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Being There

It was still about thirty minutes before the 7:00 a.m. start to the fishing day at Bennett Springs State Park. I sat down on the shore soaking in the cool air and fog rising from the water. A few fishermen had begun to arrive. 

One gentleman came walking slowly along the shore, fly rod in tow, fishing vest loaded with what he needed. After chatting with me a bit, he slowly waded out into the water. 

With the starting siren sounding came his first cast. In two of his first three casts he caught a fish. Hooked six more in the first ten minutes, releasing all but one he thought was a real “keeper.” He walked onshore, smiled, and said “It’s a really good day!” 

A couple of days later at the same time in the same place came the same guy with the same routine. I leaned forward to watch the entertainment about to begin. Cast after cast glided across the water without as much as a nibble. Others nearby were landing fish, but not my guy. After twenty minutes or so he got a strike. Not a real keeper. The fish was released. He walked onshore, smiled, and said “It’s a really good day!” 

His joy wasn’t in the number of fish caught.  No, the joy came in consistently being there, showing up in that time and place, intentionally doing what was cherished… spending the first part of the day fishing. 

It’s the same with God. The joy isn’t in the frequency of “God moments,” number of spiritual mountain tops, or how many answers to prayer come our way.  No, the joy comes in consistently being there, showing up, and intentionally carving out time and space for God. 

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, NIV). That’s a really good day! 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

Radical Hospitality

“Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.” (John 13:1, CEB)

These words set the stage for the Gospel of John’s version of Jesus’ last evening with his closest disciples and friends before his death on the cross. We’re tipped off to what’s coming, to something that will show just how Jesus loved his own to the very extent of love’s limits.

Jesus, their Teacher and Lord, knelt down and washed the disciples’ dirty stinking feet. 

Peter objects, knows that it should be the other way around. But to refuse to let Jesus wash his feet would close Peter off from this ultimate act of love. “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me,” Jesus told him. 

As UMC Bishop Robert Schnase says in his book The Five Practices of Fruitful Living, little did Peter and the other disciples know that in less than 24 hours Jesus would repeat this action on a much greater scale. Jesus would give himself up for the sake of all humankind. Through his death on the cross the ultimate gift of God’s love would be offered to us too, love shown to its fullest extent, making a forever relationship with God possible. 

Sometimes I’m pretty good at closing the door to God’s love, a love ultimately found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. How about you? Open the door of your life more fully to God’s love and grace.  Click here to listen to more (September 27 sermon). 

Out Of Control

“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul… O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:1-2, NRSV) 

These words from the ancient psalm writer still ring true today. There is so much going on in our world, nation, and community; a pandemic, financial recession, racial justice movement, election cycle, and more all in this one year of 2020. Our days and nights can become filled with anxious thoughts about the uncertainties that lie ahead. 

Psalm 131 breathes the fresh air of wisdom into our anxious moments. “I do not occupy myself with things to great and too marvelous for me.” In other words, don’t get carried away with worry over things you can’t control anyway. “But I have calmed and quieted my soul…” How? By hoping in and waiting on the Lord. 

Jesus said the same thing in just a little different way. “Don’t worry about your life… Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life… Instead, seek first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness…” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 33, CEB)  

So, I invite you to join me in following the biblical wisdom of the ancient psalmist and the call of Jesus on our lives.  Calm and quiet all that you are, your soul. And breathe in deeply the hope that only comes in trusting God, especially when things seem out of control.

Bigger Picture

A large butterfly flew by as my wife and I were hiking recently in Bennett Springs State Park.  It landed on the purple bloom of a long-stemmed plant just off the trail. There were two other butterflies on the same plant.  We considered ourselves lucky to stumble on to such a beautiful sight and headed on down the trail. 

Just a few steps later we saw another butterfly laden plant and this time stopped to snap this picture. While stopped, we discovered there were layers of these purple blossomed plants stretching several yards up the wooded hillside. The whole area was in constant motion with hundreds of butterflies. It was like being in a butterfly house without any walls! Amazing!

We could have easily missed it, if we’d been unwilling to halt our hike and look around. And it was a reminder that at times we all can get so focused on where we’re headed or what’s right in front of us, that we can forget to see the bigger picture. 

How many times does that happen in our lives with God?

“Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.” May these words of Clara Scott’s old hymn be our prayer, as we slow down enough, or even stop, to see the bigger picture that God has laid out for us. 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve

Surprise!

Surprise lilies have always been a favorite of mine. Their long slender stems and beautiful pink blooms spring up out of nowhere.  Surprise! 

They're also known as resurrection lilies. The comparison is appropriate. The leaves of the plant grow out in the spring and then die back in June, no longer there as summer warms up. At that point its life cycle appears to be over. Weeks later with the overnight spouting of blooms the plant is resurrected, defying what’s usually the hottest part of the year!

Surprise lilies are a striking reminder of God’s resurrection power! 

“God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus.”  (Ephesians 2:4-6, CEB)

Now, more than ever, God’s resurrection power is needed. But I wonder how often we’re too focused on what’s no longer there in our lives and miss God’s resurrection surprise. My hope is that this summer’s surprise lilies are a reminder to stay on our toes!

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

Willing To Yield

Did I mention that I failed my driving test on the first try at 16? 

Despite being really nervous, things had gone pretty good for the first 5 minutes. And I was beginning to think ahead to the “dreaded” parallel parking test to come. Then I heard the driving test examiner calmly say this. “Did you see that yield sign?” I hadn’t. And a quick glance in the rearview mirror confirmed its existence. “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t see it,” was my response. “Well, let’s just head on back to the office now,” the examiner said.  Not yielding was grounds for immediate failure.

That was an early lesson on the importance of being willing to yield. It's important, especially when it comes to the life of faith. The Bible tells us it’s part of the heavenly wisdom that comes from God. 

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:17, NRSV) 

Being willing to let go of what you think is best and what you want is hard.  And I would add it’s countercultural as well. I would also argue that being willing to yield, when appropriate, sounds a lot like someone else I know. His name is Jesus. Question is, am I willing to follow Jesus?  You?

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

Jesus' Refrigerator Magnet

A few weeks ago, this refrigerator magnet caught my eye. It’s a simple and appealing bit of advice. Figure out what makes you happy and do more of it! 

So, I not only took this picture, but I took the advice. I looked to spend more time doing the things I enjoy. For the most part it worked out fine. But all along, there was just something about “Do more of what makes you happy,” that didn’t quite feel right. It just didn’t seem to quite square up with something I remembered about Jesus.  

“One day someone asked Jesus, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus replied, ‘The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart… soul… mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.’”  (Mark 12:28-31, CEB)

I’m thinking that Jesus’ refrigerator magnet would probably say something like “Do more of what makes others around you happy.” Now there are some obvious places this could take us, that we shouldn’t go. Doing what it takes to love others well and seeking to make them happy should rarely, if ever, mean putting ourselves in harms way. 

But what if being a follower of Jesus is about finding happiness, at least some of the time, in what makes others around me happy? I’m guessing the only way to find out is to do it more often. Are you with me? 

Your partner on the journey,

Pastor Steve 

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