Monday, January 31, 2011


I have a facebook friend who has been giving away stuff the past few weeks.  I admire that about him; "I have an XYZ, if you're interested send me a message and come pick it up."  I don't think its because he has too much stuff, I think its because he is realistic about the stuff he has, and when he has no need for it he gives it away.  It makes sense, why keep it around if you don't need it or if its just cluttering things up?  Like I said, I admire him...wish I could do that, but I have to admit, I have a tendency to struggle against this...

Then again...

A year ago, when my husband and I separated and he moved out of the house, I told him, "you can take anything  you want, except for the boys."  I was pretty serious about that - until I learned that he took some stuff that I thought we should have at least talked about.  In the end I decided not to make a big deal about stuff.  I still have a house full of stuff, and there really isn't anything that I miss.

Justin, Hannah, Lauren, Mom and Ethan
Christmas, 2010
This past week my daughters took some of my stuff - this time its a different story.  Lauren has moved to California.  She didn't have any silverware to take along so I searched thru the silverware drawer and pulled out an old set and sent them with her.  Then, when Hannah was home on Friday, she said she needed some silverware too.  Hannah didn't get a matched set, but she now has 4 place settings of silverware too and I still have enough to have 8-10 folks over for dinner.

I realize that the pendulum has started to swing the other way.  For nearly 30 years I have been accumulating my own stuff, but thanks to my 4 kids, I am starting to let go of stuff as they set up housekeeping and start their own lives in far away places.  I'm glad that I have enough stuff to give to them and help them get started, but its still bittersweet.

I need to remember how important it is to give it away - that's what Christ did for us - he gave his life for you and (even) me so that we may be free!  Truth be told, it all starts when we care enough about ourselves to let God love us.  God's love and grace is where its really at - what a gift, what a blessing - and I don't have to do a thing to earn it - it too is free!

AND, when we ditch the stuff that holds us back we are then able to love God and  love one another with authenticity.  The cool thing is as I give it all away, I actually am blessed with a life of abundance!  Funny how that works.

Striving to live in Christ and live abundantly - without so much stuff,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


When I was a girl I remember my mom handing me a sock with a hole in it and a light bulb and a needle and thread.  She then sat down and taught me how to darn, or mend, the sock so that it could continue to be useful and worn.

I hadn't thought of that until a bit ago when I pulled out a sweater and discovered some moth holes.  To be able to wear it again I will need to darn it - otherwise it is useless, not even worth donating to Goodwill.

The thing is once the sweater is mended, to most folks it will look like its perfect, but I will know that there are three little holes on the front of it...I wonder, will this prevent me from wearing it?  Will I feel embarrassed, wondering if someone will find me out, notice that I am wearing a sweater that had to be repaired?

How often do we think these same thoughts about our own lives?  God is the great we trust Him and his healing power, his grace, enough to go into the world with the confidence of one who was lost, but now found?  Broken and yet redeemed?

Only by the grace of God,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Come with me," Jesus said.

the Greek letters spell the word Fish
they also stand for
Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior
This week's lectionary passage is a favorite of mine.  Here are a couple of verses, Matthew 4:18-20:
     Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.   (The Message)
     Each time I read this passage I wonder, what was it about Jesus that was so inspiring that Andrew and Simon/Peter dropped everything to follow him?  
     In seminary Dr VanderBroek talked about how contextually we need to be reminded that every Jewish boy went to Hebrew school, and yet only the best and brightest were selected for further study, the rest went into the family business.  Andrew and Simon/Peter  (like James and John, the sons of Zebedee who also dropped everything and followed Jesus) were not illiterate fishermen, but business men, they ran a fishing business that had to be prosperous enough to care for their families. 
     But what was it about this 30 something carpenter named Jesus that inspired these men to leave everything behind?  When we dig deeper in the passage we find a bit of a clue - remembering their Hebrew school lessons they may have thought that Jesus' words were code for a new kind of revolution.  Note this prophesy from Jeremiah 16:16:
I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.
     Was Jesus as a modern day warrior-King calling out troops for a battle against Roman oppression?  This was what the whole country was yearning for, and what Hebrew school wash out wouldn't love to be on the front lines of a revolution?!
     What Andrew, Simon/Peter, James and John and the other disciples found out over time is that they were indeed part of a revolution, but it was very different from anything the prophets could have imagined.  Emmanuel, God with us, walking our walk, showing the way, teaching and healing and caring for our broken and hurting world not with swords but with love and compassion.  In the end, Jesus the Christ paid the ultimate price for the sins of the world.  He laid down his life for you and for me.  And on the third day he was resurrected and even now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  Thanks be to God!
     In the midst of the political and economic turmoil that we find ourselves in as a country, as citizens of the United States in the 21st Century - isn't it time for us to hear again our Savior's words:  
              Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.   (Matthew 4:17b)
     What if lived as if we believed, really believed, that God's kingdom is here and now?  In my mind, the Kingdom of heaven here and now means that children aren't going without food, that families aren't going without health care, that old folks aren't alone, that veterans aren't living under get the idea.
     And another thing, what if we too believed that we are invited to drop our own nets and follow Him?!  Talk about a radical idea for our current culture.  But if we are to be followers of the Savior of the world, isn't this an important part of what disciples do? What nets do I have to drop so that I may live more like Christ?  What about you?  Where would we be willing to go to follow him?  To the city?  Haiti?  Across the world?  Our next door neighbors?  
     Are you ready to be part of the revolution?  Let's pray about this - and talk about this - and seek ways to grow into our call to be disciples of Jesus - to really follow Him.  He is the Savior of the world after all.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What does Baptism have to do with anything?

To follow is the text from this morning's (Baptism of Christ Sunday) sermon. I am convinced that so many of the problems of this world would be solved if we would only believe - really believe that we are God's beloved! (please excuse the punctuation - I write for the ear)

Matthew 3:13-17 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."’

For Christmas Hannah, my number two daughter, gave me the Topsy-turvy. What a thoughtful gift for her mom who may not get to do much gardening, but always tries to grow a tomato or two.  Have you seen one of these? They're pretty cool, huh?  You put your tomato plant in, followed by soil and water, hang it UPSIDE down on your patio or from a pole or wherever you can get 6 hours of sun and there you have it – tomatoes all summer long.

We know that our world often seems topsy-turvy. Churches that were built in the golden age, built for the huge crowds of baby boomers who were going to fill the pews, now worship a fraction of capacity. There are other things demanding our time – we are more mobile, we can jump in the car and be in Cedar Rapids or Des Moines or hop on a plane and spend the weekend on the beach - in no time at all.

And you know, as crazy as the pace is for our lives – some families just need Sunday mornings to rest and regroup…I get that – the church and church leaders are starting to get that.

And so for the past 10 or 20 years there has been an emphasis on making churches more attractive – if we have an awesome band, if we play the most contemporary music, if we put together inspiring videos and 'wow' them - they will come back – and new ones will come to church too and our churches will grow again.

Hows that working for us? We now have a generation of Christians without depth, without roots – like a tomato plant growing in the topsy-turvy. Sadly most folks are more spiritual religious - and they are finding religion like everything else - self contained. We can get our spiritual fix from the internet, or we can even have our own portable preacher with any number of books or cd’s or videos… anything goes seems to be the way of our current culture when it comes to faith.

I think it was the same around 2000 years ago.

The Bible tells us that there was a powerful evangelist by the name of John, some even called him a prophet, like Elijah! John was calling out everyone in Israel – he was telling them that they were missing the whole point of God’s plan for their life – he was so convincing that people from across the region were drawn to him. The common folk, the religious elite, even the leaders from the temple were there, and John let them have it; 'you brood of vipers,' he proclaimed! He warned them that God was almighty and powerful and that God was going to reign down his wrath upon them! God was going to chop down every tree that wasn’t bearing fruit – and he was going to burn everything in his path.

Confessing their sins the people came running to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. The Jordan River. The place where the Hebrew people, after decades of following Moses out of Egypt and through the desert they crossed into the promised land. And fortified by the 10 Commandments they were finally set free to become the people who God had rescued from slavery in Egypt. Of course, that was centuries earlier and the people didn’t quite get it right then either. Even with Moses leading them.

Our Old Testament is full of the stories of God’s people doing their own thing and not getting it right. Time and again they were corrected, even punished by God, and they still didn’t get it right.

If I took my topsy-turvy today, January 9, 2011 and put a tomato plant in it, put the soil in it and watered it and put it outside on my front porch today…what kind of results would I get? In a matter of minutes the plant would die and by tomorrow the soil and water mix would be frozen as hard as a bowling ball. The timing isn’t right – is it?

God, in God’s infinite wisdom, over hundreds of years, with love and care, formed a people who would have the categories capable to receive God’s own self - God become flesh, Emmanuel, God with us, so that once and for all we would learn how to live as His people. How to love as His people, how to care for one another as His people and how to care for all of creation as His people!

The Jewish nation had been waiting for the Messiah thinking that he would be a great military leader and king, just like David. But God went all topsy-turvy on them – and instead He came as Himself. Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth, the 2nd person of the Trinity, turned everything upside down.

Here is Matthew 3:13-17 from Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message:

Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, "I'm the one who needs to be baptized, not you!" But Jesus insisted. "Do it. God's work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism." So John did it.

The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God's Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life." 

In the sacrament of Baptism we hear these same words. Words spoken to you and I… this is my daughter, this is my son – chosen by me – adopted as my own – marked by my love – you are the delight of my life.

And it is in this sacred moment that we are changed forever…there is nothing special about the water or our parents or sponsors or even the pastor who makes this possible – it is all about God! God loving us, wanting us, adopting us, cleansing us from the inside out so that we may claim our inheritance…the one that even now is waiting for us – you and I.

What is our inheritance? Love. Boundless love…the depth and breadth of which we have no concept…the kind of love that searches for the least and the lost, that holds us together when everything else around us is falling a part. The kind of love that never, ever, ever lets us go. Never. God’s love poured out for you and for me in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

God on earth, Jesus, the Messiah, did not call the Jewish people to arms – throughout his life he was devoted to one thing – sharing God’s love…teaching us that God’s kingdom is not a dream in the future but is present even now the kingdom of heaven is all around us. We have to open our eyes, repent of being focused on our own selfish ways and then believe that God’s love is the most powerful and driving force in the world. Darkness has already been defeated! Sin will not rule the day! This is the Good News for us and for the whole world.

And it is why owe baptize our babies, and we renew our baptism covenant – and we play in the water so that we may claim God’s love with confidence, and go into the world to be light and hope and love in His Name.

Amen, Amen!

Peace, love in Christ,


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

you just never know...

This afternoon Mary, our church administrative assistant, reminded me that I have not updated the blog in a while.    I smiled and assured her that I would get right on it.

Its not that I don't want to keep the blog fresh, its just that you just never know when what you thought was a 'brilliant idea' may be a bust.  Writing, for me, is not a command performance.  My creative process is not perfect, but it is pretty predictable.  I read, I observe, I stew on things (think about it a lot) and then it just comes.  This has been my process for decades.  You see, I had the privilege of writing for a living - actually I watched movies for a living, and then I wrote 15 and 30 second spots to convince our viewers to set aside a couple of hours to watch whatever movie I was promoting.

Bogart and Bacall - classic Hollywood!
(from the movie Key Largo)
It was an awesome job - and I had a lot of fun doing it.  I was also really spoiled...did I mention it was a GREAT gig.  I also, from time to time, fear that I contributed to our culture of too much TV and not enough interaction with real live people.  God and I have had more than a couple talks about this one.

Like I said, you just never know where life will take you - now God has me focused on serving as pastor of a United Methodist Church, in Iowa of all places!  I sure am blessed - and He sure has a great sense of humor!  But I love what I do...each and every day is different, and I have even more opportunities to be creative.

The coolest thing is getting to know people, it is such a gift to have the opportunity to walk alongside one another and share our stories; dream big dreams, pray together, laugh and even cry together.  What a GREAT vocation!

I guess the bottom line is - you just never know what God is going to ask you to do.  You just need to be open to hear Him and say yes, sure...why not!

peace, love in Christ