Sunday, July 23, 2017

Intimate Knowing

"The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend." (Exodus 33:11 NIV)

I was reading this passage not too long ago and two words came to mind, "intimate knowing." How many of us walk around guarded in our relationships out of fear that if others truly saw us for who we are, they would reject us? We constantly wear masks to suit whatever social situation we may encounter in life. We take on the image of a chameleon, changing our expressions and demeanor to keep another person guessing as to who is the "real" me. Intimate knowing comes out of a relationship that allows a person to be themselves without having to wear a mask or pretend to hide our weaknesses and/or faults. There is no need to fear judgment or condemnation. Can you imagine what it was like for Moses to have the Lord speak with him as a friend? We all long for relationships that can be that deep and intimate. Some may say, isn't that the experience one has when they are married? While it is true, marriage is the one relationship where it is safe to be vulnerable with your spouse, if we are really honest we even do some hiding with our husband or wife. We are never quite sure in relationships if at some point we are going to do or say something beyond the scope of forgiveness. However, with God there is no hiding place. Psalm 139:7-12 states, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you." (NIV) How did it feel for Moses to have such a relationship with God? Although God is the Almighty, He reached down to Moses in such an approachable way. Even the place where Moses met with God was called the tent of meeting which implied a relationship. For us, we come to intimately know God in Jesus. Although Jesus is Lord, co-equal with the Father, He came to us in our humanity so we would have an experience like Moses, talking to God face to face as one speaks with a friend. We don't have to pretend with God nor fear judgment or condemnation because of our shortcomings. Moreover, this intimate knowing is made more powerful through the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit serves as the concrete reflection of the intimacy we share with God. I pray we will all long to taste of this "intimate knowing." Dare we open our hearts to Jesus and discover parts of ourselves that have been hidden for so long? I offer this prayer that filled my spirit longing for a deeper relationship with Jesus. "Ah Sovereign Lord, tell me my story! Tell me Great and Awesome Storyteller, the story of my life as You created it to be. The brush strokes of beauty with all the subtle hues of color blending together into one creation. Intimate knowing of You, intimately knowing me." Amen. 
Grace and mercy be yours,
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Through the Eyes of a Child

I have been praying lately about the idea of having fun. This may seem like an unusual prayer but I am always at a loss for words whenever someone asks me, what do you do for fun? There are things that I enjoy doing on a regular basis. My husband and I have a date night every Saturday which includes going out to dinner and then watching a Netflix DVD movie. However, I can't really pinpoint many times when I have felt an overwhelming sense of freedom that accompanies really having fun. It's similar to the experience of watching children get really excited over the simplest activities. I grew up as a "parentified child" which simply means that I was overly responsible and functioned more like a little adult than a child. As a result, I did not have the opportunity to delight in the fun typically associated with childhood. On Memorial Day weekend my husband and I went to Maine to visit our granddaughters. The oldest is 3 years and the baby is 6 months old. While visiting, we made a trip to the mall to pick up a few items for the baby. One of the attractions for children at the mall is a play area with various activities of interest. One of the activities that caught the attention of the 3 year old was a carousel. She asked her parents if she could go look at it and they were willing but told her she could only watch "with her eyes" which meant she wasn't going to ride the horses. I watched her standing there somewhat forlorn, holding her daddy's hand while the other children were enjoying a fun ride. Something in my spirit was touched and I felt powerfully drawn to the ride. I offered, with her parent's permission, to take my granddaughter on the carousel. One of the few memories I have of experiencing fun as a child was going to an amusement park and riding the carousel. We bought her ticket and I helped her onto the horse of her choosing. I stood next to her for the sake of safety. As the ride was set in motion, I could sense my granddaughter's delight with the whole experience. For the first time in a long time as an adult I understood what it was like to have fun and become immersed in the joy of the moment. When adults do something extra special for children, the child perceives that adult as "god-like", in essence bigger than life. The Lord seemed to be ministering to my heart and helping me to see that as my granddaughter delighted in me being by her side so she could have fun, so God was delighting being in the midst of my experiencing fun. In that moment I was His child, perfectly free to enjoy the fullness of just being me and not the overly responsible adult. In the gospel of Mark, chapter 10 we read that people were bringing their children to Jesus to have Him touch them but His disciples weren't too happy about it and started to rebuke the people. Perhaps in their minds they were thinking, Jesus was too important and had too much to do to stop and get involved with children. After all He was a responsible adult. However, Jesus responded, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them." (Mark 10:14-16) Jesus was trying to point out that the kingdom of God needs to be received as a gift, with all the openness and receptivity of a child. It's not about how overly responsible one needs to be, but rather how helpless we are apart from the love and grace of God. My granddaughter was helpless to do anything to get a ride on that carousel. She was powerless in that she had no money and no overly responsible act on her part was going to earn her the fun experience of riding the carousel. It wasn't until I extended her the love and grace and empowered her by giving her the ticket she required to ride the horse. All she had to do was receive the gift and enjoy. Likewise, God taught me not to hinder the child within that so desperately wants to experience the Father's joy and delight over her. In that moment, standing beside my granddaughter, I felt like Jesus was taking me in His arms, putting His hands on me and blessing me. May God bless you with the joyful experience of seeing the world through the eyes of a child. I can't wait until my next carousel ride! 😄
Peace Be With You!
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, April 13, 2017

New Life

This Sunday we celebrate the foundation of our faith which is Easter or as some refer to it, Resurrection Day. It is the day when we acknowledge that Jesus Christ rose from the dead after His crucifixion and three days in the tomb. His disciples had been scattered after His death and had lost all hope of anything ever being different in their lives. However, Jesus appearance to His disciples after He rose changed everything! As I was meditating on the idea of Jesus' resurrection infusing us with the spiritual hope of new life in Him, I was reflecting on a recent health crisis of a brother in Christ whose infusion of new life changed everything. For the sake of privacy I will call this brother, Sam. Sam had been having some trouble with his blood count for awhile and doctors were monitoring him closely. Finally, in January of 2017, Sam was diagnosed with leukemia. The medical plan was for Sam to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments to stabilize his cell count and bring him to a point of remission. Once remission was achieved, Sam was to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Sam, communicated his progress via e-mail to those who knew him well. The chemotherapy and radiation took its toll on Sam's body and he was praying that the treatment would be successful enough to move on to his bone marrow transplant. If the initial round of treatment failed to achieve remission, Sam would have to undergo another round of chemotherapy and radiation. By God's grace, the first round of treatment was successful. Sam achieved remission and underwent his bone marrow transplant in March. The transplant required that all of Sam's existing bone marrow be destroyed rendering his immune system non-existent. The new bone marrow would then be transplanted into his body with the expectation that it would regenerate and rebuild his body with healthy new blood cells. He would have to remain hospitalized to avoid coming into contact with any germs. Visitors would also have to be healthy and wear protective clothing and a mask. I sent Sam an e-mail describing what he experienced as a small "resurrection." Sam had hope that he would be able to get well but he expressed some uncertainty that the treatments would be successful. The chemotherapy and radiation coupled with the destruction of his bone marrow brought Sam to the point of death. His only hope was the new life that this bone marrow transplant promised to bring. The infusion of this new life, figuratively speaking, raised Sam from the dead. What a blessed Easter gift from the Lord! All around us new life is taking place as we step into spring. At our bird house attached to our deck, a male sparrow has been courting females for a few weeks seeking a "bride" who would share with him in creating new life. The sparrow finally found a willing partner and the two birds have begun building their nest. We as followers of Jesus Christ are called His "bride" and He is seeking those who would willingly join with Him in experiencing the new life He promised and with which He wants to infuse us through the shedding of His blood. Isaiah tells us, "I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels." (Isaiah 61:10) We have much to rejoice in this Easter. I encourage you to enter in, commit to following Him, and celebrate the new life that is yours because of Christ's resurrection. There is an Easter tradition commonly found in the Eastern Orthodox church. It is called the Paschal Greeting or the Easter Acclamation. It is based on the story in Luke 24 when two men encountered Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. After revealing Himself to the two men, they return to Jerusalem and find the eleven disciples. The two men then declared to the disciples, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." (Luke 24:34) The traditional Easter greeting involves one person declaring, "Christ is risen!" The response declares, "He is risen indeed!" I invite you to greet one another this Easter with all the joy and hope that this Paschal Greeting brings for CHRIST IS RISEN!
HE IS RISEN INDEED!
Pastor Sheree   

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Lenten Meditation: The Body

"While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is My body." (Matthew 26:26)

These words are what we refer to in the communion service as the words of institution. The words that were spoken by Jesus on that last night as He shared the Passover meal with His disciples before His betrayal and crucifixion. These words are repeated by followers of Christ on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly basis. Along with baptism, the Lord's Supper is recognized as one of the two observances that the church was to follow until Christ's second coming. Often times the rituals and liturgies of the church can become for some over time just another routine. We repeat the words by heart and know all the procedures that go along with observing the particular sacrament. I am currently reading a book entitled, "Liturgy of the Ordinary:Sacred Practices in Everyday Life." by Tish Harrison Warren. In the book she points out how activities of daily living can become opportunities for worship. So it is with the body. Have often do we think about our bodies in a way that opens up our hearts to worship God? Many of us have been raised to think about our bodies from the perspective of our the culture. What we do to take care of our bodies is seen as part of the mundane routine of our daily existence. (i.e. brushing our teeth, taking a shower, etc.) However, what if these so called "mundane activities" were seen as opportunities for worship? We tend to believe that our bodies exist according to our culture to engage in activities that we define as either good or bad or see as something imperfect that needs to be changed or fixed. How many advertisements do we watch on television for cosmetic surgeries that will give you the perfectly sculpted body? How much money is spent on cosmetics that are designed to ward off the effects of aging? How many of us can stand in front of a mirror and be totally satisfied with the appearance of our bodies? Sometimes the bodily functions that are a part of our humanity are not seen as acceptable and often downright embarrassing. Yet, Jesus came in a body. It was a human body with all the functions that define and set us apart from the rest of creation. God in the beginning fashioned the human body out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into the man. (Genesis 2:7) God declared all that he had made "good." In fact it was so good that God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone and He created another human body, a woman, to be the man's companion. (Genesis 2:18-23) At no time did God see the need to improve upon what He had created or fix some perceived defect. How often do we take the time to meditate on the complex nature of the body from the inside out? The uniqueness of our internal organs and the blood that sustains our life, not to mention the skeletal frame which holds everything in place. Furthermore, the outer layer of skin which protects our internal organs from harm. In fact the imagery of the body is so powerful that God calls it a temple and that temple is so sacred that negative consequences will result from anyone destroying our bodies. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) When we seek to bring physical harm and destruction to another human being we are desecrating the temple of God. God always sought to be close to His people, to dwell or abide with them. Prior to the construction of the physical temple by the Jewish people, the Lord met with His people at the Tent of Meeting or the Tabernacle which God commanded Moses to construct according to a specific set of plans. (Exodus 35-40) God's glory dwelt within the Tabernacle. After the construction of the physical temple, by Solomon, (1 Kings 6) the Jews set the temple apart as the sacred "residence" of Yahweh. However, God wanted to be even closer to His people and God used a human body to accomplish His purpose. Jesus declares it so in the Gospels when His accusers testify that Jesus stated, "...I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days." (Matthew 26:61) What Jesus' accusers failed to understand is that He was speaking about His physical body which was going to be crucified and rise again as guess what...a body! Although Christ's resurrected body was unique, with new capabilities and properties, He was still recognizable as a human being, bearing the scars of crucifixion. And when Christ returns He will come as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in a body! Paul emphasizes the sacredness of the body, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (1 Corinthians 6:19) If this was not enough, Jesus did not call His people a group, a committee, or a gang. He calls us His body of which He is the Head. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) So sacred is the body that Christ offers us His own body using the imagery in describing the bread of communion. So during this time of Lent when so many "give up" certain practices or behaviors, let us commit to "giving up" the world's definition of the body and seeing our bodies as God sees and has created them--holy and sacred vessels for His honor and glory. My prayer is for all of us to be able to look in the mirror and meditate on our bodies, the temple which is inhabited by the Spirit of the living God and to humbly bow down and worship!
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God---this is your true and proper worship." (Romans 12:1)
Shalom!
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

This Is Love

Today is Valentine's Day and I have been meditating on a verse from 1 John 4:10, "This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." I have been drawn to those first three words, "This is love." In our culture we define love in a very conditional way. People spend a lot of money and figuratively speaking "go overboard" to demonstrate their love to another person. But what happens after the day is over? All the tokens that mark Valentine's Day do not last. Flowers wither and die, greeting cards may end up in the trash or a recycling bin, and chocolates disappear eventually ending up around our waistlines. If greeting cards are saved, they often end up in a box on a shelf or in a closet only to be looked at as one is downsizing their living space or a relative is cleaning out a home after someone's death. Then, there are all those who have no one to share love with them. They may be homeless, or perhaps they are not involved in a relationship of any kind. Some may be divorced or have lost a spouse or significant other to death. The Scriptures define real love in the purest and truest sense of the word. It is the unconditional love of God demonstrated in the ultimate sacrificial gift, the life of His Son. God's love is for all people regardless of race, creed, color, or ethnic background. There are no expectations or pre-requirements on our part. We can be rich or poor, healthy or ill, employed or unemployed. We can live any where in the world under good conditions or difficult circumstances. We can be law abiding citizens or sitting in a jail cell for a crime. The bottom line is that Christ died for all and God loved us with a love that is everlasting and does not change or end. We as humans can never really love well enough. Even after Valentine's Day we are still constantly trying to prove our love in one way or another. Our love can even fail us at the time of death. Doctors have observed a phenomenon referred to as "broken heart syndrome." When two people are strongly emotionally bonded, the death of one individual can then trigger the quick demise of the other sometimes within weeks or even days. People are still shocked over the death of actress Debbie Reynolds two days after the passing of her daughter Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynold's son shared that after his sister Carrie passed away, his mother reportedly stated she wanted to "be with Carrie." Bereavement experts report that the first stage of grief after someone dies is anger. Perhaps there is an underlying feeling on the part of the surviving relatives that the person didn't love them enough to stay alive and not leave them abandoned. God has promised He will never leave or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5b) Indeed, God has kept His promise because Jesus did not remain in the grave but He was raised from the dead and one day will come back for us. (Revelation 22:7,12,20) Furthermore, in His absence Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to not only be our strength, comfort, and support but also our guarantee of what is yet to come. (John 14:16-18; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14) This indeed is love! It is a true, pure, and unadulterated love. So for all of those who are feeling left out or abandoned on this Valentine's Day, know this, You are loved and always will be! From the Father's heart to yours, Happy Valentine's Day!
In His Love,
Pastor Sheree

Monday, February 13, 2017

God Is A Patriots Fan!

February 5, 2017 in the sports world will be a day not soon forgotten. It was Super Bowl Sunday and one of the most historic comebacks in the game of football. The New England Patriots faced the Atlanta Falcons in the final showdown of the football season. Both teams were in pursuit of the coveted Lombardi trophy as well as bragging rights of being the best team in football. There was a lot on the line for both teams. This was Atlanta's second attempt at trying to win the Super Bowl and the young team lead by quarterback, Matt Ryan, was on a winning streak. Their opponents, led by quarterback Tom Brady were on the verge of making history as the team sought to clinch their fifth Super Bowl title after a very difficult season. The game was the talk of the sports world as commentators and pundits placed their bets on who would emerge victorious. New England already had the reputation of being known as "Patriot's nation" and fans of the team are at times characterized as "fanatics." Many agreed that the Falcons would pose a great challenge to the Patriots and the final score would be close. However, there was no doubt in Patriot's nation that their team would emerge triumphant. What was unexpected was the manner in which the Patriots won the game. After the first half, the outcome was looking fairly bleak as the Falcons appeared to be running away with the game. At half time the Patriots were down approximately three touchdowns and many became pessimistic that the Patriots could come back and win. In fact no team in the history of football ever came back to win in the second half after being so far behind in points. However, when all was said and done, the Patriots mounted an unbelievable comeback to clinch the win, go down in history, and leave many shaking their heads including the Atlanta Falcons as to what had just happened. I must admit I was one of those head shakers. It felt like I had just witnessed a miracle. Yet there are times when I doubt God's ability to answer a specific prayer in a seemingly impossible situation. On Thursday, February 9th, New England experienced its first major snowstorm of the winter season which dumped over a foot of snow in many areas. It happened to be my day off and I had the daunting task of clearing our driveway of snow so that my husband could get in after he came home from work. Our driveway slopes slightly upward and shoveling can become a challenge, especially with each year that I grow older. Although we own a snowblower, it is often difficult for me to get it started and it is very heavy and awkward to manage. I happened to be texting with one of the lead pastors at our home church and telling her about my dilemma. She responded by saying she had just prayed for a snowplow to come along "in Jesus' name." I must confess I was skeptical about her prayer. As I began shoveling, I kept thinking to myself, "that was a nice prayer but it's never going to happen." I was almost to the end of the driveway, when my husband came home and said he would take care of the rest with our snowblower. Just as he was about to get the snowblower from our shed, a man drove up in a truck with a plow attached. He asked us if we were all set and my husband responded,"Yes!" In my mind I was thinking to my self, "No, we're not all set. Our answer to prayer just rolled up!" What was even more unbelievable was the snowplow driver's truck had the Patriot's logo on the passenger's side door. It was as if God were reminding me to believe in the impossible! Realistically, I know that God did not favor one football team over the other as Deuteronomy 10:17 states, "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes." However, He is God of the impossible. When Abraham's wife, Sarah, laughed at the idea of having a child in her old age, the angelic messenger God had sent to deliver the news responded, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14a) Jeremiah affirms God's greatness as he prayed, "Ah, Sovereign Lord, You have made the heaves and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You." (Jeremiah 32:17) The Lord responds to Jeremiah's prayer, I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27) Jesus states that ".....with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26) Furthermore, in addressing a father who was desperately seeking Jesus to heal his son, the man confesses he is struggling to believe that boy can really be healed. Jesus responds, ".....everything is possible for one who believes." (Mark 9:23) Additionally, it goes without saying that the greatest miracle, the greatest "comeback" from seemingly impossible odds was performed by God when He raised our Lord, Jesus Christ from the dead. I have to admit when I think of that snowy day, I often smile at the way God chooses to communicate His point in interesting ways and once again I am left just like with the Super Bowl game shaking my head and declaring with the psalmist, "Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom; The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does." (Psalm 145:3;13b)
Shalom,
Pastor Sheree

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It's The Little Things

I recently celebrated another birthday. As we grow older there is a tendency to reflect on our lives. Sometimes I wonder what difference I am making for the kingdom of God. In my counseling practice and pastoral ministry at my home church I am in a position of authority and constantly pouring out and pouring into people. After awhile I begin to feel emotionally exhausted and wonder if what I am doing really has any significance. Every year I choose a different devotional to work through in addition to "Our Daily Bread." This year I am working through "Dare To Journey" which is a collection of meditations written by Henri Nouwen. One of his most recent meditations was entitled, "The Call of the Small." The focus of the meditation pointed to the fact that many small acts make us into the people we are becoming. Many of us, myself included can get caught up into thinking that only great acts of sacrifice or things that are recognized and held up for all to see are more important. However, Nouwen pointed out that, "Sometimes we are called to do great acts of kindness or make great sacrifices. But this is seldom normal. Usually we have the opportunity for many small acts of love and service and are called to make many small sacrifices." He goes on to state that there is power in these small acts towards others. He calls it the "mystery of small acts of faith." In Matthew 8:5-13, it was the small act of faith of a Centurion that yielded great reward. The Centurion came to Jesus seeking His help in healing his servant who was paralyzed at home and greatly suffering. Jesus offers to come to the Centurion's home. However, the Centurion in humility believes that Jesus can heal his servant and doesn't need anything more but Jesus' word. Jesus goes on to point to the Centurion as an example of great faith and subsequently pronounces the servant healed. Here was a man in a position of power, most likely despised by many because he was a Roman soldier. Yet, he made no public display about his position but humbly in a small act of faith trusted that Jesus would do what He asked. It appears that Jesus was trying to impress upon me the same truth, that the small acts of faith that He sends me to do carry as much power or in some cases even more power than truths that I can declare from the pulpit. Nouwen goes on to state, "Some acts of faith produce unexpected results, others are more predictable, and some, downright disappointing. But all--and herein lies the mystery--weave a pattern for our being, thinking, responding, and acting. This pattern thus becomes an expression of our truer self. It makes us what we want to be." In essence Nouwen is helping us to understand that the big acts of faith that are applauded by many are not in and of themselves wrong but rather can feed into our ego and a false sense of self. When we operate in the ordinary of everyday life, we demonstrate who we really are without hiding behind a mask of seeking to impress others. We also need to be aware of small acts of faith that we receive from others. It is God's way of loving us back. For example, I have come to befriend an elderly gentleman that bags groceries in the supermarket where I regularly shop. I can't quite remember what initiated the conversation between us. Perhaps I was wearing jewelry or a shirt or maybe my key chain which says "I Love Jesus" indicating that I was a Christ follower. Regardless, this gentleman took note and began speaking to me. Last summer God arranged a "holy encounter" wherein my husband and I ran into this gentleman and his wife at our favorite ice cream stand in Connecticut. From that point forward I always look for him whenever I am in the grocery store. Every time he sees me, he makes it a point to encourage me by saying, "Just remember Jesus loves you." Sometimes he will also express his desire and excitement for Jesus to return soon. I have come to accept this gentleman's words as a small act of faith that God is speaking into my heart. As a result, it has motivated me to increase my awareness and sensitivity to God speaking to me in small ways as well as working through me to bless others. I close with this encouragement from Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, "You are the salt of the earth....You are the light of the world....Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify Your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:13a,14,16) Don't overlook the little things and miss the opportunity to bring glory to God!
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Sheree