Monday, September 28, 2015
Millie was a member of my previous church. She made the best, and I mean BEST sticky buns and pecan rolls I have ever had. She used to make them for Bible Study classes and Pot Luck dinners. One of the Bible Study regulars told her every single week, "Millie, you almost got it right. Keep trying!" He was just hoping she wouldn't stop trying! Another member said Millie is the one who caused him to start drinking coffee because the rolls taste so much better with coffee!
Every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, the phone would ring at our house. Millie made two or three pans of rolls each holiday for our family and brought them over for us. She would call ahead to let us know she wanted to stop by and drop off something for us. We knew what it was going to be! When the phone rang that time of year, the kids would ask, "Is that Millie?" We were blessed by her gift.
I recall at a Bible Study asking the question, "If your house was on fire, what is the one thing (besides people and animals) would you make sure you grabbed as you ran out of the house?" Millie's answer? Her cheese cloth she used for baking.
Millie passed away last week at the age of 91. I have been thinking about her the past few days. She never was one to speak up at a meeting, or want to read or sing or preach or teach. She did what she loved to do. She loved to bake. She loved to share her gift with others. And because of it, we were blessed and weigh a couple pounds more!
I have a feeling there may be some of those rolls at God's banquet feast. I encourage you to try some when you get there. And I imagine God is saying, "Millie, you got it just right!"
Monday, September 14, 2015
I have learned in watching the show that some of the ugliest things can be of greatest value. It is wonderful to watch the expressions on the owner’s face when they find out that the piece of junk they inherited from Aunt Henrietta is worth thousands of dollars.
And I have noticed on this show, there one thing that seems to increase the value of the item being scrutinized is the signature or mark of the maker on the item. This always impresses the experts, who rant and rave over the signed item.
I guess you could say that in some ways, the church is like a People of God Road Show. We come here with different baggage. Some of us look a bit more worn than others. We have, in many ways, inherited things from our relatives - traits, names, traditions.
We come to stand in the presence of God, who knows us better than we ourselves. God looks intently at us, the bumps, the scars, the imperfections, and all. But no matter the lack of perfection, God stares at our forehead, and sees something only God’s eye can see. An invisible sign. It is a cross - placed there at the font. Invisible to the untrained eye, it is there. The value of that mark, the mark of our maker - priceless.
At the youth gathering, we saw a short video of Davey and Goliath - remember them? The boy, Davey, and his dog, Goliath. Davey was staring in the mirror, looking for that cross, and wondering what the pastor was talking about when he said we all have the mark of the cross on our forehead. Davey couldn’t see it! He thought he had been tricked.
Goliath’s only response was, “I don’t know about that, Davey. But I do know that I am Goliath, and I belong to Davey. And Davey loves me very much.” Then, Davey got it - “I am Davey. I belong to God. God loves me very much.” That Goliath is one smart dog!
The truth is this - you are a child of God. You belong to God. God claims you as his own. You are of GREAT value. The cross on your forehead is God’s seal - never to be taken away.
The cross changes everything. Death is no longer the final word, no - now it is life. Despair is no longer the final word, no - now it is hope. Brokenness and bondage are no longer the final word, no - now it is forgiveness.
The cross, seen as a symbol for death now is a symbol for victory over death. For Jesus wins the battle.
The cross doesn’t just change the past, it changes our present, and shapes our future. For the cross is that which ultimately defines us. It is not our possessions, our status, our good name, our works, our jobs. They may mean everything to the world, but what matters to God is knowing who we are, and whose we are.
Monday, August 31, 2015
This summer, Pastor Jay and I have been offering Children's Sermons on the spot with the Bag of Wonders! At the 9 a.m. service at Far Hills Campus and the 10:30 a.m. service at the Austin Campus, a child of the congregation is given the bag at the end of each week's Children's Sermon. That child gets to pick some things from home and is asked to bring it back the following Sunday. It has been a fun activity, and I have heard from members of the congregation that they look forward to seeing what is in the bag each week. Believe me, Pastor Jay and I do, too!
This past week at the Far Hills campus, I invited the children forward for a message and the Bag of Wonders! The kids came up, but the bag did not! The bag was nowhere to be found! I wondered where the Bag of Wonders might be. I later did find out where the bag ended up (more about that further down in the blog). So I had to come up with a message without an item. Quick thinking is key when it comes to this - what might I talk about? How about Jesus! (Good answer, Pastor.) I said to the kids something to this effect:
"So do you remember the story of Easter? On that first Easter Sunday, the women, Mary Magdalene and the others made their way to the tomb. They had to wait until the Sabbath was over because you do no work on the Sabbath, so they came to prepare the body for burial. So when they went to the tomb, they expected to find something there, but it was missing. What were they expecting to find in the tomb?"
A little girl said, "THE BAG OF WONDERS!"
What a great answer! I felt sorry for her when we all laughed, and I did tell her that maybe that would have been a good place to look. But what they were looking for was Jesus. And then we talked about the good news that Jesus rose from the dead. We talked about how much God loves us, and that the promise God gives us is that we are never missing. God knows who we are, where we are. And God loves us no matter what.
The empty tomb is a wonder, isn't it? What a gift of life given for you and for me. In some ways I am glad the bag didn't show up. It helped us remember that sometimes things NOT there are good or even better than things that are!
So, what happened to the Bag of Wonders? It showed up at the Austin Campus. Imagine Pastor Jay's surprise when he had TWO bags with items for a Children's Sermon. It could have been like Monty Hall and "Let's Make A Deal" - "Do you want the item in this bag, or would you like to try your luck with the bag Carol Merrill is holding?" If you don't understand, ask your parents! What I believe is pretty cool is that the family that had received the bag at the Far Hills Campus on one week were at worship at the Austin Campus the following week. I am excited to see people feel like both places are places of worship that feel like home to them. We see that more and more.
To top off the day, we celebrated Marilynn Ann Zakrajsek's baptism. Any day we do a baptism is a great day! Marilynn's big brother, James was baptized a couple years ago. He is a boy with energy, and through his sister's baptism, he kept waving to us from his regulated spot in the pews with Grandma and Grandpa. Later in the service, I stood in the pulpit and started the Gospel reading, "The Holy Gospel according to St. Mark, the 7th chapter." From the back of the church, James exclaimed in a loud voice, "Yay!" Amen to that. I couldn't help but respond with a "Yay!" myself. Better than a rote "Thanks be to God," James' exclamation said it all.
Sometimes things don't go the way we expect, but sometimes it is in the interruptions and unexpected events and interactions that we meet God, and messengers of God! Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." Angels are messengers of God, yes? I think I may have encountered a couple this past Sunday... you never know. I wonder...
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