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

Grasping Hold of the Vision

Grasping Hold of the Vision

IMG_7702“Where there is no vision, a people perish,” says the wisdom writer of the Biblical book of Proverbs to a son. (Proverbs 29:18a). The writer knew that vision drives our focus. When we invest in what we hope to accomplish – our energy, time and finances are directed that way. To have a vision on a personal level is to invest ourselves in something larger than ourselves. God gives us visions and dreams to follow. Much of the meaning and purpose God intends for our lives comes from committing ourselves to those visions. Which is not to say that every vision is easy to reconcile with our current situation. Our lives may require a radical reshaping if we are to prepare ourselves to follow. There may be an addiction to work through or schooling to get before we can embrace the journey God is leading us on.

I like what Woodrow Wilson said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

I was thirty-five, divorced, with seven children when the Call to Ministry hit me hard. It wasn’t that God hadn’t tired before that. From the time I was a teenager I felt a pull to go into the ministry. The years of college and seminary simply seemed too much. At intermittent times along the way, I continued to feel a sense of call to Ordained Ministry. But always there were complicating factors that easily convinced me that this was an impossibility.

I was, of course, only finding excuses not to pursue the call that God had set in my heart. Fortunately, God is not put off by our procrastination or our running away. God’s persistent call continues to follow us throughout our lives. And when we finally listen, it is amazing how God opens hearts to our need. What seems an impossibility becomes a path laid out for the future. Whatever dream it is that God is planting in your heart, may you be gifted with the courage to follow and the faith to trust God to take you into that tomorrow.

There is Both Mystery and Miracle About Christmas

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2,6 I have often found encouragement in these words of Isaiah. The longed for messiah will bring about a reversal of circumstance. Isaiah was a given a vision of a world made whole. The child born will not be an ordinary child, but one who will rule forever. In the birth of Christ our circumstances changed. Whenever we face trials, defeats, tragedies, depression or losses; when we yearn for something to give us hope, Isaiah’s words speak to our hearts.

The words of Isaiah have echoed through the centuries with that message. They speak to whatever darkness we face. “Those who dwelt in a land of darkness on them ; light has shined.” The promise is simply this: God will not let go of us. God has not and will not forget us. Where there are tears, one day they will all be wiped away. The burdened heart buried in cares will know joy. Whatever our outward circumstances might appear, despite all our mistakes, we are loved. Our foolishness and doubts, even the bitterness which eats at our soul cannot take God’s love away. God comes to be with us. God comes to lead us to life.

Ann Weems writes, “ I pray that the whole world might sit down together and share its bread and its wine. Some say there is no hope, but then I’ve always applauded the holy fools who never seem to give up on the scandalousness of our faith; that we are loved by God…that we can truly love one another. I no longer pray for peace: I pray for miracles.” From Advent’s Alleluia to Easter’s Morning Light

There is both mystery and miracle about Christmas that simply cannot be explained. Promises made centuries before are fulfilled in a child born in the obscure village of Bethlehem. Tonight we ponder the mystery of God’s coming among us. We celebrate the light brought into our world. We give thanks for the one who came as peace that we might become peace to one another.

Noticing God

I spent part of Lent leading a class called, “Too Busy Not to Pray.” The course was challenging for some of our people, while others found it opened new ways of praying. I began to realize that one of the problems in our relationship with God, is that we don’t notice what God is doing in our lives. Feeling distant from God, seemingly ignored in prayer, we miss the obvious. The backward glances in life are those which help us see that thread holding everything together. Sometimes, we were hurting so much, we couldn’t begin to notice that God was standing with us. Our eyes, brimming with tears, couldn’t take in our full surroundings.

Later, we noticed that certain people came into our lives about that time. Encouragers, supporters, people who helped us hold our life together, in our most discouraging times. To notice God is to see God in the framework of our everyday life. What was there about that conversation, which shifted our thoughts into a more positive direction? I remember the early intervention program my youngest daughter was in. Leftover issues from her prematurity, set us up for the program. While the purpose was to work on her muscle and speech problems, it was me that was changing the most. These in-home visitors brought not only knowledge in infant physical therapy and occupational therapy to the home, they also came as encouragers.

Sally, Soni, Kay and Jeannie reminded me of my value and worth. They inspired me to look beyond the problems I was facing to the possibilities which were real. Years have come and gone. Along the way, there have been other people who came into my life at crucial times. Later, I came to realize it was God who drew us together. In difficult moments, they were encouragers, sounding boards, people I knew I could trust. In other moments, it was I who was drawn to give encouragement, to reach out in love and support. Noticing God at work in the world and in our lives takes a mind-set that is willing to accept that God is larger than our prayers, and so much wiser in the answering of them.

When Jesus appeared to his first followers after the resurrection, Thomas was missing. The Bible doesn’t tell us where he had gone off to, only that he wasn’t with the rest that resurrection evening, when Jesus appeared. He didn’t see the risen Lord. He was skeptical of the stories he’d heard. He doubted they were true. Even when his closest friends told him of Jesus, he made no secret of his doubts. Like most of us, confronted with a truth that doesn’t fit our worldview, he refused to believe. A week would pass before Thomas encountered Jesus. He no longer needed the proof he had earlier demanded, to see the marks from nails and sword. Being in the presence of the risen Christ, his doubts faded away. He could only say, “My Lord, and My God.” But Jesus had a word, where he blessed those who would believe and not see. We may not be able to see the risen Christ with our eyes, but we can see, by the tracks in our lives, where Christ has been present. It all begins by noticing.

Pilgrims on a Journey

When I lived in Winona MN I served a church that was named after a hero of Midwest Methodism. Dr. William McKinley, (cousin of President McKinley) authored a book about the history of Methodism in Minnesota. Written in 1911, the book originally was owned by some women in Minneapolis but somehow made it down the river to where I was living. Dr. McKinley was a beloved pastor and friend to a much earlier generation, so much so, that their children would share memories of what they had heard. From all the stories I was told and the pieces of his writing which survived, I came to admire him for both his love for God’s people and his devotion to Christ. I wished I could have had a sit down conversation with this giant in the faith.

His love for God shines through his writing as does his love for people, reflected in a sermon about the Transfiguration. Dr. McKinley talks about the transitory nature of our lives against the changeless Christ, “The inner life of a person corresponds with the outer life, and in both the absolute and immutable forever eludes one. We are never long in one state. Our spiritual life ebbs and flows like the tides of the sea. Our way is not along a dead level, but up and down, over hills and valleys. We scale the mountains, but may not tarry on the heights. There is no place where we can build tabernacles and stay. A voice which must be heeded is forever saying, ‘Arise and depart for this is not your rest.’ We are pilgrims and must march on through changing scenes; we are soldiers and must fight on through varying fortunes.”

I found after retirement that the call to ministry didn’t end with my decision to retire. The tug at the heart to be a follower of the one who saw his mission as binding up the brokenhearted, bringing good news to the poor and setting captives free never goes away. In my seminary years one of my favorite songs was “We are Gathered Here Together” by Doris Ellzey Blesoff. The lyrics tell the story of a new beginning, an adventure awaiting, but uncertainty in the direction we are going. The song concludes:

“Well, we know God’s reign is coming
and we know it won’t come easy,
but still we trust our vision of the smile on Future’s face.

We’re traveling on a road we’ve never seen before,
and, oh, it’s hard to know which way to go.
But somewhere there’s a promise
‘bout distant shore that those who seek will someday know.”
– Doris Ellzey Blesoff, “We Are Gathered”

We have this call to faithfulness and commitment. We are drawn ever more fully into the circle of God’s love and grace so we can draw others into the circle. We are pilgrims on a journey who know that what we seek, we will some day know.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . . ”  Hebrews 12:1

Life with Abundance

Once, a troubled teenager tried to trick an elderly rabbi, known for his wisdom. The boy said, “I have a bird in my hand…is it alive? Or is it dead?” He knew that if the rabbi said “Alive,” he could crush it and prove the man wrong. On the other hand, If the rabbi said “Dead” he would open his hand and let the bird fly away . . . again proving the rabbi wrong. But the rabbi was not so easily trapped, for he responded by saying, “The answer, alive or dead, is in your power and in your hands. It is what you will.”

The season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday, is a time to look seriously at our lives and to see that they truly are in our hands. . . . for good or for ill. God has given us the power to use our lives in ways that are life-giving or to waste them through destructive actions. Daily we make those choices through our habits, our attitudes, our relationships and our use of time. Often, we don’t consider just what it is that we are doing. But choices are ours to make. We can continue in destructive patterns, and self-defeating actions or we can make positive changes in our lives. We can ask for the help we need. We can go back to school and educate ourselves. We can get counseling for ourselves or a troubled child. We can deal with our illnesses. We can end destructive relationships. We can stop abusing alcohol, drugs and other people. We can treat everyone with kindness and respect. We can choose the path of goodness. We can reach out in love to those around us. We can learn to cope. We can draw nearer to God. We can experience the comfort and peace of God. We can accept God’s forgiveness and mercy. We can let go of yesterday’s destructiveness and move into tomorrow’s promise.

Lent, the six-week period that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues till Easter, offers us the opportunity to reflect, to grow, to ask the questions about our life that we can too easily put off. However difficult the questions may be, we have this assurance that God is with us. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. Not a troubled child, or an ugly divorce, a business that fails, or our personal failure. God wants for all of us to experience that abundance of life that comes in our putting ourselves in the hands of God, then following where God leads. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) May your Lenten Journey draw you more fully into that abundant and life-giving power of Christ.

How Wide the Heart, How High the Soul

One of my favorite poems is by Edna St.Vincent Millay. Whenever I read it, I’m reminded that we each hold in our hearts and minds the extent to which our lives are stretched into meaning and significance.

She writes: “The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky”
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.” Edna St. Vincent Millay, Renascence and Other Poems

We make choices every day in how close we’ll let another person get to us. We decide ourselves if we will share the deep thoughts of our hearts. We make decisions about generosity of spirit. Will we express care for a person going through a tough time, or ignore the impulse to reach out? Will we volunteer for a cause we believe in, or be an observer? Will we risk a new direction or cling to our security? Will we pull into ourselves, when life is tough, or will we let others into our hearts? Will we let go of our fears and skepticism long enough to do some good in this world.

Walter Brueggeman in his book, “The Threat of Life” says: “When we live according to our fears and our hates, our lives become small and defensive, lacking the deep, joyous generosity of God . . . Life with God is much, much larger, shattering our little categories of control, permitting us to say that God’s purposes led us well beyond ourselves to give and to forgive, to create life we would not have imagined.”

How wide is your heart today? How high the soul? What is God nudging you to do? Are you willing to allow your spirit and soul to stretch to the sky – enough to let the face of God shine through?

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “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