Friday, May 18, 2012

What Does God Look Like?

I have had a wonderful week! It is my first week off of school and work. I admit I was concerned that I wouldn't have enough to do, but boy was I wrong. This week I have been to a Kindergarten program, a water park with 63 2nd through 5th graders, field day at my wife's school, and a school - wide picnic. What a fun-filled week! My wife, Joni, is an elementary music teacher at a very diverse school. Her students are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist - you name it. I have always appreciated being able to go to her school and see the vast diversity on her campus. Perhaps none more than today, however!

Today, everything came into focus for me. This morning, I had the PRIVILEGE to spend time as a chaperone to a wonderful group of 2nd graders. I wasn't exactly "warm" to the idea at first because 2nd graders can be a challenge. They are just old enough that they don't like "baby stuff," but young enough that they still need TLC and help with certain things. As the day began, I realized I was in a GREAT place with 2nd grade. Because of the great diversity in Joni's school, there was a variety of students from different backgrounds. Throughout the day, I saw them interact with one another and you know what was so great? Their religious, racial, ethnic, and language differences didn't make a hill of beans to them. They got along so well! I got to spend time in most of the classrooms and interact with the kiddos and get to know them better. Perhaps my favorite, though they were all wonderful, was the dual language classes. They were so smart and funny! They all speak Spanish and English and many of them spoke other languages as well. I felt so comfortable with them and felt as though they could show love in a way that I feared was lost because of the world in which we live.

The climax of my day was at the school-wide picnic. As I sat and reflected on the day and listened to the sound of people speaking in various languages and children playing, I found myself looking around at the beauty of the natural world, the beauty of the people and their languages, and thinking about the fact that God is so much bigger and mysterious than any of us could imagine. At that moment, I imagined what heaven must be like. I could see just how beautiful God and God's creation is. I began to think, 'Ain't God grand!' What does God look like? God looks like that school - different races, creeds, and tongues - all sitting together in unified harmony! Not a care in the world about who was what religion or who spoke what language, simply being who we were at that moment, in that place, and in community with one another!

Monday, April 9, 2012

And a Little Child Will Lead Them

I have had a couple encounters with some children recently that confirm for me that God will speak to you though anyone at any time! The first of which was at my home church, First United Methodist Church of Cleveland. During the children's time, the leader asked, "What does it mean when you love someone?" About a six year old little girl responded with the following: "When you love somebody, it means you believe in them." What a remarkable and profound statement! Coincidentally (or not!) the lection for the day was John 3:14 - 21. It was truly moving to hear such a true statement come from a little child, who no doubt, made every adult in that room think!

The other instance was recent. As you may or may not know, Joni and I have started a fitness camp that we go to twice a week. Typically before we go workout, we meet at Joni's sister's house. This past Saturday, when we arrived, there were two kids (one boy, one girl) there who had spent the night with Joseph, our nephew. The little boy kept calling me something, but I could not make it out because he was mumbling it somewhat. My brother in law heard him and told me what he was calling me Uncle Strong. I have to be honest, I don't feel strong very often. More often than not, I feel very weak - both in terms of physicality and emotively. Joseph calls me Uncle Bubba as do his parents and grandparents. Why was this little boy calling me Uncle Strong? I have no idea! Strong and Bubba do not sound remotely similar. What I do know is that those words meant more to me than he will ever know. Today was a pretty rough workout. There were a couple of activities that had to be modified so I could do them and our trainer was more than happy to make those modifications, but those feelings of weakness crept up a bit and I was feeling a little discouraged. Then my brother in law, Kurt, shouted from across the driveway, "Way to go, Uncle Strong!" Just like that, my stinkin' thinkin' went away and I realized that modifications to exercises didn't mean I was weak, rather I needed an equal opportunity to get the same workout everyone else was getting!

I really appreciate how the Holy Spirit will use the unlikeliest situations to make us feel the awesome presence of God! I am also grateful to the spiritual formation class that I have been taking all year to help me be more aware of how God moves and works. God is definitely mysterious, but gives us just enough touch to know God is there! And for that I am thankful!

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Journal Entry

This is a journal entry from my spiritual formation class:


Journal for February 22, 2012
            Using the Invitation to Lenten Discipline from the Book of Common Prayer or BCP, I reflected upon what it is that it really meant to me and how I receive it. I always thought of Lent as a giving up of something like chocolate or caffeine or even television more than a time to take up something in the name of God. This reflection really began a year ago when I used this invitation to begin the Lenten journey at the church I was serving. Having had it reintroduced to me and been asked to really meditate on it, I believe I know what it is calling me to do.
            I have struggled with my weight so much in my life. From late elementary on, I have always been overweight. Recently, however, my weight has become a bigger hindrance than I had previously thought. This love affair with food has begun to sneak its way into my spiritual life. When mealtime is important enough to skip events at church or chapel at seminary, it has really become a problem. I saw this problem toward the end of last year and I thought long and hard over Christmas break how exactly I was going to proceed – how I was going to change my thought process from “living to eat” to “eating to live.” In essence, food had become my object of devotion and was leaving less room for God and the work to which I have been called. When I reflected on the text from the BCP, I thought about the following line: “It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness and restored to the fellowship of the Church.” One might not consider food indulgence being a sin, but it is. To me, sin is something that either separates us from God or causes us to not live into God’s will for our lives. Bearing that in mind, my addiction to food had really become a thing that was, is, and in the future will cause me to not live into God’s will for my life. I wholeheartedly believe that I am called into ordained ministry. I believe that God’s will for my life is to fulfill that call. If I continue to eat the way I have always eaten, I might be able to live into that will, but not for long or possibly, not at all. I decided that I needed to really think about how I was going to begin to fight the battle against my weight. I knew with God on my side, I could absolutely conquer this sin.
I decided that I needed to get started on something, be it exercise or diet. Mentally, I wasn’t prepared for a diet, so I decided to get back to the gym – after all, we had been paying for a membership for over a year and never went! Finally, I knew that Lent would be a great time to begin the new eating plan – not a diet. The words from the text that rang out in my mind as I began to contemplate what it was that I was going to do for lent were, “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” Throughout Lent, I will be praying – a lot, I will be fasting in a way because I am not taking in nearly as much food as I have been and I will be eating vegetables and fruit – something I had not previously done, and by self-denial of fried, greasy foods. I will be meditating on one passage of scripture throughout the entire season of Lent and that is Psalm 139 where it talks about the inescapable God who knows our inmost being more than we could imagine. My prayer for the season is a simple one, but very impactful: Loving and Gracious God, give me enough life for the work to which you have called me. Amen.
            

Monday, February 27, 2012

Who knew?

I just walked, briskly, my first ever 5K. As I walked, I kept asking myself, 'Who knew?' Who knew what you may ask. Who knew that participating in a 5K could be SO deeply spiritual? Each and every time I thought I could do no more, God gently nudged me reminding me that I could, indeed, continue! I got so excited at the beginning that I decided to jog for the first 1/10th of a mile. Not too far, but when I turned the corner at the end of that distance, I saw the hill looming. The ONE MILE  long hill. I was already out of breath so I began to panic and think I couldn't do it. The Holy Spirit deep within reminded me of Moses' words to the Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:6 where he said, "Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.’" I continued on the journey, after a brief break to catch my breath, and made it the mile marker 1. As if that is not great enough, it gets better. About half way through the course, there was a water station at a church. I was extremely tired and could have easily told one of the police officers that I was done. One of the people at the church was holding a sign that said, "Run the race with perseverance the course that is set before us." Again, at the exact moment I needed it, God spoke those encouraging words to me. Then I began to ponder that pericope in Hebrews 12. 

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses-" there were 5,098 runners on that 5K!

"let us lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely-" I really didn't want to finish the race.

"let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God-" Through Christ who is our strength, I could do this. 

Shortly after the half way point, I realized I didn't have my "God Is Big Enough" bracelet on. Joni gave me hers and said, "You can do it honey!" I thank God so much for the encouraging spirit she has and her ability to know exactly when to use it! There were other encounters with God that have to be shared. Right before the two mile mark, a woman that I did not know, was passing me and said, "Way to go!" She didn't know me. She didn't say it to anyone else in my immediate vicinity. Why me? Ah, yes, God! On a little further, at another point of exhaustion, we passed a man with two, yes TWO, prosthetic legs and that was a gentle reminder that God gives strength to everyone. 

So, who knew? Who knew that this journey that we have begun would be so deeply spiritual with God encounters all around? I thank God for the gift of presence and those gentle reminders that we are not alone because we have the gift of the Spirit living, moving, and reigning in our everyday lives. All we have to do is open our eyes!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lenten Ponderings

And thus it begins. Lent. Many are sitting and thinking about what it is that they want to "give up" for this season leading up to the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord. I, too, was thinking about what to give up. I actually began the preparation for Lent in January and spent time in discernment in December to figure out what it is that God wanted me to give up for Lent. I have been mentally preparing for a number of things that will be changing in my life. Most notably, my weight problem. I have decided that the best way to deal with it is to be completely transparent with my weight. I will be blogging periodically throughout Lent on various topics; however, one topic that will appear at least weekly is a blog about my struggles and an update on my weight. This morning I weighed in and my weight was 507 lbs. Don't adjust your screen or think you need glasses. I really and truly weigh 507 lbs. What an eye opener for me and for all of us! This will be a struggle and will take time to conquer, but I know that with your prayers and this accountability, I shall overcome! Please offer your support by your prayers and accountability. Understand that this will be hard and I may not always recieve your accountability, but it is appreciated and I thank you in advance! I started an exercise plan back in January and have continued to be committed to that endeavor. Today, I begin a new eating plan to help cultivate a healthy life. Again, I covet your prayers and ask that you keep me accountable. Thank you so much for caring!