Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday heart talk . . .

It wasn't more apparent than later this week, following the news of Michael Jackson's death that I began to really understand what it means to have the courage to listen. It requires a selflessness attitude and pushing aside our own voice and yearnings to follow the call to our spirit. This was the message I knew would be preached today, but didn't really understand it until now. So often we are consumed by the world's voice that we fail or even miss that of creation . . . the voices of those who need our help. . . the voices of those whose words have been muted . . . the voice of the one who calls us back to himself . . . thus missing the voice of our liberation and insight into who we really are. Somewhere along the way we as a people have missed the voice of the Michael Jackson's of the world. We have missed opportunities to pull them out of their exile. We have missed the voice that frees us from our own exile. From that, my heart murmurings, crafted this as our prayers of the people today:


God you talk to us throughout the day,
But somehow we don’t hear.
We find it hard to listen
To that still small voice
That may come as one rustling as the wind through the trees,
Or as the clouds opening up and the sun hitting our face
Accompanied by a gentle breeze.
Or as the cardinal outside our window singing your praises
Or in the gentle face of our children, laughing, playing.
Or the touch of someone’s hand that says “I understand” or “I am here for you!”

Perhaps our minds are too focused on the world that is in despair
A world that reflects the messiness of our lives,
A world that that does not seem to offer hope or promise of a better future
A world that our hands have distorted to look far from the one you created.
A world that does not love you freely.
Or heed your commands.
A world that does not even recognize your existence
Or acknowledge the miracles of your healing hands.
A world that is so busy, it doesn’t have time – to listen.

Forgive us today, God for turning a deaf hear towards you,
For making all else a priority, save for you.
For living not as we ought, with a concern or ear bent toward
the hurts of our neighbors, our family members, our spouses
our friends.
For assuming we have another day, another 24-hours to get it right.

Lord, we admit that we have lost our moral compass
And struggle to find our way back to you.
Guide us, O, Lord, back to you.
For we long to hear your secrets
We long to hear your voice
We desire to see your glory manifested in our lives.
We desire to be more than just “good people.”
We desire to your obedient children whose Word
is etched upon our hearts.
And becomes a part of our daily lives.
Here we are, O God!
We’re ready to hear you!
We’re ready to listen.
Speak to us today!


Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Frolic . . .

As one minister reminded me this week, "Sunday comes early" and it always comes. So with that in mind, I decided to make Friday count for something. I headed to MOTE, the aquarium on the coast, hung out with the fish, turtles, mesmerizing jellyfish, sharks, manatees and dolphins for the day. Then I winded down here:

At the Salty Dog enjoying a blackened grouper sandwich and fries . . .

and this beautiful view . . .

And this delicious key lime pie!
These are the times when I really miss being in Florida and realized how I blessed I was to grow up here!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ten on Tuesday

1. Woke up Sunday morning and didn't have one drop of vinegar in the house for my science experiment for the children's moment to show how a tarnished penny dropped in the vinegar/water solution is a illustration of how baptism works -- it cleans us up and makes us shiny and new. Had to go with some boiled eggs and crayons instead. I used the crayons to color marks on the egg shell to illustrate mistakes we make or sins we commit as we grow older, but when we are baptised, the old shell or our old selves are peeled away and we become all clean and pure again. The egg illustration worked right up until it was time for me to crack the egg and peel the colored shell off. I couldn't crack the egg! But then one kid spoke up with a solution . . . Give it to me," he said, "I'll just step on it and smash it!"
2.Went to pray with a church member this morning who was having a heart catheterization to check on why her mitral value wasn't working. Doctors initially thought that she may have a blocked coronary artery, which would require bi-pass surgery. We prayed. I remember asking the Lord -- if it was God's will -- to perform a miracle and knit her back together the way God originally formed her. Got word later today the tests were clear.
3.I made it to Zumba last night. . . making plans to head to kickboxing tonight . . .I hope I make it . . . I need to make it!
4. Realized something this weekend at the beach . . . in that scorching hot sun: 1.) I don't like being in the sun. 2.) I don't like being in the sun. 3.) I don't know how I'm going to survive South Africa this summer. I will be taking lots and lots of hats!
5.Crazy as it sounds, I haven't cooked or had spaghetti in forever . . . actually in more than a year, that is until last night when I made it Italian night at Juana's summer estate. And it was so good! Leftovers tonight will be even better in front of TNT's Hawthorne.
6.I'm really trying to hold off from eating Five Guys Burgers and Fries until I get back to Atlanta. . . hence the need to adhere to #2, if I can't hold out.
7. I saw a Japanese Steak House today and thought of my friends in Tally town. I miss them!
8. Miss girl's nights too!
9.Still trying to figure out which scripture will fit my sermon on prayer and why we pray. Suggestions are definitely welcome!
10.Got a coupon for a $20 massage for 50 minutes this weekend . . .you know where I'll be headed Saturday morning.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reality check . . .

I had another strong dose of the reality of what I'm doing today . . . well it actually started yesterday when I had the opportunity to sit in on the memorial plans -- on Father's Day of all days -- with the family of a former member who committed suicide over the weekend. The gravity of my position hit me when I saw his step-daughter's face -- she was lost, overwhelmed and devastated. The only father she knew was gone. And in that moment, I was reminded of what it means to say that you're a minister -- the one who is called to hold it all together for those who need a steady place to stand and someone on which to lean and help them make sense of their disrupted world.
There is something about standing in that type of call. It's a humbling place to be. A position that, if you're honest, shines a light on your own weaknesses, inabilities and insecurities and reminds you that you alone can't make things better, only the one who you stand on behalf of.

I received a letter from a new minister friend of mine the other day who reminded me of who I am -- at least this summer. In the letter, my friend pointed out that I am Harvest's "pastor" for the summer (the senior pastors are gone on vacation for a month) and I will have some good opportunities to deliver pastoral care -- some that will be easy, some not so good and some that may be hard and painful. But that in the midst of all of that, I won't be alone -- that God will be along for the ride and in place to handle whatever comes.

I'm glad she reminded me of that, particularly on a day when I find all of these yellow slips of paper in my inbox -- prayer requests . . .for all kinds of issues . . . that a missing granddaughter would be found . . . that a healing would come to cancer-attacked bodies . . . that God will bless the healthy arrival of a new baby . . . that families who have lost loved ones will be strengthened. . . that God will accompany the doctors in surgery. The concerns are many. And they bring into full view of how real all of this is. It brings into full view how many people really need a safe place to park their fears and doubts. And how many people need someone to speak, petition and fight on their behalf.

It's not so much different than being journalist.

Having a heart talk with God . . .

These penned prayers are becoming one of my favorite assignments . . . one of the times when I feel even more connected to God and seem to be able to hear just a little more clearly to the murmurings of my own heart. Here is what it spoke this past Sunday:

Prayers of the People

Most merciful God, the lover of our souls,
The caretaker of our hearts
The custodian of our being
The curator of us, your masterpieces
We praise your name!
We sing of your bountiful blessings!
We extol all that you are.
The great I AM!
The Lilly of the valley
Our bright and morning star
Our strength and our redeemer
The one who saves us.
The one who washes us anew.
The one who calls us to die to the nastiness of our sin.
Cleanse us again, O Lord!

On this day, bring to our remembrance
the day of our baptism,
the day we united with you to walk in a newness of life,
the day we surrendered
the day sin ceased to hold us bound in chains.
The day Jesus proclaimed us as shiny and new.
Worthy of grace
Worthy of mercy.
Worthy of everlasting love.

Lord strengthen our faith so that we may live this free life in you.
Without fear of condemnation and criticism,
Without fear of being rebuffed and rejected,
Without fear of being deserted and discarded,
Without fear of standing alone on our convictions.

Help us, O God, to live as we have never lived before for the good of others.
Help us to choose to live boldly and unswervingly in the belief of your Word.
Help us to be your living Word.
Look upon us with compassion as you mold us to be compassionate.
Help us to remember that we are ambassadors of this movement of Christ followers
Called to a mission to bring more into the fold.
Called to a mission to continue what Jesus started.
Called to a mission to simply serve.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ten on Tuesday . . . later in the week

Okay, this was supposed to be done by last week, but I didn't get it posted in time. Here is what I was up to . . .
1. I finally got a cleaned up version of my story in the East County Observer. The editor must have sent me at least three different versions before "Juana Johnson" was thoroughly removed from the story. The sad thing is I know exactly how this reporter/editor feels -- totally embarrassed and horrible. You're writing the story, looking at your notes, but thinking about this other name.
2.The pastors are leaving out for a month long vacation with the family after Sunday . . . Juana the intern left in charge . . . priceless!
3.I attended the staff appreciation luncheon today. . . had a great lunch . . .heard why I was appreciated . . . shared what I appreciated about others . . . and got a great gift . . . handmade. A church member here designed this, even putting HUMC beading on it. She's also designing me a matching honey spoon to hang on the side of my tea. See: 4.I'm really trying to get back into this exercise thing. Went to Zumba on Monday . . . trying to make an effort to go back tonight.
5. I still gotta write a Prayers for the People for Sunday.
6. I think I've figured out my moment with the children for Sunday. Since we're talking about baptism, I'm going to use the image of a tarnished penny as an example of how when it's dipped in vinegar and water, it's washed clean, made all shiny and pretty. That's what God does to us through Baptism, washing off all the dirt and yucky stuff in our lives and makes us clean again and shiny and new like the penny. I hope it works. Got at least 80 to 100 kids coming up on Sunday.
7. I'm heading out to Clearwater Beach this weekend to hang out with a girlfriend and her family at their family reunion. The time away should be nice . . . relaxing . . . rejuvenating for Sunday.
8.Trying out a new hairdresser . . . we're starting with a wash and set first . . . then maybe chemical application if all goes well. I really hate looking for new hairdressers.
9.I really need to learn how to swim. What good is it to live in this great home for the summer and not really take advantage of the beautiful pool outside my door . . . well, I do dip my feet in after I workout sometimes.
10. I just learned how to use DirectTV . . . not sure if that's good or not!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

In the news . . . again

Having been a reporter, I know the barrage of questions we ask can oftentimes be disturbing, make one somewhat uncomfortable, but evoke excitement at the same time -- more so because you come to realize that someone is actually interested in you and your life. Sounds great, but the bottom line is: I'm used to doing the asking, not answering.

But, I got a chance to sit on the other side of those feelings and the following story below is what was birthed. I was giving this interview about a month or so ago while driving down I-285 on the way to take a friend to the Atlanta airport. So, I was kinda paying attention to the phone call and the road. It wasn't until after I finished the interview, which had to be cut because I wanted to see my friend off properly, that I began to panic and question, "What did I really say?"

Well, apparently here it is in black and white!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

His faith, my faith, our faith . . .

I had lunch today with the man who said on my first Sunday here, "I wish I had faith like you have!" This was before he told me that he wasn't sure if he believed in God, but felt it necessary to continue to come to church to be around "people like me."

In that brief moment, I shared the true story of a pastor who had once lost his own faith and was so broken he felt that he could no longer preach or be an effective minister to his congregation. He asked his church board to accept his resignation. The board declined, saying instead, they wanted him to continue to go into the pulpit every Sunday and preach to them his doubts and his struggles. So, that's what the pastor did and months later, through the preaching and teaching, the pastor realized his faith had been restored.

My lunch date, this white man in his mid-60s, recounted this story to me today and right then I was reminded of seed planting and harvesting. I was reminded that God's word doesn't return void and that at some point, if it has been planted and watered properly, you'll begin to see little buds peeking through the earth. You know, honestly, I had forgotten that I shared that story with him. But he didn't. Apparently there was something there that struck him, stuck with him and had him evaluating his own faith struggles. In that moment I was both honored and humbled that he would want to have this conversation with me. That he thought there was something I could offer. It wasn't until my reflection on the lunch that I was reminded that God reveals himself in many instances and today, at that very moment over plates of breakfast and lunch, God sat and helped me walk through that pastoring moment. I remember sitting there praying that God would tell me what to say if I needed to say anything. And of course, God did. God helped me navigate the conversation -- which included stories about my childhood, his grandchildren and children, my beliefs, his struggles with belief and his view of himself in the world --in such a way that it prompted my lunch date to inquire whether we could meet again.

He wants to talk about the purpose of prayer and the benefits of praying as our next table topic.
How fitting! We will have a conversation on the very topic I'm teaching in my Wednesday night class and will be preaching as part of a series on July 19 and July 26.

I remain constantly amazed how God uses us. How God makes it possible for a simple get-to-know you lunch to become a ministering moment that serves both parties at the table.
My lunch date doesn't know it, but talking about my faith that day in all actuality helped strengthen my own a little bit more. Cause sometimes just in talking about it, you're reminded of what God has already done.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Praying penned prayers . . .

So, I've been tasked with writing and praying the Prayers of the People. This has been my second week at it. The purpose is not so much to take the spontaneity out of the praying moment, but to become more proficient in using different language to pray. Oftentimes, we find ourselves saying the same thing, sometimes omitting the larger world and environment at hand. So, this is good practice . . . gives me time to really get my thoughts together and be more deliberate in what I want to say to God. Plus it will be a great help when I take my liturgical writing class this Fall.

Here's what I composed and prayed this Sunday. It's centered around the Trinity -- the three-in-one Godhead. I would love to hear your feedback!

Prayers of the People
God of all generations who brings forth your light
In the image of your son,
We praise you.
Who brings forth truth of your Word
And call him Jesus,
We praise you.
Who brings forth your spirit
and calls it Holy
We praise you.
Holy, Holy, Holy are you, Lord
Whose earth is full of your glory.

In the midst of the gathering of your people today
We call out to you.
For our families and our children
We call out to you.
For those who suffer and are in need – here and in countries some of us may only see
color-coded on a map
We call out to you
For this nation, its leaders and our people.
We call out to you,
Pleading for the safety of those who fight for our liberties and the rights of others.
We call out to you,
Seeking peace,
Begging for relief
Needing clarity
Desiring understanding
Longing to hear your voice that says everything will be okay.
Knowing we haven’t always been worthy.
But thankful we’ve been given another chance by your grace.
Even though, we at times, like Thomas, doubt you.
Even though, we at times, like Peter, deny knowing you.
Even though, we at times, like Jesus, accuse you of forsaking us.
We are thankful that you still find us worthy of your love.
Thankful that you came in the image of your Son.
Thankful that your spirit blows as the wind throughout a world
In constant need of your redeeming power.
And we are so ever grateful that you give it all freely.


When God steps out of the shadows . . .

So, I led worship today . . . gained a little more experience of how they do things here at Harvest . . . got an opportunity to share how I experience God . . . how I experience the Spirit's dealing with my soul. When I came to this congregation I wasn't sure how they would respond to me . . . this United Methodist who isn't really a traditional United Methodist, who worships quietly. . . who worships without having intimate engagement.

I'm somewhat different. I'm a shouter. It's not uncommon to hear me shouting "Amen" or "Praise the Lord!" I'm a jumper -- depending on the service -- I'm fully engaged and moved easily by the Spirit's leading. When I came here, I wasn't sure how to react in the service, made up mostly of congregants who were Catholics or who had no or little history of attending or participating in church until they came to Harvest. So on my first and second Sunday I was reserved. I felt like backing the ministers when they said something I agreed with, but didn't. I felt like clapping more and jumping to the worship songs, but I didn't. And I felt in bondage -- that was until I had a conversation with the pastors and one of the District Superintendents for the UMC church here who convinced me that I wasn't doing anyone any good if I failed to be my authentic self. My being there is an opportunity for me to share me with the people I am in ministry with . . . it's a chance for me to share my worship tradition . . . an opportunity for them to see and experience God differently than they have before. . . an opportunity for all of us show God in our own unique way.

Today, a woman's husband told me his wife cried when she heard me pray. And she herself, said, "When I heard you say continually, 'Thank-you, Lord!' It made me want to say it. I felt it!"

Another shared that they love the vitality I bring to the worship service. And many others have shared their joy in having me there.

What a wonderful testament of how faith works. God tells us to do things and trust. When we do it works out far better than we could have imagined. That's how these past Sunday's and weeks have been -- a realization of God's answered prayers and some pleasant surprises in between, such as confirmation that apparently I'm on the right path. In fact, more than one member lately has said I should consider work as a minister.

More and more, it's not sounding like such a bad idea. So maybe I will!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Still in the waiting room . . .

Just got the word . . . the fellowship committee is still in deliberations . . .decisions won't be made until Friday. So that's got to count for something, right? It means I have two more days to offer up prayers that the decision is in my favor. Since my prayer class kicks off tonight, I think I'll throw my fellowship application on the table. Doesn't hurt to pull in more praying people. Scripture says, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be in the midst . . ."
Sounds good to me. In the meantime, I'll get back to my sermon. I'm still trying to pull it together . . . at least now I hear God talking. Had me nervous there for a while.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ten on Tuesday

I know it's been a while, but I'm trying to make a comeback: Here are my ten for today!

1. When I got up at 4:30 this morning, the plan was to finish the prep work to write out my upcoming sermon. I finished up this other blog instead and then prayed I could finish building the curriculum for my prayer class that kicks off tomorrow night. By 6 a.m. the ideas of how to build the 9-week class just started flowing and within 1 1/2 hours I had lesson plans to present to the pastor for our 10 a.m. meeting, complete with movie clips and songs to use as examples.
2. I'm determined to finish this sermon . . . well I gotta finish it . . . draft due tomorrow!
3. I hear Bruce Almighty might offer up some great lessons on praying -- at least that's what my pastor here at Harvest says. So, I'll check it out. I really love how the church never misses an opportunity to incorporate some different form of media into the service to deliver effective timely messages. I'm working on an activity calling for congregational participation during my June 14th sermon so we'll see how that goes.
4. Speaking of media, I just got turned on to spoken word artist Amena Brown's "You". Check her out on this YouTube clip. I'm going to use this during one of the sessions in my prayer series. What you think?
5. I was on a roll with these free workout sessions. Now maybe I've worn out my welcome . . . the phone has stopped ringing from the gym managers vying for my business. Is it just me or is $216 for the next two months a bit pricey? Sad thing is I need to do something . . . school got in the way of me working out.
6. I found my $1.50/$2 movie theater. . . reminds me of Tallahassee.
7. It's free ice-cream day on Friday at all Friendly restaurants! I'll stop there first before heading to the Aquarium. A church member gave me a free ticket and $20 bucks to have lunch at this cozy restaurant across the street. They really know how to treat a intern here!
8. I'm moving into my own summer home next week. Pool included. Like I said, they really know how to take care of an intern here.
9. Tomorrow is D-day -- hopefully my email will say I got the fellowship.
10. Now, if I only knew how to start this sermon. Excuse me, I gotta go hang out in the bathroom. God always talks to me there.