Thursday, June 26, 2014

Are we listening?

As a preschooler’s mom, I often say, “Are you listening to me?” When my son says yes, I usually follow up with, “What did I say?” Although a logical part of my mind knows better, the busy, everyday part thinks that if my child will just listen, then he will do as I say.

Writing that makes me laugh. He is my child, and this from the woman who had a heart-to-heart with the Southern Baptist pastor who presided at the wedding to share that she was not going to say “obey” in her vows. I listen to my husband, but that doesn’t mean I obey.

Reflecting on this as a parent, I saw a Facebook post from Momastery, a blog by Glennon Melton. She wrote, “My suspicion is that we all THINK we're listening when what we're really doing is simply waiting another person out so we can say our piece. So we can bring things back to us, so we can explain why we're righter, so we can fix things and fit them to our already established schema.”

When I was training as a Stephen Minister, one of our core practices was listening. We were to receive whatever was shared with us. Most people don’t feel heard on a regular basis. But for those who are experiencing difficult transitions – divorce, loss, diagnosis – the confidence of knowing there is at least one person who is really listening is a blessing.

Have you ever known a gifted listener? I met one early on in my ministry, when I was just fumbling toward God’s calling for my life. He let me pour out my heart, never giving any indication that he may have anything else to do but hear what I was saying. Over time, I noticed that he had this gift even in crowds. He was never one to look over your head, scouting out a better networking opportunity. Instead, he was completely there, present to the moment, listening to you.

Long before we had the gift of inexpensive written words thanks to Mr. Gutenberg which led to higher literacy rates, ancient peoples told stories. Experts usually call this an oral culture, that their histories and identities were conveyed by word of mouth. But I suggest that rather than an oral culture, ancient peoples had aural cultures, based on hearing.

Early in our Scriptures, we read, “Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:3-9).

“Hear,” “observe,” “hear,” and “keep” are used before “recite,” “talk,” “bind,” “fix,” and “write.” God asks God’s people to listen first, to keep these words in their hearts, before they take any steps toward speaking, even to their children. It’s the course of wisdom, and especially convicting for this pastor who has a tendency to speak first.

Melton’s post shared some words from Mark Nepo: “To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.”

Imagine if we really listened that way – to God, to our families, to our friends, to our enemies, and beyond. How might we be challenged and change and grow?

So this week, I’m going to stop trying to get my son to listen to me so much and I’m going to listen to him instead. When he struggles to tell me how sad it made him when a friend wouldn’t share with him, I’ll do my best to listen patiently. I can’t wait to see how I might change by leaning in. Consider to whom you might listen. I pray it becomes an avenue of blessing.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Finding our Meaning

When you are a little kid, you don’t get to decide much about your life. At least I know that’s the way of it most of the time in my house with my 3-year-old son. His agenda is directed, for the most part. “It’s dinner time, please come to the table.” “It’s almost time for bed, let’s put on our PJ’s.” “Please hurry, we’re running late.”

As often as I can, I try to give him some decisions, letting him try out his human autonomy in safe ways. We intentionally started this after I read an article on toddler-guided walks. I have always enjoyed neighborhood walks – getting exercise, visiting with neighbors, and enjoying outdoor time. When my son was an infant, this was easy and adult-guided since he was in his stroller. But as he became a toddler, it became clear that his idea of a walk and my idea of a walk were different.

Every so often, we would take a toddler-guided walk. I put aside the frustration and enjoyed seeing the world anew through his eyes. He was eager to pick up sticks and leaves, handing me the best treasures to take home. Once we discovered a little pile of sand at the bottom of a neighbor’s driveway and spent a good 30 minutes playing there.  And I’ve had the delight of sharing some of the fun things I remember from my childhood – blowing dandelion puffs, playing with roly-poly’s, and watching the wind make pinwheels whirl.

It’s a gift to get out of my head, off of my agenda, and engage with the world in the present moment. As human creatures, we tend to live in the past, reliving old glories and rehashing old mistakes, or the future, thinking about dinner or planning for retirement. It’s hard for us to live right here, right now, even though it’s all we really have. That’s part of the wisdom in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). When we pray, Jesus encourages us to live in this moment, to ask for what we need this day.

When we have time, we take little boy-guided drives. On the way home, my son regularly requests to see the police cars, the fire trucks, or the house that was damaged by fire and is being repaired. On our way between the fire trucks and the house, there was another house under construction. We both enjoyed seeing the work progress and noted when it was finished.

But just yesterday, my son asked, “What did they do to that house?” “They fixed that house so people could live there. A house is meant to be lived in,” I said. Again, being in the moment, explaining this beautiful, broken creation to my child, led me to a little epiphany. We are all meant for something.

In the words of one of our newer hymns: “As a fire is meant for burning with a bright and warming flame, so the church is meant for mission, giving glory to God’s name. Not to preach our creeds or customs, but to build a bridge of care, we join hands across the nations, finding neighbors everywhere” (Ruth Duck, The Faith We Sing #2237).

This past week, I got to join hands with my Jesus-siblings from four other local churches as we built a bridge of care to feed children in our community. Krum First United Methodist Church, Christian Center Assembly of God, First Baptist Church, New Beginnings Fellowship, and Plainview Baptist Church are working together to provide weekly lunch sacks to students served by the free or reduced lunch program in Krum ISD.
I believe it pleases God when we set aside our differences of creed and custom to do good in God’s name. Monday mornings we roll up our sleeves, sorting food and stuffing sacks. Monday evenings we head out into our community, distributing food. Each church is handling different food items as well as providing volunteers. If you are interested in serving, please just get in touch with any of the churches. We’d be glad to have you! And if you know of a child who might be hungry this summer, get in touch with us so we can let you know where they might go to receive.

As sons and daughters of our God, we are meant for something. Connect with a family of faith to go deeper, love more, and find your meaning in this life.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer Disciples

It’s officially summertime! Not being a student anymore, this doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to, but I still get the hankering for snow cones, watermelon, visits to family, and long days by the pool when the temperatures rise.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but my husband teaches private music lessons in addition to his doctoral work. And every summer, he’s faced with the same challenge – students who have been diligently working to improve on their instrument and in their musicianship are eager to take a break.

I can relate. Who doesn’t want a break now and then? A chance to get away, relax, and break up the routine. My husband always has a serious conversation with his students, reminding them that if they take 3 months off, they will not pick up where they left off in the fall.

That’s true for all of us when it comes to the places in our lives when we are earnestly striving to grow. While a vacation may do us good, we don’t pick up in exactly the same place when we come back. It’s the same for a musician, an athlete, and a follower of Jesus. Being a pastor, I know that long, hot days and fun, late nights often mean skipping worship on Sunday. I really do understand and, on a morning like this past Sunday, when the wind’s blowing, the rain’s pouring, and the thunder’s rumbling, I would have been tempted to stay in bed if it were an option.

But, even before I was a clergyperson, I knew my life was better and stronger when I lived it with my family of faith. When I was away, especially for an extended period, like the years I was in seminary or the summers served with the Air Force, I missed things. I remember being heartbroken to find out about the deaths of dear souls when I got back. I missed the things that living out a committed relationship offered.

Likewise, the Bible is not just a story about God, but about divine love and God’s desire for relationship with us. While we may only gather to worship 1 hour each week, God wants to be a part of our lives 24/7. And God gives us brothers and sisters in our lives to help embody God’s love to us and for us to love in return.

To live healthy, whole lives as disciples, we need relationships, guides, and guards who can help us on our journeys and be with us when we reach our destinations. This summer, at the Krum Church, we’ll be considering 11 companions that every person needs on life’s journey. Each one becomes a gift of God to us. We’ll also look to see how we offer this companionship to others.

Just recently, I realized I was in need of some mentoring. Moving from being an associate pastor to a senior pastor has led me to find some of my growing edges. So I reached out to a couple of colleagues, asking them out to lunch, and bringing all my questions with me. It was such a blessing to sit with partners in ministry, sharing our hearts and experiences, as we continue to offer the good news of Jesus Christ in the world. I left each meeting with a renewed sense of call and purpose.

Strangely enough, I also find myself on the side of mentoring others. After six years of full-time ministry, I’ve learned a thing or two, so I regularly get calls, texts, e-mails, or Facebook messages from those seeking a word of wisdom or encouragement. I pray they find the same sense of blessing through our conversations.

We’re never done learning and growing in this life. We’re called to have one hand up, seeking to grasp the hand of those ahead of us and pulling ourselves forward. We’re called to have one hand back, offering our grip to those behind us and pulling them up with us. We stand in the gap, offering authentic, loving relationships on behalf of the God who loves all of us.

This Sunday, we’ll talk how we all need a Nathan in our lives. The name Nathan means “gift,” but Nathan the prophet was more than a gift to King David. During David’s reign, Nathan provided him with expert counsel on lots of things, but he also spoke directly to the heart of the king. May we all find a person who speaks to our heart.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Not that long ago I was just beginning to attend church. I had come to be a Christian through a Wesley Foundation, a United Methodist campus ministry. So while I was familiar with praise music, loved communion, and was growing in faith through Bible study and relationships with other college students as well as the campus pastor, I had no idea about the church year.

I went to worship one Sunday to hear our pastor encourage us to wear red the next week to help celebrate the church’s birthday. I assumed it might be something special in this particular church, but I was in! I had nothing red, so that week I went shopping, found something that was reasonably priced, and looked forward to wearing it on Sunday.

That next Sunday was Pentecost. And while there were a lot of folks wearing red in the room, it wasn’t like any birthday party I was expecting. Instead, we heard the scripture story that is often pointed to as the origin of the church – Acts 2:1-17. The disciples, who had just witnessed Jesus ascend into heaven, were told before he went that they needed to wait.

They’re all gathered in one place, when suddenly there is an overwhelming sound like a violent wind and tongues that looked like fire, came to rest on each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and could speak in other languages so that they could witness to the good news of Jesus Christ to all people.

Some people were amazed and in awe. Others assumed the worst – that these no-good followers of that radical rabbi were drunk. But Peter, always willing to step out ahead and called to be the rock of the new church, stood up to offer his witness to all. This was not drunkenness! This was the fulfillment of prophecy – “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).

One thing I learned about the church year is that it repeats, starting over in Advent. This helps us follow the life of Christ through birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, imprinting upon us the pattern of the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Come Sunday, it will again be time to celebrate the birth-day of the church, the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon God’s people, as we hear the Pentecost story. At the Krum Church, we’ll conclude these Great Fifty Days of Easter by affirming that Easter People are Spirit-Filled.

That pastor in the church I attended as a new disciple of Jesus asked us to wear red to remind us of the fiery nature of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit moves as it will, bringing forth new life, advocating for us and all creation, and praying for us when our words fail.

In the ancient near east, the writer of Acts tried to capture the nature of the Spirit with powerful metaphors like “strong wind, gale force” or a “wildfire” as Eugene Peterson renders it in his modern translation, The Message. I wonder if we tried to describe the Holy Spirit in our post-modern words what we would say.

Is the Holy Spirit like electricity, powering and illuminating our lives? Such a constant that we have no idea how we would do life without it? Or is the Holy Spirit more like the internet, connecting and informing us across all boundaries that were formerly considered insurmountable?

Of course, no language is ever adequate to capture the essence of God, but we are called to use words in our witness, as Peter does. When we use these metaphors, when we try to understand the nature of God with our finite minds, it’s like trying to capture the spirit of the sea in a Dixie cup. It’s true, as far as it goes, but it’s not the whole truth. But putting these glimpses together help us know God better.

God wants us to know him because that’s part of being in a relationship. Paul writes, “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). So don’t underestimate the longing God has for you and your capacity to grow in love and understanding. I pray God pours out the Spirit upon us all so that we can be good news to the world!