Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advent prayer

Advent is a season of yearning not only for the birth of a Savior, but also the return of the King.

In this season I do a lot of reading, searching for faithful ways to share the old, old story of God's mercy, love and grace.  It still blows my mind that God chose to come to earth as a baby, of all things, to teach us about His will for our lives (love God, love one another), to redeem the world and to invite us to journey in His footsteps as disciples of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.

I came across this gem from CS Lewis in a daily devotion, from a collection of his works called "The Business of Heaven.  It is a rather lengthy quote from Mere Christianity, but worthy of consideration.  There are many folks my age (49 and holding) who worry about what is happening to their church and why so many have turned away from the faith.  There is also a lack of civil discourse about many things these days which paints Christians as hateful or narrow-minded folk, and this deeply saddens me as well.

Lewis begins by talking about how God chose to come as a man - a simple man, and yet this flesh and blood man was very different...and his presence made all the difference in the world.

"What, then, is the difference which He has made to the whole human mass?  It is just this; that the business of becoming a Son of God, of being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless 'spiritual' life, has been done for us.  Humanity is already 'saved' in principle.  We individuals have to appropriate that salvation.  But the really tough work - the bit we could not have done for ourselves - has been done for us.  We have not got to try to climb up into spiritual life by our own efforts; it has already come down into the human race.  If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real man, He will do it in us and for of our own race as this new life.  If we get close to Him we shall catch it from Him.

Of course, you can express this in all sorts of different ways.  You can say that Christ died for our sins.  You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ as done for us what we ought to have done.  You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb.  You may say that Christ defeated death.  They are all true.  If any of them does not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does.  And, whatever you do, do not start quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from yours."  (Mere Christianity, Bk IV, Ch5) (emphasis added)

Brilliant!  Simply Brilliant!!  And I say brilliant because of its simplicity.  Why do we seem to make things so difficult for ourselves, let alone others who yearn for something more, but have trouble wrapping their minds around images and words that seem dated or violent for that matter?

This has given me pause in the midst of this busy time of year.  My Advent prayer and my New Years resolution is to help folks find their formula and live into the fullness of the gift of God's love, mercy and grace.  Won't you join me?

in Christ, together,

Friday, November 29, 2013

musings ~ the day after Thanksgiving

Not that anyone asked, but...

I do not go shopping on Black Friday...I am still digesting my food and reflecting on the day of fellowship with family from Thanksgiving, plus I am an introvert and hate crowds.  Have fun, if shopping and bargain hunting is your idea of fun, but I am deeply disturbed by the accounts of violence at stores here and there.  No 'black Friday deal' is worth harming another over.

I am looking forward to going with Lauren and her family to cut down a Christmas tree (won't Zayden be excited?!!  I can't wait!) and perhaps Justin and I will start listening to some Christmas music... or not - we will see how we're feeling.

There is some pie left, that will go nicely with a cup of tea and I have knitting to do, like Hannah this is a knitting season.   Christina - if you read this - your first sock is almost done!

Today I am most curious to learn about the fate of Comet ISON. Astronomy has been a great Facebook page to follow the past few weeks.  Will it continue on its path and give us a good show in December or did our sun do a number on it?  The jury is still out!

Be curious, stand in awe of something greater than yourself - maybe even a baby born in a manger in the backwater town of Bethlehem!

On this day after Thanksgiving be about peace and goodwill, dear friends...this is the true meaning of the season.

in Christ, together,

Monday, November 4, 2013

for all the Saints...

All Saints Sunday morning I shared a story about my mom's pie is an excerpt of my sermon.  The text for this day is Luke 6:17-31 (click here for link)

This past year many of you purchased a home made pie for our Africa University missionaries.  While we appreciated your support of the team, you need to know that the pie crust recipe isn't a Coble family secret.  Not by a long shot!  
Elinor-Ann Lazarus Coble

The truth is my mother made horrible pies. They were legendary because of just how bad they were. Now sticky buns or cakes – she was the absolute best, but pies – no way. My entire childhood we never had a two crust pie – mom would make crumb top pies – and we wouldn’t eat the bottom crust – they were just a handy holder for the delicious fruit filling.

I was totally unsuccessful at making pies when I had my own kitchen. I chalked it up to a genetic deficiency – the Lazarus gene (my mom was a Lazarus, from NE Pennsylvania)… and so I bought Pillsbury - just thaw, unfold and away you go!

That is until I moved to Apple River, Illinois where I met Lola Brainard. Lola made the most amazing pies. During basketball season, at the home game cake raffles, it was Lola’s pie that was always selected first… always. When our mission team needed to raise money, fast, Lola suggested we take orders for pies and make her world famous pies. The first Easter pie baking we made and sold about 100 pies. The next Thanksgiving – around 150… by the next Easter we were over 200 pies!!

Somewhere in the midst of one of our pie baking days Lola asked me to help…I was terrified… I didn’t want to mess things up – I do, after all, have the Lazarus gene…I was sure it would be a flop… but instead – the pie turned out delicious… my genes were healed… the rest, you say is history – and I have now baked pies with folks in Spirit Lake, here at Trinity and at our family reunion this summer at my parents church.
My cousin, Susan, teaching my niece,
Grace, how to make lattice crust!

The recipe is being passed down to others – and they too are having success… it’s almost a miracle!

If I can be taught the recipe for making an apple pie from scratch…and go on to teach others how to bake a delicious apple pie - why can't we use the same idea to share our faith stories with others…as a way to live into this gift of God’s amazing love for us!

We desperately need to tell the stories of the saints – those whom we have loved who are no longer here – who have gone home to be with the Lord. At the same time we have to stop acting like our faith is private – and instead we have to be more vulnerable with one another…sharing our joys, our concerns, our prayers, our fears and our dreams with one another.
The Coble grandkids, surrounding
Grandma Coble (circa 1985)

Jesus, in his life, modeled the faith not only of his Father God, but also the faith of his earthly parents- Mary and Joseph. Their faith laid the ground work for us all.

In Jesus’ time – most faith stories were shared at meal time… just like for many of us Christmas and Thanksgiving and even Easter traditions go back multiple generations.  What we eat and why we eat it – is just as important as sharing grandma’s secret recipe for stuffing or 7 layer dip.

So….gather together for meals at the table. I know schedules are busy – but that time is precious! Even a quick sit down is better than nothing. And say a prayer while you're at it. My grandson, Zayden, looks at us like we are crazy when we sing the Johnny Appleseed Song, but this has been our prayer since I was a child. My sons in law both know it – and Z will one day soon.

Take note of the seasons of the year… in the Christian church we keep time with the colors of the paraments while today is a special day – and thus we have the white paraments out - right now we are in what is called ordinary time, green is the color of the season – has been since Pentecost.

But during advent the color is purple. What if your family used purple napkins during Advent?  Imagine the conversation that could come up around the table about the anticipation of the season of advent – both for the birthday of Jesus and the return of Christ the King?!

And during Lent – why not eat fish on Fridays like our Catholic brothers and sisters do – and talk about Jesus who walked along the shore of Galilee inviting ordinary folks – like fishermen - to follow him?!

These are just some simple ideas off the top of my head to help start the conversation…

You see, one of the most challenging and important things about learning is that we have to keep moving from being keepers of information, experiences, knowledge – to people who are vulnerable enough to share from our hearts –

In this morning’s gospel lesson Jesus is teaching those gathered around him how to live God breathed lives – they had forgotten – and needed reminding… just as we need reminding – this is why we gather to celebrate in worship – and why we have small groups, bible studies and yes – even worship – to learn more about the nature of our loving and amazing God.

This is why John Wesley the founder of the Methodist movement, gathered people in small groups called classes – to learn from one another and to model Gods love to one another – they did this by gathering a collection for the poor, by studying together, praying with and for one another, and caring for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those in their faith community. This is why they formed their lives in community with one another under a rule of life – do all the good you can, avoid evil, and love God by living into the means of grace….which includes, worship, prayer, studying the Bible, celebrating holy communion, and fasting.

What we do, how we live our lives has meaning… and implications for our children and our children’s children and so on and so forth.

This building, that we are investing in over the next several years will stand… the question is – who will be here to celebrate, learn and serve from this place…and what can we do about this? Who will tell the stories of the faithful who walked up from the old church to dedicate this beautiful worship space? Who will teach our children in Sunday school or sing in the choir when we are gone?

This is why the concept of learn-ing is so important – and why we must continue to learn until we catch our last breath – and even in our dying – we have the opportunity to teach our dear ones about our faith in God – and the hope that we have for new life in Christ Jesus.

This is the good stuff friends…. 
Alan, my stepson, on the day I married
his dad.  Alan died December, 2012
In worship yesterday we lit a candle
remembering his life.  He was 36.

On this day, this All Saints Day we remember. We remember those who have died and gone home to be with the Lord this year – and those from years past as well – but let us not forget to share their legacy, their stories with those who are here…let us give thanks to God for the gift of their life and love.

In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I stopped by the Friends and Neighbors community garden on my way home this afternoon.  The fun thing about gardening is you never know what's going to be ready to harvest.

Today I lucked up!!  A handful of tomatoes will be just right with tonight's dinner.  Truth is as I was looking through the vines I couldn't anyone knows - tomatoes really are best right off the vine!  As I bit into a beautiful Roma tomato the Doxology came to mind:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen.

And so I give thanks....
for the beauty of the earth,
for fresh veggies,
for the hard work of all of those who donate their time to cultivate the garden,
and to God for being so creative.

Fresh tomatoes right out of the garden sure do taste amazing!!

Go grow something - and if you're in Waverly and have some time - stop by the Friends and Neighbors community garden.  Check out the beautiful produce, pull a few weeds while you're at it and enjoy the beauty of God's good creation.  

Peace, love in Christ,

Saturday, August 3, 2013

say "cheese"

My current Facebook profile and cover pictures make me smile.  
Z and me!
One is a picture of Zayden Michael, my grandson, and me.  It was taken during a meal break while we were at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in April.

I love the look of joy on Zayden's face as we play with a simple cup and straw.  Isn't it amazing how it truly is the little things that bring children joy?

The other was taken last weekend and is of the Jay Coble 6.  We are scattered around the globe now, but whenever we are together we take lots and lots of pictures.  Most are regular, garden variety poses but we also always try to take one that is a bit goofy, much to the embarrassment of spouses and our children.  

Elizabeth, Stephanie, Glen, Jay, me and Mark
In this picture we are holding up our brother Mark, number 4 of 6 and the biggest of us all.  (He warned us before we hoisted him up that he was a big guy...and I sure am glad we didn't drop him!) 

Mark was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins type lymphoma in May and is undergoing chemo this summer.  I love Mark's expression as the five of us do our best to keep from dropping him.  He appears to be flying...and that seems appropriate for a day when we all did our best to be normal and to allow the love of family surround him and his wife and daughter.  While the reality of cancer was dancing in the wind we soared with laughter enjoying our time together.

That's the beauty of capturing memories.  One picture can carry us back in time to something as normal as eating lunch or doing your best not to let your baby brother bonk his head.  

While I normally change my Facebook cover picture frequently, I think I'll let this one stay there a bit longer.  Thinking of our time together last week makes me smile and we all need to smile a little more, love more deeply and belly laugh from time to time.

peace, love in Christ,

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

because bigger is not always better

I come from a long line of early adopters.  My grandpa brought home a television set before the tower was even up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  WGAL went on the air in 1949, the fourth tv station in Pennsylvania and the first outside of Philadelphia.  What's even more interesting is that my grandfather was the 6th generation to live on the family farm just down the road from Lancaster.  A farmstead that has now been in the family for over 250 years.

My dad was into livestock genetics before it was cool.  Back in the 70's he switched from raising purebred Angus cows to swine because it was faster to see results from selective breeding.  Now my dad has a small herd of Angus cattle and he does DNA testing on every calf soon after birth! Here's a segment from I Am Angus on RFD TV about my dad and step-moms farm and their livestock breeding program.  Can you tell how proud I am of them?

When I think about my family with their long standing history (250 years of working the same 160 acres of clay bottom land in Pennsylvania) and yet at the same time their drive to be early adopters I can't help but think about how this relates to what the institutional Church, and the United Methodist denomination in particular, is facing today.

There are some of us who are eager to set out in new directions, but at the same time we desire to be part of a mainline denomination.  The United Methodist Church is unique in its ethos.  We are the church of the early adopters, there were circuit riders out criss crossing the homesteads of rural America well in advance of the train lines and before cities could organize Methodist societies sprouted up in cabins and under shade trees from coast to coast.

But then, as my United Methodist history prof reminded us in seminary, the circuit riders got domesticated.  These cabin based communities of faith wanted to build churches like the other guys and focus went from conversion to building projects.  Still, there was a Methodist (or Evangelical or United Brethren) church in every village.

What is uniquely Methodist isn't our buildings, our choirs (although we do love to sing), or the vast number of outposts (churches), what is uniquely United Methodist is our focus on piety (loving God through study, prayer and worship) and action (loving God through our engagement in and with the world).  Oh, and another thing - we like grace - a lot.  God's grace poured out, overflowing and abundant...oh, and assurance...the ability to know that God's love is for me, even me and for you too!  This is good stuff.  This is stuff that needs to be told and heard by people all people...but some times, we may not be able to use words...given the new realities of the world in which we live, our actions do speak louder than words that to many ears sounds like clanging cymbals.

The sad reality is that we are bogged down by buildings and institutional structures that often keep us from engaging with our broken and hurting world.  We have professionalized ministry to such a degree that we have a very well educated clergy, but a un-formed laity...our best resource (the people called United Methodist) is under utilized and so we are floundering, just a bit.

If you have any doubts, take a look at this video made by the General Board of Finance and Administration: (click here)  It's titled United Methodist realities.

I am not a prognosticator, there are some who say that time is running out.  I am not so sure about the timing of any of this, but I do believe that we need to have these types of conversations beyond denominational meetings.  We can talk a good game - but are we actually willing to DO something new/different/with courage?!

We need to confess to our congregations that things are not going to return to the way things were and the future is uncertain for some of our sacred spaces.  We need to own the ambiguity and lean into change.  We need to stop messing with numbers and really be about radical hospitality, building relationships beyond our walls and transformed lives.

Change is hard.

Some things are going to have to be approached in new ways, some things may need to be let go.

Not everything that will go away is bad.

We just can't do it all.

While the statistics are sobering, there are also some exciting realities.  This is OUR time.  We DO have everything that we need to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to a broken and hurting world.  We just may have to work a little harder, pray a bit more and actually step outside of our positions of comfort and taste and see these times of change as times of great possibility.

It's time to own this and turn folks loose for ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ!
John Ira Coble family (1976) at Coble family homestead

in Christ, together,

Saturday, June 1, 2013

because Katie Z asked...

I love serving the church, I can usually find something interesting in committee meetings, I like funerals and believe church ladies are the best cooks.  I wake up extra early Sunday mornings because I am so excited to get to church for worship.  Even though I am '49 and holding' I'm still relatively new to this whole full-time ordained clergy thing.  I am a 2nd career pastor.

In my 'past life' I worked over 20 years as a marketing type for radio and television stations.  I'm the one who tried to convince you to stay at home and watch a tv show/movie/news broadcast.  I fear I may just be a part of the whole culture that so many Christians are fighting against.  My kids were in day care, as recently as two years ago my son played midget football on Sunday afternoons, we spend more time on-line and on our electronic devices than around the dinner table and 2 1/2 years ago I went through a divorce.  I am a single mom with 2 of my 4 children still at home and sometimes I lose my temper and a bad word or two may slip out.  But, I love Jesus and I love the Church and I think God has a great sense of humor to use someone like me to serve in His name.

I believe it's time for the church to be more of the culture than fight this silly war against it - we are doing grave injury to our very souls.  The only way I think the Church will be able to wrap its mind around the realities of this brave new world we are now a part of is to revisit the doctrine of Incarnation.  A doctrine that is both mysterious and prone to messiness.

Richard Rohr writes in Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality; (p. 121)
"The mystery of the Incarnation is precisely the repositioning of God in the human and material world and not just part of that world. Common variety top-down religion often creates very passive, and even passive-dependent and passive-aggressive Christians...Bottom-up, or incarnational, religion offers a God we can experience for ourselves and a God we can see—and must see—in everyone else." 

As we gather as an Annual Conference to consider our Strategic Priorities I believe it is essential that we set aside ourselves and consider the every day realities of the people we are called to walk alongside.  Jesus was known to prefer meals with ordinary folk over fancy dinner parties, the folks he chose to hang out with even got him into trouble!  We need to pause and be quiet and seek to be more fully present with "The Word [who] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood."  (John 1:14a The Message)

Or, as Paul explained so eloquently in Acts Chapter 17; 
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.  
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
(Acts 17:22-25)

While I agree with the overarching goals of the Iowa Annual Conference Strategic Plan, I think we have to be careful about appearing to impose expectations on congregations from the top down.  It will be important for me as a leader in the church to spend more time listening, engaging the community and even setting aside some of the 'priestly' tasks, those things that have become part of my daily or even weekly routine, in favor of things that may seem like trifling away time - like hanging out at the pool with the young families or at the coffee shop with students at our local college or at the city council meetings even.   

I am all about change, don't get me wrong.  At the same time, I want to ask the Iowa Annual Conference to take time to listen deeply to their lay and clergy folk.  I fear that we are attempting a quick fix on something that has been building (or falling apart - depending on your point of view) for a generation or more.  Bottom line, I want us to be faithful to how God reveals God's self to the world.

what do you see in the phrase above? 
We have to be intentional about taking time to look at where God is already at work, and who God is gifting to engage in ministries and new faith community starts and we need to be ok with the idea that these new places for new people may not look like what we are accustomed to.  They will certainly take a great deal of energy and in fact, many of these new faith communities may not be able to pay apportionments - ever.  Are we going to be ok with this IF it means that the Good News of Jesus Christ is shared with those on the margins?  (cause isn't this what its all about?)

We find ourselves in an interesting season and I look forward to the discussion at Annual Conference.  I pray that we are able to take the time to really think deeply and pray together and discern where God is calling us in our unique, beautiful and often messy contexts.  I also pray that we are willing to engage this discussion boldly and with courage!  The world is hurting and in need of redemption, reconciliation and resurrection and the Good News is that this is available to us anew each and every day.

To God be the glory for the great things He has done, is doing and will do through each of us!

in Christ, together,

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013 prayer

One of the things that I appreciate about small towns in Iowa is the love that we have for our veterans.  This morning I attended the Waverly community Memorial Day Observation at our high school.

I was greeted at the front door by a whole slew of smiling Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, as I entered the auditorium I saw pockets of veterans and their families, on the stage the band was playing Sousa marches.  A younger veteran sat over in one corner with his service dog.  At 10:30 the color guard entered and the program began.

One of the gems of our community is retired Rear Admiral Alvin Koeneman.  At one time Al was Chief Chaplain for the entire Navy.  He is a graduate of Wartburg college and he spends part of the year in our community, he also serves as chaplain for the VFW.

This morning Reverend Koeneman shared this invocation:

Lord God of all, who gives meaning to history, purpose for today, and hope for the future; we gather to memorialize those whose lives have been given in service to others.

As we honor these today, 
past and present, 
living and dead, 
but especially those who on the altar of human conflict laid their sacrifice for the sake of those who love freedom, and cherish liberty; we seek assurance from you that their sacrifice was not in vain, nor given for empty cause; but rather spent in the service of causes larger than self and for reasons greater than life itself.

We implore you in behalf of our nations committment to the causes of peace across the globe, and for those who work for peace and justice here at home.

We pray for the success of our mutual quest to discover the way to a kinder, more gentle nation for ourselves, and the family of nations around the world. 
Where there is dignity and pride, 
and justice for all people, 
especially the poor, the homeless, 
the divided and oppressed for whom today has not meaning, 
and the future holds little hope.

By your Spirit, Lord God, link together in one common goal those who are veterans and those who are not, that from this day forth we may be rededicated to the instructive words of your servant Micah;

to love mercy, do kindness, and walk humbly with your God.  Amen.

Nearly12 hours later his words refuse to let me go...this is why I am posting Reverend Koeneman's prayer.  I'm not a veteran, but I have worked with and for veterans and their families most of my adult life.  On behalf of their sacrifice, I am going to seek to live more deeply into this prayer - to be a person of peace, hope and justice here in Waverly and wherever God may send me.  Won't you join me?

in Christ, together,

Monday, May 6, 2013

morning walk

I woke up early, I'm gonna blame my mom alarm, because my first thought was that we are out of milk, and today is a race day.  On race days I make breakfast, because I know Ethan won't each much the rest of the day.

So off to the store for milk, and bananas and orange juice.  It was such a beautiful morning that as soon as I came home I decided to go for a walk.  I do have xx pounds that I'd like to lose before Hannah's wedding in two months - yikes!  Well, as soon as I grabbed my sneakers Toby started looking at me with expectation, and so in dog took me on a walk this morning...

His striving at the leash reminded me that I am often wont to do the same, I fear I have a tendency to focus on something, put my head down and steam right on through till it is accomplished.  While his pulling at the leash did quicken my pace, in doing so, he missed a few things along the way, like the deer in the tree line, the birds flitting about, the trees budding out and the beautiful sun rise.

can you spot the deer in the tree line?
As my arm started to ache from his pulling on the leash I was reminded of this passage in Psalms... "I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth."  (Psalm 121:1-2 NIV)

As hard as it may be, with everything that is swirling around at home and in my vocation, I have to remind myself to 'lift up my eyes to the Lord,' or else I could be consumed by the work of the day.  Not that it isn't good or important work, its just that the reality is my hope does not come from getting it done.  I tend to think that life is more about the journey than the destination.  It is good to be reminded of this in tangible ways.  Especially when the schedule for my week is already slammed, and its not even 8am Monday morning.

And so, I say to myself - take time for God moments, and trust that God is present and in the midst of it all!

Here is the rest of Psalm 121.  This time the Common English version:

I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
God won’t let your foot slip.
Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
No! Israel’s protector
never sleeps or rests!
The Lord is your protector;
the Lord is your shade right beside you.
The sun won’t strike you during the day;
neither will the moon at night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
God will protect your very life.
The Lord will protect you on your journeys—
whether going or coming—
from now until forever from now.

Amen.  May you rest assured in God's love and grace as you journey today, and if our paths cross let's make some time to visit and enjoy the moment.

in Christ, together,

Friday, April 19, 2013

more questions than answers

I walked in on someone riffling through my desk late yesterday afternoon. I should have suspected something when I found the main office door unlocked, and yet I just walked on back to my office and there he was, sitting in my chair going through my desk. Now, if you know anything about being the parent of 4 children, you know that I don’t have money lying around. What he did find was an old cell phone and a 1st generation iPod. My guitar and the church’s iPad were the only other things of value nearby. 

The young man showed up earlier in the day, Mary (our administrative assistant) found him wandering around in Lageshulte Hall. When he stated that he wanted a place to wait out the rain, Mary directed him to Wesley Foyer. As she left for the day Mary looked for him, but he was no where to be found.

If he was hungry, or in need of a place to stay all he had to do was ask. Instead he took a different path and he ended up leaving the building in handcuffs.

There is a lot of talk about what it means to be a person of faith. I myself wrestle with the question - what does it mean to be a leader in a Christian Church. But maybe these are the wrong questions to ask of our selves. Maybe we need to get back to the basics and wrestle with what it means to be in relationship with God and one another. To do this we have to look at the covenant that binds us together – with God and one another and this is our Baptism.

Baptism is just the beginning of a life long journey with God as we learn to live into the gift of being adopted into God’s family, in baptism we put on a new identity because then and there Christ claims us as his own. (here is more information from the UMC website)

We ask four questions in the baptism liturgy – and they are good questions to ponder and sit with and meditate on, to write on our hearts and share with our children as Moses taught the people of Israel to do in Deuteronomy 6:1-9.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? (What are the spiritual forces of wickedness? What does it mean to reject evil powers? How do we repent – and at the same time how do we receive forgiveness?)

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves? (Do we live as people who have been empowered by God to resist evil and injustice and oppression? What does it mean to live into this freedom as a gift from God?)

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? (How is my life transformed by confessing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savoir? What is grace anyway? What will the Lord require of me as I serve him?)

According to the grace given to you, will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world? (What does is mean to be a faithful member of Christ’s holy church? How is it possible that I can be a representative of Christ in the world?)

Today I am full of questions – and not so many answers. I can’t answer the why questions of why a young man would break into a church office. I can, however, ask myself how I am living into the gift of my baptism as a beloved child of God freed from sin, blessed by God’s abundant grace and set loose to serve as a representative of Christ in the world. A pretty awesome job description that isn’t reserved for me, as your pastor, but is what binds us together as the priesthood of ALL believers…the very Body of Christ in unity here in Waverly, Iowa and around the world even - how cool is that!

I am glad no one was hurt last night, I am sad that a young persons life has taken a wrong turn, and I invite you to join me in prayer for 'A' who is seeking his way, even if he doesn’t realize it yet – God loves him with extravagant abundance. God loves you too!

In Christ, together,


p.s. This Sunday at our 10:30 worship service we will welcome two new people into the family of God with two baptisms! Come and join in the celebration and remember your baptism and be thankful.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

Jesus at the tomb    Vladimir Borovikovsky 
There is nothing in scripture that tells us what Jesus' followers did on the day after the crucifixion.  As Jewish folk it was their Sabbath.  So they most likely stayed put, and prayed and I'm sure there were tears shed, and stories told...and if they are like me when I spend time in darkness, they did everything they could to remember every tiny detail.

Spending time in the tomb is risky business.

Spending time in the tomb calls for intentionality.  We would rather life be all sunshine and puppy dogs.  But that isn't really real.

Spending time in the tomb of despair, disappointment, grief, has its own clock.  For some it is short lived, for can seem to go on and on.

Spending time in the tomb is authentic to our human experiences.  Even God, after tearing the temple curtain in two spent time in the tomb.  

and sometimes, on occasion, we need to confront whatever is causing us to be in the tomb with some holy humor.

After the winter that will not end, amidst snow piles and frozen ground...I am wearing sandals... I have been waiting patiently and today enough is enough.

praying for peace as you journey through this Holy Saturday.

in Christ, together,

Friday, March 8, 2013

in honor of Tippy, the garage cat

I was raised to never name a barn cat.  Clear and simple.  You can feed them, try to catch and tame them but never give them a name.  Barn cats don't usually live more than a year or two, so my dad's advice made sense.

Its not that we named Tippy, not exactly.  It was the neighbor who brought him home after he climbed up under the hood of her car and caught a ride to a nearby town.  "Here's your kitten, we named him Tippy.  He sure is a lucky cat."

More than a little scared Tippy 'the lucky cat' got extra attention from then on.  He grew into a beautiful grey cat, his tail tipped with white.  Soon just about everyone on our corner of Apple River knew his name.

Miss Sally was none to pleased when Tippy grew bold enough to visit her yard, a block away, to lounge under her bird feeders.  I remember how he stretched out, his tail flicking in the air as he watched and waited.  The church ladies were none to pleased either when Tippy and his momma and siblings hung around the kitchen door on Swiss Steak Supper night.  Cats will be cats after all.  Tippy was always a friendly cat.

Ethan and Tippy
When it was time to move, Momma cat and Tippy's siblings were farmed out to new homes. Tippy was loaded in the pet carrier for the 6 hour drive to Spirit Lake.  He's Ethan's cat, we don't want to move without him, plus he's a great mouser!  When we arrived at our new home we were afraid he'd disappear so we tried to keep him locked in the garage for a couple of days.  We needn't have worried, Tippy always made his way home in time for dinner.

Soon Tippy was making the rounds in our cul-de-sac.  One day he followed us about 1/2 mile down town to Spenser's Underground.  You have no idea how hard it is to walk home carrying a cat who would much rather be on his own, but we were afraid he'd get lost.  What were we thinking?!  Tippy had it made, as far as I was concerned his mission was simple - keep the mice away -and he did so like a champ.  (This is why I like 'garage cats')

One more move in 2010, another annoyed neighbor, and here we are...I thought he was done for last winter when he disappeared during both of the blizzards, but as soon as the wind died down he reappeared - ready for food and some attention.

Tippy was territorial, there would be nights I'd hear him duking it out with another cat in the neighborhood.  After one of his fights last summer he came home with a chewed up ear, it gave him a  tough guy look but he was a charmer.  Whenever we were outside he was always there jumping on our laps, checking out what was cooking on the grill and loving all of the attention.  What a lucky cat.

Every morning when I let the dog out, and in the evening too Tippy let me know in no uncertain terms that I was late feeding him.  We talked it out and he always forgave me.

Tippy was to celebrate his 9th birthday this spring.  But his luck ran out when he dashed into the path of a passing car.  This evening as I was digging his grave, on the south side of the parsonage underneath the crab apple tree, I thought about how he enjoyed sitting out in the sun.  His tail wagging luxuriously.  This sunny spot seems like a fitting resting place for a lucky cat who got a name.

Rest in peace, Tippy

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

knitting in the midst of Lent

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.  (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Over the noon hour I was privileged to offer the devotions at Heritage United Methodist Church's midweek Lenten lunch.  Nearly 100 people were gathered for great food and fellowship.  I'd say 99.9% of them were affiliated with a church in our community and most were older than I.  
As I thought about what I could say to these faithful sisters and brothers in Christ, many of whom are retired and approaching their twilight years, I was nudged by the Holy Spirit to speak about usefulness and how we continue to have a purpose to and for God and one another.  Here's the gist of our conversation - perhaps you need to hear these words today as well...

I have been a knitter since I was a little girl.  I know how to knit and purl, how to cast on and how to pick up stitches.  My specialty is fast one skein of yarn projects - such as scarves.  I have made a prayer shawl or two - but that takes two skeins at least.   About a year ago a friend encouraged me to try knitting a pair of socks.  I am now in the midst of knitting my third pair!  

Knitting socks isn't too complicated, once you get over the fact that you have to use four needles and you have to follow a pattern.  Problem is, I'm not too good about following instructions.  I began my first pair of socks with the intention of making tube socks, then this same friend insisted that I dive right in and make a heel.  Yikes!  To make socks with a heel says that you mean business.  

I went out and bought a book, the Big Book of Socks no less, and even with step by step instructions I was still in a panic about turning a heel.  So Jen typed out instructions talked me through it, promising  that the whole process would be fool proof.  And, she's right...if I follow the instructions the socks turn out perfect.  But, each time I have a sock on the needles I have to dig through my emails to review Jen's 'knitting for dummy's instructions'.  I'm in the middle of making my 6th sock and I am already double checking Jen's words of wisdom as I approach that magic moment when it's time to turn the heel.

God, through Moses, knew that we were/are stiff necked and willful people.  So, he taught them a prayer - a way to pray - that would remind them of who God is, and whose they were...the prayer is called the Shema and it goes like this:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Say this over and over again, God taught them.  Instruct your children in what it means to live into this prayer, when you are at home, when you are traveling, day and night I want you to remember these words... Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

And so, the Israelites did.  Each morning when they woke up and each evening before they went to bed they said the prayer - to remind themselves and their children what it means to love God fully.  This is much like I depend on Jen's instructions to turn a heel, or my children have depended on me to teach them how to drive...speaking of driving, I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around my youngest having a learners permit!

God wants us to live into our blessedness, and here is where it gets interesting.  God has given us gifts so that we can be teachers like Him.  Some of us know how to knit, others how to cook or clean or wood work or play bridge.  The thing is, are we teaching others what we know or are we expecting someone else to do it?  The sad fact is that there are skills that are being lost because we aren't sharing what we know.  This applies to our faith journey as well as how to make the perfect cinnamon rolls!

So think of something that you are really good at.  Go ahead - think about it, write it down even - what you are good at...whether it's a craft, or baking or mopping the floor - whatever it is...what are you really good at?

Then I want you to ask God to use you to teach and walk alongside someone who needs or wants to learn this skill.  We have been given gifts to use them - so let's get outside our comfort zone and use our gifts already! There are so many ways that we can make new friends and build up the kingdom of God if we would just stop and think about how I can use what I can do really well to God's glory.

So, what say you?  How are you going to live into this prayer during this season of Lent?

in Christ, together,

Saturday, February 2, 2013

sometimes you gotta do it old school

Earlier today, after my workout at 'The W' (notice how I snuck that in), I realized that I didn't have anything pressing to do.  Seeing as I have been on the run a lot lately I decided it was about time to do some cleaning.  The kitchen floor was my first stop, it had been neglected for way too long.

As I dug around under the counter for a Swiffer I changed my mind and decided to go 'old school' instead.  You know about scrubbing the floor on your hands and knees - right?  It's the way floors were scrubbed back before Swiffers and even before good old fashioned mops.

When I was a kid I remember being assigned the duty of scrubbing the bath room floor.  It was only after I was done that I learned that my mom had hidden some coins here and there to see if I had done the whole thing correctly.  I think I found most of them, and it's a lesson I haven't forgotten.

Once I got down on my hands and knees I got to see the floor in a whole new way.  I noticed things that I hadn't seen before.  I bump around the island, a crack where the vinyl transitions into the dining room and a scratch in front of the stove.  I doubt I would have noticed any of these things if I hadn't been down on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor.

These little imperfections aren't serious, but it is definitely something to keep an eye on as decisions are made about the proper care and upkeep of the parsonage.

I didn't think much more about my morning activities until I sat down to catch up on email and "Stirrings" our Iowa Annual Conference's weekly email popped up. Our Leadership Development Minster for Evangelism and New Ministry, Scott Hibben, wrote a headline that caught my eye; "It’s easier to give birth than to raise the dead."

Scott unpacks this oft quoted comment about how a new church start is easier than revitalizing an existing church.  Out of his own experience Scott reminds his readers that both are hard work and each reality faces its own 'toughness'.  You may read the whole article here.

Bottom line, Scott is calling our United Methodist churches to do the hard work of evaluating our faith communities.  He calls both new plants and long established churches, to approach the future intent on really and truly 'making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.'  To assist us in making this assessment we need to ask ourselves three questions; "do you have a clear, simple, memorable pathway for making disciples?  Are you making disciples?  Are you healthy enough to make disciples?  If the answer to any of these is 'NO' then you have some work to do."

I went to the gym this morning because I need to get more physically fit.  I scrubbed the kitchen floor this morning because I had neglected it's care for too long.  I anticipate that tomorrow morning I will be moving a bit more slowly because of the workout that I had today, but if I want to see any results I will return to the gym tomorrow and the day after and the day after that as well.

As I take the three questions posed by Scott to heart I know that discerning the health as well as the mission and vision of Trinity is something that we will do together.  That's the beauty of faith communities. We are blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2) and we hold the Good News in our hearts; ‘The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood’(John 1:4 The Message).  How cool is that!

in Christ, together,

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

can a gal have too many shoes??

One of my earliest blog posts was about footwear, kicka** shoes to be more precise (you may read it here).  I was inspired by a challenge from some of the male members of the church I serve about my choice in footware.  In the 26 or so months since then I have upped my game, so to speak, trying out a variety of heels of all shapes and colors and I must admit have had fun wearing kick** shoes!

 The biggest challenge is that not only are my feet different sizes (which is normal - kinda) but there really aren't all that many option for gals with larger feet...this has not stopped me from scouting out stores and finding some real treasures.  I especially like our local shoe store, Thompson's, because they carry Clark's, my favorite brand of shoes.

Well, here's the problem...I fear I may have gone a bit overboard.  I mean really, how many pairs of shoes does a gal really need???  I have been a wise shopper, I have opted for comfort much of the time, although.....there is a red pair I had to have and I only pull them out for special occasions (for those into the liturgical seasons of the year - think Pentecost!).  

Usually I buy my heels off the sales rack - for a fraction of the price, but in doing so I take a chance on whether or not they will work once put to the test.  I have found through natural selection that some shoes really aren't as comfortable as I first thought they'd be after standing (and walking around) in them for 3-4 hours on a Sunday morning.  And the reality is, I am 49 and holding - so comfort is important to me!   So, here I am, with too many pairs of shoes and the realization that I should give them a new home where they will be appreciated!

WHICH gets me to the point of this post (finally)...

If you live in Waverly and find yourself with too many pairs of shoes, or slacks, or jeans or sweaters, or if your kids have outgrown their clothes or there are too many coats in the closet, would you please bring them to Trinity United Methodist Church any time between now and January 20th for the Trinkets and Togs Clothing Only Drive?!!

This is the one time each year when we focus on gathering clothes for Trinkets and Togs, a tremendous thrift store that is part of the Larrabee Center, an organization dedicated to helping people with special needs here in Waverly.  Trinkets and Togs is a favorite of many folks, and I know that your donations of clothing will find a good home on the racks of the store and in the closets of Bremer and Butler County!

I figure this is a great way to thin out my shoe rack (and closet) and a tremendous way to help our neighbors...I hope you will consider doing the same!

journeying together in Christ's name,

Saturday, January 5, 2013

on the twelfth day of Christmas

In July, 2003 I left behind a 20 year career in television marketing and promotions for seminary and a part time student appointment as pastor of Apple River United Methodist Church.  I was thrilled to begin my journey as a pastor in this small village in NW Illinois.

Gordon Lamont became one of our favorite Apple River citizens.  Gordon was a widower who made homemade caramels and sugar cookies from scratch, the soft kind with sugar on top like my grandma used to make.  I think its fair to say that Gordon was the patriarch of the church and he was loved and respected by one and all.  Gordon was also a wood worker and I am pleased to have several pieces made by him in my home.  Among my treasures made by Gordon is a Christmas card holder.

Each Christmas when I pull out this simple Christmas card holder I think of Gordon and remember his kindness to me and my family.  Each Christmas as I decorate the tree I pause as I unwrap the ornament he gave me with a picture of Apple River UMC on it - so I would never forget my first church.  His church.  The church he helped to rebuild after a fire when he was but a boy, where he raised his family and buried his wife.

Gordon is gone now, home with the Lord and his beloved wife.  I will never forget Gordon, or any of the other fine people who loved me into being a pastor and taught me lessons that I still draw on today.  The stories they shared, the experiences that we all shared make me who I am today, they make me a better person let alone pastor.

Christmas and the Christmas season is a time of memories, both making and sharing them.  Christmas is supposed to be a happy time, and there is much to be happy about, but it can also a challenging time with family gatherings, unmet expectations and the basic funk that can happen after Christmas is over.  

I believe that a lot of what I do as a pastor is create an environment for people to experience God in new ways.  I seek opportunities for memories to be made with the help of a variety of people who share their talents and gifts as an offering to God at our worship services.  These memories, I pray, will help to encourage and sustain us when we face challenging times in our faith journey.  

Christmas Eve 2012 at Trinity UMC
I am grateful for my senses and the ways that a certain smell or a color or image or the taste of something can evoke a memory and take me to a place that helps me to remember the beauty and meaning of the Christmas season.

It is my prayer that as Christmas winds down this weekend and our decorations are put away for another year that the memories created this year will be with you to encourage and sustain you in your faith journey in 2013 and beyond.

journeying together to Bethlehem and beyond,