Sunday, July 27, 2014

My little flock

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev/

If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. – 1 Corinthians 12:26 (NLT)
I call them “my little flock.”
They are a small group of believers, numbering about 25 now, who comprise a local congregation who look to me as their pastor.
I said I wasn’t—“I’m a Christian speaker and writer,” I insisted.
My qualifications do not include training in ministry. I’m not ordained, not certified as a lay speaker or lay minister.
I just love them.
And I love delving into Scripture, preparing a message for Sunday’s sermon, and then delivering it to them. I so want to see them grow in their faith—to increasingly know, love and serve the God I know, love and serve (2 Peter 3:18). I want to help them not only grow, but also experience the joy of their faith (Philippians 1:25 NLT).
My husband—who sits in the back pew, times my sermons and waves his cell phone when it’s time to begin winding down—told me I’m a pulpit pounder. I didn’t believe him until one Sunday I found myself pounding the pulpit.
I was first called to fill their pulpit three years ago when they’d begun to search for a fulltime pastor. The quest took a year and a half, during which I fell in love with them. Then, after another year and a half, I was called again to fill the pulpit when they lost their pastor. After all, how can a church of 25 faithful members support a fulltime pastor, with benefits?
So I said yes, I’ll prepare weekly worship services, “but I’m not a pastor.”
I look out over the congregation on Sunday mornings, and I see my little, hurting flock. Some have undergone recent cataract and back surgery. Some are waiting for surgery or treatment. One dear lady was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, another deals with her ailments day by day, moment by moment, as there isn’t much doctors can do about her condition. Still others grapple with long-term illnesses and caregiving.
And then there’s grief.
Yesterday I conducted my second funeral service in as many months.
I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect the sorrow I feel now.
I thought all I had to do was prepare Sunday services and occasionally make hospital visits. I didn’t expect all they are dealing with. I feel overwhelmed at times by their pain, and I don’t know how to ease it.
Except love them. And pray for them.
Perhaps the life-pain was there before and I just didn’t see it.
Maybe as my heart has opened more and more, so have my eyes.
For when they hurt, I hurt.
They are my little flock, and I love them.
And maybe that’s what being a pastor is all about.
Dear God, I feel so inadequate to shepherd these wonderful people, to apply Your salve to their life-wounds. Remind me to empty myself of me and to let You minister to them through me. Remind me You are the balm to their pain, and You are the light in the darkness of difficult times, Your promises are what give hope when the situation seems hopeless. Remind me You are their true Shepherd. Shepherd them through me. Amen.

Special-Tea: Read 1 Corinthians 12:12–27

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

My bargain tent

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. – Isaiah 43:2 (NIV)
This year, with the publication of my first book of fiction, I decided to have a booth at the Groundhog Festival. I’d sell autographed copies of all my published books, let folks know about new and upcoming releases – and “meet and greet.” After all, one chapter of The Heart Remembers takes place at the Groundhog Festival in Punxsutawney.
I’d thought to borrow the required 10x10 canopy tent to set up on my spot from my son, but his didn’t have sidewalls. And I wasn’t sure what condition it was in, since a wind storm blew it over last summer during one of our cookouts, and we couldn’t get the frame down. So it braved the long winter in the yard.
My long-suffering hubby managed to fix the frame and attach the canopy, which had sustained a tear or two when it caught on the garden fence. He set it up on the patio and told me to check for leaks the next time it rained. Well, we got the rain, all right, along with some pretty gusty winds, which blew the whole thing over onto the rocks that covered the back slope of the patio. I managed to unhook the canopy from the frame but couldn’t get the frame folded. But I needn’t worry – without the canopy it wasn’t going anywhere – except to the scrap heap because when fix-it man came home from work, he said this time even he couldn’t repair it.
So online I went shopping for a 10x10 canopy tent with sidewalls that wouldn’t make this whole impulsive affair cost more than I had in the bank. I wanted to at least break even.
I found a nice one with “windows” on eBay for $139.99, free shipping, easy setup.
When it arrived a week or so later, we erected it in the backyard. It went up easily, although Dean said he wanted heavier, sturdier stakes.
Good thing. Because the week of the Groundhog Festival was fraught with storms. Oh, hubby had it tied down good, and it didn’t blow away.
But the roof leaked.
The opening day of the festival had us scrambling to cover my display table and wishing for an umbrella. I’d have to take down my display every night when I closed up and take the books home so the damp wouldn’t damage them.
I kept my eye on the black clouds and the forecast all week, imagining the worse.
And failing to trust the God who watches over me.
Shame on me.
Because the only rain we got all week (except Sunday, when we discovered the roof wasn’t waterproof) was one night or early morning when I wasn’t there. All I had to do is wipe off the table and set up.
All week long I fretted, but each day the storms passed us, and each day I sensed God whispering to me, “Trust Me. I got this.”
I broke even. But more than that, I learned – again – that even when my faith falters, My God is faithful.
You won’t always hold back the storms, Lord, but I know You’ll be with me in the midst of them. Thank You, Abba Father! Amen.
Special-Tea: Read Isaiah 43:1–7; Psalm 91

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Coming to God with expectancy

Guest Blog from Patty Kyrlach
Patty Kyrlach

His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine. - Ephesians 3:21 CEV

The wedding guests had been in party-hearty mode for a couple of days. When the maitre d' stepped forward to taste the wine, his eyes popped like a cork.  After a reception went on this long, the caterers usually set out the Hawaiian Chablis—the cheap stuff. But this was some sort of pricey cabernet sauvignon.  Surprise! The host had saved the best wine for last.

The New Testament is full of people who got more than they bargained for. A woman went to a well for a drink, but walked away with living water and a new life. A beggar asked for alms and got his sight instead. Peter just wanted to catch some fish but wound up leaving his nets to fish for souls. Saul was on his way to stamp out the Jesus freaks when he had an encounter with Jesus himself, changing his name and his mission statement.

Our expectations get tired, jaded, and grumpy. They were always rather limited anyway. So
as we come to God today, let's come expecting the unexpected - "far more than we dare ask or imagine."

    Come as a little child.
    Come with a smile of eagerness.
    Greet each new day as a special gift of love.
    Even if you're old and gray,
    Though you've come a long, hard way,
    Come ready to sing and play and dance,
    Ready to risk and take a chance.
    For of such is the kingdom.
    For of such is the kingdom.
                   -Avery and Marsh

Lord, we're ready to be surprised. Ready to expand our thinking. Ready to believe that if we ask for a loaf of bread, you won't give us a stone. "Ready to risk and take a chance. For of such is the kingdom. . . ."

In Jesus' name, we pray with expectancy. . .

. . .for all who are battling serious illnesses and all the devoted care-givers 
. . .for those who grieve the loss of dear spouses and other loved ones  
. . .for all who are facing difficult family situations   
. . .for pastors and lay leaders dealing with discord in their churches  
. . .for all who may feel discouraged, stuck, or even hopeless   
. . .for all who feel overwhelmed

Lord, in each situation we look for you to do amazing things. We await your surprise answers.

Patty Kyrlach writes for Cookies & Milk, a children’s page in several SW Ohio newspapers, and also serves as design editor for the page, now in its eighth year of publication. She is Director of Communications for the Writing Academy, a small but personable writer's group that holds an annual retreat in Minneapolis. She writes mythic tales, children’s non-fiction, drama, songs, poetry, curriculum, and lately—her bloomin’ blog: "Stark Raving Mythopath"

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The nature of God

The ABC’s of knowing God better: the letter “N”

And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” – Exodus 3:14 (NKJV) 

“But who do you say that I am?” – Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 16:13 (NKJV)
Back in December, when I first got the idea for this series, “The ABC’s of knowing God better,” I was enthusiastic about using the alphabet to describe an indescribable God, to catch a glimpse into His many-faceted nature, to delve into Scripture to learn more about the One who calls us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him.
I promptly recorded my thoughts, jotting down at least one word for every letter of the alphabet. Well, almost every letter. Two letters had me stumped: N and X. I figured when the time came to write about that letter, I’d have a word.
I didn’t.
So I posed the question to my Facebook friends: “What word beginning with ‘N’ do you think describes God?”
Here’s what they said:
“Never-ending love.” (Jeanne)
“Near, nurturing.” (Ann)
“Ineffable.” (Jodie)
“I know this is an ‘I’ word, but it is silent!” Jodie said. She posted a link to the definition. According to the free Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary, ineffable means “too great, powerful, beautiful, etc., to be described or expressed; incapable of being expressed in words; not to be uttered.”
Intriguing, considering God’s name, Yahweh, was written in all caps without the vowels (YHWH) because the Hebrews believed God’s name, which reflected His nature, was too holy to be uttered or written out. Even today you’ll run across “G-d” instead of God.
While we’re on the topic, the name Yahweh (Jehovah) is a form of the verb to be, which is translated "I AM" in Exodus 3:14 when God revealed Himself to Moses. According to the Children’s Ministry Resource Bible, it signifies “the present One, He who is.” The Amplified Bible translates this verse as “I AM WHO I AM and WHAT I AM, and I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.”
Okay, I’m off on a tangent, but I’m an etymology freak and am fascinated with the origin and history of words. There is much in this short verse, “I AM WHO I AM,” (actually a proclamation) to meditate on for a lifetime and never quite grasp the full meaning.
Moving on . . .
Teresa had a list: “near to my heart, never judgmental, never tired of my neediness, most important NOUN in my life! Never-ending, nurturing, nourishing.”
New life. (Margo)
Necessary. (Cass)
“The word new came to my mind,” Sue B. wrote. “He is new every morning! He always has new and wonderful things planned for us.”
Harry posted, “Nice,” and Susan wrote, “New creation.”
Wow! Ask and you’ll receive!
What about you? What word beginning with “N” do you think describes God?
Dear God, You may be indescribable, but You are not unknowable. You bid us to come to You so You can lavish Your steadfast love and faithfulness on us. How awesome is that? Amen.
Special-Tea: Read Job 38–41:11