Shine!

We are living in troubling times as disparate voices cry out throughout our country saying “Black Lives Matters,” no “All Lives Matter” then “Police Lives Matter.” Some are crying out for solidarit…

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The Church’s Call to Model Unity

These are thoughts from my sermon concerning the recent turmoil in our country. My congregation, which is an African American Presbyterian congregation, joined with a white Presbyterian congregation with whom we partner for worship today.

The Church’s Call to Model Unity

When I first heard of and saw the senseless killings of Alton Sterling and Filando Castile the words of the Psalmist from Psalm 12 came to mind.

 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
~ Psalm 13 ESV

This is a really opportune time for us to worship and pray together because in the midst of a world that is increasingly divided we can stand as a witness to the power of Christ to break down every of wall partition that separates us.  It’s really not an option if we say we have placed our faith in Christ. 1 John 4:16-17 and 20-21 says,

16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the Day of Judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

We are family in Christ, birthed by the previous blood Jesus shed on the cross for my sin and yours, and if we want to make it to heaven we’d better begin to live what we confess while we have the chance.

This current chaos in our country is what happens when people’s cries for justice goes unheard; when they lose faith that the justice system will work for them.  It is uncanny how we can live in the same world but have such different experiences.

I live in a world where nine black church goers can be murdered and the perpetrator is arrested with out incident, while a black man selling cigarettes, another selling CDs, and yet another one pulled over for a busted tail light ends up dead for no real reason at all other than the color of their skin.

I live in a world where I have to teach my sons how to save their lives when approached by a police officer. I live in a world where when my husband and I ran out of gas on a cold winter night and asked for a store keeper to call the police to help, we were treated like criminals.

I feared for my husband’s life when the police officer told me to get back in the car while they checked to see if Ron had stolen the vehicle we were driving or had other criminal warrants. This is the world I live in. A world where my sons and husband have all been pulled over, stopped and frisked or harassed by police officers for no other crime, but for being an African American male in a society that either devalues or fears their existence.

And the Church as a whole has long been too silent and apathetic to the injustices that people of color face every day in society. Black mothers and fathers fear for the lives of their children as well as their own safety on a daily basis and it is a real fear when we see the numerous deaths that have occurred just over the past couple of years – death inflicted by those who are called to protect us.

It’s time for the whole body of Christ to collectively stand together to call this country to a higher standard of living and speak out against racial prejudice. It’s time for all of us to embrace our common humanity. As the apostle Paul said in Act 17:26-28,

26 [God] has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

This in no way justifies the malicious killing of police officers in Dallas, and my heart goes out to their families, but it does say that we the Church who claim the Prince of Peace as our Lord and Savior can no longer sit idly by, hold on to our own biases and do nothing. If we do, I fear for what this country will become. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is shouting loudly at us today; 14 “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Time is long past for God’s people to take seriously the words of Dr. King who said, “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”   In a divided society only the church can model true unity and we are deeply divided society – divided by racial issues; divided by politics; divided along socio-economic lines; even divided by what we believe God’s Word tells us about how we are to live, but our relationship with Christ should and must supersede any other human affiliation in this world.

We have dual citizenship in this world. If we belong to Christ, we belong to God’s kingdom and as his kingdom people God calls us to be at peace with one another. Peace that is more than just lip service. We must proclaim with our living what the apostle Paul said in Galatians 3:28, 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Shine!

We are living in troubling times as disparate voices cry out throughout our country saying “Black Lives Matters,” no “All Lives Matter” then “Police Lives Matter.” Some are crying out for solidarity clinging to the supremacy they fear is slipping through their fingers as America becomes more and more diverse.

Some are calling for the recognition of a common humanity to unite against the ugliness of the rising tide of racial prejudice that has long been the elephant in the room in these so called “United” States. A light is being shined on the heart of the American society and a deep darkness is being exposed.

There was a quote posted on Facebook on last Friday that said, “People yell that “President Obama has divided America!” But Obama didn’t divide our country; their unwarranted hatred of him did. Electing him was like turning on a light in a dark room and exposing the cockroaches.” (Kim Lopez)

Yes. There are many voices, calling for many things. Funny though, I’ve not heard many voices calling for people to return to God. Isaiah 55:7 says; “Let the wicked one abandon his way and the sinful one his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, so He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will freely forgive.”

There is no political party or leader, no ruler, or self help guru that can heal what ails the human heart in this world – nobody, but Jesus Christ. Ephesian 2:4 says; “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.”

So how does a follower of Jesus respond to all that is going on in the world today? More than ever I believe God is calling His own to be devoted to Him, not a political party — to live for Him, to be a light shining in this present darkness. We can’t say we love and serve Jesus, and hate those he loves. 1 John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen.”

God is calling us to be SOLD OUT – Singularly, Outrageously, in Love and Devoted to Jesus, not fair weather, I will serve God when it suits me Christians. God is calling for followers of Jesus who boldly stand for truth and walk in God’s love and forgiveness in a world that is full of division and hate.

As Dr. King once said, Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that…” The darker the world gets the brighter we must SHINE! It’s time for followers of Jesus Christ to push back the darkness with the light of God’s love and truth, and refuse to be drawn into the hate and division that is rearing its ugly head. That may mean doing some Spirit-led self-examination in order to cast off our own biases and bitterness so that we can be the light God is calling us to be. SHINE!

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”  Colossians 3:16-17

Jane

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God’s Promises for Our Children

I have three wonderful sons. Each is uniquely gifted with kind and generous hearts. For this I am grateful. When it comes to raising children, I’m sure I’m not the only parent who wishes they could have done some things differently saying; “if I only knew then what I know now…” Hindsight is always 20/20. Thankfully, God’s grace and promises extend far beyond life’s challenges, mistakes, and missed opportunities.

My greatest desire for my sons is that they would love God and choose to live for him in an uncommon manner in this world, living to make a positive impact. In seasons where they challenged us and questioned the faith my husband and I taught them, I’ve always held on to God’s promises concerning them, and I am fully convinced that what God promises he is fully able to bring about.

It’s been said that at age 13, something comes and steals a child’s brain and doesn’t return it until around age 17. This was definitely the case with my middle son. It seemed that an alien resided in his body and was hell-bent to send me to an early grave. Later in life when we spoke of this season he said; “Mom, I was just trying to find myself.”  I look back on those days and know it was God’s grace that carried us through.

He is now 25 and a graphic artist living in New York City. He is a committed member of a young adult church plant that meets in a movie theater. He leads a community group, goes on church retreats, and is actively engaging his faith. Last Easter, his pastor asked him to share his testimony during worship. When I read what he shared, I saw that the promises I’d held onto in those dark years were unfolding. I share his testimony with you in the hope that it will encourage you to hold on to God’s promises for your life and the lives of those you love.

“The past couple of years for me have been very seasonal and most of those seasons have been pretty rough. For those that know me, know that I’m a dreamer and I have these big lofty goals, that seem completely out of my grasp and I expect to accomplish all them. I’ve pretty much been this way as far back as I can remember. And I’ve been very good at art my entire life and I thought as long as I plan everything out and refine my craft I’ll be able to become something great, as long as everything is under my control. But I’ve been utterly powerless for years now. And any good thing that has come to me has been completely God and his plan for me.

When I graduated from college, I graduated top of my class and I had dozens of connections and they promised me a job. But nothing panned out. After college, God stripped me of everything I had. I was in a relationship and that crumbled very quickly. I couldn’t find any real work for over a year. And on top of that, I was trapped in the middle of nowhere Virginia with no friends and nothing to do. I remember sitting in church one Sunday just angry and bitter at the world and at God. The harder I tried to hold on to something the faster it fell apart. I was at an all time low. But I remembered a guy who randomly hit me up on Facebook named Dimitri. We only had one mutual friend and it was a girl I barely knew in person.

Dimiti told me about this guy named Broadway who was the Director of Animation for 50 Cent and he was going to introduce me to him. But Dimitri was nowhere to be found, so I hit up Broadway myself. And three months later, I made a trip to New York to shoot a teaser for a short film and work with Broadway for a week. And I was telling Broadway I was leaving soon and he says to me, “Oh I thought you were staying for good.” So that ended up being my big move to New York. I never expected to be here. That was God’s plan. And working with Broadway was alright for awhile, but once again I was slowly sliding back down to rock bottom and I was in a really unhealthy work and living arrangement. I was being underpaid and mistreated on a daily basis and I was at the brink of packing up my stuff and going back home to start over.

During that time I got offered an editing job and I wasn’t sure if I should take it. But I was doing consulting for one of Broadway’s clients at the time and they offered me a full time job. Once again God provided for me. And within three months they gave me a senior level position at the company and things were alright for a while. But as I said before my life has been in seasons and it wasn’t meant to last. The management made some really bad decisions and the company became really unstable. They ended up closing down the New York office and they offered me a job at the west coast office. I turned it down because I didn’t feel God wanted me there. Which ended up being a good decision because that one closed a month after the New York one did.

Once again I had to start all over. I decided to start developing my own company instead of going back into the industry and I was constantly stressed out never sure if I made the right decision. I was running out of my savings and needed money desperately and God once again provided by sending multiple freelance projects my way. I did nothing to find these people; they just contacted me out of the blue. Over and over God has led me from one place to the next. And I can’t take any credit for it at all. I’ve literally been in the dark and God lights the next step for me just before I’m about to stumble.

But it hasn’t been easy. I’m not easily convinced and I’m very forgetful. Despite multiple promises spoken over my life and God repeatedly coming through for me every single time, when the end looks grim, I start to question him. But I think through all these rough seasons, he’s been transforming me into who he wants me to be, teaching me to trust in him and stay on his path. Even if I can’t see ahead and the door is closed it doesn’t matter, because when I get there the door will be opened.  But recently I’ve realized another reason why God has put me on my specific path. And it’s connected to what I’ve been reading in the small group I lead. In the book of Judges there’s this guy named Gideon and God calls him to lead Israel’s army to free them from the Midianites and he goes out with 30,000 men and God says, “you have too many men, if you defeat this army Israel will give the credit to themselves.” So he tells two thirds of them to go home. And God says, “You still have too many men.” So Gideon then only takes 300 men to defeat the massive Midianite army. So no one can confuse the victory with their own merit and they have to give the glory to God.

I think in the same way for me, maybe I am capable of doing great things on my own, but that wouldn’t give the Glory to God. So he’s put me on a path that I cannot confuse with my own merit and I have to give to the glory to him, but also how much greater will the result be because he willed it. So living the life that is truly life for me, is not knowing God’s plan but knowing that God has a plan.

Every time I read this, my heart is filled with awe and joy at the faithfulness of God to turn the darkest seasons around if we just hold on to hope.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.                               ~ Hebrews 10:23 NIV

“Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”    ~ Proverbs 22:6 HSCB

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It’s In Giving That We Receive

St. Francis of Assisi wrote, “It is only in giving that we receive.” How right that is! When we reach out to others in love and compassion, wanting nothing other than to see their lives made better, we are more like God than at any other moment. After all, one of the most loved and recited bible verses says; “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

I had firsthand experience of this during my congregation’s recent Community Resource Day event. Each year during October we celebrate Stewardship Month. Recognizing that all we have comes from God, we seek ways to honor Him through the giving of our time, talents and resources. During Stewardship month, we chose a service project to give back to our community. This year was our largest and most joyful effort. The entire congregation came out on a chilly drizzly day to share free food, clothing and resources with our underserved community.

33 resource agencies and organizations came out to present information to community residents regarding early childhood education, adult education, after school and mentoring programs, health information and others services. The police department gave out hats to the children and greeted neighborhood residents. There was free blood pressure screening and the breast cancer center joined us. Our partner congregation provided children’s activities, cotton candy and popcorn. We gave away 400 hotdogs with chili and coleslaw, and the Shriners, Deltas and Omegas came and served alongside of us.

People came out and filled the street that was blocked off and there were smiles everywhere. And in the midst of it all I stopped for a moment just to take it all in. Joy filled my spirit and I thought, “This feels so right. This is what we are called to do. Love and serve others.”  One of my 90 year old church members commented that she’d never received more hugs than on that day. She said members faces looked like a child’s on Christmas morning.  Oh yes, it is in giving that we receive.

It brings to mind a poem by St. Theresa of Avila – Christ Has No Body But Yours.

“Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”

It doesn’t matter how small or large the effort. Little becomes much when we give our all to God. We are blessed to be a blessing to others!

~ Jane

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.” ~ The Prayer of St. Francis

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Faith Makes All the Difference

The season has changed and I find myself taking a moment to reflect on a summer in which time stopped for a moment. Sudden illness brought my life’s activity to a screeching halt and made me once again realize the fragility of life. I’ve had two such moments, this summer and the other, 20 years ago.

20 years ago, we were in seminary in Iowa. My husband, Ron, and our three boys would go back home to Pennsylvania for the summer. Ron would work and my parents would enjoy their grandkids. I had a full time and part time job so I stayed in Iowa. Our first seminary house was a hazardous moldy nightmare. It was a duplex that was eventually torn down. As I think about it, everyone who lived in it while we were there came down with lung problems. I was one of them.

We were fortunate to move from that house to a better one in less than a year, and the summer we moved was the summer Ron and the boys stayed in Pa. With the help of my church family, I packed the entire house and moved across the yard to a nice little house in much better condition. It was a night and day difference. I wanted everything to be lovely and in place when my family returned so I unpacked the entire house, installed mini blinds, hung pictures, and hoisted heavy boxes to places they’d be hidden, all in preparation for their return. Then I took the train to PA to rejoin my family and see my parents for a few days before we rode back to Iowa. I was energetic and full of joy, proud for all I’d accomplished for their return.

The day after we arrived back at our house in Iowa, I woke up feeling very strange. As I breathed in I felt as if Styrofoam had been inserted into my chest. Shortly after realizing it wasn’t the flu, we went to the emergency room and after preliminary an X-ray, I found myself being quarantined. The X-ray showed I had double pneumonia, cavities in my lungs and viruses living in the cavities, one was a staph virus. The other had a strange name I can’t recall.

At first they didn’t know if I had Tuberculosis or Lymphoma, and I wondered if I’d live to see my kids grow to adulthood. My world turned upside down with a series of tests and appointments until it was determined I had Sarcoidosis. What followed was a series of infections due to side effects from high doses of prednisone. In this season, I gained peace knowing that my life was in the Master’s hands. God had brought me through other seasons of uncertainty and unrest and He would bring me through again. My faith made all the difference.

It made the difference again, 20 years later, this summer. I had a busy week as usual. I left my church late Saturday afternoon feeling like I’d accomplished a lot. I had one more visitation to make but thought I’d do that the next day after worship. I wasn’t home for more than 15 minutes when a flood of blood began flowing from my body. I calmly cleaned myself up and told Ron we needed to go to the emergency room. I bled for hours and hours. I lost so much blood that my pressure dropped and I fainted. I was transferred to a university hospital an hour away and stayed there for 13 days. I was anesthetized three times, had five different procedures, and more blood tests than I can count.

The doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. When they’d go in to do a procedure, I’d stop bleeding so they couldn’t find the source. They’d get ready to discharge me and I’d begin to bleed again. Finally, they dropped a capsule camera into my digestive track and found the culprit – my ileum was ulcerated and inflamed. The preliminary diagnosis was Crohn’s Disease. I was discharged and began treatment. Later that diagnosis was changed to Ileitis because my symptoms did not fit Crohn’s.

The curious thing about this ordeal and those thirteen, sometimes-lonely days in the hospital was the deep sense of peace God gave me. It was disconcerting when the blood kept playing “catch me if you can” with the technicians. It’s a very disturbing thing when the doctor sits on your bed and tells you what a puzzle you are, and another doctor says, “I will do this procedure but I don’t think I will find anything.”

All in all I had peace, the peace of God. I wondered if I’d ever feel “normal” again, if the new normal of feeling depleted of energy because of continual blood loss would be my plight. Even so, I believed that God was not done with me yet. I knew I had not accomplished what he’d placed me on this earth to do. I was in the midst of the most fruitful season of my life and nothing was going to pull the plug on it until God said it was finished.

So here I am three months later with most of my energy restored and just minimal issues with my recent diagnosis. More so, what has resulted is a deep sense of joy and gratitude for my life and ministry, and gratitude for God’s ability to sustain us in the darkest hours of our lives. My trust in God’s love and faithfulness was the calming force for my otherwise excitable nature. I recently ran across a quote from someone that said, “Fear and Faith have something in common, they both ask us to believe in something we cannot see.” Faith makes all the difference!

Jane

“2 This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”  ~ Psalm 91:2-4 NRSV

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