Wednesday’s Word: Miracles

Today’s word comes to you courtesy of my dear friend, Mary Hofacker.

When I think of miracles, I am reminded of a song Nelson and I heard at a Steve and Annie Chapman concert way back in the 1980’s. Living far from family with two toddlers and very little income, we felt desperate and prayed for God to miraculously reveal his power and grace. The song was a constant ear worm: things are looking right for a miracle.

When I went to WordSwag to create the pic for today’s post, I used a font I rarely use, but it fit perfectly. Miracles quite often come in very plain and obvious ways: a miracle healing, the perfect job, etc. But sometimes the miracle we need comes disguised as something else and we appreciate the gift or improvement to life, but we don’t see God’s intervention coming in a way we couldn’t have imagined or even begun to ask for. We missed the backstory completely, claimed the gift, and moved on.

I think that’s why I appreciate Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (see Eph. 3:20): Now to the One who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond anything and everything we could ever ask or even imagine…

And that God knows me best and loves me most. You, too.

Things are looking right for a miracle.

But God!

(This article appeared yesterday in the Ashland (OH) Times-Gazette.)

I came to Phoenix, Arizona in January for a women’s clergy gathering. As is often the case, the experience was blessing upon blessing. My spirit soared. My faith was enriched. I made new friends—and not just the “pad my Facebook numbers” kind. I looked to the heavens and said, “But God, I don’t want to leave yet.”

Instead of coming right home, I figured I couldn’t visit Arizona and not visit my mom who lives south of Tucson. During my visit she became ill which resulted in a diagnosis of pneumonia and five days in the hospital. We opted to continue her recuperation at home with in-home health care. To describe this time as difficult would be an understatement.

During her convalescence, my mom asked if I would be willing to stay with her—permanently. This is a plan we had discussed the year prior during another illness. Because of that conversation, my husband and I also had a series of talks. We began to make plans: I would take care of my mom and he would stay in Ohio to take care of his. 

On paper and when we spoke, these things made sense to us. Even still, Mom’s request felt like a punch in the gut. I hadn’t expected it. I still had things to do in Ashland.  I looked to the heavens and said, “But God, I don’t want to leave yet.”

I have enough Bible under my belt to know when we say, “But God…” we are in essence telling him, “No.” Not a smart move. Telling God no negates all he wants and can do for us. The petulant child comes out of us. We stomp our feet, and pitch our fit. We tell God all the reasons why his plan isn’t good enough. 

My mom is the queen of pithy statements, homey proverbs. When she wanted to cut off our childish rants, she would say, “But me no buts.” I did a little research. That phrase has been around since 1709 when Susanna Centlivre coined it in the play, “The Busie Body.” These four words were used to cut off all objections.

In my experience, God has been good at cutting off my objections. When he nips my protestations, he uses my own words to redirect me to his power and plan. My whiny “But God…” becomes his “but GOD!”

A quick search through scripture shows how Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Jonah, and even Jesus knew the power of “but GOD!” Joseph puts the truth quite clearly when after suffering injustice upon injustice, he finally ends up being Pharaoh’s right hand man, which puts him in the perfect place to provide for the brothers who left him for dead. “You meant to do me harm, but God used it for good (see Genesis 50:20).” 

The Apostle Paul understood this too. In his letter to the Romans he writes, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” When he writes about this to the Ephesians he lays God’s plan out quite plainly: Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins (2:1); But God is so rich in mercy and he loves us so much that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life through Christ (2:4); Therefore, you are not strangers, neither guests, but inhabitants of the city of The Holy One and children of the household of God (2:9).  

These are difficult days. Dealing with isolation, illness, financial devastation, can definitely bring out our worse whiny case of “But God…” Perhaps God, though,  is leading us individually and as a faith community into new situations that push us far beyond our comfort, far from where our own plans would take us. If we will surrender our plan, we open ourselves to power that is “but God!”

Imagine if you could interview the people I mentioned above, and ask them if they thought it was worth it to surrender their plans to God. They would probably tell you the journey wasn’t easy—but it was the best choice they ever made. 

Daily I’m learning to surrender my whiny protesting for my way so that I can find the power of “but God!” Need some extra power? Need a better plan? Check out what God can do when we but Him no buts.

Wednesday’s Word: Trust

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I read a meme recently that said: “Whether it’s friendship or relationship all bonds are built on trust. Without it you have nothing.”

But in a day when no one seems trust-worthy—how do we do it?

Lincoln Chaffe said, “Trust is built with consistency.”

I believe it is also developed through discerning. Discerning who can be trusted, when, and why.

We trust individuals, corporations, friends, physicians all at different levels and for different reasons.

But we need first to learn to trust ourselves—our intuition, gut, intellect, resources. We need to learn to trust the process.

We need to learn to trust that the truth will rise to the surface, and that is often the process…and it often takes time to rise.

And we need to learn we can trust God.  Several times in both the Old and New Testaments there is invitation to test and trust God. Work through his promises and see if he doesn’t come through.

Trust is like a muscle. You have the potential…you just need to exercise it.

 

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Sermon Seeds: It Starts At Home

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The other day Asher and I went through the drive through at Burger King after school. This restaurant only uses their front window. The back window serves no real purpose—except for a glimpse into the inner workings.

As we waited in line, we watched a young man pealing and preparing onions. He didn’t appear to be enjoying the job. He grimaced as he pealed and sliced.

My heart went out to him. I’m not a fan of onion pealing, either.

But I love the image when it applies to understanding scripture. I relish the opportunities to pull back the outer (obvious) layers to discover the deeper meanings so I can come closer to the heart of God.

Looking at this text has pushed me to do that.

My online research seemed mired in studies that barely scraped the surface. The messages and commentary revealed a free-for-all of “Listen up, Kiddo, and do what your parents tell you.”

That can’t be the only reason.

Keep in mind these commands were given as God was seeking to develop the identity and community of his chosen people. The Spirit of the Law is God protecting and growing his people.

So God starts by making sure his people have laid the groundwork in their relationship: no other gods, no idols, carrying his name well, and resting in him. This fifth command is the transition from focus on their vertical relationship with him to the outer-workings of their relationships with others.

And it all begins at home.

The home is the place where we need to learn how to live and deal with others. Our relationship with our parents is a reflection of our relationship with God, and with authority in general.

The question that inevitably rises comes in the form of an objection or excuse: “But you don’t know how crumby my parents were.” “My dad left—I don’t have a father to honor.”  “My mom is just a drug abusing whore.”

I get it. My parents were alcoholics—albeit functioning, but complete with all the baggage that goes with. I grew up with the emotional uncertainty and the psychological scars.

In college, and later during my years of Clinical Pastoral Education, I came to realize God provided godly men and women who stood in the gap for me when my parents couldn’t. Some of them appeared as Girl Scout Leaders, or the parents of friends. Others were the spiritual leaders of Choirs and Folk Groups, and youth leaders at church.

And here, my friends, where the Church needs to perk up its ears—especially in our world today. Now, as much or more than ever, the church needs to lean in and live out the instruction to care for the widows and orphans. They are all around us and our responsibility is clear: we are family and we need accept the responsibility of getting this right.

May it never be said of the church: I have no spiritual fathers or mothers there.

There is no honor in that at all.

Hopefully Devoted: No Fear

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The doctor looks down. Clears his throat. Then slowly looks up.

You look up and are surprised to see the plant manager at your machine, he’s holding an envelope and looking very somber.

As the door opens, the first thing you see is two suitcases.

The phone rings. It’s never good news at 2:00 in the morning…

Bad news comes in so many ways. Some days it feels like you can barely catch your breath before the next discouragement finds its way to your door.

I have friends who are awaiting surgery, hoping for good results from medical tests and court cases. Others are looking for work…still. A few haven’t been able to sleep for the anxious thoughts invading their dreams.

God has a word for us today as we fear the bad news knock on our door: They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the LORD to care for them (Psalm 112:7, NLT)

The LORD is our shepherd, our healer, our door, our guide, bread, water, hope and light. No matter what it is we fear that could be waiting around the corner—God’s got it and you!

You can be confident in his care of and for you.

Message Meme: Exodus 20:4

I like watching things. I’m amazed by color. I have Missouri in my DNA: show me.

I took a course aimed at improving my blogging, and the emphasis was on adding pictures. So I would scour Google images until I found the perfect image to accompany my words.

Then I went to another writers conference and the faculty person warned us (scared the pants off us) to not use Google images because they could be pirated. Instead we were to use sites with free images, like pixabay.

I broke up with google immediately.

At that same conference, I learned how to create my own memes.

Hi, I’m Tina and I’m hooked: WordSwag, Canva, and PicCollage are my new best friends.

During the recent Advent season, I created memes that went with each Sunday’s message. Memes that would fit computer/iPad screens, phone screens, and covers for blogs or facebook. It was a way to get the message theme or scripture in front of the people every day.

We’re into a new message series on the Ten Commandments Jesus Style: Finding the Old in the New.

Since the first commandment is to not have any gods but God, I drew on Joshua’s calling the people back to their covenant relationship with God—putting him first. So this was last week’s message meme:

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This week we move onto the second commandment: you must not make an idol of any kind.

Here’s the memes I made to go along with this commandment:

Come back Friday and we’ll consider just what “making an idol” means.

 

The Extravagance of Christmas

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Imagine going to a home where both the husband and wife are successful, recognized, and respected doctors. Do you have a mental image?

Recently I had the opportunity to do that with a friend from high school. She and I were traveling from Ohio to Michigan to have a little reunion with another classmate from high school. I tried to imagine what I was going to find. I was battling with feelings of intimidation all the way there.

Driving up to their home, I was surprised by its simplicity. Nothing on the outside screamed of money, or pride, or extravagance. When we were invited in and given the “tour” I felt so welcomed. It was a lovely home, inviting and warm. It was beautifully decorated in its simplicity. The only room my friend claims to have “decorated” is a small half bath. And it is precious. The only ‘extravagance’ I saw, and I’m sure my husband wouldn’t see it as such, was the amazing sixty inch stove in the kitchen.

We had a wonderful visit. And as all good visits do, it ended much too soon. On the way home I chatted with my friend, but I was also carrying on an inner conversation with God. The clearest thing I heard was that extravagance needs to be on the inside—in our spirit. Just as it is with Him.

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I spoke at a banquet not long ago and I shared that my least favorite question of the season is: “So, are you ready for Christmas?” The question begs at what things are still on your to do list, things like shopping and baking. I think the question misses the whole point of Christmas, what Christmas really is. Christmas is about God so lavishly loving the world that he gave his one and only son so that you and I might have life. And he didn’t come with fancy wrapping or trays of cookies.

My husband has always been the kind of person to buy extravagantly. Let’s just tell it like it is: he goes overboard. But it’s the way he is. He has no moderation button. He loves all out. And I really love that about him.

When I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the story Jesus tells: Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”Mark 12:40-42

That’s what we have to be ready to do. You know what’s really cool about my friends the doctors in Michigan? I think they’ve really figured out how to love that way. I may not be able to give a lot of gifts, but I can give my all whenever and wherever I can.

Are you ready to be that ready?

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Tracing and Anticipating

I wrote this in 2009 and posted it as a note on Facebook–it came up as “memories” reminder. I’m reposting it and will edit it later. I needed the message.

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Our three year old grandson, Asher, started pre-school this fall. From the get go, we knew he was a bright child. He even came on his due date. We watched Baby Einstein videos with him until we all knew them by heart. Very early, he knew his shapes, colors, letters, and numbers.

At Pre-school they are teaching the kids their letters and numbers and having them trace them. Asher walks around with his left hand in the air, at the ready for the next thing to trace. If he isn’t tracing the letters, he’s counting how many characters or letters are in the word or string of words. He traces letters on the TV, on boxes, on books, from the newspaper, or on the shirt someone has on. One day, I found him sitting on the floor in the dining room. We have a shelf there with accident/spare clothes for him. He had all his spare shirts lying out and his own shirt off. When I asked what he was doing he looked at me with that “isn’t it obvious, Mema” look. Then, as matter of factly as he could, he informed me that he was tracing. Every letter around him screams to be traced!

Reflecting on Asher’s tracing, I began to see three components that made Asher such a good tracer. First, he walked through his day, minute by minute and room by room, anticipating, no expecting, that there would be letters to trace or count. What do you eagerly anticipate? A quick read of Romans 8 paints a clear picture of what we need to be anticipating.

Anticipating that God is at work, that he has a plan and it includes us, drives us, spurs us, motivates us to be ready. Asher walks around expecting to find something to trace. His little hand is often in the air, making circles, like an airplane getting ready to land. The word tells us we are to be ready, to always have an answer when someone asks us what are hope is about.

Could you do that? I’m not asking if you know some specific plan or canned presentation. I don’t care if you have scripture memorized, but can you (from a sincere heart) tell someone, “This is where I was. This is what God in Christ did for me. And this is where I’m headed.” It’s your story, are you ready to tell it?

And finally, I have been so impressed by Asher’s focus. His questions reveal his passion to learn more. He listens to all our conversations. I know this because often my words come back to me through him. It has caused me to be more conscious of what I say and how I say it. We’ve even had to resort to spelling things we want to keep above his head. Everything he sees is an item to trace. If he’s not tracing letters, then his finger runs around the circumference or perimeter of an item. Some days he carries his step stool from room to room so that he can be sure to catch whatever you’re doing.

Right now Asher seems to be practicing the fine art of learning. It reminded me of Brother Lawrence’s continual practice of the awareness of God. And I started to wonder: what keeps me from anticipating God at every turn? Do I have preconceived and limiting notions about who God is and what he can do? What keeps me from being ready? Is it fear, or busyness, or ignorance of the urgency, or God help us: lack of love? What keeps me from being focused? The enemy is the expert at divide and conquer. If he can get us to thinking in terms of sacred and secular, he knows it’s just a short distance disconnecting our head and heart.

When I was in seminary the second time around, a Sunday School teacher asked our younger daughter, Beth (Asher’s mom), what she wanted to be when she grew up. Beth’s answer struck the teacher enough that she made sure to tell me. Beth’s answer was, “a student like my mom.” There is always a need for us to put into practice what we know, but oh, that God would rekindle in each of us the insatiable desire to learn.

Then we would, like Asher, be anticipating, ready, and focused.

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Sermon Seeds: Finishing

(On Wednesdays my blog posts will be related to the text of the upcoming Sunday message.)

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6, NLT)

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We just finished walking together through Lent to the Resurrection. The intention of these devotional thoughts was to get us ready to see Jesus!

How’d you do?

Each time I reach the resurrection story I am moved when I try to imagine Jesus speaking Mary’s name. I listen hard to hear him whisper my name.

But that’s not the end of the story! More work needs to be done. We have our part. God is not finished with us!

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Sunday morning I will preach my first official sermon as the interim pastor of Ashland First Church of the Brethren. It is not my first time in the pulpit with these precious people. I’ve been filling in for a while.

On Sunday we embark on a different phase. We are focusing on where God wants us to go, who God wants us to be…and how we’re going to get there.

I love our verse from Philippians. For a long time I took it personally…individually. But it’s plural. Like: He began a work in y’all. And He wants to finish it.

What work has God begun in you? In your family? In your faith community–your church?

Will you join him in the work? Will you let him finish?

You hold a piece to the whole that only you can fill.

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Habits

Each year I ask God for a theme or word or verse to guide me–sort of my spiritual mission for the year that I seek to hang everything I do. Next year’s word came to me this morning as I was reading: habit. I have a feeling I’ll be addressing some bad habits and creating some good and healthy new ones. I’m especially excited to see how this will fit with my “circle” (heart, soul, mind, and action)

What is a habit: a dominant or regular disposition or tendency; prevailing character or quality; or an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary (thank you dictionary.com)

But I also liked this definition, tucked way down on the list: mid-14c., “to dwell,” from Old French habiter “to dwell, inhabit.

I am certain I want to be “dwelling” more intentionally in the Word. The deacons at our church have challenged the congregation to read through the entire Bible in the coming year. I’ve done it before, but it will be encouraging to know others who are on the same journey.

One of the other areas I intend to develop habits in is exercise. I laid a good foundation in 2014, but I have room to improve. Yesterday Nelson and I watched the video for our new exercise investment: a Bowflex Ultimate2. This is going to be good!

I am making myself accountable, not just by writing it here, but by seeking out accountability partners. Iread an article this morning about the importance of knowing ourselves: our strengths and weaknesses. Without accountability, I am nothing but weakness.

So I have no specific resolutions and no real goals…I just want to focus this year on creating more healthy and holy habits. How about you? What goals or resolutions or themes will guide you through this new year?

My prayer is that no matter what our driving force will be, we will find the courage and strength, the grace and perseverance, to come out at the end of this year in a ways which bring greater glory to the One who will enable us, and a deeper joy and peace with Him, one another, and ourselves.