Month: March 2014

The Power of Forgiveness: Tossing Out the Mental File Folder

My first boss out of college was very hard on me. She was critical, demanding and impatient. I was young, immature and overly self-confident. She gave few compliments and was generous with criticism. I found myself keeping a mental file of every insult and comment thrown at me. I almost looked forward to her next comment so I could add it to my collection of wrongs. Eventually, I found that I was obsessed with proving the injustices and marking every infraction.

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Eventually I realized that I was the only one carrying the file. The file was just in my head and was doing nothing for me but cluttering my mind. It had given me a false sense of power and it made my soul gangrene. I decided to take my boss to lunch. I told her that I would appreciate it if she would acknowledge me in the morning before asking me to do something. That pretty much summed up everything in the file. I wanted to be treated like a human being. She said she of course could do that, that she knew she was a really hard person to work for, but that’s just how she was and I would have to get over it.

That was that. It was the closest to reconciliation we were going to get. It’s all I needed. I had said my peace, stood up for myself and found that I was able to empty the file folder and let everything go.

Today, I feel I owe her the apology. She had to put up with a young, insecure, egotistical college graduate who had never been told she wasn’t all that great. Today I am indebted to her. I still use many of the skills she taught me. She made me tough and she made better.

This Lent our congregation has been working through the Martin Dublmeier Film, “The Power of Forgiveness.” I have used clips from this film along with Ted Talks featuring presenters from South Africa, Ireland and Rwanda all who have spoken on how to achieve forgiveness and reconciliation on a personal and global scale. If you are interested, the Fetzer Institute provides outstanding handouts and articles on love and forgiveness. Here is their site: http://www.fetzer.org/

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the power of forgiveness

I have facilitated this presentation before, and every time I engage in this discussion on forgiveness I learn something new. Forgiveness is the greatest act of bravery anyone can undertake. It requires a releasing of power and reception of new power. Here are some insights we have had as a group:

Forgiveness is not the same as justice. You can have justice and never reach forgiveness and you can reach forgiveness and never receive justice.

Forgiveness is something that takes practice. Pretend you forgive. Imagine yourself forgiving. Eventually practice will become a performance.

Forgiveness is a daily choice. It’s not something you ever completely check off the life lesson list. “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Forgiveness is for personal benefit. Anger weighs us down, it ties us up and it keeps us from living.
Forgiveness quiets anger, lowers blood pressure, and detoxes your soul.

Forgiveness is not reasonable. It makes no sense to forgive. Forgiveness is not logical. Why should a victim of crime forgive his offender? Why should a victim of abuse forgive her abuser? It makes no sense. Yet, it makes complete sense, if you want to live freely.

Fred Buechner writes, “To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you to be my friend.'” (Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)

In the Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes makes the point that even for God, forgiveness is a process. First, God rediscovers the humanity of the person who wronged him. Second, God surrenders his right to get even. Third, God revises his feelings toward us, finding a way to justify us so that when he looks upon us we are restored.

When I was in 8th grade, I received communion for the first time. I remember hearing that Jesus gave us the Bread and Cup so that we could remember that he died for the forgiveness of our sins. I took this very seriously. I still do. I remember thinking that I could not take the Bread and Cup if I had not asked God to forgive me, forgiven others and forgiven myself. Sometimes I would hold that bread in my hands and look at it for a long time before I felt like I could honestly “take and eat and do so in remembrance of him.”

As I swallowed the bread and juice, I would find myself restored. The Lord’s Supper fed my soul with grace, nourished it with love and strengthened to set me free.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow Love.
Where there is injury, thy Pardon, Lord.
Where there is doubt, let there be Faith.
Oh Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.
Where there is despair, let me bring Hope.
Where there is darkness, let there be Light.
Where there is sadness, let there be Joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek:
To be consoled, as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love.
Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow Love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it’s in dying that we are born
To eternal life, to eternal life.
Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.

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ROUTINE

I spent the weekend with my 96-year-old grandmother. My time with her has gotten me thinking about time and gentility and patterns and memory.

With deep humility, I am posting two poems on aging. The first one I wrote and the second is written by my favorite poet, Wendell Berry. I hope he won’t mind sharing a page with me.

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ROUTINE

What day is it?
Sunday.
Oh, Sunday.

Her gaze turns to the window and the cobalt sky.
Long spaces of silence slow time.
The clock chimes.

I took all of the medicine,
but there wasn’t a red one.

You did it right.

No! There wasn’t a red one.
I needed to take a red one.
There wasn’t a red one.

Newspapers unopened.
Reader’s Digest unsealed.
Dusty television, ignored.

A robin lands on the window sill,
confused at his reflection,
who might that other bird be?

What day is it?
Sunday.
Oh, Sunday.

The clock chimes.
The bird flies away.

THERE IS NO GOING BACK, Wendell Berry

No, no, there is no going back.

Less and less you are that possibility you were.

More and more you have become those lives and deaths

that have belonged to you. You have become a sort of grave

containing much that was and is no more in time,

beloved then, now, and always.

And so you have become a sort of tree standing over a grave.

Now more than ever you can be generous toward each day that comes, young,

to disappear forever, and yet remain unaging in the mind.

Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.

(Wendell Berry, from “Collected Poems)

The Parent’s Prayer

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It’s late, God, but like any good Parent, I know you are up for a chat. I need you to hear my prayer tonight not for any role I play in life, not for pastor, friend, or my personal health or community, but for the role I play as a parent.

Remember when they were little? Remember when I worried about stairs and grapes and gross motor skills? Remember when they snuggled up in my lap and we would stare at their dimpled hands and smell their Johnson @Johnson washed hair? Remember when we would dance in the kitchen with bare feet and dish towel streamers?

Do you think we could go back and do that part again?

God, tonight I pray for the child who hates keyboarding and math and her sister and did I mention math? I pray for her tender self-esteem and for the patience of the earth.

I pray for the child who has lost a friend and doesn’t know why. Who feels “like a dork” and weird and wants to be homeschooled.

I pray for the child who can’t figure out short vowel sounds and whose name for extra help is all over the classroom.

I pray for the child who is getting inappropriate text messages from “friends” and has no idea what a “booty call” is, let alone how to make one.

I pray for the child who is so overwhelmed with homework, he sits for hours just staring at it, paralyzed unable to begin.

I pray for the child who committed suicide this week, for reasons unknown, but rumors suggest bullying and homophobia.

I pray for the child who can’t keep up, fit in, follow through, make it, be it, or seize the day.

I pray for every child who has been given a label. For those who are attention deficit, hyper, have special needs, are talented and gifted, slower, bullied or bully, help us to rip off the labels and see only your creation.

I pray for the child in the shelter, the institution, the refugee camp.

I pray for the child without a parent.

God, the parents of the world need you. Help us to know we never parent alone.

God, do you remember when we were little?

Did you worry about us, the way we worry for them? Did you hold our parent’s hand when they were holding ours?

Thank you.

God, be our parent so we can parent. Whisper in our ear words of wisdom. Provide us with the stamina, endurance and character to be present as you are. Be the Breath, when we take a breath and count to ten. Smile on us when we love our children the way you do.

Lastly, do you think you could make it any easier?

Amen

Being Part of Something That is Dying: Why I Stay Presbyterian

For the past four days I have been slightly obsessed with watching the stats on this post. 5000 hits!

I really appreciate the thoughtful responses below. Thank you! I have been contemplating the comment on clergy leadership (William Lee Goff) and the comment on the church trying to be all things to all people(Clay Faulk). In many ways both comments address the same overarching issue of clergy and congregational leadership having the maturity to be self differentiated enough to say, “this is who we are and this is who we are not,” and then accepting how people respond to those stated beliefs. This is not easy. I think both comments address core issue. Leadership and Identity.

Let’s continue the conversation. Let’s continue working along side our Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian brothers and sisters and see if we can find a way to discern what must die, so that something else may live.

A friend of mine once reminded me that at the end of psalms of lament, the last two stanzas always change from despair to hope and promise.

I believe we are in the final two stanzas. Let’s start singing a new song.

creating sacred communities

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Conversations:

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, but we were the youngest people there and we are in our 40’s! We don’t want our kids to be the only one’s in confirmation, so we are going to go to the mega church. We don’t really agree with their theology, but our kids love the events and we want them to want to go to church.”

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, but they were too conservative. I can’t be part of a church that all they ever talk about is who is excluded. It’s too tense. Church should be a place where everyone is welcome. I don’t feel welcome there. I can have a nice morning devotional and be with my friends in my book group and get the community I need without the tension of the church. I’m so sick of all the…

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Being Part of Something That is Dying: Why I Stay Presbyterian

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Conversations:

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, but we were the youngest people there and we are in our 40’s! We don’t want our kids to be the only one’s in confirmation, so we are going to go to the mega church. We don’t really agree with their theology, but our kids love the events and we want them to want to go to church.”

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, but they were too conservative. I can’t be part of a church that all they ever talk about is who is excluded. It’s too tense. Church should be a place where everyone is welcome. I don’t feel welcome there. I can have a nice morning devotional and be with my friends in my book group and get the community I need without the tension of the church. I’m so sick of all the infighting.”

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, but they were too liberal. They are denying the authority of scripture and selling themselves out to secular society. They don’t even know what they stand for. They have lost all integrity. Some pastors don’t even believe that Jesus alone saves. I can’t be part of a church that believes other religions can find their way to heaven. Jesus is the way the truth and the life, that’s it. Final answer.”

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street, and they played the organ and these hymns and it was so traditional and boring. It was like the church my grandma went to. That kind of worship service does nothing for me.”

“We tried out the Presbyterian Church down the street and they had this awful contemporary music. I just hate those screens and that drum set….right in front of the cross! Where is the tradition? That kind of worship does nothing for me. We will lose who we are if we do worship in a different way.”

We will lose who we are…

That’s what this is about. It’s about identity. Another huge church in the Presbyterian Church left the denomination last week and according to what I’ve read, they seem almost giddy with joy to be leaving. “See you next week!” The popular pastor wrote.

It’s insulting and painful to see any congregation no matter their size, pick up their toys and leave. People have written in on blogs saying, “Duh, of course this happening, how can you be so blind? The Presbyterian Church has lost its way.”

I have decided to remain faithful to my denomination and its tenets. Here’s why:

I believe in the sovereignty of God. That means God knows more than I do, about everything.

I believe that we are saved by grace through faith. We don’t earn it our salvation or even have to prove it. There is not a standardized test for the admittance into heaven.

I believe in total depravity and the atonement of the cross. I am sinner. I need to repent both communally and independently. I need to be reminded that I am forgiven. The cross frees us from sin and death uniting us to new life in Jesus Christ.

I am a child of God, baptized by the Holy Spirit, claimed, known, and received by the grace of God.

I believe in the proclamation of the Word. Scriptures are to be read, studied, interpreted, respected and valued.

I believe we are called to be connected. We are called to be in it together. God wants us to be in relationship with one another, to pray for each other, to encircle one another. We are called to be the body of Christ in the world.

It is for these central beliefs that I will remain Presbyterian. While the secular world questions the church’s value we are killing ourselves from the inside out with infighting and name calling and it is painful!

But here’s the thing. Death brings life. If the denomination eventually becomes so small that we have to close our doors, and we become a relic, and I really pray from the depths of my soul that it doesn’t, something else will take its place. The Church is bigger than any one denomination or one church within the denomination. The church is not about us. It’s not about what makes us feel good or even what we get out of it. It’s not about being right and it’s not about being wrong. It’s never about the building. It’s about people and their desire to know their Creator, their Savior and their Redeemer. It’s about bringing people closer to the Holy both within themselves and with each other. It’s about recognizing that in spite of our sinfulness, Jesus can still do something with us. It’s about the fact that while we will all someday become dust, we will become part of the Communion of Saints, and for all eternity we will all have to sit at same Table, and like each other.

“All people are grass,” scripture tells us, “the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of The Lord will stand forever.”
(Isaiah 40:7)

Devotional Psalm 51: Creating a Clean Heart

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Psalm 51

1. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5 Indeed I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

14   Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15   O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16   For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

17. The  sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,

19 then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

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Creating a clean heart begins with honesty, both with oneself and with others. It requires “truth in the inward being.”

It begins with an examination of where we spend most of our thoughts, when we aren’t thinking about anything.

It takes courage and strength of character to confess where pain has been inflicted and where pain is experienced.

Creating a clean heart requires a letting go, a purging of whatever keeps us from being at peace with ourselves, those we love, and those we judge.

O Lord Hear My Prayer:

Dear God,
Help me to be honest with myself and with others. Create in me a clean heart  with those with whom I share my home, those I meet in my daily life and those who wish to do me harm. Help me to be grateful for the way things are and to accept the way things are not. Give me the presence of mind to embrace today and this moment in time for all of its joy and wonderment. Give me the courage to change what I can change and the grace to accept what cannot be changed. Fill the places of loneliness, greed, fear and worry with your smile, your touch, your laughter, and your tender mercy.   With a willing spirit, I will be restored in the joy of your salvation. Amen.

Climbing Mountains, Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9

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Being a lifelong Midwesterner I have always been in awe of mountains.  As a runner and biker, my friends in San Francisco laugh when I tell them “I am running hills.”  “You don’t what a hill is,” they say.  I have always found myself drawn to stories about mountain climbers and their desire to make their way to the summit.

One mountaineer wrote about his experience this way:

“I truly believe that there is no greater metaphor for life than climbing mountains. The mountains have a way of stripping the mind down to its basic senses and forcing us to live in the moment.  In order to do this we must respect everything around us and maintain balance.

If you guys truly value your lives, then you must live them to the fullest. We have planned this trip for quite some time and have known from the beginning that it would be dangerous. To turn back now is useless. To turn back in the face of a fierce storm or worsening conditions is obvious. We must expect the worst and hope for the best. If we do not summit because we make the decision to turn back, then we will have learned yet another lesson. If we do not summit because we did not try, then we will learn nothing.

I hope we all realize that if we believe mountaineering is about getting to the top of mountains, then we are treading a path of foolery. Mountaineering is about everything BUT getting to the top. It is about teamwork, courage, fortitude, good decision making, determination, etc. Getting to the top is merely the culmination of effort and circumstance.”

This morning in our Gospel reading we hear another mountain climbing story.

In Biblical times when people heard that someone was going up to the mountain to pray, they understood that the person was trying to get physically closer to God.   They knew about mountain stories, because their ancestors had told them about what happened to Moses on another mountain.  They knew that profoundly mystical things happened on mountain tops and so when they heard the Jesus was heading up a mountain to pray, to become closer to God, they knew something significant was going to happen, and indeed it did.

Jesus took Peter and James and John with him and went up on a mountain to get away, to claim some quiet time: while they were there, a miraculous thing happened. They are awakened and discover that Jesus is being lifted into the air and he is glowing in a dazzling white.  The light was so bright that it hurt their eyes. A combination of fear and awe overwhelmed them. They fall backwards wondering what to do. And then they see in the light Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus. Peter, always the outspoken one, made an attempt to respond to all of this by suggesting that they could build three booths there on the mountain as symbolic dwelling places. But instead of getting a response to this impromptu idea, they heard a loud voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” And when the three disciples looked up, the light was gone and only Jesus was standing there. This was the ultimate mountain top experience.

Sometimes on our faith journey, we are given moments when our response to God is “amazement.”  Amazement, awe and wonder – Anne Lamott says when these moments happen our prayer response is “wow!”

“What can we say beyond Wow, in the presence of glorious art, in music so magnificent that it can’t have originated solely on this side of things? Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath.” Help, Thanks, Wow!: The Three Essential Prayers.

“Wow”  to the miracle of new-born baby.  “Wow,” to the sunrise. “Wow” to the generosity of strangers. I have a good friend who texted me the other day while she was waiting to for her 13-year-old to have an MRI.  He was getting concussions too easily and the doctor was wondering why.  As she sat in the waiting room, she wrote, “you know those little moments when life seems amazing, we need to really cherish them!”  Far too often wow moments are overlooked.

The artist Rapheal was commissioned to paint this ultimate mountain top moment.

The painting on the screen was his last painting before he died at the age of the 37, and was finished by one of his students.

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At the top of the painting is Christ, seemingly floating in the air, revealed as Son of God, with Moses and Elijah floating beside him, clutching respectively the tablets of the commandments and the book of the Old Law. The shining cloud behind them is both taken from the gospel text and a conventional depiction of the divine presence. This is what we think of when we think about the transfiguration.  This sort of out-of-body, ethereal experience that if you weren’t there you might think, “hmm, maybe the altitude was getting to them.” –  When God reveals himself in glory it’s hard to fully articulate the experience unless you witness it for yourself.

Raphael’s painting would have been pretty remarkable if he would have painted this part of the story, but the artist doesn’t stop there. The artist paints what happens next in the Gospel. The lower half of the painting is dark and chaotic.

In the next chapter, after Jesus is transfigured they come down off the mountain and are surrounded by chaos.

There is a boy who has been overtaken by demons and the disciples are trying to figure out how to help him.  In the painting, A chorus of disciples’ pointing hands sets up a strong movement from lower left over to the boy on the right and from him up to Christ, in whom hope for the boy’s healing will be found. The movement starts with a disciple, taken to be Andrew, poring over a large book, which I take to be the Book of Law, echoing that held by Elijah above.

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The book in itself offers no hope.

Amidst all the chaos there is one figure draws our attention; he or she is pointing decisively up the mountain to the transfigured Jesus.

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He points to the One who will come back down the mountain to bring healing…not only for this boy, but for the world God so loved. ”

Jesus doesn’t stay up on the mountain, and he doesn’t want his disciples to stay up there and commemorate the experience either.  No booths – No statues. No memorial wall.  That’s not the point he says.  The point is the glory of God is with you on the mountain and off of the mountain.  At the top of the mountain Jesus says, do not be afraid.  It’s a verse in the Bible that is written over 375 times. Do not be afraid.

When will we obey this commandment?  Jesus came to be  with us in the scary stuff.  He came to be with us in the dark places of our life and bring healing and wholeness to your brokenness.

Today in the liturgical calendar is Transfiguration Sunday – not a Sunday Halmark has done much with.  But nevertheless it’s the Sunday that transitions between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. On Transfiguration Sunday we focus on the glory of God and it’s really beautiful and amazing and all about the Wow factor, but in four days we move to Ash Wednesday.  A day we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we will return. A day we are reminded of our fragility and our brokenness.   A day we remember that we are saved only by the one who came down off the mountain to heal us.

“If we  were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.” (Anne Lamott)

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There is a  story of a mountain climber who, desperate to conquer the Aconcagua, initiated his climb after years of preparation. But he wanted the glory to himself, therefore, he went up alone. He started climbing and it was becoming later, and later. He did not prepare for camping, but decided to keep on going.

Soon it got dark. Night fell with heaviness at a very high altitude. Visibility was zero. Everything was black. There was no moon, and the stars were covered by clouds.

As he was climbing a ridge at about 100 meters from the top, he slipped and fell. Falling rapidly he could only see blotches of darkness that passed. He felt a terrible sensation of being sucked in by gravity. He kept falling… and in those anguishing moments good and bad memories passed through his mind. He thought certainly he would die.

But then he felt a jolt that almost tore him in half. Yes! Like any good mountain climber he had staked himself with a long rope tied to his waist. In those moments of stillness, suspended in the air he had no other choice but to shout: “HELP ME GOD. HELP ME!”

All of a sudden he heard a deep voice from heaven… “What do you want me to do?”

“SAVE ME.”

“Do you REALLY think that I can save you?”

“OF COURSE, MY GOD.”

“Then cut the rope that is holding you up.”

There was another moment of silence and stillness. The man just held tighter to the rope. The rescue team says that the next day they found a frozen mountain climber hanging strongly to a rope…
TWO FEET OFF THE GROUND.

We all have our mountains to climb and we all face chaos and fear.  And none of may ever see firsthand as did Peter, James, and John, the glory of God fully revealed in Jesus Christ. That transfiguration experience stands alone. It is incomparable. But that’s all-right. That’s as it should be. You and I have our own mountain, our own story, our own moment when God turns that which is unbearably painful into something meaningful; when God turns the joyful into something absolutely miraculous; when God transfigures the ordinary into an unmistakable revelation of God’s great love for us.

Sometimes  our prayers are nothing short of wow and sometimes they are help and sometimes they are thank you. Thank God, Jesus comes down off the mountain and meets us in our insanity and heals our brokenness. Thank God, God takes us on journeys that gives us moments where we see the glory of God revealed to us so that we may know he love.  Thank God,  God is with us when we are overwhelmed by his presence and when we are overwhelmed by life.

The miracle today is not that Jesus rose in the air and became dazzling white and we are reminded of his holiness.

The miracle today is that he comes to the earth, into the chaos of our lives and  provides healing.

Whatever mountain you are climbing today, look for moments to be amazed and say wow.  In your moments of fear, pray help me. And in your moments of healing pray thank you.

Dear Friends, know this – whatever mountain you are climbing today – whatever challenges you face –whatever it is you are looking for cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, or building of something material.  Whatever you are looking for can only be discovered by a spiritual journey. A journey that is arduous and humble and joyful.  Hear Jesus’ words to you today, “get up and do not be afraid.” Amen.