Monday, October 19, 2015

Sermon 10.18.2015

Sermon (10.18.15)- Based on Mark 10:43-45

Life is full of paradoxes:  The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. The best way to find happiness- or love- is to stop looking for it. The more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed. The best things in life are free. We don’t fully appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

You see, life is messy. It is full of what-ifs and could be’s and should-have-beens. Water and oil don’t mix, yet you need both, mixed together to bake a cake. So it is with today’s text.

I wrestled with this text a lot over the past couple weeks. The sermon should have been simple- if you want to be first, you have to serve.

But it wasn’t that easy. Sometimes God puts things on our hearts and leaves the details in how to deliver that message on us. And it’s not always straight forward. This week, the piece that kept coming back to me was this quote from Nelson Mandella. It reads:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us . . . And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others"

and I kept thinking, “Okay, God…I love that quote- really I do…but how on earth would you like me to tie THAT into THIS message?”  So I continued to think..and pray and think and pray…until a few days ago, when it finally hit me. These two ideas are a perfect paradox.

In our text today, I will be focusing on verses 43-45. They read:
Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I think the reason I struggled so much with this text was the idea that in order to to become great, we have to humble ourselves and serve others. It almost feels as though the text is saying, none of your talents, goals, or ideas matter…just serve others.  And maybe it is…but perhaps there is a way to acknowledge our gifts and still serve at the same time.

I have never been good at accepting compliments. I don’t like to be boastful and I certainly don’t see myself as any better than anyone around me…we all have gifts…I just wasn’t sure what mine actually were. Sure, I was decent at a lot of things…but I’ve never been willing to consider myself great at anything. I struggled to see how I was being used by God.

And recently I learned, along with James and John, that it isn’t who we are, or how powerful we are… it’s how open we are to listening to God and allowing God to use us. If we go back through the text, God has used all kinds of unqualified people (by our standards) to do His work.

David’s armor didn’t fit.
Jacob was a liar.
David had an affair.
Solomon was too rich.
Abraham was too old.
David was too young.
Timothy had ulcers.
Peter was afraid of death.
Lazarus was dead.
John was self-righteous.
Jesus was too poor.
Naomi was a widow.
John Mark - rejected by Paul
Paul was a murderer.
So was Moses.
Jonah ran from God.
Miriam was a gossip
Gideon and Thomas both doubted.
Jeremiah was depressed.
Elijah was burned out.
Martha was a worrywart.
Samson had long hair.
Noah got drunk.
The list goes on.

These people were all less than ideal based on our current beliefs about success…yet when God spoke, they listened. Don’t get me wrong-many of them cowered, argued, even pleaded with God to choose someone other than them…but ultimately, when God called them to serve…they served.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I don’t like to brag, because I don’t want to sound boastful…yet, by refusing to acknowledge my God given gifts and abilities, who am I serving? Who am I praising?
No one.
And that’s a problem.

So here’s where the paradox comes in. As the quote by Mr. Mandella says, who am I NOT to be everything God created me to be? Who am I helping by shrinking down? We think we are helping others to not feel insecure, when really, by acting insecure ourselves, we are only promoting insecurity! So here it is…

I am strong. I can fix things. I am determined. I am patient. I am a good listener. I am trustworthy. I am artistic. I am good at baking. I understand teenagers. I am giving.

I have never, willingly spoken of my strengths before. I have always viewed that as being egotistical….but here’s the reality and here’s where everything comes together…

I am all those things I just listed for one reason and one reason only: because that is who God created me to be. Without God, none of those things matter. When I use my gifts to serve and promote myself, I am useless. When I use my gifts to serve others and glorify God, I am priceless.

Let me repeat that.

When we use our gifts to serve and promote ourselves, we are useless; when we use our gifts to serve and glorify God, we are priceless.

Picture a church in which everyone wants to be served. Each person believes the church exists to meet their needs, to make them happy, and to cater to their whims and tastes. Imagine a congregation in which everyone has a “take care of me” attitude and is quick to complain whenever things are not just the way they feel they should be.
This kind of church does not honor Jesus and bring glory to God.

Now imagine a church in which every single person has a passion to serve others. Think about what God could do through a group of people who are committed to serving one another. These people know that God has given each of them unique abilities and gifts that are to be used for building up people and bringing glory to God. So they are purposeful about discovering, developing, and using them.

We are either on the stretcher or helping carry it. There are times we need to be served. But most of the time, we are called to serve others. The bottom line is that God wants each of us to help carry people through their times of need. The church was never meant to be a bunch of people watching from the sidelines.

We are the hands and feet of Christ. We are children of God. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us . . . And as we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to let their lights shine.

 So take a minute to figure out what you are good at. What gifts has God equipped you with? Own those gifts. Don’t brush them off. Don’t feel guilty for being talented. Be proud. Be grateful. Serve others at all times and in all places. Shine your light-because you are important, and you are needed, and you have a purpose.

And Because God is Good. All the time. Amen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Be Still

(Be calm)
(Be still)
(Slow down)
(I am here)

I can only speak for myself, but all too often, the overbearing, obnoxious screams of the “real world” are all I can hear.  There are places to go, people to see, jobs to do, mouths to feed…
Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in day to day living, we completely tune out the gentle whispers of God.  Instead of being calm, we become more rushed. Instead of asking for help, we pile the world on our shoulders and trudge on through. Have you ever seen a horse with blinders on it’s head? They are like two small shields on either side of the eyes to prevent the horse from seeing behind or to the sides.  Blinders keep the horse only focused on what is directly ahead of them.  Sometimes we feel like we are wearing blinders. We are so focused on working things out, accomplishing tasks, or living through a difficult moment that we forget to look at God, standing right beside us...ready to take some of that load off our shoulders. 

Ready to give us the rest we so badly need. 

...but if we don’t know He’s there, how can we allow Him to bear any of the load?

It’s hard. No one, not even God, ever said life would be easy. What God did say is that He will ALWAYS be here with us; that He is in control; that He only wants what is best for us.
I don’t like to wait...I don’t know many people that do. We want answers and we want them NOW. We want our houses cleaned, our children fed, our homework finished, or trials over, our sadness removed...and we want it on our time.
It doesn’t work that way. God has a plan. We need to trust. We need to listen; to ask for help. We need to talk to God.

Be still. 

No matter how much we want to control our lives, we can’t. Quiet yourself down, take a deep breath, and hand it over.

Because God is good. All the time.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

It's The Little Things

A few weeks ago, FOCUS (high school youth group) watched a video about a woman who was labeled “the ugliest girl in the world.” It was a sad video-there was nothing funny about it. But there was a truth behind it not one of us could deny:

We have all put someone down at some point in our lives. We have all hurt someone. We have all said or done something we later regretted.

We went on to discuss how and why it is so much easier to bring others down than it is to raise them up.  We talked about possible reasons why we say and do the things we do...and then this happened:

Boy: “Hey Jamie, remember a few years ago, when you put sticky notes on the back of our shirts and we all went around and wrote nice things on each others backs?”
Me: “Yes, I remember.”
Boy: “I still have mine. Their stuck on my door…”
Multiple youth: “Yeah! I still have mine too! I look at them all the time. They make me happy.”

This was an activity that was done almost impulsively several years ago when I felt the group needed a pick-me-up. This was an activity I had forgotten about up until this point.. An activity I couldn’t believe these kids would remember.

But they did.

The little things make a difference. They make a big difference. These “little” things might be the only positive affirmation a child receives in a day...or a week…
These “little” things stick.

Kids are put down EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. We live in a culture that puts them down without even needing words.  It’s easy. It really is. And that is sad.

We aren't called to hurt one another. We are called to love one another. We are asked to love our neighbors as pick them up when they fall.

It doesn't take much. Seriously. Sticky notes. A kind word. A smile.

To you, it might be insignificant. To the person who feels broken and beaten and lost…
     It might be the world.

Take the time to think before you speak; not only how you are speaking to others, but how you are speaking ABOUT others.

Take the time to compliment someone. Say thank you. Smile. You can make a difference. It’s all about the little things.

God is good. All the time. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Learning How to Sister

12:15pm; my phone rings. I look at the caller ID-my sister. I answer. 
     "Hey Jame! I was just calling to say hi. How are you?"

We chat for a while. We hang up. It hits me. I don't remember the last time either of us called to "just say hi." Actually, I can't remember the last time we called to just say anything. 

I think I forgot how to be a sister.

There is no real reason for the separation-not like a huge fight or traumatic event or anything, anyway. We are nearly 4 years apart- we have always been different; She was super athletic, outgoing, light-hearted, and funny. I was...well, I was into hunting and fishing, but loved hair and make-up. I was more of an introvert, and somewhat serious.

I know there was jealousy-and it went both ways.  I think it's safe to say we tolerated one another-occasionally had moments of friendship-but mostly, we just shared parents. 

How does that happen? Sisters are supposed to have this lifelong bond, like, from the moment the second enters the world, it's supposed to be an amazing, magical friendship that nothing or no one can tear apart. Sisters are supposed to go to one another with every high and every low. I spent much of my life wondering why my relationship with my sister wasn't anything like this predisposed ideation I grew up believing. Why didn't I consider her my best friend? Why didn't she think of me as hers? Why were we so different? 

And then we became adults. Adults with significant others, children, careers, hobbies, friends. We lived in different cities. We had different interests. We didn't dislike one another...we just-well, we just kind of forgot about one another. Life moved along-we'd see each other on holidays and the occasional visit-but otherwise, we each did our own thing. And if I'm being honest, I think we were both fine. We cared about one another, but kind of walked our separate paths. 

A few weeks ago, I began praying in a new way. I didn't just say a random prayer at a random point in the day; I made a point to sit down and pray intentionally. During this prayer, I was thinking about my sister and our past. I thought about Philippians 3:13~

        "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." 

Suddenly, I thought, ok, so we weren't close as kids. That was a long time ago! We are adults now-adults whose brains are significantly more developed than they were back then. Adults who can embrace each other's differences and likely even find something to gain from those differences. I only have one biological sister. I only have one life. It's time to forget what's behind and focus on how much time we still have ahead of us. 

A few weeks ago, I called my sister about a race my family is running. I was checking to see if she and her daughter wanted to join us for the weekend. At one point in the conversation, I remember saying, "we are going to figure out this sister thing yet." And I believe we are. Some people tell me I "wear a lot of hats"...and they are probably right. I am a mom, wife, friend, youth pastor, fixer, builder, baker, etc...I have recently set a few hats aside for a season or two because my focus was being stretched far too thin to manage and care for each "hat." But there is a hat I need to dig out, dust off, and put back on-


It will take work, and it will take time...but like all things-anything worth having is worth working for. Because of God, it's never too late to start over; it's never too late to try again. God is grace. God is love. and God is good. All the time.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lessons Learned From My Second Grade Teacher

Not too long ago, I became Facebook friends with my second grade teacher. The last time I remember seeing her, I was probably in the 5th grade.
Technology is cool.
Mrs. R was cool. There are some teachers who just stick with you. You remember the lessons they taught, the stories they told, and the ways they helped you grow.
Mrs. R was fun and made learning fun. She encouraged and challenged and praised.
It’s funny how we don’t realize how many different people are involved in our life and faith formation until we are forced (sometimes by a Facebook friend request!) to stop and reminisce.
I went to a public school, but that didn't stop some of my most basic roots in faith from being formed, right there in my second grade classroom.
*Joy is contagious. When we are happy, and allow others to share in our joy, we are giving a gift money cannot buy. Find a reason to smile each day. Find a reason to make someone else smile each day. It will change you.
*Ask for help. Nobody can do everything alone (trust me, I have tried). Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If there is one thing I have learned (and am still working on), it is that asking for help does not make you weak. In fact, asking for help often makes you stronger. Strive to build relationships, build trust, and watch as you conquer tasks, goals, and dreams that one simply could not achieve alone.
*It’s okay to cry in front of people. Whether it’s being the new kid on the first day of school or holding back tears while reading a sweet story- Emotions are healthy and real and allow people to genuinely see us.
*Give...and I don’t mean money. Give your love. Give your time. Give your energy. Give your heart. My favorite thing about mission trips is watching youth realize they went on the trip to give (and they do-a LOT) and they expect to feel empty and drained once the trip is over...but the opposite occurs. When we give, God sees that and fills us even more full than we were before. It’s a beautiful cycle; the more you give, the more your cup will overflow.
*Perfection is impossible-Stay humble. We make mistakes and make them often. Sometimes we need others to point out our mistakes...but usually we know when we've messed up. Saying “I’m sorry” and asking forgiveness goes a long way.
*Forgive. God forgives us-fully and completely...even when we are undeserving of that grace. It is important we work hard to forgive others in the same way. Forgiveness means letting go of our right to hurt others for hurting us.
*You are special. You are loved. You are important. We need to stay true to ourselves. We need to work hard to appreciate the body and mind God gave us. Acceptance, tolerance, and understanding are beautiful things. We are all different-Let’s embrace that.

I do what I do for several reasons: I understand teenagers, I enjoy helping people, I like to create messy games and gross challenges.
My work is fulfilling and rewarding on several levels-even the late nights, tough days, and painful conversations. 
But really, I do what I do because people like Mrs. R did what they did...and I can only hope that perhaps something I have said or done will stick with some of these kids and help form and guide their lives the way Mrs. R helped form and guide mine.  
We all have the tools to make a difference. We all have the power to change a life. It is up to us to put those tools and that power to good use. There is no such thing as “too late” “too young” or “too old”-God can use you to do amazing things.
Because God is good. All the time.

Monday, November 10, 2014


"Anyone can hold a grudge, but it takes a person with character to forgive. When you forgive, you release yourself from a painful burden. Forgiveness doesn't mean what happened was OK, and it doesn't mean that person should still be welcome in your life. It just means you have made peace with the pain, and are ready to let it go."

Have you ever had to ask someone for forgiveness? Has anyone ever asked you for forgiveness?

I have experienced both. Neither were easy. Both were liberating.

Why is it so difficult to give and receive forgiveness? Is it because we are too stubborn to admit we were wrong? Is it because we are too self righteous to humble ourselves before the person we wronged? What is it?

We are called to forgive– it doesn’t matter what has been done to us, it doesn’t matter if that person even WANTS to be forgiven– we are to forgive them.

For one, God asks us to forgive because God forgives. If God is willing to forgive our sins– no matter how big or small– who are we to determine which sins committed against us are worthy of forgiveness? Are we better or more mighty than God? No. If we can’t find a way to forgive others, why should God forgive us? We are no better or worse than anyone else.

Second, by holding on to anger, sadness and pain, we are truly hurting ourselves far more than the person who wronged us.  Forgiveness is letting go of our right to hurt someone for hurting us.
It’s not about revenge, people. It’s not about holding on to forgiveness for fear of “allowing” it to happen again.

I’m not saying forget what has happened. I’m not saying get over it or even give them a second chance. All I’m saying is allow yourself the right and the freedom to forgive. Hand it to God– the anger, the sadness, allowing someone to hold you back when you are in genuine need to move forward– give it all to God.

Most of us know how difficult it is to ask for forgiveness when we have done something truly wrong. Most of us know how terrifying it is to fear our pleas will be rejected. Still we are to ask. That is all we can do. When we are genuinely sorry for our actions, and we ask forgiveness, whether the person we have wronged forgives us or not– God does. One hundred percent of the time– regardless the sin.

But I encourage you to think next time you are angry with someone. If they are truly sorry for what they have done, allow them the grace that God allows us and forgive them. If they are not sorry for what they have done, allow yourself the grace that God allows us and forgive them. You do not need to carry the burden of someone else’s wrongdoings. God is big enough and strong enough and capable enough to take it all. Take a deep breath and say, “I forgive you” out loud– whether you mean it or not– every day, and it will happen.  

Because God is good. All the time.

Monday, November 3, 2014

God's Will, Not Mine

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~Jeremiah 29:11

The other day, I asked my daughter to pick up her toys off the living room floor so no one would step or trip on them. She responded, “NO! I’m NOT going to do it!”

Wow, this, from a normally kind, gentle, well-behaved child! What’s the deal? I thought.
My request wasn't that big, and it certainly wasn't cause for that kind of response.

“Why aren't you going to clean up the floor?” I asked.
She replied, “I just want to play outside. And if we’re outside, no one will step on or trip over the toys anyway.”


However, I had more than one reason for wanting her to pick up her toys-responsibility, ownership, leadership, following directives, etc.

So I asked again.

How many times does God have to ask us to do something before we finally give in and do it? Often times, we feel a “pull” or “push” from God and we do the same thing my daughter did; we throw a little tantrum of our own. We tell God we don’t feel like it. We tell God we will do it later. We ignore that God might have more than the one obvious reason for asking us to do something.
It’s easy for us to want to control our own lives. It’s easy to think we know what is best for ourselves and our children. We are wrong.

God only wants what is best for us, and even when situations don’t end as we expect-God is there, still guiding us, still knowing and understanding far more than our mind’s capabilities.

Perhaps, my daughter’s tantrum is a good lesson for all of us. We, as adults, clearly see the benefits of cleaning up her toys. We understand things she won’t even have the capabilities to understand for several years. We only want what is best for our children. And God only wants what is best for us.

Sometimes, God has to make a request multiple times. Sometimes, God has to rephrase the question. God loves us beyond any love we can understand. God knows what is best for us even when it doesn't make sense at the time. It may take months, or even years for our choices to make sense-and to be quite honest-some of our choices may not ever make sense and might not ever seem to pay off...but we know there is more than we can understand. We know that God’s plan is MUCH bigger than ours, and we know that

God is good. All the time.