Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday, 03/31/12

New Test: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Old Testament: Exodus 10:21-11:8
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52
Psalms: 137:1-6(7-9), 144, 42, 43  
 “… Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, … so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen…” (2 Cor. 4:13-18)

These verses crisply state the true benefit of our faith and the grace of living a godly life that, together, our faith and our ability to give our time and our resources to others helps spread the grace of God to more and more people. 

While reading and contemplating these verses, I was taken back to our church family’s mission trip work in Nashville and Chicago.  The amount of faith shown, scripture spoken, and tireless giving by the St. Matthew’s teams throughout those trips truly speaks of a loving God and His blessings. 

I watched our mission teams do incredible work for people that were in need of life resources and faith resources.  I am certain that the “same spirit” that our teams brought to these trips made an immeasurable and profound impact on the people of Chicago.  Equally, I think the “same spirit” that some of us witnessed and experienced at the
“By The Hand Schools” brought our teams grace and the glory of God. 
I remember participating in morning worship with very needy children in the middle of some of the harshest communities of Chicago.  Each time, it was a very moving experience.  The children sang, danced, and worshiped to renew themselves day by day and to prepare themselves to fight the evil lurking just outside their fences.  That renewal rubbed off on us as well; everyone involved was touched by God’s grace as it spread more and more throughout our shared experiences. 

Additionally, our mission trip experiences had a lasting effect on me and my family.  We vowed to return to Sterling and begin contributing monthly to LINK in order to help, here at home, with the same fight against hunger we saw in Chicago. 

Therefore, do not lose your heart, follow the light of Jesus, and be of the same spirit.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday, 03/30/12

Psalms: 22, 95, 141, 143:1-11 (12)
Old Testament: Exodus 9:13-35
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Gospel: Mark 10:32-45

I would venture to guess that most of us sing out loud at least once a day.  Whether it is in the shower, in our cars when a special song comes on (and we sing it as loud as we can), or taking a walk with an iPod, we do sing out loud.  What do most of these times have in common?   We are alone; and no one else can hear the slightly off key tone that most of us produce. There is a reason that most of us don’t sing in the choir, right?  If you think about it, though, when you are in church and the choir or the band starts playing a song, the congregation IS one big choir.  Rev. Anne reminded us of this at the retreat in November, and the Bible also encourages us to sing.  Psalm 95:1-2 tells us to:  Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord: let us shout out loud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. “

There is no mention of having to sing on key, or of the need to carry a tune.  For those of you who have ever been to a rock concert, or any event where an entire audience is encouraged to sing along, have you ever noticed that the “audience choir” sounds pretty good when singing as a whole?  Think of our congregation as an “audience choir” and become a part of it.  Let the Lord hear you sing -- because He doesn’t mind if you are a bit pitchy or off key.  And most likely, neither will people around you in the pew.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thursday, 03/29/12

Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
Old Testament: Exodus 7:25-8:19
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Psalms: 131, 132, [133], 140, 142
I’m not going to lie to you; I’ve always wanted to be rich.  I watch HGTV’s shows like “Selling New York” so I can get an inside-look at places I would never even be invited to visit, much less buy.  

This past week, while I was watching HGTV’s “Million Dollar Kitchens”, I saw a couple spend a million dollars redoing their kitchen and dining room in one of the gaudiest ways I had ever seen.  Seriously, what were these people thinking?  They could have spent that money doing so much good in the poor communities around them.  They could have funded numerous food pantries, or stocked a homeless shelter.   What were they thinking?

Then, I started looking around my own home and at my own stuff, such as the Classic Winnie-the-Pooh collectibles that I’ve gotten up at 2 AM to win on eBay, the leather bound classic books that I had to have to make me feel smarter (even though I’ve never actually read any of them), and the copious amounts of gardening supplies that I had to have in the dead of winter (they were on sale).  It occurred to me that I’m as bad as those rich people on HGTV with their tacky kitchen.  All this money that I’ve spent, and only for my pleasure, made me ask myself, “What was I thinking?”  If I stop spending that money on me, I can give more to others, like LINK, the Backpack Buddies, and the local animal shelter.  

I understand now why Jesus felt sorry for the rich man.  To give up all his security and comfort is asking A LOT, but what he gains in return is worth so much more: to be a part of God’s kingdom and to be with Him for eternity.  What can be better than that?  Definitely not books or a tacky kitchen!

Dear Abba, please help me as I struggle to let go of the need for all these earthly things that are so meaningless.   Help me to focus on serving you as you’ve asked me to do, to help those around me who are less fortunate, and help me be more loving, like you.  AMEN. 


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday, 03/28/12

Gospel: Mark 10:1-16
Old Testament: Exod 7:8-24
New Testament: 2 Cor 2:14-3:6
Psalms: 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130
 Rebecca, my Granddaughter, is 12 years old. She is also full of wisdom, and she teaches me every day (if I stop and listen).  Recently, she offered me the following pearl of wisdom, “If you talk, you repeat what you already know; if you listen, you learn;” (source: Big Bowl fortune cookie).  What possible connection is there between this fortune cookie and today’s lectionary themes Pharaoh saying no to Moses and Aaron, divorce, and Jesus welcoming the little children?  Try this.

In my many years, there have been way too many occasions where I have allowed myself to get worked up, angry, frustrated, etc., because I flew to judgment on a person, behavior, or situation I didn’t like.  Why? Because I started talking to justify my feelings and the logic behind my righteousness, and I didn’t listen.  Too often, I simply did not under stand and appreciate the reason for the conflict or for what I was witnessing.  I may have listened with my ears, but not with my heart.

Pharaoh hardened his heart against Moses.  Divorce often results when families harden their hearts and stop listening to each other.  Rebecca and others have taught me that conflict resolution can only be achieved through listening with an open and sensitive heart, with love and acceptance.

Now for the best part:  today, Mark paints a gorgeous picture of Jesus opening his ears, heart, and arms to the little children against the objections of his disciples. “Let the little children come unto me…theirs is the Kingdom of God.”  Once again, Jesus shows us a heart full of love, understanding, and compassion.

Lord, thank you for this wonderful Wednesday.  Please help me to
open my heart to those I meet today so that I may listen and truly understand where they are and what they need.  Oh yes, also thanks for Rebecca and Big Bowl fortune cookies.  Amen.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday, 03/27/12

Gospel: Mark 9:42-50
Old Testament: Exodus 5:1-6:1
New Testament: 1 Cor 14:20-40
Psalms: [120],121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, [127]
This week’s Gospel reading reminds me of my relationship with my younger brother and helping him keep his faith.  Since I have been away at school, I feel that we have been connecting much more while I’m home.  Perhaps it is that he has reached an age where we have more in common, or that I have reached an age where I realize I need to be more caring and connected as a sibling.  Maybe it’s simply that we were around each other too much while I was in high school and he was in middle school, and we did what all siblings will do: get on each others nerves.

Now, more than ever, as he enters high school, it is important for me to guide him in whatever ways I can. The most important of these may be to lead by example, which includes listening.  Keeping the faith in the younger ones who look up to us will be for naught if we only speak of how to live we must show them. 

On one of my visits back home he said, “Can we talk whenever you have the chance?”  It seems silly, but I was so happy to listen and to help in whatever little way I could.  We, of course, talked about a girl, and that was a first between my brother and me.  God willing, I hope we have many more talks in the future, and with God’s help, I hope to live my life well as an example, and perhaps help him to avoid any bumps in the road I have hit.  I thank God for the opportunity to guide my brother. 


Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday, 03/26/12

Gospel: Mark 9:30-41
Old Testament: Exodus 4:10-31       
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 14:1-19
Psalms: 31, 35
 In today’s reading from Mark, there were many passages that struck me.  Verses 34 -35, however, were special:  “But they were silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest.  And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant to all.’”

 Recently, my daughter tried out for a lead in a school musical.  She practiced a lot and really wanted that part.  She ended up getting something else in the play instead.  I was worried about how she would take it and how she would feel, until she came up to me and said, “Mom, I’m good with this.  I’m happy with the part I did get.”  I realized that, for her, it is not at all about winning… but just trying her best.

 I feel situations like this come up all the time in my life.  I see it in business, where we are always working to be the best, to be #1.  I see it with children.  They learn early on to want to be winners.  I’ve been in a car with boys where each of them is talking about how he is better at something than the boy next to him.  I call it one-up-man-ship.  How amazing it would really be if someone spoke up and said “Hey, you are better than me, and that is wonderful!“ And they really meant it!  That is what I hope for my children.  I hope that they will learn to be humble and to value others as well as themselves.  I want them to appreciate the people around them for what they are, not how good they are at something.  I am hoping to become better at leading by example.  Being #2 or #3, or even #2000 is OK.  It is even great! 


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday, 03/25/12

Psalms: 118, 145
Old Testament: Exodus 3:16-4:12
New Testament: Romans 12:1-12
Gospel: John 8:46-59
“I WILL extol You, my God, O King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever [with grateful, affectionate praise].  Every day [with its new reasons] will I bless You [affectionately and gratefully praise You]; yes, I will praise Your name forever and ever.” Psalm 145: 1-2

I recently saw a friend share a picture online that said, "What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday."  I try to remember to give God thanks each and every day.  Some days I feel like I do a good job; others, I'm lucky if I remember to give Him thanks before a meal.  But what if that really happened?  What would I wake up with?

So I thought about it and realized that, in general, I’d be surrounded by some of my favorite people and things; but what about all the other things that make up my daily existence? Do you remember to give Him thanks for ALL things?  I tried it once, and I found my list going on and on, “and… oh, and… and also…”  Then I tried the simple, “Thank you for everything” approach, but I was left feeling like that was a cop out.

Suddenly it dawned on me; giving thanks to God wasn’t necessarily about a shopping list of things, nor was it about being general and vague, it was about acknowledging His place in my life.  I give
“thanks” to God every time I do something right in His eyes. 

When I give thanks to God, I need to consider thanking Him for being in my life, for being a part of my life.  I need to thank Him for walking with me and leading me along the way.  I truly have so much to be thankful for. The question is where will I begin?  Where will you begin?

“My mouth shall speak the praise of the
Lord; and let all flesh bless [affectionately
and gratefully praise] His holy name
forever and ever.”
Psalm 145:21

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday, 03/24/12

New Testament: 1 Cor 13:1-13
Old Testament: Exodus 2:23-3:15
Gospel: Mark 9:14-29
Psalms: 107:33-43, 108:1-6 (7-13), 33
At first I thought the usual thoughts when reading, “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous…”  This passage is commonly used as the reading at weddings or during the renewal of vows.  Then I reflected on the final verse:   “…So faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” I believe that not only is love the greatest of these, it is the most difficult of these.  I began to think about it in the context of parental love.

Recently my daughter called me at work to tell me the following story involving her five-year-old son.

“Mom, I can’t believe it!  Your words just came right out of my mouth this morning.  Joseph was in trouble, so I sent him upstairs for a time out.  He wheeled around and said, ‘You make me mad, and you are not my friend!’ And I said, ‘You are right.  I am not your friend.  I am something much more important than that.  I am your mother.’”  I laughed and congratulated her on a job well done.

Then we recalled a time when she, her brother, and I were having dinner and he wanted to go with some friends to an event in Georgetown.  He was 16, and after thinking it over, I said, “Sorry, but no.”  He was angry and said “Brendan’s mom is letting him go,” thinking that would sway me.  I looked him in the eye and told him that I must love him more because the answer was still no.  He replied, “Can’t you just love me a little less?”  I responded, “You are my heart of hearts, it is impossible for me to love you less.  I only love you more every day.”  He sat quietly for a few moments and then said, “Mom, you are the last of a dying breed.”  And we all laughed together.

It is so hard not to be your child’s friend first, but to be the parent.  I have recently noticed that so many parents (family and friends) are struggling with this issue.  They tell me that things are different now, that things are not the same as when I was a parent, that the world is a changed place, etc.  My answer to them, though, is that things are not different.  Things were just as hard for my generation and even for the one before that.  To lovingly guide your children, to lovingly teach your children, never has been and is never going to be easy.

I learned that, in the end, if you remain the responsible grown up, no matter how much tough love you have to use, you will one day get to be friends with your children.  My thirty-something-year-old kids are now my best friends.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday, 03/23/12

Gospel: Mark 9:2-13
Old Testament: Exodus 2:1-22
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3
Psalms: 95, 102, 107:1-32
Today’s Gospel reading is a fairly short reading, but it has a strong message.  The message of today's Gospel reading helps to remind me who Jesus is.  This is very important, especially during this season of Lent.  I hope it does the same for you.

Today's Gospel reading tells the story of the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor.  Peter, James, and John witnessed the appearance of Elijah and Moses, the transfiguration, and heard the voice of God.  I am sure you have heard this story before.  

The transfiguration revealed Jesus’ divine nature.  Jewish tradition placed the Messiah on the same level with Moses and Elijah.  The cloud covered the mountain, and when it lifted only Jesus was revealed.  The voice of God confirmed that Jesus was on a higher level than the Law (represented by Moses) or the Prophets (represented by Elijah).   

God’s words in this reading reconfirmed Jesus’ identity and added an imperative, “Listen to him!”  In today’s world, many voices try to tell us how to live and how to know God personally.  Some of these voices are helpful; many are not.  In order to listen to Jesus, you and I need to listen to his words in the Bible.  We need to study those words.  We also need to listen through prayer. 

The reminder in today’s reading is that Jesus is God, Jesus is the Messiah, and we all need to listen to Jesus.  This may seem obvious to most of us, and we may think we do not need to be reminded of this.  I do not know about you, but in my hectic life, I do need this reminder.  With all the noise out there, the reality is that the facts of this reminder tend to get pushed aside.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday, 03/22/12

Gospel: Mark 8:27-9:1
Old Testament: Exodus 1:6-22
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Psalms: 69,73

I've never seen a jet-black swan
To see a flock'd shock me
For if one nests in yonder pond
It could spell TEOTWAWKI*
(*The End Of The World As We Know It)

"A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics:
It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an
explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was.
"Nassim Taleb, "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable"

The first century Roman poet Juvenal (tongue-in-cheek no doubt) described the
virtuous woman as a "rara avis" (rare bird)
a Black Swan. Then as now, there
are only white swans in Eurasia (or in the Americas).  The first black swans were
sighted in Australia in the 17
th century.  Juvenal's point underscores the
logical axiom
absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Taleb has extended the black swan metaphor to encompass (generally) unforeseen
events that had huge impact.  In our time, the classic example of a Black Swan is
the 9/11 attacks, which had massive near-term impacts on financial markets and
transportation systems, and longer-term impacts on international relations
(especially the relationship between the West and Islamic nations).

If we are objective, the incarnation of the Almighty in the person of Jesus was
a Black Swan event.  As his ministry progressed, people throughout the region
knew that something of unprecedented impact was going on.  Healings and miracles
were being reported.  Profound teaching was being re-circulated in astounding
conversations.  But few people, if any, were taking their conclusions to the next
that Jesus was not a continuation of the pattern established over
millennia of Jewish prophecy and teaching
that He was an unimagined,
unthinkable break from the pattern of the past.  That was Peter's moment of
lightning-from-God insight.  But even that insight was incomplete, because Peter
could not accept the burden of sacrifice that Messiah (and his followers) would
be taking on.  It would require two more Black Swan events
the Resurrection and
the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
for Peter to take that next step, to embrace
the end of the world as he had known it, and step with boldness into the world
of the Kingdom.

A Black Swan lies (some time) in our future that truly will be TEOTWAWKI.
Christ will come again.  Will we apprehend the truth when it comes?


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday, 03/21/12

Psalms: 101, 109, 119:121-144
Old Testament: Gen 50:15-26
New Testament: 1 Cor 12:1-11
Gospel: Mark 8:11-26

“ I will not set before my eyes anything that is base.” 
Psalm 101:3
A long time ago, in a land far away, I lifted a lot of weights.  One of the most important lifts we did was “the squat.”  In this lift, appropriately enough, you squat, stand up, and then squat again for the desired number of repetitions.

Because squats use some of the biggest muscles of your body, you can really pile on the weights (we’d squat upwards of 500 pounds); and because you use so much weight, squats can be dangerous.  One of the keys to squatting well is remembering to look up throughout the movement.   In squats, as in so many things in life, the way you look is the way you go.  So, if you look down while squatting, you tend to lean forward, and then, as all those weights come forward accordingly, you are in BIG trouble. 

The way you look is the way you gothat’s the principle behind the verse above.  If we focus on “corrupt and degrading things” (as the Message translates it), that will shape our thinking accordingly, and ultimately our actions.
Paul picks up this same principle in the New Testament and gives it a positive twist:  “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8)  To understand what is at stake, imagine the opposite:  Whatever is untrue, dishonest, unjust, impure, ugly, negative, vicious, or worthy of criticism, think about these things.  Put so starkly, it sounds funny doesn’t it?  Yet that is precisely where so many people put their focus these days.

I hope you or I will not be one of them, choosing instead the
ancient wisdom of the Psalmist who will not allow
anything base before his eyes.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday, 03/20/12

Gospel: Mark 8:1-10
Old Testament: Genesis 49:29-50:14
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

“I have compassion for these people...”
(NIV Mark 8:2)
Among the benefits the company that I work for offers is a “Personal Volunteer Day.”  You are entitled to receive a day off with pay if you spend that day participating in an event that serves the community.  A few years ago, I started selecting the Friday before Thanksgiving as my Personal Volunteer Day.

Every year the events of my volunteer day unfold in much the same manner.  I spend the day with Kenny Thayer collecting food for LINK’s Thanksgiving Food Distribution.  This annual event takes a lot of planning and a lot of volunteers.  It’s amazing to see so many people come together to help meet this community need.

Today’s reading from Mark, about Jesus feeding the four thousand, reminds me of that event.  We are told that Jesus felt compassion for the people, so He took what was available and prayed ─ trusting God to provide.

When we first arrive at the churches which serve as the distribution centers, there never seems to be enough food for the number of people signed up. The organizers (like the disciples) are always concerned that they may run out of food ─ although I have never heard of that happening.  Actually, the opposite is closer to the truth.  As with the four thousand, there always seems to be enough to feed those present… and then some.

Kenny and I spend such days moving food from LINK’s food pantry, shuttling between the two distribution centers, and picking up donations from schools.  Each time we return to the churches, the amount of food seems to have grown (just as the seven loaves and a few small fish multiplied).  As with the four thousand, the need is met by taking what is available and trusting God to provide.

May we follow Jesus’ example by showing compassion for one another and by trusting
God to provide.  Amen.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday, 03/19/12

Old Testament: Genesis 49:1-28
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1
Gospel: Mark 7:24-37
 I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever;
   with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
   through all generations.” 
Psalm 89:1
“Oh your love is a symphony, all around me, running through me.”  Switchfoot blared on my iPod as I walked through the gates of Miami Int’l Airport and onto the plane bound for Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

I learned a lot during my trip to the small island country, but one of the most incredible experiences I had was learning to worship side-by-side with my Haitian brothers and sisters.  They sang praises to God for three to four hours on Sunday morning (and Tuesday night), in Creole and French two languages that I do not know.  However, I learned that I didn’t have to understand the words they were saying in order to worship just as passionately with them. Though we were not speaking the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer together, we were both communicating with God in our own words.

The most vivid memory I have from Haiti is singing with a deacon and his daughters.  He was explaining to us that his eldest daughter loves to sing, and I mentioned that I love singing, too.  So, naturally, he burst out into a Creole worship song.  As I listened to them sing, I recognized the melody as one of my favorite Chris Tomlin songs, “Here I am to Worship.”  Some of our mission team joined us in worship, singing in English, of course.  For three minutes, we praised the One God who joins us all together in the bond of Christ, in the different languages that God created for us.  Just because the words were not in the same language didn’t mean that the prayer wasn’t.

Aside from being the hottest, thirstiest, achy-est, and most incredible six days of my life, my week in Haiti taught me that everyone can have a special way to communicate with God.  Praying on hands and knees not your thing?  That’s okay you can find other ways to talk to God.  Embarrassed to sing out loud and clap during worship?  No problem you can speak to God in other languages.  He’ll hear you speak to Him in the way that will work for you.  He created you, after all; He knows everything about you.  For me, I sing.  For you well, there are infinite possibilities.

“Oh your love is a song.”


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday, 03/18/12

Gospel: John 6:27-40
Old Testament: Genesis 48:8-22
New Testament: Romans 8:11-25

“Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.  I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.  If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard by prayer.  Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”       (Psalm 66:16-20)

This past summer was traumatic for me.  For the first time in my life, I was laid-off.  I was terrified.  My security was snatched from me.  I was left with anxiety, self-doubt, and stress so severe that I believe it contributed to my bout with meningitis and a 4-day hospital stay in insolation.  I was a mess. 

Everyone was telling me to pray, and I told them I would… but I didn’t.  I just didn’t.  I guess I was angry with Him.   If He loved me, why would He put me through this?

While lying in the hospital bed, I recalled a conversation I over heard my mom having with a friend.  Mom was telling her how she found the church we were attending.  She said she prayed that God would find us a home in a good neighborhood, close to schools that my brother & I could attend, and a Spirit-filled church all within 5 miles of our home.  She said He fulfilled her prayer request down to the last little bit.  If God could do that for my mom, then I knew He could do that for me.  So, I prayed.  I prayed for a job I could really enjoy, that understood my family came first, within a 45 minute travel radius, and with co-workers who cared about each other, treated each other with dignity and respect, and who laughed a lot. 

And you know what?  He answered my prayer down to the last little bit.  I truly enjoy my new job, my peaceful, 45 minute commute against traffic, and especially my co-workers, who are an amazing bunch of women.  Now, I thank God every day that I was laid-off and forced to find something else. 

Thank you, God, for knowing what’s best for me and for answering my prayers.  Thank you for loving me enough to push me out of my secure comfort zone and on to a better place.  Please help me remember that, no matter what, you love me and always want the best for your children.  Amen.