Saturday, January 29, 2011

Seeing The Invisible

I have been meditating this week on a quote I received from my spiritual director. The quote is by Gabriele D'Annunzio and states, "The riches events occur in us long before the soul receives them. And when we begin to open our eyes to the visible, we have long since committed ourselves to the invisible." Opening our eyes to the visible I believe draws us nearer to the invisible or in other words allows us to see God all around us. I have heard many complaints about the rather snowy winter we have experienced this year. And like many of you, my body aches from the snow blowing and shoveling which has become a weekly routine. However, these snowfalls are rich events that are stirring in our souls the wonder and majesty of our God if we choose to see beyond the visible. I am currently re-reading a book called "Gifted To Lead"(The Art of Leading As A woman in the Church) by Nancy Beach. In a chapter she entitles, "Finding Your Voice" Nancy talks about the art of "listening to your life." To pay attention to "all the everyday moments and experiences that serve to teach us, remind us of God's holy presence, and provide the basis for the telling of stories that connect to and identify with others." Nancy goes on to quote pastor Frederick Buechner from his book, "Now and Then." Here is part of what he says, "There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize Him, but all the more fascinatingly because of all that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly...Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." In the midst of shoveling out this past week, I had been praying that God would allow me one of those moments to draw closer to Him in the midst of this unpleasant task. To experience as Buechner states, "life itself as grace." While shoveling around our bird feeder, the black-capped chickadees were flitting back and forth grabbing seeds. I decided to stop right next to the feeder as my spirit was silently bidding the birds to draw near. As I stood motionless, they came up close and personal, taking their seed, and flying back to the lilac bush. I was captivated watching and being close enough to reach out and touch them. That afternoon experience allowed me to better understand Gabriele D'Annunzio's quote. God was preparing this rich event to occur long before my soul received it. And by opening my eyes to the visible (coming face to face with those birds) I experienced the commitment I had made to seeing the invisible God through His creation. I encourage you not to jump on the complaint bandwagon but open your eyes to see the invisible God through the visible beauty around you. See the snow as a symbolic reminder of the richest event that our souls have received in the washing away of our sins through the shed blood of Christ. Let the word of God speak to your soul, "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow. " (Isaiah 1:18); "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7); "He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes." (Psalm 147:16) italics mine.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Sheree

Friday, January 21, 2011

Power Source

I admit that like many people I take for granted having electricity. I move from room to room, cook, watch T.V. and listen to music without really thinking about the source that generates all the power so my life is not too difficult. However, when that power source is interrupted by a storm or failure of a local generator I am shocked into the reality of how dependent I am on electricity. Sometimes Christians take their power source for granted, the Holy Spirit. The Lord was drawing me this week to think about His Spirit. I have often heard it said that the Holy Spirit is not only the most misunderstood member of the Trinity but also the One we too often ignore. It struck me this week that to ignore the Spirit is too ignore the greatest source of power that we possess, even greater than electricity! The most profound revelation is that unlike electricity generated from a power grid that is sometimes unreliable, the Holy Spirit is never interrupted, shut down, or off line. He does not need a switch to turn Him on or off but He constantly energizes and amazingly dwells in us! God is, was, and forever shall be the source of our power and strength. I was reading the first few chapters of Exodus where Moses is called by God to go to Pharaoh and set the people free. Moses is less than enthusiastic and he asks God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11) In essence Moses was saying, "I have no power." God in response did not try to convince Moses how wonderful he was but instead was very direct, "And God said, "I will be with you."(Exodus 3:12a emphasis mine) In other words God would be Moses' power source. And so it is throughout the Scriptures that everyone called to serve God is empowered  by Him. And prior to Jesus going to the cross, He told His disciples in John chapters 14-16 about the One who would come and not only empower them but also comfort them in Jesus' absence. Jesus reinforces the promise just before He ascends into heaven after the resurrection, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 4b-5) Some have said the book of Acts could have been called "Acts of the Holy Spirit" as we see how the disciples depended on their promised gift, their power source to change the world. One of my life verses that God has given to me is Titus 2:15, "Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you."(emphasis mine) That authority comes from my power source. It comes from the Spirit that dwells within me, the promised gift from the Father to all who claim Jesus as Lord and follow after Him. Don't take for granted the tremendous power you possess in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Get plugged in and never worry about a "blackout!"
Be Blessed!
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"The Secret Place"

We all enjoy being recognized and receiving admiration from others. The good old "pat on the back." There's nothing wrong with being encouraged by others and certainly Paul in his epistles puts emphasis on the importance of building up one another. What is interesting is that God's so-called "pat on the back" is not so much physical as it is spiritual. Furthermore the things that God delights in come from the spiritual disciplines that draw us deeper into relationship with Him. I was struck by Jesus' words in Matthew 6 when He spoke about the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and giving. At the end of His discussion on each of these disciplines Jesus calls His disciples to do all these things in secret (italics mine) "Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:4b; 6:6b; 6:18b) Isn't it interesting that the God who is unseen wants these disciplines not seen or flaunted in front of others. That is the opposite of what the world system admires and encourages. The more our deeds point to what we've done and our own greatness, the more "brownie points" we earn. But God is more interested in what goes on in the "secret place" or in other words our hearts.  In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel had it in his head as to who looked like "kingly material" as he considered the outward appearance of each of David's brothers. But the Lord goes on to tell Samuel that his thinking is wrong, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."(1 Samuel 16:7) Prayer, fasting and giving come from that secret place where the eyes of the Lord capture our true intentions. A heart that desires to be in tune with the heart of God. It is not about being out front with all the lights and the cameras, but God rewards the things done "behind the scenes." It is all about pleasing Him. I think about the individuals and organizations who have been laboring for the kingdom and the "least of these" for years. Yet these individuals and/or organizations (i.e. Compassion International, Kiva) will rarely if ever be spotlighted on television. However, when an actor like George Clooney takes an interest in the Sudan, it gets reported. I have nothing against George Clooney and I applaud his hard work to help the forgotten people of the Sudan. However, God's people have been in these places for years, not motivated by television air time but rather their desire to be faithful to the compassion that flows from that "secret place." And I am confident God has been faithful to reward their efforts as evidenced through lives that have been changed and transformed not only through having their physical needs met but also their spiritual needs as they enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. A relationship that has eternal value. As a result, I believe that because of their faithfulness, many of the organizations such as World Vision have continued to provide needed services in spite of the difficult economic times. This stands in contrast to self-centered corporations who in some cases have buckled under the weight of financial pressures. Yes, I have an ego just like every other person on planet earth and those strokes sure feel good. But I am encouraged by the rewards yet to come from the hand of my Father when we meet in that secret place.
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What's Your Name?

Ever since I was awakened to the fact that I carry on my great-grandmother's spiritual mantle, I have been struggling to try and understand the implications of God's gift. I confess that many times I have questioned God and His so called "gift" which has felt more like a curse. This feeling has been especially heightened in our search for a new church home. I am constantly being reminded that I am a woman as many a pastor politely explains that God created men and woman in His image but has not called women to leadership. I am also very aware that I have the double whammy of being not just a woman but an African-American woman. Now you understand why I at times question God's wisdom. However, my husband and I have been attending a very small and loving church in Charlton, MA. where there does not seem to be an issue about gender or race. We were welcomed with open arms the very first Sunday that we visited. And in a week I will be preaching to this congregation. The text is Psalm 150 which is the celebration par excellence of the greatness of God! In preparing for the sermon I was overwhelmed with its words and the magnitude of who God is. Then it struck me! This magnificent God has created me to do exactly what I am doing. He ignores what others see on the outside because He looks on the inside and grants me the power of His Spirit to carry out His mission to the world. In coming to this realization my spirit was soaring and God reinforced His message to my heart through His word. In Genesis 17, God speaks to Abram and Sarai about what He is about to do in their lives after their failed attempt to push God's agenda through Ishmael. What is interesting is God gave them both a new name and an equal blessing. God said to Abram, "No longer will you be called Abram; (which means "exalted Father" italics mine) your new name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you fruitful; I will make nations of you and kings will come from you." (Genesis 17:5-6) An almost identical blessing rests on Sarai. "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai (which means "princess"italics mine), her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so she will be the mother of nations; kings and peoples will come from her." (Genesis 17:15-16) Gender issues weren't a concern to God. Equally powerful was God's word through the story in John 4 of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman. Here the race issue is addressed as there was racial hatred towards the Samaritans by the Jews. When Jesus requests a drink of water from the Samaritan woman she is shocked He asks her. She reminds Him as well as herself of her racial identity. But like God the Father, Jesus overlooks the issue and tells her in essence that the water she gives will quench physical thirst but He wants her to have so much more. "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water... Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:10; 14b) In other words, if she really internalized the magnitude of encountering the living God, she would  truly experience transforming power and life. Indeed the meaning behind the word "welling up" is a vigorous action, a leaping up to the abundant life Jesus declares in John 10:10. And so if I really internalize the gifts that God has given me I will truly be transformed and allow His living water to well up within me and overflow with abundance. I am humbled and grateful to God for challenging me to break free from mediocrity. God has given me a new name which is reflected in the gifts that I share with the body. I will accept it and walk in it.
All Glory to God!
Pastor Sheree