Monday, December 31, 2018

Living Worship: Bearing God's Word into the World

**The following was written for Christmas Eve, but life got busy and it didn't get posted! I believe it is still just as appropriate on New Year's Eve though and pray that we all can live into 2019 bearing Christ into the world through our own actions and love.**

It is Christmas Eve and a very appropriate day to consider how we take our “living worship” into the world as we watch and wait with baited breath. The Christ child is coming!

It is an incredible thing to consider that this baby whom we await will completely change the world. It is an incredible thing to consider that the way we choose to live and worship Christ can also completely change the world.

We have focused on gathering in community and praising God together. We have spent more time with God’s Word, discerning what to do with it. We have seen the way our lives have reoriented toward God and others in response to this new way. Now, we reorient our focus just one last time, away from how our own lives are affected and towards the way we can reach out to other lives.

This isn’t the time to “save” or convert our neighbors. It is the time to include all that we have prayed for, read about, discerned, and questioned in our living worship, in our relationships with all who we meet. This is the hard part. This is the part that separates “Sunday morning Christians” from Christians.

Christ came to live with us, walk with us, eat with us, listen to us, and teach us. Christ came so that we might know God’s love and grace in a very personal manner. This is the same love and grace which we read about throughout the entirety of Scripture but it becomes something tangible on the night when Emmanuel arrives, when God is with us in a truly powerful way. This love and grace is that which the disciples marveled at, Paul wrote about, and church councils convened over for centuries (and still do). This is the love and grace which empowers us to take on every single day.

As we stare at that star which shines the brightest for the Christ child born tonight and as we join in with the choirs of angels, we are now called to break out of our comfort zone. We are called to live in a challenging and terrifying way. We are now facing a life of compassion, justice, mercy, and love which we cannot ever walk away from if we are truly living worship.

No present under a tree can ever compare with the life we will now live as we fully embrace and give ourselves over to living worship in every moment of our everyday life. This isn’t just what makes for a great ministry or great relationships with our neighbors, this is what will ultimately usher in the Kingdom of God which this baby will teach us so much about.

And we go forth in this new way of life,
as we go forth living our worship every moment of every day –
May God’s love surround you,
may Christ’s teachings guide you,
and may the light of the Holy Spirit shine on whatever path you take,
today and always.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Living Worship: Responding to the Word

We are now in the third week of Advent. Greening services are complete and cantatas are giving us a bit of a breather as we prepare for the last push. Mary now knows that she is pregnant and we are sitting with anticipation for what is to come.

How are you feeling? Have things changed at all as you live more intentionally and incorporate the Sunday worship model into your daily life?

At this point, we are hopefully shifting our focus toward those around us a little bit more and that is likely being influenced by our time spent with Scripture each day. The question now is how do we respond to this shift? As I ponder this in my own life, I am reminded of a question which became a regular part of my faith and ministry vocabulary as a chaplain intern, “What does this say about what you believe about God?”

During this third portion of worship each week, we typically join our voices together in an affirmation of faith and the prayers of the people in addition to giving our offering of tithes and talents. As pastors, our “scripts” might say something along the lines of, “Because God cares for us, we care for one another…” or “Because God has given us so much, we give back…”

So, what are we saying in our own lives? How has this shift or more intentional focus not only shaped what believe but shaped our response to what we believe?

As I work through my variety of daily devotions (I am a 5 year old child at heart and can rarely follow a single one for long), I find myself excitedly taking screenshots of the devotions and sharing them with my youth.  I find myself energized by God’s Word and want others to feel that same energy!

In the midst of several stress inducing circumstances, I am noticing that I am at least striving to live a somewhat less stressed and check-list focused life. My desire for that Sunday morning community has helped me to open my heart and ears to those who come to my office door, rather than continually glancing at the clock to make sure that I will have time to finish what I am working on. At the close of the day, I am able to sit in the peace which I began the day with – enjoying the time with my husband more and worrying about what emails might be coming in less.

In short, as I focus on living my life as worship, a lot more of my actions are in response to the strength and peace which I am finding. It seems that the best way to summarize the way I find myself responding to what I read and discern in this more focused way of living can be found in John’s first letter,

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.
11 Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. 13 This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. 15 If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God. 16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17 This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.
1 John 4: 7-21

If that isn’t something to get excited about as we round the corner and come closer and closer to the birth of Savior, I don’t know what is!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Living Worship: The Word Read and Proclaimed

One afternoon when I was watching my five year old niece, she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
“Well, I am studying to be a pastor,” I told her.
“What is that?” she asked.
“Well, remember the guy at Granny and Grandaddy’s church who says the prayers and talks about the Bible? I want to do what he is doing.”
“Oh…  well that is boring.”

Sure, maybe hearing Scripture read and sermons preached isn’t the most exciting thing in the world when you first think about it, but once you start digging in, it can be absolutely incredible!

I will be the first to admit that I am not always on top of daily devotions. Sometimes the day gets away with me and the only time I look at a Bible is when I am planning my next Sunday School class or worship. I admire my colleagues and friends who are able to carve out time for daily devotion, and as I focus on living my life as worship I am doing a little bit better job with this.

Researchers say that if we start our day by working out, we are more likely to make healthier decisions throughout the rest of the day. Our bodies feel clean and energized and we want to keep that feeling. We take the steps instead of the elevator, opt for the yogurt instead of the biscuit, and are generally happier and less likely to get upset (yay endorphins!) Morning devotions work in a similar way. When we take time to sit in the quiet and not just read Scripture, but pray about it and consider the way it not only fits into our lives but how our lives fit into it, our days end up looking very different. Our conversations and actions are guided by that time of devotion and our lives might feel a bit more open.

If you are like me and are skilled at finding excuses about why you are not able to do something, especially in the morning, I offer these devotion resources to you (think about these like the “Couch to 5k” method to daily devotion) :

Pray as You Go – a beautiful audio recording with monks chanting and calming voices reading and reflecting on scripture *This can be accessed both online and through your App store*
PC(USA) Book of Daily Prayer – In the App form, open this up any time of day and it will give you lectionary based scripture and prayer for that time of day (morning, afternoon, evening, and close of day) *This is available both in your App store and in book form*
d365 – written for youth, but a wonderful resource for anyone *This can be accessed both online and through your App store*
Presbyterians Today Advent Devotions *Free downloadable PDF*
Sojourners Daily Devotion – a social justice focused devotion which is sent straight to your inbox
Daily Feast – I love these brief devotions! When I need a technology break, I have this sitting within arm’s reach at my desk.

Daily devotions are not just something which we should check off on our daily to-do lists. Spending time reading and reflecting on God’s Word for us is a practice of self care which is far more important and life giving than a manicure or cup of coffee. When our days are guided by God’s Word, our actions and words take on new meaning and our relationships become more personal and grace filled; our grief finds comfort and our comfort finds challenge.

Reading and proclaiming God’s Word for us today doesn’t have to be boring and it doesn’t just happen on Sunday. When we really sit with God’s Word, we live with empowered hands and feet and see the world through a different lens!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Living Worship: We Gather Together

The following is one installment in a series, "Living Worship". You can find an introduction to this series over in Congregational Corner.

Passing the Peace at First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo, NY

The weekly reunions between friends, sharing of prayer requests and celebrations, and introductions of new friends echo through our Sanctuary each week until the “Trinity Chimes” sound. There is something beautiful and exciting about a congregation which can’t be easily quieted for worship to begin. There are times that I love to just sit, close my eyes, and listen for a moment. Truly, the Spirit is moving already!

As I think about what it means to live my life as worship, I feel my heart swell as I think about the opening portion of worship each week. The hymns are typically uplifting and familiar and the communal prayer of confession reminds me that I am not alone in the ways that I mess up and in the incredible way in which God continues to forgive me.

Thinking about my typical weekday, though, this portion of worship might be a bit harder to pin down. Too often, I find myself rushing through the day focused on a computer screen and my calendar, missing those people who I pass in the hallway. I stare at my watch or catch up on emails in the grocery store line instead of enjoying conversation with the person standing behind me. I get frustrated with the other drivers on the road, convinced that the traffic jam is caused by the way they are driving and has nothing to do with my own driving habits.

In this first week of Advent, I find myself somewhat alone in my hyper-focused push toward Christmas. Thinking about the peace and joy which I feel while I listen to the congregation on Sunday morning, I am seeking ways to step away from my computer and put my phone in my purse. I wonder who I have seen and said “Hello” to, but didn’t stop to listen. I remember the strength which I feel when I recognize that I have messed up alongside my neighbor and that God is with each of us, even in those moments. I celebrate the ways in which I hear my voice among many as I praise God and give thanks for the ways which I have seen God bringing me to this point and to this place.

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” 
Hebrews 10: 24-25

This is one of my favorite verses, and I pray that it will be a guide for each of us during this first week of Advent. While non-traditional in the realm of Advent scriptures, it reminds me of our call to stand together in community as we wait for the arrival of the Christ child, even in the midst of a hectic schedule and ranging emotions which are brought on by this season.

Join me in our Advent Call to Worship-filled Living…

You have called us away from our desks;
You have called us away from our phones.
You have called us to stand together;
You have called us to worship as One.
Be with us and in us;
Guide us and empower us.
Open our eyes to see your Light;
Open our mouths to sing your praises.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A New Thing

On this first day of Advent, I find myself both ready and terrified to venture out and do a new thing. As I laid awake last night, I wondered if this was a good idea and what the pros and cons are (I am a STRONG Type A personality!). When I arrived at work, tired and still confused, I looked over at my bookshelf where I saw a plate which I painted with my very first confirmation class. Written over my attempt at a painted sunset, I wrote the words from Isaiah 43: 18-19 "Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?"

This scripture is one which has carried me through the hardest of times -- a change of career, three years of seminary, and three job searches. When the world seemed to be completely dark, these words reminded me of the sunsets which I have always loved photographing. Today, the first day of Advent, these words offer me comfort as I step out onto a new path full of it's own challenges.

I absolutely love writing. I began writing at a very young age, in diaries which tracked every crush and every way I was sure my parent's were the worst ever (I was a teenager...). The diary evolved into writing short stories and blogs about my personal life, time of discernment in seminary, and finally into reflections on what I was seeing and experiencing in ministry with Union Presbyterian Seminary and through my year as a transitional associate pastor at Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian. I have even sent submissions to Unbound (a social justice publication through the Presbyterian Church, USA), NEXT Church, and Presbyterian Outlook.

Writing comforts me. I write to process and to de-stress. I write to pray. I write to share my voice, something I struggle with at times but if I tell my youth that they should, then I should do the same. I have thought, many times, about trying my hand at something more formal than a blog and who knows... maybe I will do that one day!

So, here we go... a new thing. I am venturing in a new direction and seeing what happens. There won't be a solid format here -- just my musings and reflections on life and ministry. In addition to those musings and reflections, I will share sermons, liturgy, and devotions. There will be no schedule but instead it will come as the Spirit leads... and I just pray that somebody, even just one person, finds a nurturing, encouraging, or comforting word here.

Here goes!