Giving Thanks for Saints in our Lives

Like an onion, peeling memories till they placed her in a different time and era, my mother slowly lost memories of her family. Frustrated that she no longer knew everything she once did, she wondered out loud how it was that she could forget the people she loved. It seemed less cruel to tell her that my dad would be there if he could, rather than to remind her again that he died. In this odd period of her life I was touched by her passionate love for my father. She told me how she loved to hold her babies. I reveled in her memories of myself and my siblings as infants and the way that she cherished each of us. I saw a precious part of her I did not know

I was reminded of the words of scripture, “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. . . ” –Isaiah 49:14-16

My mother died just two days before we celebrated All Saints at the church I was serving in 2010. Worshiping at the special service, I took comfort in the knowledge that God will never forget us or those we love. I felt the assurance that when my memory fails (and family history isn’t too positive on this) that God will continue to love and care for the people I love . . .   All of those who live in my heart.

November 1st is the traditional celebration of All Saints, remembering those people who have been a precious part of our lives.   C.S. Lewis once wrote  that a saint  “is a person who makes God believable.”    All Saints is a day of both remembering and giving thanks for people who have touched our lives with grace, blessed  us with their love and nurtured  us with their presence.  It is a day to celebrate and  be grateful for the Communion of Saints, those living both on earth and in heaven.  As we remember these cherished souls, may it be a  reminder to live in such a way, that others will look at our lives and celebrate the people that we are.

God’s Saving Grace

My kitchen is overflowing with pots of flowers – my latest rescue attempt to push the cold of winter away for a few more days.  On the deck is a new experiment to keep other flowers alive. Every year I go through this same ritual . . .  trying to keep my flowers blooming just a little longer.

I am a rescuer by nature. When I was sent to small churches in rural Minnesota, I was convinced that churches in a spiral of death, had life still in them. It’s written into my DNA to encourage the life force,  whether it is a plant staving off the cold and snow of a winter day in mid fall –  Or a church giving up before their work is done – Or a person going through the pain of loss, heartache, addition or failure,  ready to give up.

It was in the midst of failure, poverty and despair that God rescued me. I couldn’t keep a dying marriage from failing. My rescue attempts were futile. But God’s rescue of me out of it was real. I look back on that time in my life as one of grace. God’s love and care was greater than I believed possible. And while I constantly condemned myself – I found encouragement in some of the most unusual ways. One day, while doing some work in the church library, I came across these words in a book, whose name and author I do not remember. The words were these, “When you refuse to forgive yourself, you are refusing to forgive a child of God and that is wrong.” I needed those words that day, as I have needed them since.

Today, I look at pots of flowers on my table. I see how much beauty is there and I know that this is how God sees each of us, when we are about to give up on ourselves. God sees the beauty in us and wants us to know that we are God’s beloved and precious children – Loved more abundantly than we can imagine.

“God rescued me out of the miry pit, out of the mud and clay; God set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm footing.” Psalm 40:2 REB

Favorite Quotes for Pastors

I keep some favorite quotes in my Bible to remind me of both my calling as a Christian and as a pastor. Some have inspired me, others challenge my attitudes, still other remind me that I can do nothing unless I’m attached to the vine of Jesus

“Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet whom you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say and
Keep me out of your way.”
This prayer was on a card that Father Michael Judge Chaplain had in his pocket the day he died, ministering to firefighters at the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001.

“Communicate God’s heart, character and will.” Adam Hamilton, comments about his prayer in his book “Making Sense of the Bible”

“To be unclean is to turn away from union and intimacy with Jesus.” Gail R. O’Day New Interpreters Bible, Commentary on the Gospel of John (pg 723)

“God, help me to see those who have hurt me not as enemies . . . but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.” Based on a prayer of Henri J.M. Nouwen

“God, I will guard my lips, my mind and my heart so that my language will not disparage, injure or wound another child of God. I must do no harm even while I seek a common good.” Rueben P. Job, “Three Simple Rules”

“Let me no more my comfort draw
from my frail hold of thee,
In this alone, rejoice in awe
Thy mighty grasp of me.”
This is from a poem of John Campbell Shairp, which I first found in a sermon by  Ted Loder.

“Ministers are like trumpets, which make no sound if breath be not breathed into them.” John Flavel

 “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5-6

Building Hope

           Imagine a world where nobody helped anyone else. Or, where those who did help, only helped family and friends. Wouldn’t our world be less? One disaster follows another and we find ourselves stretching to do what we believe is right. There is never a shortage of places to give from local concerns to those which come to us by way of You tube videos. Imagine what it must be like to receive a gift of food when you’ve been displaced by an earthquake and all is lost, except the most elemental pieces of your life. Imagine what it is like to live  open to the elements after a hurricane has ravaged your land and receive the gift of shelter. Imagine wondering where to turn and how to cope, then someone you do not know, offers you the necessities of life.

On September 11, 2001 the city of New York faced its worst crisis. Attacks carried out on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center left the city crushed and broken. Throughout the  nation people responded to the need. Many sent money, while others came to search the ruble and heal the injured. The steady stream of donations profoundly touched Jeff Parness. A couple of years later he created a Foundation called, “New York Says Thank You.”

Each year, near September 11, the Foundation reaches out to an area of the country which has been hit by a disaster. They spend time rebuilding homes, churches, camps or whatever that city’s greatest need is. He says, it is not as much about the building itself, as it is about building hope. Hope came to him, in the darkness of the September 11 attacks, through the outpouring of kindness across the country. Today, Jeff tries to pay it forward, touching other lives even as his was touched by an earlier generosity.

The recent disasters have left us many places to offer our gifts and our service.    But, one doesn’t have to look far from home to offer help.   There is someone in your life who needs some extra love, extra care, extra time.   The happiest people I know are the ones who have found ways of reaching out to others, sharing their resources, their time and themselves with people who need someone to care.  Today, may you find joy in the giving of your self.

Civility is Basic to Christian Life

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.”

This passage from Phillipians 2, written by the apostle Paul,  has been the focus of my devotional life in the past week. I’ve been reminded that humility is one of the gifts of the Spirit and that when we stop assuming we are better than everyone else, we begin to see what we can learn from people who think differently. Every day, as I have read through the passage, I have been struck by the discord in our country and how people of faith have gotten caught up in those divisions. Sometimes we have contributed to them and acted in ways that were not constructive.

Today my local paper, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, headlined an editorial, “Six steps to make America more civil again.” The piece was by Doug R. Berdie, of Minneapolis, a semiretired marketing executive and researcher. He names simple things we can do to create a healthier emotional environment . . .  from showing simple consideration for the people around us when we are shopping to doing a good deed each day. (I suspect doing a good deed for a person you don’t know well and happen to disagree with might help even more.) He named: Giving other people the benefit of the doubt; Helping in practical and tangible ways; Leaving our surroundings better than we find them.

We have been engaged in ripping apart the soul of our country. Our collective conversation has been bitter and divisive. We find it difficult to agree on much and even when we do, there is someone able to punch a hole in that unity. So, this past week, I found myself chastened often when I read the words, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

We are tempted to only look out for “me and mine,” but God asks us to stretch our minds and open our hearts. God asks us to see others as God’s children, who are loved and cherished by God even as we are loved. Scripture tells us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 2:3-4)   What a difference we could make in our communities if we started with respect for all of God’s children.

Empty Your Pockets

I write this on a warm September day in Minnesota.   So much of our life in this section of the country revolves around the seasons. We glory in the changing colors of fall. We treasure days, with their crisp sense of urgency, when we  can  enjoy and  celebrate the world around us. Our steps are lighter on days like this.       Yet, I wonder if we sometimes get it wrong, because every day – whatever the outside condition – is a gift God has given us.  It comes to us on trust. Our job is to take that day and to use it in the best way we can.

Erma Bombeck was known for her humorous journalism.  Yet,  she frequently seasoned her humor with pinches of wisdom. At the end of a newspaper column on March 10, 1987, Erma wrote these words:    “I always had a dream that when I am asked to give an accounting of my life to a higher court, it will go like this: “So, empty your pockets. What have you got left of your life? Any dreams that were unfulfilled? Any unused talent that we gave you when you were born that you still have left? Any unsaid compliments or bits of love that you haven’t spread around?”

“And I will answer, ‘I’ve nothing to return. I spent every-thing you gave me. I’m as naked as the day I was born.”(Detroit Free Press)

Erma had a sense of how best to spend a life. What about you? Have you got any dreams to work on? Unused talent to put to work? Some unsaid compliments that need to be spoken? And is there any love that you need to spread around?  May your day be blessed with wisdom and the joy of using this day as the gift God created it to be.

The apostle Paul prayed that followers of Jesus would discover the gifts available to each of us.   He wrote,  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:16-19

What Kind of World are We Leaving Our Children?

We take the earth and its cycles for granted, until something out of the ordinary occurs. The heavy hand of two Category four hurricanes  hitting the United States in the space of three weeks,   and now the devastation of Hurricane Maria adding to the woes of those in the Caribbean,  is  cause to stop and think about our changing climate . . . our rising and warming oceans.      Only a few years ago the idea of global warming was just a debatable question in academic circles. All too rapidly, our climate is changing. Signs of that change are most apparent in the arctic where the permafrost is thawing, glaciers rapidly shrinking and entire villages being consumed by the sea. Polar bears are losing their habitat. Meanwhile, in Florida the city of Miami experiences flooding monthly when the moon pulls strongest on the tides. Many scientists believe that we are quickly coming to a place of where the course will be set irreversibly.

The issue is one that goes beyond political and national boundaries. All of us are in this together. Anwar Fazal expresses this so well in his poem.

“We all drink from one water
We all breathe from one air
We rise from one ocean
And we live under one sky
Remember
We are one
The new born baby cries the same
The laughter of children is universal
Everyone’s blood is red
And our hearts beat the same song
Remember
We are one
We are all bothers and sisters
Only one family, only one earth
Together we live
And together we die
Remember – We are one
Remember – We are one
Peace be on you
Brothers and Sisters
Peace be on you.”
Anwar Fazal, From Prayers for a Thousand Years Blessings and Expressions of Hope for the New Millennium By Elizabeth Roberts, Elias Amidon

The scripture tells us that we are caretakers of the earth. We have a responsibility to care for this world that God has entrusted to our keeping. We are reminded that “The earth is the Lords” and not ours to abuse or misuse. Our Christian faith teaches us that whatever we do to the least of the worlds citizens for good or ill, we also do to Christ. And for those of us who have received much, much is required. If we fail in this, future generations won’t ask about our political loyalties but wonder how we could have so denied the evidence and the prophetic words from the worlds scientists. They will wonder how we could have allowed an environmental catastrophe to happen. Our actions or inactions will have consequences which will outlast our lives. Future generations, including our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live out the repercussions of our decisions. What kind of world do we want our distant relatives to inhabit? What might God be asking of each of us to make that a reality? In our prayerful searching, may God guide our thoughts and direct our actions.