Monday, March 20, 2017

Anger, Honesty and Forgiveness

As we continue our Lent journey, we also continue our journey of forgiveness.  We pause so that we can be self-reflective enough to consider all of our emotions.

We get honest.

To forgive or offer genuine apologies we need to become honest about our powerful, uncomfortable feelings such anger, jealousy, greed, sorrow, guilt, shame, and pain.

During our message this weekend, I encouraged folks to remember to read the Psalms as there is a Psalm for every emotion.  Therefore, there is a prayer for every feeling of the human heart before God.  Nothing is hidden.

One of the best ways to discover aspects of ourselves we are blind to is to look closely at our enemies.  It is often said that the things we can't stand in others reveal sides of ourselves we can't bear.

One journal exericse, if you are game, is to make a list.  Identify several eternal enemies in your life such as specific people, government groups, people groups, or situations.  Name them and give as much specific information as you can.  What about these persons or situations make you feel so critical or have such hostility?

Now, make a second list on another sheet of paper.  This time identify internal enemies in your life; attitudes, behaviors, reactions, perceived weaknesses or limitations.

Finally, compare your lists.  What do you notice?  Are there any common themese?  Any surprises or fresh connections for you about yourself such as patterns or opposites?

As we seek to know ourselves and be known by our God in Christ Jesus we ask, "What can you learn from our eternal and internal enemies?"  What can they teach us about how we handle conflict?  Or what we struggle with that needs strengthening?

Your reflections become fodder for more prayer.  Seek God's presence in the midst of your honesty about your feelings about all of your enemies.  Our genuine response which moves us further in our capacity for forgiveness is to invite Jesus' healing grace into our lives.

See you in the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle

Monday, March 13, 2017

Looking Closely in the Mirror

"I am startin' with the man in the mirror
I am asking him to change his ways" 
(from Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror)

As a prelude or movement into forgiveness, we must take the courageous step of self-examination.  Just as women need to perform self-exams to prevent cancer or illness, so too does spiritual self-examination prevent us from falling further away from God and a life of abundance.

I blame it on my uncle.  Originally, he planned on becoming a Jesuit, but instead he joined the Paulist Fathers.  Long ago while I was in seminary at Duke, my Uncle (Father) Mike sent a large box of books to my second floor apartment.

Seminarians already have too much to read, but my wise uncle who made it through Yale Divinity School with flying colors knew I needed a different sort of reading.  Packed tightly in a box were a stack of spiritual classics on Christians mystics and saints!  He fed my soul while my brain was learning to love God.

Tucked into that welcome box of respite from theological treatises and biblical commentaries was a little thin book which introduced me to St. Ignatius' examen.  (As I said Uncle Mike almost became a Jesuit!)  There some where between Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke Garden, Duke chapel, and the Divinity school library (which always smelled moldly in the spring) I began asking myself questions.

I would look in the mirror of my day and ask, "For what I am most grateful?  for what am I least grateful?"  Or "how have I experienced consolation or desolation in my day?"  Sounds simple enough.  And it is.  But it is not simple, at all, really.

Asking these sorts of questions daily begins to have an accumulated impact on how I hold myself accountable to Christ's teachings, what connections do I notice between my actions and attitudes, and how I practice the faith I believe in.  That may not be simple, but it has become a practice of self-check.  It is the mirror that I ponder as I seek more of Christ and less of me.

I invite you to ask yourself for this next week these questions.  Journal or take note of your responses.  Talk with a trusted wise spiritual friend.  Invite the Holy Spirit to bring you healing and forgiveness.

See you in the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Forgiving- Healing the Human Family

Every week in Sunday morning worship we say the same thing.  I wonder if we are aware of the significance of the words coming out of our mouths?

"...forgive us as we forgive those who trespass (or sin) against us..."

Important things are often repeated.  Helpful things are shared more than once, because they are very helpful.  Maybe that is part of why we say these words so often. Forgiveness is important.  And forgiveness helps our relationships.

Forgiveness, writes Marjorie Thompson, is the foundation from which new life flows in a wounded, strife-weary world.  And if ever there was a time in our contemporary era in which people who think differently from one another, vote differently, and politic differently need to find other ways to connect for the first time or re-connect through forgiveness; now is the best time to consider the gift that forgiveness is. A community, no matter the size or shape, is difficult, if not impossible, to establish if an offering of apology or recognition of wound is not addressed and healed.

Last Sunday we talked about how the best starting point for forgiveness is not ourselves, nor the people we want to forgive (or who need our apology), but the best starting point on forgiveness is our God in Christ.

Rev. Thompson concludes that "Forgiveness is an out-pouring of love from the inner life of the Trinity and can only be fully understood when experienced as a transforming power in the life of a human community that mirrors God's being."  God's mysterious and unique nature, as a three-in-one-Holy Being, is a manifestation of love which over spills into our hearts...empowering us to ask, seek, and offer forgiveness.

This week as you move through your Lent journey... start with God as you pray.  Start with asking God's Spirit to show you for whom you need to forgive.  Start with seeking God's Spirit to reveal who you need to apologize or seek their forgiveness.  And trust that our God in Christ is big enough, large enough, and loving enough to aid you in your giving and receiving of forgiveness.

See you at the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lenten Forgiveness


My Facebook newsfeed looks like a last minute Christmas stocking shopping spree; with Christians all over social media looking for something to "give up" or "something to take on" as their Lenten discipline.  Faithful people gathering whatever they can find and tossing in their baskets before the deadline today.  Perhaps you are still searching for what "to do" or "not to do" this lent.

After my wellness doctor's visit in January, there are plenty of things I have already given up for the sake of health, wholeness and vitality.  Chocolate, breads, and carbs of all kinds are gone from my life for a while.  Processed and boxed foods are gone.  Noodles are no more.  I write "missing you" letters to chocolate.  At night I dream of soft, warm yeast rolls.  sigh.

Lent 2017 will be different.  Time to shake-up my devotional reading.  Re-do my prayer life.  Re-fresh my soul as my body adjusts to healthier foods.  Back to the basics.  As Coach K would say, now is the time to work on fundamentals.

Our Ridge sermon series during Lent will focus on one of the basics; forgiveness. Reverend Marjorie Thompson writes, "There is no Christianity without forgiveness."  That sounds as basic and fundamental as it can be.

To aid me in our Lenten journey with forgiveness, my prayer life will take on a different discipline.  I have felt led by the Spirit to pray through my Ridge church directory during Lent.  Praying for each Ridge parent, grandparent, partner/spouse, teen or child by name each day during a week of Lent.  On Wednesday mornings our church staff will join me.

My prayer will be, "Blessed Jesus, have mercy on us sinners. Thank you for forgiving, healing and restoring this family to you first.  And then, give courage to each person as they offer authentic, "I am sorry" or "I forgive you" to themselves, one another, and others in our world.  Heal us, Lord Jesus! Heal our church, Lord Jesus!  Heal our world, Lord Jesus!  Amen."

See you at the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Advent Hedgehogs

The reason remains a mystery, but I adore these little critters.

Ever since last Christmas, I have stumbled upon them in the oddest places.  Craft stores, internet blogs, and boutique shoppes, to name a few locations.

Maybe hedgehogs are following me around.  Or they are my totem animal.

Here are a few things I learned about this little critter.

"...those who honor the hedgehog as their totem - these people always land on their feet and go through challenges with the same calm, cool practicality as the hedgehog does."

But what I found intriguing in this season of Advent- expectation, pregnancy with Mary, waiting- is other meaning of my little critter friend.

"The hedgehog is also symbolic of fertility and being connected to the earth. It's belly is close to the Mother (earth, that is) and this close proximity is symbolic of its connection to earth and all that is fertile. The hedgehog's tendency to curl up in the fetal position is also a message of centering, and connecting with the source."

Finally, as we consider the messages that Mary received from the angel Gabriel, I am tickled to consider the other wisdom this little critter has given various cultures and traditions...

"Being a nocturnal creature, the symbolism of the hedgehog deals with intuition, psychic ability, prophetic dreams and visions. This is because the night deals with concepts that are cloaked in shadow - a realm that is not altogether clear. That the hedgehog's active time is at night is symbolic of "second sight.""  

Advent hedgehogs!  They do help point to the story of the Christ child!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Letter from Holy Spirit to People of Ridge UMC

Before I begin I thought you might appreciate a word of explanation or even warning. This message is not a typical sermon- it is a letter.  Some might call this creatively challenging.  Others may consider this message passionately presumptuous.  Listen and decide for yourself.  And yes, I wrote this.  It is an original piece.  
Let us pray…Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak through them; Take our minds and think through them; Take our hearts and set them on fire with love.  Amen. 
To my precious dear ones at Ridge,
I write you to remind you that I am.  I always have been and will always be.
Once upon a time when nothing but a chaotic formless, dark voice covered the world.. there I was in the midst.  Breathing out life, order, and unity with the wind of holy breathe.  Ione exhale from me dispels darkness and illuminates life; separates waters to create sky and land; fills the land with growing things, and then pouts stars, moon, and planets in their places.  A word spoken by me fills the waters and land with living creatures, and creates humanity in our image.  All of it good.
Since that one upon a time, eons ago in your time lie, I have not stopped.  I am still here.  I move where I will.  Untame.  Wild.  Clever.  You cannot know everything about me. You cannot see me.  I am too vast.  To grand.  So immense.  Yet, you can feel and experience my impact.  It attempting to measure the size of the universe is daunting then you have not yet encountered the reality of eternal existence.
Yet no matter how vast or grand…my best dwelling place is within the human will, soul, heart, mind, and strength.  You were made for me to dwell within.  Remember I helped make Abraham’s pulse race and I quickened the child within Sarah’s womb.  I burned in a bush by Moses and hardened Pharaoh’s heart. I was the cloud by day and the smoking pot by night for four years of desert wandering.  I was in Joshua’s trumpet blast and Deborah’s victorious battle cry.  I got Samuel up on his feet to anoint Soul as king over Israel.  And the prophets…all of them Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel Hosea, Joel, Amos all the way to Malachi…we were all very close.  They told the words I whispered in their ears.  They knew me and I knew them. 
Who do you think whispered in the ears of the stargazing magi?  I was the voice Simeon and Anna heard in the temple say, “This is the One!  God is indeed nearer than ever before!”  And later when His ministry was about to begin I was in the wings of the dove at the River Jordan when he came up out of the waters.
Do you remember me now?
Do you know who I am?
He told you I would come.  The One-Who-Is-God-With-Us said that I would be coming…and that you could know me as counselor, advocate, comforter.  I am activity and movement because I convict, challenge, comfort, counsel, advise, remind, remember, teach, give power, offer truth and pray.  Remember Jesus said to all of you that it would to your advantage.  It is your blessing that I would come…especially after he returned to his place of honor.  I remain.
When I came the wind blew, fire flickered, and voice spoke languages they did not know so that praises would be shared, good news given, and love expressed.  I stirred more than hearts.  I opened floodgates.  It rained, thundered, poured and stormed supernatural power that Pentecost day.  Souls of good folk where soggy and saturated with my fiery fuel.
Because you see, I am not lukewarm, passive or submissive. I dare mountains.  I taunt oceans.  I bring courage to the weak.  I am power. I am conviction.
I am not a charismatic freak.  I am not a religious extremist.  Nor am I flighty and unglued. I am not a magic wand or fairy pixie dust.  I am not moody nor mentally ill.
No, I am God.  I am holy.
And I refuse to be neglected and forgotten.
That Bible you read or refer to when it suits your fancy, I inspire the people who wrote it.  More than that I am available today to fuel your passion and creativity as well as tomorrow’s tomorrow so that you can make sense of what is in your dusty Bible book.  But do you ask me?  Do you seek me?  Do you ever invite me into a conversation?
No, you barely give me a nod of recognition.  As if I am an afterthought.
I seem to be the forgotten of the sacred Three.
But if you read and understood your Bibles; if you poured over the stories and notice the thread of my activity within church history then… then you would realize that you can always expect great things from me.  I deliver.  I show up… and when I do I bring only the best! 
If you look closely at those ragtag disciples, every one of them was unworthy, inept, and prone to do stupid (sounds familiar?!).  Doesn’t matter whether they had education or not; what their age or stage of life was; doesn’t matter the style of their hair or set of designer sandals on their feet… they are made of the same stuff you are.  Clay. Decaying bits of plants and animals.  Dirt and Dust.  But, oh dirt dust with the very breathe of Life blown in. 
In spite of what those first followers were like…notice what happened after I showed up.  When the full-disclosure of my presence filled them…when I dug deep roots in their hearts…when they open my minds to the robust reality of my life-giving presences… wow- no wonder fire alarms blared and people thought they were intoxicated!
You realize that the disciples’ experience is available to you?  You may be from clay but you also made to be a temple a sanctuary a refuge of my presence.  My home is within the dust of the stars and within you (Romans 8:9.  I Corinthians 6:19-20).   
How sad when you choose to put trash into yourself rather than me.  Load up on junk food and junk faith. Empty calories and empty conversations…
When I do dwell within you, you cannot help but experience the difference.  Where I hang out there is a bumper crop of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  (Gal 5:22-23)  Do you see what the fuel of my fiery presence did to the first followers?  Their courage.  Their conviction.  Their perseverance.  They were a mess before me.  It is because of me that they succeeded when they should not have or when all odds were stacked against them.  The movement’s success was not about dumb luck or human ingenuity – the success was because of me…and what I added to the lives of those who follow Jesus. 
And if I can do that for folks who has so little compared to you…. Think about what I can do for you.  What I can do within your life?  Consider how I can strengthen the seedling of faith within your heart into a mighty oak!
I am puzzled and grieved you do not expect more of me. Or ask me. Why don’t you invite me into your life at every moment?  Why don’t you trust me to do what I am here to do?
I know your thoughts.  I get the sense you are afraid because you are unsure if I can be trusted.  Or you fear because you think I may ask too much of you.  Or ask you to give up your illusion of control.  Hang on- allow me to comfort your mind.
I can give you courage to move through any and all fear.  I may not be tame, but I do not bite.  I really do not want to you to hide on the periphery of what a full, abundant life in Jesus would be.  Please remember, above all else, I pray for you.  Yes, me.  I am praying for you right now.  And when you’re in traffic; when the kids drive you crazy; and when you are overwhelmed; and when you are confused; and when you are laughing so hard your sides ache; and when you are crying alone in the shower.  I pray for you.
For am I the gentle breeze on your cheek; the flicker of the flame in the candle you light at night.  I am the stirring of your mind to find another path through a tough situation.
I am that near because I love you.
But we could be and can be closer.  Invite me in…
Never, ever forget me- because I can never forget you.
All my love and prayers,

The Holy Spirit, the third of the Sacred Three

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Among all the other news about our upcoming US Presidential campaign, there is another smaller campaign taking place.

Various members of my congregation have taken it upon themselves to begin a campaign to win my baseball allegiance.

It is the campaign at Ridge UMC right now.

They know I have a football team, the Steelers.  They are well versed in the knowledge of my favorite men's college basketball team, the Duke Blue Devils.

And because they love me they have also paid attention to realize this startling truth... I do not yet have a baseball team.

Thus, the campaign has begun to win my heart to their favorite team.

How do I know this?

Because my church folk have confessed their plot.

They tug on their baseball jersey shirt during a worship service to indicate which team they think I should become aligned with.  White Sox jersey in worship one day.  A St. Louis Cardinals tie the next Sunday.

Oh my!  Cubs? White Sox? Cardinals?  What to do?