These Far Blue Hills

blue_ridge_mountainsWe drove the back roads, leaving the frenzy of the freeway to those who were in a hurry to get where they were going. The wild country spread out all around us. The trees, robed in that many-shaded green of new leaves, cast cool shadows over the road, damp from the morning dew. A deer stood motionless at the tree line, ready to run for cover if we so much as sneezed in her direction. The day was young, and it belonged to us, and the road was a thin, gray ribbon, calling us away.
In the distance, the mountains rose gracefully up out of the earth to lie across the horizon, forming an impossibly blue line against the pale morning sky. I wondered what lay behind them. “One of these days,” I said to my husband, who loves an adventure as much as I, “we need to keep on riding right over the top of those far, blue hills, and see what lies on the other side.” “More blue hills.” he replied. I knew what he meant. Always, for me, there would be more hills to climb, more valleys to walk, more oceans to cross.
There are people who are perfectly happy staying right where they are, content to never leave the familiar comfort of their own back yards, never feeling the pull of the distant hills. But, there are others, like me, who have the wanderlust – whose eyes are ever drawn to new horizons, who yearn to head out to those hazy mountains, always wondering what lies on the other side.
God has created us both: travelers and homebodies, pilgrims and settlers. Both are needed to keep the balance of things; to keep the rhythm of life going, though time and circumstance may change us; a homebody sells everything he owns and hits the road; a traveler comes to roost, never to leave her nest again. But, whether on the road or in a rocking chair, know that you are always home, safe in the heart of God, your constant companion, who meets you wherever you are.
Blessings on your summer, Pastor Barb <><
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in,
from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121:8

The Bugle Call

The service was over. The drive to the cemetery was brief. We stood at the graveside to lay to rest a man who was dear to our hearts. A Navy man, we honored him with a military funeral. The young men in full dress uniforms stood discretely in the background while we commended our loved one into the hands of the Lord. Then, they moved forward, stepping in time, to fold and place the flag in the hands of his widow. The casket was lowered into the fresh-turned earth, 21 guns saluted his life, and the bugle began to play. We stood in silence as the pure, clear notes of Taps floated up, up, and over the live oaks.

According to Jari Villanueva at the Taps Bugler website, Taps began as a revision of the bugle call for Lights Out played at the end of the soldier’s day. General Daniel Butterfield felt the tune was too formal, and in July of 1862, he worked with his bugler to change the notes more to his liking. When those haunting notes sounded over the fields, the buglers in other units liked it so much they began to play the new tune as well. In 1891, the U.S. Army officially adopted the new tune, making Taps the official bugle call for military funerals. There is a stained glass window commemorating the first sounding of Taps at a military funeral in The Chapel of the Centurion at Fort Monroe, Virginia.

Few melodies have the power to move the human heart as deeply as the sound of Taps being played by bugle as evening approaches. It is a beautiful tune, made the more meaningful when you know the words:

Day is done,
Gone the sun
From the lakes
From the hills
From the sky.
All is well,
Safely rest.
God is nigh.

Too often, we let the worries of this world rob us of our peace. When the lights go out, the troubles of the day come crowding in, leaving little room for sleep, and night is not our friend. Taps is a gentle reminder to trust that no matter what may happen to us in this life, God is in charge, and will turn it into something good. What better way to end the day, to end a life, than to lay yourself down with the blessed assurance that you can rest easy, knowing that all is well and God is nigh?

This Memorial Day, take a moment at 3:00 p.m. to remember our fallen military heroes, and in the silence of your own heart, let the familiar tune of Taps sing a lullaby for your soul, and give you God’s peace. Have a blessed Memorial Day!

Pastor Barb <><

I will both lie down, and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety. Psalm 4:8

When Mother Nature Beckons

I meant to do my work today. I really did. I had carved out the whole day to do all the things that I had been trying to get to all week. I had a “to do” list as long as my arm, and the best of intentions. But, then, I made the mistake of looking out the window.

The morning sun had just spilled over the pines. Liquid gold poured out over the pasture, turning the grass into an impossible shade of green. A hawk sat on a fence post, casting an expectant eye over the field, patiently waiting for his breakfast to arise. The wren that had made her nest in the spider plant on the porch threw back her little head and blasted the morning with birdsong so sweet it pulled me out of my chair and out the door and into the woods, where time lost all meaning, and the day escaped me. But, as Richard Le Gallienne puts it, when “all the leaves were calling me… what could I do but laugh and go?”(1).

God speaks to us in so many ways; in books and music, words and people, but none so clearly as a day in Spring, when trees are budding and the leaves are new. The Spirit sighs among the branches; a siren call that draws you further and further into the heart of the woods, and away from the cares of the world.

When Mother Nature beckons, it is wise not to resist. We accomplish more in a day spent marveling at the wonders of God’s green earth than we will in a week spent whittling away at that endless “to do” list. Oh, not by the world’s standards, can we measure this time as well spent. We can only judge by the joy of the moment, the sense of peace that lingers, and the feeling of being connected to something greater than ourselves.

I meant to do my work today. I really did. But, God knew better than me that the work I needed to do was not at my desk, but at his side.

Tomorrow, Mother Nature, ever wise, may keep her counsel, and I will tackle that “to do” list with renewed vigor. But, for today, I am glad I heeded the call when Mother Nature beckoned.

With prayers for an awe-inspiring Spring!

Pastor Barb <><

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12

(1.) from his poem, I Meant To Do My Work Today.

Believing the Unbelievable

downloadSilently, invisibly to the naked eye and ear, 120 satellites endlessly circle the earth, flashing back to NASA scientists fascinating images of things early astronomers such as Copernicus and Galileo could only dream of! In the NOVA program Earth From Space, I watched in fascination as the dynamic forces of nature unfolded before my own eyes. I saw in a way I have never seen before how earth, fire, wind and wave are bound together into one, huge, intimate system that sustains all of life on the planet.
I listened to how dust blown from the Sahara fertilizes the Amazon Rain Forest, 5000 miles away, and how a frigid undersea waterfall in Antarctica 500 times the size of Niagara Falls gives rise to fish to feed dolphins near the equator. I saw how, like our own blood stream, the ocean’s currents act like a huge, global circulatory system, nourishing the earth, and that land, sun, and atmosphere are intertwined in ways that defy common sense. I was amazed, not just by the awesome
intelligence I saw behind all creation, but that there were people smart enough to develop the technology to discover it!
How far humankind has come from the days when the world was thought to be flat, and there was danger of sailing too close, and falling off the edge! Every day, advances in technology unearth another secret of the universe. Every day, there are new discoveries, new information; amazing facts beyond our imagination; the impossible becomes
possible; the unbelievable becomes believable. How is it, then, with all the wonders of creation at our fingertips, people still have doubts about the Creator; rejecting the resurrection as an impossibility? How is it that we see with our own eyes life rising from the dust of the earth, yet we cannot wrap our minds around life rising again from the tomb?
All the marvels of technology confirm for me that I cannot trust my own senses – that there are things at work that I simply cannot see. But, one day, all will be revealed. In the mean time, I choose to believe the unbelievable! Come! Explore impossibilities with us this Easter! Come, and be amazed!

Happy Easter,

Pastor Barb <><

With God, all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

Deep Inseparability

heartsShe lay in the hospital bed, her hair as white as the pillowcase on which her head rested; her body, tiny and frail. We followed as the aide wheeled the bed down the corridor to the room where the surgeon waited; the scalpel ready. Just before they took her away, they paused to allow her husband, frail himself, to give her one last kiss before they put her blissfully to sleep. I turned a discreet head, but couldn’t help but be touched by the scene. Cane in one hand, he smoothed her snowy hair with the other, kissing her tenderly. “I love you.” she said. “ I love you, too.” he replied. They wheeled her through. The doors shut. He stood looking after her for a long moment before he allowed us to lead him away to the waiting room where we would all drink coffee and chatter about anything we could think of, while sneaking looks at the clock, wondering how the surgery was going. I thought about their relationship. I thought about how deep the ties between them had grown in 60 years of marriage. How they were like two old trees whose roots had grown so closely together over the years that you could no longer tell where one ended and the other began. There was a deep inseparability about them that you could feel. Even though she was asleep in another room, his heart was entwined with hers, and I knew that no matter what the outcome of the surgery, nothing, not even death, could separate them.
I think that is how God loves us – with that same, deep inseparability.
At our baptisms, we are marked with the cross of Christ forever. The promise to be with us always is sealed by the Holy Spirit, and, from then on, like the roots of two, old trees, God’s heart is so entwined with ours that nothing can separate us. Not even death.
What a comfort that is as we sit in the waiting room of life, watching the clock and feeling the tug on our heart strings until Jesus returns, so we can go home, together, hand in hand.

The blessings of Lent be with you this season, Pastor Barb <><

For I am convinced that neither death nor life…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Hidden Treasure

The print was of a tiger-striped cat draped across  a table, it’s ears back, its yellow eyes gleaming. The frame was cheap, the glass glaring. Her mother had bought it at a yard sale years before she had died, but the daughter didn’t much like cats.  So, she tossed it onto the back porch, where it sat, gathering dust, for fifteen years.  Then, the Antique Road Show came to town, and on a whim, she picked up the print, dusted it off, and trotted it over to have it assessed.  It turned out that it wasn’t a print, but a lithograph by a famous artist, and a rare one at that. “I would expect this to go at auction somewhere around $25,000 dollars.” said the expert.  The woman was astounded.  Her eyes flew wide open.   Her jaw dropped.  “Oh, my God!”  she   exclaimed.  “I had no idea!”  “So, how do you feel about cats now?” the show host joked.  “I’m becoming quite fond of them!”  the woman laughed. What a wonderful surprise to learn she had such a valuable treasure lying there right under her nose all those years, and she didn’t have a clue!  It makes you look twice at Aunt Esther’s ugly vase, or grandpa’s moldy collection of fishing lures.  Could they be worth something and you don’t even know it?

All of us dream of such a find, don’t we?  A yard sale discovery, an antique in the attic?  We love stories of people stumbling over hidden treasures and becoming rich overnight, because if it happens to them, it just might happen to us.

Could it be that we do have such a treasure laying right under our noses? Do we own something of great value that we might have under- estimated? The kingdom of heaven lay hidden in the dust of a lowly manger disguised as a baby boy by the name of Jesus. Those who  found him that first Christmas were brought to their knees, returning home in great joy at their discovery.  When they died, they passed this treasure on to us. Imagine what that gift is worth in today’s market!   Yet, how often have we left the most valuable thing we own out gathering dust on the back porch of our hearts?

This Christmas, as you delight in giving and receiving gifts with your loved ones, take a moment to sit and quietly ponder the fact that you already own the most precious gift on earth. The kingdom of heaven belongs to you; a hidden treasure, just lying there waiting  for you to pass it on to the next generation.  May they know it when they see it.

A blessed Christmas, to you and yours,
Pastor Barb   <><

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.                                                                                                                                         Matthew 13:44

Conquering Fear

I have been thinking lately about fear, and how it is much like a kitten stuck up a tree. Fear will turn an adorable, soft, ball of fur purring in your lap into a biting, spitting insane little thing that, according to Calvin and Hobbes, is “pointy on all five ends.”

You can’t talk a frightened kitten down once it has begun to climb and has run out of tree at the top. It’s afraid to climb down, and doesn’t trust anyone else to help it down, either. All you can do with a kitten up a tree is leave it there, or climb a ladder and grit your teeth, for it will fight you all the way down, sinking its tiny claws into your arm,your chest, your back, trying to get away from you- its rescuer. It’s the same with a drowning man. You may have to knock a man out to save him from drowning and keep him from taking you down with him.

Fear is a powerful force. It gives you extraordinary strength, but it’s a strength that almost always works against you. Fear makes you sink your fingernails in, and hunker down, paralyzed into inaction, until, in the words of Johnny Mathis, you are “as helpless as a kitten up a tree.”

Jesus is well aware of what fear can do to a person. He knows that the powers of this world capitalize on that fear; using it to keep people right where they want them – stuck in a death grip, unable to act on their own behalf. And, panic-stricken people will often resist any well- meaning attempt from others to help them out.

The Good News of Jesus is that he has conquered fear! The stranglehold the enemy has on humankind is now just an illusion! People are no longer helpless! Jesus will come to the rescue, if only people will let him! But here’s the thing. Jesus will not climb up a tree that you are stuck in and wrestle you down. Jesus calls your name and waits until you are ready to release your grip on the branch. Jesus will not dive into the water and deliver a swift right hook to the chin, then drag you, unconscious, to shore. Jesus will swim out to you and offer his hand, holding it out for as long as it takes you to grasp it.

Jesus will never give up trying to save us, but, we can resist his aid.We can choose to keep battling the waves till our strength gives out,or sit in the crook of the tree until our life gives out.

We who have released ourselves into the arms of the Savior live in gratefulness to him for having conquered fear – for rescuing us,again and again, in those moments when fear threatens to overtake us and we can’t seem to move. And, we are here to tell you that if you find yourself stuck in fear for your life, there is one who can set your feet back on solid ground, if only you will allow him to carry you to safety – Jesus, our ladder to heaven, our life-preserver. He is patiently waiting for a signal from you.May you trust him enough to grasp hold of the hand he offers…

Blessings,

Pastor Barb <><

But [Jesus] said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Clouds from 10,000 Feet

We lay on our backs in the cool grass, two ten-year-olds, shading our eyes from the sun with one hand  and pointing at cloud-shapes with the other. “There!   A Cheshire cat! See its grin?” “Yes! And, look   there! An elephant, standing on its hind legs!” “Where?” There!” “Oh, I see it now!” And the afternoon melted away as quickly as the shape-shifting clouds that formed and reformed in the eyes of our imagination. “What do clouds feel like?” I wondered. “Can I sit on them, like the baby angels in the pictures in my Bible? And, is God up there looking down from the other side?”

That summer day of my youth came flooding back, making me smile, as I leaned forward in the plane, glad to have a window seat. I held my breath as the earth fell away and the plane soared up, up, up into the clouds. What a joy to see those cloud-sculptures again from a birds-eye view!  At 10,000 feet, I am eyeball to eyeball with a box turtle, a baby dragon, a fish swimming in the deep, blue sky. And, I can feel God hovering on the sunny side of the clouds, so real I expect to see him behind the next one, or the next. And, I understand what moved Pilot Officer Gilespie Magee to pen his poem entitled High Flight. He wrote,

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds… Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

I do feel closer to God when airborn; the plane slicing through the clouds like a hot knife through butter. So intense is his presence when I fly that it’s as though I can reach out and touch God’s face, just as surely as he has touched mine.    There is a book from the 1300’s called The Cloud of Unknowing that speaks of our longing to know God despite what seems like a thick cloud between us. “Knock on that cloud!” the author says. “Beat on it with your fist until God sends a beam of his love to cut through the darkness and pierce your heart. Then, you will know God better than anything man can tell you.” I don’t think we have to work at it that hard. I think that the longing, the simple upward glance, is all it takes for God to reveal himself to us. God wants us to know him. That is why he sent Jesus, so that all might come to know God by his love. You don’t have to beat at the clouds with your fist. You don’t have to soar above the clouds to touch and be touched by God. God comes down! God will always come down! God longs to meet you where you are, on land, on sea, in sky… All you have to do is open your heart, and let his love come in.

Blessings, Pastor Barb <><
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I held the picture up to the light, and squinted at the image of a snowy day in Michigan, forty-two years ago. There were my mom and dad, my little sister, Alice, and a neighbor girl all bundled up against the freezing cold beside a grinning snowman they had just built. I wasn’t there. I was eighteen, and all the way across town, tucked warmly into my very first apartment. Even then, snow was not my friend. But, years later, it made me smile to see that picture of my family, literally frozen in time.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” so the saying goes, and I believe it’s true. A picture can set your mind to wandering back down through the years; make the memories wash over you, and make you relive the past. As I studied that picture, I felt again that small hand in mine; saw again the laughter in my little sister’s eyes. A precious memory, especially now that she is so ill. I hugged the picture to my chest, and thought of days gone by.

I wonder how many days we have left to create more memories, my sister and I. Each time I go to see her I take another picture, trying to capture the moment. Freeze-frame. I see the hand of God in each one, and thank him for the gift of time, and for pictures that are worth a thousand words.

Every picture I take is a little miracle, reminding me that God’s kingdom has come. Not fully…not yet. But, it is here, now! In every place where there is hope of better things to come. In places where God is at work, restoring the world to God’s self. Wherever there is love and light and laughter, God’s will is being done, on earth as it is in heaven. Like a breath of fresh air, God comes, energizing us, encouraging us, empowering us to endure, until his kingdom comes in its entirety.

Look for those places! Search out the hand of God in your own life! This summer, every time you see evidence of God’s reign (freedoms won, kindnesses given, justice prevailing, suffering alleviated) take a picture! Capture it in time! Bring your pictures to church each week and let’s create a collage on the wall in the Zion Fellowship Hall called “Thy Kingdom Come!” Let’s comfort each other with the evidence that there is good to be found everywhere, and that God is very near.

When we put them all together, our pictures will tell the story of the movement of God in the life of the community of faith called Zion.

Together, we will create a picture that is worth a thousand words.

Happy Hunting!  <><

Pastor Barb

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand… Mark 1:15

O Taste and See that the Lord is Good

The sun shone through the jar of honey on my window sill, lighting it up from the inside like a lava lamp; liquid gold, slow moving and mesmerizing. I stopped what I was doing. It felt good just to look at it. But, I had to have a taste! There is something soothing in watching honey swirl around on a wooden dipper. As long as you keep it moving, the honey curls around itself in amber waves and folds. It won’t drip. But, when all motion stops, the honey is pulled down by its own weight to drip slowly over a warm biscuit, or dissolve in hot tea, adding an indescribable sweetness to whatever you drizzle it in or on.

Fascinating stuff, honey. Thick and sweet and good, eating honey is something you shouldn’t rush. It is something to savor, and enjoy. No wonder the word of the Lord has been compared to the pleasure of eating honey! Not the “studying,” not the “head knowledge” kind of reading, which is our usual way to read the Bible, but devotionally,
This summer, as you slow down a little from your busy schedule, find the time to stop all motion and sit for a while with God’s word. Read it like you were eating the best honey. Roll it around on your tongue. Savor it. Take pleasure in it. Let its sweetness bring you joy, and delight your heart. O, taste, and see that the Lord is good!prayerfully. Like honey, God’s word is something to take your time with, to savor and enjoy. Psalm 19:10 describes the blessings to be found in God’s word as “More to be desired than gold…sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” The prophet Ezekiel ate a scroll from God, saying, “I ate it, and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.” (3:3) Jeremiah said “When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer.15:16.) If you take the time to really taste it, you will see that the word of the Lord is indescribably sweet!

Summertime Blessings,

Pastor Barb <><

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth
Psalm 119:103