Perception is reality. In college, this mantra laid the foundation for the coursework in my Communication Studies degree. We each perceive experiences differently. Two people may sit next to each other in class yet one may say class was awful while the other sings the professor’s praises. Law enforcement often must discern truth from vastly different accounts of a particular crime or accident, all because of the differing perceptions, and therefore realities, of the witnesses. Taking a different perspective can mean a distinct shift in our perception of any situation. So, the post below interested me not only because it’s about pastors but also because it proves the point that with a different perspective, your perception, and thus your reality, changes. The post, though written from a male point of view, says what I think most pastors, male or female, would say. It’s all simply a matter of a different perspective.
Mount Dora FUMC
I know you’ve noticed that I haven’t posted in quite some time. My time at The Well has ended and First United Methodist Church of Brandon, my sponsoring church, invited the folks involved invited to join them. I miss the people of The Well and pray God’s blessings for them as they begin their new places of worship and service.
I started a new adventure July 1, 2014 as my husband Greg and I moved to Mount Dora, Florida, appointed as the senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church there. A beautiful community, Mount Dora has been a favorite of mine for many years. We are very pleased to be here among the wonderful people of First Mount Dora. In this vibrant church, the people are shining examples of warmth and hospitality. We’re enjoying getting to know both the people of the church and the community.
As I begin blogging again, I’ll also be updating the other parts of the blog. I have changed the address for the blog, so if you know someone looking for it, it is now http://www.revuch.com. No grand plan to be called Rev Uch (rhymes with pooch) but rather that Pastor Kim was already taken by another pastor. I like to write about lots of topics but sometimes I simply get stuck for inspiration. So, if there’s something you want me to write about, let me know in a comment to this post and I’ll do my best to oblige.
December 1st marked the beginning of the Advent season. Celebrated the four Sundays prior to Christmas, that first Sunday is the beginning of the Christian Year. Similar to Lent, it is a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Day. Therefore, those who celebrate Advent often observe it with special prayers, devotions, or service to others. The Advent wreath used in many churches reminds us of our spiritual preparation for Christ. Watch this video from Chuck Knows Church to learn more about the wreath:
At my house, we have an Advent Wreath. I use special Advent prayers and Scriptures for my personal prayer time. Along with many others, I will be helping at Gift of Hope, which provides everything for a special Christmas meal and toys for children to those who cannot provide these for themselves. And, on Christmas Day, the people of The Well will be serving Christmas dinner at our sponsoring church, First United Methodist of Brandon. Let me know how you are observing Advent this year.
An incredible tree grows at the edge of the lake near the chapel at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. At first glance, it’s simply another tree like the hundreds of others on the property. On further inspection, a story unfolds. At one time, the multi-trunked tree was indeed large. Something, maybe lightening, brought part of it to the ground. That part remained attached to the main tree and something amazing happened. The fallen tree’s now unearthed roots found their way to the base of the tree left standing and grew into the base of the main tree. Layer after layer of interconnectedness between these two trees kept the fallen part alive and growing, even though the trunk lay on the ground. Despite the damage to the fallen tree, the trees remained part of one another, each giving life to the other.
A picture of healthy community, this incredible tree shows the importance of deep roots nurtured by rich and varied relationships with the community. Without deep roots, , the fallen part of the tree might have died. Those truly embedded in a community cannot suffer without the community noticing. When one of their number has difficulties or suddenly stops showing up, the community responds with care. Without deep roots in the community, our suffering may go unnoticed or even if noticed, no response results. Each of us, in the communities of which we are a part, have responsibility to engage, whether it’s our local town, our Chamber of Commerce, our Rotary Club or our community of faith. Sure, it takes time, time well worth the effort. For when we fall, as most of us will at some time or another, that community to which we have given ourselves freely will give back in ways we could never imagine. The community will only feel able to respond to the degree that we opened ourselves to the risk of relationship, an act far less risky than the risk of going it alone. Jesus pictured us in such community in the church when he taught us not to stay angry but confront issues (Matthew 18:15), when he told us he would be with us whenever two or more gather in his name (Matthew 18:19) and when he instructed us to care for the ones who have need help or have fallen such as the widows, orphans, strangers and prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46). Perhaps it’s time to take him at his word and discover the joy of community for ourselves.
As Thanksgiving approaches, why not begin thinking now about all that for which you are thankful to God? Even in awful circumstances, there remains that for which we give thanks to God for he sustains us in ways we often do not notice or acknowledge. Although we associate the beginnings of the holiday with Pilgrims, who were thankful for a successful harvest and their relationships with the Indians, Thanksgiving was not declared a national holiday until 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. Read Abraham Lincoln’s declaration here: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm.
Growing up, Halloween stood at the beginning of the two months of activities associated with the last two months of the year from Halloween through New Year’s Day. My family didn’t have a lot of money, but my Mom and Dad always made sure I had a costume and took me trick or treating in our neighborhood. Surprised sometimes by the people I didn’t know lived in my neighborhood, it was a fun time that gave me a warm sense of community.
When our kids were very young, they each had their opportunities to trick or treat as well. But, as I took my Christian faith more and more seriously, I stumbled into the undercurrent of suspicion surrounding Halloween and for years, I no longer allowed them to participate but instead attended Trunk and Treat or Harvest Festivals. Yet, as I learned more about our Christian celebrations and the Christian associations of Halloween, I re-thought my objection and in their teens, our kids started once again to participate, mostly going as a group of friends to each other’s neighborhoods.
Oh, I know all the objections that go beyond the religious, too, those about candy and obesity, candy and safety, the entire lot. And I have had or thought about all of them. Perhaps, though, it’s time to think about it in a new way. Today I read perhaps the best blog on the topic I have read at http://debradeanmurphy.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/all-hallows-eve-hospitality/. Take a moment to read it and let me know your thoughts about Halloween and the various objections to it. I don’t know where you’ll be on Halloween night, but I have decided I’ll be at home, welcoming the kids of our neighborhood whose costumes I can’t wait to see and whose faces will light up at every house where they are welcomed. Didn’t Jesus say a little something about welcoming children and strangers?
“Thank you. Most people don’t bother.” the attendant at the car wash said.
“Pardon me?” I said.
“Most people don’t bother to ask how I am after I ask them how they are. Makes me feel
invisible.” she said.
I was at the car wash near my office. The attendant, a woman with a sweet disposition, asked me how I was that day, I told her I was well and asked her how she was, at which point the interchange above occurred. It really bothered me to hear that she asks people how they are and they simply don’t respond – at all. For whether you are an attendant at a car wash or the CEO of a large company, it shouldn’t mean that people have a right to ignore or verbally abuse you. Because here’s the thing. Jesus proved that God loves each of us with all that he is regardless of who we are, what we’ve done, even having been unkind to the people around us. Jesus crossed the social boundaries of his time to speak to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), not because she was famous or rich or beautiful but because he loved her, even in her brokenness, perhaps especially in her brokenness. A prostitute, who went for water in the middle of the day to avoid those who scorned her, the Samaritan woman crossed those social boundaries, too, to give Jesus a drink. And, in return she received the living water that wells up to eternal life. A kind word, even as simple as ‘How are you today?” can be like a cold cup of water on a hot day for each and every person you meet. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:24, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” To whom have you shown the love of God by your kindness? If the answer is no one, it’s not too late to start!
Have you ever noticed how God ‘speaks’ to you in some of the oddest ways, in my case recently, with lizards? It happened again the very day I sent the last post. That afternoon I was walking our dog, Charlie, and dozens of the very young lizards skittered off the sidewalk as we walked along. I noticed one in particular -about one and a half inches long – as he ran off the sidewalk right to an area a few inches from where Charlie busied himself sniffing for the perfect spot to, well, you know. With blatant personification at work, I marveled as the poor lizard clung to a blade of grass, completely still except for breathing hard as he prayed that the large creature near him, and the even larger one behind that one would simply not see him.
How often in my years wandering from Jesus did I, in my sinfulness or weakness, behave like that lizard and pray to go unnoticed by God? How I hoped he would not notice when I simply lacked the commitment or courage or strength to be faithful to him. How often I likened him to the big bad creature who would destroy me unless I remained unseen as I did what I wanted in my life. The difference between the lizard and we humans, though, strikes to the core of who we are and what we believe about God. Charlie doesn’t love lizards like God loves you and me. Unlike my dog, who likes to pounce on lizards, God pours out his grace on us even when we don’t notice. And while the dog might eat the lizard, God seeks to bless us through a relationship with Jesus and God’s very presence with us in the Holy Spirit. God is not some predator waiting to tear us apart but rather he’s ready and waiting for us, both when we are faithful and maybe most especially when we aren’t.
Hanging on by a toe. On Wednesday, I didn’t see the lizard on my windshield until I was going 20 mph, at which point all of him was dangling in the air except one toe. I understand the feeling well. The end of June a bulging disc in my lower back had me just hanging on through the mind-numbing pain. Yet as days turned to weeks and the pain finally subsided bit by miniscule bit, only one thing tamed it like no other, Psalm 23. Decades ago in a similar situation, my pastor told me to read Psalm 23 four times a day and after several weeks had passed to write my own version based on what I understood from God through my relationship with Jesus. I prescribe this regularly to those in pain of any kind for what I found in my own use showed me God’s love more clearly than I ever comprehended before.
So, I did it again. I read that Psalm aloud so often that I memorized it then I said it some more. Soon the peace I found in the Psalm came to me automatically from just the first phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (NIV). Oh, the first time I read it, in my mind I continued on to add “except being pain free.” And right there it was, right in front of me yet often unseen or misunderstood. I lacked nothing that I needed, just what I wanted. Like the lizard, I might be hanging on by only a toe, but I was hanging on and the reason had nothing to do with me. Faithful to his word, the Lord my shepherd did not leave or forsake me. And in those moments when I might toy with the idea that he had, a simple, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” and peace of the Holy Spirit reminded me that whatever I did not have was something I didn’t need.
Thankfully, I’m feeling pretty good these days due to physical therapy, medication and cortisone injections, all part of an ongoing recovery. I hope I never recover, though, from that sense deep in my bones that because the Lord is my Shepherd, I truly lack absolutely nothing.
What about you? How does it change your perspective to read Psalm 23? To say out loud, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing?” How has God worked in your life while you were hanging on by a toe?
Wednesday morning while listening to the radio, I heard about the blog post below about singer Carlos Whittaker and his decision to take his 9 year old daughter with him when he went to help the victims of the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.
I think he got it right, honoring God and teaching his daughter how to care the way Jesus does. What do you think?