Saturday, September 2, 2017

Crossroads by John Chatburn

When you stand at a crossroads in life, knowing that a step in any direction will lead down paths not previously travel, it can be scary.  Two years ago I found myself at such a crossroads.  I made the decision to ask for a leave of absence from church employment and go back to school to study urban planning. It wasn’t a decision that I came to quickly, but one that I discerned over a number of months.
            It was terrifying because all I had ever really wanted to do was to work for the church.  Going back to school was the first step in a journey that led me down a path that led away from my life long desire to work for the church.  It may seem weird that I wanted to step away from the thing that I had desired most of my life.  Life decisions aren’t always rational, because they are made with the heart and the head, but I knew that even if I stayed in my role with the church, life would not be the same. 
            The past two years I have met people that have made my life fuller, richer, and better.  I can’t imagine life without them just as I can’t imagine life without the people whom I am so richly blessed because of my connection in the church.  The God that traveled with me as I traveled across large chunks of the Western United States for the church also traveled with me into graduate school and into a new profession. 
We are each in charge of our own happiness.  There are a lot of voices in our world that attempt to articulate what will make us happy.  I think that is really only a question that can be answered when you examine your life and figure out what points towards more joy, more love, not just for you, but for your community as well. 
I found happiness working for a group that develops affordable housing for vulnerable populations across the state of Washington.  That doesn’t mean that each day I leave work with a smile on my face, but I do know the work that I do points towards a better world and brings me fulfillment.  It is also work that is consistent with my priesthood calling to the office of Bishop to be a minister of economic justice for the marginalized in our communities. 
            There are no easy answers when you find yourself at a crossroads.  Sometimes when we want so desperately for God to tell us which way to go it can seem like God is silent.  Perhaps God is waiting for us to take a step so God can walk with us.


Friday, August 4, 2017

God Loves Without Expectation by Lavera Wade

A few months back I read the book “The Shack”.  Amazing story, I was deeply touched by the words God loves without expectation.  My first thought after reading these words were, of course, that’s it.
So a couple of nights after finishing the book, and I could not stop thinking about how God loves us.  I have said my prayers and am just drifting off to sleep and I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of how much I love God.  I understand the words, with all my heart, and soul, and might, with every cell in my body.  It is wonderful. 
We talk a lot about how much God loves us.  We fill our prayers with pleas for ourselves and others for healing and peace and guidance knowing because he loves us he hears us.  But what do we do with our love for God
I want to do something with all this love I have for God.  So I try to love without expectation.  Oh boy, loving perfectly without expectation is going to take some practice.  I have come to see each person as Gods precious child so we have a start, but my tiny human mind just jumps in there with my idea about what would make them just perfect.   
Jesus brought the good news that God’s blessing is on the Poor in Spirit, the ones who do not have it all together.  And here I am battling with my idea of how someone should be perfect.  Do I have a lot to learn about God’s love.
I have spent a few days searching the internet for others thoughts on loving God.  There is a lot of talk about evil and sin, and I can see how it is important to put the love of God first, and that love will work as a shield against temptation.
I am looking more for how to love God by loving others. 
I read a lot of Rob Bells work, in his book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God”, he talks about gospel.  To quote ”Gospel is the shocking , provocative, revolutionary, subversive, counterintuitive good news that at your greatest moments  despair,  failure, sin, weakness, losing, failing, frustration, inability, helplessness, wandering and falling short.  God meets you there- right there-in that place and announces “I am on your side”.  That has been true for me.
So how do I start to learn to love others like that?
Every journey begins with a first step and I believe I have taken it.  I suspect I might begin with believing how precious I am, just as I am.
 I suspect that has something to do with really seeing how precious we all are.
I am excited about this journey and look forward to sharing more with you as I grow in the love of God.
May God Bless you and all you.   

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 NRSV by Lori Martell

16 ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’*

25 At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank* you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.* 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

   The scripture passage for today reminds us of Jesus’ humanness as he expresses his frustration at people’s lack of understanding, and then his grace as he invites people to rest in him.  We also sometimes fail to understand how to truly emulate Jesus in our lives, and, yet, he still welcomes us into his waiting embrace. 

  We each need a regular reminder of Verses 28-30:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

   This isn’t simple platitude to give us a fleeting sweet warm fuzzy.  This is a heartfelt invitation to let Christ be our safe place in the midst of the storms of life, and to let Christ reorient us when we lose our way. This passage also provides wise counsel for us to take care of ourselves, to seek rest when we are depleted.

   Spend a few minutes exploring Matthew 11:28-30.  We’ll do this in two stages, first a confession, then a celebration. 

Confession time:

Explore with your group this question, “When have you resisted resting physically, spiritually, or emotionally, and how did that go for you?”

Celebration time:

Explore with your group this question, “Being weary or burdened, when have you rested in the Spirit and how did that change your state of being?”

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This scripture is particularly meaningful to me because there have been times in my life I was desperately in need of rest.  Probably the most extreme example came when I was trying to recover from Lyme disease.  Until that point in my life I didn’t really know I had limits.  But then my 30s happened and I found myself fighting for my life. 

I had a complicated case of Lyme that wasn’t diagnosed until I had it for a year or two.  I would improve and then relapse again.  I was exhausted, couldn’t think straight, and was unable to read for pleasure.  I had terrible joint pain and body aches.  At my worst I needed to sleep 16 hours per day.  Eventually, I found myself working at an integrative medical center in Washington DC.  There I ran the practice of one of the preeminent Lyme doctors in the country.  He figured out why I wasn’t healing and came up with a treatment plan that worked.  The treatment, while it worked, took its toll on me.  I didn’t use wisdom and failed to rest even through weeks of daily intravenous antibiotic infusions.  I never missed a day of work.  I never took a break.  I just kept pushing beyond my limits until the candle I was burning at both ends melted in the middle. 

I had to quit my job and we moved from DC to co-house with my parents in the lovely North Georgia Mountains where my family gave me a generous gift of a year off.  After six or seven years of illness, I gave myself the space to finish healing and God met me in that space.  I rested in the Spirit, sometimes laying in the woods right on the ground and just soaking up all that peace.  My hymns were birdsong and the gurgle of cascading streams.  The lush greenery of the mountains spoke to me of the life-giving power of God.  I truly let myself rest and my body, mind and soul responded by healing.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Let us pray,

Dear God, Here are your people.  Some of us are weary; and some are burdened with heavy hearts and concerns.  Help us turn to you and trust you and listen to the counsel your still, small voice whispers to our souls.  Gather us in to the safety of your embrace and give us rest.  Give us peace that we may walk with a lighter step and walk even closer with you throughout our week.  In Jesus’ name, Amen

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Our Heavenly Father’s Eyes Are Always Upon Us – Wherever We Are By Joachim (Joe) Stephan

I shared in previous blogs that as a young man – fervently seeking for God’s presence in our times – had an experience that confirmed for me that God speaks today. Not that he still speaks today – but that he has spoken in all ages. That was my first encounter with the presence of the Lord in my life. The year was 1954. The place was Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

I also shared how my Heavenly Father led me to a Godly family when I least expected it – the Stewart and Maxine Wight family.  When I was young airman stationed on the island of Taiwan I was uniquely led to them and was looked after and given council by them in a most unexpected time and place. That was my second encounter with the presence of the Lord. The year was 1956. The place was the capital city of Taipei.

After initially finding the church in Montgomery, Alabama I found myself in 1954 assigned by the US Air Force to Japan. I soon found the small group of church members in Tokyo and worshipped/fellowshipped with them every other Sunday. There I soon asked for baptism.  The leader of the mission was Carl Crum who worked in the American embassy. He guided me in the study of the church and how it began and what we believed. Then – on December 4, 1954 he baptized me in a Seventh Day Adventist Church whose pastor had kindly made their baptismal fount available. I had become the first member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that had been baptized in Japan. Imagine – a young man born in Germany and now baptized in Japan!

I visited with Carl Crum and his hospitable wife often in order to learn more about the church and what its member believed. But in May 1955 I was suddenly (and secretly) sent to the island of Taiwan to assist the National Chinese Army and Air Force in the installation and use of radio equipment all over Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands. It was during that time that I became “lost” to the church until our Heavenly Father directed another member of the church who was also stationed in Taiwan – to find me. You will find that account in my earlier blog.

I returned to the United States in May 1956 and since that time found myself and soon my wife to be in churches in Montgomery, Alabama, Evergreen, Alabama, Pensacola, Florida,  Oak Ridge Tennessee, Columbus, Ohio, Mansfield, Ohio and finally in Richland, Washington. We were privileged to attend several World Conferences. When in Ohio we had frequent visits to the Kirtland Temple and on one occasion I had the privilege of marrying a couple in the Temple – the last such event to be allowed to be performed there.

It was around 1979 when we were worshipping in the Richland Congregation that I shook hands on Sunday after church services with our Patriarch – Lloyd Whiting. I had given the sermon that day and spoke of the time when I joined the church in Japan.  Brother Whiting was in his seventies then and walked forward leaning because his back hurt. To reduce his discomfort he would usually prop himself against the door post at the back of the church to greet people. That day when I shook his hand, he asked me: “Did you ever hear the story of Carl Crum?” I confessed that I did not. Actually I did not even know that Brother Whiting knew Carl Crum.  He continued: during the mid-1920s Brother Carl Crum had been called to be an appointee in the RLDS Church. However he had barely entered that service when the Great Depression “hit”. Reluctantly, the church leadership had to dismiss Brother Crum.  Carl Crum was understandably unhappy about his dismissal – so soon after he accepted his appointment. In response to his dismissal he quit attending church in defiance – for several years.
It was not until the mid- thirties that Brother Carl and his wife again felt a hunger for the fellowship of the “Saints” as they were called then. They chose Silver Lake reunion in the hope that nobody would know them there.

So it was that they attended a morning prayer service at the reunion. As they had hoped nobody seemed to know them there.  But the Lord knew where his son and daughter were as they soon found out.  There was a young couple there who had come grief stricken to the reunion.  They had just lost their little boy who had been killed in a roadway by an automobile.  It was sometime during the prayer service when the little boy’s father – knowing nothing about the Crums stood up and pointed across the aisle at Brother Crum and spoke under the influence of the Spirit: “Thus sayeth the Spirit:  “Unless you - Son of Man - repent and rejoin the fellowship of the Saints you will lift your eyes in hell with regret. I command you to return to the flock. There are those souls who live now and there are those yet to come who await your ministry!” (I cannot vouch for each word but the part about “lifting his eyes in hell with regret” and “those souls who await your ministry” I will always remember.)

I stood there stunned looking at Brother Whiting. I knew then that I had been one of those souls whose life had been touched by Brother Crum’s ministry because he obeyed the Lord.  And I remember the Sunday when I stood in the baptismal font in Tokyo, Japan with him and heard the words, “Having been commissioned by Jesus Christ …….!” He remained faithful to his commission all his life after that fateful encounter with God’s presence.  My life among many were touched by his faithfulness. Not only his faithfulness but his companion wife’s as well.
On my business trips I usually travelled through Seattle. On those occasions I tried several times to phone Brother Crum in Seattle. My only regret was that I never reached him. But I will always remember Brother Whiting’s story of him and the times we were together in Japan.

Friday, April 28, 2017

JESUS IS THE WAY By Seventy Gil Martell of Billings, MT

Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, truth, and the life,” (John 14:6).  To be disciples of Jesus means to do that which Jesus did, and to imitate Jesus in all we do.  Jesus offered God’s generosity of Grace through compassion, love, validation, and forgiveness.   Jesus taught reconciliation and other positive ways of making the safety and welfare of others a life priority.

We are who we are today because we are shaped within the context of all our life experiences and influences, both good and bad.  If we do not question the way of things, it is all too easy to blindly react to life circumstances or allow unjust assumptions to manipulate our behavior.  Our culture tends toward obsessive individualism, but Jesus promoted community.  Our political system seems to value only the rich and powerful, but Jesus was concerned with the needs of everyone. 

I do not think of myself as an unkind person, but the more I try to emulate Jesus the more I realize that discipleship is a constant journey of growth, evaluation, and discovery.  Trying to see through Jesus’ eyes, I realize there are times when I have built walls of isolation from others or I have treated others in unkind ways or I have refused to give of myself when I should. 

Jesus gave his all for us.  We too must give our all for each other.  To be like Jesus is to be here for each other.  Serving others has a liberating effect on our hearts.  We are blessed with Christ’s peace, no longer a slave to fear, hate, and selfishness.   Serving others breaks down walls of  judgment, condemnation, and unfair expectations. 

The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.  Jesus took on this responsibility to show us the way to live according to divine principles.  He pushed back against society’s unjust ways and promoted peace, hope, joy and love.  Jesus’ life was not just about what he did for us, but what he called us to be.  He lived his mission as our example.  It is our responsibility to make Christ’s mission our mission.  

In other words, we fall short of fully understanding the life and sacrifice of Jesus if we assume that once we accept the grace of God then nothing else is required of us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, explores the concept of Costly Grace.  To follow Jesus means to love God with all we are and to turn that divine love outward into the world.  We accept Grace and then we share that Grace with others.  It takes faith and courage to walk in Jesus’ footsteps; it costs us something.  Thankfully, the rewards of discipleship far outweigh the costs.

Recently, I was driving past a church with a marquis that managed to sum up Jesus as the Way in only eight words, “Jesus loved us so we can love others.” 

Friday, March 17, 2017

God’s Spirit Whooshed Through the Pines by Brad Martell

It was a couple of days before the Community of Christ Cromberg, California Family Camp.  Lori and I flew into Sacramento earlier to spend time with our friends Ruth and Mike Seagraves and their family, before we all packed into the cars and headed off to camp together.  Ruth was the director and had asked Lori and I to be guest ministry for the week.  Lori and I were excited to experience a new campground and family camp, spend time with cousins who would be there, and share in ministry. 

As we were sitting around talking and laughing, Mike told us that their middle daughter was going to be baptized during camp by her grandma (Mike’s mom).  This just added to the anticipation and joy of the coming week.  For the baptize Mike was going to play guitar and sing, but was not finding the right song.  Lori asked if he knew the song “O Sun” by Peter Mayer (www.petermayer.net).  Mike loved it and began writing out the music and learning to play it.  Now the house was filled with Mike strumming a few chords, the scratch of his pencil on the paper, more strumming, humming 
. . . by the end of the day he could play it by heart.

At Cromberg campground they have an outside baptism fount.  It is up the hill from the cabins and tucked underneath towering pine trees.  When the time came for the baptism service the camp made its way up the hill gathering around the fount.  Warm sunlight filtered down through the still pines.  Bird song and twitters gave welcome to the sacred moment.  Beginning with hymns we joined our voices with the avian choir in that church of pines. 

As granddaughter and grandma descended into the pool of water, Mike began to play “O Sun.”  The song is about being filled by the sun, wine, and wind.  The lyrics express sacramental language of asking to be filled by life, strength, and breathe.  And to help us shine, to be opened-wide, and to pour forth the same life and love we receive from God through blessings of community, unity in diverse, sacredness of creation, and worth of all persons.

During the second verse of the song that asks “O wind, come fill me” a gust of wind whoosh through the pines surprising us all.  At the end of the verse the wind was gone.  As Mike finished the song, I looked at him and his face was just radiating with the huge bewildered smile that seemed to ask the same question I was pondering: “Did that really happen?”

When the service was over some of us practically sprinted down the hill to download the video that was taken of the baptism onto a laptop.  We hit “play” in wonder and anticipation.  “Did that really happen?”  It did!  That gift of gusting wind filled the pines, filled Mike’s and Ruth’s daughter, filled all of us with God’s Spirit in that sacramental moment. 

This was a baptism experience I will not forget as God’s Spirit whooshed through the pines! 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Lost and Found by Dodie Gregory

Possibly my story may have a familiar ring to some reading this………………..or not.
Due to a devoted mother I was raised in the church through childhood.  I even have a perfect attendance Sunday school sticker book.  I was baptized at 8 years of age and proceeded to embarrass my mom with my giggle attack during confirmation.  After graduating from high school and going off to nursing school, where I had no RLDS classmates and worked weekends, I slowly slipped away.  I married a Lutheran and neither of us pursued a spiritual path.  We had 2 children and occasionally took them to church. The effort was small.
Not to say I didn’t continue to recognize God in my life—there were just other distractions.  Actually I carried guilt along the way.  I drove by our church everyday going to and from work, but couldn’t bring myself to even look at it.
Brothers and Sisters from church extended an invite for years, as did my Mom, but of course I had other things to do.
OH! And I kept promising God I would be back but right then wasn’t a good time for me. By then the guilt was so strong that I felt ashamed to face my congregation.
So if all this applies to you, then you too have been found or else you wouldn’t be reading this.
SOOOO….finally God had enough of my excuses.  This is how it went down.
I’m just minding my own business one Saturday morning and out of nowhere I hear a voice saying “YOU ARE GOING TO CHURCH TOMORROW”.  That was it, no angels singing, no brilliant white blinding lights, no euphoria.  I looked around, no one there, and again, “YOU ARE GOING TO CHURCH TOMORROW”.  Having been steeped in being obedient, I went to the phone called my mother and asked her if she was going to church tomorrow?  She said, “Are you?” Me, ”yes, I’ll pick you up”.  And my life changed.
The congregation was awesome, no judging, no condemnation.  Just loving. I tease them to this day when I tell them I didn’t feel worthy to be in their presence but found out they are sinners just like me.
It’s been a journey but since we are human and live on earth, there are still ups and downs, challenges and rewards.   I’m no different than any of you but am blessed that God loved me so much that he gave me that extra nudge one Saturday morning.
Forever blessed and loved