Posts tagged ‘love’

December 10, 2013

Love That Groans: Day 3- Elizabeth Hagan

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” II Corinthians 4:1

I have been in labor for almost five years.

There have been ultrasounds.

There has been blood work.

There has been pain: both physical and emotional.

I feel called to motherhood. It’s as strong as the calling I felt to enter the pastorate ten years ago. It’s as strong as the calling that I felt to marry over six years ago.  But, I am still a childless mother. My bio below lists no children in our immediate family.

When I first began the journey toward motherhood, I was naïve.

After being married a year, I thought we’d start trying to have kids and then nine months later pop out a beautiful baby. I saw so many of my friends become mothers so easily. My mind and body felt strong. I saw no groaning up ahead. Why would childbirth not happen easily for me?

I had no idea the process of waiting for a baby can extend Advent after Advent, year after year.

I had no idea that labor pains sometimes can feel like the awkwardness of attending a party and being asked by a stranger “Why don’t you have children?” It’s finding your way to a polite response, though what you really want to say is “bug off.”

I had no idea that labor pains can feel like a dear friend telling you she’s pregnant with her third. It’s finding a way to say with a smile and a hug, “Congratulations!” You are happy for her, but . . .

I had no idea that I’d have to invite doctors and lawyers and friends into the process—a process that should have been all about love between my husband and me but instead became a process that included contracts, test tubes, and diagrams of the fertilization process between an egg and a sperm.

Through this painful waiting, I’ve asked God a few questions:

Where are you God when what seemed so sure fell through again?

Where are you God when I had to preach about a teenaged girl having a baby again?

Where are you when my college girlfriends gather to talk about their babies, and I have nothing to offer again?

Throughout this journey of motherhood I’ve always had a choice.

I’ve had a choice to believe that God has clothed me in the scarlet letter of infertility (and God hasn’t).

I’ve had a choice to believe that this wait is punishment for some un-confessed wrongdoing (I don’t believe it is).

I’ve had a choice to believe that I will never welcome children into our family (I still believe we will).

At this juncture of the journey I choose to believe that the desires of my heart will come to fulfillment, somehow, someway. As I continue to wait, I’ve been given the opportunity to experience God’s love at a deeper level than I ever could have imagined. Friends blessed me with deep expressions of kindness that have healed parts of me that I didn’t know were so broken. My husband and I have leaped into the certainty of “No matter what, we are going to get through this together.” And my faith has come to the other side of knowing for sure that even as this season of waiting labors on, my waiting is not in vain. God’s kingdom is coming though it is not already here.

Like Paul told the believers in Corinth, “we have this great ministry, we don’t lose heart,” God has reminded me of this time and time again. And it has been love that has carried me through this labor—love of what my heart has seen, though my eyes have not. In God’s kingdom, we groan together and wait.

Let us pray:


God, Advent can be such a hard time for those of us who are in the middle of waiting for what is to come. Help us to find your love for us even in the midst of the pains of labor that endure for the night. We pray together for your light to come. Amen.

Elizabeth is an ordained minister in the Baptist tradition, a freelance writer and a social media consultant who divides her time between Arlington, VA and Oklahoma City, OK with her husband Kevin. She blogs regularly at “Preacher on the Plaza” (this site). This Advent Elizabeth is hoping for the gift of being present in the moment.

December 9, 2013

Love That Groans: Day 2- Sarah Jobe

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to this present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:22-25

Learning to wait for a baby means learning how to groan…and waiting for a baby savior is no different. This Advent, as we wait with Mary for her child to come to term, I find myself wondering why groaning must be a part of the holiday season?

Why ruin a perfectly good Advent with talk of groaning?

For one thing, bringing babies into the world is hard work. We all associate labor with groaning, but mothers don’t just groan during labor. The nine months of pregnancy offered more opportunity than I wanted to practice the work of moaning and groaning. Between low back pain, sciatic nerves, constipation, and “fatigued stomach muscles,” I learned to groan like a champ — and my pregnancies were “uncomplicated”!

Another reason that learning to wait for babies means learning to groan is that every pregnancy doesn’t make it to term. Even in this scientific age, when we embark on the journey of bringing new life into the world, we embark knowing that we might lose the life we are trying so hard to create. Parents embark on the journey of creating new life knowing that it might end in a groan of loss.

In that first Advent season, Mary didn’t know if Jesus would make it to term. She didn’t have an ultrasound; she couldn’t hear his heartbeat. Mary didn’t know if Jesus would make it through the process of labor. She didn’t know if he would be born whole. She didn’t know if she herself would make it through the delivery alive. For those very real reasons, that first Advent was a season of groaning. That first Advent was a season of awesome wonder and trepidatious hope…because Mary wasn’t sure that Jesus would make it into the world alive.

It is tempting to think that we know better in Advent 2013. It is tempting to think that with our Christmas pageants and live-nativities we are just re-enacting a drama whose end is sure. But the truth is, as we look around us, there are plenty of reasons to fear that Jesus isn’t coming. There are plenty of reasons to groan.

What if December 25 comes, and Jesus doesn’t get born? What if Mary “fails to progress” and Jesus’ entry into the world isn’t smooth? What if Jesus is born…but all of his parts aren’t there?

These questions matter because on December 25, 2013 we have real reason to fear that the Body of Christ will not be whole. The whole Body of Christ will not be swaddled. The whole Body of Christ will not be nursed or held. And if we have not learned to groan about that, our hymns and presents and cinnamon rolls will not reflect what actually happened when Jesus was born into the world.

We don’t already have Jesus…at least, not in his fullness. Waiting with Mary means learning how to groan about the ways in which Jesus has not yet come. Advent is about groaning inwardly as we wait eagerly… hoping for what we do not yet have.

Let us pray:

SarahJobeHoly Spirit, help us learn to groan with you for the ways in which life is not breaking into our world. Teach us how to be grateful for the first fruits while we long for the full redemption of our bodies and your world. Show us how groaning and rejoicing came together in Mary, come together in every mother, come together in you. Amen.

Sarah Jobe is an ordained Baptist minister, prison chaplain, teacher, and mother of two. She lives with her family at the Rutba House, a Christian house of hospitality in Durham, NC. She is the author of Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of Pregnancy. As a prison chaplain, she is hoping for the reconciliation of mothers and their children this Advent.

December 8, 2013

Love That Groans: Day 1- Joe Hensley

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:4-6

Today, many churches in their worship services will hear this passage from Romans in which Paul encourages his audience to live in harmony and with one voice glorify God. Yay Church! Crank up the alleluias. What if, though, the one voice glorifying God is not sweet and happy-clappy? What if the voice is more like the groaning mentioned in Romans 8:22, the moaning of labor pains, as we wait for the revealing of the children of God?

It was with such groaning that my wife, Sarah, and I waited for the revealing of our unborn son. This was our fourth and final pregnancy (see December 5th post) and things were going well. Our previous three pregnancies had been relatively smooth, so we felt confident. Then came our mid-term ultrasound, two days after Easter Sunday.

We knew something was wrong. The doctor and technician were giving each other intense looks. Finally they showed us into a consult room and gave us the news: spina bifida. Our unborn son had a neural tube defect. His spine was partially open, resulting in a dangling, vulnerable skin sack of fluid and nerves. They told us he might not walk. He might not be able to control his bowel and bladder functions. He might need a shunt placed in his brain to divert fluid. Our confidence vanished. We had lost our second child in infancy to a heart defect. Now it felt like lightning had struck us twice. Ironically, I had just preached about moving from loss to new life. That gospel was easy to proclaim on Easter morning. Now the idea of new life emerging from this loss seemed like a cruel joke.

They tried to encourage us. 1500 children are born with spina bifida each year. It is not fatal. Doctors routinely perform spinal closures right after birth. In the last decade or so, surgeons have also developed a procedure before birth. They cut open the uterus (like a C-section), close the opening in the baby’s back, and restore the baby to the womb for another three months (although premature delivery is a significant risk). It sounded like science fiction. The whole thing felt unreal.

The short version of what happened is that we traveled from North Carolina to Philadelphia to have the fetal surgery. There were potential benefits that we hoped would make our son’s life better down the road. There were also significant risks for baby and mother. As I waited during the surgery, I took deep breaths. I held it together but was ready to fall apart. Thankfully, the surgery went well. The next three months were very difficult waiting, because there was always the chance something else would go wrong. Yet this “defect,” this weakness in our unborn child actually revealed some unknown strengths in us. We were not really ready to shout “Praise the Lord!” but we were deeply thankful.

Paul’s letter to the Romans addressed a community in which the weak and the strong may have been struggling to live in harmony. They were waiting for the return of Christ, waiting for the powerful empire to finally fall, waiting for Paul to visit with an encouraging word. They were holding it together but perhaps on the verge of falling apart. The defects in their common life were visible and difficult, thus making it hard to praise God together. He encourages them, though, to have hope, to stay in struggle together. In our Advent waiting, we are aware of so many defects turning our worlds upside down. It is a time to groan but not alone. Can we groan in harmony? Groan together like parents who are told their unborn child has a problem, that lots of things could go wrong, but that there is reason to hope and risk. Groan together as we prepare for the best and the worst case, also learning that strength can dance with weakness. Can we, this Advent, groan in unison, weak and strong, wondering whether God is ever going to come and remembering that God has always been.

Let us pray:

O God of steadfastness and encouragement, grant us to groan with one another, as we wait for Christ Jesus, so that together we may with one voice, in agony and relief, in weakness and strength, glorify you.    

JoeHensleyThe Reverend Joseph (Joe) H. Hensley, Jr. works as a full-time priest at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Durham, NC. He lives with his wife, Sarah, and three children (ages 11, 6, and 2). This Advent he is waiting for God to help him laugh (again!).

July 11, 2013

Friendship with God

I grew up in the type of Christian community that would frequently say things like:

“Work on your relationship with God above all else.”

And, “If you let anything come between your relationship with Jesus, then your faith is off track.”

For while the intention of such teaching was probably was something like, “Make your faith life as a priority” (which is probably something that would come out of my mouth, even today) what I heard in my head as child was, “You can’t have friends who you’d count closer to you than God.”

As if friendship was some sort of divine vs. human competition . . .

It was as if God could not be present to us in my friends. . . .

But as much as I grew to love the divine presence in my life as teenager and college student– sometimes Jesus’ presence (in a spiritual sense) wasn’t enough for me.

I needed friends. I didn’t think Jesus made me to be so lonely.

I’ll say it again: I needed friends. Having Jesus in my life didn’t take this from me as hard as I tried to believe it would.

But, the church seemed to keep saying “Pursuing close friends would make Jesus jealous.”

When I was in seminary and the relational bolts within me began to shift, I had a spiritual director who provided a light bulb moment. She kept noticing how uncomfortable I became when friends got too close to me. And she was right, I didn’t like the vulnerability that it required. I was scared in fact. I thought, was I somehow cheating on Jesus if I really loved my friends? Would people really like me if they actually knew me?

But then this was the sticking point that she offered: “You can only be as close to God as you allow yourself to be to other people.”

Of course this is not an “always true” statement (for there are countless faithful folks called to the ministry of monastic life or even hermit life for the reasons of prayer and un-interrupted communion with God), but I think there’s great wisdom in it.

We can only be as close to God as we allow ourselves to be with other people.

There’s power in community isn’t there? In deep and abiding community with others the real stuff of our life comes out.

And by this I don’t mean community with friends you have dinner with causally once a month or friends from the bleachers at your kids’ soccer games– I mean authentic friendship: those who know what makes you afraid, those who have seen you cry uncontrollably and vice versa, and those who can look in your eyes and know you’re stewing about something even without you having to utter a word.

With people like this, there’s no hiding. There’s no major missing puzzle pieces as to what makes you tick held from the other. There’s no shying away from the most unlikable parts of our personalities. It’s really honest living for sure.

And when we get this honest– I believe, our God who is the author of all truth shows up!

Roberta Bondi in her book, To Pray and To Love writes this: “The fulfillment of our deepest purposes and profound longs for God can never be separated from our love of God’s own images among whom we live.”

We learn about God, she is says, as we abide in relationship with those closest to us. In fact, we are MISSING out on parts of the personality of God when we don’t get close to others.

Bondi even goes as far to write that the lack of intimacy many of us have in prayer occurs because we’ve never really learned how to talk openly and honestly to others. If we can’t talk honestly with another human being, how could we talk honestly with God?

Bottom line is this: one of the most spiritual acts you and I could pursue right now and in the weeks to come is deepening our friendships. It might be the single greatest thing we could do to learn how to be closer to God.

It has taken me many years to shake off the baggage of my childhood in this regard. But I’m so glad I’m in the process of re-wiring all of this within me.

In friendship we both get to learn about and practice what it means to abide in God’s love. So anybody got a friend they need to call today? Or meet for lunch soon? I know I do.

December 11, 2012

Christmas Presents

photoWe have a tree up in our house (see proof to the left!) but no Christmas presents underneath.

It’s not that I haven’t had time to go shopping . . . I guess I could have made some time if I really wanted to go to the mall (somehow going straight home after work has been more appealing). It’s not that I don’t like giving gifts or even shopping (when it is has a time limit).

In actuality love giving gifts. I enjoy coming up with creative gift ideas for people I love, and the time shopping to get them doesn’t bug me at all. In my house growing up, I was always the designated Christimas wrapper. I’m pretty good at making bows for packages, in fact.

But, I can’t seem to get my head into it all this year.  Yet, no matter how I feel, Christmas is coming soon. I’ve got to get motivated!

I think my resistance stems from this: I don’t need anything. The people I am going to give something to don’t need anything either.

We live in a country of plenty. Over the travels of this year, I know this fully well.

In America, we “want” is usually incorrectly mixed up with the word “need.” Most people I know usually are able to buy something for themself if they really need it or at least save up over a period of time for an item. Sadly, most of us use Christmas to further our dependency on consumerism, in an effort to say we’ve celebrated the holiday.

Katharine Whitehorn is attributed to saying about our world’s obsession with Christmas by saying, ” From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it.” I read this quote and immediately said, “Oh gee.”

What’s the larger point, when we know as Christians that we are celebrating a spiritual holiday? Is the act of gift-giving really that bad? Of course you sound super spiritual this time of year if you say, “I’m not buying my kids or spouse more than one present.” Or, “I’m only giving gifts from alternative Christmas markets” But as we all know, I am not that spiritual and I bet you aren’t either.  Maybe there is a balance.

Those three kings did bring Jesus gifts in adoration of his Lordship after all. . . .

I believe what all of us need more of is not piles of presents under the tree with our names on them, but love expressed. Author Harlan Miller said: “Probably theChristmas Presents reason we all go so haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we don’t quite know how to put our love into words.”

What we all really need is the gift of each other. People in our lives who risk the vulnerability of telling us what we mean to them. Our risking doing the same. Taking time to make those we love feel special and appreciated. Helping each other remember how much God loves us all.

A congregation member of mine once told me about a new tradition she created in her family. Instead of giving gifts to each other, when they gathered, they all wrote letters. Each member of the family took the time to write a reflective letter about something they’d given/ participated in that was an act of service. And then perched the letters physically on the tree at the family gathering.  After dinner, when everyone sat down in the living room, the small children still got a few presents, but the adults then shared their letters with one another. This ritual became a way to teach the children (and remind each other as adult too) what giving is really all about. And remember that Christmas’ emphasis on service is indeed for the entire year, not just December.

I know several churches and families like this one have or are thinking of creative ways to participate in Advent in non-traditional ways. I say bring it on! Share any good ideas you or your family have come up with for alternative giving here in the comment section. I want to learn from you.

In the meantime, I am going to keep staring at my Christmas tree, hoping to get inspired.

July 23, 2012

The Church Gets it Right

Yesterday, Washington Plaza Baptist hosted a memorial service for the brother and brother in-law of two of our devoted church leaders, Mark. The congregation was almost full of those who came to pay their respects. It wasn’t full because everyone in the room had a relationship with the deceased or even had met Mark, but many people came out of love for the family. Mark suffered much from his battle with Huntington’s disease, a genetic condition and died at age 42.

Through weekly updates during Sunday prayers, our church community watched Mark’s family members care for their brother with love, faithfulness and steadfastness, even in the face of ongoing frustrations with the health care system in our state that often wanted to make him someone else’s problem as his functions declined. The journey had been a long one and we had been by their side all the way.

As I led the service and gazed out on the congregation, I could help but think that this is what happens when the church gets it right. We love in community. We live in community. We die in community.  And when one of us is hurting, all of us hurt too. Together we sit with side by side as we encounter some of life’s most difficult life junctures.

When we came to the portion of the service when it was time to share personal tributes, my two church members got up to read this litany about their beloved brother. I can’t tell you how proud I was– not only was it a beautiful, theologically rich responsive prayer, but I know it came from the hearts of two folks I know and love much. As their pastor I’ve seen their spiritual journeys unfold over the past two years at a rapid pace (having recently baptized them both) and I knew this moment of being surrounded by their church family was a tangible sign of what I”ve been teaching all this time. The church is so important in our lives because when life hands us the worst we can imagine, we get to be reminded that we are NEVER alone. God meets us in the hands and feet of others.

Those who endure the greatest suffering can become our greatest teachers. This was certainly a lesson, I believe, we all gained out of the memorial service yesterday. Every life is of value. Every life has gifts to share. Every life deserves to be celebrated.  The church gets it right when we teach, and love and nurture the faith into others. I was just glad to witness it yesterday!

Our brother: A sufferer and a teacher

Mark had a challenging life filled with many struggles and much pain

He taught us how to find humor and laughter in everything


Mark suffered from a genetic disease called Huntington’s

He showed us how to endure and survive and never give up


Mark fought to numb life’s constant pain with alcohol

He showed us strength renewal by joining Alcoholics Anonymous


Mark never cared about material possessions or money

He taught us how to be humble and enjoy the simple things in life


Mark was hit by a car as a child and had life altering surgery

He taught us once again how to have strength and survive


Mark never had any money, but freely gave of it

He taught us the true meaning of generosity and compassion


Mark was easy to please and loved doing puzzles and playing cards

He taught us to enjoy the simple things in life


Mark had a debilitating motorcycle accident as an adult

He taught us once again to fight for life and never give up


People took advantage of Mark at times

Mark taught us forgiveness and to trust like a child


Mark had innocent eyes and a childlike stare

He taught us how to see truth and honesty and love


Mark had a very strong work ethic

Mark taught us the meaning of honor and character


Mark gave his last pack of cigarettes to a homeless person

He taught us how to always put other’s needs first


Mark had parents that hurt and disappointed him

Mark taught us to always respond with love and forgiveness no matter what


Mark lost everything when he went to jail

Mark taught us that if we trust God, HE will always provide… and God provided Effrain


Through Mark’s challenging life of struggle and suffering, Mark finally grew weary and tired.  THE LORD SAID “Mark shall suffer no more,”  SO GOD BROUGHT MARK HOME.  And still MARK REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark taught us the meaning of LOVE:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not selfish, and does not get upset with others. Love does not count up wrongs that have been done. Love takes no pleasure in evil but rejoices over the truth.  Love patiently accepts all things.  It always trusts, always hopes, and always endures.   Love never ends.

Mark showed us how to talk like a child – think like a child – reason like a child – love like a child.   We can see Mark’s reflection, like looking onto the perfect mirror.   I pray that we can always see clearly. We must remember that of all things that continue forever:  faith, hope, and love, THE GREATEST of these is love.    Mark knew this better than anyone !

July 21, 2012

Prayer in Response to the Aurora, CO Shooting

For those who have journeyed to the life beyond after watching what would be their last film,

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who simply wanted a night out of enjoyment at a movie theater and find themselves in the most bewildering shock of their lives as memories of confusion continue to play in their minds,

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who will continue to support, treat, help and love on those now in physical, emotional and spiritual pain in Aurora and for the long days of pain to come,

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who have lost a daughter, a son, a brother, a sister, a friend, a teacher, a lover, a neighbor to this unexplainable event who are now planning funerals they never believed they’d attend,

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For all those around the globe who woke up this day with the people of Aurora on their minds, wondering how they could believe in a God anymore who could let this kind of death, injury and heartache happen.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who will use this moment in time to push their own political agendas that are rooted in ego rather than love,

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those teens and young adults who feel lost, alone, and no mattering to anyone who are considering “copying” this horendous act in an effort to be seen on the evening news,

Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer.

For all people of faith who have been touch by this senseless event– as residents of Aurora, over the Internet, through their television screens, or through word of mouth– may you grow our compassion muscles so that we live less in isolation and more in abiding communion with You and one another.

Lord, in mercy hear our prayer.

Do what you can only do O God. Come close. Bring your Spirit. Teach us again how to be human beings that love each other.  AMEN

April 30, 2012

Love, Christians and Those Who Might Call us Crazy

When is the last time you encountered a person of faith, in particular a Christian who was engaging in particular activities one might call “crazy?”

I know I’ve met my share of over the top loving kind of Christians through the years being in church as long as I have.

I’ve met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree in which they decide to sell their home and pack up their things and move across the world– to third world nations sometimes even– to share hope in medical supplies, food and friendship with some of the world’s most discouraged and broken people. They do so saying, “God has called me to show Christ’s love.”

I’ve met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree in which they open up rooms in their home to internationals, struggling single mothers, or exhausted college students — even when the person has no means to financially repay their kindness and nurture them back on their feet again. They do so citing, “God has called me to show Christ’s love.”

I’ve met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree that they’ll spend hours of their free time making hospital visits to the terminally ill without family attending — bringing a compassionate touch of support to those who would not otherwise have any. They do so citing, “God has called me to show Christ’s love.”

I’ve met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree that they ask their own young children to go without that desired toy at Christmas so that instead the money can be used to buy toys, clothes and other household items for families in their neighborhood who have recently lost everything in a destructive fire. They do so citing, “God has called me to me show Christ’s love.”

I’ve also met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree that they stop everything they are doing when they learn a member of their church has experienced a death in the family. Soon piles and piles of mac and cheese, broccoli chicken casserole, and hearty soups are delivered to the home of the grieving just in case they get hungry. They do so citing, “God has called me to show Christ’ s love.”

Christians can be crazy people can’t that? Doing the behind the scenes work of compassionate deeds, sacrificial giving and life-giving hospitality that others in the world might find to be foolish, a waste of resources or for some, just plain dumb. But, truly Christian act– or seek to act in love because of the life and witness of Jesus Christ.

I John 3 lays it out clearly for us here:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.   And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them,   how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children,   let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

As followers of Christ, our hearts are full of compassion for others in the same way that we know God has been compassionate toward us.

So, while sure, Christians don’t have a market on this whole “loving deeds” business (a tenant of people of all world religions), we certainly are people who can’t avoid it. We can’t say that loving each other is some humanistic talk without spiritual value to Jesus. We can’t boil our faith down to a commitment we made years ago with no evidence of it in our daily life. Just as Christ loved us and taught us how to love, we are to love one another.

I’m proud to be a member and a pastor of a church that is about the “crazy” business of loving each other and any who would come in our doors. Just a couple of weeks ago a group of homeless teens came to worship and I was so proud of how everyone responded to them feel at home. Just yesterday, we all piled our resources together and hosted a lunch for a family who recently lost their loved ones. And countless other examples could be given.  Loving other always our calling– even when we don’t agree theologically, even we don’t always understand one another, even when we get on each other’s nerves. We can still love. We can always love. And if they call us crazy for doing so, then this makes Jesus crazy too and we’d be in good company!

April 25, 2012

Are you a Christian?

As a pastor, I live in a unique place as a person of faith.

Whereas most have particular views on any given subject and go through ups and downs in their spiritual journey, my life of faith is a public one. I am asked every Sunday to give testimony to the gospel and God’s workings in the world.  I preach in times of great spiritual summer and also in seasons of great spiritual winter too. I preach in my own seasons of joy and in those of doubt. My calling is to use my voice to speak no matter what. And so you hear it. You know me.

Also, I blog as well in an effort to be on an authentic, transparent journey as a religious leader. As a writing Rev., it is easier to attack me than it might be of others with the same beliefs, convictions or theological leanings. It is very easy to figure out (if you want to) my thoughts on this or that– though I write with the disclaimer that  the views shared on this site are my own and not necessarily that of my family members, my congregation or even all people of faith.

In all of this, I speak and write for myself with the knowledge that one day I will have to give an account for my life before God for everything I’ve ever said or done, just like everyone else.  But, some people don’t want God to do the judging– they want to do it.

I was in a situation recently where I was accused of not being a Christian simply because I shared a more inclusive view of scripture. It was said that I am not a person who believes in the teachings of Jesus. And while I respect the religious freedom of any who have the right to believe as they do, it was more disconcerting that a religious litmus test still thrives and is encouraged in our modern times. While such a comment was nothing I’ve never heard before (hey, you don’t get to be a female Baptist pastor without a few battle scars), it was disconcerting to me that this is where we still are as a Christian people. Pointing fingers. Throwing down the trump card. “I don’t like what you believe so I’ll say you aren’t a Christian.”

I would never to presume to assert my interpretations of scripture– and the inclusive message of Jesus that I see clearly laid out– on others in a “you aren’t a Christian” sort of way. Part of being a Christ follower is seeing the God-given light in others, no matter what. And, above all, I believe any who follow Jesus are asked to respect one another, even when we just have to agree to disagree.

While my first response is “Hello! I am a pastor. I love Jesus. Do you really want to call me of all people not a Christian?” I thought I might use this opportunity to open up a conversation with all of you. So I ask, what makes a person a Christian? And do any of us have the ability to judge our neighbors faith? Is this something that the church should be about?

I am really interested to hear what you have to say. Let’s talk, but respectfully with one another!

February 21, 2012

No Fear in Love

How hard it is for us strong, “can do anything types” to not be afraid of love! Love given and acknowledged always  holds a level of vulnerability that sometimes we simply aren’t willing to show. But, that our souls truly need.

This week has been a happy one around our house in particular. In October, there is the week of Kevin as less than a week separates Kevin’s birthday from our dating and wedding anniversary. And in February, we celebrate the week of Elizabeth as a week separates Valentine’s Day and my birthday. These celebration weeks became an intentional decision between the two of us when we planned our wedding date (and also the farmer’s almanac said it wasn’t going to rain the town of our outdoor wedding, so we went with a October date– important too ) . In these two special weeks, we’ve thought of ways to remember and enjoy life together such as mornings of breakfast in bed or dinners cooked at home (all you city busy folks know what I mean when I add this on the list of a special treat) or sometimes a overnight get-a-way.

In this being “my week” including a special trip together last week (a writing retreat for me), dinner out last night and my super surprise gift this morning: an IPad this morning, I’ve felt the love.  And, I’m grateful. How did I find myself with so many amazing people in my life?

Sometimes, though, we want tangible expressions of love, but we also don’t know what to do with them when they arrive. I remember a fabulous birthday several years ago when I was literally on cloud 9 from all the gestures of support around me and felt paralyzed all at the same time. I think if I got one more birthday card, that year, I would have exploded. And, I know I am not the only one who has been in this place of bewilderment.

When lovely people do lovely things, it is easy to be stopped in our tracks and just not know how to respond. Sometimes we shut down, in the pain of the joy. For, we don’t have the room in our hearts to take it in. The act of stretching our hearts to open to others can feel as painful as a long work out at the gym. When our souls have never felt loved in our deepest caves, sometimes love’s arrival can actually sting a little. In fact, being loved, just as we are, by others can often be one of the scariest emotions in life.

While watching an Oscar special this week featuring the wonderful actress, Viola Davis, it struck me how authentically she described her own struggles with receiving love. Watch a portion of this interview here. Saying, how much of a radical transformation love became in her as she began to trust the man for the first time who would become her husband. Something as simple as allowing him to drive her somewhere became a symbol of abiding love– love that was without fear.

I John 4 talks about love’s relationship with fear in this way:

16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. . . .  18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love

This is what I am learning about love– there is no fear in love when it begins to truly seep into our hearts. But, such a fearless stance requires practice and people who are willing to stay in your life long enough that you actually believe them when they say to you, “I love you.”

I’m just so amazed that I get this week every year to practice feeling loved and wish the same kind of experience for others too. Everybody has somebody who loves them. Everybody has somebody that they need to tell that they love them. The question on our shoulders, then is: will we love? Or will we be afraid? I want to love.

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