Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I Found Some Owl Pictures

Aren't these funny?

Elsewhere on the internet someone commented that I really did look like an owl and had even picked just the right background. I am confident, or at least reasonably certain, that the remark wasn't meant as a compliment. However, I looked at my picture again and had to admit that perhaps he did indeed have a point. Ha!

It wasn't just a fake background. I really was standing near the woods. If I am becoming more and more like my nickname, I hope I look more like the "smiling" owl. Whooo, the other one is one scary looking bird! Look at those eyes!

On second thought, there might be some advantage to looking a bit frightening. Hmmm...what do you think? Should I practice a steely-eyed glare?

And speaking of woods, today I'm off to our church campground for a week of wonderful Bible teachers (Deborah Gill from CBE--yay!) and inspiring preachers and great music, plus swimming in a gorgeous lake, smelling the aroma of pine trees, and sitting around a fire at night. What a nice combination. Back in a week.

Monday, June 27, 2005


I don't like anonymous notes. I throw them in the trash, and I like to pretend that they don't bother me. I've received two or three over the last five years.

One particularly uncomplimentary one addressed to me was left on an offering envelope for the ushers to see as they counted money. Wow!

Today I found one on my desk. "Pastor, don't wait till they are ready. Set a standard. They need to be fed." Hmmm. What does that mean, I wonder? They? Not we. Perhaps the note writer feels disconnected from the rest of us.

Or perhaps he or she, being spirituality fat already, does not need to be fed? Oooh, pride. Bleech. The implication is that no one is being fed spiritually by the sermons, I suppose.

Perhaps the person thought I would strike my forehead and say, "Aha! I need to feed them? Why didn't someone tell me? Thank GOD and hallelujah for the wisdom of the brief words on this anonymous slip of paper!"

Phooey! Anonymous notes usually come from cowards. And they never make me change what I'm doing. But they sure do make me crabby.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Let it Rain

Rejoice in the LORD your God! For the rains he sends are an expression of his grace... Joel 2:23

Lately I've been listening to a very simple but powerful chorus speaking of the Holy Spirit. "Let it rain, Let it rain, Open the floodgates of Heaven."

We have been experiencing a near drought. The grass is brown and crisp in my yard, the birds are apparently too hot to sing, the little creek behind my house is dried up, and the flowers on my deck are drooping in spite of regular drinks from the garden hose.

However, right now I'm listening to the wonderful sound of rain...aaah. How rain coming can change things. Tomorrow the grass will be greening up again, the flowers will be lifting those sunny pansy faces skyward, the creek will be gurgling and the birds might even start singing again.

One of the many biblical metaphors for the Holy Spirit is rain. I've been thinking about metaphors so much lately. What a beautiful image to contemplate! For people in a relatively dry climate such as the middle east homeland of the prophet Joel, the effects of rain can be especially dramatic. Having grown up near California's Mojave desert, I can attest that sometimes overnight blooming takes place and transforms the landscape.

When I was a teenager I traveled to Mexico on a short missions trip. While there I learned a rousing rendition of a song called "Manda la LLuvia" (I think my Spanish spelling is right?) Manda la Lluvia, Senor. Send the rain, Lord! I hadn't thought of those beautiful little Mexican children singing at the tops of their lungs along with me for a long time. But I can still sing the chorus in both Spanish and English. It's pretty simple.

Those children would be in their forties now...what a thought!

But we still need the rain, Lord.

Choosing Thoughts

Philippians 4:8-10 (NLT)

And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise... and the God of peace will be with you.

It is impossible for me to think about nothing at all. I sometimes (not for long) rather envy the Buddhist ideal of "nothingness." It would be a relief to just flip a switch and stop for a bit. I guess that is what sleep does, but I don't get to enjoy the quiet. Ha!

It is interesting that the Apostle Paul had to urge his readers in Phillipi to think positive, honorable and true thoughts. What a battle this can be! Once again, as has been happening for about a year, I am aware that life is just one long series of choices. I get lazy, and the path of least resistance never seems to go in a good direction. It seems Paul knew this too. At least I'm in good company in the struggle.

I must not just stop thinking about something that is not good for me. I have to replace those thoughts with something else. It's like saying, "Don't think about pink elephants." Right. Instead I choose today to consciously stop and redirect my thoughts into something that will build me up and put a smile on my face. Not a fake smile. A genuine one.

Unexpected things can do this. Life once took a new direction as I was watching "Rocky." That is funny! Who'd think of Sylvester Stallone as "spiritual advisor?"

Music often helps turn my thoughts. Last night it was B.B. King blaring "The Thrill is Gone" from my c.d. speakers. How odd to get happy listening to the blues. This morning it is Kim Hill's wonderful c.d. "For Such a Time." My heart feels heavy lately. I'm realizing my need of the peace of God spoken of in the passage above.

Life is perplexing and hard and disgusting and dark and frustrating and scary and wonderful and exciting and joyful and full of light. What a paradox. I'm choosing to think about those last parts today and put the others down.

Just for today.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Father God

Romans 8:15-17 (New Living Translation)

So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family--calling him "Father, dear Father." For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children. And since we are his children, we will share his treasures--for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

I've been thinking about fathers. Maybe that is partly because tomorrow is the American holiday called Father's Day and I have been missing my own father, gone many years now.

God is Spirit, and thus God is genderless. However, there are many metaphors for God. "Father" is the one term Jesus used most and the one many of us learned first. For far too many people, a father image is not all that positive. Many dads are too wrapped up with sports, buddies, or work. Sometimes earthly fathers are unavailable, angry, critical, chemically dependent or abusive.

This scripture in Romans reminds us that our God has chosen us, adopted us into a family. God longs to be the perfect parent to us, the one none of us had and none of us can be, in spite of our best efforts. God wants a loving, accepting relationship. God wants to comfort us when we are afraid or alone or in pain, as a good and loving father does with his children. God also wants us to trust and obey him, as is the desire of every good parent. Our Father-God is patient and kind, teaching and loving and taking joy in us as we grow.

Someone said that we are living in a time when father hunger is like a national epidemic. I know that loving, caring, patient fathers are in short supply! But even the best of earthly dads cannot provide us what we need--cannot truly give us the affection, protection and unconditional acceptance our hearts crave.

I think the hunger for God is placed there by Father God himself. It willl continue until we realize that God is the ultimate good Father for whom we all long. We will be forever searching until we find our rest in God.

Weight Loss

Here is a picture of my beautiful daughter and her husband. They are seated at the banquet for graduates of North Central University. Aren't they a hppy looking pair? That is 'cause my daughter, who did college on the enstallment plan, was DONE! This was about a year ago.

Recently she made the difficult decision to undergo gastric bypass surgery and has lost 60 lbs so far. I'll be seeing those guys soon. What a scary surgery, IMO. But she is happy and doing well and about to buy new clothes. None of us, except our son, are exactly lightweights. Weight issues are a part of the curse, I think! Isn't that in Genesis somewhere? I'm sure I remember that...

Monday, June 13, 2005

On the Road Again: Willie's look-alike

Hebrews 13:2 (King James Version)
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.

Not long ago I stood on our church front lawn and looked at the street. I prayed that God would bring people in to our church, "from the road." I actually said that, but I meant residents of my town. Careful what you pray for, people say!

A few day later a thin, sad-eyed stranger stood in our church entryway and said, with some pride, "My name's _________, but some folks call me Willie 'cause I sound like Willie Nelson...kinda look like 'im too!" He then proceeded to prove it by singing a few measures of "You Were Always on My Mind." The resemblance was indeed uncanny and elicted admiring chuckles and comments.

Willie Nelson's look-and-sound alike had called the church from the laundromat. He needed food and sleep and a shower and was willing to work for it. We are the smallest church in our small town, and our benevolence fund is in the red. A disagreeable encounter with grifters was fresh in my mind. I was prepared to firmly and kindly say, "Sorry, no. Try the large church down the block" but I stopped.

It was something in the voice--a kind of exhaustion or desperation. I found myself giving him directions to the church. We had a significant weed problem by our church's back doors. Was he willing to pull weeds? He was.

So this tiny, weathered man arrived lugging an enormous backpack and a guitar. I don't know how he even lifted the pack, much less carried it for miles. He'd been on the road three weeks, travelling from Ohio. He was thumbing his way north to somewhere in Michigan where he has friends and a summer job singing and playing the guitar. He said he knew the Bible talked about working for your pay, and he wanted to "keep my attitude right."

He pulled weeds in the heat and he drank water and rested and charmed us with his Willie Nelson voice and his self-effacing but cheery demeanor. His hard life showed on his face. We learned almost nothing about him, but he said he's a Viet Nam vet, and I saw by his I.D. card that he is about to have a 56th birthday. And hitchhiking! Heading up to Michigan, he hopes, with nothing but a pack and a guitar!

Two days later he appeared much improved by a shower, several meals, a couple of nights sleeping in a bed, and freshly laundered clothes. He'd done some work for a couple in church and they'd provided a second night in the motel. They also offered to pay for a bus ticket to Michigan. To my surprise, he refused, saying "Thank you for the kind offer, but I just don't like them buses."

He has a small New Testament and my business card in his pack. He grinned at me as he shook my hand and said "Thanks for everything. I guess I'm 'On the Road Again.'" He sang a few measures of that song as he headed out the church door.

We didn't get him "saved," but we did treat him with respect, kindness and dignity. Could that little man with a hugh pack and a guitar be an "angel unaware?"

I pray for his safety and that he will find the Prince of Peace somewhere down the road.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Poetic Ponderings on a Woman and Jesus

Matthew 15:22-28 NKJV
... A woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

I recently read this passage from Matthew. I began to put myself in the story, in the shoes of the Gentile woman who approached Jesus. I realized that I really identified with her. I recalled my childhood struggles with feeling like I didn't fit, that my dear father (staunch Southern Baptist deacon that he was) loved me but didn't quite know what to do with me. The fear I later felt in approaching leadership in the Assemblies of God and trying to express that I thought God was calling me to preach--of all things--and feeling comepletely uhheard and dismissed. (Later, in a different state with different leadership, that changed. Thank you, God!) Anyway, I wrote a poem about it. Not usually a "free verse" kind of poet, but it is what it is. Father's daughter. I'm the daughter of a loving and precious patriarchial man who never once understood or acknowledged that I was called to something he could not accept. (I like to think that, sometimes, he can watch me from Heaven and be pleased.) But I am also the daughter of a Heavenly Father!

Father's Daughter

She approaches, desperate mother,
Pushing past disciple's frowns,
Gentile! Woman! How unseemly!
Master, make her stop this now.

Words of "dogs" and "children,"
Seem to echo in her heart,
But to reach the man called Jesus,
She will not be turned aside.

* * * * *

A frown--a sigh, shrugged resignation.
Who is this daughter, Lord, you gave?
All these questions! So unseemly!
Help me teach her woman's ways.

Go with the ladies, child,
And learn of graces girls must know,
Learn to speak of softer things.
Go now, and find "a woman's role."

Sit in silence.
Stop your teaching!
Tell your husband,
He is lord.

If your heart is weary,
God will give you grace to stand.
Hide your gifts and learn submission,
Learn the pleasures women plan.

Nodded heads and grave agreement,
Suits and ties each large and strong.
Jesus? Are you here, my Savior?
Do you see me, so alone?

Like the Gentile in the Gospel,
Seeking crumbs from Jesus' hand,
Even I, dear Lord and Master,
May I not approach the throne?

* * * * *

Your faith is sweet to me, my daughter,
Come and learn. Come taste and grow,
Pharisees and Patriarchs,
Will never stop the Spirit's flow!

Earthly fathers cannot see,
What Heaven's hand is forming,
Like your sister in the story,
Your request is granted. Go!

Go, but speak with humble heart,
With hope and peace and mercy,
Speak with joy and speak with sorrow,
Truth in love, my grace to show.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Presence of God

Exodus 33:14b "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."

One of my favorite books is a small but powerful volume by an obscure monk from a bygone era. Well, actually he was obscure during his lifetime but not so obscure anymore. His book can be printed by going here:

Brother Lawrence says, "There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it."

I recently attended a silent retreat at an abbey not far from my town. I've been there on several previous occasions, and the silence is like a personal gift from God each time I am there. This is true whether or not I think God speaks anything profound to my heart. But my most recent stay there started me thinking about these words of Brother Lawrence...a continual conversation with a way to practice becoming more aware of God's presence.

How is it possible, in this noisy, busy word, to have a continual conversation with the Lord? And how do we know when we are experiencing God's presence? I know God is all around us--as the Psalmist David affirmed when he wrote, "Where can I flee from your Spirit?" And the Holy Spirit takes up resdence in the believer. But what is it that makes us aware? What is it that makes us think, or sometimes say, "God is here"?

I clearly recall the first time I was aware of the presence of God's Spirit even though more than fortty years have passed. I'm sure there had been other times when God's Spirit was very close and active, such as when I knelt to pray for Jesus to "come into my heart," but I hadn't been particularly aware. I hadn't "felt" anything.

On this occasion I was about ten years old and attending a Billy Graham crusade in the Los Angeles collesium. It was a lovely warm California night, and the great stadium was packed. But there was something supernatural pricking my senses. Billy gave his usual clear call to walk the aisle down to the front and to pray with him for Jesus to forgive sins and save us and make us citizens of Heaven. The choir sang, "Just As I Am"-- and a profound hush fell over the place. There were moments of stillness which the child me recognized. I leaned to my older sister and whispered, "Do you feel it? Do you feel the Holy Spirit?" She, with wide eyes, nodded wordlessly. Not knowing how to describe it, I said, in awe, "It's heavy.

Father Tim, Jan Karon's lovable fictional character in the Mitford series describes how one morning the Holy Spirit is clearly present in his little Episcopalian church. And Father Tim says, "When the Spirit comes--ah, it is glorious!" I couldn't agree more.

What makes us aware that God is, in an unusual way, present?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Follow up

Long day, but I'm feeling better. My visit with Roy and Doc was helpful and enlightening. Tomorrow all the pastors and teams from the 20 churches meet. These days are always intense but good. Hope I get some sleep before I load my van with talkative church folk! I do have a great deal to think about, but I feel more able to do so with less anxiety!

Ken has more hope for resolving his constant problems with leg circulation. In addition to the vein rupture he also has struggled with painful ulcers on his ankle, and since his knee replacement last year has endured a knee and leg perpetually grossly swollen. Today the wound care specialist told him about a new treatment involving lasar. She told him that two other patients of hers have had this proceedure done and have had no further ulcers. If successful, it could also help the bleeding issue and the swelling. Insurance could be a problem.

Last night when the vision team members who are part of our revitalization project met for prayer we ended by praying quite intensely for Ken. I'd love to see a miracle....but this is good too! Ken is hopeful for the first time in a while.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Five a.m. Pondering on Leadership

It is frustrating to be thinking instead of sleeping at five a.m. After a month of struggling, I'm finally trying to write some things down in the hope I can then lay my thoughts aside for a while and hopefully return to them with more clarity.

A while ago our church completed a survey (Natural Church Development) to help us identify areas of strength and weakness. Our district leadership is offering tools to help those of us in declining or plateaued churches. I began to read and think about my role as pastor-leader in a more specific way.

This leadership pondering began in earnest when my church embarked, along with 20 others, on a two-year venture to revitalize our congregations. Drs. Wayne and Sherry Lee, professors at Southeastern Assemblies of God University, are our "guides, along with Roy, the man who gave us the survey and other evaluation from NCR.

What wonderful people the Lees are! Scholarly and while not young, are full of passion and energy for God and the people of God! Wow, can Dr. Lee pray.

Among other assignments we've complete a boatload of assessments and there are many more to come. These are both personal and church related. But one assessment was to help us identify the "style" of our church. Mine was, as usual, not very clear. We came out as part traditional, part modern and, to my great surprise, part emerging.

I was intrigued. I started looking more closely at writings about the postmodern and emergent church. I was surprised to find that one recognized searcher and budding "expert" was Dr. Earl Creps, located right at our own Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO. Interesting links found here:

My friend Galina sent me in the direction of Brian McLaren. I don't necessarily agree with all he says, but he sure makes me think in new ways....always good for me. However, I began to feel rather split in half! I am a middle-aged, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, thank you very much!

But I understand on a deep level that the new generation is not "getting" church and that our methods must change. I recalled preaching a sermon a couple of years ago titled "The Times They are a-Changing" complete with song by Bob Dylan. I was trying to communicate to my congregation that we were in a major culture shift and not much was going to be the same. I admit, I find this frightening, challenging, sad, and exciting, by turns.

I have been whining to God about my age, my lifelong membership in very conservative churches, my years of struggle with egalitarian Christian thought (thank God for for CBE, found at and my reluctant status as somewhat of a pioneer as regards women in ministry. I'm not as resilient as I used to be. (God knows this, I suppose :-) ) Can't I just have a nice little rural church in the pastoral state of Wisconsin and do weddings and funerals and baby dedications and preach sermons?

Apparently not. Something deep inside says no. Not that I will not do those things. Instead that I am not meant to be comfortable and traditional and well-thought of in a quiet way. Sigh.

All right, dearest Lord Jesus. All right. I will follow where you lead me. Just typing this is bringing tears to my eyes.

I was assigned the book "Courageous Leadership" by Bill Hybels. Now, Hybles is rather a hero of mine, and I love what he writes. I am not saying Hybel's leadership book is bad. There is much that is valuable and praiseworthy. But the more I read the more I despaired. I began to feel that I might as well give up. There was no way (I figured, anyway) that I could be the kind of leader he was telling me I must be. I slogged on--after all, Dr. Lee had assigned it. And then one day I just stopped reading. I knew that whatever was happening to me was not good. Again, not saying the book is not valuable. It is. It simply was not, somehow, good for me right now. Perhaps I will go back to it later.

Then my cyber buddy, Dr. P. (find him at ) mentioned the following article.

WOW! Leadership Frodo Baggins (or Dorothy of "Wizard of Oz") style? Oh my.

When I read it I felt like fresh air blew in the window. Thank you, Dr. P. and thank you God! It is long, but so thought provoking.

But I was not quite comfortable with FRODO BAGGINS as my role model, much as I love Tolkien and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy! Ha! And it still didn't give me much of a sense of direction.

Meanwhile, having put "Courageous Leadership" aside, I sensed that God had a book for me. Long story and this post is long enough, but end result is that I have on my desk a book titled "No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come As You Are Culture in the Church" by John Burke. Both Hybels and McLaren (how ironic) endorse it enthusiastically. Dan Kimball too.

Here is a link to it on Amazon.

I perused the table of contents and my eyes probably got bigger and bigger. These very issues are what the Holy Spirit has been speaking to my heart ever since I arrived at my church, Jubilee Assembly of God. Truth, authenticity, community, family, freedom. And I have searched (mostly in vain) for the way to change CULTURE in my church.

Just a few days before the book arrived in the mail I think the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart that we (Jubilee) are a gateway. We are studying the Sermon on the Mount and had arrived at the passage about the broad versus narrow gate. We are a gateway. Over and over. A gateway. I started reading scriptures about "gates." I prayed and pondered about that one for days. I "accidentally" ran across a picture of my church's original sign. It was--a gate! (Eerie music plays here! ;-) )

Imagine my surprise when, getting past the table of contents to the dedication page, I see that Burke has dedicated his book to his congregation. His congregations name? GATEWAY! No, I'm not changing our church's name. It just came as a little shock....confirmation...whatever....that this book is for us. Right now.

As for Frodo-style leadership--my dear friend and Jubilee deacon, Pat, sent me to Hebrews 11. While reading it, God spoke to my heart again. It is Abraham. It's not just fictional characters like Frodo and Dorothy who lead without always having everything clear. It was Abraham who, hearing the voice of God, got up and led his family an unknown destination.

GOD IS PLEASED with this journey I am on! I feel stunned.

Still scared, still inadequate, but excited as well.

Tomorrow I meet with Dr. Lee. Wonder what he will say when I tell him that I can't be a leader Hybels style, and that I am about to find out about leading Frodo style? Better pray.