Posts Tagged ‘blessing

23
Oct
19

GLOW

support groupMy wife GLOWs.

Every fourth Thursday of the month.

From 5:30 to 7:00.

And because she GLOWs, we glow (and grow) together as a family.

You see, GLOW is the name of the women’s cancer support group Joan attends at a nearby church. In an amazingly providential stroke, it turned out that there was a GLOW meeting last year on the exact same day she received her cancer diagnosis.

She has been going (and GLOWing) ever since.

GLOW is not necessarily a reference to the fact that many of the group’s members have undergone radiation therapy for their cancer. It is an acronym. It stands for God Loves Outrageous Women.

The GLOW Girls are indeed outrageous. Outrageously optimistic. They are also fierce. They are funny. They laugh together and they cry together. Sometimes they go to lunch together.

They also pray together. A LOT.

When the GLOW Girls gather on the fourth Thursday of the month, they share information with each other. For example, one woman got a lot of relief for the neuropathy in her feet from acupuncture. So she shared the name and phone number of her acupuncturist.

They share their joys, and much too regularly they share their sorrows.

I have never personally found myself on the receiving end of devastating news like a cancer diagnosis like Joan has. I have, however, gone through the devastation of a divorce. I have felt the anguish and soul-searching and the sting of a hundred “what ifs” that are all part of that terrible journey.

Divorce plunged me into moments of searing loneliness… a loneliness so deep I felt like I would never emerge from it.

And because of that experience, I also know what it feels like when someone extends a hand into that loneliness and says, “Hey there. I see you. I know what’s happening. I’ve been there.”

It felt a lot like what I imagine a drowning man might feel when grabbing hold of a life preserver.

At some point along the way, every one of us will have to travel through a dark valley. Those valleys will each be different and unique, but they will share some basic characteristics. They will frighten us, they will arouse anger, they will shake our faith to its core.

They will also try to isolate us and make us feel alone and defenseless.

When the time comes for your dark valley, I pray you will also be blessed by the gift of a supportive community… just like I found with my friend. Just like Joan has found with the GLOW Girls.

Honestly, though, communities can’t cure you. They can’t take your pain and fear away. They can’t magically change the dire nature of whatever it is you are facing.

But they can remind you that you are not alone. They can serve as a tangible, flesh-and-blood representation of the loving Creator who walks beside you through this dark moment.

They can help you laugh. They can help you cry. They can join you for lunch. They can recommend a good acupuncturist.

They can also help you carry your impossible burden, just like Paul tells us we are supposed to do: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV).

 

… and they just might help you glow a little when things get really dark.

11
Oct
19

Celebrating Women in Ministry

Female pastorFrom watching the TODAY Show this morning, I learned that today – October 11 – is the International Day of the Girl. Seems like something I should have known already.

I hope you won’t take offense at being called girls, but to celebrate this day, I want to give a big shout-out to female pastors.

I have had the privilege of knowing some phenomenal women who have answered the call to ordained ministry and who have served Christ faithfully, tirelessly, and creatively… all while enduring challenges we male clergy types have never even imagined experiencing.

  • I, for example, have never had a congregant come through the hand-shake line and compliment me on my hairstyle, utterly ignoring every word of my painstakingly prepared message.
  • I have also never heard the comment – overtly or covertly – that “men just don’t belong in the pulpit.” (And yes, that is still being said in 2019 in reference to female clergy).
  • No one has ever told me that they couldn’t focus on my message because I was “too pretty.”
  • My denomination has not systematically overlooked my leadership abilities when appointment-setting time rolls around.
  • I have never been called “overly emotional” (even though I really am an overly emotional guy).
  • Concerns have never been expressed about how I will balance my parenting responsibilities with my ministry.
  • I have never been “accidentally” groped while serving Holy Communion. (And just to be crystal clear; the quotes there around the word “accidentally” mean there was nothing accidental at all about the groping. And yes, that happened just a year ago to a female clergy friend).
  • And the list goes on and on, ad nauseum

It was only fifty years ago that the Methodist Church (pre-merger) began ordaining women. The largest protestant denomination in the world (the Southern Baptist Conference) still cites 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”)for its outlandish refusal to permit women to have any position of power in the Southern Baptist Church.

[So just a question for you here, SBC: are you also “all in” with Paul’s instructions on how to treat our slaves? Or on the covering of heads? Or the Levitical ordnances against mixing fibers in our clothing? Just curious…]

Even though I would love to believe that the CHURCH would be the last place we would find injustice, intolerance, and bigotry, it is just not the case.

Even here.

Even now.

So, blessings and much love on this International Day to you Shelly, Gayla, Maria, Kara, Nancy, Barb, Nanette, Libby, Melinda, Trudy, Sylvia, Sharon, Amy, Dee, Anne, Karen, Stephanie, Ally, Shayla, Esther, Joyce, Ashlee, Jada, Lisa, Rebecca, Nadia, and to every woman who nevertheless persists in following God’s call on your life.

We need you now more than ever.

And to the rest of us, let’s do everything we can to support and encourage these women as they lead us in following Christ.

09
Oct
19

One Funeral Too Many

Jesus began to weep. (John 11:35, NRSV)

Hugging menHere lately I have been going to entirely too many funerals.

OK, I suppose you could say this is just par for the course for people in that “certain” age bracket to which I now officially belong.

But it seems that since officially retiring from the ministry on July 1, I have gone to WAAAAY more funerals than in any similar three-month stretch in memory. And only one of these was for an elderly, 90+ year-old man who died of the legendary “natural causes.”

The funeral yesterday was the one that hit me hardest of all. It was a service for the 61-year-old spouse of one of my pastor colleagues who died from a particularly aggressive and fast-moving cancer.

I hadn’t even heard she was ill.

I know I reacted so strongly to Doreen’s service because of the cancer scare we had just a little over a year ago with Joan. As I sat in the sanctuary yesterday listening to the music, watching the slideshow of family photo memories and gazing into the grieving faces of friends and family, I nearly lost it.

It was a great service, as these things go. The pastor (not my friend, her husband) did one of the very best officiating jobs I have ever experienced. And I have seen/officiated at a LOT of funerals. She was tender at the appropriate moments, funny when that was called for, gave comfort and hope to all of us, and was theologically rock solid throughout.

I guess I responded the way I did because right there, in the middle of the whole thing, the utter fragility of life became a little too real for me. My mortality, Joan’s mortality, the mortality of everyone I care about suddenly stood up and slapped me in the face.

HARD!

And as it did, the absurdity of the service came into focus as well. I mean, what are we trying to do here, I asked myself? In a way I felt like a caveman, gathering with other cavepeople around a roaring fire, believing we were safe from evil as long as we stayed within the fire’s friendly yellow ring of light.

When asked to officiate at a funeral, I carry with me the belief that a thoughtful, compassionately conducted funeral service can go a long way toward kick-starting the healing process for a family. My goal has always been to leave folks with some kind of “spiritual lifeline” to grab hold of in the ensuing weeks after the rush of arrangement-making, hosting family and friends from out of town, and all of the administrative aftermath of a death dies down and the quiet finally sets in.

But regardless of how well any officiant does our job, we can’t carry your grief for you. Nothing we say can anesthetize or paper over the hole that has suddenly appeared in the middle of your life.

Funerals, even at their best, are always too brief, too superficial, and too impersonal to permanently stave off the darkness.

But maybe that is not even the outcome we should be shooting for.

Maybe we should ask something higher, better, and more realistic from these ceremonial post-mortem gatherings of ours.

Maybe we could come to see funerals as times to turn toward one another knowingly, and tenderly, and say, “My God this is precious. Forgive me, sister, for ever drawing one breath without exhaling gratitude. Pardon me, brother, for taking for granted any moment, any conversation, any laugh we have shared. Let’s use the holy moment of this dear one’s passing to renew our vow to wrap our arms tightly around each other and around our Creator and to DANCE through the rest of whatever limited time here we have.”

Wouldn’t that be something?

05
Aug
19

Mr. Tidy Guy

Tidy guyI hate messes.

I confess freely and fully to you now that I am a compulsive tidier-upper. Some (such as my loving wife) might even say I verge on being obsessive-compulsive about my tidying.

Things lying around on the kitchen counter that don’t belong there make me just a little crazy. And so… they get tidied.

In my wake, half-finished cans of Diet Coke get dumped (sorry honey!), today’s edition of the newspaper gets recycled (if it is after 2:00 p.m.), dust bunnies get swept away, and aimlessly wandering pens or pencils get returned to their proper homes.

Try as I might, I have been unable to confine my tidying to my own home. Microscopically crooked pictures on the walls of doctor or dentist’s offices don’t stay that way for very long when I am around.

I will also confess that it takes every ounce of self-restraint I can muster to keep from reaching over and wiping that little spot of mustard off a child’s cheek at our neighborhood McDonald’s.

I realize that this behavior is much more an affliction than a virtue, and yet, I persist… neatening up the world, one disorderly trash pile at a time.

I wonder what is really going on here. What do you think the deeper drivers of this neatnik-ness might be?

I wonder if it has anything to do with looking out every day at a world that seems to get messier and messier by the minute… heaping tragedy on top of disaster on top of sorrow, on top of sin?

I wonder if the visions of lives permanently disfigured by violence, addiction, poverty, war, or natural disasters make me feel like I have to DO SOMETHING to bring a tiny piece of order into this landscape of chaos?

I wonder if I am engaging in some kind of silly antidote to my own sense of helplessness in the face of a world that seems to have run a little amok… as if to say, “Well, the politicians in this country might lack the spines to enact any kind of common-sense gun laws that could bring down the epic levels of gun violence we see here today, but at least my living room carpet is nicely vacuumed.”

It is entirely possible.

But then I am forced to reflect on the fact that Jesus didn’t ever promise me that life would suddenly become neat and orderly when I decided to follow him.

In one place in John’s gospel, Jesus promised that life with him would be ABUNDANT. (John 10:10). So I guess it is possible for life to be abundant and messy at the same time, right?

In another place, Jesus is actually on record as promising the continuation of messes and problems; “… in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

Today I hereby resolve to try and do a better job of leaving Joan’s Diet Coke cans alone when I find them.

However, odds are pretty good that I will continue to be Mr. Tidy Guy both at home and abroad.

But I will also try to remember – as I look out on the massiveness and complexity of the piles of mess in the world – that those messes do not have the final word. As unsolvable and un-tidiable as they might look, they have already been brought under the authority and control of the One who is far greater than any mess imaginable.

 

So, if you will excuse me… I’ve just spotted an errant scrap of paper on my front lawn.

01
Aug
19

Ash-A-Palooza 2019

“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Matthew 19:30, NRSV

Sibling hugI consider myself a committed, albeit deeply flawed, follower of Jesus Christ. I try to live my life by his example, in spite of failing and coming up short time after time after time.

Nevertheless, I keep trying.

I also take Jesus at his word, as captured in the canon of the New Testament… even when I don’t understand exactly what he is trying to say. Take for example the story in Matthew 17 where Jesus and Peter are talking about the folks who collect the so-called “Temple tax.” After asking Peter from whom the “kings of the earth” receive their tribute, Jesus says this to him: “…go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”(Matthew 17:27, NRSV).

Huh?

Whatever he meant there, I am going to assume that it is true, deep, and wise.

I just don’t happen to get it.

I also take him at his word in the Matthew 19 passage quoted at the top of this page about the “firsts” and the “lasts.” Even so, I have to admit that in my multiple years of life on this planet, I have rarely seen examples of the truth of this statement in action.

What I mean is; those who are “first” in life seem to remain stubbornly at the front of the line while the folks at the back – whether socially, economically, or politically – often seem to be permanently welded to those rearward positions.

And so I consider it nothing short of a praise-the-Lord-Hallelujah style miracle to be able to tell you that I saw the truth of this Matthew 19:30 passage acted out right in front of me this past week.

Allow me to explain: growing up, the very LAST people I wanted to be associated with were my siblings. I considered them to be the most annoying, troublesome, frustrating, clumsy, idiotic, and just plain UNCOOL human beings on the face of the earth.

EVERY ONE OF THEM!

You see, I am the oldest of the five offspring of George and Lyn Brown. We stair-step down from me, just about every 1 ½ to two years to Melinda, Douglas, Alan, all the way down to the baby, Eric.

(The baby, incidentally, celebrated his 60thbirthday earlier this year.)

My parents were continually admonishing me about my duty to “be an example to your younger brothers and sister,” throughout my life and I frankly resented them for it.  I could not wait to graduate from high school and finally get out of the oppressive, sibling-infested environment of our house.

But my… how several decades of time and multiple life-shaping experiences can change things.

Today those annoying pests who once occupied the lowest rungs on my Personal Preference Ladder have leap-frogged themselves all the way to the top… just a couple of rungs down from my Savior and my lovely wife.

We began growing closer when my mother died of lymphoma in 1970. Through marriages, divorces, illnesses, victories, defeats, children, and grandchildren, we have been steadily closing the gap every year.

But what really cemented them into their permanent, favored place in my heart was our recently-concluded sojourn, somewhat whimsically titled, “Ash-A-Palooza 2019: Brown People Go Back Where They Came From.”

This was a trip that covered seven days, 2,000 miles, 300 songs, hundreds of laughs, and lots of tears.

It was the fulfillment of a request from our father to have his cremated ashes spread to five different locations around the U.S. Each location he chose held special significance to him and to our family.

Last summer we sprinkled some of his ashes onto the flank of Mt. Rainer in Washington State and into the Pacific Ocean. This year’s leg of the trip took us to St. Louis (his birthplace), Columbus, Ohio (the birthplace of each of the kids), and the shores of Lake Michigan, at the summer camp where he and my mother met in the summer of 1947.

This trip generated too many stories to tell in one short blog post, so I won’t even try. Needless to say, it reconnected us to one another in special and spiritual ways. It reconnected us with people and places in our history.

But most of all, it reconnected me – and I am sure all of us – to the beauty and wonder that is this strange thing we call FAMILY.

The last have indeed become the first…

… even if they are still a bunch of knuckleheads.

03
Jun
19

Hearing the Call

unknown caller“Who is calling, please?”

Remember life before there was such a thing as Caller ID?

We just blindly answered the phone whenever it rang, trusting that the person on the other end was someone we knew. It never occurred to us that it might be a stranger trying to scam us or sell us something we didn’t need.

Today things are different. If a name does not appear on the screen when my phone rings, it automatically gives rise to my suspicious nature.

 

I instantly wonder; “Scammer? Telemarketer? Wrong number?”Because it is almost never my long-ago high school buddy who just happened to be in town for a convention and wanted to have dinner and catch up on old times.

A call is especially unnerving – I’ve discovered – when it comes from God.

The bible backs me up on this; it is replete with stories of people who ran AWAY when God called (Jonah), who were suspicious when God called (Gideon), who dug in their heels and flat refused (Moses), and even one who was so hard-headed he had to be hit upside the head with a big ol’ bolt of light (Paul).

It took a whole lot of persuading back in 1997 to finally convince me that God was indeed calling me into the ministry. I was – after all – not a young guy by any means. Besides which I already had a good job, and had already seen the trials and tribulations my father went through when he answered the call to ministry later in life.

“Sorry… wrong number,” I wanted to say. “Not interested.”

But wiser friends and family members prevailed and persuaded me to take that call.

So now here I am… 20+ years later, preparing to leave professional ministry altogether… and find myself asking the whole “calling” question all over again.

I wonder: is God still calling me?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the answer to this one is “Yes indeedy, Gomer. If God can call Abram at the age of 75, God can most surely call you at your tender age of 67.”

But if that is true, I am still curious about what God might be calling me TO exactly?

I know the call is not to golf course ministry. I made sure of that by selling my golf clubs in our recently-completed garage sale.

I am pretty sure my call is not to a life of Netflix binge-watching and bon-bon eating, or gardening and telling the neighbor kids to “Get off my lawn!” That just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing God would have a hard time finding volunteers for. (Incidentally, what is a bon-bon exactly?)

I know part of my new vocation will involve spending more time with Joan, more time with grandchildren, more time in creative pursuits, and more time experiencing the wonders of this big blue marble. 

But still… what do you do with a guy who still has health (knock wood!), a passion for Jesus, a willingness to speak up and speak out and very soon a WHOLE lot of new time on his hands?

Surely there is something God can do with all of that isn’t there?

In the meantime, pass the sunscreen, please.

21
May
19

How is your HT/WT?

ContentmentWhen was the last time you checked the HT/WT ratio of your life?

Just in case my question is a little obtuse, let me explain. I am referring – of course – to your “Have to/Want to” ratio… the relationship between the things you do during your day because you HAVE TO do them and the things you do because you WANT TO.

I think each of us probably strives for something like a 0/100 ratio. That is, we hope everything we do is something we do because we want to… even if we have to do it.

I have to eat… but I also want to eat. I have to brush my teeth… but I also want to. I have to write a sermon every week (because – you know – I’m a pastor), but I also want to.

I certainly have a whole host of things on my “Have to… don’t really want to” list, including:

  • Exercise
  • Lawn mowing
  • Shaving
  • Bill paying
  • Weed pulling
  • Poop Scooping
  • TV news-watching

… and trust me when I tell you the list goes on.

Most of us, I would guess, fluctuate somewhere within 10-15 points of the 50/50 line on any given day. But I have also talked to some folks who tell me they feel like they are living 100/0 lives where EVERYTHING is a “have to” and nothing is a “want to.”

Another word for the “have to/want to” ratio might be CONTENTMENT.

JOY works also.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing that a change in the outward circumstances of our lives will be the key to improving our HT/WT ratio. We say things like, “If I could only find a different job/place to live/set of friends I would be a lot happier and more content.”

As a person on the brink of retirement, I often catch myself saying, “Once I retire, I’ll be able to do WHATEVER I WANT TO… all day long.”

And while it is true that I will be able to have MORE of the “want to’s” every day, there will still be quite a few “have to’s.” I will still have to exercise… still have to mow my grass… still have to scoop poop. (Unless, of course, I can somehow train the dogs to use the toilet! Hmmmm…)

While we scour the shelves of the “How To…” books, attend seminars, and engage expensive therapists to help us figure out ways to boost our WT numbers in relation to our HTs, the answer has been right there all along: staring us in the face.

Some wise guy once said, “The key to happiness lies not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you get.”

Socrates put it this way: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 

What it really boils down to is the ancient virtue of GRATITUDE… Being grateful for every day, every relationship, every task, and every breath that enters our lungs. In fact, I am willing to bet there is someone in the world right now who would be tickled to death to have the task of cleaning up his/her back yard after their dog(s).

To emphasize the importance of gratitude, the Bible repeats the command to “give thanks” a total of 61 times in both Old and New Testaments. 1 Thessalonians gets a little more extreme when it tells us to: “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1 Thess. 5:18, NRSV).

That’s right: ALL circumstances.

Even when you are working out.

Even when you are mowing the lawn.

Even – I suppose – when you are scooping poop.




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