Saturday, February 7, 2015

Perhaps you've noticed: it's winter! Every year after a few months of winter I get a serious case of cabin fever. I mean, I go out, sure. . . I go to work, swim team practice, last night I even went to see a play in Cleveland with my family. (Hence the picture below!) But it still seems dark all around me. Even as I write the sun is flowing in the window but because it's so cold outside, it still seems dark to me. 

I am usually (usually!) an upbeat, cheery person most days. But when the winter drags on and on I simply want to strangle that groundhog and make him get his act together and bring on the Spring! (Violence to rodents or any other of God's creatures is strictly frowned up, by the way!) It seems that darkness seeks to envelop me when the days are shorter and darker. When all I want to do is crawl into bed and cover my head except for then my back aches from laying down for too long! (Such a pitiful case I am) What can I do? I exercise. I write. I read, but the enemy grabs ahold of me and brings me down deeper into the dark abyss of despair-for-no-good-reason. 

Luke 11:33
In his life, Martin Luther wrote about these "dark nights" which he called anfechtungen (in German). I have found his words about the enemy's attacks and the darkness he experienced to be especially helpful. He clung to the Word of God, and he relied on the Sacraments - remembering his baptism and partaking of Christ's holy supper. The community of faith was an amazing resource for him as the people of God nurtured and cared for him in his anxious state. 

Some people don't think the enemy is real. They think it's a figment of our overactive imaginations. In seminary it was never clear to me whether the professors believed in the reality of Satan, an adversary to God, or if it was a mythical way to explain evil in the world. Further, I always wondered if they just chalked spiritual battles up to moods, sin, and that nasty human free will/original sin thing. Whatever the case, I sincerely believe and teach the disciples in the flock I am entrusted to care for, that the closer you are to Christ, the deeper God pulls you in to the divine heart, the MORE the enemy will attack. Satan wants nothing more than to pull you away from Jesus and his love. This is the struggle we are all committed to: living faithfully while under attack.

Luther was right when he said, "No one should be alone when he opposes Satan. The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together one may help another. If the prayer of one doesn't help, the prayer of another will." 
The church is the light of Christ in the world. You may not think that your presence in your faith community is something that is important. You might say to yourself, "If I don't show up, no one will miss me." But that is simply not true. You are needed. Every Sunday. The community of faith has a hole in it each week because there is always someone missing from the assembly. You are the light. . . you are like a bulb in this chandelier picture. The light gets brighter the more bulbs that are lit! And it is this light that illumines the darkness of your brothers and sisters in faith. We do it for each other through the power of Christ, and by the way - he said to do it, "Let your light so shine before others. . ." It's not just about talents, but it is also about relationships. 


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"More Ways to Christmas Joy"

Wal Mart has an ad running on the radio right now that promises,
"More ways to Christmas joy." Oh, if it that could be the case that joy might be purchased at my local Wal Mart or other retailer. The problem with this is that many in our society believe just that! We think that joy comes in the form of the newest electronics or flannel bathrobes. Sure, there are things we need, and there are some folks around us who are in great need of basic necessities for daily living. But that's the job of the Church of Christ to take care of- not of Wal Mart, Kohls, Macys, or any other shopping outlet. That's where we get it all mixed up. 

The joy of the Lord comes from our generosity to one another, our love for each other, our ability and desire to care for the needs of each other. More than that, it comes from our growing understanding that God hears our prayers of need, comforts us, and is with us always -- even if he isn't waving a magic wand to fix our situations (though many think he should).

Sometimes I think we try so hard to create joy that we miss experiencing it in the ways that are already present for us: in the faces of children, the hug of a friend, the small gifts that say, "You mean something to me," a kind word when you're having a rough day. No material item can replace the love and kindness we offer one another and in this season of tidings of great joy, do you or others in your life struggle to grasp even a tidbit of peace and joy? All around me I see folks stressed, running as fast as they can, snippy and snappy because there is too much to do "before Christmas."
What's the point of all of this? We have to wonder.

In light of that question, let me be so bold as to come up with my top ten list of "More Ways to Christmas Joy." In no particular order (and keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list):

1. Practice kindness. Kindness is a lost art in our world.
2. Go to worship and sit quietly in the sanctuary. Take in the sights and sounds but keep yourself still and listen for God. This is a calming exercise that is certain to touch your heart with joy.
3. Take a day off from work just to "be."
4. Do something fun! Life is meant to be enjoyed, not slaved through day after day.
5. Read something inspiring!
6. Kiss your family and hug them to pieces. Snuggle with your kids and grandkids. (Hugging produces the hormone Oxytocin which calms us and gives us a sense of peace and tranquility. Isn't God a genius creator??)
7. Call friends and tell them how much you love them!
8. Hang out with some teenagers! They will make you laugh and feel young.
9. Sing Christmas carols! Pay attention to the words and find God there.
10. Take a long walk with the one you love. Hold hands. Take your dog with you! And give thanks for all you have; don't despair about what you don't. Christ is with you. He came to this earth for you and for me because he loves us.

In the remaining days of Advent, I pray you will have a joyful experience. Praise the newborn King for he is our light and our salvation.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Amy+

Monday, December 15, 2014

Encourage One Another

I have to admit it in order to be fair: In gym class I was usually the one doing the picking when it came to choosing teams. I can't actually think of a time when I was the last one picked, but I have compassion for those who are. It hurts my heart when the last one picked feels a blow to their psyche- you can see it on their face, "Last picked again? Left behind again?"  I'd rather be the last one picked if it means that someone is going to be upset because they are- truth is I don't care all that much. I know my gifts and I'm confident in my abilities. I can make lemonade out of lemons most days, so being the last one chosen just means a slight delay getting started.

The thing is, I've been on many, many teams in my life. I've been on basketball teams, volleyball teams, track teams, soccer teams, coached track teams and swim teams and volleyball team, worked on committees and task forces, and the biggest team of all--- the local church! In most cases I didn't get to pick to the players- either they were there already, they volunteered to help, or someone else picked them. I'm fine with all of those options. I'm thrilled that folks want to use their gifts and talents for the team.

But here's the thing: If you want to be on a team, you have to play like a team, and that means encouraging one another rather than tearing each other down or insisting on your own way. 

There's way too much insisting on our own way in the world!

There's way too much insisting on our own way in the church!

In both cases, in the world and in the church, we are in this together. One teammate doesn't have all the answers; one teammate doesn't have all the gifts. (Romans 12:1-8) We are stronger together than we are separate or in factions. We have no time to waste or be complacent, as we are reminded in this Advent season. Christ is returning and we know not the day nor the hour. We are called to work as a team so that all might know the love and peace of Christ. Unfortunately, our sinfulness can get in the way of that goal. We repent of that and vow to do better.

Take a look at St. Paul's advice to the Thessalonians, from the Message (1Th 5:1-13)
1-3 I don’t think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. You know as well as I that the day of the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars. He won’t call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would. About the time everybody’s walking around complacently, congratulating each other—“We’ve sure got it made! Now we can take it easy!”—suddenly everything will fall apart. It’s going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman.
4-8 But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. People sleep at night and get drunk at night. But not us! Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation.
9-11 God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.
The good news for us is that Christ is on our team. He's the captain of the team. He's the playmaker! And He chose us to play! We may not have chosen all the other teammates on the team had it been up to us, but it wasn't! Christ did the choosing, and that's good enough for me. (John 15:16) Let's take Paul's advice and build one another up! Let's focus on our own part of the game and cheer on our teammates in the process. Every person is a beloved child of God and deserves our deepest honor and respect. When we play the "game" like this we show the world the very nature of our Loving God. 

Have a blessed Advent and Christmas!
P. Amy+

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Things I Learned in Malawi: Education is a True Privilege

He who thinks little of the ABC's will never be a man of great learning. 
A Favorite Proverb Martin Luther Wrote on a Wall in His Home

I have always valued education. As a young child my favorite toy of all the toys in my room, was a chalkboard. I saved every paper that was returned to me in grade school and used them to teach my teddy bears and dolls how to read, write, and do math. (Okay so they had a hard time learning, but I'm sure by "teaching" them I learned the material even better.)

Our two children have watched us receive master's degrees and have witnessed their mother being hooded for a doctorate. They know that education is their most important job as young people. It's a culture we have fostered with them from in the womb and they know no other way of being. 

While in Malawi, one of the poorest countries on earth, I saw signs of hope there in the small village of Kanyenyeva where our church, and a handful of other dedicated churches are partners in an orphan care ministry. There are around 300 registered orphans in the KOCM (Kanyenyeva Orphan Care Ministry) Project and each one of them is required to attend school or forfeit the services they receive four times a week. (Food, and more!) It is not mandatory to attend school in Malawi. The government does not have education as a top priority. There are no books, paper, pencils, chalk, or crayons. There certainly isn't a gymnasium or a cafeteria. There are empty shells of buildings and some half finished that are presently unusable. (The new president promised if he was elected that education would be a priority. He started construction on school buildings and once he was in office he quickly forgot about his promises.) 

Funds have been donated to put a metal roof on but there are few laborers to do the work.

Unfinished building erected by newly elected President. 

Another building that was left unfinished.

Classroom for 80 students. 


The hope that I experienced is that there are people who are striving to get kids enrolled in school but it is an uphill battle. We learned that "ideal" ratio of student to teacher is 60-1. Imagine our teachers in America faced with that ratio! Yikes! However, the ideal is not the case. . . in the level that is equivalent to our Kindergarten or First Grade there are 200 students to 1 brave teacher. It goes down from there; in the 8th grade there are 80 students and 1 teacher. If a student actually qualifies to go to High School by their performance on exams, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to enroll. Their families simply do not have the $150 it costs for tuition to send them. We pay more than that to have our kids play Varsity Sports at our High School in Norwalk, Ohio. 

Together, we are making a difference! The churches who are a part of the Malawi Orphan Care Project are constantly raising funds to get kids to High School. This year, thankfully, almost 40 students qualified to enter High School. We have about half the money at present with a deadline of 2 weeks away when the term begins. We will do it! I know we will. People are responding already because they know that education is the way to change the world, one student at a time. 

As your children head back to school, think about how blessed we are in this country. We complain way too much about our teachers (a most precious resource!), our schools (palaces compared to the third world), common core (at least we have people who consider what our kids should be taught and they work to provide materials), and a whole host of other things we take for granted. Rejoice that our kids are learning and don't have to walk five miles to a beat up building, try to learn without resources, try to learn with 199 others in one class, and are not simply too hungry and tired to learn most days. Education in some places in the world is not a human right, it is a privilege. We would do well to keep that in mind. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Things I Learned in Malawi, Africa: Our Elders are an Amazing Gift!

Everywhere we go in this short life of ours we learn things. Sometimes they are practical, sometimes they are spiritual, sometimes they are lessons that God has been working on us to figure out for a long time. I recently returned from a two week journey to the country of Malawi where my congregation is a mission partner with an Orphan Care Project. (Google Malawi Orphan Care Project for more information). The site of this project is in a small village outside the town of Salima called Kanyenyeva. It is named for a large hill that occupies space there. It is very remote and fairly densely populated by villagers who live on very little. The spirit of these people is anything but little! They are the warmest, most loving people I have ever met. Their smiles are the most genuine expressions I have ever seen. Their affection is tender and sincere. I know I have changed. .  . I am waiting for God to reveal to me in what ways that has happened.

While I wait for the Holy Spirit to do its work within me, which is often a long process, I want to share with those of you who are kind enough to read my ramblings, some of the things I have learned from this amazing journey. My intention is to write a number of articles with the same title (or nearly so) in the next weeks (maybe longer) as I reflect on my short time in a place I grew to love and hated to leave.

Robina and Mom: These two hit it off famously!

One of the most profound and beautiful things that touched me is where I will begin with this post. My 71 year old mother made this trip with me and 7 others. It was the fulfillment of dream of hers and I was honored to accompany her on this journey. She did marvelously! When we first arrived in Kanyenyeva we were met by the elders of the community and the children of the project. They met our van at the end of a long dusty road that leads to the project with singing and a welcome banner. We could not understand their words but in our hearts we knew exactly what they were saying. "Welcome! We are glad you are here!" As we reached the project and were ushered into the brick hall where teaching and feeding takes place, they danced and sang to us, and grabbed our hands so we would join them in the dance. It was incredible. As we were all introduced to the group that had gathered that day, when it came time for the people to meet my mother, she was introduced as the mom of Abusa Amy. Abusa means pastor in Chichewa. All who were gathered cheered loudly for this person they had just met. Their praise of her was twice as much as any other on the team. My eyes pricked with the potential of tears as I realized that in this culture those who are older are highly valued. This is as it should be!

We can learn much from this show of respect and admiration to those who lived many years more than we have. Their wisdom and experience is hard won by the struggles they have endured in this lifetime. Instead in our county and culture I see something very different. I see elders being pushed aside and viewed as a burden on our time and energy. We are all God's children and thus we are all valuable and precious. We have much to learn from those in our lives who have a few years on us. May God humble us from our egos and complacency and help us to see the incredible gift of knowledge and wisdom that is present in those who are the oldest among us.

Give thanks for those in your life and in your parish who have been there, done that! Talk to them, ask them to share what they have learned. You won't regret it! In fact I believe you will be blessed and filled. It is our call from God to cherish all people and not shove anyone aside. Those who have life experience that outnumbers our own are full of stories and lessons and love that we cannot imagine if we fail to see them and celebrate them.

Have a blessed day!