Archive | November, 2012

BIG NEWS

25 Nov

Next Sunday I begin as pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Smithsburg, MD.  I met with the District Superintendent on Tuesday and this morning I was introduced as the interim pastor.  It is a somewhat awkward situation and I am only 1/4 time right now, but I will be preaching on Sunday.  I have included picture of the church.  It is land locked in the block, but there is a nice parking lot a couple of houses down the street.  The people seems very nice and it is only 8 miles from my parents house.

Please pray for me and the people of St. Paul’s UMC during this time of transition.  Now on with the Psalm

Psalm 43 sounds like it is part of Psalm 42 because the refrain is the same.  In the first couple of verse the psalmist sound like they are in the middle of a tough situation with the feeling of enemies around them.

I really like the second stanzas.

” Give me your lantern and compass,
give me a map,
So I can find my way to the sacred mountain,
to the place of your presence,
To enter the place of worship,
meet my exuberant God,
Sing my thanks with a harp,
magnificent God, my God.”

I love the image of having God’s lantern and compass and map.  It is good to have the complete package to find our way to the sacred mountain.  It is great to be in a place of worship; and maybe even better to know that anyplace can be a place of worship.

The psalm ends with the matching refrain from Psalm 42.  The psalmist acknowledges their sadness and difficulties and looks to God for hope and grace.

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.

I hope God has put a smile on your face today.

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A day of giving thanks and feeling STUFFED!

22 Nov

I hope you are having a wonderful day of thanksgiving with food and family and a time to remember all God’s blessings.    I have debated about whether to talk about Psalm 42. It is not straightforward psalm, in fact it is a little schizophrenic.

The opening lines in the New Revised Standard Version are,”As a deer longs for flowing streams,  so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”  It is very poetic and is opening lines of a praise song.  Yet, the rest of the first stanzas show the psalmist angst.  Here it is in The Message:

1-3 A white-tailed deer drinks
from the creek;
I want to drink God,
deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, “Will I ever make it—
arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
I’m on a diet of tears—
tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
All day long
people knock at my door,
Pestering,
“Where is this God of yours?”

The writer talks about of life of praising God, but then becomes very sad with their life.

“These are the things I go over and over,
emptying out the pockets of my life.
I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,
right out in front,
Leading them all,
eager to arrive and worship,
Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—
celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.”

What I like about the psalm is the writer talks about listing all the wonderful things God has done in their life to get themselves in a ‘happy place’.

” When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
everything I know of you,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers
crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
sing songs all through the night!
My life is God’s prayer.”

So, I thought, maybe this day more than any other, what have you remembered that God has done for you?  What is the list of things that you say God has given to you?  For me, today, it is family, and food, and strength, and health, and good work to do.  And I think especially, a God who I can think about, call to mind in each moment of my life, and find a deeper meaning in my life in each of those moments (even the crappy one.)  Again, I think it is why I like this psalm, it finishes with a bit of a whinny note with life not really going the writers way, but still looking to God to give enough grace for a smile.

Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God,
“Why did you let me down?
Why am I walking around in tears,
harassed by enemies?”
They’re out for the kill, these
tormentors with their obscenities,
Taunting day after day,
“Where is this God of yours?”

11 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.

A blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours.  Don’t let the stress of the holidays rule your life.

Where do you put your brain?

21 Nov
Somehow this blog lost my intro sentences.  Fortunately, I can edit it, so if you read this already, here are is beginning.
My question is, “Where do you put your brain?”  That is, what is the mental loop that runs in your brain.  Richard Foster says that your emotions do not control how we feel, but it is our mental activity is what controls our emotions.  The psalmist puts their thoughts on God.  lt is God who heals and makes us whole.  It is God where the hope comes from in difficult times.

“1-3 Dignify those who are down on their luck;
you’ll feel good—that’s what God does.
God looks after us all,
makes us robust with life—
Lucky to be in the land,
we’re free from enemy worries.
Whenever we’re sick and in bed,
God becomes our nurse,
nurses us back to health.”

The psalmist says that even when they have sinned and are feeling attacked by enemies and those who call themselves friends, God is the one that we go to for help.

” I said, “God, be gracious!
Put me together again—
my sins have torn me to pieces.”
My enemies are wishing the worst for me;
they make bets on what day I will die.
If someone comes to see me,
he mouths empty platitudes,
All the while gathering gossip about me
to entertain the street-corner crowd.
These “friends” who hate me
whisper slanders all over town.
They form committees
to plan misery for me.

8-9 The rumor goes out, “He’s got some dirty,
deadly disease. The doctors
have given up on him.”
Even my best friend, the one I always told everything
—he ate meals at my house all the time!—
has bitten my hand.”

When the writers is feeling as through even best friends has turned against them, they look for God to pick them up.  For me, this is the difference in the psalm.  There is always a hope in God to bring healing into a difficult and lonely situation.

 God, give grace, get me up on my feet.
I’ll show them a thing or two.

“11-12 Meanwhile, I’m sure you’re on my side—
no victory shouts yet from the enemy camp!
You know me inside and out, you hold me together,
you never fail to stand me tall in your presence
so I can look you in the eye.

13 Blessed is God, Israel’s God,
always, always, always.
Yes. Yes. Yes.”

So, again the question is, what is in your brain?  Are you like the psalmist who says, Blessed is God, always, always, always, Yes, yes, yes.  I will confess that the reason I am writing about this theme is that this morning I notice a negative refrain running through my brain.  I was at the gym at the YMCA and I was noticing people younger and thinner than me, since this includes a lot of people it happens a lot.  I realized that the phase I was saying to myself had to do with age and body type, which I really don’t care that much about.  I also remember that Richard Foster said our thoughts influence our emotions and outlook.  So, I have decided to replace the phrase that runs through my brain, particularly at the Y.   It is kinda like Blessed God, always, always, always, yes, yes, yes. – the one I decided upon is, “you are God’s child and you are here to share God’s grace.”  That’s it.  So, what runs through your brain?  Do you need to change the phrase that runs through your brain?

Blessings,

20 Nov

I have been in a church community all my life.  I have met a lot of people of faith during those many, many years.  Here’s what I have noticed; people who believe that God has really redeemed their lives from difficulties seem to have a deeper faith life.  In this psalm the writer speaks of being redeemed from the pit.

1-3 I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God.”

When I felt like God had ‘stood me up on a solid rock’, I began to know how much I could trust God with everything in my life. It is remembering how God has given hope in life in the past that gives us courage in the present moment.  So, I think even when we are going through difficult times we can choose to see how God can be building a deeper faith in us.

“Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God,
turn your backs on the world’s “sure thing,”
ignore what the world worships;
The world’s a huge stockpile
of God-wonders and God-thoughts.
Nothing and no one
comes close to you!
I start talking about you, telling what I know,
and quickly run out of words.
Neither numbers nor words
account for you.”

OK, so I never actually run out of words, particularly when I am talking about God, but none of my words or anything can account or contain God.  The psalmist talks of our human desire to response to God, and God’s desire for our authentic worship.

“Doing something for you, bringing something to you—
that’s not what you’re after.
Being religious, acting pious—
that’s not what you’re asking for.
You’ve opened my ears
so I can listen.”

The writer tells us that the relationship that God wants is one where we listen.  But also, a relationship where we tell about what God is doing in our lives.  (note: I have not put in all the verses of the psalm)

“I’ve preached you to the whole congregation,
I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that.
I didn’t keep the news of your ways
a secret, didn’t keep it to myself.
I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough.
I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth
For myself alone. I told it all,
let the congregation know the whole story.”

So, as you are listening to God, experiencing how God has given you life, remember to tell others.  Particularly, in this week where it is easy to talk about things we are thankful for, it should be easy to talk to others about God’s grace and love.  Peace.

Now this one I get!

15 Nov
” I’m determined to watch steps and tongue

so they won’t land me in trouble.
I decided to hold my tongue
as long as Wicked is in the room.
“Mum’s the word,” I said, and kept quiet.
But the longer I kept silence
The worse it got—
my insides got hotter and hotter.
My thoughts boiled over;
I spilled my guts.”

I am consistently saying exactly what is on my mind.  I have often prayed God would help me to hold my tongue; I have often tried a discipline of silence – it never really works.  I can keep quiet sometimes, but if I really feel strongly about sometime, my mouth flies open and often my foot is inserted.

The next verses continues the psalmist conversation with God about how small and short our human life is:

“Tell me, what’s going on, God?
How long do I have to live?
Give me the bad news!
You’ve kept me on pretty short rations;
my life is string too short to be saved.
Oh! we’re all puffs of air.
Oh! we’re all shadows in a campfire.
Oh! we’re just spit in the wind.
We make our pile, and then we leave it.

7-11 “What am I doing in the meantime, Lord?
Hoping, that’s what I’m doing—hoping
You’ll save me from a rebel life,
save me from the contempt of dunces.
I’ll say no more, I’ll shut my mouth,
since you, Lord, are behind all this.
But I can’t take it much longer.
When you put us through the fire
to purge us from our sin,
our dearest idols go up in smoke.
Are we also nothing but smoke?

I know I have had the experience of feeling those ‘purging fires’ and coming through them with some old idols up in smoke.  Perhaps it is the process of growing old, or perhaps growing deeper in our faith; but I have known time when the only thing to hold on to is God’s grace.  I believe I have emerged stronger when I have come through the fires – so long as God has been with me.  It is feeling God’s presence and love that has seen me through.  In the final verses of the psalm, the writer is asking God for that same strength and grace.

“Ah, God, listen to my prayer, my
cry—open your ears.
Don’t be callous;
just look at these tears of mine.
I’m a stranger here. I don’t know my way—
a migrant like my whole family.
Give me a break, cut me some slack
before it’s too late and I’m out of here.”

Even when we feel like a stranger in a strange land, God is there by our side to be our home.

Psalm 38 and the life I remember

14 Nov

As I read through psalm 38 to get ready to talk to you about it, I was having a tough time trying to understand was the psalmist was saying.  Then, after about the fourth time, I remembered a time in my early 20s.  I had made a lot of really stupid decisions, I was flunking out of nursing school again and I had been a car accident that caused post-concussion trauma.  The first night after the accident the doctors warned if I went to sleep I might not wake up and that sounded good to me.  Of course the next day I did wake up and somewhere along the road I started making better, God-centered decisions.  So, here is the psalm that speaks to me of that time in my life.  I have put all of it together in one chunk.

-2 Take a deep breath, God; calm down—
don’t be so hasty with your punishing rod.
Your sharp-pointed arrows of rebuke draw blood;
my backside smarts from your caning.

3-4 I’ve lost twenty pounds in two months
because of your accusation.
My bones are brittle as dry sticks
because of my sin.
I’m swamped by my bad behavior,
collapsed under gunnysacks of guilt.

5-8 The cuts in my flesh stink and grow maggots
because I’ve lived so badly.
And now I’m flat on my face
feeling sorry for myself morning to night.
All my insides are on fire,
my body is a wreck.
I’m on my last legs; I’ve had it—
my life is a vomit of groans.

9-16 Lord, my longings are sitting in plain sight,
my groans an old story to you.
My heart’s about to break;
I’m a burned-out case.
Cataracts blind me to God and good;
old friends avoid me like the plague.
My cousins never visit,
my neighbors stab me in the back.
My competitors blacken my name,
devoutly they pray for my ruin.
But I’m deaf and mute to it all,
ears shut, mouth shut.
I don’t hear a word they say,
don’t speak a word in response.
What I do, God, is wait for you,
wait for my Lord, my God—you will answer!
I wait and pray so they won’t laugh me off,
won’t smugly strut off when I stumble.

17-20 I’m on the edge of losing it—
the pain in my gut keeps burning.
I’m ready to tell my story of failure,
I’m no longer smug in my sin.
My enemies are alive and in action,
a lynch mob after my neck.
I give out good and get back evil
from God-haters who can’t stand a God-lover.

21-22 Don’t dump me, God;
my God, don’t stand me up.
Hurry and help me;
I want some wide-open space in my life!

I send blessings and thanksgiving today for the life that God has given to me.  Even though I have made some really stupid choices in my life I have tried to learn from all of the experience in my life.  I believe asking God into each moment and each decision helps us find the meaning that can lead us to better days.

Life update

11 Nov

The last couple of days I have been on a women’s retreat with the Church of the Holy Apostles; the place where I work now.  A dozen of us were at a Episcopal retreat center in Lewes, Delaware.  The first photo was taken on my first morning there.  The theme of the retreat was Seeking Sabbath.  It was really lovely to sit with woman and talk about finding Sabbath rest in God in the midst of our lives.

The second photo was taken this morning as I walked a prayer labyrinth.  I thought of the prayer labyrinth at Sky Lake the Senior High Youth Group had cleaned up a couple of years ago during their annual retreat.  Almost unconsciously I picking up fallen twigs along the path.  I was laughing to myself about the compulsive cleaning behavior (definitely a trait from my mother), then I realized that maybe that was my task: to help clear the path for others to walk with God.

I truly had a blessed time this weekend.  I thank God, that God always journeys with me – that as I seek God – God has already found me.

Yea God!