Methodist Church from around the world voted to create a Commission on a Way Forward that consists of 32 people from around the United Methodist Church convened by 3 Bishops.  The work of this commission is to find a possible path forward for our church around the issue of human sexuality.  Our reality is that we have differing theological and Biblical views on this issue and it is putting pressure on our global denomination.  Instead of taking votes on language in our Book of Discipline which has been our historical pattern, this is the first time we have tried a new approach.
  • July of 2016 at Jurisdictional Conference the Western Jurisdictional voted to elect a gay bishop.  Bishop Karen Oliveto is married to another woman.
  • April of 2017 our Judicial Council (think Supreme Court for the UMC) rendered a ruling last week on the election of Bishop Oliveto.  The judgement basically said that the consecration of a gay bishop violates our church law but she remains an active bishop until official charges are made and processed per our typical complaint process.
  • February 2019 there will be a special called General Conference to hear the report of the Commission on a Way Forward.  This will actually be the moment when decisions will then affect our denomination and more specifically, our church.  As our denomination tries to figure out what this new way may look like we have churches and Methodists who are at their brink and these decisions could affect people choosing to stay or leave our denomination for theological reasons.  Centenary will not be immune to those tensions as we have differing perspectives right here at home.

I have included links to a couple of other resources in this blog so you can see summaries or statements by people far more informed than I am on these happenings.  They are worth a look including the most recent letter from Bishop Paul Leeland, of our own Western North Carolina Conference.

These are important times to hold our Church in prayer as we await the work of the Commission.  These are difficult times for many in our denomination as we do have different perspectives on the issue of homosexuality and how it affects leadership within our churches as well as our stance on marriage.  These are challenging times as our denomination embraces the beauty and the obstacles of being a global Church where differing cultures clash theologically.

There are so many factors that have influenced our Church so I encourage you to read a history that briefly summarizes (in 5-7 minutes!) what has brought us to this point written by Bishop Ken Carter who is from Western North Carolina and is one of the 3 presiding bishops for the Commission but is currently serving the Florida Conference.

Finally this is just a good synopsis of where we are written by Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson from the North Georgia Conference and also includes the statement from our Council of Bishops reacting to the Judicial Council’s ruling last week.

I am happy to answer any questions you might have.  Mostly we are in a place of waiting and praying for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward.  As there are updates to share, I will pass them along.  In the mean time, we might do well to reflect on our own theological understanding of human sexuality.  But that will be a blog for another day.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Touch and See for Yourself

Post resurrection, my new favorite disciple is Thomas.  It would be my luck that when Jesus showed up I would have been the one that drew the short straw and had to go get the groceries for everyone while we were holed up behind locked doors trying to stay safe for fear of the same thing happening to Jesus happening to us.  Yep, I can see it now.  Returning with the bread and olives and everyone being a chatter.  Then after hearing the news, I imagine I would pronounce, much like Thomas, “No way!  I’ll believe it when I see it.”

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Have you ever prayed, “God just give me a sign.”  I’ve done that as recently as this last week, in fact.  Just show me something tangible that proves you are listening to me.  Or a sign that shows the way you want me to go.  Or a sign that shows you are real and I am not just talking to myself.  There are moments when I really relate to Thomas.

And I draw comfort from Jesus’ response even though he is a little harsh with Thomas.  He knows that he can’t present himself to every follower that will come and so people will have to start believing on their own and he articulates that.  But he also looks at Thomas and says,

27“Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” – John 20:27-28

It was the same thing he offered all of the disciples a week earlier.  “Come and see for yourselves.” (Luke 24:39)  But Thomas’ response is the best.  A complete submission to Jesus as Lord and Savior of his life.  When he finally understands, he’s all in!

By the way, I did get my sign this past week.  When I woke up Tuesday morning and read my morning devotions, it had three scripture passages for me to read – none of which seemed to go together.  Tears began rolling down my cheek as I saw the complete answer to my prayers of the moment come into focus and gave thanks for a God who even when I doubt, is always listening.  My Lord and my God.  And that is the power of reading Scripture on a daily basis.  You may read it mostly for general edification of your spirit but then you have the vehicle in place for when you really need to be shaped by God in what is going on in your particular life.

We have entered the Easter season.  We celebrate the resurrected Jesus – the message of hope that brings us deep and abiding joy.  I offer you this prayer that Joyce Rupp has offered me in my devotions each morning.  I hope it is as meaningful to you as it is to me as we discover the resurrected Jesus appearing in our lives.

Praise to you, My risen Redeemer, who keeps on challenging the doubt in me, who perceives the Thomas in me and allows me those graceful times when I, too, can put my fingers into the signs and wounds of my everyday life and there come in contact with you.

Praise to you, my risen Lord, who keeps on meeting me in the garden of my life, who keeps on calling my name, allowing me to feel loved, blessed and cherished.

Praise to you, risen Jesus, who walks with me on the Emmaus journey, coaxing the ache out of me, comforting and strengthening me with the intimate presence of yourself.

Praise to you, my risen Savior, who surprises me on the sandy beaches of my so often planned and programmed life, inviting me to come and taste what you have prepared.  Time after time, you nourish me with all that I need to carry your risen presence with me, where I go and to whomever I meet.    -Joyce Rupp Fresh Bread and Other Spiritual Nourishment

My Lord and my God.

Easter Blessings,

Lory Beth