Summer Bible Study- Ruth

I’m trying something new!

Since summer becomes a time that people disengage from their regular habits and struggle to coordinate schedules, I’ve decided this summer to run an online Bible Study from my blog. My congregation is all invited to join, and any of my *numerous* followers can do so as well. (Sarcasm becomes me, don’t you think?)

So beginning June 4, I’ll have a study guide available for the book of Ruth, to peruse and work ahead on. Beginning June 19th, I’ll post a weekly teaching and discussion starter. Posts go live every Monday for 6 weeks.

We’ll run discussions in the comments, and I’ll offer recaps in a follow-up post if the comments go long. My hope is that however many participate, we find joy in our study and connection through the haphazard summer months.

 

Here’s the study description:

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Ruth: A study in commitment and provision

Have you ever felt like a stranger—abandoned, alone, forgotten? Our 6-week online Bible study on the Book of Ruth takes us through God’s promises to walk with those who commit to follow. Come in your need and find God’s words for restoring life abundant.

Weekly reading guides and discussion boards will be posted every Monday on Pastor Casey’s blog, as well as linked through our website and Facebook page for the church. Print copies of the reading guide are available in the Ministry Center beginning June 4.

 

 

UPDATE: Click here to get the Reading Guide PDF

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Holiest of weeks

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Celebration and triumph

The busy streets sound

With the cries of the jubilant

With the shouts of the blessed.

 

Chaos and uncertainty

The disruptions this week

Are welcomed and feared

Are needed and hated.

 

Humility and selfishness

Blend at the tables

As families share traditions

And friends seek community.

 

Fully God and fully man

Participating, yet all-knowing

He keeps serving and loving

He keeps praying and obeying.

 

This week of mixed emotions

This week of anticipation

Fear builds to a frenzy

Until it breaks              and our hope is silenced.

Ashes

Every year as Ash Wednesday approaches, I hear the same questions.

Personally,  my mind always drifts to the ashes themselves. Why ashes? As people who struggle with admitting our wrongs and forgiveness, why would we use such an ancient tool of repentance?

Now, I have a bit of a fascination with building fires. *Campfires, not arson. I might have turned the raspberry patch in my yard into a firecircle just so I can build “cooking” fires on a regular basis. I can’t help it, I just love the process of prodding a flame into a blaze.

One of the unofficial honors for any camp counselor was to build a no-match fire. That means you bury the coals of a past fire within the ashes, so deep that when it’s time for the next meal, you can recover the flame without a match. It’s difficult, but I’m proud to claim I’ve done it several times.

Which brings me to ashes. Ashes are a combination of life and dirt. They hold all the past fires, good and bad. They help preserve the heat beneath them, anticipating life that will come. And when left to themselves for a long time, become an incredibly fertile place for plants to grow. While we embrace the dark and despairing nature of the ashes leftover from a burn, ashes also demonstrate the possibilities of new life and fires restored!

Ash Wednesday gives us a designated day to repent, together. We remind ourselves of just how far we really are from holiness, and ask God to forgive and restore us. We start a season of intentionally going without, of self-denial, so that we may depend more fully on God. And we allow ourselves the space to be transformed.

remove the sins
remove the fears
remove the hurts
Lord, remind us who we simply are, with ashes
As we are reminded that we can be restored, made beautiful

 

This year, I’m giving up French fries and desserts. Yes, I realize Lent is not a cloaked chance for a diet. However, my life centers a lot around eating. I’m a bit of a foodie. But I’m also a stress eater and a food dependent. I’ve been slowly shifting from that as our warm winter around here has lifted my spirits, but for Lent, I want to be intentional about letting God calm my stresses and sustain my life. (and losing a few pounds is a nice byproduct)

Whether you give up something physical, emotional, or otherwise idol-like, I hope you’ll take some time to probe what stands between you and life abundantly. Maybe it is food, or stress, or television. Or maybe it’s unforgiveness, overcommitment, or sorrow. Check out this list below for some ideas on struggles worth giving up for the 40 days.

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Whatever you choose, remember that out of the dust of repentance comes healthier growth, fires restored to a blaze, and beautiful, holy things.

Comment below with what you’re doing to intentionally seek God and new life in Lent. I’ll be in prayer for you this season.

 

 

 

 

Church Bees

Today I feel like Larry the Cucumber’s friend Oscar, though instead of being “stung by a bee right on the lip”, I was stung on my middle toe by a bee resting inside my shoe! A frustrating day for me, yes, but even stranger is how bees seem to follow me in ministry.

Let me start by saying, I am terrified of bees. I scream and move around all crazy when I see them. My first bee sting was at age 10, when a bee got stuck in the pant leg of my capris. I had a long dance rehearsal that night with the severe pain of a bee sting shooting through my calf. I’ve always disliked bees, but that put me over the edge. When we find bees in the house or in my office (yes my office), I make someone else kill them.

With that, let me describe my introduction at my first pastoral appointment. I walked into the well lit room, only to realize it’s not a room, but a side area of the open floor plan sanctuary. We begin to talk, and it’s going quite well, but I hear an occasional low buzz in the corner. I keep thinking I must just be nervous or crazy or something– 23 years old, trying to convince a table full of people that I’m a good fit to be their pastor (by the way, they agreed, and we had a lovely 3 years together, but that’s another story). Finally, the District Superintendent asks if they have any other things they hope I’d help with or lead through, and one person spoke up, “oh yes, the bees”.

Cue the double take.

That buzzing was real. They turned on the lights later and showed me the corner of the 3-story building that the bees had taken over, breeding inside the wall, filling one of the entryways, beating themselves to death on the stained glass window during the day, filling the floor and back pews with dead bees every evening….

Of course my first job as lead pastor, a position I’d been desperately praying for and fighting to find, would be filled with one of my greatest fears!

Within two weeks of being their pastor, the bees were gone. Legally I cannot disclose the methods of removal, as honeybees are protected to some extent in the state of Ohio. For the purposes of this story, let’s just say they really wanted to live somewhere else… like heaven.

Fast forward 3 years… I think I’m a bit braver as a leader in ministry, and ready for a full-time position. I’ve been moved to a large church as the Associate Pastor, and the local high school mascot is the Yellow Jackets. Oh, of course that’s just a fighting sports mascot, right?! Makes for great cheers and cute tshirts… No, they are the yellow jackets because yellow jackets have a ridiculously high population in that area. And my parsonage has roses and lucious landscaping on all 4 sides, bringing them to my home and in my home constantly.

Yet again, I’m in ministry with my greatest fear.

Fast forward another 2 1/2 years to my current position. While we’ve had our share of wasps and yellow jackets around the church and parsonage, it’s been fairly easy to spray the areas and limit the problem. The fact that my predecessor was a beekeeper should have clued me in, but I thought I might finally get to be in my comfort zone with this fear… until today.

For the past couple weeks, the occasional bee has snuck in my office window. The butterfly bushes right outside attract them, I think. Today, rather than tackle the one buzzing nuisance head-on, I decided to ignore it and let it beat itself to death on my windows. Ignoring my fear proved to be an awful decision. Minutes before I was planning to leave, I slipped my shoes back on and took a few steps and screamed. The creature had curled up in my shoe, stung my middle toe and died. I’ll spare you the ridiculous exclamations that sprung forth from my lips!

 

What’s the point? Well hours before I was stung today, I was laughing at the irony of yet another church with bees.

I laughed because these terrifying creatures are for me a reminder of how little I know when it comes to leading people as disciples of Jesus. They remind me that every place God takes me is a new learning curve, which necessitates a new dose of humility. Everywhere I go, God invites me to the challenge of bees.

In contrast,  buzzing creatures remind me that even when I have chaotic seasons of ministry or difficult challenges (like the past couple months of non-stop have been), nothing is worse than a 3-story wall of bees. Very few things scare me more, nothing can overwhelm me more, and nothing can trigger more ironic laughter than that wall full of bees! Sometimes I’m floored at how much we truly are capable of when called by God and equipped by the Spirit. I can lead through “impossible” situations, resolve crises, witness miracles in my community, be a part of lives God is transforming, and so much more.

Even when I have chaotic seasons of ministry or difficult challenges, nothing is worse than a 3-story wall of bees.

So the moral of today’s musings:  Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God. (Mark 10:27)

even overcoming a wall of bees

Who are you really?

Authenticity

I know it’s a trend, both in culture and in churches. Seriously, Matthew McConaughey has really been on the “authentic” bandwagon in recent years.

Like with his Lincoln ad campaign:

Or in his new venture with Wild Turkey Bourbon, about which he told the New York Times :“The great news is that Wild Turkey hasn’t changed in all these years — it’s totally authentic. And that appeals to millennials. Because they can smell fake. Some manicured, bearded hipster soliciting them? No, thanks.”   Read the full article here

So for my millennial friends who, according to McConaughey, crave authenticity, I have a confession to make… I am authentically a hot mess.

If your’re not familiar with that lingo, picture what happens when your pot of noodles boils over. You’re left with that white foamy water bubbling and crusting over on your stove. #hotmess literally. And it’s incredibly difficult to clean off. I might know from personal experience… multiple times. (click here for tips on how not to do that while cooking)

Urban dictionary defines hot mess as not being prepared, clumsy, and just all round scatter brained; Or messy hair; extremely disorganized; in need of much improvement

Oh yes, I can relate to that. For example:

  • my hair will never be “professional”. It’s barely “not frizzy” and way too thick to wear short. So long and big and unpredictably curly is my go-to look
  • I cannot grasp the art of being on time. Maybe within 10 minutes of the start time, yes. But the only things I’m on time for occur at work, which is next door to my house.
  • I have horrible skills at matching my outfits. Perfectly coifed and coordinated is not in my vocabulary. In my world, not naked and no holes is a successful day. Days when I can acceptably wear sweat pants are the best!
  • If I did not have a planner, we would never have groceries, or go to the doctor, or turn in important paperwork. The planner is a new life rhythm, and I love it! Important things aren’t forgotten anymore, though they might be written on scrap paper and shoved into the zipper pocket of my planner.
  • I never know what time it is or how long something takes to accomplish. See above for how this affects my timeliness.
  • I’m much better at starting things than finishing them. Check out my #beforeim30 post to see what projects I’m determined to finish. (Upon review, my husband pointed out that my goal was a “30 before 30″list, which I have yet to finish compiling)
  • Some days I forget I’m a pet owner (don’t worry, my family makes sure they eat). By the way, we have 2 cats. They have the same genders, ages, and personalities as our 2 children.
  • I consistently spill coffee on my dress clothes. Multiple times in the same day. Typically on Sunday mornings when I am about to stand in front of 125 people and preach. And we record video for online and home bound distribution. Feel free to watch. Maybe make a game out of spotting the coffee stains…
  • Though I have spent a lot of time learning about basic gardening, I tend to feign ignorance rather than admit the ridiculous amount of plants I regularly kill by accident. I can’t even grow a sunflower (true story).

On a different day, I’ll share some of the joys and gifts in my life, which I am aware of and celebrating, but take a moment to sit in your “hot mess” life with me. We all have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and people around us. Culture, background, age, gender, profession, even height come with expectations, most of which we cannot live up to.

So here’s where the hope is: In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul writes to the church that the people need to stop panicking about their current realities. He begins the discussion in the context of marriage, especially a partnership where only one spouse converts, but continues in talking about ethnicity, daily practices, relationship status, and position in society (slave, poor, free, etc). All of these things are a part of your life, yes, but don’t make them the binding issues in your life of faith. Verse 17 says “And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches.” (MSG) I’d even say, God, not your current position in life, defines the expectations you should live by.

I cannot be anything more than my chaotic self. I cannot be anything less than my true self. I’ve spent too many days cowering, questioning, and living a lesser version of myself than God created me to be. As a pastor, a wife, a mother of 2, and a daughter far away from family, I don’t have space to be fake. It’s too hard. I don’t have time to live up to other people’s ideals. It’s too far removed from my way of life.

I’m a hot mess, I’m unique, I’m authentic because I’m exactly what I need to be in this moment.

Verses 29-31 continue, saying: I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple—in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out.

In the grand scheme of God’s plan, we don’t need to waste time being complicated, being something we’re not. God wants us– as followers, as leaders, as simply people– to be the most whole version of who we were created to be. With authenticity, we have space in our lives for our calling to grow in holiness and to serve the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Even if this world lasts far beyond our lifetimes, our own time on earth is too short to be anything but our God-given selves, messy hair and all.

So there’s my authentic, ridiculous self,  Truth time: who are you?

No!! Don’t Change A Thing!

Change.
Oh, I shudder to hear that word. I like to say I’m open to change, but then a kid gets sick or my car breaks down or a new acquaintance connects with my life, and I crave the return to my safe routines.

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Isn’t life filled with those struggles, though?

Are you in a position where life has changed around you? A different town, a busier schedule, an unexpected crisis, a nagging illness…

Richard Rohr poses that this is the spiritual position humans hate to be in, but where God, throughout history, is always leading us. We have left the tried and true (often not of our own accord), and have not been able to replace it with anything else. We are attempting to have faith when we cannot staunch the flow of change.

Ruth Haley Barton writes of it this way:
“This is Abraham leaving his home country and his father’s house for a land he did not yet know.
It is Joseph in the pit.
It is the Israelites wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.
It is Jonah in the belly of the fish.
It is Mary weeping at Jesus’ tomb.
It is the disciples huddled in the upper room.
It is Cleopas and the unnamed disciple on the Emmaus Road betwixt and between the life they had known and whatever was supposed to come next.
This was a time for intimate emotions and dangerous questions. Maybe something new and wonderful was in the works, but who knew? And just when they had gotten about the business of trying to adjust to their new normal, they were unnerved by the unexpected, pushed off center by intimations of the unimaginable.” (Life Together in Christ, p 24-25)

 

I remember being a college junior, fresh off an amazing season of growth in faith, complaining to a friend that I wanted God to just stop for a bit and let me catch up with all the changes. Thankfully, that friend asked, “Why would you want to slow your relationship with God?” Changes lead us into tense and uncomfortable situations, yet God provides us with companions for the journey—both in the Holy Spirit and in other believers—as we grow in holiness.

How are you connected and cared for in this season of change? Who will you encourage in faith-filled companionship?

 

My hope meet with my moms group most weeks of the year, share connections monthly with my 2 clergy groups, and keep a couple close friends in the loop more regularly. Change is hard, how will you hang on in the unknowns?

Share your plan in the comments!

Things to do before I’m 30

🎤It’s my birthday today, yes it is, yeehaw!🎉

Today I’m 29, and in honor of that utterly boring number, I’m making a list of all the things I’m determined to do before I’m 30. I asked around to friends and family, and most of their suggestions involved my two greatest fears (free fall and drowning) or were entirely too expensive for me to accomplish is year (all sorts of crazy road trips and adventures). But, with all the suggestions, I’ve narrowed down my list to the following items that match my current budgetary and life stage constraints:

Before I’m 30, I will…

  1. Finish 3 crochet projects
  2. Take a ballroom dance class
  3. Learn a new dance routine
  4. Take a “hot yoga” class (Hot as in temperature)
  5. Revist my pointe shoes (that’s as ambitious as I can get til I try them again. It’s been years!)
  6. Learn to play drums (at least a little bit)
  7. Climb a mountain, or at least part of one (it’s been far too long since I’ve hiked and climbed)
  8. Go rock climbing (if I’m going to mountain climb, I might as well clip in an climb some real rocks again while I’m out there)
  9. Visit Disney World with my family- November 2016!
  10. Run an entire 10k (no walking)
  11. Lose the baby weight from kid #2
  12. Be a part of a flash mob. Yes, I’m a millennial who’s never done this. Shocker.
  13. Sing karaoke
  14. Sketch out plans for writing a book (maybe even write it!)
  15. Start a DMin degree program
  16. Visit San Francisco. Hopefully, this and Palo Alto are happening in summer 2017.
  17. See a musical (even if it’s a local production)
  18. Plant a tree
  19. Finish all of my sewing projects (mainly patching holes, but my sewing basket has gotten a bit out of control)
  20. Go ice skating again
  21. Go white-water rafting (oh river of death, it has been too long!)
  22. Finally revisit my Greek textbooks, and finish them!
  23. Keep up with my blog! That means regularly scheduled posts, and hopefully create a bit of a following
  24. Write my will. And my husband’s. Just in case some of these adventures go awry. I mean we’re trained on high ropes and rapids, but still…
  25. Prayer walk my community once a month for the entire year

 

29 sounds like a spectacular year of fun and personal growth. Check back for updates on my adventures.

Feel free to comment with other suggestions! I’d love to keep adding and at least make it to 30 before 30. Just remember-

  • no free fall
  • no strong possibilities of drowning
  • if it’s over $100, suggesting the activity means you’re offering to pay for it

 

Ready, go!