Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Theological Lesson From...M&M's!

Happy Easter, Moms! 

Last week I was asked to lead the evangelism portion of my church's Vacation Bible School program this summer.  I was honored.  And terrified.  As a pastor I should be good at telling people about Christ, but there is the intimidation factor of being in front of lots and lots and lots of little kids!

There is also a sensitivity that I have in wanting to get it right.  Some of these children will be hearing the gospel message made personal for the first time.  I was told that the theme of the camp will be the Wild West.  But I certainly do not want to wrangle them - rather I want to present a gentle invitation.

Sharing our faith can definitely mean stepping outside of our comfort zone, as it is for me in this instance.  But I think if we are wary, if we are mindful of the sensitivities necessary, then we will probably do a really good job.  It is those who ignore them that can be off-putting.

Each of us must discern when to share our faith, but sharing it with our children is essential.  We cannot depend on Sunday school to do this, and in my mind, we shouldn't want to.  Part of creating the next generation of responsible Christians means that we need to take the time to craft what our children learn and how they practice it personally.

I thought I would share a creative way to tell our children about Christianity in honor of the holiday.  This is just one way of many.  I came across this Easter poem and wanted to share it with you:

What a catchy (and tasty) way to share the gospel message!  It is an important reminder about the true meaning of Easter.  I am going to try reading this poem to my boys.  I predict the blue M&M's might work wonders with my four year old, as that's his favorite color.  I'll keep you posted...I'd love to hear your stories too!

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for the hope of your resurrection, and its sweet truth in our lives.  We give thanks for your sacrifice on the cross and celebrate your victory over death.  May your sacrifice not be in vain - help us to teach it to our children so that they might benefit from all of the blessings provided in you.  In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Weekend Prayer

Moms, I received this prayer yesterday over email.  It is a Good Friday prayer that was written by one of my subscribers.  She is a mother of five children, and her faith is palpable.  She has shown my family many graces.  As Jesus is still in the tomb, I invite you to reflect on this before tomorrow's Easter celebrations:

Oh Father, the hour is upon us. We remember the agony of Jesus, His utter agony. He cried out to You, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" And You did forsake Him. You abandoned Him on the cross. He suffered. He bore the punishment for sin on His body, and in His heart, and upon His mind, and with all the strength of his human form. And like the perfect lamb chosen for the sacrifice, His blood poured out, but it was enough! You decreed that it would be enough! Jesus' blood satisfies the penalty for sin, for our sin, for my sin.

Jesus, how can we ever thank You for Your obedience that day? You gave up Your glory as Son of the Most High God and submitted to horrors. Your body gave up every ounce of blood until only water poured out. You died. You were laid in a tomb. And everyone thought You were cut off from God, and You were...until the hour when The Father's wrath was satisfied, completely and utterly satisfied. "It is finished!"

By the power of The Holy Spirit, The Father raised YOU from the grave! YOU are the firstborn in the new kingdom. YOU have been resurrected to NEW LIFE, ETERNAL LIFE, GLORIOUS LIFE, and YOU must reign until every enemy is under Your feet, and the last enemy to be defeated death.

Until then, we can trust YOU because YOU know the way through death's domain. We want to go with You, each day of our earthly lives, through death's domain, and for all the ages of eternity. We never want to tire of praising YOU for Your excellencies, of exploring the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are hidden in YOU, of embracing YOU in friendship and gratitude, of reigning with YOU in the Kingdom where the Father's will is done!

We look to YOU on this day and humbly say, Thank YOU for saving us. Thank YOU for paying the ransom for our lives with blood! Thank YOU for leading us out of the prison of sin. Thank YOU for giving us a true HOPE. Thank YOU JESUS!
By Theresa H.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Haunting Ocean Tale

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16, NRSV). 

My boys love books.  To encourage my older son's curiosity, we have taken to getting new books at the library on whatever subject interests him.  Let me tell you, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about every sort of truck and bug.  The other day we were reading about the ocean, thanks to his fascination with Disney’s Nemo.  I learned a rather haunting fact about the female octopus.  Did you know that it lays its eggs and hangs them at the entrance to its dwelling?  For six months the mother tirelessly cleans and keeps watch over them.  She does this to such an extent that at the end of those six months, she dies of starvation.  It was shocking to me to learn that nature would let this happen. 
If I am really honest, though, I know that I sometimes I push myself far beyond my own limits.  There is so much to do as a mom, and the juggling act can have you tirelessly trying to keep all balls afloat while neglecting the time to care for yourself.  I need to be constantly reminded that it is okay to step away, even if it means something small might drop.  That time or activity that I choose will allow me to return to my mothering refueled and renewed.  Whether it is doing something that relaxes, intellectually engages, or sometimes pampers me, it helps to safeguard my well-being with integrity. 

Of course, we as Christians know that God’s word has the power to refuel us through inspiration like nothing else will.  I am often reminded how God can speak poignantly to me when I take the time to listen.  I make different decisions – better decisions – because of it.  And perhaps most importantly, I learn anew about a God who is working tirelessly to grow me and show me his love.  He gave his life to do it.  What an important message as we approach the cross on Good Friday...On second thought, maybe that story about the octopus isn’t so unnatural after all.
Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for your sacrificial love in Jesus Christ.  Bless me as I sacrifice for my child or children.  Help me to balance that sacrifice with integrity in a desire to care for myself, for I recognize that I am your precious child too.  Refuel me, care for me, and help me to know your love.  In Christ's name and in his grace we pray, Amen.

To learn more about the inspiring sacrifice of the female octopus, click below for an NPR article entitled, "The Hardest-Working Mom On The Planet."  Wow.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Drink It In

I can imagine that thinking about what it means to be a Christian mom can be off-putting for some. Being a mom is already tough. Should Christian moms be even more self-sacrificing? Is duty something that weighs more heavily on their shoulders at the expense of themselves? We know about the to-do lists, complicated schedules, and varied familial needs that moms maneuver. Adding Christ and a tally of what-to-do's and what-not-to-do's simply adds a layer of shame to our ever expanding list of responsibilities when we fall short, right?

I don't think so. I want us to be empowered by the freedom in Christ. The freedom to mess up and find forgiveness - real forgiveness. The freedom to point our children to Christ and know that even when we fall short, his love will hold our children and bless them with wisdom. And the freedom to explore what it means to take advantage of the well of gifts and spiritual blessings that he offers us. We will all come up thirsty in the difficult task of parenting, and his living water will grant us greater peace, fulfillment, and abounding love.

I read a devotion this week about Christ as the Fullness of Life. It is a poignant reminder of the meaning of Christianity, which sometimes runs contrary to how culture perceives our faith. I invite you to read these words of Associate Pastor Ian Rankine, who is a pastor where I am Parish Associate. These words are from his Lenten devotional this year.  Drink it in:

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10

When many people think of the Christian Faith, they seem to imagine a life filled with puritanical rules and regulations. A life filled with control by God or the leaders of the Church, who may be one in the same! A life that is devoid of all fun and enjoyment.

It is no wonder this is the image of Christianity, because that is often how it is portrayed. And sadly enough, it is often the reality that many non-Christians experience in the lives of Christians.

But the Christian life of which the Bible speaks is so far from the common perception. In fact, when you look at the first chapters of the Bible, you find God placing the man and the woman in the garden, and rather than giving them a vast list of commands and restrictions, He gives them complete freedom, with only one limitation.

Here we find Jesus, in John's Gospel stating very clearly the nature of the Christian life. Far from it being restrictive, it is a life of abundance, and complete Freedom in Christ. He said, I have come to give you life in all its fullness.

This is not just a promise for the future, when one day we will be complete in the presence of the Lord. But it is a reality now. Only in Christ can we live as we were made to live. Only in Christ are we made free to be who God intends for us to be...

I love Ian's devotion, because it means that we always have reason for celebration as Christians.  It is in Christ that we learn what true living is - and true freedom.  What an important message to remember as we approach Easter.  It makes me wonder what we are doing to celebrate the life-giving properties of our faith in our own families.  Are we educating our children about the meaning of Easter beyond the candy and bunnies?  Are we taking the time to root ourselves in fun, while building traditions that add value and strengthen love? 

Let's be intentional about how we approach this week.  Let's weave some play into the fabric of our lives and live like the free people Christ died for us to be.  God is not against the pillow fight past bedtime, or the piece of candy slipped before dinner.  We can take steps to take life just a little less seriously, because we worship the One who provides true life in all of its fullness.  That God has created a world that still holds wonders, and as mothers, we can appreciate that and teach it to the world.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for making us an Easter people.  Thank you for your desire to walk with us and give us your life-giving water.  May we cling to your truth, reflect it in our lives, and teach it to our children.  May we never be done celebrating!  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Peaceful Pause

There are so many things that can preoccupy us as mothers.  It is sometimes hard to feel peaceful, or even get a moment of peace ourselves.  When you have young children, you always have company!  I am creative about finding my peaceful moments.  I can experience them most through prayer, writing, and yoga.  In addition, I enjoy a cup of coffee or tea.  No matter what is going on around me, a warm drink in my hands feels like a warm hug.

I have found that peace requires cultivation to attain.  It takes time alone for reflection, activity that we find replenishing, and mental discipline.  With all that can weigh on our minds, it is a worthy pursuit.  We learn in scripture that peace is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), so it makes sense to turn to scripture to learn about it.  I recently read a devotion about peace that I wanted to share.  It is entitled "Mental Excellence," and it is by the head pastor of the church where I am Parish Associate. 

Jeff Ebert wrote on February 5, 2013:

Today I'm reading Philippians 4:6-9.  One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture.  If I could just live out these three verses...

I like it best in the New Living Translation (NLT):  "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.  Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me - everything you heard from me and saw me doing.  Then the God of peace will be with you."

...Our identity is shaped primarily by what we allow into our brain...into our thinking.  And when it's "garbage in" then it's "garbage out."  What we feed grows.  So if we feed the negative into our minds, the lies of the Evil One, and things that come from our sinful self or the attitudes of the world, then no wonder we feel like crap.

The battleground is the mind, so be aware of what you are feeding your mind.  Be intentional about putting God's good things into your thoughts and beliefs.  Everyday, dwell on the good things of God.  When good things go in, good things come out.  "THEN the peace of God will be with you."

I like Jeff's devotion because it gives us some ownership on our path to peace.  We can control how we think about things and how we allow our attitude to inform our choices.  Our choices matter.  Despite all of the craziness that can sometimes unfurl around us, we have the opportunity to craft each day, steer clear of over commitment, and take time to slow down.

I have read countless times that our children learn how to handle stress by what they observe at home.  Moms, we are surrounded by little students.  A pause in the peaceful direction will not only bring us relief, but we will be planting seeds for a healthier tomorrow in our children.  Ultimately, we will be giving them a gift:  Fortitude.

You can check out Pastor Jeff's blog by clicking here.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Women, The Church and You


I wanted to write this week about female ordination, meaning women who serve as pastors.  It was the topic of a discussion group I attended recently.  I was also asked to speak to a group of women who are contemplating their ministerial calls later this month.  Even though my denomination has been ordaining women for over fifty years, there are still church bodies that oppose it.  The debate over female ordination continues in these circles.  And it touches profoundly on an issue of motherhood because of it.

The debate calls to mind a memory from my seminary training at Princeton.  Taking a preaching class was a requirement in our second year.  There was a sharp girl in my class who was brought to tears when she first reached the pulpit.  She spoke of how she came from a Southern Baptist background that did not allow women to preach.  She was wrestling mentally, spiritually and emotionally with the issue.  But do you know what?  Once she did it, she was good.

I have been moved to tears in my own path to ordination.  When God first called me, I was a college student.  Among my commitments was a small group and regular worship at a conservative, non-denominational Christian church.  Both did not support my call to become a pastor because of my gender.  My campus support system shattered.  That hurt as I wrestled with the issue on my own.  Eventually, I left that church to return to the denomination of my upbringing.  By God's grace, I met a head pastor who mentored and supported me, and I was inspired on.

Biblical Support

Those who oppose female ordination claim biblical grounds.  In seminary, I was able to explore the issue with learned professors and found the process quite healing.  What I ended up finding was abundant scriptural support for female ordination.  Those who oppose it point to the passage that instructs women not to speak in church or have teaching authority (1 Timothy 2:11-12).  Contextualizing it is instructive.  First, women at that time were not educated like men, so their input could have been disruptive or distracting.  Maintaining order and right teaching was of primary importance as the church was looking to put down roots.  Women now have the opportunity to acquire equivalent education to men and often excel in their fields.  Second, remember that this verse comes to us in the form of an epistle.  An epistle is a letter - something that was written to a particular people at a particular time.

Because that passage comes to us in an epistle, it is important to enlarge our lens for a greater biblical perspective.  Paul is the author of 1 Timothy, and he acknowledges females who are serving with him in scripture (See Romans 16:1-16; he mentions approximately eleven women.).  He is affirming and giving thanks for their ministry, so it is helpful to look to his own example in support of female ministry.  Second, we can look to the life of Jesus.  His ministry is very affirming to women.  An example is that Jesus appears to women first after his resurrection.  His resurrection is foundational to the whole Christian message, and he shares this teaching moment with women.  What's more, he instructs the women to spread the good news.  His choice gives credibility to the female witness, and of course we look to Christ as the ultimate exemplar of our faith.

Those who support female ordination often point to the scripture passage, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28, NRSV).  Both women and men have been made in God's image according to Genesis.  Just as our God is ultimately beyond gender, so too are we in the eyes of the Lord.  Thus what matters in our faith lives is our spiritual gifts and how we use them in God's service.  It is our responsibility to use them in response to God's call.  I could never believe that God would call me to do something and then not allow me to do it based on something that I could not control and that God orchestrated (my gender).  Galatians tells me that I don't have to.


So where does this leave us as Christians, as women, and as mothers?  First, I think it leaves us encouraged to become whomever God calls us to be.  Paul's greatest concern was the upbuilding of the church.  We are to use our spiritual gifts, intelligence, and callings to continue furthering that goal today.  The church needs our perspectives.  Also, it needs all equipped and inspired people in this challenging age.

I think this issue should lead us to evaluate our choice in worship places too.  This choice is of the essence for mothers of daughters in particular.  Are you worshiping in a place where your children will be encouraged to be whom God is calling them?  Will they feel empowered to use their gifts and inspired to do whatever they can for Christ's church?  God wants to not just upbuild the kingdom, but upbuild us.  It just makes sense not to pigeon hole our children, especially in God's own house. 

The church is where scripture should best be modeled, so that followers can find supportive community and vision to go back out and be lights in the world. Whether or not your daughters want to become pastors themselves, seeing women in leadership in such a formative place can inspire them in their future endeavors. Mentoring through example is the most effective way we learn.

When I encountered resistance to my call in college, I did not give up.  I had been raised to believe otherwise.  I remember my Mom tearfully leaving the first church that we worshiped at as a family because they did not support female ordination.  I was too young to have a sense of my call, but old enough to still remember.  We started going to a Presbyterian church then, and I am an ordained minister of that faith now.  And do you know what?  My heart is singing.  Thanks, Mom.

Note:  If you wanted to mine the gospels for more, Luke's gospel gives particular focus to issues of social justice and includes the most stories about women and Jesus' treatment of them.

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