God’s Seeds of Life and Hope

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Summer in the Psalms is a series from the Revised Common Lectionary. Sunday sermons and written reflections are based on the Psalm and additional passages for each week.

Guest writer: Mercy Perez

Read

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Reflect

I made the decision to follow Jesus at the age of sixteen. I was at a youth conference when the invitation was extended and I accepted. I was young and had the notion that if I became a Christian my life would be problem free.

A few years into my walk as a believer, that notion was shattered. I realized that, believer or not, I was not exempt from the harshness that surrounded me. I was not exempt from the consequences of my poor decisions, nor from the consequences of others’ poor judgments and decisions.

But Jesus had sowed the good seed in me: the message of hope and life that flourished and deepened my desire to continue to follow him. That hope sown in me served as a lifeline when doubt, fear, discouragement and disappointments grew like weeds threatening to destroy me.

When I was at my weakest I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me, telling me how much I was loved and that no matter what assailed me or where I turned, God would always be there.

Respond

Reread Psalm 139 for a reminder that no matter where you go, God is always guiding and holding you. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you receive and meditate on God’s love. Let the experience of being loved by God wash away any anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed.

Thank God for having fearfully and wonderfully knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:14) and for being with you every day since.

 

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“The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God”

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A sermon and reflection series following the Revised Common Lectionary. Sunday sermons are based on the Psalm for the week. Written reflections are based on selected Scriptures from the same week.

Read

Genesis 28:10-19a

Reflect

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil – Gerard Manley Hopkins*

At the beginning this passage, Jacob is fleeing for his life. He’s just lied to his blind, dying father. He’s cheated his older brother out of his rightful inheritance as the firstborn son. That brother (quite understandably) now wants to kill him. Jacob has no reason to expect God to show up in a dream, give him a glimpse of angels carrying out God’s work, and leave him a blessing. But God does all of these things.

Most of us have never had a dream even close to Jacob’s. But, as the poet and Jesuit priest Hopkins writes, God’s glory and beauty shine through all creation. And through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God’s presence is always available to us. We don’t have to wait for God to reach us in a dream or go to a faraway holy place – although those are also options. We can see God, now, through every blade of grass or summer rain. Or, if nature doesn’t speak to us, in science, human interactions, architecture, or the arts. We can hear Him speak to us in our prayers and through the Word. We can feel the Spirit’s presence in our bodies, hearts, and minds.

We can also trust that if God wants to get our attention, He will. Both Jacob’s story and Psalm 139 tell us that God’s love can reach us anywhere, even if we’re running from it or unaware it exists. Whatever our present feelings towards God – shame, sadness, anger, weariness, indifference – God will literally move heaven and earth to reach out to us and assure us of His love.

Respond

What are your feelings towards God right now, positive or negative? Talk to God about them, and ask Him to be with you as you experience those feelings.

How would you like God to show His love today, both to you and to a specific person who doesn’t know Him yet?

 

*Full text of poem available here.

“Our Hearts Are Completely His” (Romans 8, Psalm 119)

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A sermon and reflection series from my church, based on the weekly Psalm and linked readings from  the Revised Common Lectionary

Guest Writer: Mary Lynn Errigo

Read

Romans 8:1-11

Reflect

There is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. This is truly “Good News.” And not only Good News, but Great News!

As followers of God, we live each day trying to walk according to His ways. But everyday trials and our own sinful natures get in our way, and we fail in spite of our best efforts.

This is where the Good News of Jesus Christ comes in. Jesus took all our sins and died on the cross for us. Because He paid a price we could never have paid on our own, we are not condemned to suffer in guilt and shame for our mistakes. When we go to Him in repentance, He holds us in His arms and forgives us. He sets us free from the power of sin and death so our hearts can belong fully to God.

Jesus breathed life into us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He will never abandon us or leave us to face our pain and trials alone.

Respond

God knows that our hearts are completely His. He has called us to be His very own. As we walk in His ways, holding each of His words close to our hearts, we know God will never abandon us. In Psalm 119, the Psalmist cries out, “I have sworn, and I will confirm it, that I will keep Thy righteous ordinances . . . O accept the freewill offerings of my mouth and teach me Thine ordinances . . . I have inherited Thy testimonies forever, for they are the joy of my heart.”

As you read God’s words this week, allow them to fill your heart with joy. Thank Him for His Good News. Spend time talking with God and trusting in Him. He will give you the strength you need to walk in His ways.

Love, According to a First-Grader (and some Minions)

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At our church retreat last week, my six-year old discovered an – shall we say – appreciation for her class teacher. “Mom,” she whispered. “I got my first crush!”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah, on my teacher!”

“Your teacher? What’s his name?”

“Ben.”

We have some conversation about the admirable qualities of nice, funny Ben before moving onto other subjects.

The next day:

“Mom, guess what? I told Ben I had a crush on him, and he said he has a crush on me, too!

“Wow, that’s great! So does this mean he’s your boyfriend now?”

“No, Mom, I can’t have a boyfriend! I have a husband!”

The tone of her voice tells me she is questioning my mental capacity.

“Oh, really, who? You said you wanted to marry G [a boy from her pre-Kindergarten class]. Did that happen without me noticing?”

“NO, Mom! Jack! Jack is my husband.”

“Oh, right. I forgot about Jack.”

Jack is her imaginary husband of about six months. He started out as a fiancé, and almost instantaneously moved up to permanent status. When she told me about their marriage, she also told me emphatically that he’s an adult, not a kid, and I refrained from commenting on yet another barrier to the legality and longevity of their union.

When Jack first became a part of our lives, she had long, rapid-fire conversations with him on an old Blackberry in Public, an imaginary language first invented by her older brother when he was three or four. (I think he must have heard the phrase “speaking in public” and misapplied it in a manner that actually makes total sense.) Public has no discernible rules, grammatical structure, or consistency, but sometimes sounds like Minion language, if the Minions were only slaughtering Spanish and perhaps Portuguese, and not also French, Mandarin, and a grab bag of other languages.

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I’m not sure who the wronged party is in this situation: Jack or Ben. The husband or the crush? But I am relieved my daughter at least understands that adultery is not an option.

So, this morning, as we’re snuggling in bed, we revisit the subject of Ben, for the benefit of her older sister, who wasn’t at the retreat with us. “Why do you like Ben again? Is it because he’s nice and funny?” 

“No! It’s because he has big arm muscles!”

She shows me how big with her own arms. Somehow, she has become a shallower person at six years and one week than she was at six.

“But he’s not your boyfriend. Because of Jack.”

“Jack?”

“Your husband?”

“Jack isn’t my husband! He’s my friend.”

“I thought he was your husband. Remember? First he was your fiancé?”

“Oh, right. But now he’s only my friend.”

“Why? Is it so Ben can be your boyfriend?”

“No! Ben can’t be my boyfriend. He’s married.”

Pause.

“Can I be married to both of them?”

“No, you can’t!”

Pause.

“I can’t keep one a secret and not tell anyone?”

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So much for the morals of a six-year old.

 

 

 

No Such Thing as Failure

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A summer sermon and reflection series following the Psalms and linked verses from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Guest writer: Mimi Otani @ crazyforjazz.wordpress.com.

Read

Genesis 25:19-34

Reflect

Jacob, whose birth is depicted in this passage, is shown great favor by God. He becomes the father of the nation Israel, blessed with many descendants.

One of my Jewish colleagues found this troubling, asking, “Why did God decide to favor Jacob? Jacob’s way of obtaining Esau’s birthright for himself is very underhanded.” It’s a fair question. Unlike Noah, who found favor in God’s eyes through his obedience, Jacob does not seem like a person of virtue. In fact, later on Jacob uses deceptions to expand his wealth and power.

I don’t know why God chose to bless Jacob, but one thing is certain; God’s appointment of Jacob as Israel is NOT earned through Jacob’s personality or righteousness.

God has given us a lot of leeway to exercise our will: to make choices, good or bad. Free will, however, does not mean that we completely control our destiny, nor that we are left at the mercy of someone who is stronger-willed or more powerful than we are. Similarly, if we don’t achieve something, it is not necessarily due to our lack of determination or training. God in his mercy does not leave us to our own devices, nor bless us based on our character or achievements. Through everything we choose to do or not do — or even the things we are not able to choose, but are chosen for us — God is sovereign and will carry out his plans.

God sent his Son Jesus to show us the way and gently teach us his sovereignty. If we believe in God’s mercy through His Son, then we do not have to rely on our own strength, or be afraid of those who are more powerful than we are. God puts us to the test at times, but he also gives us a way out. Remember, his Son came to save the world, not to condemn it (John 3:17). Failure is not in God’s vocabulary.

Reflect

Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law – Psalm 119:109.

Meditate on this verse. Declare your trust in God and his ability to lead you through his Word.

Is there any area of your life where you are trying to take control instead of letting God have his way? Ask God to remind you of his sovereignty and allow you to rest in his mercy.

 

Sunset Over Manhattan

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It was a good friend’s birthday today, so she and her husband, and many of us who love her, celebrated at Anable, an outdoor bar and grill on the Long Island City waterfront. The drinks are simple – bottles of beer and cans of Perrier citrus sodas – and the furniture consists of polished wooden picnic tables and umbrellas, plus assorted metal and plastic chairs that look like they were filched from Generic High School USA. The view is undeniably beautiful, and by city standards, peaceful, with a few helicopters flying by and the occasional speedboat. It’s a good place to sit, watch the sun slip down between the skyscrapers, and, depending on your personality and tax bracket, either reflect on the beauty of the New York City water and skyline, or nurse a serious case of real estate envy.

Anable serves a variety of meats – cevapi, chorizo, kielbasa, bison – with pitas and the appropriate toppings (sauerkraut and mustard for the kielbasa, some kind of red pepper relish for the cevapi). I think they had salad on the menu, but no one in my party bothered with pesky details like balanced meals or fiber consumption. We had cake and cupcakes, after all!

The piped in music is lively and the crowd tended towards the young and pretty, although no one availed themselves of the ample space for dancing except a few of the kids. With the adjoining pier to walk or run on and the casual setting, it’s a very child-friendly place, although you will have to make sure yours don’t hurl themselves from a table bench over the railings into the East River. I was also afraid that mine were going to make themselves sick eating the green peaches from an overhanging tree, but no one has complained or puked (yet). In any case, this may be the closest they’ll come to eating the fruits of an urban garden, since I can’t seem to grow anything but weeds and poison ivy. (I even kill cacti. It’s a gift.)

Besides the need to keep your little ones from taking a swim, there are a few drawbacks to Anable. One is that they don’t give you water pitchers, although my kids had no trouble getting individual plastic cups of water or ice. It was hot outdoors, even after 5 pm, and we were all a little dehydrated by the time we left around 8. The other is that it’s outdoors, so there’s no smoking prohibition in effect. If you’re a smoker or don’t mind others smoking, this won’t be an issue, but if you don’t want your kids hacking up a lung, you may have to change tables at some point. The last sticking point is the bathrooms. There are no paper towels or hand dryers provided, so the floors are wet and slippery, and it’s hard to tell if what’s down there is water . . . or something else. Enter at your own risk, and don’t wear your shoes in your house when you get home.

A final danger to Anable is large, laughing groups of people making idiots of themselves by taking lots of pictures using selfie sticks and singing horribly off-key renditions of “Happy Birthday.” I plead the fifth on that one.

Note: My 30-day writing challenge to myself has officially ended, hopefully with some momentum built and discipline discovered. I will continue posting on a regular basis, but probably not everyday. My goal is two “Summer in the Psalms” reflections a week, plus at least one additional post.

Thanks so much to everyone who has been reading, liking, and following my posts. Now that I’m back from vacation, I will do my best to stop by all of your blogs and say hello, if I haven’t already. You’re all the best!

 

God’s Deliverance from the War Within: Romans 7:15-25

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Day 30 of my 30-day writing challenge / Summer in the Psalms

This series from my church follows the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, beginning with a sermon based on Psalm for the week and followed by written reflections from other Bible passages from that same week.

Guest writer: Mercy Perez

Read

Romans 7:15-25a

Reflect

“Waging War.” These are strong words. The picture that comes to mind is a land full of desolation and destruction. Sounds of artillery as loud as thunder. Two sides determined to annihilate each other. Walls of smoke so thick it’s difficult to judge how much ground the enemy is gaining.

Paul writes about a war that is being waged against him. The war is not from an outside force determined to take him down. He’s engaged in an internal struggle where he wants to do good, but evil is right there with him. He even called himself a wretched man.

How many of us struggle like this? We want to do the right thing, but still succumb to negative thoughts, our inadequacies keeping us from hearing the whisper of the Holy Spirit.

In his message on Sunday, our speaker talked about struggling with his thoughts when he believed God was leading his family and him in a new direction: moving from New York City to Syracuse. But the moment he surrendered, not allowing the voices of fear to overtake him, he began to see God was in control and was working things out step by step.

As believers in the Giver of Life, we have a God that can and will deliver us from the war that wages in us. We have a Commander in Chief that is strategically fighting the war against evil with us and for us. His love and his grace cut through the smoke and distractions.

Respond

Take a moment to listen for God’s leading. As the Holy Spirit brings quiet to your spirit, you will recognize God’s voice among the noise.

Pray, as Paul did, “Thanks be to God, who delivered me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple . . . and Sugary: My Son’s Vacation from the Food Pyramid

Day 29 of my 30-day writing challenge
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My son is made happy by two very simple things: sugar and toys. When he was five, we took him to Disney World. He enjoyed the day, no question, but the thing that made him happiest? A Mickey-Mouse ear-shaped balloon inside another balloon. He was semi-anxious the whole day until we bought it, and as soon as we did, he was content.

Six years later, you might think his tastes had grown more sophisticated.

You’d be wrong.

He had very little pocket money to bring with him on our vacation, because he spent it all in the last two weeks on cheap motorized cars, fidget spinners, and a lollipop the size of his head. He is, however, very sweet and generous with his money. He shared his cars with his godfather, and he gave one of the fidget spinners and a foot-long unicorn pop to his little sister. (Because when you’re sharing the love, you might as well share the tooth decay, too.)

Yesterday, the teens at our church conference — all 500 of them —  went to a local water park. Because the trip was so poorly organized, my son only rode one waterslide the entire day. I thought he’d be devastated, but he was pleased with how the day had gone. As he explained, he’d brought a bag of gumballs along with him. He sold gumballs for 10 cents each, making $2. He also sold a free tee-shirt he’d won that morning for $3. He made enough money to buy something he’d been coveting all week. It was a can of blue soda! That lights up! And, he had two dollars left over!

He also came home with two tubes of squeezable SlushPuppie sour cherry candy, one won in a game, and one given to him for no reason. You can see why it was a good day.

I should explain that my son that the instincts to be a killer entrepreneur. He had a nice side business going at his school this year. He bought fidget spinners, sold them for a profit, and then bought more fidget spinners and sold those. Just as the fidget spinner craze was dying down, his package of fidget cubes arrived from China, and he also made a profit off of those.

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I should probably have been upset that he was selling items that were banned from school in school, but I was too busy being relieved that someone in my family was showing some business sense. Between the two of us, my husband and I have a pile of degrees in ministry and the humanities, and (clearly) not a lick of financial acumen. It’s nice to know that our son will be able to take care of us in our dotage.

This afternoon, Grammy and her husband took my son and I to the movies. He brought his two tubes of sour candy, but didn’t feel like that was enough. So he talked Grammy into buying him a theater-sized box of watermelon SourPatches.

By the time Spiderman: Homecoming was over, every last bite and squeeze was gone. (Full disclosure: I did eat several of his sour watermelon candies. After the first one overloaded all the sour taste receptors on my tongue, the next seven or eight were surprisingly good.)

In summation, let us count the sweets that my son consumed this past week:

Friday (on the plane): Five mint chocolate Oreos. A bag of chocolate chip graham crackers shaped like bunnies. The caramel-flavored tea cookies the flight attendant handed out.

Saturday: (Brunch buffet) Mini muffins in chocolate, blueberry and banana nut. Waffles with syrup. A mini s’mores cake. A chocolate croissant. A fruit turnover. Later in the afternoon, a scoop of rainbow sorbet in a sugar cone.

Sunday: (At Grammy and her husband’s anniversary party) Chocolate cake with chocolate and white chocolate mousse filling. Fun-sized Hershey bars.

Monday: Pancakes with high fructose corn syrup maple syrup substitute. Two scoops of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie, plus bites of Cherry Garcia and Berry Berry Sorbet. Leftover chocolate cake.

Tuesday: French toast with high fructose corn syrup maple syrup substitute. Three kinds of frozen yogurt — pineapple guava, watermelon, and mango — topped with gummy worms and mango boba balls (juice filled-gelatin spheres that pop and squish).

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Today: Part of a chocolate doughnut for breakfast. Two tubes of sour gel and a box of SourPatch watermelon. A can of light-up soda. (It turned out to be flavored like a Cherry Sprite.)

Oh, and I hardly ever let my kids have soda. This week, because we ate at so many fast food places, I relaxed my restrictions. In for a penny, in for the Gross National Product of China, right? I would not be surprised to learn my son is running on root beer instead of oxygen and hemoglobin.

At least we decided not to stop at Krispy Kreme on the way home from the movies. That might have been the only restraint we showed all week.

 

 

image credit: Dad’s Guide to Disney World

“All Art is Outreach” – Notes from an Arts Ministry Workshop

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Naomi Lawrence, “Magnolia”

Day 28 of my 30-day writing challenge

All of the churches in my denomination make worship music a priority, but a few are also known for their innovative uses of other art forms, such as dance, sculpture, film, and mixed media. This afternoon, a few artists from one such congregation led a workshop for those interested in incorporating spoken word and live painting into their public events, whether a special Sunday service or an event outside the church walls.

The spoken word artist, a young woman named Franklynn, talked about God working through her feelings of inadequacy and inexperience, and providing her with the opportunities to grow, perform, and touch others through her work. She offered a few resources that help her find inspiration – RhymeZone, and Hosanna Poetry among them – as well outlining her process. She tends to start by writing her emotions first, and only worries about the technical aspects – structure, rhyme – during the revision process. She emphasized the importance of connecting with the audience and practicing both writing and performance, but also of knowing that God can work through anyone as long as the person is willing.

The second artist, Jessie, focused on live art: art created in front of an audience, often in conjunction with or in response to other art forms, such as a painter responding to a spoken word piece or music. She stressed that just because something is live does not mean it is done without planning and practice. Whatever you do, do it well, and consider your audience. What symbols will they respond to? Is your work accessible to the general public, as well as to churchgoers? Who are your partners – the people who are praying, brainstorming, setting up, inviting their friends?

Jessie also offered theological reflection on the role of the Christian artist. She reminded us that although we don’t often think of art and outreach together, all art is outreach, unless you’re the only one seeing or hearing it. Art transcends culture; it speaks to people’s emotions and wounds. She advised artists not to worry about getting their paintings in a show or poems published — not that you shouldn’t try to do those things, but you are creating art first and foremost for God, in partnership with the Holy Spirit. And God is the best possible audience, not to mention the widest possible publisher. He will create opportunities for your work to have an impact. Finally, she recommended a book that she said every artist should read: Finding Divine Inspiration, by J. Scott McElroy.

You can find Jessie and the VineArts ministry at http://vineartsboise.org/.

Franklynn does not have a web address, but you can find one of her spoken word performances online. Just go to Facebook and do a search for Vineyard Boise Franklynn.

Naomi Lawrence, the creator of “Magnolia,” is a Christian artist living in East Harlem, where her husband is the pastor of Church of the Living Hope. She creates large-scale yarn flowers, both individually and collaboratively, to beautify neglected public spaces in her neighborhood, offering them as a gift to the community.