Rejected

•April 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

” . . . rejected as worthless . . . “

“Jesus said to them, ‘Haven’t you ever read what the Scriptures say?

‘The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all.
This was done by the Lord;
what a wonderful sight it is!’” (Matthew 21:42)

This is Peter Pan, “Pete” for short.  He’s twelve years-old and has been training Patti and me since he was a young puppy.  He’s also blind, deaf, and can barely smell – the results of a series of strokes.  Some might say he’s not worth much as a pet.  Don’t tell Pete, he’s handicapped.  He acts more like a four year-old.  We call him the “Bandit” because he loves to steal things.  Every time I walk in the door, Pete somehow knows I’m home and immediately comes to find me.  He makes me stop and give him a good petting.  In the evening when I sit back in my lounge chair, Pete jumps up on top of me and demands that we “talk.”  Since he can’t hear, that means he sits on top of me while give him a good rub-down.  Once more he forces me to stop whatever I’m doing long enough to connect with him through touch.  It’s a much more deliberate effort to connect than simply saying, “Hi Pete.”  It requires my full attention, and draws me more into his world.  Pete won’t let me ignore him, and it’s always a blessing when I don’t.  I guess it’s safe to say that after twelve years he’s still training me, and I’m loving every minute of it.

This coming Sunday we celebrate the greatest parade of all, the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Apparently it was a big deal, and made a big splash in the community.  The high profile entrance got the attention of many, so much so that Jesus’ enemies commenced their plot to have him executed by the Romans.  God often works quietly, but sometimes gives us a jolt to get our attention.  Sometimes we risk allowing our business, fatigue, shortsightedness, etc. rob us from the potential blessing God might have in store for us and others.  Sometimes, we miss the important “stone” and have to be reminded.

I’ve been tutoring a couple of young fourth-graders at a local elementary school.  I confess that a couple of weeks ago I was busy, tired, and not in the greatest mood to go to my weekly sessions with the young men – but I went.  I’m building a model motorcycle with one of them.  That morning, in the midst of gluing and painting, out of the blue he looked at me and said, “You know, this is the highlight of my week.”  What a gift he gave me that morning.  That became the highlight of my week as well.  Immediately, I thought, “Okay God, I get the message.”

I pray that as I enter this especially holy time in the Christian year, I will once more heed God’s call to draw closer, and be revitalized to serve in Jesus’ name.  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

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Controlled

•March 29, 2017 • Leave a Comment

“To be controlled . . . ”


“To be controlled by human nature results in death; to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace.”

(Romans 8:6)

This is a photo I took a few years ago of a rock formation in one of my favorite places in the United States, Arches National Park.  This particular formation is called, “The Three Gossips,”  but I contend that it looks more like, “The Three Kings.”  (I have a feeling the issues around separation of church and state kept them from calling it what I think it really resembles.)  Anyway, the stunning arches and other formations in the park are formed by rocks that have been worked on by water, wind, and temperature.  Large rocks just standing there are controlled by natural forces, resulting in stunning works of art.  Wow!

Whether we like it or not, all of us are subjected to forces that have a great impact upon our welfare, state of being, and eventual outcome.  I’m convinced that some, if not often times we’re not really aware of what is controlling us and guiding us along our journey.  Some of these forces might be well beyond our ability to alter, but some are not.  It seems to me that the most dangerous forces shaping us are the ones we choose to ignore, but make no mistake about it, those same forces can have a profound on the “shape” of the “formations” we become.

This is the Christian season of Lent, so each week I find myself wondering about the purpose of the season in today’s world. I wonder how the season can have a meaningful purpose instead of simply serving as a time to test our willpower. What if we used Lent as a time to do some serious soul-searching about identifying the forces that most work upon us, and asking ourselves if those are really the forces we want to shape our destiny?  As the Apostle Paul might ask, “Are the forces leading us to some sort of emotional or spiritual depression, despair, and death, or are the forces leading us to life and peace?”

Lent might not be the time when we can make all the changes, but it might be the time to risk identifying the changes that are necessary.  What shapes and forms me?  What controls me?  Am I allowing God’s Spirit to lead me to life and peace so I can invite others in the same direction?  I pray that God will help me ask these questions during Lent and wait to hear God’s loving response.  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

Bring Them to the Light

•March 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment
” . . . bring them out to the light.”
 

“You yourselves used to be in the darkness, but since you have become the Lord’s people, you are in the light. So you must live like people who belong to the light,  for it is the light that brings a rich harvest of every kind of goodness, righteousness, and truth.  Try to learn what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the worthless things that people do, things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light.”

(Ephesians 5:8-11)

Last week my eyes (and the rest of me) turned 62.  I remember in days of old, my mother handing me a needle and thread and saying, “Would you please thread this for me.  I just can’t see it.”  I also remember times when my father and I would be working on our model train layout and Dad would say to me, “Son, can you get this train back on the track.  I just can’t see those tiny wheels.”  He and I had a layout similar to my current one pictured in the photo above.  If you notice the left side of the photo you’ll see that the size of the trains get smaller and smaller as they go up to the very top of the mountain.  The “Z”gauge train that runs around the top is less than an inch tall with wheels that are very, very tiny.  Well, the truth is, I’ve reached my parents’ “would you” moment.  I’m having great difficulty getting those tiny train wheels back on the track.  However, I’ve made an important discovery.  If I shine bright light on the situation, most times I can see well enough to accomplish the task!

Light reveals so much, everything from tiny details and designs, to dirt and decay.  Ever go in a store or restaurant and feel like the dim lighting was hiding the disrepair the owners would rather you not see?  If something is bad enough to warrant lowering the lights in effort to disguise it, why not raise the lights, analyze the problems, and fix them?

Sometimes we hide in the dark because we’re seduced into believing it’s easier than facing change.  Sometimes we hide because we think we don’t have the resources for change.  Sometimes we hide because we’ve tried to change before and couldn’t do it — our way.  Sometimes we hide because we’re afraid if others really see us in the light, they won’t like what they see – and run.  Maybe Lent can be the time when we simply take the first step – to turn up the lights.  Maybe Lent can be the time when we risk allowing God to lovingly shine a flashlight into the deepest, darkest corners of our lives where we hide our worst thoughts, our worst beliefs, our most shameful behaviors, and our darkest regrets.  I think too often we’re afraid to shine the light because we don’t know how to “fix” what we’re afraid we’ll find, or we’re convinced whatever we find can’t be “fixed.”  Why shine the light if it’s a forgone conclusion that nothing can or will change?

Lent is an invitation to take things one step at a time.  Lent is an invitation to allow God’s light of healing and hope to shine into those deepest, darkest corners of our lives, revealing all the stuff we think we’ve kept hidden from ourselves and others.  Lent is the time for first steps.  Let God’s light shine, and wait for God’s love revealed in Christ to lead you through the next steps toward healing and hope.  I pray that God will always help me to take this first step, and allow God to lead me the rest of the way along the journey of healing and hope.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,

Pastor Gary

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

Be Careful

•March 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

“Be Careful . . . ”


“Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” (Proverbs 4:23)

“Beware the Ides of March,” warns the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”  Tradition has it that the soothsayer had warned Julius Caesar, the Roman Emperor, that something terrible would happen to him by the Ides of March (today, March 15th).  As Julius Caesar was on his way to the Roman Senate he passed by the soothsayer and taunted him by saying something like, “Well, the Ides are here.”  The soothsayer is said to have responded, “But not yet over!”  I wonder if the words were ringing in Caesar’s ears as Brutus and the other senators plunged their knives into him a few moments later!

I took this photo last Saturday as the moon was rising.  With the clouds wafting over it just seemed a little ominous.  With today being the Ides of March, it made me wonder about  the times I’ve heard, “Be careful . . . “

The older I get the more I think I’m aware of some of the ways I’m like my father.  He was one who often said (or at least it seemed pretty often to me), “Be careful . . . ”  For years I think I learned to sort of emotionally duck, let it roll off my back, and simply audibly respond, “Okay.”  To myself I would respond more like, “Not again, I’ve got this dad.”  Sometimes it was even, “Quit annoying me.”  Now, that’s not to say I didn’t heed most of the warnings, I just felt like there were way too many of them.

Now the roles have changed and I’m the father, hearing myself saying probably far too many times, “Be careful . . . ”  I have many holes in my tongue from the number of times I’ve bit a hole in it in order to keep from saying, “be careful,” even more times.  It’s not that I don’t respect the ability of those I love to be able to handle themselves.  I just care so much that I spend time running ahead of their situations to assess the dangers and warn of the potential threats. Sometimes I say, “Be careful . . .”, because I’m warning them not to make the mistakes I’ve already made.  Thankfully, this role change to fatherhood also helped me better appreciate my father’s warnings that I received all the way up until his passing.  “Be careful . . .” really meant, “I love you.”

Let’s face it, it’s easy for all of us to become too self-confident and sloppy with our thinking and behaving.  Sometimes we think it’s okay to stray from Jesus’s new commandment to love like him, and instead, allow ourselves a little time to dabble in unholy thinking.  Maybe a little greed, racism, lust, or hate, maybe a little judgmental thinking won’t hurt that much.  That kind of sloppiness is why we do need a warning from God from time to time. “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.”(Proverbs 4:23)  Hopefully, when we hear that warning, we won’t respond like I used to when I was younger and heard what I thought were one too many of my father’s “be careful’s.”  Hopefully, we’ll recognize God’s love in the warning and heed the offering.  I pray that’s exactly what God will help me to do.  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 to the Mountains

•March 8, 2017 • Leave a Comment

” . . . look to the mountains . . .”


“I look to the mountains;
    where will my help come from?
My help will come from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.”  (Psalm 121:1-2)

My mind and other parts of my body are still a little numb because I spent Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon in some pretty intense meetings.  Whew – it’s over.  Sunday night I left the meeting feeling pretty confused and angry because of some surprising information that was shared.  These were intensely confidential meetings so I could share nothing.  When I got home Sunday evening Patti could tell I was pretty wound up and compassionately asked, “Would you like to talk about it?”

 “I can’t,” I replied, so we watched some TV while I just sort of smoldered.  I pretty much lost a night’s sleep over the whole ordeal.

It’s hard to believe, but the experience did have a positive side as well.  Because I couldn’t talk about it, the experience served as a reminder for me of how important it is that we do share our joys and difficulties with one another whenever possible.  It’s just not healthy for us to bottle things up inside and wait for the results, like physical damage to our bodies from stress-related illnesses, or emotional damage to relationships from hurtful words and actions.  Share with one another, and share with God.  Because I have years of experience as a pastor and pastoral counselor I can attest to times when folks have shared their burdens with me and I basically just listened.  They have generally said they feel better after talking.  It’s always been a special blessing when a “non-believer” (someone who did not believe that simply talking and sharing their burden with another person could ever help) has said after talking to me that they felt better.

Because I couldn’t talk with others in this situation this week I turned even more heavily to God on this one.  God and I had a running prayerful dialogue for several hours over the course of a couple of days.  Have you ever prayed that way, like God is walking with you, riding with you, working with you, and you just talk – and talk, and talk.  That’s what I did, and that’s how God got me through.  I’m back to sleeping better, and I think I managed to get through some difficult discussions without hurting anyone.

“My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  It works.  Try it.  I pray that God will always remind me to look to God when help is needed.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,

Gary

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

Sees Into Our Hearts

•March 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

” . . . sees into our hearts . . . “

In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.   And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will.  “(Romans 8:26-27)
 

This photo is a close-up view of snowflakes on a wool coat.  I took the photo a few weeks ago when we actually had snow flurries for a few moments.  Both the snow flakes and the coat look a little different when seen from a close-up perspective.  When I read in Romans that God can see into our hearts, I think of this kind of close-up.  God can see us in ways we cannot or would rather not see ourselves.  Because God can see us so deeply, God knows what we need, whether it’s encouragement or confrontation.  God is always ready to respond.

Today is the first day of Lent.  There are many traditions and meanings associated with Lent.  This year our church is focusing upon “unity” as our theme for Lent.  In the words of a hymn, “One bread, one body . . . ”  This year I feel called to think of Lent as a time for vision correction.  I think often times actions follow perceptions, and perceptions are greatly formed by what we see.  When we “miss-see” something or our own selves, we act upon those misperceptions.

We might see our selves as inferior or incapable and fail to move on the many challenges and opportunities that God might have in store for us.  Such a view would call for vision correction.  Likewise, we might fail to see ways our vision has been distorted, causing us to see ourselves and others in ways that invite us into hurtful, destructive behaviors.  Such a view would call for vision correction.  Maybe our vision has become distorted by what we’ve seen happening in the world around us, or by powerful forces that appeal to our fear, greed, or hate, urging us to see one another in ways that God does not see us when God looks deeply into all of our hearts.  A vision correction is necessary.

This Lent I pray that God will give me pause to stop and allow God to give me a vision check-up.  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

Dazzling Light

•February 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

” . . . the dazzling light . . . ”


“Every day for all time to come, sacrifice on the altar two one-year-old lambs.  Sacrifice one of the lambs in the morning and the other in the evening.  With the first lamb offer two pounds of fine wheat flour mixed with one quart of pure olive oil. Pour out one quart of wine as an offering.  Sacrifice the second lamb in the evening, and offer with it the same amounts of flour, olive oil, and wine as in the morning. This is a food offering to me, the Lord, and its odor pleases me.  For all time to come, this burnt offering is to be offered in my presence at the entrance of the Tent of my presence. That is where I will meet my people and speak to you.  There I will meet the people of Israel, and the dazzling light of my presence will make the place holy.”  (Exodus 29:38-43)

Tonight’s the night!  I started my tradition in 1981 with an empty coffee can.  I was right out of seminary, serving my first parish, and getting ready for my first Ash Wednesday service on my own as a pastor.  (I served as an associate three years before, but someone else prepared the ashes.)  I took the ashes from the previous Palm Sunday services in the parish, stuffed them into the can, and threw in the match.  It was a little frustrating, not much of a flame, and more of a smoldering fire than a really spectacular show.  Then, as years went by, I discovered charcoal lighter fluid.  The flames got bigger and bigger, suggesting the need for larger burning containers, and – well, you get the picture.

Up until a couple of years ago I burned the previous year’s palms in my driveway or backyard at home, watching alone and taking photos of the flames.  (Notice in the photo for this week you can see a woman in the flames on the right side.  She’s wearing a robe with long flowing sleeves and her hair is blowing in the wind created by the draft.)  As people heard about the process they asked if they could join in.  Imagine that, people coming together around a fire, lifting their joys and issues to God in prayerful celebration!  Sounds biblical — like the verse from Exodus!

Tonight we’ll gather together (children and adults) around the small metal trash can at the church and put in our dried palm branches along with our concerns and celebrations written on small pieces of paper.  I’ll douse it all with way too much charcoal lighter fluid, stand back, throw the match, and  — POOF!  Then we’ll stand there and experience something together that really defies our putting it into words – the mystical experience of being bound together in fellowship by the presence of God.

I am grateful that folks asked to share in the event.  Now it’s so much more than just me, alone, with my big flames and camera.  Now it’s a celebration of the presence of God together.  What a gift!  That’s why we gather in worship and celebration, not because we have to, but rather, because when we do we are blessed by the presence of God and one another.  That blessing may be difficult to describe or understand, but is just as real and meaningful as the sight of the stupendous flames in the pitch dark stretching toward heaven and making cool designs along the way.  We were never made or meant to be alone.  God calls us together, and we are blessed.

I pray that God will always keep me looking for ways to gather with folks in his name.  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