Teach Me

•June 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment
“Teach me . . . “

“Teach me your ways, O Lord; make them known to me.” (Psalm 25:4)
I’m back!  That’s probably the understatement of the century because this has been a journey like none other I’ve ever experienced.  I’m in uncharted waters.  I wound up having a quintuple heart bypass.  I could share lots of stories, but for now, I think that the most important revelation I can share is that I’m faced with learning how to recover from something that I have no prior experiences or references with which to compare.  It is truly a radical learning process!
I went into the surgery with lots of expectations and goals about recovery.  I thought to myself (and shared with others), “Oh, I should be able to do this by then and . . .”   I was doing my best to plan according to prior experiences of recovery from other illnesses and surgeries.  I think it was probably only a few hours after surgery that I realized I was on an entirely different sort of journey.  Knowing that I’m a busy person and one who likes to push to accomplish a lot, folks would say things to me like, “Now you know you’re going to have to rest and give your self a chance to heal.”  What they didn’t realize was that I was at a place where I was aware that I could do absolutely nothing.  I knew that someday I would do things again, but for that moment I couldn’t even wrap my head around doing much of anything except finding a way to lie in the bed or sit in a chair to experience the least amount of pain.  I am walking in the unknown with faith that God will truly show me the way.  I’m a student again, wondering, asking questions, and trying to take it all in.
I was awake most of last night and sometime during the waking hours it occurred to me that an attitude of learning is so important, especially in relationships.  I believe that too often we create hurt in relationships because we assume we know the other person and use our prior knowledge of people to try to understand and explain others, especially those who are radically different from ourselves.  Too often when we think of folks who are different from ourselves we make assumptions about them based upon what we assume we know, instead of listening and learning.  Our assumptions often lead to judgements, distance, and hurt, instead of understanding and closer relationships.
What if we encountered those we might consider different with a radical desire to learn from them?  What if we started not with, “Oh I know you and your kind,” but rather, “I’d like to get to know you?”  It’s not an easy process, but one that is possible if we ask God to give us the courage to learn.  I pray that God will give me the courage and patience to keep learning.  How about you?
Blessings and Peace,
Gary
Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church
Cross Lanes, West Virginia
Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit http://www.survivingteendepression.com.

My other book, “Wednesday Wonderings: Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens” is available at http://www.wipfandstock.com and http://www.amazon.com.

Check out my video, “Teens Surviving the Storm” Teen Depression & Suicide: Teens Surviving the Storm

Teen Depression & Suicide: Teens Surviving the Storm

This is a video about teens and difficult times in life.

Loss

•May 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

” . . . still bear fruit in old age . . . “


“The righteous will flourish like palm trees; they will grow like the cedars of Lebanon.  They are like trees planted in the house of the Lord, that flourish in the Temple of our God, that still bear fruit in old age and are always green and strong.”  (Psalm 92:12-14)

This morning as I was walking up the sidewalk to the church door, I noticed the remains of these rhododendron blossoms.  All that remains are the frameworks that once held the beautiful petals.  As spring marched on the petals dropped to the ground and were lost to the mulch beneath the bush.  Since Memorial Day is within a few days, the bush started me wondering about loss.

There’s probably few things we seek to avoid more than loss, and yet loss is the most inevitable thing we will ever experience.   (I just had a vision of a hamster stuck on a wheel of denial, trying to run away like crazy but with no success.)  On Memorial Day each year we pause to remember loved ones we’ve lost.  We remember with joy the great times we shared together, and also feel the twinge of sadness that reminds us of their absence.  As we grow older we experience not just the loss of those we’ve held dear, but also an even more personal loss – the awareness of how we’ve changed and might not be able to do things we once could.  Let’s face it, life is tricky.  We grow up learning more and more, moving more and more, and experiencing more and more.  Life seems like an upward climb with a sense of limitless possibilities.  Then, at some point, we sort of top the hill and start down the other side.  With each passing day we realize more of our physical and other limitations.  Wow, what a surprise!  Even though we know it’s coming, there’s still a strange sense of disbelief about it.  I guess the awareness of our limitations and the knowledge of our ultimate limit (our physical death) is what causes us to start making “bucket lists.”

The trick to healthy living is to not get stuck in our losses.  Often that’s easier said than done, but still vitally important.  I think that’s why things like “bucket lists” are so important.  They keep us forward focused, and remind us that every day is a gift from God to be celebrated somehow, somewhere, with someone.  We might not be able to avoid the inevitable losses, but we can enjoy the ride and be fruitful along the way.  Each and every day is an important gift from God.  Find someway to celebrate it with someone.  (And oh, by the way, there are also things we can do and think on the down side of the hill that might not have been possible on the up side.  Keep a look-out for those as well!)

I pray that God will keep me busy making lots of bucket lists.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,

Gary

Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church

Cross Lanes, West Virginia

Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit http://www.survivingteendepression.com.

My other book, “Wednesday Wonderings: Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens” is available at http://www.wipfandstock.com and http://www.amazon.com.

Check out my video, “Teens Surviving the Storm” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1hSpxC_G24

Needs

•May 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment
 ” . . . according to the needs of the people.”

 
“The group of believers was one in mind and heart. None of them said that any of their belongings were their own, but they all shared with one another everything they had.  With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God poured rich blessings on them all.  There was no one in the group who was in need. Those who owned fields or houses would sell them, bring the money received from the sale,  and turn it over to the apostles; and the money was distributed according to the needs of the people.”  (Acts 4:32-35)

Okay, the photo shows my office that actually serves as a warehouse for ministry (at least that’s what I call it).  From drums and equipment to stacks of boxes filled with items for one of our latest ministries, the various items threaten to squeeze me into a smaller and smaller work space.  I’ve asked the trustees for a second-story loft, but they haven’t seemed too keen on the idea.

This is my fortieth year of ministry.  The boxes in my office remind me of something that has bothered me throughout those forty years – “spiritual get rich schemes.”  Oh, I don’t mean actual monetary get rich schemes, I mean one recipe after another touted as the way to make your church and ministry grow.  I have an extreme aversion for those sorts of recipes.  I’ve attended my share of the workshops over the years, and respectfully listened to the ideas.  I always remind myself that they might be speaking to someone.

My sense (and history) is that authentic ministry is about listening to the needs of the community, and responding to those needs with various means of proclaiming the love of God in Jesus Christ.  That’s how I’ve seen God’s love spring to life, seeds of salvation planted, and disciples nurtured and challenged.  My sense is that’s the model the early church was using during the time recorded in the book of Acts.  I want to share a couple of our recent experiences.

The first is our thrift store called, The Church Mouse.  Youth and adults from our church visited and worked in thrift store ministries in other states.  They returned and started looking around our community.  The were “listening,” if you will.  They noticed that their community had changed from a mainly comfortable suburb of the capitol city, to a mixed community with a fair amount of poverty and crime.  They asked, “Why don’t we offer some sort of thrift store ministry in our community?”  The seed was planted, the doors were opened, and the ministry exploded.  Funds from sales are used to fund other mission activities of the church in the community.  The store is also another doorway to Jesus.  Folks often stop by to find a listening ear or to drop a note in the prayer request box.  God’s love in Christ is transforming lives.

The second new ministry involves the growing drug epidemic in our community.  My wife, Patti, is a nurse in the newborn nursery and NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) at Thomas Memorial Hospital.  There are an increasing number of babies born addicted to drugs, who must be weaned off of the drugs before they can leave the hospital.  The babies are placed in the NICU for several days.  Their withdrawal is a painful process in which there is a very persistent need for soothing.  Patti and other nurses noticed that the babies were soothed by music.  Nurses were purchasing various toys to try to offer help.  Patti came up with the idea of giving each baby in the NICU a small stuffed owl that played music for several minutes at a time.  Our church agreed to fund the program and the hospital administration agreed to try it.  Each child in the NICU now receives one of the animals (we’ve had to change to giraffes due to manufacturing issues) inside a bag with a note that tells the family the toy is a gift of God’s love along with prayers from our church.  The family gets to take the toy home with them.  The Church Mouse funded the first shipment of the toys.

In the first year we’ve given out over one hundred of the owls.  The stack of boxes you see in my office in the first photo is the next shipment of giraffes, awaiting processing and delivery to the hospital.

Listening, I believe, is the critical first step to sharing God’s love in Christ.  Listen, and the Holy Spirit will inspire.  Forty years of ministry have taught me that!  I pray that God will keep me listening and teaching others to do the same.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,

Gary

Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church

Cross Lanes, West Virginia

Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit http://www.survivingteendepression.com.

My other book, “Wednesday Wonderings: Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens” is available at http://www.wipfandstock.com and http://www.amazon.com.

Check out my video, “Teens Surviving the Storm” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1hSpxC_G24

Look Up!

•May 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment
“Look up . . . “

 
“Look up at the sky!  Who created the stars you see?  The one who leads them out like an army,
 he knows how many there are and calls each one by name!  His power is so great—

 not one of them is ever missing!” (Isaiah 40:26)

 

Recently I was working on a couple of projects in our driveway.  For some reason I looked up and was astounded by what I saw.  The rich blue of the sky, the spring green of the leaves, the sun striking the leaves from the bottom with some in shadows – all of it melded together to form a splendid moment of awe, wonder, and thanksgiving.  What a gift!   It also got me to wondering . . .

Don’t forget to look up.  It’s really an amazing phenomenon if you stop to think about it.  Try it for yourself.  First focus your eyes on the ground and pay attention to your range of view.  If you look straight down there’s little you can see and take in accept for what’s directly beneath you.  Then slowly raise your head and notice how you’re able to take in more and more.  Finally, as you’re looking to heaven, you can take in miles and miles and miles of wondrous territory.

Looking up takes us out of our moment and reconnects us with the universal.  Looking up reminds us that we’re not confined to this place, time, or circumstance.  Looking up reminds us that we are children of God and therefore citizens of heaven.  Several times in the gospels it tells us that Jesus was about to do something and looked up to heaven.  Even though looking up broadens our view, it also helps keep us focused. Looking up reminds us that we are first followers of our God who created and keeps all the stars in line.  Looking up reminds us to lead from that view and not from any limited, “looking down view” that might distort or attempt to countermand God’s marching orders for us.  Looking up reconnects us with our life source, both now and eternally.  Looking up can lift us from our pain, anger, distortions, misguided assumptions, and more.  Looking up can offer us hope.  Don’t forget to look up!

I pray that God will keep me looking up, and pointing others to do the same.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,

Gary

Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church

Cross Lanes, West Virginia

Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit http://www.survivingteendepression.com.

My other book, “Wednesday Wonderings: Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens” is available at http://www.wipfandstock.com and http://www.amazon.com.

Check out my video, “Teens Surviving the Storm” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1hSpxC_G24

Human Kindness

•May 3, 2017 • 1 Comment

“Human kindness . . . “

“When we give to the poor, the Lord considers it as precious as a valuable ring. Human kindness is as precious to him as life itself.”  (Sirach 17:22) (An Apocryphal book of the Old Testament)

When I was looking at some of my photos this morning I was drawn to the similarities of two.  The first is a baby bear cub greedily emptying a bottle offered to him by one of the wildlife refuge managers.  I was privileged to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility and meet some of the orphaned babies they were raising.

The second photo captures a statue in a basilica in St. Louis.  The statue depicts St. Anthony offering a loaf of bread to a hungry man.  I was visiting the basilica while I was in town to do a wedding.


If you recall, I decided during this Easter season to continue to contemplate God’s miracles that help to make so much go right.  I believe I’ve come to focus upon an important one – human kindness.  I don’t think I’ve ever thought of human kindness as being a miracle from God, but I will now.  In order for that human hand to stretch out to another, be it a bear cub or another human being, something miraculous has to happen inside the giver.  The one offering the bread must suspend even for a moment, their thoughts, anxieties, dreams, etc. about themselves, and instead, focus on the other.  In my opinion, that’s a huge leap, one possible because of God’s love demonstrated for us, and replicated by others toward us.

The experience of God’s love is what motivates and empowers me to offer human kindness to others.  Think about it for a moment.  Where would we be without human kindness?  Human kindness is what forms the basis for trusting community, not laws.  Without human kindness we would never be able to hire enough police to keep harmony and order.  Maybe one way to define evil is the absence of human kindness.  When human kindness reigns we bask in harmony, peace, and justice.  When basic human kindness is overpowered by greed, self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement, fear, and hate, the door is opened for a canyon to be carved between us.

I am convinced that human kindness is one of God’s greatest miracles.  When Jesus told us in the Gospel of John, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another,”  I think he was emphasizing the power of one of God’s greatest miracles – human kindness.  I pray that God will help me recognize and work against anything or anyone that would suggest we follow any course that would stray from basic human kindness.  I also pray that God will help me exercise human kindness constantly and extravagantly.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,

Gary

Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church

Cross Lanes, West Virginia

Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit http://www.survivingteendepression.com.

My other book, “Wednesday Wonderings: Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens” is available at http://www.wipfandstock.com and http://www.amazon.com.

Check out my video, “Teens Surviving the Storm” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1hSpxC_G24

The Sky Reveals . . .

•April 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

” . . . the sky reveals God’s glory!”

“How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!
    How plainly it shows what he has done!
Each day announces it to the following day;
    each night repeats it to the next.”  (Psalm 19:1-2)

Happy Easter!  I was traveling last week and didn’t get a chance to write, but it’s still the Easter season so it’s not too late to wish you Easter blessings.  The photo is a series of azalea bushes right outside our front door.  When everything goes right, they share a blanket of blossoms about six feet in length.  I say, “when everything goes right,” because we never know if the weather will cooperate in such a way that we have the beautiful blanket that we see this year.  Last year there were just a few sporadic blossoms among the new green leaves.  With the crazy weather we’ve been having this winter and spring, we were really surprised to see this gorgeous display.

It’s easy to get stuck on all that goes wrong, from joints that warn of future surgeries to electronic blips that cause annoyance or lost work.  I was helping my son with some mowing last week while we were visiting.  The string trimmer I was using decided to act up.  I began to complain until I remembered the days when my dad made it one of my jobs to trim all the grass around the yard with hand clippers.  Ouch!  Then I gave thanks for all the ways the string trimmer helped me avoid blistered hands and aching knees from hand clippers!

It’s easy to emphasize the negative, to forget all the trillions and trillions and trillions of miracles that have to go just right every day for me to open my eyes, get out of bed, and be greeted by the sun, the singing birds, and all the rest.  We talk about spiritual disciplines for Lent.  I’ve decided to practice a spiritual discipline for this Easter season that lasts until the Day of Pentecost on June 4th.  I’m going to practice looking for and celebrating all the things that have to go just right in order for me to have the wondrous gift of another new day.  Somehow I get a sense that practicing this discipline will have a big impact on me, and my sharing with others.  I pray that God will help me celebrate the gift of divine love in Christ’s resurrection by seriously practicing this discipline.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,

Gary

Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church

Cross Lanes, West Virginia

Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit http://www.survivingteendepression.com.

My other book, “Wednesday Wonderings: Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens” is available at http://www.wipfandstock.com and http://www.amazon.com.

Check out my video, “Teens Surviving the Storm” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1hSpxC_G24

Separate

•April 12, 2017 • Leave a Comment

” . . . separate light from darkness . . . “


“Then God commanded, ‘Let lights appear in the sky to separate day from night and to show the time when days, years, and religious festivals begin; 15 they will shine in the sky to give light to the earth’—and it was done. 16 So God made the two larger lights, the sun to rule over the day and the moon to rule over the night; he also made the stars. 17 He placed the lights in the sky to shine on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God was pleased with what he saw.”  (Genesis 1:14-18)

This Holy Week I find myself reflecting upon darkness.  We have an interesting relationship with darkness.  In the very beginning of scriptures we’re told that God created us to live in rhythm with light and darkness.  We need the light, but we also need the darkness.  Sleep experts tell us that the darker the room, the better our sleep.  Yet, somehow there’s more where darkness is concerned.

I took the photo above a few months ago when I was standing at sunset on the top floor of the Willis Tower in Chicago.  If you look carefully at the center you can see the last bit of blue sky being swallowed by the brilliant reflecting rays of the setting sun and the darkened night sky overhead.  On the ground below, we see the lights of thousands and thousands of folks.  The artificial lights reflect our mixed feelings about darkness.  Sometimes we want to fight it back to save more time for commerce and other activities.  Darkness sometimes contrasts light in such a way as to enhance beauty.  (Fireworks in the daylight would be pretty blah!)  Other times we try to fight the darkness because of safety issues.  Bad things can happen more easily in the dark.

Our emotional distress, fear, shame, and guilt can create another kind of darkness, a sort of trap or prison from which we might see no escape.  One of the most powerful features about this sort of darkness is its ability to isolate us, to make us feel like we’re all alone in the darkness.  If you’ve ever been in an underground cavern when the lights have been extinguished for a few moments, you know that it’s possible to stand right beside someone and not be able to see them.  Only by hearing, touching, or smelling them can you know they’re with you.  To be alone in emotional darkness is devastating and even sometimes dangerous.

I believe the power of God’s love for us poured out in Jesus is shown not just in the light at the tomb on Sunday morning, but also in the darkness of the suffering leading up to the tomb.  God could have chosen many other paths for Jesus, but God chose the path through the darkness of suffering.  The scriptures make it abundantly clear that Jesus knew the agony of both physical pain and intense emotional suffering.  I’m convinced that Jesus walked that path so we might know that in whatever darkness we might find ourselves, God is present with us.  We are not alone.  True, as the Gospel of John proclaims, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out,” but even when we don’t yet see the light, God is present even in the darkness of suffering.  I find that very comforting.  Sometimes it takes awhile for some to come out of the darkness.  I think it’s important we affirm that God is not simply present when we reach the light, but also in the midst of the darkness.

I pray that God will show me how to be with others not only in the light, but also in the darkness.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,

Gary

Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church

Cross Lanes, West Virginia

Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit http://www.survivingteendepression.com.

My other book, “Wednesday Wonderings: Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens” is available at http://www.wipfandstock.com and http://www.amazon.com.

Check out my video, “Teens Surviving the Storm” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1hSpxC_G24