Thursday, June 30, 2016

Welcomed or not: The Kingdom is near!

Luke 10:1-11
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'

I marvel
that the message remains the same.
"The kingdom of God has come near."

That's the good news to share
in places, with people who extend grace and hospitality,
who love and are lovely...
"The kingdom of God has come near."

That's still the good news to share
in places that are hostile, with stiff necked people,
argumentative, hateful people,
who are anything but lovely...
"The kingdom of God has come near."

Whether welcomed and embraced or not,
the message is still the same,
"The Kingdom of God has come near."

I am reminded of a plaque,
a graduation gift,
that hangs in my office:
"Bidden or not bidden God is present."

sometimes we think
we can see your kingdom in our midst.
But other times it seems another force is at work,
and yet, "The kingdom of God has come near."
So open our eyes
to where the kingdom is
in those places of grace
AND the places that seem like hell.
for "The kingdom of God has come near."

Monday, June 27, 2016

Thank God for VBS Helpers!

Dear Lord,
you know
how I am NOT a numbers guy.
I do not measure my success
by numbers.
Spiritual growth is hard to measure
with numbers.

BUT last week at Vacation Bible School
at first the leadership felt disappointed.
It did not seem
we had a very good turn out.
Then we counted.

We counted the adults
who invested their time, energy, resources, and money
to help in big and small ways
-- painting, acting out Bible stories,
singing, crafts, science, building sets,
food, serving, teaching, helping...
Over 40 different adults!

We counted the youth (middle school & high school)
who accompanied the children from class to class,
who painted and played, who acted out Bible stories, who took pictures...
Over 15 different youth.

We counted the children
who learned, laughed, loved,
grew in faith, sang, danced,
experienced God's love...
Over 35 different children.

Wow! Lord,
children, youth, adults (of ALL ages)
sharing your love,
sharing stories of your love,
delighting in being together,
helping, laughing, caring, praying,
singing, praising YOU.

As I help
take down decorations today,
I pray,
"Thank You, God, for VBS!
Now we're tired; please give us some rest.

For children, youth and adults of all ages,
sharing your love at our different stages.

All praise to you, O God above.
We are grateful for your great love!"

Friday, June 24, 2016

VBS Friday: God Sends

Today is Friday of VBS!
Tonight we celebrate with a special meal!
The children will share their songs, art work,
and their will be bounce houses and fun for all!!

John 21:4-17
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Our final story for VBS is
one of Jesus’ final appearances
after his Resurrection.
Jesus is preparing them
to nurture, feed, and tend to the people of the world.
We are preparing to do the same.
Because Jesus forgives our sins
because we receive God’s love and favor everyday,
we want to pass on that love and favor to others
in gratitude and appreciation.

Gracious God, 
thank you for the blessing
of all who have helped 
and particpated in this year's VBS.
Bless each one; 
protect them and their families. 
May the experiences they have had this week 
be reminders of your infinite love for them. 
May we grow more and more 
confident and comfortable sharing your love 
as you send us 
to the people in the world,
for Jesus' sake.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

VBS Thursday: God Calms!

Today is Thursday of VBS!

Luke 8:22-25
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

The word “faith” is prominent
in today’s story. 
We need to have faith in our God given abilities, 
and confidence in God
to guide us through 
storms, problems, and difficult issues, 
as well as the easier times in life.
When our fears overtake our faith, 
we must listen for Jesus’ voice, 
telling us, “Don’t be afraid.” 
God loves it 
when we depend on God 
to calm our fears.

God of peace, 
we thank you for trusting us 
with your word and guiding us 
to share the stories of your love. 
Help us to remember that 
your peace and calm 
are available to us at all times. 
Be with us this day 
in all we do and say. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

VBS Wednesday: God Loves!

Today is Wednesday of VBS!
Today we remember Jesus baptism
and our own baptism into God's love.

Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Today’s story connects us with Jesus
in an extraordinary yet familiar way.
We see Jesus ready
to fulfill God’s desire for his life.
In the waters of Baptism
through the gift of the Holy Spirit,
we share that desire with Jesus.

Loving God,
thank you for the creation of this incredible dove,
which reminds us of your love.
Thank you for everyone helping with VBS today
for the heart and spirit they have for you.
You teach us how to love;
today and each day
we want to be the best imitators of your love.
Guide our words and actions today.
Help us demonstrate your love to others,
especially young others,
who may not have had much experience
receiving and giving love.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

VBS Tuesday: God Helps!

What do you know it's Tuesday of VBS!
Today we will hear a story about how God Helps!

Exodus 2:1-10
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Our story today celebrates
God’s help
through the work of five women.

Helping God is more than saying yes to God;
it’s keeping our eyes and ears open,
thinking critically, and,
when necessary, being courageous
—even when it means going against
the powers of this world
that conflict with God’s word
or harm God’s creation.

O God our Helper,
now and in ages past,
we thank you for lessons
on how to think beyond ourselves
and to be your representatives here on earth.
We ask for your help
in sharing this message with others.
Be with us
and we will glorify you always.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

God in Our Sorrow

I was sad.
I am still not sure
of all of the whys.

I was sad
because of
death, senseless death,
young men and women killed
in a nightclub in Orlando, FL.
I just do not understand
why life is not valued.
I really do believe what I say:
"You are a Child of God,
and I will treat you that way."
All of us, human beings,
are made in the image of God --
those who died and the one who pulled the trigger.
All the other stuff,
all the descriptors we use
are secondary.
"You are a Child of God,
and I will treat you that way."

I was sad
because of fire
in my own town;
people in my congregation are affected.
But it has changed
how they do business.
There will be months
of repairs and rebuilding.
I saw the damage
and felt helpless.
What can a pastor do?
Lord, you know I prayed
and am still.

I was sad
because of
death, heart rending death,
of a toddler in Orlando, FL.
I can barely write the words here.
A little boy,
his parents and a brave lifeguard
wrestled with the alligator,
but could not save the son.
I'm sick.
Never the same.
There will be lawsuits and blame and finger pointing,
but death has permanently changed our lives.

Ok, Lord,
it wasn't just yesterday.
I am still sad today.

you who are stronger than death,
hold us
as we grieve,
as we wonder why,
as we try to make sense of a broken world.
Right now,
I cannot see,
cannot even pretend to imagine
your kingdom on earth;
I hope for it;
I work for it.
But today,
it seems so far away.

Maybe for today,
grieving and praying
are the best I can do.
So hold us close, Lord.
Hear our cries for help.
And even though it seems unlikely today,
I hold on to my faith and boldly pray:
"Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven."

Friday, June 10, 2016

Praying for Vacation Bible School

Below is a prayer for Vacation Bible School written by Beth Herrinton-Hodge!

Abundant and Energetic God,

You fill your world with a season of summer delights. Sunshine, warm breezes, a slower pace to enjoy your creation. Fill us with the joy of this season.

We gather around your Word in the midst of our summer. May our days together lead to new friendships, new activity, new insights, and a strengthened relationship with you. 

May your Spirit shower upon our teachers, leaders, and volunteers; giving energy, creativity, and patience. 

May your love embrace the children and young people who join us for Bible School so they may come to know you more deeply. 

May your people experience good fellowship in these days as we study, create, and play.

Bless us, O God, as we seek to learn from your Word and to share your love. As you gather us in for summer Bible School, send us out beyond this place to show the world what we have come to know: that your grace and welcome and wonder are for all.

We pray in the name of your Son. Amen.

The above prayer written by Beth Herrinton-Hodge and shared from:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pray and WATCH!

Psalm 5:1-3
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my sighing.
Listen to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.

we pray
because you listen.
You want to hear our voices.
You DO hear our voices.

So we speak;
we cry;
we sigh;
we plead;
we pray.

We pay attention to
how you are hearing us,
what you are doing,
the ways you are shaping our lives
and the life of the world,
the ways you are using us
to answer our own prayers
and the prayers of others.

I pray,
and I watch
for what you are doing!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sing the Faith!

music has always moved my soul.
Sacred and secular music
are the sound track to my life.

Today I heard this great hymn.
I needed it:

The refrain:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

"The things of earth"
death, fear, greed,
power, fame, idols,
war, violence, abuse,
negative politics, conflict, manipulation,
tearing down, bullying, belittling,
chasing "the dream", moving up, social pressures,
unfulfilled expectations, stresses, loneliness...
"will grow strangely dim"
melt away like a morning mist,
fade into the distance

"in the light of His glory and grace"
crucified and risen,
holy and blessed,
heaven on earth,
forgiven and free,
accepted and loved,
first born of creation,
first born of the dead,
alpha and omega...
Lord Jesus,
today I turn my face to you.
In your eyes, I see love, self-giving love.
In your love, my worries melt away,
and I find instead
grace, rest, enough, joy,
gratitude, home.
Thank you.

Friday, June 3, 2016

God Welcomes our Lament!

1 Kings 17:17-24
After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”
I have often wondered
if this is the first recorded
use of CPR!  :-)

On a serious note,
I am glad you are a God
who not only can handle our cries of pain
but also welcomes us to express our grief to you
even shaking our fist and blaming you.

I'm afraid too often
we think it bad or unfaithful
to cry out and shout out and ask you,
"Why? this had to happen?!"
We have lost the importance of lamentation.

And yet, the widow cries out against you.
Elijah questions your wisdom and care,
"Why this had to happen?!"
Indeed, the Psalmist does the same in Psalm 22,
and so does Job,
and so does Jeremiah the Prophet,
and so does Jesus...
Although we have forgotten it,
there is a WHOLE book of the Bible called,
That is raw and painful and full of pathos.

In our times of inexplicable
grief and pain, numbness and depression,
in the dark nights of the soul,
you want us to cry out to you!
Blame you!
Hurl our angry insults!
Beat against your chest!

For only then, when we have expressed
the fullness of our hurt,
only then can we experience
the completeness of your love for us,
holding us close
when we are convinced you are so far away.

Only then can we confess with the widow:
"Now I know that you are God,
and that the word of the LORD is truth."

I'm reminded of my friend's helpful lament at a funeral recently, "This sucks." Read more here: