Wonderful Love…

The storm had died down. The wind and hail had moved on. We went out to the horse barn to check on the horses, and feed up. I checked the water troughs, sure they would be full after the heavy rain, and there, floating on a little piece of bark, was an anole lizard. He was clinging to his little raft for dear life, and looked up at me with one, wet, unblinking eye. I carefully reached down and slid my hand under the piece of bark, and, letting the water run through my fingers, lifted the little guy out of the trough, and put him back on the tree he must have been blown out of. He ran quickly up the trunk and away from me without so much as a backward glance. “Thanks to you, too!” I laughed. So much for communication!

Later that night, I was searching the internet for May Day, thinking I might write a newsletter article about the May Pole I vaguely remembered from grade school days, when the computer took another route. Suddenly, I was learning all about the distress call “Mayday!” which Wikipedia says comes from the French venez m’aider, meaning ‘come help me.’ It said that Mayday is always called three times in a row, and is only to be used if a boat or plane or person is ” threatened by grave and imminent danger and immediate assistance is required.” such as a fire, explosion or sinking.

I thought of the anole, adrift on his water-trough ocean, and thought about how many times I have felt like I was right there with him! I thought about how many times in my life I have felt myself sinking, and have thrown my head back and screamed, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” hoping that God was going to hear my voice communication and come help me! Many times, I wasn’t really in “grave and imminent danger” but it sure seemed like it! That is probably why the line from the hymn What Wondrous Love is this has always struck such a chord with me, especially at Easter: “When I was sinking down, beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.”

It’s scary to think of how many times I was in grave and imminent danger, and didn’t even realize it! How many times has God reached down, carefully lifted me out of danger and set me back on solid ground, and I scampered off, without even a backward glance – clueless? Certainly, no “Thank you, God!” for saving me.

In my saner moments, I recognize that that is what God did for me through Jesus, on the cross! He reached down and saved me, even before I knew I needed rescuing! Today, the cross is the raft I cling to on the stormy seas of life. I try not to send out the Mayday! call unless it’s really an emergency! And, I try to remember to thank God for all the times he has come to help me, even when I didn’t send out a very clear signal. “Thank you, God!” for rescuing me from a life or death situation! What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

May Day Blessings!

Pastor Barb <><

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. Psalm 69:1

Lent – Time to Breathe

I walked the path in the Savannah Wildlife Refuge, breathing in the musky smell of rotting vegetation and swamp water. The sun was painfully bright, and had coaxed the alligators out of their holes to lie on the banks in deathly stillness. Not a muscle moved, not an eye blinked, not a sign of an intake of breath was given. I stood on the banks of the canal and watched a sixfooter, looking for a twitch in that gray-green armor and wondering anew at the ability of an alligator to stay as still as stone for extended periods of time. When I breath, my chest rises in rhythmic regularity. No mystery there. My lungs expand with every breath I take – in and out, in and out – and you know that I am alive. It is like that for almost everything that has breath. But, a gator can lay for hours suspended in his hide, and give nothing away.

I read an old Reader’s Digest article where they actually did a study to learn how much a soul weighs. They weighed people just as they were about to take their last breath and again after their breathing had stopped. They came to the conclusion that a soul weighs ¾ of an ounce. That was the average difference on the scales before and after the “breath” had left a person’s body. If you have ever stood at the bedside of a loved one who has expired, you know what that moment looks like; the stillness that settles in when his or her breath has departed. You know precisely when the soul you love is gone.

During the season of the Church year called Lent, we follow Jesus as he makes his slow, deliberate way to the cross, where he takes his last breath, and his soul departs his earthly body. It is a time when we who love him ponder our own dependence on God for our life’s breath. It is a time when we become still long enough to be conscious of our own breathing; to appreciate it for the gift it is, and to be grateful for it. Lent is when we intentionally take the time to breathe – to stop in the middle of the busy-ness of life to recognize the presence of God living in us, filling us with the Spirit; the breath of God, the Lord, the Giver of Life.

This Lenten season, give yourself the gift of time to breathe. Open yourself up to the Spirit’s movement! Join your living, breathing, brothers and sisters in Christ as we gather each week to allow God to send forth his breath and renew our souls! Don’t let anyone wonder whether you are alive or not!

Lenten Blessings,
Pastor Barb <><

O Lord… When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your breath, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. Psalm 104: 29-30

Heart and Soul

Ah, February! That month of hearts and flowers and words of love! Whispers on the wind that Spring is just around the corner! The sun gets up just a little earlier now, and it’s easier to crawl out of the covers in the morning since the thermometer has inched another degree towards Warmth. Today, as I stood in the haven of the woods behind our house, I, of the Perpetually Frozen Feet, was better able to enjoy the beauty of the world around me. I stood still, listening to the rustle of leaves as the robins searched for their breakfast, watching the deer chase each other around the pasture, and marveling at how they can leap, cat-like, over the fence without a running start. In the stillness, I felt, more than heard, the still, small voice of God, saying, “I created this for you…”

Yesterday, I had the privilege of going to the hospital to bless a new-born baby, and to pray for the health of one born weeks too soon. Her mother talked of re-arranging their schedules to be with her as much as possible, and the work they are doing to prepare the nursery for her when she is able to go home. Parents-taking joy in providing for their child, anticipating her needs, preparing a comfortable and healthy place for her to live. I thought how God did that for us, in the beginning…created a perfect place for us – a home called Earth, where we could live and grow under his loving care.

I looked up through the trees at the early morning sky. It was that cool, bluegray color of winter, streaked with clouds as fine and frilly as the lace on a homemade valentine – the kind I made when I was in grade school, with a red paper heart surrounded with lace, shot through with an arrow, with great, big letters that said, “Be Mine.” Looking at that sky, I felt as though God had written a great, big love letter to me. The words of Isaiah 43 came rushing into my heart: “I have called you by name, you are mine. You are precious in my sight, and I love you.” Have you ever heard more beautiful words than these?

How wonderful it is for me to be reminded that when God says, “You are mine,” he means that I am no longer my own. I am his precious child! My Heavenly Father continues to watch over me, provide for my needs, and takes true delight in surrounding me with a beautiful home in which to live.

What comfort it is on a cold day in February, to know that I belong to God, heart and soul! That is the best Valentine’s Day message any of us could ever receive! ♥

Happy Valentines Day! In Christ’s Love, Pastor Barb <><

Do you not know that your body is the temple of the
Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?
You are not your own. 1 Corinthians 6:19

Ponderings at the beginning of a New Year…

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!” So, I went forth and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And he led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
Minnie Louise Harkins, 1875-1957

In a world that is always telling us to “Grow up!” I find this poem to be a gentle reminder that the best way to live our lives may be to become more child-like. Jesus said that unless we become as humble as a child, we will never enter into heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

A child will humbly place her hand into the hand of God in complete and utter trust that God has her best interests at heart, and will take great care to guide her over the rough and rocky terrain that is life. A child will humbly allow God to lead him where God will, confident, that when he falls, God will pick him up, dust him off, comfort him for as long as is needed, then set him back on the path.

Notice that even with such loving guidance, the child still may fall. That is the reality of living in a “broken” world; bad things do happen. But, a child is resilient. Unless he or she is sick, a child will bound out of bed in the morning, looking forward to the adventure the new day will bring, in spite of a set back. This is trust at it’s best.

Paul Tournier said, ‘The spiritual life consists only in a series of new births. There must be new flowerings, new prophets, new adventures – always new adventures – if the heart of man, albeit in fits and starts, is to go on beating.” Every New Year presents us with new opportunities to find the blessings God has prepared for those who love him. Every day of the spiritual life has a miracle hidden in it, waiting to be discovered. The spiritual life is an adventure, for those who are not afraid to reach for it.

As a new day dawns, may it find you standing at the gate of the year, child-like in your humility and trust, ready to put your hand confidently into the hand of God, ready to trod gladly wherever he may lead. For God is a faithful companion on your journey, and safer than a known way.

May God gladden your heart, blessing you and those you love with new flowerings, new prophets and new adventures in 2011!

Happy New Year!!! Pastor Barb <><.

Behold, I am making all things new… Revelation 21:5

The Holy Mystery

Life is so full of mystery. There is so much more to every thing than meets the eye! Layers upon layers of meaning lie wrapped around hidden truths that take a lifetime to unwrap. Always there are new discoveries, new information, and the things we thought we understood to day, make no sense tomorrow. And yet, we try so hard to make sense of it all! Always digging around, rooting at things, working hard to uncover the secrets of life.

Counselors use the example of an onion. When you have a problem, you peel away the layers, one by one, until you get to the core of the issue that lies within, so you can heal. It takes patience and hard work. There are no shortcuts. You can’t just pick up a knife and chop at it to figure things out. Everything depends on your efforts. And, the nearer you get to the center, the more tears you shed. That model works well for things of the emotions. But, when it comes to the spiritual, I prefer to use the example of a rose.

A rose, like an onion, has many layers. But, unlike the onion, you can’t peel away at it. There is nothing we need do or can do with a rose, but allow it to unfold as it will. How it reveals itself is a mystery. You can’t hurry the process, or you end up ruining it. Everything depends on the rose itself. And the lovely bloom you enjoy in the end comes to you as a gift – not something you have sweated over or cried over.

So, too, is the mystery surrounding this season we call Christmas. Here, in the coolness of winter, at the darkest time of year, a rose is blooming. Layers upon layers of meaning lie hidden in the ancient story of Jesus’ birth. How God took human form, came down as a vulnerable baby, lived among us, died, and lived again, simply for the love of us. Every time we hear it, we shake our heads in wonder. For always, embedded in the old story, is new information, new discoveries, and what we thought we understood yesterday makes no sense today. We find ourselves wrapped in mystery, wide-eyed and whispering like Mary, his mother, “How can this be?”

There is nothing we need do or can do with this Holy Mystery called God, but sit quietly and allow the mystery to unfold as it will. God reveals God’s self to us, a little more each year. We can’t hurry God along. If we try, we end up ruining it. Christmas, for those who believe, is a time when we sit, empty hands uplifted, waiting to receive anew the most perfect gift – the most lovely bloom – the one perfect rose that is God’s great love gift to us all – Jesus Christ, our Lord. How different this is from how the world celebrates Christmas!

Come in from the cold. Come into the church. Come into the place where you can retreat from the hectic schedules, impossibly long lists of things to do, the urgent appeals to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” Spend this Christmas in joyful appreciation of the Holy Mystery. Come watch God’s everlasting love for you unfold.

God’s blessings on you and your loved ones, this Christmas and always,

Pastor Barb <><

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.
Authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

A Love Feast…

Ah, Thanksgiving! The table so full of platters of food that there was barely room for the plates so we could sit down and eat and enjoy it! And, my grand mother, smiling, but bleary eyed from staying up late making pies and getting up early to get the turkey in the oven in time to be done by the time we all arrived. That is one of my favorite memories of Thanksgiving – a table filled with food prepared with love…a love feast!

How eagerly Grandma waited for the sound of little feet on the porch; for the sound of a tiny fist knocking at the door as we grandchildren arrived! She’d hurry to the door, drying her hands on a towel as she went, flinging it open to welcome us in. And we’d all sit down and eat together; a meal that fed more than our bellies – that also fed our souls. We were family. We belonged together. For those few hours, we had everything we needed, and we were thankful.

There is nothing quite like sharing a meal to draw people close. Jesus understood that. Much of his ministry was spent around a table, eating and drinking with people from all walks of life, getting to know them through the warmth and comfort of sharing a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. He went to people’s homes to meet them where they lived. He stood at their doors and knocked, waiting patiently, hopefully, for them to open up and let him in. Not everyone did. Some were skeptical. Some were afraid. Some were ashamed of what he might find hidden there. For whatever reason, not everyone was able to open the door and allow Jesus into his or her life.
But, some met him on the doorstep as though they had been waiting for him all of their lives. “Come in! Come in! You are welcome here!” For them, Jesus came in, sat down, and ate with them – a meal that fed more than their bellies, that also fed their souls – a feast of love.
Today, Jesus still stands at the door and knocks. How will he find you? Do you hide behind the door of your heart? Are there rooms that are locked and barred? Do you hear Jesus, gently knocking, but don’t dare to open the door and let him in because of fear of what he may find? Don’t be afraid. The one who stands at the door and knocks loves you! He knows all about you already! He comes for no other reason than for you to get to know him.

We are here. Zion’s door is open. We have set a place at the Lord’s table for you. Come! Get to know the Jesus that we know and love – the one who provides us with a love feast, every Sunday – the one who feeds our souls. We are family. We belong together. For all eternity, we have everything we need. And, we are so thankful!

Happy Thanksgiving!                                         Prayers, Pastor Barb <><

Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20

Counting Sheep…

I removed the paperback novel I had used to block the blinding light from the face of the clock radio on my night stand. The eerie green light pierced my brain, as it flashed it‘s silent scream, “2:00 A.M.!” I groaned and covered it back up. I was wide awake, with hours to go before the alarm was set to go off. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. Maybe a cup of warm milk would help. I eased out of bed, trying not to wake my sleeping husband, and padded into the kitchen, bumping my knee on the hope chest on the way. “I hope this warm milk works!“ I muttered.
Sleepless nights are the worst! Thank God, they are few and far between for me! I pity the poor insomniac, who must deal with nights like this on a regular basis. I never feel more lonely than when the rest of the house is sacked out, and I’m lying there, staring at the ceiling, counting sheep. Many fears are born in the wee hours of the morning, and sometimes, the wolf seems to be gaining.
Isaiah 28:20 describes very well the misery of a night like this. He says, “For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on it, and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in it.” And, there you are, tossing and turning, boxing with shadows, longing for the dawn. Then, just when it seems you can’t stand another minute, you hear that still, small voice. “Here I am. Hear, I Am.” The shadows flee, you uncurl your fists, and the conversation begins.
Oh, how the Lord can turn your troubles into treasures! Imagine! Hours to share the deepest secrets of your heart with God, uninterrupted by life! No phones ringing. No children crying. No boss demanding that report be turned in. It’s as though you hit the mute button on the DVD player. Even the tree frogs give it a rest, as the moon heads off to other lands, to shine on someone else’s house for a while.
I think that’s why some monks in monasteries rise for Morning Prayers at 3:00 a.m. There is a closeness at this hour that is difficult to achieve in the daylight hours. God has you all to himself. And, you can listen, really listen to each other, when the rest of your world is still fast asleep.
So, while I wouldn’t wish a sleepless night on anyone, if you happen to find yourself wide awake at 2:00 a.m., forget about counting sheep! Spend that precious time listening to what God has to say to you, and telling him what’s on your heart. You just might find yourself setting the alarm to awake at that lonely hour on purpose!

Prayers, Pastor Barb <

On the Wings of the Wind…

I had never camped in a cemetery before. A circle of orange tape was stretched a respectful distance from the headstones, setting the boundary between the living and the dead. We arrived late, and pitched our tent in the dark, outside the circle – on the living side. In the morning, the rising sun broke over the pines and spilled out over the tents, perched like so many butterflies in a colorful ring around the graveyard. The shadows from the headstones ran long fingers through the wet grass, beckoning us to come and read the names engraved on them; Jones, Hannah, Vechorik. It was oddly comforting, peaceful and calming, to breathe in your mortality with your morning coffee. You could not take the gift of another day of living for granted when you awoke to the visual reminder that it could have been otherwise.

Our ancient Church fathers and mothers envisioned the earth as a flat plane, with the dome of the heavens above, and the waters of chaos all around. It was only the Breath of God – the Spirit – that held back the chaos and kept it from flooding the earth, snuffing out all life. This total dependence on the Breath of God for our very existence is expressed so well in Psalm 104, which says, “When you take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust from which they came. When you send forth your breath, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (vs. 29-30)

I watched the shadows shorten as the sun rose in the sky, and thought about my breathing. I thought about how fragile my hold is on this earthly life; how I was but one breath away from being on the other side of that bright orange tape. Yet, I was surprisingly okay with that. Because, I could feel the Divine power and purpose behind my breath – the Presence of God within – sustaining my body, renewing my mind, inspiring my soul.

God wasn’t just wasting his breath. I was alive and breathing because God wanted it that way. I rested in the knowledge that my breath would not fail me until God said it was so. On the first Pentecost, the Fiftieth day from the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus fulfilled his departing promise to his disciples. He sent them the Comforter – the Holy Spirit. The Breath of God rode on the wings of the wind, descending on them in tongues of flame. God sent forth his breath, and they were transformed. They became God’s Church, and through them, God renewed the face of the earth.

God, the Creator, is creating, still. In and out, in and out, his rhythmic breathing continues to sustain his world, bringing order out of chaos. And, we, his church of today, continue to breath deeply – to take in the Holy Spirit – to be filled with the Divine power and purpose that God set in motion at the forming of the world – that all might come to know and love him. We are living, breathing proof that God is not just wasting his breath. Through us, God continues to renew his world, and our work for him will not be done until God says it is so.

Come! Join the flame-filled, joyful, living and breathing community of faith called Zion! Discover the Divine power and purpose within yourself! Find the reason behind your next breath! Rest in the knowledge that the God who holds the universe in his hands, also holds you!

Pentecost Blessings,
Pastor Barb

You ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers. Psalm 104:3-4