Monday, December 14, 2015

"Expectations"

Well now that "Thanksgivoween" has passed and we are moving towards Christmas we may find ourselves scrambling to get those last minute gifts before the clock strikes midnight on December 24th. And by God’s grace we will see another Christmas Day. In the meantime we expect to be dashing back and forth to the mall or clicking away on line trying to get our shopping completed. We don’t expect anything new or different to happen as we watch the same old Christmas commercials accompanied by the same old Christmas music. We see the media focusing on the same old behavior of people camping out the night before in front of their favorite store and joining the crowds the next day stampeding through the doors of the mall. Then there’s that one person on your Christmas list for whom you have a hard time finding a present. It’s not because they are fussy or difficult to buy for but rather because you have known them for such a long time that you’ve run out of ideas. Do you know someone like that? You’re left scratching your head, what do I get so and so this year? In Matthew 2:1-12, we see Magi who had carefully chosen gifts for a new King that they had heard was born in Bethlehem. But they bring much more to Jesus than the material gifts they have to offer. And their example is one we can easily miss in the frenzy of the Christmas season. Advent is considered a time of expectation, where we await once again the gift of God’s Son, Jesus. In our passage we have a host of characters who are in a time of expectation. The Magi who are sometimes referred to as “Wise Men” were in fact pagan astrologers who were seeking the “King of the Jews” indicating that they were also Gentiles. They had seen a phenomenon which they identified as a “star.” Scholars have debated what these Magi were actually witnessing but nonetheless they have traveled a considerable distance expecting to find this King who the prophet Micah had prophesied was coming. On the other hand, Herod was not expecting his kingship and authority to be challenged by the news of a new King arriving on the scene. His expectation was instead for the Magi to find this new King so Herod could give Him a gift. Unfortunately that gift involved death and destruction. The text doesn’t tell us if Mary was expecting the arrival of these Magi but she may have been waiting and expecting to hear from God as to what was coming next for their family. So the question for all of us is, What are we expecting this Christmas? Are we like Herod, so self focused and absorbed by what we have to get done before Christmas and not expecting anything new or different to interfere with what we have planned? Are we like Mary, waiting and expecting to hear a word from God in the midst of the activity going on around us? Or are we like the Magi seeking and expecting to be surprised by God as we move through this time of Advent, following the simple yet silent signs that God is showing us everyday? You see, too often we can get caught up in focusing on the material gifts and lose the sense of wonder and expectation that this season brings. So, I encourage you to follow the example of the Magi, not so much in the material gifts they presented to Jesus, but rather in their attitude of bowing down and worshipping, presenting to Him the gift of their hearts with humility and the deepest appreciation for the greatest gift God has given to humanity. 
Have a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year,
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Give Thanks To The Lord!

  The scene is familiar as folks are gathered around the Thanksgiving table. A delicious feast is laid out before their eyes, ready to be heartily consumed. The blessing has been pronounced and the host or hostess announces, "Why don't we go around the table and say what we are thankful for this Thanksgiving Day." There are quiet sighs by some and others shuffle nervously in their seats hoping they are not the first to be called upon. Then one by one people begin to give thanks for the food or being together with family for another year or their home, etc. While being thankful for what God has given us is not a bad thing, when was the last time you heard someone say, "I give thanks to God for who He is." The psalmist declares, "Give thanks to the Lordfor He is good; His love endures forever." "Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men."(Psalm 107:1;8) Even Paul in some of the New Testament Epistles gives thanks and praise to God before mentioning the specifics of his thankfulness. "I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus." (1 Corinthians 1:4) "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." (Ephesians 1:3) "I thank God whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. (2 Timothy 1:3) The apostle Peter follows a similar pattern, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.." (1 Peter 1:3) It is very easy for us to be thankful for tangible things forgetting that it is God who is the Creator of all things. He is the One who gives us life and breath to be able to work for the provisions that we enjoy and can at times take for granted. James puts it this way, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17) The greatest thanksgiving to God is for our Lord Jesus Christ who because of His death and resurrection gives us eternal life. So perhaps you may want to consider starting a new tradition this Thanksgiving. If your family typically asks what you're thankful for on Thanksgiving Day, surprise them and give thanks to God for who He is and who we are in His Son, Jesus Christ.
A Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving to all!
Pastor Sheree

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Consolation"

 One of the items I inherited after my mother's passing was an "angel bear" that her best friend had given her while she was in the nursing home. The idea of the angel bear is to serve as a watchman for the person to whom it is given.The bear figuratively speaking "watches over them" bringing a sense of peace and comfort. Once I brought the bear to my home, I had my husband put it on the wall over the bed in the guest room. I soon discovered that rather than feeling a sense of peace and comfort I was experiencing the pain of seeing the bear and being reminded of my mother. I was sitting with the Lord the other day and flipping through the front of my Bible having finished praying about the difficult struggle of grief. I keep various prayers and other meditative papers in the front cover of my Bible. I happened to pull out a contemplative prayer given to me by my spiritual director entitled, "The Consoler." The text of Scripture was Luke 2:22-38. This is the story of Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus at the Temple to be circumcised. While there, they are approached by a man named Simeon who had been promised by the Lord that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. The text states Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. After seeing Jesus, he gave glory to God that he could now die in peace, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, You may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel." (Luke 2:29-32) Simeon also blessed Mary and Joseph but warned Mary specifically that a sword would "pierce her soul." There was also at the Temple a prophet named Anna who after her husband died, spent her remaining years at the Temple fasting and praying. She too, gave God the glory for Jesus and all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.(Luke 2:36-38) One of the themes that kept leaping out at me as I read through the meditation was focused on "seeing." Both Simeon and Anna beheld something that was above and beyond anything they could have hoped for or imagined. The saw the promised Messiah. They were witnesses to the glory of God. After I finished reading the meditation it occurred to me that the angel bear no longer was a symbol of pain but of promise. There is a tag attached to the bear which encouragers the recipient to give the bear a name. My mother's friend had named it after my mother. The irony is my mother's first name was Concye (pronounced ConSee). She saw the Lord's salvation and could now be dismissed in peace. I realized that bear also served as a silent witness and saw the glory of God as His ministering angels came to receive my mother's spirit. It gave me a new perspective and a new appreciation for the gift of that bear. I decided to rename the bear "Consolation" because the One who is my Comforter opened my eyes to a new vision beyond what I could have asked for or imagined. At the end of the meditation there is a quote by Gabriele D' Annunzio. "The richest 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." The sword of my mother's death has indeed pierced my soul but as I open my eyes to this visible angel bear on the wall I am overwhelmed by her symbolic connection to the invisible God.


To God Be The Glory!
Pastor Sheree

Changes

It has almost been one month since my mother passed away. Time seems to fly so quickly and as I was observing the changes in nature that are presently occurring all around me, I felt a poem rise up within to express my feelings in this new season.

Changes

Changes before my eyes I see,
Images of sadness and visions of beauty.
Life is ending all around,
Natures's glory makes no sound.
Colors respond to their Savior's command,
It's time to sleep in death again.
Human bodies frail and weak,
In the dying reach their peak.
They hear the Father's voice say, "Come!
Your time on earth is now all done."
His words are spoken from my heart,
Over one from whom I must part.
Spring will come around once more,
And all creation won't ignore, 
The call of Him who says, "Arise!"
As nature opens up her eyes.
Human bodies once so weak,
Will rise up their Lord to meet.
Changes before my eyes I'll see,
No more sadness but glory.
Seasons there will be no more,
And His Presence we will adore.
Open up my eyes to see,
Beyond the veil that covers me.
That this heart which harbors pain,
Peace and comfort will regain. 
Seasons, seasons changing me,
Colors in my life will be,
Painted by the Master's hand,
So one day I'll understand,
The power of what our God has done,
In the suffering of His Son.

Shalom,
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Painful Gift

Some of you may be wondering about the title to this posting. A gift is usually something we enjoy receiving. Who would want to receive a gift that causes pain? The reality is that we will all one day receive a painful gift. This morning my mother passed away after a long struggle with various health issues. The pain of the loss of a loved one is never easy. Yet, it is something we all experience the longer we live on this earth. The Bible is clear that we are all destined to die. (Hebrews 9:27) However, whether we see death as an enemy or a friend depends on our relationship with Jesus Christ. In Christ we were given a painful gift in that He died a horrible, painful, and agonizing death so that we could receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus took on human form so He could experience the strain and struggle of our humanity. He identifies with us as Hebrews 4:15 states, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin." God knows the pain of loss and we are told He draws near to the brokenhearted. (Psalm 34:18; 147:3) Even in the midst of our pain God makes Himself very real. The day before my mother's passing, we had spent time visiting with her. She was on hospice care at the nursing home and although she was not able to respond to us, I believe she could hear us as experts say that hearing is the last sense to go before death. My husband and I were able to read Scripture to her from the book of Revelation regarding the hope yet to come when the New Jerusalem descends from heaven. There will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain and Jesus will rule and reign fully in His power and glory. (Revelation 21 & 22) Prior to our departure, I anointed her with oil and we prayed for her and I told her it was all right to go. The gift that God gave me came the morning of her death as we happened to be in church when she passed away. My church family was able to surround me after the service and pray for me, each one in turn giving me a loving embrace after prayer. I believe God ordained it to be that way so He could personally minister to me through His body, the church. The church body in that moment was faithful to Paul's exhortation in Galatians 6:2, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." I am grateful to God for the 79 years of life that He gave to my mother. In going forward with whatever years of life the Lord has ordained for me, I am confident that He will walk with me through the many other trials and losses that I will experience in the future. I trust Him with my todays and my tomorrows for, "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?..For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:31b-32;38-39)
To God Be The Glory!
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Promise Kept

Last July I posted a blog entitled "Wren Resurrection." In the posting I described the pain and disappointment of witnessing my beloved house wrens murdered in their bird box. I suspected it was a catbird who was the culprit as the wrens kept chasing the catbird away while they were trying to nest. What appeared to be a safe haven for the house wrens turned out instead to be a death trap. In a way the journey I have been on in search of a new church home reminded me of the many "safe havens" I thought I had found only to experience death in my spirit with the use of the gifts God gave me being denied or ignored. These actions prompted me to leave many a church situation. However, after the devastating incident with the house wrens, the Lord sent another wren to perch on the railing of our deck as a reminder that He is a redeeming God. He restores that which is broken and brings back to life what appears to be lifeless and dead. That "resurrected wren" was God's promise to me to bring life back to that bird house. The Lord kept His promise as this spring a new house wren couple nested once again in the bird house. I was thrilled yet cautious given what happened last year. However, everything proceeded on schedule with the wrens laying their eggs and soon the frenetic activity began once the chicks emerged and began crying for food. The parents flew back and forth each taking turns bringing food to the nest. As the chicks grew bigger, their peeping grew louder and I knew it was just a matter of time before they were ready to fly. It's always an exciting time when the chicks are ready to leave the nest. I prayed that I might witness the event as I had done in years past. Meanwhile about a week ago, I was sitting at my computer when all of a sudden a robin attached itself to the screen and began flapping its wings briefly before flying off. I had experienced a similar event several years ago only it was house wrens attaching to various window screens both upstairs and downstairs, flapping their wings briefly and flying off. I was told that this activity spiritually speaking can be symbolic of the Holy Spirit's presence. I had a feeling the rest of the day wasn't going to be typical. Later that afternoon I was sitting in my den looking out the slider on to the deck and observing the wren activity at the bird house. I began to pray when I heard the sound of scurrying across the deck. I looked up to observe a highly unusual phenomenon. I hesitated to write or speak about it because I felt people might think I was crazy. However, what I saw was a squirrel, chipmunk, and small bird all moving together across the deck. They did not cross the deck one at a time at intervals but in a group! I thought I was seeing things! I couldn't help but think of "Nature's Trinity" moving together as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Shortly thereafter a hummingbird hovered just outside of the bird box where the house wrens were nesting and then flew away. It was if the hummingbird was checking out the new life that had emerged inside the bird box. I was reminded of the account of creation in Genesis 1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:1-2) The hummingbird reminded me of the Spirit of God hovering over the creation of new life. In finding a new church home where I feel welcomed and safe, God has brought life back to my soul, restored my broken spirit, and resurrected my passion for Him. God is in the business of restoration and renewal as Revelation 21:5 states, "He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Sadly, while I was at work, the chicks apparently took flight because when I came home there was no longer any peeping, only silence. I was somewhat angry and disappointed as I asked the Lord to allow me the opportunity to see them leave the nest. However, a few days later, I was again sitting in my den praying when I heard the familiar call of the house wren. I looked up and there was a pair of house wrens perched on the railing near the bird house, flapping their wings and appearing to speak to each other. One flew off and the other flew up to the bird house and looked in a couple of times before also flying away. Once again the Lord appeared to be reminding me that although I didn't see the chicks take off, the wrens would be back next year for they had found a home where they feel safe and can bring forth new life. I thank the Lord that like those house wrens I have found a new church home where I too can feel safe and new spiritual life can come forth.
All Glory To God!
Pastor Sheree

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Great Expectations

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)

I cannot recall the number of times I have quoted this verse or used it as a benediction but sometimes found myself struggling to internalize its truth and power. It has been especially difficult as my husband and I have been trying to discern God's will for the ministry to which He has called us. We recently started attending a new church ironically named "New Vision." The pastors are a husband and wife team who I met by "divine appointment" at a Christian bookstore. During that meeting I shared with them my story of how we were looking for a community of believers where we could fully use our gifts. The pastors were very encouraging and assured me that there was a place for my husband and I in their fellowship. They gave me their card and hoped that we would visit. I experienced a sense of joy and a real hope that we may have finally found a church home. However, there was a part of me that was cautiously optimistic. My husband and I began visiting the church off and on and during this time of discernment another opportunity opened up at a church we had formerly attended which was now in need of a full time pastor. This former church had a very poor track record in terms of pastors staying and the last pastor unfortunately left due to illness. The ministry at this former church is very challenging with the congregation demonstrating little motivation to change the culture of the church and an unwillingness to be open to the Spirit leading them in a new direction. I felt somewhat of a dilemma as to what direction the Lord was leading me. However, the more we attended New Vision church the more connected we became with the community. I still felt a need to proceed with caution as we had grown connected to other communities only to end up leaving the church. During one of my times with the Lord, I was reading one of my devotionals which ended with a quote from missionary William Carey, "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." I was drawn to Acts 19 where Paul is ministering in Ephesus. Paul had entered the synagogue and preached the gospel boldly for about three months but there were many who opposed him so Paul left and continued to preach in a different location that was outside of the synagogue. The passage goes on to state, "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." (Acts 19:11-12) The Scripture does not say that Paul actually went to personally attend the sick and demon possessed but rather it was enough that Paul expected great things from God and attempted great things for God, through ordinary acts like giving his handkerchiefs and aprons to those in need. In another one of my devotionals I was reminded to follow the Lord closely and have an attitude of expectation. The devotional passage stated, "Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend. Stay on the path that I have selected for you." Although Paul was not always welcomed in the synagogue, he stayed on the path Jesus chose for him, preaching if necessary in Gentile locations. As a result, God showed him "sparkling surprises" through the miracles the Lord performed through him. In sharing my story with my Christian brothers and sisters about the two potential church opportunities, the majority of the feedback I received pointed to New Vision church. The church is a young church plant in that it has only been in existence for about three years. The congregation is still rather small and there are many who are young in their faith. The congregation also has a higher than typical ethnic population which is something for which I have prayed. The town in which the church is located is very economically depressed and has great potential for sharing the gospel. My husband and I began attending on a regular basis about six weeks ago. At the time we started to attend regularly the pastors had begun a seven week preaching series. I had sent the pastors a copy of two of my sermons and they reported that they were greatly blessed. I assumed that after attending for some time I may get the opportunity to share with the congregation. However, the "sparkling surprise" the Lord promised came when the pastors asked me to preach one of the messages in the series. I could hardly believe what I was hearing! After only six weeks attending I was given the opportunity to use the gifts the Lord has given to me. There was no hoop jumping or litmus test as to my abilities or gifts. The pastors did not appear to demonstrate ego issues or self doubt about their own gifts compared to mine. They did not insist that I preach like them or be someone that I was not. Their words of encouragement to me were just to be myself. For me this has been a confirmation of all that I have been praying for as far as ministry. In a way I feel connected to Paul's situation in Acts chapter 19. After all the places I thought I fit communicated that I wasn't really welcome, the Lord sent me to an unlikely place where people were open to hear from Him through me, His chosen vessel. Can we have great expectations from God? The answer is a resounding YES! I pray that I will also be open to  attempt great things for God as He empowers me through His Holy Spirit.
All Glory to Him!
Pastor Sheree


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Personal Meditation on Psalm 121




The next chapter in my journey is about to unfold. My spiritual director sent me this picture which in actuality is a collage made up of pieces of paper that give it the illusion of a painting. I was captured by it and began to meditate upon it as it spoke to me of where I am in my present spiritual walk. I began to write in my journal about this experience and the words of Psalm 121 became a part of this scene.

June 16, 2015
The Village Within.jpg

"I see a little girl morphed by what seems are overwhelming odds. Everything around her and everything she sees seem larger than life. She is about to enter an unknown place. How far should she go? Her shadow seems to indicate she is touching the wall almost as if to have a sense of security. That wall is upholding the structure above her. The wall is a firm foundation, the Solid Rock, Jesus. In comparison to that little girl the archway is mighty. I notice the contrast in the colors of the wall. The gray seems almost like lifeless stone as compared to what's on the other side. On the other side are warm browns and yellows almost inviting her in. In fact everything on the other side of that wall looks inviting. The homes representing a place of family and community. The green vine along the railing speaks of new life reminiscent of the True Vine of John 15. The ground on which the little girl stands has a blue tint to it. In an ironic way the blue rather than feeling cold and lifeless feels like the Presence of God that has been following her. For there in the distance are the hills backed by a blue sky reminding me of Psalm 121. "I lift my eyes to the hills--where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2) I don't know if the little girl is aware of the Lord's Presence or if she is too focused on the dwelling places before her. She doesn't know where to go. The dwelling places are of various shapes and sizes and she stands almost paralyzed and confused. What if she makes the wrong choice? She is just a little girl with no apparent grown ups to help her. I identify with her Lord on this seemingly endless journey. I have no one to guide me save for You. I am about to walk through a doorway to another unfamiliar season in my life. What lies before me are many choices and many churches. Yet, what do I do? I feel overwhelmed, I feel abandoned. I notice the dress the little girl is wearing is red which in the church is typically symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit is covering her and He covers me, too. In fact I see the Trinity represented in this picture. The Spirit covers her, the Rock she clings to is Jesus and God the Father is represented in the hills where her help comes from. She is barefoot, standing in essence on holy ground. And perhaps what lies in the center, in those dwellings surrounded by the Father, Son, and Spirit is the church community. A diverse community represented by the buildings of differing shapes, sizes, and colors. Because she is standing on that holy ground, "He will not let your foot slip--He who watches over you will not slumber; Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you--(that archway in the picture, the hills, the Spirit's covering) the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night." (Psalm 121:3-6) Even though that little girl is scared and unsure, even though I resonate with her feelings of insecurity she and I can go through that archway. "The Lord will keep you from all harm---He will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore." (Psalm 121:7-8) I stand on the edge of the unknown yet I remain surrounded by His Presence whether I am coming in or going out. There is new life waiting for me somewhere among the many choices. The Lord is inviting me to enter in and not be afraid because I declare with the Psalmist, "The Lord is my Rock, my Fortress, and my Deliverer; My God is my Rock in whom I take refuge. He is my Shield and the Horn of my salvation, my Stronghold." (Psalm 18:2)

Peace and Blessings,
Pastor Sheree




Tuesday, June 2, 2015

House Cleaning

Last weekend I was sitting in front of our slider that looks out onto our deck where our birdhouse is located. Every year the house wrens return to start building their nest where they can hatch and raise their young. This year was no exception and they returned right on time. I was excited, anticipating the development of new life. However, a few weeks after the birds began to nest, I noticed I no longer heard their familiar song. I realized they had abandoned their endeavor. For some unknown reason they left their home. I suspect another, larger bird drove them off. So as I sat looking out at that empty bird house I became sad and depressed. Where there was once possibility and potential new life, where there was once singing and great joy, there was now only silence, emptiness, and desolation. I started to think about my own journey in seeking to find a new church home. The birds having been driven from their home felt like a metaphor for my life. It seemed like every church we visited held great possibility, new life and new joy. However, once again I am homeless, chased away by thoughts and attitudes of others that I could not be overcome. Like the birds, I did not feel strong enough to fight so I just gave up and moved on. I know the Lord will find those house wrens a new home and if He cares so much for those birds of the air, according to Matthew 6, I am more valuable to God. (Matthew 6:26) I found myself resonating with Jesus' statement in Matthew 8:20, "Foxes have their holes and birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head." I asked the Lord, Where will I lay my head? When will I finally rest? I know the Lord has left a blessing through me wherever I have been but I was once again feeling exhausted. I prayed to the Lord to breathe new life back into that birdhouse so I could know there is hope and breathe new life back into me so that I may persevere. The Lord answered my prayer. The following day I looked out of my slider to see a house wren back at the birdhouse. New life had come! However, as I watched the little wren work, to my surprise it wasn't building a new nest but rather pulling material out of the house. I got the impression that the wren was house cleaning to prepare the house for a new purpose. While it worked it was singing which is typical when these wrens are engaged in activity. I felt the Lord impress upon my heart that life yet remains in that birdhouse and all that was needed was to clean out the remnants of what was to make way for what is yet to be. I was being called to learn from this bird's example. I needed to let go of the remnants of what was and be prepared for something new. The Lord was preparing a place for me. A place where new life will abide and like that bird I will sing a new song! What remnants need to be removed from your life? I encourage you to let the Spirit of God do some "house cleaning" so you can sing anew to the Lord."He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God!" (Psalm 40:3a)
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Limited Vision

As my husband and I move on in our journey finding a new church community, I have mixed feelings. I am sad at yet again saying good bye to folks we've come to love. I am angry that we find it necessary to leave a church community once again due to what appears to be insurmountable walls. I am also experiencing feelings of desperation in thinking we will never find a new faith community and will be forever wandering. I recently prayed to the Lord to grant me a dream or vision so I would know for sure where to find our new church home. During my devotional time I was drawn to look at John 6:1-14. It is the familiar story of Jesus' feeding of the five thousand. I have read this passsage many times and have even preached on this text. However, as is so true of God's word, we never exhaust the possibilities of meaning for a so-called "familiar" story. John mentions that the people were drawn to Jesus because they "saw" the miraculous signs he had performed which included healing the sick and multiplying the loaves and fish. (John 6:2,14) The people didn't see the deeper spiritual truths that Jesus was teaching but rather they focused on their physical, immediate needs. John goes on to tell us that when Jesus saw the crowd He recognized their physical needs but also knew there existed an unspoken spiritual hunger. How would His disciples see what was happening? In the larger context of the actual feeding are the reactions of His disciples, in particular Philip and Andrew. Jesus already knowing what He was going to do, tested His disciples to discover what kind of "eyesight" they possessed regarding this situation. (John 6:5-6) It appears both Philip and Andrew were right there with Jesus when He asked the question, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (John 6:5) Philip's response was one of defensiveness flowing from fear of not knowing what to do, "Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" (John 6:7) Philip saw an overwhelming task. It is interesting that Philip like the other people who followed Jesus must have witnessed the same miracles that Jesus performed yet Philip did not move beyond his limited vision. He did not make that connection to who Jesus really was but focused on the immediate material needs. On the other hand, Andrew saw the possibilities and did not become defensive or dismissive of the situation but immediately spoke up to offer a solution. Although Andrew did not know how the limited amount of food would meet all the people's needs he was open to see what Jesus would do. (John 6:8) Jesus wasn't satisfied with multiplying just enough for the people to eat but rather went above and beyond with leftovers to spare!(John 6:10-13) I am reminded of one of my favorite doxologys from Ephesians 3:20-21, "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." After meditating on this passage I found myself asking the question which one of those disciples am I? Am I Philip who is overwhelmed by what I see as impossible odds? Have I forgotten God's faithfulness in the past and how He has worked in and through every situation and circumstance? Or am I Andrew, recognizing the seemingly impossible odds stacked against me yet knowing that in the Lord's hands nothing is impossible. God will do above and beyond all I can ask or imagine. I confess that at this present time I feel more like a Philip seeing with limited vision and like the crowds following Jesus, asking for a miraculous sign. However, the Lord already knows what He is going to do and is testing me to trust Him. I am challenged to see with unobscured vision what Jesus is going to do. What about you? Are you like Philip focused only on what's in front of you? Or are you like Andrew, daring to see beyond your immediate circumstances and trusting the Lord to take the small amount of faith that you have to offer and multiplying it beyond your imagination? May the Lord open the eyes of our hearts so we may clearly "see" Him move in our lives.
Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Sheree

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

God's Rescue

April has been a difficult month of ups and downs. My mother experienced some significant health difficulties as a result of a fall in the nursing home facility where she currently resides. One of the unfortunate circumstances that came out of the fall were some spinal fractures which made her so uncomfortable her health was seriously compromised. She is a dialysis patient and the pain in her back was not allowing her to fully complete her dialysis treatments. Unfortunately the lack of dialysis treatments were taking their toll and she was slowly fading. It came down to the final day that she would have had the possibility of receiving treatment and if she could not do so, it was likely that she would die shortly thereafter. It was a desperate time for me as I am her primary health care proxy. I did not want to make the decision that determined whether she lived or died. I implored the Lord as time grew short. During that very long week, the Lord ministered to me through one of the devotionals I read with the words, "Trust Me and do not be afraid." The day before my mother was to have her final chance to go to dialysis, I remember praying to the Lord, "This is your final hour, Lord. Please help me." Again the Lord reminded me, "Trust Me and do not be afraid." The next day when the last possibility of my mother receiving dialysis arrived, the doctor made a pain medication change that allowed her to undergo her treatment. At the same time my mother's health issues were taking place I was also experiencing struggles with ministry issues that once again led to my making a shift in church communities. After situations and circumstances had calmed down, I was sitting with the Lord and reading a familiar Gospel passage from Matthew 8:23-27. It is the story of the storm on the lake where Jesus was fast asleep in the boat while the disciples were in fear for their lives. This passage happened to be the chosen meditation from one of my devotionals. The devotional noted that both Jesus and the disciples got into the same boat. Yet their reactions to the storm were very different. I began to meditate on the fact that many folks will ask the question, How could Jesus remain asleep or at rest with the chaos swirling around Him? I began to see that the Lord knew He had ultimate control over the chaos so no harm would come to Him or His disciples. His response reminded me of the Scripture, "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10) The disciples failed to recognize the peace of God in their midst as well as His Presence with them. All they could focus on was what was going on around them. Thus they were distracted by many things. This reminded me of Martha who was distracted by many things when Jesus came to the home she shared with her sister Mary and brother Lazarus. (Luke 10:38-42) Mary's focus was on the Lord and being in His Presence. On the other hand, Martha, like the disciples, was focused on the chaos around her in food preparation as she experienced growing fear and anxiety. However, just like Jesus responded to Martha's dilemma, He responds to the disciples. Matthew tells us, "He got up." Jesus could have continued to sleep or tell the disciples to calm down and everything would be alright. But "He got up" and brought the peace physically (calming of the wind and the waves) that they missed spiritually (His Presence as the Prince of Peace.) This drew my attention again to the words of one of my devotionals, "I will go with you as you go, so that you can handle whatever comes your way. Trust Me to supply what you need when you need it." The Lord supplied the disciples with what they needed when they needed it which was the calming of the storm. Why does the Lord come to our rescue? "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed. For His compassions never fail." (Lamentations 3:22) The Lord came to my rescue and my mother's in time of need and in the midst of the chaos swirling all around us. I echo the prayer of my devotional's meditation, "Heavenly Father, this life is full of uncertainty. But You have promised us your unfailing Presence. May we see you today---especially when we are tempted to panic or do things in our own strength." Amen. May you call on His name in time of need and see Him come to your rescue.
Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Sheree

Saturday, March 28, 2015

An Easter Reflection (based on the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke)

Easter is just around the corner as Sunday, March 29 2015 begins what Christians refer to as Holy week. It begins with Palm Sunday and Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem. For those believers who engage in a more traditional observance of Holy week, Palm Sunday is followed by Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday. This is the last day that Jesus spent with His disciples away from the crowds. It was the day He brought new meaning to the Passover meal by informing His disciples that this meal would forever symbolize His sacrifice as the ultimate Passover Lamb whose blood would be shed for the forgiveness of sins. The following day is Good Friday, the day of Jesus crucifixion. Finally, the glorious day of celebration which is Easter Sunday also known as Resurrection Day. Those who read the Bible are familiar with the gospel accounts of Holy Week. We tend to focus rightly so on Jesus who is the central figure of the Passion narratives. We also look at the twelve who followed Him to the very end until He was arrested at which time they all fled except for John who stood at the foot of the cross with Jesus' mother, Mary. As I was reading the Gospel accounts of the resurrection I was drawn to some of the other participants in this narrative, in particular the women. Perhaps you have heard pastors or others say how the women followers of Jesus were the last at the cross and the first witnesses to the resurrection. However, I don't think we really stop and realize the impact of how Jesus changed the cultural standard of women's roles during His ministry. I began to think, how did these women feel about their relationship with Jesus? If they had the opportunity to write about their experience of Jesus in a journal what would they say? The following reflection is an attempt to capture what a journal entry might look like for one of these women. Her name is Mary. However she is not Mary, the mother of Jesus but rather Mary, the mother of James the younger and of Joses. (Mark 15:40) Unlike, our familiarity with Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Mark gives us very little information about this Mary. However, she is obviously a follower of Jesus as Mark tells us that she stood with Mary Magdalene and Salome at a distance watching Jesus' crucifixion. Mark also tells us that she along with the other women listed cared for Jesus' needs. (Mark 15:41) Additionally, Mark states that she along with Mary Magdalene saw where Jesus was laid after His burial. (Mark 15:47)
Journal Entry:The Day After Passover
"I don't understand what is happening. Moreover, I don't know how it got to this point. As a woman I was not supposed to be following Him. The traditions of my people dictate that as a married woman I am not supposed to be traveling with this group of male disciples. In fact my public appearances were to be limited, my head to be covered, and I was to be home fulfilling my domestic duties. But here I am standing on a hillside with other women just like me watching this terrible moment unfold. I remember all of the sweet moments I had with Jesus. He greatly appreciated my caring for His needs during the time He spent teaching us and many others. I felt uncomfortable being among the many who sat down to learn from Him, fearing that I would get into trouble. But He never indicated that I was doing anything wrong. I remember hanging on to His every word and experiencing an overwhelming sense of peace but above all love! Yes, I felt loved in a way that I have never felt before. Now, here I am listening to His cries, asking why YHWH does not intervene on His behalf? I have heard rumors that the curtain in the temple has been torn in two from the top to the bottom. Someone else said that a centurion remarked that Jesus was truly the "Son of YHWH." My heart has been broken into a million pieces. My sorrow is more than I can bear. My tears are flowing like a river whose banks can no longer hold back the flood."

Journal Entry: Preparation Day
"It is the day before the Sabbath. The day after the horrible events of yesterday. People are still in a state of shock and disbelief. I heard that Jesus died quickly and there was no need to hasten His death as the Romans commonly did by breaking the legs of those crucified. I am thankful for that fact and it gives me some peace. But the Sabbath is coming and Jesus must be buried quickly. I wondered what is going to happen to His body? His mother and family members are common folk and can't really afford a fancy tomb. I was told that a wealthy gentleman, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, or what we call the Sanhedrin took the risk and asked Pilate for Jesus' body. Pilate was a bit shocked that someone would come to claim the body so soon. Even more shocking was that Joseph was not even related to Jesus. It was the custom to release the body of one condemned for high treason to an immediate relative . But when Pilate learned from his centurion guard that Jesus had already died, he gave the body to Joseph. What a wonderful gesture on Joseph's part. I learned from some others that Joseph was going to lay Jesus in His own personal tomb! A tomb in which no body had ever been laid. I couldn't believe this was true so I asked Mary Magdalene to go with me to check out the location. Together we took note of where Jesus body was laid. Mary and I agreed that we would take responsibility after the Sabbath to bring the spices and anoint Jesus' body. I could not think of any greater privilege or gesture of love than to do this for Him."

Journal Entry:The Surprise
"Early the next morning after the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and I went to fulfill our promise to anoint Jesus' body. Our friend, Salome who also stood with us on the hillside and witnessed His death asked to join us. It was just after sunrise and the sky was beautifully colored with hues of pink and orange. I could not understand how the sky could be so beautiful on such a sad morning. Nonetheless as we were on our way to the tomb we began to realize that it was so early that no one else was up yet. A massive stone had been rolled in front of Jesus' tomb and a Roman seal set upon it. I thought to myself, maybe we ought to turn around and find someone to help us. But as we approached the tomb, something looked very unusual. I couldn't believe my eyes! Mary Magdalene and Salome were speechless. The stone had been rolled away! Who could have done this? I saw the group of men it took to roll that stone in place after His burial. Then my heart sank as I thought maybe a group of robbers came back during the night while we slept and took His body. I could not bear the thought that someone would dishonor Jesus that way. I had to face my worst fears and I asked Mary and Salome to come with me as we entered the tomb. Yes, my fears were confirmed His body was missing but a different fear arose as we saw a man dressed in white near the tomb. He was not someone I recognized from the community. In fact he looked strangely different in a way I could not easily describe. All I know was that we were terrified when we saw him. Then, he spoke to us words that were soothing and peaceful. He told us not to be afraid. He knew we were looking for Jesus. Then he said something incredibly unbelievable. He said Jesus was not there because He had risen! I felt frozen in place as I tried to comprehend what this man had just told me. Could it really be true? I remember Salome having conversations with her sons James and John who were part of Jesus inner circle. She shared with us that Jesus had told James and John that He was going to be crucified and rise on the third day. This man in white was not finished with his message. He told us to go and tell Jesus' disciples that He was alive and would meet them in Galilee. What? He wants us to go and tell Jesus' disciples this amazing news? We are women. The disciples will never believe us. However, despite our anxiety, somehow I knew this was Jesus special gift to us. His way of acknowledging that no matter what had happened He cherished us and loved us enough to entrust us with this sacred task. So we went and that day changed everything! I will be forever grateful to Him and I know my life will never be the same."

May you once again be refreshed and renewed by the message of love and grace from our Lord, Jesus Christ. HE IS RISEN!
Have a blessed Easter!
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Symbols In The Snow

At the church where my counseling practice is located, there is a small patio off of the kitchen area. On the patio is a large wooden cross. The patio is where the church holds its annual Easter Sunrise Service. Currently the patio is full of snow because of all of the snowstorms we have experienced this winter. The pastor of the church was lamenting that they probably would not be able to hold their sunrise service out on the patio this year. I was in the kitchen waiting for my dinner to heat up before seeing my next client. While my dinner was heating I was looking out of the only window in the kitchen that faces the porch area. I was captured by the large wooden cross immersed in the snow. The surrounding snow was still white and untouched by any human intrusion. I began to think about the symbolism of Christ's sacrifice washing our sins whiter than snow. King David cried out to the Lord after repenting of his sin with Bathsheba, Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:7) The Lord in speaking to the prophet Isaiah declared, "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isaiah 1:18) What powerful imagery! I was captivated just meditating on the scene before me. Then my attention was drawn to a snow bank in front of me. I looked at the snow bank and in it I saw what appeared to be the face of Jesus. The image was that of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and his appearance was marred. His eyes seemed to be swollen shut and His face disfigured. I was reminded once again from the book of Isaiah of the description of the Suffering Servant, "Just as there were many who were appalled at Him---His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness---." (Isaiah 52:14)  I had to blink a couple of times to make sure of what I was seeing, even though I have had similar experiences in the past. I was grateful to God for allowing me to see yet another reminder of His sacrifice as we continue to walk through this season of Lent. I would challenge you not to get caught up like so many people in all the bitterness and complaining because of all the snow we have had this winter. Instead, I encourage you to look for God in the midst of all the snow banks. You never know what symbols in the snow He may lay before you.
Be Blessed!
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, February 26, 2015

In The Desert With Jesus

“In The Desert With Jesus” (A Lenten Meditation based on Matthew 4:1-11)
Lent is the time of year when we meditate upon the turbulent and dark last days in the life of Jesus leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection. Typically people talk about giving up something for Lent. When we observe some of the “sacrifices” people make (i.e. chocolate) it doesn’t seem very sacrificial at all. Yes, it may be uncomfortable but the discomfort is often not severe and very short lived. My typical sacrifice was to give up my Wednesday evening meal. In some ways I thought it was a “greater” sacrifice then giving up chocolate. However, this year is different. I am in a spiritually dry place and not motivated to do much for Lent nor for anything else. I can’t connect with God the way I am used to hearing from Him. I find myself battling depression and trying to avoid sinking too low. But what if God asks you to lay aside what you are used to doing? What if He moves you away from the familiar and sends you to a place where there is no activity, no comfort, and no connection with anyone, not even God Himself? In meeting with my spiritual director, he raised the idea of being in the desert like Jesus when He was being tempted by Satan. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. In fact the more I thought about it, the more I felt the need in my spirit to write about the experience. I am entering in with Jesus into that desert place to see what God has to say to me.
According to Matthew, Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit. One of my first thoughts was how cruel the Holy Spirit is to lead Jesus into of all places the desert. A place unfamiliar, deserted, barren, and isolated. A place many of us would not willingly choose to go. Although Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit the text does not say that the Spirit abandoned Jesus and left Him to His own devices. In fact the Spirit did not even send Jesus into the desert but rather led the way. I wonder what Jesus was thinking? How did He feel as the Spirit led Him further and further into this uninviting place? How do I feel about the Spirit leading me into the desert? I can feel a sense of anxiety as He takes me by the hand. I am asking the Spirit, “Where are we going?” However, He doesn’t reply. I get a sense that He is wanting me to just trust Him. Jesus is said to have fasted for forty days and forty nights. The very sustenance that sustained His physical body was not present for a little over a month. In this desert place, that which sustains me has been taken away. My familiar “activities” like Bible reading and prayer have lost their sustaining power.
After Jesus had fasted, we are told, “He was hungry.” That seems like an understatement. Hungry? How about famished? How about desperate? I say to the Spirit, “Holy Spirit, I don’t like this feeling. I am famished for the familiar. I am weak, I am tired, I am confused. I am in a prime situation of vulnerability, so the Enemy can take advantage of me.”
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As if on cue, who shows up but Satan to tempt Jesus. Satan first strikes Jesus at the point of His most immediate need, the need for food. (Matthew 4:3) Likewise, I am struck at my most immediate spiritual need, a connection with God which is severely being tested. I turn to the Lord, “Jesus, you and I are in real danger. Why don’t we leave this place. It is too scary and overwhelming. I don’t have what it takes to survive.” However, Jesus is not listening to my pleas but He presses on telling the Enemy, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) In other words, I cannot live on the familiar alone. I cannot survive solely on the predictability of routine or creature comforts. In those desert places, I need more because the environment may not be conducive to my previous “God in my toolbox” coping strategies. When I have nothing left to give and my feelings have gone south, the word that God speaks over me has power to sustain me. Not just some words, not just particular words but every word that comes from the mouth of God. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) (italics mine)
Again, I plead with the Lord, “O.K. Jesus, but can we go now? It looks like Satan is coming back. Holy Spirit why are You leading us deeper into this wilderness?” Matthew tells us that Satan decides to up the ante. He takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple and tempts Him to throw himself down because certainly God would not let any harm come to His precious Son. (Matthew 4:5-6) Likewise, the Enemy offers another “fruit from Eden” to me. He reminds me that I am God’s daughter. “Surely, God does not want you to linger in this place. How unkind of this so called “Loving Father” to let the Spirit carry out such a painful and torturous plan,” He whispers,“If you are a daughter of God, let go of the Spirit’s hand and leave this place. Go back to your familiar and comfortable surroundings.” I look at Jesus, “Hey, Lord, he has a good point. You are His Son. You can do anything and not be penalized. How can any good come out of this?” Jesus hears me but keeps pressing forward, “Do not put the Lord Your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7) In other words, don’t make God prove His love for you. Even though I may not feel like He cares doesn’t change the fact that He does and that He loves me. I acknowledge Jesus’ words but still try and convince Him otherwise,“Thank You, Lord that You love me. However, the Enemy is coming back again. Haven’t you proved your point? Haven’t we already been too long in this
place? Holy Spirit I’m ready to have you lead me out.” Again, no response from Jesus.
Matthew says that Satan returns for a third time and offers Jesus all “the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if Jesus will bow down and worship him. (Matthew 4:8) What does the Enemy have to offer me? Satan argues, “Stop waiting for God to move! You can do things for yourself. Go after the respect, honor, and power that is due to you. Go crash the “church” parties you were kicked out of and reclaim what should be yours. Tell everyone how awful these pastors are and that you can do a better job. Show them up to be the hypocrites that they are. Lay claim to the power of the pulpit! In fact this is what you were called to do! I look to Jesus with pleading eyes,“Lord, the Enemy is really hitting where it hurts. How long do I have to wait to be heard? Why do others seem to flourish while I’m stuck here in the desert? It’s not fair! You claim to have a heart for the widow, orphan, fatherless, and oppressed. Well, I feel like that widow who has lost the love of her life. I feel the loneliness of abandonment and oppression from so many sides. May be it’s time to rise up against my oppressors! Jesus acknowledges the pain but replies, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” (Matthew 4:10) In other words, keep your eyes on the real prize. Service for God is not limited to a certain place or resting on a particular person. As the saying goes, “God is not looking for extraordinary people, but ordinary people who believe in an extraordinary God.” Am I one of those people? After the devil left Jesus, Matthew tells us that “angels came and attended Him.” (Matthew 4:11) I notice the text does not say, “Then Jesus walked out of the desert and began His ministry.” The angels came to Him in the desert. They met Jesus where He was at. I wonder what the angels did for Him? Perhaps, met His basic needs for food and water in the same way Elijah’s basic needs were met when he fled to Mount Horeb tired and depressed. (1 Kings 19:1-9) Did the angels encourage Jesus and celebrate His victory over Satan? Did the angels bring a word from God the Father? “Well done, my Son. I love You. Now that you have experienced this great challenge and overcome, trusting in my Presence even at Your lowest point, You are ready for this next season in my plan.” Jesus is renewed and ready to continue serving God and His people. I start to follow Him out as He leaves the desert but He turns to me and tells me to stay a little while longer. He tells me that I know this desert well. He reminds me that the circumstances may be different and the landscape unfamiliar but I have been here before. And although I am not yet ready to leave, He assures me that I am not alone. The Spirit will keep holding my hand even if I don’t feel His Presence. Jesus says,“Remember I will never leave you or forsake you. Don’t forget my words to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.

Do not be terrified; Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) .....even in the desert. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Mary"

A few weeks ago I was on my way home from work. It was a Friday afternoon and it had been a long work week. Typically, I stop at the post office to send information to our director's wife who takes care of our billing. After getting off the exit to the post office I noticed an accident had taken place. One car was resting not too far from the exit ramp. Across the road sitting on the front lawn of an office building was the second vehicle. Folks had already begun attending to the passenger in the car near the exit ramp. However, the other driver had yet to be approached to check on their condition. I felt a prompting from the Spirit not to be like others who tend to gawk, shake their heads, and hope everything works out. So, I pulled my car across the street into the nearby driveway of the office building. Upon approaching the car there was a woman inside crying hysterically and trying to use her cell phone. I tried to open the door but it was locked. Other people started to approach the car including two witnesses to the accident. The woman unlocked the door and I got into the passenger's seat and began to comfort her. A few seconds later another gentleman jumped into the rear seat behind the woman and placed her head between his hands providing her with a manual neck brace until the paramedics arrived. The man appeared to have some sort of medical training as he told the woman not to move and put her phone down. She had been trying to call her son. The man asked her what her name was and she replied, "Mary." We then shared our identities and the gentleman said his name was Bob. Bob did a great job of calmly talking to Mary to keep her from panicking until help arrived. Mary held my hand tightly and at one point expressed concern that she may be squeezing too hard. I noticed a flyer on the floor along with her purse which had been thrown forward during the accident. I picked it up and noticed it was a funeral bulletin. Mary apparently had just come from a funeral mass. Mary, continued to cry and stated she was in pain in her hip area. When the paramedics arrived they jumped into action. Bob updated them on Mary's medical status and her physical complaints. Unfortunately, Mary was in such great pain the paramedics could not remove her from the car and had to call for back up. The only way to extricate Mary from the car was removing the door from around her. The police officer asked me to find her license which was in her wallet in her purse. Once the police verified who she was, they took over the situation and Bob and I got out of the car to let the professionals do their job. When I began to think about this accident I received some insight from the Lord. At first I felt guilty, thinking to myself, should I have prayed for Mary out loud? But it occurred to me that God hears out silent prayers and in that instance what was needed more was the Lord's presence represented through me. I thought it ironic her name was Mary. This lead me to meditate on the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary when she was chosen to give birth to Jesus.(Luke 1:26-38) Both Mary's worlds had been turned upside down by a totally unexpected event. Both women were needing reassurance. And God, chose and sent His messengers to provide the spiritual help that was required. Gabriel was sent to Mary and I was sent to the other Mary. I confess I am humbled by this insight. God is in the midst of every day, ordinary life and if we are sensitive to His presence, He will use us. God wants us to represent Him to this world. Paul tells us, We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God was making His appeal through us." (2 Corinthians 5:20a) Additionally, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40) I pray that Mary was able to recover. Although we may never see each other again, it is enough to know that the presence of God was there in time of need.
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Sheree

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Fresh Start

Once again I find myself at a crossroads in ministry. I have been wrestling for sometime with a part of myself that has remained dormant and unfulfilled. A part of myself that I believe the Lord wants alive and active for His kingdom. Yet, in my efforts to see that part of me come alive, there have been countless roadblocks put in the way. I in turn have responded with frustration and anger. I have come to a point of giving up and trying to live "half" a life. Recently, God has reawakened in me His call to use His gift of pastoral ministry. I had considered planting a church last year after a very good Christian friend and brother felt the Lord saying that I needed to start a fellowship of my own. However, after realizing how great a task it was, I threw in the towel. However, no matter how hard I try to deny this part of me, it keeps pursuing me. A few weeks ago I was at a prayer gathering and met a pastor whose story resonated with mine. He had also run into many roadblocks in an attempt to use all of the gifts God had given to him, especially the gift of teaching/preaching. He spoke of having visited numerous churches only to be unable to get as he put it, "plugged in" using all of his gifts. He had gotten to the point of just showing up to church but not feeling fully connected to anyone or anything. The straw that broke the camel's back at the last church he attended came after he had surgery and was out of commission for awhile. In that period of time, he did not receive any phone calls or visits from church members to check on his healing. At that point he felt led to begin a home Bible study with a handful of folks and is beginning to experience an increase in those attending. His story stirred a passion in my soul that this may be what God meant when my Christian brother stated that God wanted me to start my own fellowship. Last week I was sharing my story with another Christian brother. While we were talking, he paused in the middle of our conversation and stated that the Lord put a word on his heart for me, "This is your time!" Again I felt this passion stirring in my spirit. During one of my recent devotional times, I was reading Matthew's account of Jesus walking on the water. (Matthew 14:22-36) After the disciples cried out in fear to what they believed to be a ghost, Matthew tells us Jesus immediately said to them, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." (Matthew 14:27) What jumped out at me in Jesus' words were three "identifiers" coinciding with His comfort to the disciples. First, Identify faith in yourself. ("Take courage!") Second, Identify the "Faith-Giver." ("It is I") and third, Identify the fear and let it go. ("Don't be afraid.") That same day as I was reading the devotional, "Jesus Calling" I felt God reinforcing His message to me. The devotional stated, "Don't waste energy regretting the way things are or thinking about what might have been. Start at the present moment----accepting things exactly as they are----and search for My way in the midst of those circumstances." Those words felt like echoes of Paul's letter to the Philippians, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13b-14) The devotional went on in the same meditation to say, "Trust is like a staff you can lean on, as you journey uphill with Me. If you are trusting in Me consistently, the staff will bear as much of your weight as needed. Lean on, trust, and be confident in Me with all your heart and mind." Again I heard echoes of Scripture as I had read in Exodus chapter 4 about the staff the Lord gave to Moses to use as a sign to Pharaoh of who God is and the power He possesses. Additionally, came the words of Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." So, I am pursuing ministry on a smaller scale and stepping out in faith to start a home Bible study and trusting God to take it wherever He desires. My encouragement to you as you move through the seasons of your life is to remember the three identifiers,  Identify faith in yourself, Identify the "Faith-Giver", and Identify the fear and let it go. God is with you!
Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Sheree

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Longing For Relationship

The New Year is 10 days old and folks have long forgotten the joyous celebrations that took place all over the world on December 31, 2014. One of my traditions is to stay up until midnight and watch the ball drop in Times Square in New York City. No matter how cold the temperature, people huddle together waiting for the big countdown. Once the New Year comes in the celebration begins complete with confetti, horns, cheers, lots of hugs and some kisses. I often wonder what drives people to stand out in the freezing cold to watch a large ball with hundreds of L.E.D. lights slide its way down a shaft until the New Year's sign lights up? I believe that in that brief moment of time, people forget about what's going on in the world and focus on being together with friends and/or family. People are interested in relationship. God created us to be in relationship. In both the Old and New Testaments God reveals Himself as a God who desires to be in relationship with His creation. From the opening chapters of Genesis where God creates man and woman (Genesis 1:26) and then brings them together (Genesis1 :22-23) relationship is God's design and desire. After the Fall, the idea of covenant is introduced and established with Noah after the flood. (Genesis 9:8-17) A covenant is not the same as a contract. A contract calls for certain conditions to be met in order for the contract to remain valid and in effect. Contracts can even be broken by one party or the other. The language of contract says, "I will do this if you do that. A covenant runs much deeper and when established by God it is unconditional and unbreakable. The language of covenant say, "I will" no if's, and's, or buts. There are several major covenants established throughout the Old Testament in anticipation of the establishment of the New Covenant which finds its fulfillment in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. (Luke 22:20) When God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage, He establishes His relationship with the people using the language of covenant, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God." (Exodus 6:7a) Moreover, in the closing chapters of Revelation as the New Jerusalem descends out of heaven, God uses covenantal language to reinforce His relationship with humanity. "And I heard a voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God." (Revelation 21:3) While the introduction of modern technology has helped to connect us globally, it has also served to isolate us from community. Face to face interaction appears to be secondary to media like Facebook, Twitter, texting, and e-mail. However, deep down there is a longing to be in relationship with another human being. Have you noticed how the latest cell phones now have someone you can talk to? Her name is Sirri and she is able to respond to many issues, from questions you may ask about locating a particular address to reminding you of your appointments. Isn't it ironic how marketers of cell phones on some level have realized that people long for relationship? Sadly, technology appears to have become the new "god" for most people. Just like the ancient God's of wood and stone that the people worshipped drawing them away from their relationship with the Living God, so our "gods of bytes and gigabytes" threaten to do the same. Is there something deep inside your soul that longs to be connected to someone? Could that someone be even greater than yourself? God wants to be in relationship with you. He is the One your heart ultimately longs for. God says, "I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me."(Proverbs 8:17) May 2015 be the year when we take time to be in deep and meaningful relationships with God and with each other.
Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Sheree