Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Thanksgiving Message

As we take time as a nation to give thanks, it helps to remember the source of all that we are and all that we have. This Thanksgiving Eve sermon explores this idea based on Deuteronomy 8:7-18, and Luke 17:11-19.

Recorded on Wednesday, November 26, 2014 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Greenvine, TX.

 

Click the link to listen to the message or scroll down for the full manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/dirt-wilderness-and-the-unclean

 

Dirt, Wilderness, and the Unclean

A group of scientists were excited they finally had the ultimate breakthrough. They decided to tell God they didn’t need him any more.

“Oh really?” God asked them. “Are you sure you don’t need me for anything anymore?”

“We’re certain, God. We can do anything you can do. We can even make human life.”

“Okay,” God agreed. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll show you once how I do it and I’ll even let you take notes before you give it a try.”

And so God reached down and got a handful of dirt and right before their eyes he created a person.

“So you really think you can do that?”

“Just watch us, God!”

And so one of the scientists squatted down to pick up some dirt. As he handed it to another one of the scientists, God looked over his shoulder.

And God snatched the dirt from them and said, “Get your own dirt!”

 

It is often easy to take for granted what we have and what we can do when things are going well for us. We often continue to strive for yet more. And we frequently buy into the belief that we did it ourselves. Like those scientists, we may even fall into the trap of believing that we don’t even need God anymore.

But God is the one who provides. Even the dirt that we turn for crops or dig out to build our houses—even that is the Lord’s doing.

In our passage from Deuteronomy, the Israelites are being given land where they can live and thrive. But they are warned not to forget that it was God who brought them out of slavery, it was God who provided for them in the wilderness, and God himself gave them the ability to make a new life for themselves. They are reminded that when they have their new life in the land of plenty, “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’”

God is faithful to love and care for us, to provide for us. When we’re at the top of our pay scales, it is still God who gave us the ability to work in those jobs. In the times of “plenty,” it can indeed humble us to remember the times that weren’t so great. For even in the difficult times, the wilderness times of our lives, we know that God has brought us through.

In the passage with Jesus healing the 10 lepers, one of them returns to thank Jesus. Now, we can’t know whether the 9 others are failing at gratitude. Could it be that this one—a foreigner even—recognizes something deeper about Jesus? Jesus tells him, “your faith has made you well.” Could it be that his faith in Jesus goes deeper than just being thankful for being made clean?

Not only did Jesus heal him, but Jesus was willing to come near him even though he was unclean! And Jesus was willing to heal him even though he was a foreigner—a despised Samaritan! This Jesus who came alongside him despite his current situation, was in fact, God in-the-flesh.

From one person to the next, none of our circumstances are exactly alike. Some of us may be experiencing times of plenty while others are in times of need. Some may be confident of their direction in life while others of us are wandering in some kind of wilderness. Some of us may feel well and whole while others are struggling with unspeakable ailments that keep us down.

Whether it’s the time of our lives or the worst time imaginable, God is with us. God is active and present with us every day—no matter our circumstances. God made the dirt, he is present with us in our wilderness times, and he comes alongside us at our weakest and most vulnerable points. And when we become touched by the depth of his love, when we feel his presence with us despite our circumstances, it is then that gratitude is possible.

And so, in this time when our nation makes a point to give thanks, it is my fervent prayer for you that you may see all of life as a gift from God. And may you recognize him as your source, your strength, and an abiding presence with you no matter what.

Drought-Tolerant Faith?

 

Scorched trees near Bastrop, TX affected by drought-related wildfires of 2011 with dying grass affected by current drought.

Scorched trees near Bastrop, TX affected by drought-related wildfires of 2011 with dying grass affected by current drought.

I got to preach again last weekend, and although I was the one coming in to bring the word, I had an important word imparted to me about our present drought in Texas.

Now, you have to know that the summer before we moved here there was a terrible drought in the area. Livestock herds could not be maintained. Wildfires swept through the area. Even though we weren’t living here at the time, I’ve heard stories and seen pictures.

Growing up in Ohio, we had drought, but I didn’t understand the meaning of drought until I learned of what they went through down here.

It has had me scared, really. We’ve been behind on precipitation and have been under “burn bans” a good deal of the time we’ve lived here.

I’ve worried and wondered, what if it gets like it was back before we moved here?

Things were looking up over the summer. No burn bans meant I’ve had lots of my backyard campfires which I love. (Apparently according to a quiz I took online, my subconscious is obsessed with nature, so my urge for backyard campfires makes sense.)

But rain has not been coming and we are back under a burn ban…and inconveniently that means no more backyard fires…but more seriously, it has rekindled my worry.

When I was at church on Sunday (one of two churches I preached at that day), I made small talk before the service, “Have y’all gotten any rain yet up this way?” (I mean, the weather is always a good topic for small talk, right?)

But no, there hadn’t been much to speak of up that way. The next statement schooled me, “I guess we don’t need it. We think we do but I guess we really don’t.”

What could I say?

I wasn’t personally convinced, but I learned a long time ago not to argue with other people in how they size up a crisis they’re experiencing firsthand.

But then, after the service was over, I had a similar conversation with another person who said nearly the same thing: We think we need the rain. But we must not need it.

And I’m a little slow, so it took me hearing it twice over the course of that morning for it to have its full impact.

If it would have just been the one person who said it, I could have dismissed it. I mean, we need the rain because life and crops and all rely on it! And what is God thinking not providing rain when we need it? That’s sweet to let God off the hook like all that, but I expect a bit more from The Almighty!

But when the same sentiment was spoken twice, and both times it was spoken by people who lived through the major drought what with livestock and forests in danger and all…

Perhaps they knew something, they discerned something that I was missing.

In my fear and worry about the devastation I knew the last drought caused…and I had to face it, with my irritation about not being able to have my backyard fires…well, I was missing the really big picture.

But they knew better.

They knew to wait patiently, to trust that what we really need isn’t always what we think we need or what we fret about.

And my own worry and fear were once again exposed. Oh Lord, how many times must I need reminded of your provision? Of your goodness? Of your faithfulness despite what seems impossible?

In this way, I was among those who received a word that day I preached. Oh Lord, give me a drought-tolerant faith like theirs.

I Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke…but Not Why You Think

I’m not a big drinker and I’ve never tried so much as a puff of a cigarette. I haven’t said much about all this because what I have come to see is that my Position on drinking and smoking is less about Principle and more about Propensities.

To put it another way, I don’t drink much or smoke at all because I think if I did more of the one and even tried the other, well, I think I’d like it. Too much.

What I share here as to my reasons is very personal and not meant to point a finger at anyone else. For all I know, I’m the only person who’s had such little experience with substances yet craves them something fierce.

Somehow though, I keep feeling like it is something I need (want?) to share. And, you know, I’m on the internet now and my life is an open book anyway.

Over time I have had Good Reasons not to Do Substances. When I was underage, both were, of course, Illegal. As I dabbled in fundamentalist Christian thought, it was rather convenient to forego these substances because I was taught they were Sinful. And regardless of one’s age there are certainly Risks involved.

But those Reasons have faded over time. I’m old enough now that they are Legal, I no longer universally see their use as a Sin Issue, and I know plenty of people who are relatively Responsible about occasional enjoyment of these substances from time to time.

What remains for me personally a Stumbling Block about drinking and smoking though is the Addictive Nature of alcohol and tobacco because I sense in my body the very real and present possibility of Getting Hooked.

I have just enough sorrows that are just enough exacerbated by my stupid depression that I want to Drown Them All. Alcohol especially would be soooo easy…so easy.

My husband picked up a case of beer the other day and he put a few bottles in the fridge.

High Life?

Every time I so much as see the bottles there when I open the fridge, I feel a rush, a craving, a longing…a desire to Drown All The Everything. I want to grab a bottle and feel it course through me.

But I know me…and I know that times I’ve given into that a little, I’ve wanted to keep giving into it.

In this one area of my life, my tendency to Think Too Much has been a benefit to me. My self-awareness of how much I want to indulge has always nagged me enough to stop drinking before I’ve had too many and not even try smoking.

This part is delicate, so I want to tread lightly here, but I also have family history that stands as a warning sign to me. I know that these Propensities can run in families, so I have been especially Vigilant in my own life.

I don’t claim some moral high ground for my choices in these matters. If anything, I feel somehow weaker than others that I can’t just have one drink without Overthinking Every Sip.

But knowledge is power, and I do indeed know myself on this matter which is why I don’t drink and I don’t smoke.

Why I Stopped Hoarding Hotel Soap

20140509-225526.jpg

 

I used to hoard hotel amenities like the little bars of soap and the small bottles of shampoo. But I don’t anymore and I want to tell you about my transformation in this area.

 

How it Started

It started innocently enough. When I would go to a hotel for a youth event or band trip in high school I would grab the shampoo & conditioner bottles from the bathroom before checking out. As a young-married I would grab the shower-cap to take home with me if I didn’t use it during our stay.

But those little bottles are so darling, and I found that on multiple-night stays that hotel staff would replenish any and all amenities that appeared to be used up. So, to create the appearance of them being used up, I would stash whatever was left in the morning in my suitcase before they came to refresh the room.

Sure enough, they replaced everything. I found that I could do this each and every morning and build up quite a little store of soaps, shampoos and shower caps.

At some point in married life there came a trend of getting in-room coffee and tea at some hotels. And I found I could do the same trick of stashing the pillow-packs of coffee, the tea bags, and sugar in my suitcase and those too would get replenished each day!

 

How it Stopped

In a similar way to how I stopped collecting magazines, I finally stopped hoarding these little hotel goodies.

For one thing, it became a storage problem for me. I mean, I wasn’t going to use those little bottles and bars at home and I didn’t travel frequently enough to use them all. I hardly ever used the coffee pillow packs, and I didn’t really much like the tea bags compared to the brand I always favor at home.

So, here was all this loot that kept taking up space in my life and in my home.

But that wasn’t really what did it. I mean, I found places to stick all the little treasures here and there. And then they were out of sight, out of mind.

What really did it for me was moving around the country multiple times. Having so much stuff that needs packed and unpacked prompted me to take an honest look at just how much I was hoarding.

Because really, when all I wanted was to find my son’s bath toys, I didn’t expect to have so many “Bathroom” boxes to go through. And when I wanted bath toys and only found mixed lots of hotel shampoos, no one was served by that.

So, I started to get honest with myself about my hoarding habit and decided to cease the stock-piling.

 

But It Smells Soooo Good…

So, here I am at this church convention this weekend and would you believe they have the most scrumptious-smelling little bars of soap at the hotel where we’re staying. I mean, absolutely divine. And all I want to do is take ALL the bars home.

And there’s a Keurig coffee-maker in the room. I don’t even have a Keurig at home, but I want to take ALL the little K-cups home with me.

What is with this crazy compulsion?

I have to consciously talk myself out of grabbing everything each day.

It reminds me of the story in the Bible (Exodus 16) when God provided manna for the Israelites in the wilderness. God instructed them to just gather up what they needed for each day and no more. And when they gathered up too much, it was spoiled by morning anyway. But there was always plenty to gather each new day.

Whether it’s me and soap or it was the Israelites and manna, trying to store more than needed only backfires and leaves us with something unpleasant to have to manage. Pluswhich, the hoarding in both cases is/was wholly unnecessary!

 

Provisions

I’ve never gone a whole day without access to soap or coffee. Even now, back at my house, there are back-ups of full-sized bars of soap in a cupboard in the bathroom; there is coffee in the pantry. To be honest, I’ve never gone a whole day without all of my real physical needs being filled.

God’s provision is abundant, but still I find myself wanting to grab more than I need.

Once again, I talk myself out of taking ALL the amenities.

Before I leave, I’ll lather my hands up and inhale the wonderful aroma of the soap one last time, and I’ll have one last cup of coffee brewed in the Keurig. Then I’ll head back home and enjoy the “amenities” there.

And I will be fine without hoards of things I don’t really need. Better than fine. I will be free.

 

 

 

On Our Relationship with God and How We Live

freedom

When I first considered becoming a contributor at Life & Liberty I was drawn to the dual focus of promoting (1) a non-coercive society that is (2) spiritually grounded. Non-coercion and non-violence are important ideals to me on both governmental and interpersonal levels. And I believe that for people to be truly free of coercion, spiritual grounding is essential.

To see what more I have to say about this topic, check out my latest essay over there, How Spiritual Grounding Sets Us Free. Click the photo link above to go to that post.