Saturday, December 27, 2008

Encountering Jesus . . .

Many, many years ago as a young Elder I volunteered to take our youth group to Montreat. After that experience I vowed “never again!” Flash forward about a quarter of a century -- I am now doing my seminary internship when I am told by my supervisor that we’ll chaperone the youth group on their annual mission trip. “No, Brad, you don’t understand I don’t do youth trips.” After Christmas I find myself in the front passenger seat of a van with 15 teenagers heading down to work with the PCUSA Border Ministry in Nuevo Laredo.

It was one of the most amazing experiences . . . not the work . . . there wasn’t much of that as once we got down there they decided we weren’t the construction type . . . we had been scheduled to work on laying the foundation for a new building in the medical compound where we were staying. Instead they scrambled to find us work we could do . . . we were assigned to paint the orphanage in the colonia (neighborhood) where we were staying.

The orphanage wasn’t like those we think of where children who have lost their parents or have been abandoned live until they can, hopefully, be adopted. This orphanage housed many of the children from the colonia; their parents placed them there so they would have a place to sleep, running water, food to eat and could get, at the very least, some education. The colonia was marred by abject poverty -- shacks made out of cardboard, sewage running in the streets. As a social worker who early in my career made home visits to some of the poorest areas of the Mississippi Gulf Coast I thought I knew the face of poverty, but I was shocked. And frankly I was worried about the teens . . . white upper middle class kids who wanted for nothing.

After the first day it became obvious that we weren’t going to get a lot of work out of the teens . . . they had found playmates in the kids of the orphanage . . . so Brad and I painted . . . later we were joined by some of the parents . . . our kids and their kids played and got to know each other, despite the language barrier.

As I write this the tears come back . . . for you see all of us experienced Jesus on that trip in ways that none of us could ever imagine. Our trip ended on Epiphany . . . that’s the big celebration in Mexico . . . it ended with Worship and although my little Spanish wasn’t much help in understanding what was being said in that small chapel with plain wooden benches, a dirt floor and in the cold of winter words weren’t needed . . .

We are all just travelers on this journey called life;
Some walk in darkness, while others follow the Light.
We carry our treasures so close to our heart;
Some we let go of while others never part.
And somewhere on this journey we encounter a King
That will change us forever, to Him our treasures bring.
(Lynn Cooper)

A fellow traveler,

Friday, November 21, 2008

Balancing Act . . .

I am not sure where the time goes . . . I checked in on my blog today only to find that it has been almost three weeks since I last posted . . . where has the time gone? My goal was that my blogging would be a spiritual discipline for me . . . when it began it was . . . now, more than often I forget . . . this is OK . . . when I need it, it is here . . . but I fear that it is reflective of my own spiritual life right now . . . catch as catch can . . . I tend to keep "busy" with important church things . . . perhaps I am a little more like Martha than I want or need to be . . . I have often thought were I born at an earlier time I would have been a contemplative . . . yet, it seems that as a friend of mine says I have not learn to either say "no" or "to sit on my hands" . . .

As we move into Advent my prayer is that I will learn to slow down and be more like Mary . . .

If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

Any advice?


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Politics of hatred . . .

Recently a member of the congregation here suggested that she had been hearing more racist comments in the last six months that she had in the whole previous year . . . her comment made my ears more sensitive . . . although I hate to I have to agree with her.
Having grown up in the deep south white, middle-class I realize I grew up a child of privilege . . . I don't know the reason that this is my life, but it is and I am thankful . . . but it also means that I have a responsibility . . . a responsibility not only as a child of privilege, but a responsibility as a child of God.
Three are a couple of vivid memories about race that stand out for me:
The first was when I was about six . . . we moved to the small Southern town where I grew up . . . driving along the main drag (Jeff Davis!) we pasted the laundry . . . "Mama why would you bring whites only to wash?" . . . my Mama had to tell me that the sign meant that black people couldn't use the washing machines . . . I remember thinking that this was odd.
The second was about 13 years later when I was attending a small liberal arts church related college . . . primarily white students, but a handful of African-Americans . . . several who were friends . . . I night one of the women in my dorm asked if I would drive her and a couple of her friends (women I didn't know) over to the historically African-American universities in town . . . "sure" . . . for the first time I realized how it felt to be a minority . . . it wasn't a comfortable experience for any of us, but it got better as we talked.
Then while I was doing an internship, again in the South, a co-worker and I went to lunch . . . he was an African American Captain in the USAF . . . the restaurant we chose refused to serve us . . . I was shocked and wanted to protest . . . to speak to the manger . . . he wanted to leave, go somewhere else . . . we did.
With the comments I have been hearing since my ears have perked up I realize that we are still living in a country that is deeply divided . . . along color lines -- not just racial color lines, but red and blue lines . . . economic lines -- the haves and the have-nots . . . and among so many other lines of our own making . . . what does this say about having been made in the Image of God? What does it say about Scripture like the Golden Rule and the Matthew 25 text where the sheep and the goats are divided . . . "Lord, when did we see you . . . Truly, I tell you when you did it to the least of these you did it unto me."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where did the time go?

It is hard to believe that I haven't blogged since September 14th! I am not sure where the time has gone . . . time is flying . . . things are so hectic . . . I barely have time to breathe some days . . . I know this isn't good for me, but there is so much to do on so many fields.
We continue to lose members at the church as more people are choosing to leave this area, especially after this last hurricane season . . . more than this, people are choosing not to move into the area . . . lots of "hiring" signs, lots of "for sale" signs with houses not moving . . . I understand the plants/factories are not able to hire people as people aren't willing to move here. And in the face of this the majority of the congregation seem to be giving up . . . yet, we know that there are many in our community who are not connected with any church.
Things in our governing body are horrendous . . . running out of money . . . probably having to cut back on staff which will mean that local pastors will have to carry more responsibility . . . I am not sure that I can continue at this pace . . . several of us will be on retreat in about two weeks to figure out where our governing body goes from here . . . it is both exciting to see that God may be doing something new here, while it is also scary as we will probably be moving into uncharted waters . . . but, of course, in a way we have been here since Katrina.
After the retreat I will begin two weeks of vacation. Perhaps after vacation I will find balance . . . stop being Martha so much and take time -- more time, to be Mary.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Grieving . . .

This was a hard weekend for many folks . . . it was a hard weekend for me . . . although the community where I live received little damage from Ike we were expecting more . . . most of us were on edge . . . amazing the little damage we had since our streets were lined with debris . . . the street in front of my house was six feet high and three feet wide from the remnants of Gustav and the eight trees that my neighbors had count down Thursday . . . the debris was blocking the ditch . . . I feared if we got heavy rains the front yard would start flooding . . . this has never happened.

Folks up north about 7 miles from here didn’t make out as well . . . Their homes are not that well built . . . Many live in trailers . . . many of them are fishermen . . . many homes flooded again . . . two weeks ago Gustav flooded these homes . . . even taking some homes . . . 1500 without power . . . Some won’t get electricity for another week if then with new damage.

South west of us areas hit hard by Rita and Gustav were hit hard again . . . and today a colleague of mine E-mailed to say that up where he is damage was worst than Rita . . . he can’t locate some of the members of the church with which he partners . . . several have lost their homes . . . he hasn’t been able to contact some of the other pastors in the area.

And I can’t imagine what the conditions are in Houston, Galveston and other areas in TX . . . I was glued to the television for much of the weekend . . . I am not sure the obsession . . . I wonder if this is what it was like after Katrina? . . . I had no power so no television . . . I remember when I got power back and began seeing the pictures.

Again, today I hear, “we must be living right!” . . . and my response in my head is a string of questions . . . does this mean that those who suffered the ravages of Ike weren’t living right? . . . what does this say about God? . . . what does it say about what we believe about God? . . . do people really believe that God is some Cosmic Chess Master deciding the moment to moment moves in people’s lives? . . . what happens to free will, even odd as it sounds the free will of nature? I know the answers for me . . . I know that God is no Cosmic Chess Master . . . I know that God is grieving over what so many of His precious children suffered and are suffering in the face of these winds, wind-driven water, and heavy rains, tornadoes and fires . . . God is grieving for those who lost their homes . . . God is grieving for those who lost their lives and for the families who mourn their lost . . . God is grieving for those who are lost and awaiting rescue. God is grieving . . . And so are we.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many . . . If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. I Corinthians 12: 14, 26a


Friday, September 12, 2008

Here we go again . . .

I don't want to make light of what is happening right now or what is to come later to our brothers and sisters to the East of us with Ike . . . I am praying for their safety
Yesterday as I was leaving the church for a hospital visit the winds were whipping up . . . the sky was dark . . . after the visit I am barely out of the parking lot when the heavens opens and the rains come . . . they come hard. Later at Bible Study I learn that school is cancelled for Friday . . . "we're expecting flooding tomorrow" I am told . . . I get a lesson in our pumping system . . . even with heavy rains I have a pool outside my back door . . . only once has it threatened my floors . . . across the Lake I am hearing that there is 7 feet of water already in streets . . . houses there are on stilts . . . this is just the start of the rising waters that Ike is bringing to this area . . . what must it be like in TX? God have mercy.
This morning I woke to the tornado warning . . . I have been up only an hour (day off, sermon done!) and the warning has gone off twice . . . I have my chair in the hall, just in case I hear a train. During Camille (1969) my family stayed at home . . . stupid . . . at one point I asked my Daddy . . . "Daddy, why are the trains running?" . . . "Honey, those aren't trains those are tornadoes." . . . so I am listening for trains . . . FLASH: Highway 90 (26 miles) in South MS from Ocean Springs to Bay St. Louis is closed as water is rising over the highway. God have mercy.
My mother has asked me . . . ministers get these questions . . . as if we have all the answers! . . . "why is all of this happening?" . . . I interpret her question -- "why does God allow this to happen?" . . . how many folks have this question roaming in their heads and spirits? . . . I remind my Mom of what she and my Dad told me about Camille . . . God didn't cause Camille to happen . . . and I remember the conversation I had with my theology professor about this years later . . . "yes, Lydia, God didn't cause Camille but God is responsible as God made nature to work as it works." But now I wonder . . . have we don't something to interfere with God's good creation . . . air pollution, misuse/abuse of the earth, over grazing, coastal erosion, on and on and on. God have mercy.
"God created man in his image, male and female he created them. He blessed them, and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. I give you the green plants and every fruit-bearing tree for food.' God looked upon all that he had made, and he saw that it was good." Genesis 1: 27-31
Almighty God, we thank You for calling us to be stewards of the earth. You have made the earth our dwelling place for a while. You fill it with great beauty to remind us that it is Yours. It overflows with bountiful gifts to sustain us and to gladden our hearts.
Yet, we have misused this gift, treating it as if there were nothing we could do to harm it. We see that our misunderstanding of what it means to be good stewards has lead us to neglect this gift you have given us. O God, help us learn to use the earth wisely, to treat it with loving care, to be good stewards for the time we are here. Help us understand that how we treat the earth has real consequences not only for us, but for the generatioins to come. Amen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Coincidence . . .

Monday I was sitting in my office when one of the Elders dropped by . . . "Hi, what are you doing here?"

"I'm not sure. I didn't have to work today. I was out running errands and for some reason I decided to drop by the church."

As we are chitchatting the doorbell rings . . . when I am there by myself I keep the door locked . . . we move to the door . . . "Are we having Bible study this morning?" . . . "No, I am sorry nobody called you." (We let a local woman hold her Bible study at our church on Monday mornings . . . in fact, we have about 20 community groups that use our facilities for their meetings) . . . "Girl, where have you been?" . . . this woman had been Elder's daughter first babysitter over two decades ago . . . and then it began to flow . . . this woman was a mess . . . she was still dealing with the murder three years ago (shortly after Katrina) of her son by the police in the town over . . . she feels as if it was never adequately investigated and that she and her family got no justice . . . her husband retired four years ago, a few weeks later he was dxed with leukemia, and a month later they found out that his life insurance company never received the papers they needs and his policy was cancelled . . . her other son had major damage after Katrina . . . he received substantial damage from Gustav . . . she and her husband received damage from Gustav to their fence . . . neither of them are able to work on the fence . . . every agency she has turned to for help has turned her down . . . she has had numerous surgeries in the last three years . . . she was a mess . . . Elder and I held her and prayed . . . Elder took her name and number so our mission team could help repair her fence.

As Elder was leaving . . . "I suppose you are going to tell me there are no coincidences?"



Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Revealing tears . . .

Sunday was an emotional day for the congregation I partner with . . . through the coaching in our intentional transformational process I am being challenged to step out of my comfort zone as a preacher . . . it is funny, I had no problem with doing this weekly in the contemporary Worship at the last church I partnered with, but here I have not been comfortable stepping out of that zone . . . yet, when I do the congregation, as a whole, responses well . . . this is an issue I will need to work on.

But yesterday I did step out of that zone . . . the service was built around Psalm 46 . . . the sermon was interactive . . . giving the congregation (almost the normal number of Worshippers) opportunities to ask some probing questions about their recent experiences . . . I was fearful that they wouldn't respond, but they did . . . emotionally . . . powerfully . . . it began slowly . . . people were hesitant . . . the words came . . . the emotions opened . . . first, a few dabbing eyes . . . then tears flowing . . . even one man breaking down . . . the most unlikely man.

As I have thought about the experience I realize that the words and the tears were revealing . . . what they revealed to me . . . we are just beginning to deal with the emotional and spiritual scars of Katrina . . . I thought we had, we haven't . . . my guess is that many people haven't . . . perhaps Gustav opened us to beginning to deal with those scars.

And those scars are tied to the process of transformational ministry . . . this will never be the congregation it was before Katrina . . . I had only been here for about 6 weeks before Katrina . . . since Katrina this smaller membership church has lost close to 20% of our membership . . . most of them were the "workers" . . . several of them were the spiritual giants of the church . . . but more than losing those I look in our community and see the brokenness . . . a yearning for wholeness and healing . . . a yearning for Jesus . . . it provides us an opportunity to live the Great Commission . . . will we be able to use our own brokenness to reach out to others . . . will we use the safety and comfort we find in community to offer the same to those who are facing the storms of life . . . there are so many out there.

I am preaching today at a governing body meeting . . . the sermon title "Living the Great Commission" . . . we look at our denomination and mourn our losses . . . perhaps we need to look at the world and mourn those who don't know Jesus . . . we look at our denomination and wonder what we can do . . . perhaps we need to look at the world and wonder where is God calling us to be the Church.

Tears reveal a lot about us . . ."Jesus wept." John 11:35


Saturday, September 6, 2008

After Gustav . . .

I am sitting in the church office finishing up a bulletin for tomorrow . . . I will spend the night in my office as I have no electricity at home . . . the church does . . . over half of this community has no power . . . people are angry . . . I am OK as I have a place to go -- not the greatest, but it is cool . . . members of the church and others have offered a room, but I crave solitude after close quarters for a week during the evacuation . . . although I was with family, it took its tole on my introvert nature.

Arrived back today . . . traffic was terrible . . . things are a mess . . . funny how some things are open and next door stores are closed . . . national guard at all intersections . . . trees down everywhere . . . some areas aren't expected to get electricity until the 15th . . . my next door neighbors had a tree limb fall . . . a BIG one . . . it did some minor damage to their roof . . . it hit mine also, but did no damage . . . neighbors had cleaned my front yard, but the back yard is still a mess.

My heart is sad for the people who were damaged by the winds and rains of Gustav, especially one family I have heard about whose house was damaged with Katrina and lost in Rita. Gustav took the trailer the family was living in and everything they owned. If you are like me you wonder "why?" Perhaps, there is no answer . . . the answer lies in how we respond . . . will we succumb to desolation or will we rise up in faith?

God bless,


Ike is churning out there . . . we're in the cone again . . . officials worry that another evacuation won't go as easily as this one did . . . there is the fear that some will choose not to leave . . . this is a legitimate fear. Our family left for Betsy . . . we received no damage . . . where we evacuated received a lot of damage . . . the next time the BIG ONE came (Camille) we stayed. It was terrible. Alot of people question "why" those of us who live in this area stay . . . every area seems to have their dangers . . . as people say it is home. I have lived other places . . . they weren't home.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Trusting in the Light . . .

God is our mighty fortress, always ready to help in times of trouble. And so, we won't be afraid!

Let the earth tremble and the mountains tumble into the deepest sea. Let the ocean roar and foam, and its raging waves shake the mountains.

The LORD All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:1-3, 11 (CEV)

Hurricane Gustav is churning . . . although not in the direct path of Katrina we still carry the emotional and spiritual scars of her . . . anxieties are running high here . . . folks are evacuating prior to a reported mandatory evacuation.

Day before yesterday one of the projected paths indicated the house I rent may not be here when I got back . . . yesterday the projections when west . . . I was relieved . . . This morning I talked to a friend of mine who is now in the projected path . . . I feel guilty now . . . the proverbial question of our faith -- why do bad things happen to good people (sounds like a book title!).
After Camille in 1969 I attended a revival with a Baptist friend of mine . . . The preacher told us that this was God’s punishment for evil . . . When I got home my Mom and Dad asked if I had enjoyed myself . . . “no” and I told them what the preacher had said.
You see we didn’t leave for Camille . . . it was horrible . . . Five humans, one cat, two dogs and five puppies . . . huddled together in my parents bedroom while water (5 nd ½ feet rushed into our downstairs, wrecking havoc then rushing out again . . . A friend of mine with his little brother spent the night in a tree after seeing the water taking not only his house but his Mom and Dad . . . we weren’t evil . . . he and his family weren‘t evil . . . I couldn’t understand this man’s words.

For the first time as my parent talked with me I (not yet a teenager) about how some people view God differently than we do . . . My Dad guided me to some reformed writings -- my introduction to what has become a lifelong passsion . . . And this was the birth of the question that has dogged me since then . . . “why bad things happen to good people?”

It lead me to social work and an area of speciality that still rears it head from time to time . . . enticing me to a new vision of ministry . . . it was the driving force for the electives I took in seminary . . . it continues to color the way I read and think today . . . It is the question that I think we as a Church do poorly in addressing.

What I do know and what I can share that . . . " the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5),

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More steps on the journey . . .

A while back at Carol asked folks about blogging. Although a novice to blogging I have been reading blogs for about two years. I began following those who were being critical of the denomination to which I belong . . . and I realize it was almost a sickness. Now, I find myself drawn to those blogs that challenge me on what it means to be a follower of Christ and pastor of a smaller membership church rediscovering what it means to be church.What does this reveal about me . . . could it somehow be a part of this journey of intentional transformational ministry that we began about a year ago? In moments when I take time to do a self assessment I find that there have been many positive changes in me, especially in my letting go of my control issues and taking time to listen . . . trying to hear what is really being said behind the words that are being said then trying to address the underlying message. This is not easy in this congregation as we don't really engage in healthy communication . . . but I don't think that this is unusual for churches . . . after all churches are imperfect because they are filled with fallible human beings.

One of the cool things happening at the church is that even in the midst of conflict over the Narthex -- Sunday one of our lay leaders addressed the congregation head on with a confession that we the governing board didn't handle things well and "were licking our wounds" but weren't giving up on making the church more hospitable. What honesty . . . but also how refreshing that he was willing to talk honestly. He didn't say it in a judgemental or condemning fashion . . . just honestly that it isn't about us it is about the "other" . . . the stranger at our door.

GET OFF THE RABBIT TRAIL . . . back to the cool thing . . . we've been working on focusing on small groups . . . one of the women in the church came Sunday to ask could she start a small group that meets to discuss the sermon . . . TO DISCUSS THE SERMON . . . "of course" . . . now although this isn't exactly a small group that will be an avenue for welcoming the "other" it does say something about people wanting to go further and deeper . . . and the great thing, "Lydia, we'd love for you to be able to come, but don't feel you have to!" . . . how great.In recent weeks I have been preaching the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13 . . . I am preaching through the parable of Matthew so the first meeting will focus on the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant . . . it will be interesting where this leads . . . last year we had a really bad conflict between two key leaders . . . this congregation is notorious for conflicts between members and between the congregation and pastor . . . intervention came too late . . . the family of one of those involved in the conflict ended up leaving . . . this week we got notification that they joined one of our sister congregations . . . the one who remains still hasn't let go of the bitterness although I think she is working on it . . . we have talked about it . . . she says "I need more time" . . . she is one of the people who is committed to attending . . . I pray that the sermon Sunday and the subsequent discussion will help her break through her wall of bitterness . . . and forgive . . . not for the other person as he may never know, but for her . . . for her relationship with Jesus . . . "Then Peter comes to Jesus to ask, 'Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?' Jesus says to him, ' Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times!"


Friday, August 15, 2008

Trying to refocus . . .

I am spending the weekend trying to refocus (and finish a sermon) as way too much has been coming my way . . . a friend use to tell me that I need to learn no . . . and I have learned to say no, but not often enough.

Sunday the CORE Team for transformation and the congregation talked about possible changes to the Narthex . . . my head has been spinning since . . . I still can't make sense of their concerns . . . I understand the fear of change . . . the fear of the unknown . . . but the veiled -- really not that veiled, threats that were made really threw me . . . and the fact is that even if these threats came to fruition it wouldn't have that great of an impact on the church tangibly . . . those who were complaining, for the most part, don't tithe (some don't even give to the church) and their involvement is primarily to attend Worship 2 to 3 Sundays out of a month. But this is what I don't get . . . these are the same people who have said that the church will die if we don't get new members . . . of course, numerical growth is a byproduct of church transformation not the goal . . . yet, they are opposed to losing 20 seats . . . "we need them for weddings (one since I have been here has been SRO), funerals, Christmas and Easter" . . . is this the function of the church? Then this, "what if those who left come back?" . . . they don't realize that they aren't coming back . . . we need to move on . . . I say, "if we need those 20 spaces it means we need a 2nd service" . . . in fact, we are talking about the possibility of a 2nd service . . . something less traditional . . . not contemporary but more of a coaching type Worship service.
Get this . . . they don't want to have fellowship in the Narthex before and after Worship because it isn't reverent . . . I could understand this if these weren't the same people who go to the Fellowship Hall to get a cup of coffee around 10am and stand around the Narthex visiting until Worship begins . . . and Sunday these were the same people that stayed around the Narthex for Fellowship almost for an hour after Worship . . . this never happened in the Fellowship Hall or when we had fellowship outside . . . what's up!

I guess what was most interesting to me is that before our conversation the sermon had asked the question what would happen if a church were to take the Great Commission seriously and 5 members converted one person a year to a personal relationship with Christ and then those converts did the same . . . at the end of a decade there would be 4000 new Christ-followers . . . the point was what might our smaller membership church look like were we to take the Great Commission seriously.

But I wonder will this ever hit home . . . we had two new families join us Sunday and an older couple come back for third time and now have about 1/2 dozen ready for membership. Of course, none of these were unchurched folks . . . this is the story of this church (most churches) . . . people move into the area and are looking for a church or get upset with their church and transfer their membership . . . and yet there are hundreds probably within a 5 mile radius of the building who are yearning for that which will fill their emptiness . . . we know that this is Jesus and yet, we won't share that Good News. I was reading something to day that indicated each congregation should have a goal of growing a net of 10% a year in membership . . . I wonder if this really shouldn't be in terms of Worship attendance and discipleship . . . unfortunately, membership in the church has come to mean very little.
Then there is still the on-going melodrama at the non-profit on whose board I serve. We still have our older members who are wanting to fire the Executive Director although we all see what a great job she is doing. Yesterday we had a CPA come in to report on the result of our Audit. At the end he said that he had been asked to comment on the salary that we were paying the Executive Director . . . by whom I am not sure, but I suspect . . . anyway he indicated that it was too much . . . I asked if he knew what her role was . . . that she was also hired as a case manager . . . that according to the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers her pay was comparable with other salaries? . . . didn't think so!
Things are going well . . . the two women who were having problems are working well together as a management team . . . the image of the agency is changing from an entitlement agency to an agency that wants to help. Then this morning I get a call . . . there is a sick out by all the employees for today and tomorrow except for management and one employee . . . this in response to a decision by the Board to stop a decades long practice that has produced bad PR in the community.
Spent Monday through Wednesday meeting with other ministers and lay leaders in this part of the country talking about the future of our denomination . . . meetings were frustrating but hopeful. As I struggle with how we are to faithfully live out the Great Commission I am reminded of Paul's words . . .
Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! I Corinthians 9:19-23 (The Message)

Striving to live out the Great Commission,


Friday, August 1, 2008

Trouble brewing . . .

Wednesday night I received an E-mail telling me that people are not happy with making some changes to the Narthex . . . actually makingg a Narthex in the back of the Sanctuary so that we can begin to have coffee fellowship before and after Worship right there in the Worship space . . . for the past month or so we have been doing this in a cramped, dark space instead of asking folks to walk through a breezeway to our Fellowship Hall . . . we usually lose visitors this way or if the weather permits or stand outside under the drop off where the heat index can be over a 100 degrees.

The E-mail indicated that they plan to come to the next board meeting to complain.

Now let me be frank . . . I don't think this is about physical changes, I think it is about change, but I also think it is about the possibility of the church actually growing.

It is human proclivity to say we want to see something happen as long as it doesn't mean that we have to change . . . I thought we were done with this discussion, I see that we aren't . . . perhaps, for some folks it hasn't even started.

The discussions we have had at our recent Visioning Team meetings have centered on the role of the church in people's life . . . they view it as their safe place . . . we have one member who has taken exception with this image as she believes that the church isn't called to be a place of safety . . . I am not sure I agree . . . this is what I sent to her . . . interesting, more and more of our communications here at the church, especially with some of the younger, professional folk is via E-mail . . . good or bad I don't know, but it resonants with me . . . so here is part of that E-mail:

We are not all in the same place spiritually . . . and this means a couple of different things, but for this discussion I confine it to our maturity on our walk. I am reminded of Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth . . .

"My friends, you are acting like the people of this world. That's why I could not speak to you as spiritual people. You are like babies as far as your faith in Christ is concerned. So I had to treat you like babies and feed you milk. You could not take solid food, and you still cannot, because you are not yet spiritual. You are jealous and argue with each other. This proves that you are not spiritual and that you are acting like the people of this world." (I Corinthians 3:1-3)

Now, I am not being critical of any one, but the fact is that like many churches we still have immature believers who need to be weaned off milk. It saddens me that this is the case just, as it saddens me to hear people think that we don't have to change . . . and although I hear this on one level as talking about the physical plant, I think on a deeper level, without even knowing it they are speaking about their spiritual lives.

What I have come to understand is that some people are happy where they are spiritually and do not believe in the process we know of as sanctification. [As an aside: I have also come to believe that happiness is not our goal in life as Christians, contentment is our goal.] However, on the other hand, in the past several months I have been privileged to witness lives being transformed in remarkable ways as the Holy Spirit is working in and among us in this intentional process of transformation . . . people are going deeper and further with Christ . . . the Holy Spirit is sanctifying them . . . making them more holy . . . more like Jesus.

The second place I want to push is, what is the Church, even the local expression, if not the Body of Christ? If it is the Body of Christ in and to the world, it is where I am called to and sent from, it is where I am comforted and afflicted/challenged, it is where I find my refuge/safety from the storms of life and where I am strengthen to go and face the storms of life and equipped to bring others in from the storms to find refuge and safety, comfort and strengthening for those storms.

The analogy of the Desert Mothers and Fathers is reminiscence for me of the movement of the Church/church -- being called in to contemplation on and in the Holy only to be sent out to share the Holy in and to the world in word and deed, being called in to contemplation on and in the Holy only to be sent out to share the Holy in and to the world in word and deed . . . a repetitive pattern lead by the Holy Spirit, grounded in relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. Even in the Early Church my guess is that this metaphor played a large part in the church being though of in terms of a boat -- the safety of the harbor the hazards of the seas . Leonard Sweet, a UMC minister and transformational guy has written a great book called Aqua Church with this as the overriding metaphor. Recently, I have read of a new church called The Harbor.

When Tom Bandy first challenged Debbie, Brad and me to catch a vision, mine came through a song . . . Jackson Brown's "Running on Empty." I believe there are many people both in the world and in the Church who are running on empty and that we, the Church, have the One who can really fill them up, Jesus. Brad joked that maybe we needed an old timey gas pump outside the church -- "Stop here to fill up with Jesus!" As I prayed about vision the pump turned into a water pump pumping the Living Water . . . in recent weeks the woman at the well has been on my heart. These are my visions that speak to me about who Jesus is . . . THE Source of life.

It has dawned on me as I have prayed about the trouble brewing that it is brewing because people are afraid . . . afraid that is the church changes and grows it may not be the safe harbor for them . . . so how do we help them see that it isn't either/or but can be both/and. Just as they need a safe harbor from the storms of life there are others out there that needs the safety of this harbor and they need to find the Anchor of Life -- mixing metaphors, I know, I know.

Praying for the words when we make a premptive strike this Sunday by bringing it up for open discussion at a congregational luncheon.

May God's peace surround those of us who are discerning God's voice to move forward into the 21st century,


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Still trying to find my blogging rhythm . . .

Well, I don’t seem to have caught a rhythm yet to my blogging . . . It was the same thing when I use to trying journaling . . . I would start the process with such high hopes . . . Go a couple of days without journaling . . . stick it in a drawer and beat myself up. But I don’t have to do that anymore . . . therapy, it’s a good thing!

Why do I keep buying into the propaganda that things slow down in the summer . . . NOT! It seems to me that summer is sometimes the busiest time in the life of the church . . . Or this has been by experience.

My summer so far has been quite hectic yet amazing things are happening . . .

Most thrilling is how church is responding to transformational ministry . . . it really is about being open to the Holy Spirit transforming us as individuals . . . The HS has worked on me in a powerful way to move me to a place where I can let go of things . . . YEA! I don’t have to be in control.

A confession . . . in this process I realized that I liked to be in control. When I worked as a clinical social worker that was one of the things folks liked about me . . . I was willing to step in and take over when things were in chaos or were moving to chaos or when I thought I could do a better job . . . one of my first supervisors invited me to join her on her new job for this very reason . . . it served me well then, but it hadn’t served me well as a pastor.

After ten years in ministry I now understand what it means to equip the saints for ministry and set them free to do ministry . . . it has been a long journey for me to bring this attitude to the church I partner with and it has been a long journey for them . . . however for me it has been very liberating . . . and for them I pray empowering . . . even helping them discover or (re)discover what it means to be the church in and to the world.

In a few weeks we’ll have another Bible study on gift-oriented ministry . . . when I arrived three years ago I started out with a similar study . . . it didn’t seem to work . . . we only focused on finding spiritual gifts not on deploying them . . . DUH! of course not . . . I wasn’t willing to give up control . . . so I look forward to see how God will use this to move the church forward.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve the same Lord, and we can each do different things. Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do.

The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others. Some of us can speak with wisdom, while others can speak with knowledge, but these gifts come from the same Spirit. To others the Spirit has given great faith or the power to heal the sick or the power to work mighty miracles. Some of us are prophets, and some of us recognize when God's Spirit is present. Others can speak different kinds of languages, and still others can tell what these languages mean. But it is the Spirit who does all this and decides which gifts to give to each of us. I Corinthians 12:4-11

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Maybe not exaxtly running . . .

Mark Twain is credited with saying, "the only person who likes change is a wet baby!" But the fact is that change is inevitable . . . not just because time marches on, not just becasue everything decays, but because God is still at work in the world.

I invite you to listen in on a couple of my conversations this morning . . .

Before Church School one of the men comes in to talk with me. "Lydia, we talked at the men's workday about some of the changes the governing board are discussing to the Narthex."
"And . . ."

"Well, now, the wife and I like them, but . . . it's the pews . . . some folks think we are removing them to make it look like we have more people in Worship . . . having attended the workshop with church consultant I know this isn't the reason."
The fact is that our Worship attendace is pretty good for a congregation our size. It is the highest it has been in the last decade and this is with about 15% of our congregation moving out of state after "the big one." We are having more regular attendees who Worship with us, but have not made the leap to membership -- it is a cultural thing down here, yet are actively involved in the life and work of the church.

Then before Worship starts the Treasurer comes up . . . "Do you know the secretary moved the mail boxes!" This wasn't a question, but a statement of complaint. "We are going through enought changes -- I don't need anymore!"
Is this an over reaction? No, I think not . . . just a reminder to me that change is hard . . . I know this from personal expereince . . . and she and probably more of the congregation than I realize will need extra dosages of love and pateince as we move through this process.

Maybe not running yet,


Friday, July 18, 2008

Baby steps continue . . .

Before seminary I worked in the field of mental health as a social worker. I remember something one of my supervisors said to me . . . “Lydia remember baby steps are safer for our clients and will get them where they want and need to be . . . It may take more time, but they will get there.”

Her words often play in my mind when frustration is growing with how slow we seem to be moving in this process of transformation, but now that first steps have been taken this baby seems to be gaining speed.

The church’s governing board has finally decided to get bids on making some structural changes to our sanctuary building that the church consultant suggested over six months ago . . . changes to enlarge and lightened the Narthex allowing us to us it as a gathering spot for fellowship before and after Worship.

Things we are getting bids on --

taking down the paneling and sheet rocking;
new front doors with glass;
taking out two rows of pews so to double the gathering space;
ripping out carpet and replacing with ceramic tiles;
putting in a drop ceiling with new lighting;
getting rid of bulletin boards; and
having a rack for name tags (another post).

Years ago before seminary I served on governing boards as a lay leader and couldn’t quite understand the minister’s emphasis on the appearance of the facilities . . . his words now come from my mouth . . . “yes, I understand that church is more than a building, but how the building is taken care of and how it looks says something about our relationship with God.”

A recent Minute for Transformation by one of our members used this post from the Blog GOD REVOLUTION by the Reverend James Kim over at Trinity Presbyterian Church in The Colony, TX (

Most homes have two ways of living: regular living, and "guests are coming" living.

We all know what regular living is like. That's our everyday life and everyday living. And then, when we know guests are coming over, our regular living goes through a transformation.At least in my home it does. My wife goes on alert and she begins barking orders and the rest of us come to attention to obey her orders . . .

clean up your room
take out the garbage
vacuum the house
clean the floor
straighten the living room
do the dishes
put on the coffee maker

And pretty soon, the house is in shipshape order. And we're ready to receive guests.

I mention this because churches function like our homes. We get real comfortable doing things certain ways. And we forget what it's like to be a guest or a visitor. And worse, we forget that we're expecting visitors.

A church that doesn't expect visitors has some serious problems.But a church that expects visitors and doesn't get their house in order is just plain dumb.Getting our church house in order is much more than having a clean place. It's an attitude and an expectation that visitors are indeed coming over because our people are inviting people. And just as we go out of our way in our home, church members need to think intentionally about how best we can welcome, receive, and host visitors in our church homes.

So, you expecting any visitors this weekend?

We are and we have had an increase in visitors and repeat visitors since this process began . . . coincidental?

Apollos and I are merely servants who helped you to have faith. It was the Lord who made it all happen. I planted the seeds, Apollos watered them, but God made them sprout and grow. What matters isn't those who planted or watered, but God who made the plants grow. The one who plants is just as important as the one who waters. And each one will be paid for what they do. Apollos and I work together for God, and you are God's garden and God's building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (Contemporary English Version)

Learning to run,


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Transformation . . . baby steps

Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:2

For the past three years I have partnered with a smaller membership church (122 members). Last October, we, along with several other churches in our judiciary, begin a process of intentional transformation with a leading church consulting firm.

It has been a difficult journey . . . often I wondered how committed the congregation was to the process . . . our consultant had warned us that 1/3 would be against it, a 1/3 would be neutral and a 1/3 would get it . . . I wondered when we would see the 1/3 who got it . . . well, we are beginning to see them . . . it is amazing!

Preaching every Sunday I often wonder, “is anybody listening?” . . . every once in awhile there is the predictable “good sermon” . . . although more often I heard the whispers of displeasure . . . why all this talk about change and transformation? . . . doesn’t she think we are good enough?

Frankly, one of the most difficult parts of the journey is that it is based on personal spiritual transformation . . . based on having and sharing a personal relationship with Jesus . . . . . . going deeper and further with Jesus . . . Jesus was a name I rarely heard roll off the lips of those in the congregation . . . much less did I hear about their personal relationships with Him.

Then something happened to change all of this . . . In the adult Church School class we started studying Leonard Sweet’s “The Gospel According to Starbuck’s” . . . all of a sudden people actually started talking about Jesus and their relationship with Him . . . amazing . . . more people started attending . . . then there was a growing buzz about this new thing that God is doing . . . People seemed to be excited.

And then Wednesday night I met with the Vision Team and heard some amazing things . . . Things that came right from words of sermons that I though had fallen on deaf ears . . . Hallelujah! . . . God is at work and as one woman said . . . ‘For 3 to 4 years now we have been worried about what we can do to get people to come to our church. We can’t worry about this anymore -- we need to work on personal transformation and let God do the rest. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to prepare us to get comfortable with the stranger who will come to visit with us on a spiritual level and the only way we can do this is going deeper and further with Jesus ourselves.’

Wow! Our God is awesome! I can't wait to see what happens next on our journey.

Keeping the faith,


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Be careful what you ask of God . . .

"I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills . . ."

So begins the film “Out of Africa” -- the story of Karen Blixen’s 17 years in Kenya running a coffee plantation, There is one scene where Karen Blixen, played by Meryl Streep, and her lover, Denys Finch Hatton, portrayed by Robert Redford, are walking through the coffee fields when Blixen says, “be careful what you ask of God as He may anwser you.” I thought of this scene yesterday as the non-profit Board I sit on had another meeting . . .

The previous post ended with a prayer that God would use Sunday’s sermon to direct my course . . . well, God did . . . it wasn’t where I wanted to go! Saturday I had written my letter of resignation from the Board . . . just in case . . . you see, I had decided that I didn‘t want to deal with . . . the childishness . . . the she said, no, she said . . . the underlying currents of racism . . . the disillusionment with two people for whom I had a great deal of respect.

But God had a different plan . . . as words sprayed from my mouth Sunday morning they were piercing my heart . . . as I spoke about the ecumenical Body of Christ coming together about 20 miles from here to speak out through prayers, hymns, and hugs against the hatred bred by racism . . . God said, “you are right where I want you to be” . . . it isn’t where I want to be, but it is where God called me.

So there I was yesterday for a 3 and ½ hours meeting . . . it was not an easy meeting . . . Yet, somehow I found words that I didn‘t know I had . . . words of compassion for those who had disappointed me . . . words of healing for conflicted relationships . . . words of hope for what God is able to do . . .

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20,21 (NIV)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wrestling . . .

with decisions.

Finished the sermon early (2am) this morning . . .

The LORD God has told us what is right and what He demands:
"See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly walk with your God."
Micah 6:8

As I have wrestled with this text I find myself wrestling with a situation in my own life . . . seeking what God would have me do. It is hard . . . to know what is right . . . what is pleasing to God. What, in the long run, will benefit the purpose of God in this community the most.

The dilemma . . . I serve and am an officer on a Board of Directors of a non-profit. I am one of the younger members . . . we, the younger members, see the potential for good that this agency has to make a difference in the economic and life-circumstances of the "least of these" in our community. The problem is that there are three members who have been on the board for, at a minimal of, two decades (yes, two decades) who see no need for change.

They do not see that they have created a "welfare state" for both the agency staff and for the clients . . . rather than empowering folks to reach for their God-given potential in life, we have allowed them to stay where they are . . . increasing salaries (profit-sharing, too boot) fro the employees and increasing the amounts of subsidies that we give clients for paying bills. We do not encourage folks to take advantage of programs that would help them become self-sufficient.

After several months we decided (on a split vote . . . young vs. old) to hire an Executive Director to help move the agency forward. She started June 1 . . . at a called Board Meeting Tuesday "the olds" wanted to fire her. They think she is causing problems . . . in actually she is trying to maintain the "rules" that the Board set up . . . the problems are being caused as rules are now being applied equally to all employees regardless of race.

The new Executive Director is a young African-American woman, extremely bright and talented with a deep love for this community and the downtrodden and a vision of how we can move to offering a "hand up" instead of a "hand out." The Board, with one exception, is lily white and there is even talk of "kicking the one African-American" off the board as his daughter works for the agency . . . did no one know this when he was nominated and elected to serve?

It isn't so much that they want to fire her . . . it was the racial undertones of the conversation at the last Board meeting . . . the worse of it coming from a minister and another minister's wife . . . both people who I had a great deal of respect for until that moment.

How do I remain faithful to God's call through Micah?

Sermons are to convict us of how we are to live as Christ-followers . . . as it is preached tomorrow I pray God's Spirit will speak to me in this particular circumstance and that the Holy Spirit will strenghten me to walk the path God calls me to walk

In His service,


Friday, July 4, 2008

First step . . . changing metaphor

Well, I took the big step yesterday . . . entered the blog-a-sphere. Setting up the blog was easier than I thought . . . although, I still need to learn some of the finer points . . . still can't figure out inserting pictures . . . it will come in time. Now, though, starts the harder part . . . figuring out what to blog . . . finding my blogging rhythm.

Last night while working on Sunday’s sermon I kept hearing odd noises with no idea of their source . . . for a few minutes I wondered if someone was in the attic . . . no, not possible . . . I wandered around the house . . . nothing. Then it dawned on me . . . fireworks . . . Early Fourth of July Celebrations. Certainly there will be more tonight!

This morning when I woke up my brother was on my mind . . . he passed away February 4, 2001 after a four and ½ month battle with cancer . . . when he received the diagnosis it was already stage 4. My Mother, sister and I cared for him at the family home . . . although painful it was a truly beautiful experience . . . and even though we knew what was coming there was a lot of laughter.

I wasn’t there when he passed . . . it was on a Sunday . . . I was at church.

He knew it was Sunday . . . he had asked the hospice nurse. He asked my Mother to come sing to him. She did . . . as he was taking last breathe our Mother was singing . . .

Morning has broken like the first morning;
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning!
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word!

Morning broke for him . . . perpetual morning . . . truly that was his independence day.

Today as we celebrate the Fourth in our own unique way let us remember where we find our true freedom . . .

In Christ,


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Diving in . . .

to the blog-a-sphere. So, please, be kind.

I have no illusions that my voice (words) floating through cyberspace will change the world, but my hope is that each voice that responds to this site may serve as an anam cara (soul friend) for me . . . nudging me closer and closer to the person God is calling me to me.

This blog will be constantly transforming as this novice blogger learns more of the mechanics of how to blog. Over the weekend I will add my profile.

God's blessing on you this day,