Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Over the past few months, I have been told by many grandparents that there is nothing quite like being a grandparent. The love and joy you experience is beyond belief. I could not agree with them more. All of the joys of a newborn without all the responsibilities of parenthood are wrapped up in this bundle of joy.
My wife shared with my daughter about a week before Natalie was born these words: "You will finally understand how much I love you when you hold your own child in your arms." When we pray, Jesus tells us to begin by saying the words, "Abba, Father." Daddy. We are held in the arms of our Father, and the love God has for us is of that of a loving parent.
The miracle of birth and the gift of life are amazing and powerful. How can one not believe in God the creator when one holds a newborn and counts the fingers and toes, sees the arms stretch and hear the voice cry. What an incredible gift. What an amazing miracle. And yet, it happens thousands of times each and every day. In fact, in the hospital Natalie was born, they have about 500 births a month!
I give thanks to God for the gifts of so many at the hospital who were at Natalie's side, and there with her parents throughout the birth and days that followed. I give thanks for the opportunity to be there too. God is good.
Here is a slideshow I put together of her first week.
Music - "Perfect Day" by Holley Maher and "Baby Mine" by Alison Krauss
Natalie Rose Pearce Week 1 from Charlie Woodward on Vimeo.
Monday, July 20, 2015
The past few gatherings have focused not just on worship and fun events and study, but service as well. Each day, a third of the group - 10,000 of them - made their way into the city for service projects. The presence and impact was powerful. Not just for the city, but the participants as well.
Social media provided opportunities for us to follow along with all that was going on. I wanted to post some of these items to share with you. My hope and prayer is that you that the church of tomorrow is active and alive today, and that the future is in good hands - God's hands.
Highlights from the Gathering
CLOSING SONG FRIDAY NIGHT
A WORD FROM THE BISHOP
Thank you to the youth (Click here)
The youth and adults from Epiphany who attended the Gathering will be sharing with us in the coming weeks - don't miss it!
Monday, July 6, 2015
1 John 3:1–2
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
Earlier this month I celebrated my adoption birthday. I was one week old when I was adopted, and my big brother got the best birthday gift EVER (at least that’s what he said at the time – I think he has rescinded that statement in the years since). Though I was blessed to be adopted into the best family I could have ever hoped for, I also realize that I was already a loved and chosen child of God and that there are some amazing parallels of being adopted into a human family and being adopted into God’s family:
Before I even existed, my family was thinking about me and preparing for me to join them. They loved me even before they knew me. According to the story my daddy told me from before I can even remember, Mommy and Daddy had two awesome boys, but they wanted to be able to raise a baby girl, too, and after having 12 and 10-pound children, my mom wasn’t supposed to have any more children. As my dad’s story goes, “We contacted Mrs. Ward (the adoption case manager) and told her we wanted a blonde hair, blue eyed baby girl who was 6 lbs. 7 oz. and 18 inches long. And so Mrs. Ward looked high and she looked low, she looked East and looked West and then she found you!”
Prior to me even being born though, to be accepted as adoptive parents, Mom and Dad had to go through weekly home visits, their financial records were combed through, the whole family (including my local grandparents and 5 & 7-year-old big brothers) had to be interviewed to make sure they were an acceptable family. Once they were accepted as potential parents, they put my room together – pink and bows, of course. And then they waited for this baby they loved already.
That’s a lot like God, isn’t it? The Bible says God knew us when we were being formed in our mother’s womb. He loved us before we knew anything about Him. He has prepared a place for us and it is in Him. He is willing to go to great lengths to get us, and He has paid a great price to make us His own.
Part of the adoption process was giving me a new name. About 15 years ago, I inadvertently “found” my birth mom (and subsequently my birth father as well), and we are friends now. Well, I found out that she had “named” me Carleen (a combination of her and my birth father’s middle names of Collen and Carlisle. How ironic how closely that sounds like Carlin, my husband’s name, right?) In my adoption records, it shows that the hospital staff called my Mandy. And originally my parents really like the name Julie, but decided I looked like a Natalie instead. (My younger sister ended up as Julie five years later.) Legally, their family name became my last name – their home my home. And then a few months later, I was baptized. I became a Christian, one of God’s chosen children, before I legally became Natalie Dawn Christian. As is the case for all of us, as we live in God and God lives in us, we begin to look more and more like God. God’s ways become our ways. We are set free from our old identity and our past and we walk in newness of life.
When they saw me that first day at the adoption agency when I was seven days old, I smelled differently than they did – I smelled like the hospital, not like the Johnsons & Johnsons baby powder they had waiting with my baby bath at home. I was dressed in the clothes the agency provided, not the cute, frilly dress my Daddy picked up for me. Our heavenly father does the same thing for us. When God first finds us, we usually smell like the world. God wraps us in His love, washes us in the blood of Jesus, fills our hearts and minds with the Word, and floods us with the Holy Spirit. We begin to smell and look like we belong to God.
Finally, when I was a year old, we went to court and before a judge, Mom and Dad and Bruce and Chris declared their intention and desire to make me a legal, permanent part of their family. My brothers even had to say how they felt about me becoming their sister – evidently they told the judge I already was their sister and they weren’t going to share. As a side note, my mom, who was a strict rule-follower said that entire year she was ready to bolt to Canada if there was any indication I would be taken away from her! The judge’s finalization and approval meant that I was now a legal heir – I would never cease being their child. Later in our lives when we would get into arguments, I would tell my siblings that I knew my parents wanted me – they had to take what they got with them. Plus, I would remind them that they could be disinherited but legally, I couldn’t. With our entire extended family, I was NEVER treated any differently than my siblings or cousins – we were all equally spoiled!
You know, it’s that way with God. When we become His children we inherit all that is God’s – and it’s forever. God doesn’t have favorites – just like my parents, God cares for all of His children, and there is enough of God’s love for everyone.
Dear God, thank you for making us your chosen children and calling us as your own – for loving us before we are formed, before we are born. Thank you for letting us know that we will be your children forever, no matter what. We ask that you be with us today and everyday as we do the work of your kingdom and that, as your children, we act and look like you in all our dealings with others. We ask all these things in your holy and heavenly name. Amen.
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Mark 4:35-41On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
A storm arises. There is very little that is more terrifying to most people than a storm at sea. And many of the disciples were professional fishermen. They knew how easily even a good boat could capsize or be swamped by the waves. They knew what happened to those on board a boat in this predicament. There would be no way to swim out of the situation, in the dark, in the waves, in the storm. You get swamped in a storm, you drown.
What was Jesus doing? In the middle of the storm with the wind and the waves roaring and the disciples panicking, Jesus was calmly sleeping on a cushion.
The panic stricken disciples shouted to Jesus above the roar of the wind the sound of the waves crashing over the sides of their boat. "Lord, don’t you care that we are about to drown?" In other words, Hey Jesus, we’re dyin’ here!
Jesus stands up. Without answering their question about whether Jesus cared for them in their time of deep trouble, he demonstrates how much he cares and speaks a word to the wind and the sea: "Be quiet! Be still!" It's calm. Jesus brings peace and calm to the terrified and panic-stricken disciple. Yes, maybe that command was meant for them too!
Notice that Jesus never gets out of the boat. He does abandon his disciples. Notice, too, that the disciples don’t ask for help, just compassion. They don’t realize what Jesus can do. They didn't expect the Jesus they had. He had done healings, sure. He had cured the lame, healed, even on the Sabbath. He had cast out unclean spirits. But such things are nothing compared to a storm, at least not a storm that might disturb a lake crossing at night. I wonder what they would have done had they known what Jesus could do? I wonder what they would have asked him? Could they muster the faith to trust God as Jesus did? We may never know.
The full text of Bishop Eaton's letter can be found HERE
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Dignity. As I have had opportunity to reflect on 25 years of ministry the past couple of weeks (I was ordained on June 3, 1990), this word seems to be foundational. Dignity.
First and foremost, I believe that what God offers to us through Jesus Christ is dignity. We are washed clean of that which causes us to be seen as less than dignified in our relationship with God, others, and even ourselves. The ministry of Jesus focused on raising the up the lowly, feeding the hungry, restoring the outcast to society - in short, offering dignity.
We as the church are called to do the same. We are called to see in those around us the image of God in which all are created. With our outreach ministries, we hope to offer dignity and respect. We open our doors and welcome all (at the very least I hope we do) and offer a place where the word of God is proclaimed and the love of God is shared.
Through the church's youth ministry and participation in outdoor ministry and other offerings, we offer a place where children of God hear that they are of great value in the eyes of God. I remember a conversation I had with one of my youth from my first church while we were at camp. This little boy had had a tough life. He came from a broken home. His brother died in a house fire because this boy lit the couch on fire with a lighter his parents left on the floor. He had trouble in school and more trouble at home. His grandmother was concerned about him, and she thought camp would be a good experience for him. She made sure he would go to camp and paid his way. That young boy came up to me one day at camp with a big smile on his face and said, "Pastor, you know what? My counselor told me that I am special." The words of the counselor spoke the word of God to this child. Dignity.
This video made my day today.
Monday, May 25, 2015
Paul Harvey told about a 3-year-old boy who went to the grocery store with his mother. Before they entered she had certain instructions for her son: "Now you're not going to get any chocolate chip cookies, so don't even ask."
She put him in the child's seat and off they went up and down the aisles. He was doing just fine until they came to the cookie section. Seeing the chocolate chip cookies he said, "Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?" She said, "I told you not even to ask. You're not going to get any at all." They continued down the aisles, but in their search for certain items she had to back track and they ended up in the cookie aisle again. "Mom, can I please have some chocolate chip cookies?" She said, "I told you that you can't have any. Now sit down and be quiet."
Finally, they arrived at the checkout. The little boy sensed that the end was in sight, that this might be his last chance. He stood up on the seat and shouted in his loudest voice, "In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?" Everyone in the checkout lanes laughed and applauded. Do you think the little boy got his cookies? You bet! The other shoppers moved by his daring pooled their resources. The little boy and his mother left with 23 boxes of chocolate chip cookies. (1)
I believe one of the dangers we fall in to in our prayer life is that we lose sight of who God created us to be. Prayer is seen by many as a private thing – between me and God – which in many ways it is… it is a one-on-one communication with God. But in praying, it is sometimes easy for our prayers to become nothing more than a selfish listing of what I want, what I need, and what I am about, and totally ignores the others around us.
As I have said before, God created us to be a part of community. God created us as a people – and calls us to live our lives as a part of the Body of Christ. Sin breaks in when our focus turns to self and ignores the neighbor. Notice in Jesus’ prayer that his prayer is for the community, for the world, for unity for ALL.
Dr Anna Madsen (a wonderful Lutheran theologian I got to hear a couple weeks ago) writes this:
The Hebrew word that we translate in Scripture as righteous also can be translated as properly aligned. Prayer is a moment to become properly aligned, rightly oriented, to the thing that defines who we are.
This is why it is so key to identify who our God is, or what we understand God to be. Prayer provides us the opportunity to become aligned again, to remind ourselves that we are not alone, that we live in community. (2)
Prayer is more than asking for a box of cookies. But it is ALSO about asking for a box of cookies. Since we ARE in relationship with God, and prayer allows us to be continually connected to God, it is important to share with God what is on our hearts, our minds, our hopes and fears.
Prayer invites us to live our lives as God’s children. And if we truly look at prayer as that, our prayers focus not simply on what I want, but what God is calling me to do and be as a child of God.
Remember when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray what he told them? When you pray, pray this way – “Our Father.” Not MY Father. OUR. It begins with community!
I came across the following in my daily devotions a few years ago – it is called “A few thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer.”
- I cannot pray "OUR", if my faith has no room for others and their need.
- I cannot pray "WHO ART IN HEAVEN", if all my interests and pursuits are in earthly things.
- I cannot pray "HALLOWED BE THY NAME", if I am not striving, with God's help, to be holy.
- I cannot pray "THY KINGDOM COME", if I am unwilling or resentful of having it in my life.
- I cannot pray "ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN", unless I am truly ready to give myself to God's service here and now.
- I cannot pray "GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD", without expending honest effort for it, or if I would withhold from my neighbor the bread that I receive.
- I cannot pray "FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US", if I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone.
- I cannot pray "LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION", if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted.
- I cannot pray "DELIVER US FROM EVIL", if I am not prepared to fight evil with my life and my prayer.
- I cannot pray "THINE IS THE KINGDOM", if I am unwilling to obey God.
- I cannot pray "THINE IS THE POWER AND THE GLORY", if I am seeking power for myself and my own glory first.
- I cannot pray "FOR EVER AND EVER", if I am too anxious about each day's affairs.
- I cannot pray "AMEN", unless I honestly say ..."Cost what it may, this is my prayer. (3)
Prayer – it’s a powerful thing.
A video addition - Blessings by Laura Story
- Dr. Anna Madsen - http://omgcenter.com/blog/
Monday, May 18, 2015
The sermon hymn that followed was "Precious Lord, Take My Hand."
When my way grows drear
When the darkness appears
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
Precious Lord linger near
When my life is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
And the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home