PASTORAL PONDERINGS - June 2017

Exceedingly Abundant

Abundance verses scarcity. We live in a society which feeds on our fear and insecurities, and continues to try to convince us that we don't have enough, or that we aren't enough. Bombarded every single day with commercials which tell us we aren't happy until we look younger, have more things, bigger cars and homes, and the newest in technology. All of them are meant to get under our skin and continue to tell us we aren't enough.

But as Easter people, we are supposed to know better than this. We are supposed to know that we don't need any of those things, that who we are, and whose we are, is enough – no matter what the people in power, or those who think they are in power, say. God gives us everything we need, exactly when we need it. And when we remember that our lives are overflowing with blessings, we can't help but become grateful. And grateful people are filled with hope, faith, and love. How do I know? How does the song go? Because "the Bible tells me so".

We have been a family with one income for a year now. We understand that starting a new business takes time, but often times I find myself getting impatient and scared that we aren't going to be able to make ends meet. When I get to this place, God has a way of reminding me that, although we don't have as much as we used to, we still have more than 2/3 of the people on this planet. A roof over our heads, three vehicles (even though only two of them are running right now), healthcare insurance, food enough to eat as many meals as we want, heat when it's cold and a/c when it's hot. Those things alone make us rich. And sometimes we just need to be reminded of that.

Like me, our world is in need of this message. Day after day I hear people who are afraid because they don't have enough. This fear has permeated every single space on this planet, and I believe it's time to dispel that fear. This summer I want to do something different. Each week, instead of following the Revised Common Lectionary like I normally do, I will be preaching a common theme: ABUNDANCE. I will pick scripture which reminds us that ours is a God who wants to give to us everything we need, and then some.

I invite you to join us this summer in worship at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings (and three Saturday evenings – June 24, July 22, and August 26 at 5:00 p.m.), as we remember to recognize the abundance in our lives, and celebrate the one who gives us all we need.

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - May 2017

Keep Calm

"Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to GOD, your God. Don't do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days GOD made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; God rested on the seventh day. Therefore GOD blessed the Sabbath day; and set it apart as a holy day." ~ Exodus 20:8-11

In the life of the church, the stretch of time between the beginning of Advent and the end of Easter isn't all that long in terms of days. But it is packed with so many things, including lots of extra preparation for extra services and programming. While I have been fairly good about keeping my hours under 45/week, this year, I made a mistake – a pastoral faux pau, if you will. I didn't take any time off following Christmas to rejuvinate myself – to recharge my battery. While this may not seem like a big deal, it is.

Being willing to work hard is a wonderful trait to have, until we forget to rest. A colleague once told me that our Spirit will find a way to make us rest, if we don't take that time. Unfortunately, that usually comes in the form of a breakdown in our health. But keeping Sabbath is difficult for me. While I am all about rest, I often find myself feeling like I should be working. This is not healthy, nor is it biblical.

The Bible says "For in six days, God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them, God rested on the seventh day". I can totally understand how tired God must have felt after creating order out of chaos. I struggle with working, scouting, baseball, cello lessons, concerts, plays, trap meets, and everything I am missing! And Sundays? Half the time I find myself falling asleep at the lunch table!

We live in a society where we define ourselves by what we do. The more we do, the more we are liked, the more "successful" we are, and the further up the ladder we will climb. But the thing our society forgets, is that, while having a good work ethic is important, so is rest.

Many of you know this, but I was diagnosed with narcolepsy when I was 21 years old. The most noticable symptom of this disease is excessive daytime sleepiness. My body, when I am stationary too long, will just fall asleep. I don't get a say in it, it just does it. And trust me, it is very embarrassing when you fall asleep in the middle of a conversation. About 10 years after I was diagnosed, at my annual checkup with the neurologist, she asked me what I was doing to help curb some of the daytime sleepiness. I said I would take a nap every once in a while. She said that wasn't enough. She said that even a 10-15 minute power nap would refresh my body enough to keep it going longer, and without them, I would continue to struggle. She then pulled out her tablet, and actually wrote me a prescription to take a nap 1-2 times a day! Permission to rest – what a novel concept!

Except it isn't really all that novel. Thousands of years ago, a man with a stutter climbed a mountain, stayed a while in the presence of God, and then came down the mountain with two stone tablets which held 10 instructions on how to be in relationship with one another and with God – and one of them said "REST"!

While I am able to take a nap each day, I often wonder about friends and others who have to work two and three jobs because they are trying to make ends meet. When do they rest? Look around, I would bet there are more people than you realize who are not observing the Sabbath, not because they don’t want to, but because they need to make money in order to put food on the table and shelter over their families heads. What can you say to those who need rest? As Easter people, what is our role to ensure that all people are provided with the opportunity to take their Sabbath time, and not have to worry about working on that seventh day? How can we help our neighbors receive the rest they so desperately need?

I am blessed to have the opportunity to rest a short time each day. And I am so grateful to each of you for your dedication and hard work which you so willingly give every ministry here at Faith UCC. And while it is holy work, let us remember that the instruction to observe our rest time comes from God.

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - April 2017

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" ~ 2 Corinthians 5:16

IrisAs I write this, it is the first full day of Spring. It is the season where the days grow longer, the sun shines warmer, the grass turns a bright green, and the trees and flowers (and some animals!) wake up from their long winter naps. The whole world is teeming with new life, in one shape or another. Spring is the time of year long awaited by many who are tired of the darker, colder days of winter. Out of the old, God creates something new.

This is true in the areas of our lives that are filled with hurt, pain, loss, and grief. Out of these things, our broken relationships, the sadness and grief of our losses, and our pain, God reveals new life in ways that we cannot anticipate. And in a world where violence, hate, and exclusion are not only normal, but accepted, this is good news.

When something bad happens, we open a door of opportunity for God to enter, to pick up the pieces, and build something new. It's like the child who spends an hour building a tall tower with Legos, only to knock it down a few moments after being finished, all so they could start all over.

But what about other times? Like when we know we need to let go of a bad habit, or change our perspective on a story, or give up a part of our deeply engrained belief system? If we intentionally choose to let go of these old ideas, God will fashion new life out of them.

Making new out of the old is God's specialty. It started with creation when God took chaos, and put order to it. God separated light and dark, made the animals, created humans from DIRT, and then breathed life into them. Old dirt, new life. God continues to do this throughout history.

When Jesus died on the cross and was buried in the tomb, nobody on earth had a clue that there was something new in the works. All they knew was that their leader, teacher, and friend, was gone. And then, on the third day………new life!

Do you have areas of your life that could use a breath of fresh air? Where could you use some Spring Cleaning from God – taking away the old, and making something sparkling new?

Of course new anything can be scary! It's because new is unknown, that's what makes it new. But friends, when that new comes from God, we will not be disappointed. It may not look anything like it did before, but because it comes the one who fashioned human life from breathing into a dirt form, it can't help but be good!

So go on! Say YES! to the new, and enjoy!

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - March 2017

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…..." ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11a

The Power of Words

"Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it."

I'm fed up! I’m tired of hearing people call each other horrible things, and of hearing people spread half or full out lies about each other. I thought it was bad during the campaign, but that has nothing on what I am hearing now. Each side has part of the truth, and each side has their nasty natures. I'm fed up with all of it!

So, what's a pastor to do? This pastor chooses to return to the Bible. I think I have spent more time in prayer and in the Word in the last month than any time during my 44 years of life. And maybe that's what this is about. Returning to our energy source, our Creator, the one who should be our center. Maybe the rest of it is just distraction; intentional chaos to draw us away from God. Regardless of what is going on, our focus needs to turn back to God, and living a Godly life; one of forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love. (Remember that whole "Love your neighbor as yourself"thing?)

But how? Language, that's how. Many of us can't help but talk – even though we should be listening. So, when we talk, our language should be words which build up, not words meant to tear down. I said on Scout Sunday, that it only takes one. One person can make a difference. And using language which builds up is a wonderful place to start.

In our society, we aren't very good at doing this. Or at least, we aren't always intentional about building one another up. In fact, social media has made it easy for us to be nasty to one another, sharing our negative energy with countless people, just by the press of a button. And in this time of fear and chaos, being intentional about building one another up is, and will continue to be, a vital part of spreading God’s love and light.

In less than a week, we will be holding our Ash Wednesday worship service, marking the beginning of our journey through Lent. During this Lenten season, the theme of our Soup and Conversations on Wednesday evenings will be “Letting Go.”

One of the things we will talk about letting go is our old ideas. In our tradition, often times we choose to give things up for Lent. For many years, I would give up chocolate and ice cream. But this year, I would like to encourage, and for some, challenge, us to "let go" of using language which tears down, and instead, choose to be intentional about building one another up using our words.

So, I am going to "borrow" (with permission!) an idea that I came across when we attended worship with David's sister and her family while on vacation in Montana last summer.

There will be a basket set on the table in the narthex with cards which will read Encourage One Another. I invite you to fill them out, and either give it directly to the person whom you are wanting to build up, or bring it to me, and I can give it to them. I can even place them in the newsletter, if you would like! Maybe you want to thank someone for a kind deed they did for you, or for someone else. Maybe it’s an encouraging word to help someone through a tough time. Or, maybe you like what they are wearing that day! Whatever it is, in this world of chaos and words of tearing down, let’s be intentional in spreading the light and love of God.

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - February 2017

Lord is My Light

" Light, space, zest—that's GOD! So, with God on my side I'm fearless, afraid of no one and nothing.”~ Psalm 27:1 (The Message Bible)

I feel like I have done a lot of preaching on the topic of fear in the recent months. Chalk it up to whatever you would like, but hardly a day goes by where I don't have a conversation which involves someone being afraid of something. Fear is real, it is everywhere, and if we let it, can render us immoveable.

With the advancement of technology moving at breakneck speed, we find ourselves bombarded by stories from around the world 24/7; most of them horror stories. For whatever reason, we seem to be drawn to these stories, and as we continue to watch, we allow fear to overpower us.

Because of this, I would like to invite you all to a retreat which will be held on February 4 from 9:30-4:00 at the Cedar Falls UCC in Cedar Falls, Iowa, called "Here Be Dragons".

Together, we will explore one of the dragons of our lives: fear. Where does it come from? What impact does it have on the community, on our society? What is the relationship between fear and faith? How do we cope with the awful fears that threaten to paralyze us, that suck the joy from our lives?

Sometimes we need to learn how to live without fear. Sometimes we need to learn how to live with fear. Together we will discover tools which will help us.

The cost is a free will offering, with lunch and snacks provided. If you are interested, please contact me by Monday, January 30. And if you are unable to go, no worries! I am confident we will have a discussion or two on what is learned!

God promises to walk with us, and never leave our side. And with God at our side, we need not be afraid. Yes, fear is real, but we don’t have to be afraid of it. We can acknowledge it, and then work with it. And when we trust in the promise that God is with us, who knows what new things are possible!

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - January 2017

Christmas Candles

"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising." ~ Isaiah 60:1-3

Some of you know that I am an early riser. I like to be up and ready before everyone else in the house. I love this time because it is quiet; it is one of the times I intentionally listen for the still small voice of God.

Because I am up so early, especially during this time of year, the earth is blanketed by the indigo of twilight. Eventually, the darkness gives way to the sunlight, and the sky goes from the blue/purple/indigo to orange/red/pink.

While I love this time of day, there are many who dread the darkness before the sun makes its way over the horizon. Maybe it's because they are afraid of the dark, and the light can't come fast enough. Maybe it's because the thought of having to face yet another day is unbearable. Maybe it's because they just aren't morning people.

This year, we held our first Blue Christmas service on December 21, because it is the longest night of the year. A Blue Christmas service allows space for us to remember and recognize that the Advent and Christmas season isn’t always filled with the joy and fun that society says it should be. Sometimes in our lives we just feel blue, and many times, this happens around the holidays. And the fact that the day which has the most amount of darkness of the year falls during this time, doesn’t help.

But there is good news that comes with this longest day, and that is that every day following it – up until June 21 – the darkness slowly gives way to more and more light.

The Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons are all about light. We light candles every week in worship to celebrate the flicker of hope, peace, joy, love, which Jesus brings with his birth. Christmas comes with the story of the light that shone from the chorus of angels, and Epiphany brings with it the light from the brightest star, leading the Magi to the little baby. And Jesus himself is the "Light of the World".

In the darkest of night, in the lowest valleys imaginable, God is with us. God is that flicker of light which shines so we can know we aren't alone. Sometimes, it's hard to see it – but if you look closely enough, you will find it. And if you can look into the inviting glow, you will find the peace and comfort you seek.

There is so much going on in this world, and the darkness seems to be winning over the light. But here is the good news, friends – scripture tell us that won’t happen:

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." ~ John 1:5./p>

Each one of us carries the light of God in us, and it is our job to let that light shine so that others may see it, and believe.

"You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Creator in heaven." ~ Matthew 5:14-16

In these seasons which are filled with light, may you find the light within you, and shine it for the world to see – shine it so that the darkness cannot overcome it.

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC