Monday, March 19, 2018

With all Your Heart, With all Your Soul, and With all Your Mind

           Sometimes I am certain I am my own worst enemy. It seems to be second nature for me to assume I have not done something good enough, soon enough, with enough compassion, with enough love, or with enough thoughtfulness. I especially excel at this self-flagellation during Lent. Why should God love me, not only a sinner, but a fairly good sinner at that?

          When I was of elementary school age, in Sunday School I learned the following prayer: Thou shalt love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. These words that I command you shalt be upon your heart. Be holy unto your God. I am the Lord your God. It has  never been a problem for me to love God with all my heart with all my soul and with all my mind. I have been angry with God, confused by God, frustrated with God, terrified of God, and have wondered where on earth (or in heaven) God was. But I have never not loved Him.

          But here I am, near the end of Lent, wondering what is it about me that God chooses to love me? I am not rich; I am not famous; I hold no great influence over anyone; I am not beautiful. I am not even very organized. I could not be pious if my life depended upon it. I do not always manage to get Morning or Evening Prayer said.  Would I give up my life for Christ? I would like to think so, but don't hold me to it. So what is there about me for God to love?

          Yesterday, as I drove to Lexington in the silence of the morning, I sensed God trying yet again, to explain His love for me. Of course I know all the reasons we tend to tick off for why someone is attractive and hence deserving to be loved, are not things that matter to God. He loves me because I am one of His children, because he has known me since before I was in my mother's womb, and because I was created in God's image. God knows the number of hairs on my head. God loves me in spite of myself. God loves me, and YOU, so much that He gave His only begotten Son so that when you and I leave this world, we will make our new homes in Christ's eternal presence.

          I believe that God loves us simply because we are God's children. God loves each of us with all His heart, with all His soul and with all His mind. Yes, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors even as we love ourselves, but I also believe He wants us to love ourselves even as we love our neighbors.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Easter Approaches

When I was growing up, I was involved in a large, full scale production of the Easter story. Every year, the church would build a set, cast the parts, and spend months fleshing out the gospel account of Jesus’ final days. I lived for the play. We all did. Rehearsals took over our lives, choir practice became a weekly occurrence; we ate, slept, and breathed this play. 

Over my 12 or so years in the play I played multiple characters, some speaking and some not. I retold the stories of some of the major players in those final weeks of Jesus’ ministry. Nothing touched me more than seeing Jesus perform miracles in a large crowd scene at the beginning of the play. The sheer amazement and joy on those characters faces when they were healed of their afflictions. 

This man, who rode into town on a mere donkey, joined by this ragtag group of men, had given them life again. They could walk, talk or see because Jesus touched them.  It brings tears to my eyes to remember those characters and how they must have felt. Renewed. Rejoicing. 

As the Lenten season gives way to Holy Week and Easter, we relive Jesus’ triumphant entrance into the city. We join the praises and wave our palms for the Most High. The joy is palpable as Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, enters the city. 

Don’t forget the same Jesus, the one who rode a small donkey into Jerusalem, is still alive. He still heals and provides. He chose this path for us. As Easter draws nearer, don’t forget that it’s all for you.  The cross, the grave, the Resurrection. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


          I am up quite early, 4:00 am, sitting in my sunroom, listening to the quiet of the lingering nighttime. All the dogs are asleep, curled up on their beds and/or the couch. Two of them are dreaming, moving their paws in imagined runs. All is silent except for the softly snuffling canine sounds and the water in the koi pond as it cascades down the rocks into the pool below it. This is my bit of Eden, silent as it awaits the dawn of day and the approach of spring.

          After the several soggy rainy days we have had of late, yesterday I found myself drawn to my back yard. I took stock of the daffodil, daylily and peony plants pushing up through the earth. I tended to all the birdfeeders, lest the wrens and woodpeckers worked themselves into a frenzy impatiently waiting for the morsels of nuts and seeds to be replenished.

          I wandered over to the koi pond to take stock of the fish. During the winter, the fish go to the bottom of the pond or hide out in their cave in the wall of the pond. Near the end of each winter, I make my first fish count, hoping to find all the fish I had at the end of autumn. The fish scatter and dive to the pond's bottom when they sense my presence. They have forgotten who I am and  the relationship I share with them during the warm days of each year.
          I call one of the koi my ghost fish. He is beautiful- totally black except for a striking grey color on the outer edges on each of his fins. But for all his beauty, on the best of summer days when the pond water is crystal clear, he is difficult to find swimming against the black backdrop of the pond's liner. I saw every fish present and accounted for but the ghost fish. I even found a surprise fingerling, perhaps three or four inches long, a beautiful solid yellow-gold color. I scanned the water a few more times, searching for the ghost fish. Eventually, as I turned to walk away, I caught a glimpse of silver skimming just under the water's surface.

          I suspect winter, with its cold wet days, has not really left us. While it is not yet over, at least we know it is drawing to a close. With each passing day, I find myself thinking about and planning for the work I have to do to care for my small garden of Eden.
          During this season of Lent, I have been taking stock. I have been examining who I think I am, who I think I am called to be and who others see me as being. I am taking stock of all the gifts life has given me and taking stock of how I have cared for those gifts. I am taking stock of my commitment to God in relation to God's commitment to me. I am taking stock of what I think I need do to increase and strengthen my commitment to Christ and his Church.

          Just as I expectantly await the return of spring, the blooms of daffodils and peonies, and the return of warmer crystal clear water with opportunities to feed the koi from my hands and feel them gracefully swim along my legs and arms, I eagerly await the celebration of Easter and Jesus's resurrection. But while I wait, I take stock of the work I have done and the work I have yet to do to care for God's people and creation.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dying As Gift

Growing up in a culture that embraced death has not been familiar to me.  In fact, we just did not talk about it even though it may have been on everyone’s minds.  Children did not go to funerals and certainly did not see the body of a deceased person.  If someone began to talk about their death, the usual response was – “now don’t talk about that – you are fine.”   All of those thoughts that came naturally about death, just got submerged deep within  and created a mountain of fear.   It has taken much unlearning for me to move away from this view point.

I recently ran across a meditation from Henri Nouwen entitled Dying Well.  It is a keeper.  It does not dismiss the idea of a bucket list but most of the things that many of us put on that list are self indulgent, leaving no lasting gift for the world from which we depart.  It is as though we are in this race to fit everything in that we could possibly want to do.  All of the attention is on me.  What if most of the things that we put on our lists are things that will continue to give after we are gone?  Can I give my spirit away every day so that I have none left?  Will that spirit continue on in the generations after me? 

The idea of dying well is life-giving to me.  It gives me a renewed energy towards my work, family, friends, home, church, and self.   Is it possible that this giving away of self is the abundant life that Jesus talked about?  This is a life that will never die.  This Lent may we let go of more of those things that do not matter, embrace the things that do, and give our life away.  

  • ·         Be present to whoever and whatever you are with

  • ·         Give of yourself completely to whatever task is in front of you

  • ·         Walk a little slower, taking notice of the abundance around you

  • ·         Let go of the need to buy and give more to what is sustaining for all

  • ·         Give thanks every day, even in sickness and death for this incredible gift of life we have     been given

  • ·         Use your gifts up!

What would you add:

  • ·         ________________________________________________________________

  • ·         ________________________________________________________________

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Greatest Love Story

Valentine’s Day. This holiday has never really meant that much to me. Yes, I got little Valentine’s Day cards while in elementary school, and I receive something from my family every year. However, since I have been single for most of my life and Valentine’s Day tends to revolve around couples, I always try to celebrate love and push the romantic aspect of the day out of my mind.

Recently, I read a book on welcoming and including singles in the church. One of the author’s main points was learning to love others and include others in your life that aren’t in the same stage of life as you are. This idea struck me, especially so close to Valentine’s Day. Why does this holiday have to center so much on romantic love? Why can’t it be more about love: the love of family, the love of friendship, the love of mentorship, and the love of people? As human beings, we were made for companionship. We need each other, whether we are married or single. We all could always have one more friend, someone to get to know and with whom to share life. Yes, it can be hard to get to know new people, but take a chance. Reach out to someone that is different than you are or someone in a contrasting time of life than you. They might teach you something new, something about their struggles or their accomplishments, and, who knows, they might need you just as much as you need them. Valentine’s Day should be about love, not just romantic love.

For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday starts our Lenten journey. This solemn journey starts with ashes, reminding us of who we are as humans and to dust we shall return. But, at the end of this journey, we celebrate Christ’s redemptive work of the cross in His glorious resurrection. Through Lent and Holy Week, we see the greatest love story of all time unfold. Jesus Christ loves us so much that He endured the cross, a brutal death, and took upon Himself our sin. He did that for us, for YOU. No matter where we are in life or what we have done, we can come to Him and receive His gift of love and redemption.

There isn’t any greater love than His. May we attempt to begin to understand His love for us in our Lenten journey this year, and may we strive to take it and give that love to the world.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A place. A space. A home.

We recently updated our youth space in the basement. We have a coordinated area to eat, all together, during our weekly youth meetings. The kids were so excited to see the makeover. They loved the color scheme and felt like it was cool and exciting. Much more their style. However, I overheard a conversation between the kids at a recent talk where several mentioned that they didnʼt want to be “stuck in a dark, dingy basement” all the time. Sure, the paint and chairs updated the space but ultimately the kids want something more. They need something more. In the last few months since Iʼve been in my role as youth minister, these kids have taught me so much about Jesus and love. They are desperate to get out and “be” the Church. They want to work, to serve, to love outside these walls. So, why then are we updating a building? Why do it if they want to be out? You see these youth want to serve. Because they’ve seen it. This world, this time, their friends...are a mess. Theyʼre dealing with so much more than you or I ever thought about when we were teens. Suicide, addiction, bullying, stress, anxiety, mental illness, the list goes on and on. That messy, broken, ugly world out there needs a place to come. A place to drop their fears and worries. And that place should be the church. We should be a place where the kids want to bring their friends. Where they seek solace. Where they come for answers or a hug or a shoulder to cry. When the world gets to be too much they should come to us. When they are overwhelmed by the fear or pain or loss. They should feel welcome. Does the paint color matter? Probably not. But does it matter if they have a space that makes them feel included? Wanted? Respected? Cherished? Yes! The church is for them. With them. The proposed renovations are vital for us to be able to meet our kids where they are. And for those children growing into the messy world. Itʼs for them too. So they know they matter. They have a place. A space. A home.

Rachel Long, Youth Minister

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Awakening in Darknenss

     This morning a group that I am a part of had to be cancelled due to so much illness.  My daughter is not well and all three of her children are sick.  One friend just fell down the steps in a rush - in fact has done that more than once recently.  Another friend just lost her mother after a long illness.  I too have gone through a few dark days sampling various viruses.  When I am sick, other dark areas in my life are revealed to me.  Maybe I am slowed down enough to see them. 
     I do not believe that God strikes us with illness or brings on calamity but I do believe that sometimes, that is the only time that we will really listen.  We like to believe that we have all in control.  Isaiah is made ready for God by having his lips touched by a burning coal.  John Collins, the author of EFM's first year text wonders, "is the human condition only  purified by the painful and radical remedy of burning?"  Think about your own life.  What periods of your life in looking back have caused you to grow spiritually?  For me and most people that I know - it is the dark times. 
     Sometimes, just as many of our biblical friends, I want to hear simply what I want to hear.  I think that I am hearing God when it is really my own ego talking.  The hard and beautiful messages of God have only sunk in when I am perhaps laid out sick, going through grief, experiencing some great disappointment, or depression has hit.  Those are the times when I am faced with myself.  I am out of control and I can only turn to God. 
     If illness or some other darkness has visited you recently, I challenge you to welcome it.  Then listen, watch, and trust that the God of life is there whispering.  Perhaps transformation is knocking.