Sunday, July 31, 2011

1 Corinthians 12

Typically when I'm posting a sermon manuscript I use the sermon title as my blog title, but this week my sermon didn't really have title.  Apologies to my Pre-ministerial Seminar professor who always stressed the importance of a catchy title.  I have a (sorta) good reason at least.  I'd struggled all week to write a sermon called "Expect the Unexpected".  I'd even, with permission, collected illustrations from friends to use in it.  But Saturday afternoon as I put finishing touches on my manuscript (which should have been a sign in the first sermons are usually done by Thursday at the latest), I realized that I could not preach what I had written.  It was awful.  Don't try and tell me it really couldn't have been that bad, because it was that bad.  It was horrid.  So, at 2pm Saturday afternoon, I threw that manuscript out and started over from scratch.  New text, new focus, new sermon.
The funny thing is, the sermon I wrote was the sermon that had been niggling at the back of my head all week.  It was the one that I wanted to preach in the first place, but since it wasn't lectionary-based, I wasn't going to preach it.  But G-d is bigger than the lectionary.  And He always gets His way in the end.
As I sat at church tonight, watching congregants come in, praying away the headache that had showed up about 2 hours earlier and was threatening to turn into a migraine and turning myself completely over to the Spirit, a congregant named Dick came up and grabbed my hand.  Dick was beaming from ear to ear and told me that he had been hoping that I'd be the preacher tonight.  I can't quite explain how that made me feel.  It was definitely a confidence and morale booster.  These people are becoming my congregation.  These are my people, the ones who know my name and who look forward to the weeks when I get to preach.   It was a good reminder of why I'm in seminary.
Afterwards, another congregant came up to me with tears threatening to spill out of her eyes I told me that I'd hit the nail on the head.  That my overarching illustration had met her right where she was at.  Incredible.  I'd been a little nervous that I was stretching things a bit.
My confidence is building and I'm starting to stray more from my manuscript.  I still like having it there, but I'm not as tied to it as I used to be.  I even came out from behind the pulpit tonight during the scripture reading!
Without further ado, here is my manuscript.  For those of you who aren't interested in reading it, there is nothing following it so you can stop reading now. :)

Your order of worship today says that my sermon is titled “Expect the Unexpected” and that my text comes from Matthew 14.  I hope you really did expect the unexpected because I will not be preaching from Matthew 14 this evening.  Rather, I will be preaching from 1 Corinthians 12:12-28.  That passage is found on page 1114  of your Bibles.  Listen now to the word of the Lord.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-28 about the body of Christ.
Living in North America with modern medicine, we all have a pretty decent idea of how the body needs all of its parts to function properly, except perhaps the appendix.  We seem to do just fine without that.  We also know what happens when our bodies fail to function properly.   If one part isn’t working correctly or if one part is in pain, the entire body is affected.  Most of us don’t need reminded of that truth.  And we’ve probably all heard sermons drawing parallels between our human bodies and the church, since that is the metaphor presented in this passage.   I could preach another one of those sermons, but it wouldn’t really tell you anything new. And, if you are anything like my father or grandfather, your eyelids would start to droop and you’d drift off before I got halfway through.  So that’s not the sermon I’m going to preach.  Instead, I’m going to draw on a different analogy.  You can tell me afterwards if it worked for you or not.
I don’t know how many of you are sports fans in general or how many of you are fans of competitive swimming in particular, but I am a swimmer.  I used to swim competitively, but haven’t raced formally in almost 8 years.  That doesn’t mean that swimming has left my blood.  I think it’s there to stay.
Growing up in rural Ontario we did not have the luxury of an indoor pool. The closest indoor pool was 45 minutes to an hour away.  Instead we had the local outdoor pool which was open for about two and a half months a year, typically from mid-June until the end of August.  Which meant our swimming season was short and intense. It also meant that we didn’t stand a chance against the clubs that could practice year round.  But that wasn’t a problem because we had our own association of swim teams, all of which had equally short seasons and practiced at outdoor pools.  There have always been 6 or 7 teams in the association depending on the current political situation.
A swimmer’s season consists mostly of practicing. For the outdoor recreational clubs, such as the one I belong to, it means practices with the team two to three times a week for an hour or two at a time, and as many individual practices as you can fit it or are committed to.  But the big excitement is Saturday morning.  That’s when the rubber meets the road or in this case, the bodies meet the water.   Our swim meets are Saturday mornings, three times during the summer and one big final meet for the ribbons and trophies at the end of the year.   It takes a lot of people to run a swim meet, and unless you’ve ever been part of the organization or running crew, you probably don’t realize it.   But every person there is crucial.
This is the place I am inviting you to journey to with me.  To one of those Saturday morning meets.  Meet the people involved in running a meet.  Then I will share with you how this fits into our passage for tonight.
Firstly, there are the coaches, who never ever get enough recognition.  Most of them are volunteer coaches who donate time to coach these swimmers.  They spend time that they could spend earning money guarding at their local pool or teaching private lessons to coach the swimmers.  Not only are they at every practice and every meet, they spend time outside of that putting together relay teams, entering swimmers in meets, ordering matching racing suits if that is what the club has decided they want to do for that year, and a million other tasks that I can only begin to imagine.  The coaches are usually among the first to arrive at meets and the last to leave. They make sure their swimmers get to the right races at the right time, they encourage the first time swimmers that they really can do this, comfort the swimmers who have gotten disqualified on a technicality and go to bat for the swimmers who feel they’ve been treated unjustly.  They also have to deal with the parents, a job I do not often envy!
Secondly, there is the marshalling team.  Marshalling, when related to swimming, is the act of assigning swimmers to heats and lanes, which sounds quite simple, but it’s not. The marshalling team starts working on Thursday, inputting all entries into a computer program and assigning heats and lanes electronically.  The computer person on the marshalling team makes sure that during the first three meets that there is never a pool with just swimmers from one team in it and that heats are roughly based on time so that you don’t have the fastest swimmer in an event swimming against the slowest swimmer, because that would be a really boring race.  The computer person also strives to make sure the pool is all the way full, every time, so that the meet doesn’t drag on forever and ever.  Sometimes that means getting really.  For the final meet every heat of every event has to be arranged according to time down to the hundredth of a second.   She also gets to deal with coaches who keep trying to enter late swimmers at the last minute.
Once the computer person is done with her job the entire file is sent to the very important people on the marshalling team who print “cards” for each swimmer.  A card is like an entry ticket.  You need your card to swim your race.  It has the swimmer’s name, team, event number, and heat-lane assignment on it.   Before computers took over the world, coaches had to write all this cards by hand and marshalling just had to sort, seed and put heat-lane numbers on them.  Computers have eliminated that step.  The card printers print the cards and sort them into the marshalling box, a water-resistant file box that keeps the cards separated by event. 
Then, also on the marshalling team is the grand or head marshal and her assistant or assistants.  They have final say on which heat-lane a swimmer swims in and they hand out cards.   The grand marshal stands before chatty children and indifferent teens all Saturday morning calling names, handing out cards, and seating heats on the marshalling benches or chairs, so that they are ready for their races.  The grand marshal is responsible for always knowing what event is in the pool, which events have been called to the marshalling area and when to call the next set of events.  I don’t envy her job at all either.   Her assistants make sure that to always have the next event’s cards ready to go, deal with last minute changes such as a coach or parent pulling a swimmer from an event or no-shows.  The assistant also moves the swimmers from the final bench to the end of the pool, ensuring one last time that every swimmer is at the right lane, or if it is a hundred meter relay event, the right end of the pool, as well as the right lane. 
Thirdly, there is the starter.  He calls each heat to the starting blocks or pool edge, and starts each race with either a whistle or a starting pistol.  He’s responsible for judging false starts and takes a lot of flak from parents and coaches if they don’t agree with his call.
Fourthly are the timers.  Their job is exactly what it sounds like, timing the races.  There are 2-3 timers for every lane.  They start the stopwatches when the starter starts the race and stop them as soon as the swimmer touches in.  They also record the times on the cards.  Scoring will take the middle of the three times or an average of the three.  Timers have to stay very focussed and watch carefully.  No matter what happens, they have to keep their eyes on the swimmer in their lane. They get splashed during starts and finishes which some weeks is blessing and they wish there was more of it and other weeks a part of their job that they dread.  Without the timers, the winner of the race would be a guessing game.
Then there are the scorers.  They enter the times that the timers wrote down into a fantabulous computer program that decides who won each race and outputs a results list, in order by time, with finishing times, for every swimmer in each event.  The scorers are big fans of the computer program because it’s so much easier than sorting the swimmers based on time by hand and writing out the results list.  The scorers also assign points for the top finishers and calculate point scores for each individual team.
Then there are the lifeguards.  Sometimes I envy their job - except when the weather is miserable.  Guarding a swim meet is probably the easiest jobs a life guard will ever have since everyone competing knows how to swim.  In all the years that I’ve been involved in the swim meet, the guards have only had to respond twice –once because a swimmer dislocated his shoulder and once because a swimmer passed out in the water due to an acute asthma attack.  In both cases, the timers, coaches and runners and responded first.  The lifeguards mostly had to do the paperwork.  They don’t even find out about the routine asthma attacks, heat stroke, hypothermia and backstroke-concussions until after the meet is over, if they find out at all, but without them there, there could not legally be a swim meet.
Throughout all this are the runners.  The runners are often senior swimmers, or swimmers who have just aged out of competing but aren’t ready to let go yet.  They may be even more overlooked than the coaches, but they are just as crucial.  The runners belong to every part of running a swim meet.  They carry messages from the marshalling team to the starter, they carry cards from swimmers to timers in 25 meter events, they carry cards from timers to scoring, they post the results lists, the bring bottled water to the marshalling team and the starter and the timers and the scorers, they hold the kickboards in the water for the backstrokers so that there are no serious concussions.  They actually get to run on the pool deck without getting in trouble.
Then there are the parents.  The parents are the ones that bring their swimmers to every practice and every meet.  They are the ones that sit outside with little shelter since pools are notoriously bad at having shelter, from 7:15am until the meet is over, often early afternoon.  They are there rain or shine, hot or cold.  They bring snacks (it’s amazing how much food swimmers can put away) and extra towels and dry clothes and water and hot chocolate and sunscreen.  And they cheer the swimmers on.  Not just their own swimmer or their own team, but everyone.  Of course, they cheer loudest for one of their own.  And, they cheer knowing full well, that when you’re in the pool you can’t hear anything except for a dull roaring from around the pool.  If you’re a little swimmer struggling to finish your race, everyone knows your name and they all cheer for you by name.  If you’re a baby and get passed around a lot because your mom is on deck marshalling or timing, everyone knows which team you belong to and they always give you back.  Parents are the ones who make up almost all of the other jobs, except for runners, though sometimes a parent will be a runner.  They volunteer to time and to marshal and to help score.  Without them, none of the positions would be filled.
So, so far we have the coaches, the card printers, the marshalling team, including the head marshal and the assistant marshals, the starter, the life guards, the runners and the parents.  They’re all very important to a swim meet, but without the swimmers, there would be no swim meet at all.
The swimmers are the ones that show up to practices week after week.  They are the ones who never give up, even if they never win.  They are the ones who give up Saturday morning cartoons to go to a swim meet. They show up for a swim meet, no matter what the weather is.  And they swim.  They are in the pool for warm-ups at 7:30 am every Saturday morning - except one…Canada has a random holiday weekend the beginning of August.  There’s no meet that weekend.  They swim when it’s raining out, but not when there is thunder or lightening.  They swim when it is snowing out, which has only happened once as far as I can remember. For the record, that was not a fun meet.  They swim when it is cold and windy and the last thing anyone would want is to be wet. And they swim when it’s hot out and you can’t leave wet footprints on the pool deck because it evaporates too fast.  They range in age from preschoolers to 18.  You can start competing as soon as you can get yourself from one end of the pool to the other without assistance.  Some of them have been swimming for years, others are just starting.  Without the swimmers there would be no swim teams and no swim meets.
The church is very much like a swim meet.  There are lots of different jobs in the church and they are all very important.  If the head marshal didn’t show up for a swim meet, there would be chaos.  If the timers weren’t there, the scorers wouldn’t have any times to calculate scores from.  If the scorers didn’t figure out results, the point of the meet would be lost.  If the swimmers weren’t there, there would be no meet at all. 
Some jobs don’t seem very important.  Most people don’t even know who the computer person is, but if she didn’t do her job, the card printers and marshalling team would have nothing to work with, the swimmers wouldn’t be able to swim, the starter wouldn’t be able to start the races, the timers would have nothing to time, the scorers would have nothing to score, the parents would have no one to cheer, the runners would have nothing to run.  It’s a small invisible job, but if it doesn’t get done, everything falls apart.  If any of the jobs don’t get done, things fall apart.   It’s the same in the church.  Maybe you don’t see the cleaning staff or know their names, but if they don’t do their jobs, the church would fall into disrepair.   If the secretary didn’t do her job, you’d have no order of worship (hold up order of worship) or church newsletter and no one would know what was going on.  If people didn’t volunteer to serve coffee after the service, you’d all go home without coffee and a time of fellowship.  If no one volunteered to teach Sunday school your children or grandchildren, nieces and nephews wouldn’t have teachers.
Other jobs seem very important, but they depend on a lot of other jobs and come with a lot of responsibility.  Everyone knows who the head marshal is at a swim meet.  It’s been the same person for over a dozen years now.  But she has a lot of responsibility and puts up with a fair bit of the fall out if something goes wrong. Same with the starter and the coaches.  Everyone knows who they are, but if something goes wrong, they’re the ones who have to deal with the angry parents. Everyone in the church knows who the pastor is. The pastor also has a huge amount of responsibility and the pastor is the one who gets to deal with upset congregants as well as the everyday affairs of the church.  It’s an important job, but also a job with a lot of responsibility.
Not everyone can do every job.  Not every parent volunteer as the organization skills to be a head marshal or the computer skills to do the job of the computer person, or the resources to be a card printer, but every parent can do something, even if it is just being a team parent and looking after swimmers while other parents volunteer to be timers or runners.  Not everyone in the church can do every job.  Not everyone is called to be a pastor or a secretary or an elder or deacon, but everyone is called to something.   Paul lists some things that people within the church are called to: apostles, teachers, healers, helpers, administrators, and others.  Not everyone can do every job, but everyone can do something.
Maybe it’s been years since you taught a Sunday School class, but just because you are a more mature member of the body doesn’t mean you are no longer called to be part of it.  Maybe the thought of teaching Sunday school terrifies you, but you’d like to help serve coffee or help with an outreach program or mentor a young person.  Maybe you are a young person and don’t think you can be part of the body yet, but the church needs every part.  Maybe you can get involved helping in nursery or helping pick up orders of worship after the service on Sunday, or if you’re an older younger person, maybe you can help with Sunday school or children’s ministry.    Maybe you want to write letters to the missionaries.  I encourage you to figure out where you can serve and become an active member of the body.   The church needs you, just like the swim team needs every member and volunteer it has.  Regardless of how small or big, invisible or visible, insignificant or significant a job seems, it is an important job and keeps the body of Christ running smoothly.
You are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.  What part are you going to be?

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Trip to the Grocery Store

For the average person, a trip to the grocery store is not an adventure.  But I have never been an average person, nor will I ever be an average person, so average events like going to the grocery store often turn into adventures.  Tonight was no exception...
I'd made tentative plans to go to the grocery with a friend this afternoon, but for various and asundry reasons, that didn't happen.  So after I had my supper of bacon wrapped, Daiya Cheddar stuffed Hebrew National Hotdogs, I grabbed my bike and headed out. I need to bake for a baptism party, so I really did need to go to the store.  That, and I needed food that I could actually eat right now (long complicated story).
So I grabbed my bike bags and my backpack (and my helmet and gloves and all that good stuff) and set off.  I got less than a block and realized my back tire was flat.  Big sad face.  Middle Brother had fixed it the end of June.  It wasn't supposed to be flat again.  I walked my bike back to my apartment, with a sad face on.
I called Middle Brother and asked him how hard it was to change a bike tire (I have three brothers, I've never had to change a bike tire).  He started talking about it and I glazed over. Then he remembered that he had left a can of "fix a flat" here in June.  He told me how to use it.  I listened to him. Back outside I tried to spray the "fix a flat" into my tire. Spraying it in was fine.  Then I tried to take the nozzle thingy off my tire.  "Fix a flat" gunk started going everywhere.  No big deal, I thought.  I got some on my fingers and they started to burn.  I went inside and rinsed them off and got a grease rag to help with getting the nozzle thingy off my tire.  Once I got it off I realized more air had come out of the place where the nozzle thingy had been attached.  So I reattached the nozzle thingy and tried again.  I didn't have the nozzle thingy on all the way and "fix a flat" sprayed everywhere.  Except on my clothes which made me happy.  I finally got in on, finished inflating the tire and got the nozzle thingy off, getting even more "fix a flat" on my hands.  Tire was successfully repaired.
I came inside and washed my hands, trying to get the "fix a flat" off.  I called Middle Brother to tell him that I fixed the tire and complain about my swelling fingers (they looked like mini sausages and I couldn't really bend them).  He told me that "fix a flat" wasn't really dangerous; it was just aerosol propelled liquid rubber.   I could have quackled or scrandled him right about then.  Liquid rubber = latex.  I have a latex allergy.  No wonder I had sausage fingers.  Enter anti-histamines.
I still needed to go to the store, so now, about an hour later, doped up on anti-histamines, I left for the store.  It was a good trip to the store.  The store has lots of good things.  Like sweet potatoes and sauerkraut and refried bean.  The grocery store also has Jello.   I was looking for sugar free jell tonight, because for reasons not important to this blog post I currently cannot eat sugar or anything high in carbohydrates (this is very sad.  I love potatoes.  Basically, I can eat meat and some vegetables, as long as they aren't starchy vegetables).  I found the sugar free jello. It's amazing how much lighter the packages of sugar free jello are compared to the regular jello, and they make the same amount of stuff.  I don't know how that works.  It just does.  Anyhow, I discovered that nobody makes sugar free blueberry jello.  Blueberry jello is my favorite, but neither the Jello brand or the store brand had blueberry jello.  I wonder why that is.
I also bought lunch meat (cuz I can eat meat!) and that's when  remembered why I don't buy lunch meat.  It's ridiculous how much junk is in lunch meat.  Even the most basic turkey breasts had caramel color added.  Caramel color is often made from barely, which makes in un-gluten free.  Anything that didn't have caramel color had corn syrup.  What happened to just plain old meat?  I finally found some, but it took awhile.  I should have bought pickles too.  I like pickles. But vinegar doesn't like me right now, so it's probably for the best.
I also bought pork rinds.  I've never had pork rinds before, but they look like chip-ish type things and they have no carbs, so they shouldn't kill me or make me sick.  At least, that's the hope.
And then I came home from the store.  It was dark so I wore my special vest with reflective tape and lights. It fits over my backpack, so that is nice.   Now I'm home.  I made jello and it's in the fridge so I can have some for breakfast tomorrow (today's breakfast was bacon and a hotdog, so jello seems like a step up in a weird sort of way).  Now I'm tired so I'm going to take some more anti-histamines (my fingers are still really swollen and stiff, but they won't deflate now!) and go to bed.
And that was my adventure to the grocery store.

PS:  anyone remember those yo-yo balls that were real popular about 8 years ago or so (when I was in high school)?  They were squishy balls on a stretchy string type thing that had a ring to go around your finger like a yo-yo.  They were pretty much outlawed and banned because kids would get them wrapped around their necks and strangle themselves or others.  They were a fun toy, but the strangling part wasn't so fun.  Anyhow, they were for sale in one of those vending machine thingies at the grocery.  Packaged inside one of the impossible-to-get-open-unless-you-step-on-it plastic bubble things.  Made me wonder.  Have children gotten smarter and less likely to be strangled or  have we stopped caring?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You know you're a swimmer when...

Due to an unfortunate event involving a carrot, a super sharp knife, and my left middle finger on Sunday night I couldn't go for my swim this morning.  So I decided to write about swimming instead.
You know you're a swimmer when...
...swimming with a new pair of goggles makes you super happy go through swim suits faster than you do clothes (mom, that's a hint.  It's gonna be new swim suit time again)
...many of your facebook ads are swimming related willingly go to swim meets even though you  aged out of the swim club years ago know what the event numbers mean for  your local swim club/association injure yourself and second to realizing that you interrupted a baby shower to get help, you are upset that the injury means you're out of the pool for a few days get up before 7 on a Saturday morning so you can get in some lane swim before going to market (pool doesn't open earlier than 7) get up by 6 on weekdays during the summer so you can swim go to the pool more than once a day don't remember the last time you showered at home because you shower more than enough at the pool
...your hair seldom gets a chance to dry all the way have willingly worn a swim suit two sizes to small for a race have forgotten you are wearing your swimsuit and gone to the grocery store decked out in a racing suit, swim cap, goggles, and a swim skirt and weren't able to figure out why people were staring at you funny
...the only reason you bother keeping your asthma under good control is so that you can swim
...when you can't swim you spend all day thinking about how wonderful it would be to be in the pool

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Interactive Blog Post: I need YOUR help

Hello everyone who reads what I write
I'm working on a sermon (okay, I'm almost always working on a sermon) and I'd love it if you could share your stories about how requests or prayers or desired were answered or fulfilled in unexpected or unusual ways.  It doesn't necessarily have to be prayers like praying to a higher being, it can be anything, just unusual or unexpected ways that requests were fulfilled.  If I decide to use your story in my sermon,  will make every effort to contact you before hand and I will change all names to protect your privacy, because privacy is important.
You can either leave your story as a comment, private message it to me on Facebook or e-mail me at .
Thanks for your help!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Plan

The plan was perfect.  We’d thought of everything, or so we thought.  My sister needed picked up from the canoe course she’d just taught. We had reservations at a “safe” restaurant.  We had excuses for why we needed to ride along to pick her up.  The birthday cake was made and decorated.  Chores were done early.  We were ready to get in the car with our unsuspecting father and head out.  Then the phone rang.   Phone calls at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon when all of us are home from college are unusual (when we're at school, that's about the time we check in).  It wasn’t hard to figure out from his side of the conversation what had happened.
He had a call.
He had to go respond.
Our plan seemed to be ruined.  Mom tried to cover, but he got suspicious.  Thankfully for us, he was wise and didn’t relay his suspicions.  Once he was out on the call Mom called the restaurant and tried to change the reservations.  She was successful. Then we tried to contact my sister and inform her of the change.  If we had reached her before he came home we could have made up a story about how she called saying she had been delayed in her return, but the number she had left us was erroneous.  We spent an hour trying to find the right phone number.  My dad returned. We thought our bluff was up.  In reality it partially was but, my dad in his wisdom, played along.
Mom, Youngest Brother and I, got in the car with him to go get her.  Mom came along just because (she doesn't need an excuse to hang out with her husband).  I came along so I could show Sister pictures of her new alpaca baby.  Youngest Brother came along so that he and Middle Brother wouldn't kill each other (they were having one of "those" days).  Papa came because he was the driver.
As soon as we left and were out of sight of the house Biggest Brother, other Sister and Middle Brother got in the truck and headed to the restaurant.
We collected Sister and then proceeded to give my dad directions "home".  I "spotted" a restaurant and decided I was hungry and couldn't wait until we got home and there were no snacks in the car, so we just had to stop. When we convinced him to pull into the parking lot, he knew we were up to something for sure.  Mom and I spotted Biggest Brother's truck and tried to direct him to park near it, but he didn't see it and wouldn't listen.  It was only once we were in the restaurant being seated with the others that he figured it out.  And it wasn't until dessert that Sisters figured out that we had cake for them and I had their birthday gifts.
The Plan didn't go exactly the way that we had intended it to (my dad is just too smart sometimes!), but it was still a good evening, and it made me think.
Someone has a Plan for my life.  I also have a plan for my life, just like my dad had a plan for his evening (FYI: it did not involve an emergency call or going out for dinner). Our plan for the evening was almost ruined by unexpected events.  I'm thankful that the One who knows my plan is greater than anything that could possibly ruin it. Things might (and often do!) happen that I don't expect, but nothing is unexpected for Him.  Just like my dad made plans to go pick up Sister and then come straight home, which didn't happen since we had plans for him that he didn't know about (which, in my opinion, were better anyways), G-d has plans for me that are different than my plans for me and in His opinion (and in mine), they are better anyways.
Sometimes it scares me to think that my plans are just that, my plans, and someone far greater than me is controlling them, and not just for an evening, or a day, or a week, but forever.  But when I think about who is controlling them, it scares me less.  He's been controlling everything since before time began, which is just crazy to think about.  When I'm confused or overwhelmed, I just remember Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."
I don't have to worry about my plan, because as long as I'm following His Plan, I'll be okay.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Far Greater Plan

One evening I set apart my entire evening from after dinner until bedtime.  It was going to be date night with Jesus.  It may sound cheesy, but I was excited.  I packed some blueberries for a snack (what's a date without some food?), got my Camelback all cleaned and filled, and set out towards Lake Michigan to watch the sunset with my Jesus.   It's about 8 miles (13km) from my apartment to the lake, so it was one of my longer trips this summer. I had my blueberries, my water, my Bible and my journal.  It was going to be a good night.
I got to the beach and made my way across the sand to the spot that stick out into the water.  I climbed over the railing and settled myself onto some nice big rocks and looked out over the Lake.
The sun reflected beautifully off the water.
I kept waiting for the color to explode across the sky like I'd seen it do before, but the sun just kept sinking lower
The brilliant colors didn't come and, as petty as it sounds, I started to get angry at G-d. I knew he could make a splendarific sunset.  He'd wow-ed me with them before.  I'd set apart this evening as a special time to be with him and he didn't how up.  I walked away from the beach angrily and got back on my bike and started back to my apartment, still ticked with G-d.
As I rode back, I glimpsed something beautiful out of the corner of my eye.  It was bright red and orange and yellow.
I tried to photograph it, but the picture just couldn't contain its glory. As I watched the moon rise in the night sky, I heard a voice whisper in my ear "I have a far greater plan for you"
My lover did show up.  He not only showed up, but he showed up in a more spectacular way than I could have planned, and he gave me the words that I most needed to hear.  He does indeed have a far greater plan for me. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Knowing When to Quit

Some people are good at quitting, sometimes even too good.  Others, well, we just don't know when to quit.  We can be very determined.  Sometimes that is a good thing, such as when pure determination and hard work got me through college, in four years, 6 credits short of a double major, despite everything that life had thrown my way in those four years.  Other times it's not such a good thing, such as the time when my determination not to get a DNF or DQ on my final swim race (100m breast stroke) even though I'd had a massive asthma attack half way through, meant that I passed out, in the pool, as soon as I had finished the race. It also meant today that I spent about 45 minutes sitting on the locker room floor at the pool, fighting against passing out (for the record, I won).
As I pondered my tendencies to extreme determination (some of my friends have another word for it), it got me thinking about life and faith. The Bible has a fair bit to say about extreme determination or perseverance. Let's take a look.
In 2 Timothy 4:6-8 we read about having fought the good fight and finished the race. From my experience with swim racing, the only way to finish a race is to have extreme determination.  Sometimes the finish line seems miles away, especially if you are about 4 years old and only just able to make it from one end of the pool to the other, swimming freestyle.  When you are that four year old (I wasn't, just assisted in the coaching of some of them. The youngest swimmer I ever coached is now 13 and entering 7th grade.  Most days I choose not to think about that), the only thing that is between you and that DNF or DQ is your extreme determination to finish (and maybe your coaches yelling at you to not dare to touch the wall or they'd step on your fingers, but coaches would never do such a thing).  When you're swimming a distance race and the water as well as the air around it is freezing cold (snow on a meet day is rare, but not unheard of), it takes extreme determination and dedication (and a fair bit of craziness) to even get into the pool, much less finish the race.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 we read that all run the race, but only one gets the prize. I was never one of the "good" swimmers.  The only way I could garner any points for my team was if there were less than 7 swimmers in the event, which is why I ended up swimming distance races (no one likes the distance races, but I never minded them).  The week after the meet everyone would collect their "ribbons", which were really paper cards, a different color for each of the top 7 places.  Some got a lot of cards, others, didn't get any (or if they were really little they got a purple card, just for participating), but we all trained.  3 days a week we were at the pool, rain or shine, cold or hot for practice. Some even more often than that (some summers I pretty much lived at the pool).  But every summer, at the end of the year, at that one meet that really mattered, the one where medals and trophies were handed out, there were only so many to hand out. A very few swimmers took the majority of them home (These were the "good" swimmers), but come next season, all of us were back in the pool, working again, training hard.  We didn't train aimlessly, but trained with a purpose in mind: more speed.  After weeks of not ever taking a ribbon home, after summers of never getting a medal, it takes extreme determination to come back, summer after summer after summer to try again, to train with that same goal in mind: more speed.
In Hebrews 12:1-3 we read about the cloud of witnesses surrounding us, encouraging us to finish the race.  If you've ever been to a Saturday morning rec league outdoor meet, you've got an idea of what it looks like to have a cloud of witnesses encouraging you.  There are people everywhere.  Some of them are parents who really don't understand the fascination we have with plunging ourselves into freezing cold water at 7:30 in the morning and then waiting a couple hours and doing it again.  Others are parents who do get it and wish they could still do it.  Either way, they are there with one purpose: support.  Support for their swimmer(s) and support for their team.  The sit around the pool, often in miserable conditions (it's usually either dangerously hot, ridiculously cold, or raining), for hours (starting at 7:30am, often running into mid afternoon), to offer support.  Some of the support comes in the form of helping with marshaling (getting the right swimmers in the right lanes, swimming the right strokes, at the right time), sometimes it's timing (running those exceedingly complicated stopwatches, watching extremely close for the swimmer in their lane to touch in and writing down times with utmost care, knowing that a disputed time will give everyone grief over a tenth of a second), sometimes it's running (getting cards from swimmers to timers in 25m events, getting cards from timers to scoring, making sure everyone has water, finding relief timers), sometimes it's scoring (interpreting those hand written scores and entering them into the computer (we're all technological now), printing and posting results pages and dealing with parents and coaches who are upset about a DQ given), but mostly, it's just cheering and being there for their swimmer(s). When you're the swimmer, you know what that "cloud of witnesses" feels like.  As you take your position, things are as silent as an outdoor meet ever gets.  The marshals are still calling names, the anxious swimmers in the next heat are still chattering, but you don't hear any of that.  Your auditory nerves are tuned to the voice of the starter "Swimmers! take your marks!  Get set!  GO!"  You never hear that go.  It's drown out by the starters pistol (or now, a lame whistle blast).  You leave the comfort of the pool deck (or starting block if you're at a fancy-schmancy pool), all forgotten except your goal: finish the race in as short as time as possible without DQing. As your head breaks the surface of the pool half way down (if you're a big kid, closer to the starting line if you're little) you hear the roar.  If you're luck you pick out one voice and listen for it every time your head breaks the surface (if you're not having an asthma attack, you do have to breath.  Funny how that works).  Voices roar at you "PULL!  PULL!  KICK!  Stop looking at the others and swim! PULL!  Finish strong!  PULL! GO! GO!  GO!" And then, almost as soon as it started, it's over and the spectators fall silent again as the next heat takes their place.
And as far as throwing off everything that hinders and following the course set out for us, yeah, swimmers know about that too.  We wiggle into the tiniest swimsuits possible (which are much easier to put on than take off), we put our hair under caps to reduce any drag, goggles are the minimal possible to keep chlorine out of our eyes and allow us to see the black line (course marked out for us!), and if you're a good swimmer who stands a chance at breaking a record, all body hair that isn't covered by suit or cap is removed.  We might train in different attire (think opposite), but when push comes to shove, when a few tenths of a second can make a difference, nothing is allowed to hinder.
Now none of these New Testament writers was talking about a swim race or even a foot race, they were talking about faith.  About pushing on for what what is right even when it's hard, even when it seems impossible or foolish.  They were talking about the extreme determination that it takes to be a Christian in this often hostile, and always sinful world, about how to keep following hard after Christ even though we are still sinners.  We have to train hard.  We have to accept encouragement from the cloud of witnesses surrounding us and we have to have extreme determination.  Sometimes it's easy, other times, it's brutal. And, getting a DNF would be much more tragic than getting a DNF at finals in the race where you actually stand a chance to earn your team those points that just might put them in the running for best team overall.
As far as the rest of life goes, I'm not sure the same extreme determination applies as it does to faith.  I think sometimes you do have to quit.  Our bodies are not our own if we belong to Christ.  1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 lays it out for us, as does the first question and answer of the Heidelberg when they say that we are not our own but belong body and soul, in life and in death, unto our faithful savior Jesus Christ, who bought us with a price.  When we abuse our bodies, we are abusing someone else's property, and well, really unpleasant stuff happens.    But quitting also isn't doing service to our Creator and Savior.  Imagine if someone gave you a really fast, really good car and told you to care for it and use it well and you responded by leaving it in the garage?  The giver would be pretty ticked that they gave you the car and then you never used it.  They'd be just as ticked if you abused the car and wrecked it through careless driving and lack of maintenance. I think we have to find that healthy medium between quitting and extreme determination.
And sometimes, that means listening to our bodies when our extreme determination takes over our sensibilities and getting out of the pool before you start to get light-headed, dizzy and have tunnel vision. :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Silver Lining: Romans 8:12-25

Here's the manuscript I went into tonight's service with (with two changes- this one is single spaced and everything highlighted in red was highlighted in yellow on my copy).  I'm getting more comfortable preaching so I tend to "go off book" a little more often than I did at first.  I still read a little more than I would like to though.
It never ceases to amaze me how G-d can take my stumbling tongue, my youthful words and use them to touch people.  Praise the Lord for His mighty power!

Romans 8:12-25
As I read and prayed through this text repeatedly in preparation for writing this sermon, I kept being drawn to the parts about suffering: if you live according to the sinful nature you will die, our present suffering, bondage to decay, groaning as in the pains of childbirth.  Perhaps it’s because if I’m not careful, I can be a little bit of a pessimist or perhaps, and equally likely it is because when I read this passage I hear in my head the voice of a dear friend of mine who was fond of quoting verse 18 to me in King James Version in her deepest southern drawl. Without the southern drawl, it would sound like this:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.

If you can imagine that in a southern drawl, maybe you can get a slight idea of why it sticks so firmly in my head.   The two of us served on a mission team together many years ago in Africa, and being in Africa, sometimes times were tough: we were missing our own beds stateside, we didn’t have flush toilets, or hot running water (most days there was cold running water though), it was rainy season so our clothes almost never got dry, and there were great big huge dinner plate sized moths.  Not every day was easy, but when things got tough we’d remind ourselves that our present sufferings weren’t worthy to be compared with the glory that was to be revealed in us.
Or perhaps the parts about suffering stick out to me because when I read them there is a little piece of me that goes “wait a minute!?! Suffering?  Really?  I thought the battle was won, Jesus came, died, rose again, forgave us of all our sins and now we have to suffer?  This can’t be right.  Paul must not know what he’s talking about!  I think if we are really honest with ourselves, we have all had moments where we’ve stopped, even just briefly to say “wait a minute.  That’s not how I thought this trusting the Lord thing was supposed to go.”  Perhaps it was when you lost your job or your house.  Perhaps it was finding out you  or a loved one had significant medical concerns.   Or maybe it was when a relationship didn’t go the way you had hoped or planned that it would.   Or a loved one died long before you thought it was time for them to go. Or perhaps when one of you children wandered away from everything you’d tried to teach them. Everyone knows what it’s like to suffer to one degree or another.  It’s not something we can compare or measure, but it is something we all know.
Thankfully this passage doesn’t leave us in a place of suffering.  It tells us that suffering will indeed happen, but along with that there is hope.  Hope of a glory to come and a hope of liberation.  If we go back to the beginning and wade through the first section about our sinful nature, we can see that our obligation is not to live according to the sinful nature.  In fact, if we do live according to our sinful natures, we will die.  Rather, when we become Christians, the power of the Spirit of G-d helps us to put to death the sinful nature and adopts us as sons and daughters of G-d.  
There is something special about being someone’s son or daughter.   If you have a father who was or is present in your life in a positive way, you know what it’s like to be able to cry out “Daddy!” or an equivalent there off.   This text uses the Aramaic term “Abba”, which translates to father or daddy or papa or whatever else one might call their father figure.   If you didn’t have a positive father figure in your life, think about your mother or mother figure and how comforting it was to be able to call out to your Mother right when you needed her the most. 
How many of us have watched a child learning to walk or ride a bike and then seen them fall?  If their parents are there, that’s where they turn to, to their Daddy or Mommy who scoops them up in their arms and comforts them before helping them  try again.  They don’t scold them for not getting it right the first time or the second time or the tenth time or the hundredth time.  They are simply there with their strong arms, ready for when their son or daughter needs them again.
That’s the kind of relationship we have through the Spirit, to G-d, our Father.  We are his dearly loved children.  And even when our earthly parents fail, which they so often do, we know that G-d will never fail.  No matter how many times we fall, no matter what kind of mess we get ourselves into, G-d will always be waiting there, with open, loving arms, ready to comfort us and set us up to try again.
Since we are children of G-d, we are brothers and sisters to Christ, in a spiritual sense, which means we are co-heirs with Christ, and, according to verse 17, if we share in his sufferings we will also share in his glory.  This is the glory that our present sufferings are not worth being compared to.  I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to inherit anything significant, much less incredible glory.  I’m one of six children.  When my parents are called home to glory, whatever is left after all 6 of us have made it through college, and we’ve cared well for our parents, will likely be divided amongst us.  But I’ve heard of people inheriting family fortunes.  It changes their lives.  Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. 
A number of years ago a movie called “Princess Diaries” came out.  In the movie a fairly normal teenage girl, living with her widowed mom who is an artist, receives word that she has inherited the country of Genovia. In the space of 5 minutes she goes from being a normal teenager living a normal life to having to consider whether she wants to accept this massive inheritance or not.  This inheritance, should she choose to accept it, will change her life.  
The inheritance that we, as children of G-d and coheirs with Christ, are set to receive is far greater than a county, even Genovia.  Psalm 50 tells us that our G-d, our Father owns “every animal in the forest, the cattle on a thousand hills, every bird in the mountains and the creatures of the field.”  It’s far greater than anything that we could possibly comprehend.
This inheritance is the glory that our present sufferings are not worth being compared to.  But to get to the glory, we first have to share in Christ’s sufferings.
In the next section of this passage Paul uses a powerful metaphor to explain our suffering and the fullness of glory that we will experience.  He uses the metaphor of the pangs of labor and childbearing.   Let’s read that section again.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

I have never been pregnant, therefor I have never given birth to a baby, so I can’t relate completely to labor pains, but I was present when both of my younger brothers made their entrances into the world, and I did grow up on a farm.  As I got older, I was given the role of “alpaca midwife”, assisting the females in our herd in their yearly task of bringing new life into the world. 
In early June of this year I assisted at a particularly difficult birth.  The baby was large and not in the ideal birthing position.  The labor had been long and very difficult.  As the cria began to make her entrance into the big wide world the mother alpaca began to scream.  She screamed and screamed as we repositioned the baby and assisted her little girl into the world.  As soon as we had the little girl and were beginning all the activities necessary immediately after a birth, the mother began her gentle, calm humming again, as if nothing had pained her enough to warrant screaming just a few moments earlier.  From my limited experience with humans and my experiences with animals, I imagine that this was what Paul was talking about.  After all, Paul was an unmarried man, so I doubt he had much more experience with childbirth than I have had up to this point in my life.
We are waiting in eager expectation for the glory of G-d to be revealed, for our liberation from the bondage of decay that sweeps across our world.  We long for the day when there is no more sickness or decay or death.  No more ware, no more children being abused, no more mothers crying over babies that never saw the light of day, no more people starving.  That is the world we long for.  The weight of the suffering of the world we live in often  weighs heavily on us.  It makes us uncomfortable and we groan and cry out for it to change.  It hurts.  It feels like it will never end.  We groan inwardly and sometimes even outwardly, but there is nothing we can do to change it.  We can’t speed up the process.
 The baby always comes when it’s ready.
If Paul stopped writing there, there would be little hope, little encouragement, but he doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to give us the silver lining in this world of suffering and pain:
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

The silver lining in this passage is the fact that we can hope, that we have hope in the return of Christ.  We have hope in the fact that we are co-heirs with Christ, that there is a glory to come, and inheritance far greater than we can imagine. If we already had it, we would not be able to hope in it.  If we could imagine it accurately, it would not have the same appeal as an unimaginable inheritance of glory.
Did you ever sneak around before Christmas and to figure out what you were going to get ahead of time?  When you thought no one was looking you peaked under mom and dad’s bed or in the closet or wherever you thought they might hide the gifts.  You saw it.  That thing you had been hoping for all year, or at least all of the last two weeks.  The object that your parents told you Santa might bring if you were really good.  You found it.  You knew it was coming and would be there Christmas morning.  But then something happened.  Some of the excitement left Christmas.  You woke up Christmas morning and went to unwrap your gifts, but it wasn’t as exciting as you had hoped it would be.  You already knew what was inside that brightly wrapped package.  You were happy, but there was no anticipation.  No hope that it would be there because you already knew for sure that it was there.
If we could imagine the full glory of our inheritance we wouldn’t have near as much to look forward to.  Some of the excitement would leave.  We’d just be putting in time here, instead of hoping, waiting expectantly for our adoption as sons and daughters and the renewal of our bodies. 
When things get tough, when we feel the weight of our suffering, when we do battle with our sinful natures, we can cling to the silver lining that there is hope and that we can still have hope because we cannot fully grasp the glory that is to come.   We can wait patiently, or at least try to be patient, (when I’m hoping for something really hard, I have a hard time with the patience thing.  You should have seen me as a child on Easter morning.  Patience was not my strong point) as we eagerly hope for the glory that we one day be revealed in us, co-heirs with Christ Jesus.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Stacey's storm pictures, part 3

More of Stacey's storm pictures.
 Thankfully it only hit the side of the house.

The power of wind is incredible!

 Thankfully no one was in this car and it is neither my car nor Stacey's car!

Stacey's storm pictures, part 2

More storm pictures from my friend Stacey