Building Good Boundaries

Last week I had the opportunity to spend the day learning about maintaining good personal boundaries. This is a seminar that Disciples of Christ pastors in Mid-America are required to take every three years. However, it is more than just a requirement, it is a great opportunity to think about our boundaries and how they affect our relationships in the church, and in life. So, what are boundaries? I’m glad you asked!

I define boundaries are the “rules” we put in place in our lives to empower ourselves and others to live abundantly. In many ways boundaries are like the Ten Commandments. The are the governing principles in all of our relationships. For example, one of my boundaries is that I never lend money that I wouldn’t want to give away. In college I made a small loan to a friend. The total amount escapes me now, but it was less than $100. Whatever the amount, this friend never repaid the money and our relationship was soured for quite a while. Eventually I was able to grow to the point where I could forgive him and the debt he owed. Our relationship, however, never recovered.

One thing which is important for us to keep at the forefront of our minds is the relationship between boundaries and power. Many people I have met through the years see themselves as powerless to make changes in their lives, to control the choices they make. I believe we are all more powerful than we imagine. Furthermore, I believe wholeheartedly that there are areas in our lives where we are more powerful than others. Like in the lending example, I had more power because I had more money at the time. There are many things which give us power; age, profession, race, and gender, all contribute to our power. That list is FAR from exhaustive, but you get the idea.

I like to think of how power relates to the responsibility of setting and maintaining boundaries by thinking of boating. For this example there are two kinds of boats, power boats and sailboats (which would also include canoes, kayaks, any boat without an engine..). The powerboat is able to control its speed and direction more efficiently than a canoe. Therefore it is the powerboat’s responsibility to avoid the non-powered boats it encounters. The person in the canoe may not have sufficient strength, or power, to get out of the way of the faster, more agile powerboat.

The same thing is true in our relationships; it is the responsibility for the person with more power to maintain clear boundaries. That responsibility doesn’t fall on the person, or people, with less power. This is one of the primary reasons why the Mid-America Region places such an emphasis on training our clergy in setting good boundaries. You, the congregations we serve, grant us a substantial amount of power. And you probably don’t have to think too long to remember a situation where a minister abused that power.

This is only a glimpse into the important topic of boundaries in the church. I hope to develop a brief workshop, or study session, to help guide us through this important topic. Once I have that event planned, I’ll be offering you (and others in our wider community) the opportunity to sign up and spend a few hours learning about boundaries. I look forward to thinking with you about how we strengthen our relationships through effective boundaries.

Learning and Living Lent

It is hard to believe that Lent is approaching so quickly. As I am writing we are only one week away from Ash Wednesday. As busy as Lent can be in the life of the church, it is a great opportunity to experience and draw closer to the Living God we know through Jesus the Christ. I hope you will take advantage of the many opportunities for worship and reflection during this special season in the church year. Below you will find a list of the special activities planned for Lent this year.

Ash Wednesday – March 1st, 7:00pm – Ash Wednesday is a quiet, reflective service that allows us to confront our brokenness and encounter God’s grace and mercy. It is a moving time of worship with the chance to begin clearing space in our lives to encounter God in a new, fresh way in the coming weeks. Traditionally Lent is a time of giving up those things that hold us back, and leaning into new habits that enhance our relationships with God, others, and ourselves. Ash Wednesday is a perfect time to begin that process through worship, prayer, and meditation.

Maundy Thursday – April 13th, Marshfield UMC, 7:00pm – Joining in worship with our fellow believers from the Marshfield United Methodist Church is one of the great traditions of these two congregations. The UMC church will host this year, the combined choirs will lead in worship, Pastor Alex will preach and we will join in celebrating communion as one body of faith. This is truly a highlight of the year.

Good Friday – April 14th, MCC, 7:00pm – This year we are inviting Marshfield United Methodist, and anyone from the community, to join us for a walk through the final hours of Jesus’ life. We will be engaging in the Stations of the Cross, in a unique and interactive format. Mobility will not be an issue as we will remain in the sanctuary for the duration of the event. This unique time of worship is a powerful precursor to the joy of Easter morning, as we encounter the depths of Jesus’ crucifixion and death.

Easter Sunrise Service, 7:00am – This year we planning to have the Sunrise service outside around the fire pit. With Easter coming late in the calendar this year, we hope that the weather will allow us to enjoy the beauty of creation as we celebrate the new life we find in the empty tomb. The sunrise service features dramatic elements that allow for us to experience the resurrection in a tangible way, and is a great way to start the morning.

Easter Breakfast, 8:00am – Easter Breakfast will be a continental breakfast this year. Bagels, scones, breakfast breads, and maybe even doughnuts, will be available following the sunrise service, all the way up to Easter Worship at 10:30. This is a great way to start the day, or refuel for Sunday School and Worship!

Sunday School, 9:30am – We will have Sunday school for all ages on Easter morning. This is a great way to interact with the story of the resurrection, and how that singular event changes the course of our lives. Please plan on joining us as we celebrate and study the story of Jesus’ resurrection.

Easter Worship, 10:30am – Our Easter Celebrations will conclude with Easter Worship at 10:30am. We join together on this day to give thanks to God for the gifts of salvation, new life, and transformation that we find in the resurrection of Jesus. Please plan on joining with us as we worship God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer through prayers, songs, scripture and preaching. Easter it truly a time of awe and wonder, something that should be shared with our fellow believers!

Happy New Year

It is never too late, or too early, to make needed changes in our lives. However, the start of a new calendar year is the perfect time to think about our goals and dreams for the year to come. Making New Year’s Resolutions is a natural way to make those hopes and dreams concrete. However, research has shown that only about 8% of people are able to keep their resolutions. That’s astonishing.

Why is it that out of all of us who make some kind of resolution leading into the New Year only two of every 25 see that resolution become a reality? Surely the other 23 of us are not resolving to learn how to fly in the next twelve months. Nor have we decided that we are going to quit our jobs and become a quarterback in the NFL. (If you are making those kinds of resolutions, maybe we need to talk one-on one. J) There must be something else going on.

What I have found is that we often stop our decision making process too early. It is great, even laudable, to make grand plans for the coming year, but we don’t follow those plans up with actions we can take. For example, I’ve talked about wanting to write a book for some time now. However, I have not made any real progress toward that goal, that dream. Why? Because you simply don’t sit down one day and write a book. It isn’t a one-step and you’re done process. That’s the way most things are in our lives. Most of our goals and dreams take more than one action to accomplish. If yours don’t, maybe there are bigger things you can strive toward.

All too often we stop at the large dream and don’t think about the specific, measurable steps to get there. You may have noticed that I just mentioned two of the five steps toward setting SMART goals or, as I prefer, SMART steps. The acronym, SMART, stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Reasonable, and Timely. We actually already talked about the achievable part when we talked about not trying to fly, or become a star quarterback in the NFL. The reality is that there are some things which are just not possible for all people. I may be tall enough to be a viable quarterback, but I can’t pass worth a darn, I’m really too old for the NFL, and considering I’ve never played a day of organized football in my life, all come together to make that an unrealistic and un-achievable goal for me.

So, let’s assume that the goa we’ve set for ourselves is something that actually CAN happen. It is achievable. Now it’s time to set those specific and measurable steps. Let’s say that I want to be healthier in 2017. That is an achievable goal, but it isn’t specific. What do I mean by healthier? Do I mean I want to lose weight, exercise more, change my diet, or some combination of those things? We need to get specific. This is where those steps, or actions, come into play. I want to improve my overall health in the coming year, so I will improve my diet, exercise more, and become more fit. Three steps. Now we are getting somewhere.

But we’re not done just yet. Those three steps aren’t really specific enough, or measureable enough, just yet. What do I mean by exercise more? What do I mean by improve my diet? What do I mean by becoming more fit? Those are all questions that must be asked, and answered, to propel us toward achieving our resolutions in the coming year. It’s not an easy process, and it may be helpful to have someone else help by asking you the hard questions, what do you mean by that? What is the first thing you can do to achieve your goal? When will you commit to doing that task?

We’re not used to asking questions like these in the church. They can seem very forward, even judgmental. And they are not easy to ask, or answer. That is OK, because as long as we are seeking to improve ourselves, and to support one another in the process, I believe we are truly living into our commitment to journey together with God. If you want some assistance in thinking through your resolutions for the coming year, please let me know! I know I want to enter 2017 SMARTer!

 

Understanding the times

A few years ago I heard a phrase which piqued my interest. One of my professors was talking about his weekly schedule and talked about what he labeled “Issachar meetings.” Intrigued, I asked what he meant. He referred me to a brief passage from 1 Chronicles 12 where the makeup of David’s army at Hebron is recorded. In verse 32 the author writes, “Of Issachar, those who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, two hundred chiefs, and all their kindred under their command.” (NRSV)

My professor made it a point of scheduling regular meetings with men and women who he knew had their thumb on the pulse of the community, and of the world. Since that class, I’ve tried to develop my own set of Issachar relationships. People who help me keep pace with what is going on in the community, the country, and around the world.

Here at the beginning many of my friends have shifted their gaze to Christmas. However, there is this whole season of Advent. It’s an important time of year and one, in my opinion, that doesn’t get enough attention in our day and age. So, to help you know what is coming up over the next few weeks, I thought it would be a good idea to make this an Issachar time.

For the next few weeks we are suspending Believe while we observe Advent. To enhance our worship, we will be incorporating several unique elements, including the candle lighting, singing of Advent hymns, the reading of scripture, and special Advent reflections. We will also be taking a break from our normal adult Sunday school classes to spend a few weeks talking specifically about who we are as Marshfield Christian Church.

This is a great time to get more information about what we believe, how we are structured as a church, and to spend some time in fellowship with other members of the community, both those who have been here a while, and those who are relatively new. We will talk about who the Disciples are as a denomination, as well as how we live that out in our specific context here in Marshfield.

There will also be several special worship opportunities throughout December as well:

December 11th – 10:30am – Children’s Christmas Program – This year we will be holding the children’s program during our normal Sunday morning worship time. After worship we will move back to the Fellowship Hall to share in a Christmas lunch complete with cookies and special gift bags for the kids, as well as a special visitor. I even hear there is a chance that our visitor may bring his wife all the way from the North Pole!

December 21st – 6:00pm – Longest Night Service – The Longest Night Service is a reflective time of worship where we gather with friends and family to acknowledge our grief that we don’t get to share the holidays with everyone we might want to. Whether we are separated by death, by distance, or by strained relationships, the holidays can magnify our pain and grief. This is an opportunity for us to share those hurts and to support one another as we look to God for peace, presence, and comfort.

December 24th – 6:00pm – Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols – This is a very traditional, and meaningful service. We gather in a dimly lit sanctuary to hear again the story of Jesus’ birth, to sing those familiar carols, and to light candles as a reminder that the light of Christ came into the world to chase away darkness and fear. We will end the service by surrounding the sanctuary with candlelight as we sing Silent Night.

December 25th – 10:30am –Christmas Worship – There won’t be Sunday school on Christmas morning, but we will gather together for a brief, informal, service. We will encourage all children to remain in the sanctuary with us for this worship opportunity. We will sing some of those familiar carols, and in place of a sermon I will give an extended communion meditation. There is something special about gathering to worship on Christmas day. I hope you’ll plan to join us. You can even come in your Christmas pajamas (assuming they are appropriate to wear in public!) This will be a fun, and informal, celebration of the birth of Jesus.

We pray you will have a blessed Advent as we all await the coming of Christ, and hope that you will join us for one, or all, of these special worship opportunities in the life of our church.

Past, Present, and Future

Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.

Isaiah 43:18-19 (The Message)

There is an old saying, “If you forget about the past, you are destined to repeat it.” But there is a fine line in that remembering. Countless times throughout my ministry I’ve met people who are being held captive by their past. Past mistakes and trauma keep them from the potential of a bright future. While we certainly don’t want to repeat our past mistakes, I find the prophet Isaiah’s advice to usually be more applicable. Instead of wallowing in the past, God calls us to be present in the here and now. But, more than that, to look forward to the overflowing abundance of God’s grace.

One of the best places for us to live, both as individuals and as a community of faith, is in the intersection between history and the future. When I talk with churches who are embroiled in conflict, I often find they place an emphasis on the future, or the past. Focusing on one at the expense of the other is a recipe for heartache. One group feels that they are not as important as another group, which is never good. Everyone wants (and needs) to know that they are a valuable part of the community, that they matter.

In the past year or so, we’ve been blessed with many new faces at the church. But I’m afraid we haven’t done as good of a job as we would like in integrating these new folks into the life of the church. In our Elders training two Sundays ago, and our regular meeting this past weekend, we talked about ways to help us get to know one another better, and to encourage better care of and communication with our community of faith. Two main ideas surfaced. They aren’t particularly new, or innovative, but we do hope they will help us to get to know one another better.

The first thing we are planning is a new church directory. We plan on producing this directory largely “in house” but are talking about how we might include family pictures. It is just so helpful to be able to put a face and a name together. Plus we’ve had so many new people joining our community, we have missed out on some important information. So, in the next few weeks we will have “information sheets” which we are asking everyone to fill out. This way we will have accurate phone numbers (I know our number changed before we decided to drop the home phone…) as well as email addresses, birthdays, and anniversaries. This way we won’t miss someone’s important day just because we didn’t know when it was!

Also in 2017 we will be revisiting an old practice which the Elders feel is needed in our current day and time as well. We will be kicking off what we are calling “Shepherding Groups.” The Elders and I want to make communication and relationships a priority for our church. But it is hard to keep in close contact with everyone, so each elder is taking responsibility for a few families. Our hope is to share joys and concerns, and to create small groups where we are able to get to know one another better, even as we grow in our spiritual walk with God.

Personally, I am very pleased with these positive steps we are making. We truly want to live into our mission of “journeying together” and we hope these two ideas will help make that a deeper reality in the days ahead. I’d also love to hear your ideas about how we might build relationships among our community. Would you like to see us go on a mission trip, have a monthly fellowship event, have a fish fry, serve others in our community in some way? Whatever your ideas are, we’d love to hear them. So we can grow closer to one another as we grow closer to God.

Looking Ahead

According to Kaia it’s now Christmas time. Apparently as soon as the temperature drops below 40 degrees she thinks it’s time to put up the tree and start singing carols. I’d rather wait until after Halloween and Thanksgiving myself. But, I do think this is a good time to talk about all the special things we have coming during Advent this year.

Advent is one of those “church words” which refers to the four Sundays before Christmas and leads up to Christmas Day. This is usually about four weeks, but can be almost 5 like this year. Advent begins on November 27th and will continue all the way up to Christmas Eve. Since Christmas is on a Sunday this year, that’s as long as Advent can be.

Part of the confusion with Advent is that it lines up with the secular “Christmas Season” beginning after Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas. (Let’s not get into the retail Christmas season…) But, the Christian Christmas season is actually AFTER Christmas! You know that song, “The 12 Days of Christmas?” Well it is based on the season from Christmas through January 6th (or the Epiphany.)

The Christmas season is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, where Advent is a time of preparation for that birth. Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation. And, waiting is something that I don’t do well, and I don’t think I am alone. When I get into the checkout line at the grocery store, or at any busy retail outlet, I get anxious. Well, no, I get downright evil. I grumble about the slowness of the line and wonder why I am cursed to always choose the slowest line. I think the license bureau gets such a bad reputation because of this same thing, waiting.

It’s hard to wait. It can be even harder to wait for a birth. Talk with just about any mother in the last month of her pregnancy, and she is likely to express that she is “Ready to have this baby!” There are a LOT of emotions tied up in that statement. Those emotions of waiting and anticipation are what Advent is all about.

Each of the four Sundays has a different theme: Hope, Joy, Peace and Love. To help us think about those ideas we include the lighting of Advent Candles in our worship services. Each Sunday another blue candle is lit to remind us of that week’s theme. And we light the candles from the prior weeks to celebrate the building anticipation.

Then Advent comes to its completion on Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve we retell the story of Jesus’ birth through the reading of scripture and the singing of Christmas Carols. And we light not only the four blue candles on the wreath, but the central, white, Christ candle as a reminder of Christ’s presence with us. Then we conclude our Christmas Eve worship by singing silent night and each person lights a candle and we surround the sanctuary with light, reminding each and every one of us that we carry the light of Christ with us.

This year, because Christmas is on Sunday, we get the opportunity to celebrate Jesus’ birth again on Christmas day. We will have an abbreviated service (no Sunday school) where we will hear the Christmas story again, sing familiar Christmas carols, and take communion together. I look forward to celebrating Christmas with my family, and my church family this year. I also look forward to celebrating Advent with you this year, as we anticipate the coming of Christ even as we remember the anticipation of Jesus’ birth.

The Not-So-Rapid Response

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
James 1:19-22, NRSV

Over the past few weeks this scripture has run through my mind countless times. With the political season in full swing, I cannot count the number of heated conversations in which I’ve been involved, witnessed in social media, or overheard. I am certain of one thing; this political season is testing our resolve to be civil with one another in a way I’ve not seen before. I’ve also noticed that we, by in large, have ignored the wisdom James conveys in his epistle.

We have seemingly reversed his advised speed ratings. It seems we are slow to listen, and quick to speak our minds, often in anger. And I certainly witness too little of the meekness with which we are to welcome God’s word into our hearts. It seems that we’ve focused on “speaking the truth” as we see it, but we forget that Paul continues to say, “in love.” (Ephesians 4:15, NRSV) Furthermore, Paul continues to insist we speak truth lovingly because, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” All-too-often the “truth” I hear proclaimed is not loving, nor does it build anyone up to be like Christ.

You may have heard it said, “God gave us two hands, two ears, and one mouth for a reason.” The gist of that saying is that we are to use them in proportion to their appearance on our bodies, using our hands to serve and our ears to listen twice as often as we use our mouths to speak. I imagine we have all known people who have reversed that image as well. If I’m honest, there are days when I talk too much and listen WAY TO LITTLE! I am often reminded of the saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always. And, if necessary, use words.” One way of presenting the gospel is to take the time to listen to others, to slow down, take a breath, and really listen to what others have to say.

Unfortunately when we do listen it’s often to reply, not to understand. While the other person is talking, we aren’t really trying to understand their viewpoint or their motivation. Instead we are trying to find the hole in their argument, or formulating our next witty retort. Truthfully, that’s not communication. It is two people presenting their own opinions and arguments, with no intent of truly listening and no openness to the change which dialog can foster. It reminds me of Newton’s third law of motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” It seems to me that we spend too much time reacting and not enough time listening, and not enough time responding.

So, on this rainy Wednesday morning, I want to challenge us to elevate our conversations to listening and response as opposed to planning and reaction. Maybe you’ve heard my “bumper sticker” phrase, objects react, people respond. What I mean is that when we react to something we hear, we are not fully engaging our humanity. When we respond, on the other hand, we are doing something that honors the image of God in which we are all created. I’m suggesting (especially during these last few weeks leading up to the elections) that we all commit to be part of the Not-So-Rapid Response Team. I’m suggesting we use our hands to serve, and our ears to listen, at least twice as often as we use our mouths to speak. I’m suggesting that we truly listen, instead of just formulating our next reaction. And, I’m suggesting that we honor the image of God in ourselves, and in one another, as we respond in grace and love, rather than reacting to our primal impulses

As we are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, may God bless the world through our love for God and for one another.

 

Choice

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
RUSH – “Freewill”

I usually reserve the space above these ponderings for a scripture. However, when I heard these lyrics again a few weeks ago, I started thinking about the importance of choice and choosing. I’ve been thinking about the choices I make since and want to share some of those thoughts with you.

I want to begin by offering you a challenge: listen to yourself over the next week and see if you can find out what you really believe about choice. I’ve been doing just that recently and I’ve found some interesting things. While I believe that I have free will, that I have the power to choose my thoughts and actions, some times that belief does not get lived out in my life.

Just the other day I was talking with someone about the repairs Jennie and I have been making to, and have planned for, our house. In the course of the discussion I said, “I have to do some touch-up painting and clean up the office.” I really should do those things, but what is requiring me to make those repairs? Honestly, nothing. Jennie and I have CHOSEN to make these repairs. Hopefully they will help the house sell more easily and subsequently bring a higher price, but the repairs are mostly cosmetic.

I use the same language when I am talking about appointments on my calendar. “I can’t do that, I have to (fill in the blank.)” If I am honest with myself, I don’t HAVE to do all that many things. Most days I can rearrange my schedule to fit those things I deem to be most important. Do you “have” to go to work, or do you “choose” to go to work? You might say, “I won’t get paid if I don’t work.” True. But isn’t that a motivation to go to work, not a requirement? You could choose not to work. There are consequences to that choice, but it is a choice you could make.

There have been times in my life where making a decision is almost crippling. There are so many variables, so many positives, and often just as many negatives. At times I have felt incapable of making a decision. At those times the lyrics above play in my mind, and sometimes I even sing part of the song. If I don’t choose, I am REALLY choosing the status quo. While that may be the choice I would make anyway, it is much more empowering to choose to stay rather than have the time for that choice pass me by.

Lest you think there is no religious component to these ponderings, choice is also important in our lives of faith. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures God makes covenants with the people of Israel. “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Covenants are based on choices. The people could choose to follow other gods, and they did. Time and time again the people turned their back on God. They made a choice and scripture is full of stories which recount the consequences of those choices.

During the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Disciples that he is adapting the way he interacts with them. Although Jesus was a servant leader throughout his ministry, he tells the disciple that he is making a new covenant with them. Like all of those previous covenants Jesus’ followers have the choice whether or not they want to maintain the relationship. We choose to follow Christ. We choose to believe in God. Each and every day we make choices that either strengthen or weaken our relationships with one another and with God. I, personally, find that to be very empowering. We wake up every morning and choose God.

But what may be more astounding is that God chooses us as well. Even when Israel fell short, God chose them. Even when we fall short God chooses to restore the relationship with us. In John 15:16-17 Jesus reminds the Disciples that it was he that did the choosing. Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command: Love one another.” When things get tough, when the world seems to be falling down around you, remember this, God chooses you

Clutter

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
Matthew 6:19-21 (The Message)

As many of you know, my family and I have been in the process of getting out house ready to go on the market. Before anyone gets too nervous, we aren’t planning a move away from Marshfield. However, as our family has changed over the past few years and will continue to change over the next few years, we have found that we simply have too much house for our family. It is time to downsize. And, what better time to do some of that hard work than over Labor Day weekend.

To make a long story a bit shorter, with the help of some friends we found out that we had at least 30 cubic yards of stuff we didn’t really need anymore. Yes, that much. What looked like a huge construction dumpster quickly filled to capacity and there was quite a bonfire (that lasted for two whole days) of paperwork and wooden things. I knew there was a lot of “extra” stuff in our barn, and stashed in closets in our house. I just had no idea how much.

Jesus told the assembled crowd during the Sermon on the Mount that where we store our treasures is important. I certainly wouldn’t say that what went into that trash container, or onto the burn pile, was treasure. However, as I’ve reflected on it over the past few days, I’ve come to understand that all that stuff did represent things that can keep us away from being the best version of ourselves. In other words, I had to clear up the clutter in my house to make way for our dream of building a home for ourselves.

But clearing up the physical clutter didn’t just make more room in our house, or in the barn. The amazing thing was how cleaning out that stuff has opened the space for more creativity in other parts of my life. I’m thinking more clearly. And that’s not all, I’ve been more “in tune” with God over the past couple of days as well. It really is astounding how a little bit (or a lot) of physical cleaning can clear out the clutter in other parts of our lives as well.

And that has prompted me to think about how the spiritual, psychological, and physical are all interconnected. My family and I had collected 30 cubic yards of extraneous stuff throughout the years. It took a lot of hard work, a few uncertain moments, and several friends, to help us clean up. I’ve noticed that the physical realm isn’t the only place where that is true. For me, seminary was a time to do the hard work of clearing out spiritual things that I didn’t really need anymore (with the help and support of friends and family) so that I could create the space needed for a renewed and strengthened relationship with God. And several years ago I read a book on organization for executives that suggested keeping physical notes as a way of clearing your mind to allow for more creative thinking.

With fall bearing down on us, I suppose it is a little late in the calendar year to suggest some spring cleaning. But there is no time like the present to gather some friends and family, and start doing that hard work of clearing the clutter out of our lives. I think you’ll be surprised by how far a little cleaning can go toward improving your outlook. And, in the process, you get the chance to build and strengthen your relationships with others, and even with God. And I can’t think of a better way to store up some treasure where it’s safe from moths, rust, and burglers.

Silence

Elijah was told, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-13 (NRSV)

The last few weeks have been a distinct adjustment here at the church office. I did not appreciate the difference Jennifer’s retirement would make in the atmosphere of the office. I knew I would miss her, but I wasn’t prepared for the silence to powerfully transform the workplace. Although I do appreciate quiet times, especially for prayer, the silence was nearly deafening.

Silence is something we don’t experience all that often these days. It seems we are never far from a phone to ring, or chime some notification. There is a background hum of electricity, or computers, or the drone of cars passing on a nearby road. We have become so accustomed to the background noise of life, that when that soundtrack suddenly disappears, we notice the silence.

For the two weeks between Jennifer retiring and Linda Summers starting as our church secretary, I felt strangely alone while at the church. Sure the hum of electricity was still there, as was the occasional phone call, and the sound of the traffic on the highway. All that silence started me thinking, was it really the noise I was missing, or the sense that someone else was there?

As Elijah stood on the side of the mountain, anticipating God, he experienced all sorts of things we would anticipate to accompany the almighty, strong winds, raging fire, and the earth literally shaking. But God was not in any of those things. God’s presence was in the silence, the stillness, the quietness. I wonder how often we miss out on the presence of God because we are focused on the ways we expect God to show up.

I expect to see God in the sunrise and in the sunset. I’ve seen God’s glory there before so I’m not as awestruck when I sense God’s presence there again. I have seen the wonder in a child’s eyes as they learn and experience new things, so I’m not startled by God’s presence in those moments. I regularly experience God’s presence in worship, so it comes as no surprise when the spirit enters the room on Sunday morning. Those, and countless others, are examples of earthquakes, and fires, and hurricane winds; places we expect to find God.

Where do you expect to find God in your life? Maybe more importantly, where does God show up unexpected? What is your silent place that allows for God’s voice to speak?

I didn’t anticipate that God would use those two weeks to get my attention. But it happened. I realized, more clearly than ever before, the importance of teamwork in all that we do. Simply having another set of eyes to look over newsletters and bulletins, or having someone available to answer the phone when you need to leave the office for a few minutes… Even just having someone else in the building to remind you that there is someone else in the world, matters.

Although that silence was loud and (at times) oppressive, it was also a reminder that God is ALWAYS near. We may not always sense God’s presence, we may not always see God’s glory, we may not always hear God’s voice. But God is near. May you sense God’s presence today and every day.