Little Fires Everywhere: The Church’s Mission of bringing Hope, Justice, And Love

I love to read and occasionally binge-out on Netflix. One of the series I watched during our 1st Covid lockdown was “Little Fires Everywhere.” (I have since read the book, which was surprisingly not as good as the movie) Aside from having some great actresses like Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, the movie was evocative, relatable, and showed how we give so much to the world, both in seen and behind-the-scenes ways. Little Fires Everywhere captures exactly what the title tells us: smoldering piles of events occur in life in a variety of ways, and we have to put out the fires, not breath in too much smoke, and check-in with our own inner life and backyards for disasters to avoid.
Also, we’ve come to our final Sunday of NT Wright’s study, “Surprised by Hope” and I believe we’ve learned a thing or two. We’ve covered a lot of ground with this major theologian and scholar, and we’ve reflected on the hope held in
the Christian gospel: hope of the resurrection, hope of heaven and eternal life, the anticipation of Christ’s return, and the hope of salvation. So, our last discussion is centered in the hope of the church. And I’d like to add that I admired this one the most. Not because we’re almost done (although we may have some relief), but because I believe in the church. To provide a simple worded summary, I believe a central point Wright is conveying is that hope didn’t happen only in Jesus’ day, but hope is continuous and generative and found in our present day. And we are agents of a Christ-like love to share with those around us to provide a witness of that sustaining hope up until Christ’s return. And that in the new creation which has already begun, we are to work and pray in areas of justice and mercy within our communities through our corporate witness known as the church. We are to be searchers in our community to find the things that are unsuitable and then find ways to improve the conditions for those who may be suffering and without. So, how do we begin?


Let’s dive into our 3 scriptures:
[1] Micah 6:6-8 Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly: We can begin by looking; and by first receiving grace given to us and then extending it outward, and by walking not in arrogance, but in humility and curiosity and creativity. If we hold out our empty hands, we can receive the blessings of God: grace, mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness. Now close them up, and then give it all away!
[2] Phil 4:4-9 Think on these things: true, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise. When I was in graduate school to become a counselor, my professor pulled out this verse and asked, “What are 3 things you thought about today since you rose out of bed?” Our answers varied, but generally included breakfast food, social media/cell phone/ email, and generalized anxiety about the upcoming exams and coursework. I don’t believe any of those thoughts fit into the categories Paul lays out here. What we think on is what we become. In other words, we internalize the world around us and what comes into our hearts will eventually come out of our mouths.
As a therapist, I have spent countless hours helping folks untangle untrue thoughts about themselves. What we digest becomes so important, not just with food, but also our thought patterns. Where we focus our time and attention will direct who we become.
[3] Matt 5 Learn from Christ’s teachings and ways; Internalize Christ’s character – We have a high priest in Jesus Christ to be our example of what it means to be a campaigner of justice and mercy. Our mandate is to be disciples of Christ, learn from his teachings, and internalize the very character of Christ. I love NT Wrights statement on page 270, “If the gospel isn’t transforming us, how do we know that it will transform anything else?”


In Celeste Ng’s best-seller, she provides us a fantastic story about how some people play by the rules, others live more on the wild side, and what happens when the two worlds collide through family, art, poetry, tragedy, and suffering.
So, imagine. Let’s rewrite that first book title a bit. Instead of Little Fires Everywhere, we write about………………………….. Little Places of Hope Everywhere.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com


Little Hope Everywhere— Hope of the Resurrection
Hope of Heaven
Hope of Christ’s Return
Hope of Salvation
Hope of the Church


Instead of playing by the rules as the book narrative provides us, what if we lived them out with God?

What if we live justice; we become hope; what would our world look like if we infused love every where we go?

Little fires everywhere would turn to unexcelled piles of grace, our relationships would be bound in mutual love and trust, and our pain washed away through immeasurable forgiveness.

A Missio Dei Story: A God Sending Story

I had so many ideas to share about the mission of the church; the love I hold for it despite its complexity and often challenging ways. Instead, I’d like to share a piece of my story about how the church played a vital role in my first years of life that I think, illustrates the love-mission that it carries and heralds.

I was born in the summer of 1970. I spent the first 3 months of my life in foster care while I awaited to be adopted by a loving family. My mother found herself in a series of unfortunate circumstances and believed I would have a better life with another family. I was finally adopted, and I indeed had a wonderful childhood, but that did not happen out of pure chance. No, it involved awesome love and a church that would embody the gospel to this girl. Later on, I would learn the many selfless efforts and sacrifices my church would make on behalf of someone they never met, but had vowed to nurture her entire life. You see, as my mother relinquished her parental rights, my adoptive parents had already begun to speak the desires of their heart to their pastor and church. My parents coming from minimal financial resources needed some support as they began to think about adoption. They had tried for over 7 years to conceive, but were unsuccessful. So, with the help of the pastor and the church board, the congregation all came together to provide my parents support through the process. They added my father to the church council, which was the first and only time he ever served. He was more of a mechanic and hands-on guy, so the board duties were quite different. They wrote letters and provided support to my parents as they met several caseworkers, held family visits, and prepared the final adoption paperwork. I was adopted and baptized a month later, and still to this day, have a little white bible that was given to me at my baptism. It is a symbol of immense love for me. And as I pray in the morning, I see that small bible and remain grateful for the love that was shown me through the church. This is the gospel lived out with tremendous hope and through every day people like us. This story may not make national headlines, but its written and hidden in my heart, and reminds me of the mission of the church that is so alive and transformative.

And for the book, well, there are little fires everywhere and big areas of chaos and confusion, for certain. But with God, we have hope larger than life itself, and love greater than any catastrophe. Pain and joy often are coupled in the same event, within the same canvas, in the most precious moments of life.


I’ll end with NT’s best quote: “Love is not our duty; it is our destiny”

Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com

Love is at the very heart of the surprise of hope; we are people enabled to love in a new way. And people who are living a Christ-like love will be people who are learning more deeply how to HOPE. Christ has left us his spirit; the Spirit calls deep within us; the tethered line to our Creator encouraging us to be harbingers of hope and our world is depending on it.


Let us be the bringers of such love. Amen.


Pastor Tracy

Micah 6:6-8

Philippians 4:4-9 

Matt 5

NRSV

A Case for Hope

1 Peter 3: 15 (NIV)  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

This scripture verse has been one of my favorites for many reasons and one that has guided my life in the last decade or so. God has called us to be hope-bearers amidst a hurting world, but what does that really mean? Bearing hope versus weighted with grief is a rare find these days, and I believe the holy scripture is guiding us to find the source of our strength here. Finding the strength from our Lord, so that we may hold fast in God’s love both personally and collectively. God is inviting us into a relationship, so that we may build up others in the faith and so that they too can live a life with hope both in the present and in the eternal.

I have not always been the most organized person. In college, I almost always made it to class, but it was the organization part of writing papers, keeping track of notes, and adhering to due dates, that often threw me off. My discipline was under construction, and it was a great time of learning, although it would be many years later before I understood its importance. Always being prepared was not one of my strengths, so when I read this verse, it sticks out with great importance: “Always be prepared to give an answer”

As we think about our Christian identity, this idea of hope becomes central to who we are in God. Being prepared to share my hope was both a gift from God and a learned experience from others. If I wanted to build a case for God-given hope, it would be this: God walked with me through the good times and in the deep suffering, never once leaving me alone. There was a time in my life when things were pretty dark. It was a season of confusion, depression, loneliness, and pain. Maybe you’ve had a similar time. I wish I could remember all of the details, the specific prayer I prayed, or the sequence of events, but I remember the important ones as God led me out of the darkness, took out my heart of stone, and imparted to me a heart of flesh. It’s written in Ezekiel 36:26: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and supply you a heart of flesh. And that is exactly what God did and I will never forget it, nor will I ever stop sharing it. One evening I was shedding tears of pain, and upon waking the next morning, I was a new person, ever-curious about the world, pain-free, and excited for what the day might bring. This was a new beginning, with a new heart, new eyes, a fresh spirit!

Pastor and author, Francis Chan, wrote a fantastic book titled, “Crazy Love.” Chan writes, “God is calling you to a passionate love relationship,  because the path to a life of hope in God isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts — it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter God’s love, as Francis describes it, you will never be the same. God is love: crazy, relentless, and all-powerful love.

God is preparing us for a hope-mission soaked in the overflowing love of God. Looking back, God had used my circumstances and bad choices, and turned my life story of messiness into one of redemption and restoration. Preparation is hard. It’s a time of molding, stretching our synapses, intentional learning, and even seasons of unlearning the stories we have written about our life that are untrue. God is preparing us right now, for something great. A new season, a divine appointment perhaps, where we might even get a glimpse of heaven. But for now, let us prepare. Let us reflect on the things, the people, and the places that brought us to this moment. Let us prepare to share our own story of hope. How God once intervened into our convoluted existence, and brought tremendous meaning and purpose, both laughter and tears, and used it all for good. How might our story impact others? If we shared our Christian walk, how might it spark a curiosity about our faith, or provide consolation, or bring about something new in us? God will use every drop of our existence.

Every tear ever cried; every pain endured. Every loss and difficult circumstance we’ve faced, God will use it to prepare us to be the hope-tellers in our circles of family, friends, and community.

We are a people loved into preparation for the church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are loved by God through others into our divine meaning and purpose in this life. Do you believe it? I know I do.

To continue onto the next part of my story, my interior life was transformed through Jesus Christ. Soon thereafter, I would find myself among a community of spirit-filled believers at a local United Methodist Church. The church sat right across the street from my house and whenever I peeked out my living room window, I could see a car lot full of cars with people coming and going, almost every day of the week. I was curious to know what was going on over there! Maybe I was being nosey. Either way, God used it. My neighbor who was disabled told me of a Wednesday night dinner the church held every week. She would have her grandson pick up a to-go container for the two of them. One week, I had worked some long days and the kids were hungry, so we decided to give it a try. I arrived at the doorstep for a community meal with kids in-tow, not expecting to meet the spiritual provisions that were inside those church doors. The people were kind, generous, and loved my family. They ate with us, sat with us, invited us to church and events, and knew our names. Over the years, that bunch would become a family to me and my children. This season of my life holds special memories of love and laughter, and growth in biblical understandings, many faith conversations, and exploration of spiritual gifts. Through God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit working in this faith community, my story was being re-written with one filled with hope in God. And I never underestimate the power of a busy parking lot to spark the curiosity of neighbors!

Now, having this great hope living inside, the holy spirit that dwells within each one of us, is just too great not to share with the world. My greatest love is for others to experience and know this great love of God. I became a counselor then a pastor to listen to others’ stories about life and how God’s provision of redemptive love is woven throughout our world. I’ve heard countless stories about life, love, tragedy, difficult seasons, marriage, loss, and many, many more. I never get tired of listening and finding the “God-Moments” speckled all through them. Sharing our faith journeys is important and it can also be hard work. It often requires we address uncomfortable parts of us and see with new eyes how God was with us all along. It requires vulnerability to share with our family and friends the ways we see God at work, but in this passage we read today, God is putting in the request: Always be ready to give the reason for your hope.

Admiring Christ, making him the ruler of our life, sets up the perfect journey. As we turn areas of our life over to the Lord, our life becomes joy-filled, simpler, and easier traveled.

One of my go-to books is “Thin Places: A Memoir” by Mary De Muth. She writes about a dark time in which she wanted to end her life.  She writes, “But now I really want to live. Really live. To follow God out of the box of my loneliness and insecurities, to find abundance when my soul lacks. Today, someone blessed me with words that help me see that God has indeed created something beautiful in me. Now, I see clearly. I’m blessedly alive to feel the wind on my face, to experience the achingly beautiful words of my children and grandchildren, and to see Jesus in the cracks and fissures of my life.”

May the reason for our hope pour out from our hearts to someone’s ears today. May they hear a message of hope and find that life is wonderful in all the twists and turns. And may God continue to woo us inward to Him in all the seasons of our life.

My prayer for us today is that we share the reason for our hope with another person this week. No matter how large or small, long-ago or recent, find the hope living within you and give it away.

So, we might find ourselves asking the question, “How do I begin to share my faith story?”

Here are a few practical ways to begin a season of preparation:

A few simple ways to put your faith walk into your muscle memory and live it out!

  • Read one passage every day this week.
  • Memorize one of the passages.
  • Text it to a friend.
  • Write one or more verses on a post-it note and put them up throughout the house, on the fridge, on your bathroom mirror, next to your charging dock, above your computer, etc.
  • Share it on your Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram, or other social media
  • Write a letter or mail a card (pen, paper, and stamp!) and include one of the passages.
  • Pray the passage out loud inserting your own name in it*

And lastly, however you prepare, in whatever way you may share, do it with love. We Christians are marked by love and that’s how we are to be known. Do so in gentleness and meekness. We aren’t strong-arming people into the kingdom. We are loving them in. For God is love, and that same love dwells within us. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control are the fruit of the spirit, thus saith the Lord. May it be so.

God of Grace, we come into your presence so aware of our human frailty and yet overwhelmed by your love for us. We thank you that there is no human experience that we might walk through where your love cannot reach us. If we climb the highest mountain you are there and yet if we find ourselves in the darkest valley of life, you are there.
Teach us today to love you more.
Help us to rest in that love that asks nothing more than the simple trusting heart of a child.

It’s in your holy wisdom, mercy, and grace, we pray. Amen.

Faith, Hope, and Love in Action

United Methodist Women Sunday Sermon, June 27th, 2021

1 Corinthians 13: 4-13

It all begins with LOVE and ends with LOVE. Love is indispensable, necessary, essential, and crucial. No matter your age, no matter where you live or your social status, EVERY GOOD THING begins with LOVE. The apostle Paul is stating here that LOVE is the centrality to a life of faith in God where hope abounds. All are necessary, one is the greatest, that which is LOVE.

 “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

 When I was about 6 years old, our family watched one of the David Copperfield magic shows where he sawed a woman in half, and she magically came out in one piece. We watched other amazing tricks that you could spend hours discussing how they managed to pull it off. In my 6-year-old mind, I wanted to give this magic thing a try, so I went to my room, broke open my piggy bank and pulled out a fresh one-dollar bill. I proceeded to get some scissors and my music box. Yes, I did indeed, cut up that one-dollar bill into pieces, placed it inside the ballerina music box and closed the lid. I waited for a few seconds, and opened the box hoping to see the dollar bill intact again. Bummer, it was still in pieces. Well, I shut the lid and held onto my faith. I thought I might try a different method. Maybe if I close my eyes and wave my hands over the box like I saw David Copperfield do, then it might work. Maybe I hadn’t done all the steps correctly, I thought. I took a deep breath, and once again….nothing. Only a shredded dollar bill laying at the bottom of the box. Now the worry had started to creep in. I mean, I had torn up a dollar bill behind my parents back, thinking I had the power to do something great, but I had made a mess of it. How was I going to fix it? So, I tried several more times, shutting and reopening the lid, waving my hands, closing my eyes, probably begging for it to go back together. In my 6-year-old mind, I wanted to have some power, strength to do something good, where I could take broken things and put them back together. This magic trick had started with me, alone in my room with the best of intentions and it ended with me alone in my room feeling like a failure.

In the scripture we heard today, Paul writes a persuasive letter to the church in Corinth about love’s credentials. Paul beautifully expounds on what love does and does not do, and he concludes his letter with this, “Do Everything in LOVE.” Paul persuades the community of believers in Corinth to take a posture of unity that honors distinctiveness and diversity; proper care for one another, including self-assessment of oneself that allows for spiritual maturity of faith that leaves no one out.

One such community that embodies this triad of faith, hope, and love is the United Methodist Women.

United Methodist Women are faith, hope, and love in action! They are a group of purposeful women on a mission to know God and to experience freedom in a life in Christ; they have a creative and supportive fellowship, and are faithfully committed to expand the concepts of mission in the local and global ministries of the church.

One of my first experiences with the UMW was attending the School of Christian Mission or Mission U as it’s now called. I attended the 2-day conference at DePauw University with my youngest daughter Tressa. I signed up for some book studies and other discussion events and as I look back, I find those times to be foundational to my understanding of my Christian faith and the broad expressions of service in Christ I found to be awakening, adding a sense of curiosity on my faith journey. I learned about and admired the faithful work of a team traveling to Haiti to provide safe housing each year. I learned about our faith walk having times of ups and downs, that I had not quite yet experienced through a book study. I met with other believers who shared stories about faith, love, loss, and hope and of course, we shared amazing songs!!! We lit candles, passed talking sticks, learned about scripture, and met each other in the midst of our faith, hope, and love in God.

I would continue to encounter various UMW circles over the years and saw the many faithful servants who would provide funeral dinners, Thanksgiving dinners, organize local rummage sales, and donated money toward necessary equipment for local churches like ovens, refrigerators, and donations for community agencies. This is the UMW love legacy that I came to know and continues to provide so many of us with opportunities for spiritual formation, justice initiatives, and maternal health programs.

Love does not exist in isolation; it is always linked to another, a context of mutuality where no one is ever alone where one is understood, felt, seen, heard by God. If I could go back and tell my 6 year old self a few things about the ripped up dollar bill, it would be this:

Dear Younger Self,

1) Love was your aim, keep going with that. 2) Your faith was misplaced. Your faith was in YOUR ability to change the ripped money into something whole. Full restoration can only happen through faith in the Lord. And, 3) your hope was to have the power to do something good. The real power comes from leaning into the strength of God. And, lastly, you were not a failure nor you were alone. God was there, God saw your heart, and God will use this later in your life when you will understand it.

If mountains come and go, but love endures; if love is greater even than faith and hope, then not only does our love endure beyond us, but our loving is the enduring legacy as well. IF we took it seriously that our loving was our enduring legacy, then what reorganization would be needed in our lives? What would need to change about our stewardship of our time, energy, and resources to honor and maximize that legacy? 1{New Interpreters Commentary}

In what other ways have we misplaced our faith? Are there places in my life right now where I have placed my faith and hope into rather than the Lord’s will? What would change if I placed my faith with God, whole-heartedly? What will I have to let go of, in order to leave a legacy of love?

May we never stop learning from the one whom created us. God, help us to see the ways we misplace our faith.

Sometimes I need to confess, God, it’s not my power, its not my special method or mode, but it’s your strength, your will and your power.

There is no special formula, our prayers begin with a simple yes. Yes, to a relationship with you, O Lord.

Almighty God, help us to say, yes!

Amen


Tattered Rags: An Unconventional Psalm of Lament

tattered-rags-old-clothesline-36179033

Ripped and shredded pieces of cloth, color faded from the sun

insufficient coverings with missing stitches, holes in the seams

symbols of poverty, exposing the nakedness of hunger, the oppression of racism and inequality

those broken-down rags turn into broken-down souls, weariness and heaviness of the journey

lying at the doorstep of the church are the world’s hopes turned to sickness, loneliness, moral and spiritual decay.

Lord, do you see the heaping pile of rags? Lord, do you hear the cries of the people?

A young girl ripe with hope searching for Instagram and Snapchat validation,

She walks down the street with the sway of a teenager caught up in selfies, hairstyles, and shoes.

Her joy crashing with a supernatural perversion—a moment that changes the course of her life through 8 minutes 46 seconds.

Life squeezed out, stained garments

The young girl, who once wore dignity, innocence

Through her tears she furiously wrings out her rags, squeezing hard in hopes to turn back time, but only droplets of blood, hate, evil fall from that old rag— the product of innocence lost.

Lord, do you see her? O God, why have you left her?

O God, make me a seamstress, mold me into a knitter of holy love

I can surely do nothing with these torn rags, dreams destroyed

Guide me to be a gatherer of old rags to sew into divine and royal garments woven with mercy and dyed with colors of compassion

Make me a crocheter of forgiveness and grace sewn with incarnational patterns of the ways of Christ

Send me forth as a wisdom-hunter rather than an impulsive reactor, clothe me in your robe of tsedaqah

Open my heart to be a weaver of the liberating hope found in you.

For you, O Lord, are my rock, my redeemer, and Lord of my life.

And all that I am, have been, and will be is centered in your goodness and grace.

Lord, you are so good. You have turned my unending tears to joy.

My identity, my mission in life, my blessings – are all a gift from heaven

May I remain steeped in thankfulness every day of my life.

Creative Adjustments: coping with stress and anxiety during this season.

Life is about relationships. Covid-19 didn’t get the memo.

the-whirling-sufi-fabrizio-cassetta

Our health includes our physical, mental, spiritual, social, environmental. financial, and emotional frequencies. When one is off-kilter, we can become lopsided. Well, during this virus season, I would say we are off in all areas of the spectrum. What do you think?

Life is after all, a combination of various seasons, predictable and the unpredictable. Thus, living is a progression of needs, met and unmet. I might suggest a word that has stuck with me from an online seminar I attended yesterday. We are being called to PIVOT.

Here is a list of creative adjustments you can use to pivot from a place of tension, anxiety, and fear:

  1. Routines – This is a big one for kids and adults alike. Keep the normal things going like bedtimes, mealtimes, family times, etc. PIVOT: family times might mean adjusting to include some screen time with family and friends. I see many folks playing board games on FB and Zoom together. Have the kids call grandmothers and grandfathers to say good morning or to read a book together.
  2. Exercise – 30 minutes of physical exercise plays an important role in mood regulation. Endorphins are only one of many neurotransmitters released when you exercise. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. YMCA and other fitness centers provide free online exercise classes through video. Turn on the old record player and dance to your favorite songs or take a brisk walk around the block.
  3. Live in the present moment – This one is a little tricky. Turn off social media or the news for the day. Meditate or do your household chores in silence. Drown out the noise for at least one hour to let go of the negative thoughts swirling around in your head.
  4. Journal – Write down your thoughts, dilemmas, and questions. Reflect on ways you have overcome a previous obstacle in your life. How might you be encouraged? How could you encourage others?

PIVOT. Roll. Rotate. Swing, swirl, and twist.

Your creative adjustments and flexibility will create the space for your continued ability to thrive. Stay safe and reach out for any needed support. If you find that none of the regular coping skills are helping you move out of a negative space, call someone. Below is a list of resources available to help.

[1] https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 1-800-273-8255

[2] Remedy Live @ remedylive.com – chat with a soulmedic

Stay connected. We are better together.

Love With All Your Soul

deerpants

Life’s important seasons

This image has a significant meaning for me in this season of life. The tiny fawn drinking and wading in the cool water brings me to a place of healing, as Christ restores the broken-hearted, so to God has blessed us with small gifts to gather us in. The fawn filled with thirst drinks in the water and what we see is a dual reflection, two fawns, nose to nose. It is, for me, a mirrored reflection of one and also of another much grander and exquisite.

Water since the beginning of time has been a symbol for the Christian. As the central symbol in baptism, water represents liberation, a gift, life, cleansing, and draws a line for a new life in Christ. It cleanses our dirt and washes away our worry. And lest we forget, Jesus himself spoke it to the woman at the well, “ Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life. “(John 4:13-14, NLT)

The sacrament of baptism is near to my heart. I was baptized as an infant in a church that was significant in helping my parents adopt me from a social service agency.  A little white NT Bible was given to my parents and it is one of the only items I have left from my childhood. Inside the cover is the date, October 25, 1970, along with my name. God, the church, and my parents claimed me as theirs, one to treasure and sing songs over.  And as my life has taken twists and turns, I find myself back with that little white Bible. As I sit with God in the morning, I take a little dab of water from a glass jar sitting on the side table, write a cross on my forehead, hold that little white book, and remember my baptism, just as Martin Luther had done. For me, it is where my life began and it has come now full circle, a story still unfolding, and yet perfectly planned.

I often find the presence of God at my office during weekly office meetings. We might see two fawns and a mama deer walking past the office window. They stop to graze on some leaves and even eat from the bird feeder. Suddenly at that moment, we are captivated by the mystery, the gentleness of the fawns, and in this silence and gazing at nature, we find a moment of peace. It is in this sacred space where there are no words, a place where the groaning can happen, and healing is birthed. Paul wrote it, “Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along….” (Romans 8:26-27, the Message) For me, it becomes a moment of stillness and respite so desperately needed. God provides us such time and space to release the devilish things we pick up through life, those things we were never meant to carry, the sin committed against us and all of its ugly residue. God is present and healing us through thoughtful and mysterious ways and through others. I am grateful and honored to share this space and use the gift of healing. And I am often in awe of how God can change circumstances in our life in a split-second.

May we never give up hope, that God is sitting with us, no matter the season.

Blessings in the Risen One,

Tracy L. Cain, MA LMHCA

Under Assignment: A Theology of Work

Vocation as Holy Work

I’ve been following a specific line of work for roughly 5 years now and it feels like I’m on a divine assignment, most days. Others days, well, mundane and ordinary. One thing that God has been impressing on me is that we can find extraordinary things in our downtimes and that through our work, we find God’s plentiful provision.

people walking on street near buildings

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

Joy in work? That’s absurd.  I want to work less, not more.  

I’ve been following the Theology of Work project for several years now. When we are unable to work, not given an opportunity to produce, or lack daily productivity—well, something happens to us, physically, socially, and spiritually.

As my friends at Theology of Work Project suggest, “We are meant to work diligently and wisely to the degree we are able. Dependence on God is an attitude towards human labor, not a substitute for it. God is our provider and we are called to be co-laborers with our gifts. Our work, not standing alone, is often the first ingredient in God’s provision.” (theologyofwork.org)

Comfortably dormant or Divinely Exhausted? 

I attended a networking gathering where I was quietly reminded AND thoroughly convicted of my current level of vocational engagement. My new friend, Doug Hartle expounded on a rich presentation of God’s intention of the provision in work, the importance of work for our minds, and the relational richness of it all. In fact, in the Bible, Paul was so concerned about the community in Thessalonica that he wrote a pastoral letter about the dire importance of work to an area where folks had given up on work and found themselves within the negative consequences of being idle.

Check out more of Doug’s wisdom and motivation @ Coffee Thoughts-Coaching and Motivation.

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So……….Are you using your God-given gifts in your vocation? Do you know what your Spiritual Gifts are? Follow this link to take the assessment —–>> Spiritual Gifts Inventory

The Challenge: When was the last time you fell out in your bed, completely exhausted from a job, but overflowing in your heart, knowing you were smack dab in the center of the Lord’s desire?

No matter your vocation, the job you clock in for each day….. the day, this very day, has been set afresh for unleashing spiritual and holy work—-whole-life discipleship.

Are you up for the challenge?

In Christ’s love…..May we always be at His feet,

Tracy

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Here is a resource that’s helped me stay on the path.

 

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Wanna talk more? Find me here and let’s meet up—————–> Tracy Cain, LMHCA

 

Connecting Faith, Jesus, & Psychology in the world of institutional United Methodism.

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It’s February 27th, 2019, and like you, I’m speechless. Almost.

If you’ve taken a ride on the UMC rollercoaster these last few days, I’m with you. My emotions have been all over from deep sadness, regret, doubt, and anger. Just when I think all is well within the church, I am blindsided, shocked, and disheartened by the direction of our faith initiatives.

I have spent the last 7 years within academia and professional circles as a Christian counselor and as a professor of Group Dynamics and Psychology. Now, I know folks are all across the board when you hear the term Christian Counselor, but please hear me out before you draw your conclusions.

There is a lot I don’t begin to understand or claim to have expert knowledge. And the more I go to school, the more this an in-your-face reality. I know very little about, say, quadratic equations or marine biology. But, a couple of things, I know really, really, REALLY well. And that’s human behavior, especially as we behave in groups.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading a collection of work by Dr. Terry Hargrave who made it his life goal in helping persons and families through the death process to finish well. And while this was his main prized work, he mentions a dynamic process termed Multidirected Partiality (Boszormenyi – Nagy, 1966). In easier terms, a trust-based, contextual dialogue.

I’m sorry if I lost some of you with what seems to be psychobabble. I promise I have a much finer point, and honestly, I just need somewhere to lay down my thoughts before I bubble over.

Groups come in all kinds of forms. We engage with our families, friends, professional colleagues, special interest coalitions, etc. And whenever there are groups, there are always joys and concerns, aren’t there? I won’t go much into the therapeutic process of the multidirectional approach except to highlight the major point: in order to resolve conflict within groups a shift needs to happen. A shift in transactions that build trust, encouragement, an increase of satisfactory roles and responsibilities. A shift that allows for all members to yield beneficial returns. Sound familiar? 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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There are several ingredients required for this to happen.

 

Empathy – This is an easy concept to comprehend, but much more difficult to practice. It’s like crawling into the skin of another human being and looking out through his/her eyes. Atticus says it best in Harper Lees’s To Kill a Mocking Bird...”You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” The challenge is to try and understand those that are different from us, not those most like us. And with this deep understanding comes great benefit, for both persons.

Crediting – the acknowledgement of justice or injustice. This requires us to see the good in others, Christ in others. It’s full validation of our existence and importance.

Expectation – One of the more important ingredients to the mix. We come with open minds and expect great things of the other person. Not the other way around.

Inclusiveness – Each member vows to hear the other member and creates a safe place to share concerns where each is treated equally with respect and fairness.

Timing – a crucial aspect when we often become reactive in emotionally tense situations. Set a pace for yourself, but don’t expect that others follow this same pace. And we all know God’s timing is perfect timing.

Add these up, put them in motion, and you’ve just created sacred space. What a gift!

So, I have no idea what will happen to the UMC. I do know, I can do my part. Here is what I have on my list of items:

  1. Each week I will create a least one meaningful conversation with a person I do not know well. I will show up with expectation and humility.
  2. I plan to write letters. A lot of letters, cards, and a few phone calls. I wish to express my gratitude to those persons who took a risk for the good of our institution and held fast with complete integrity.  I plan to send letters to my theological seminary and professors who have always encouraged me to think for myself and have always pointed me toward a full relationship with God.
  3. Good leadership can be learned, but it must always start with integrity. Leadership requires sacrifice, effort, and the power to influence that is rooted in a kingdom heart not for personal gain but for the good of all. Justice, equality, fairness with respect to differences are to name a few.

Where are our fresh, dynamic, creative, talented leaders, UMC? I know a few, but there are more if we only look. I’ve also just met a few new ones!


What will it take to turn it around? I don’t have all the answers, for sure. It will take Jesus, the Jesus that calls things out.

Jesus the Revolutionary……We are reading Don Kraybill’s book, The Upside Down Kingdom in Bible Study. What a timely piece for us in this day.  The ways of this world are not the ways of Jesus. If only we still had a child’s heart, we could run to the playground monkey bars, turn upside down, and see things from a divine perspective!

Only in seeking Jesus, can we begin to understand how to lead in ways that build up the kingdom of God and subvert cultural injustices, even injustices inside the walls of the church as an institution. In the face of a “steeple-jacking” (just learned about this word, so had to throw it in) what will we do? Do we resign to injustice? That’s not in our baptismal covenant nor in our congregational DNA. Resist? Yes. We have creative and peaceful ways to resist. Speak out? Yes. 1 Peter 3:15

What do we have to lose? Perhaps this is the greatest loss of all when leaders say not a word.

Dead silence is a killer, Y’all.

Thanks for listening. I feel a little better. I will continue to be faithful in living out the rule of life in the order of St. Luke, as we together pray for our church, its leaders, and congregations, every morning and every evening with joy that springs up from our hearts and passes through our lips to be a witness of light to the world.

May the United Methodists, never stop singing and may we never lose our joy!

Shalom,

TLCain

Back Roads, Jesus, and Holy Hospitality

I recently travelled to Ohio to attend a required week long class at Seminary.  Being somewhat of a novice traveller, I printed off the directions on my home PC before I hit the road. Preparation is important in the life of a Seminary student. On the best days, preparation has allowed for some smooth sailing. On the worst days, preparation was a humorous ploy to gain a sense of control of the uncontrollable.

I learned that my printed directions failed. Road construction and frequent trains derailed my carefully thought out plan. I advanced to the next best thing: GPS. Too bad those old country roads with twists and turns, land covered in wheat with sunlight sprays of gold, didn’t allow for GPS interruptions.

Failed preparation and feeling lost………….Sound familiar to anyone?

Swallowed up against the backdrop of a sunset so big you thought it might fall from the sky from it’s vastness and weight, it’s on these back roads where I felt lost, that I gained direction. I kept hearing one thing as I made my way home. The one thing I already knew, but forgot to live… Make love your aim.

1 Corinthians 14:1

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Shooting arrows of holy love aimed at bridging the gap between misunderstandings and disconnections in a world which is at best unpredictable. Darts of crimson that tell the message of hope, risk, adventure, and love of our radical rabbi, Jesus Christ.

Our best Christian witness is clothed in the one who clothed us through two planks and three nails. Radical love is required and transformative and we are in the transformation business are we not?

My host family for the week never blinked an eye when they said yes to opening their home to me. Holy hospitality was received in neither obligatory stance nor reciprocity for payment. Who flings the doors open to strangers in such a way? Oh, the beautiful Christians I have met on the road, who live a life centered in Christ and His teachings. It still makes me stop in my tracks and catch my breath.

I wanted to know one thing from this generous family, one thing they thought would be the most important of all to know as a future minister.

She answered………

“You need to love the people. Don’t forget to love them first.”

And I think that’s perfect advice.

May we always remember to stay at His feet in all that we do and love in such a way that no one mistakes the One Whom we are tethered.

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