Weekend Glimpses of Grace: Day 10-11

+Acts 6:8-10 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Stephen… when I think of him, images of his brutal death and his place as a martyr fill my mind. We remember Stephen as the early deacon in Jerusalem who faced punishment for perceived blasphemy. But this Lenten season, I encountered Stephen again in a new way. He speaks boldly to his community. He trusts the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen him as he shares his vision.
Stephen begins by reviewing history. He tells the story of our ancestors and past leaders. Then, Stephen offers up a new perspective about God, Christ and the kingdom. While he honors Moses and the scriptures that presently mark his community, he also proclaims that God is still speaking. God will do a new thing in the future. The leaders of the day punish him for this proclamation.
Isn’t this still true today, even now? There are those who will say that the Bible is only literally true. We should take scripture exactly as it’s written and close the book.
But what if God is still shaping and creating and nudging the world forward in new ways? For example, Christ’s ministry included drastic acts of inclusion. Imagine the shock of bystanders in Matthew 8 when Jesus reaches out to touch the man with leprosy to heal him.

Today, we do not see lepers on the streets begging for mercy, but is God still revealing new communities that long for compassion and justice around us? And, if we speak out about these new frontiers for justice- do we risk judgment from our peers?

I’m looking at Stephen in a new way this Lenten season… I’m listening carefully to his voice, and I’m praying for the strength of the Holy Spirit, so that I too can speak up about the new ways God might be nudging us into the future.


Glimpses of Grace: Day 9

+ Acts 6:1-7 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

I’m writing this reflection from a bottom bunk bed in the middle of Arkansas. I spent the day trust-falling from a 5 foot platform and walking on a wire trapeze 3 feet off the ground- among other challenging activities. I’m on a 2 day retreat at Team Trek with my 30+ New Memphis Institute classmates and we are learning all about trust and teamwork. This weekend has deeply impacted my life already.

The passage above, from Acts chapter 6 describes the number of disciples increasing.

I love this text because it reveals so much to us about our roots and our origins.

But today- the most significant themes that stand out to me from this passage are: team and trust.

To grow a mission and vision, we must build a strong team to share the investment and responsibility. To build a team- we must start with trust.

Today- between physical challenges and exercises ‘outside our comfort zones’ we talked about the principals of trust.

We explored trust through experiential learning at Team Trek. Experiential learning has 2 major components:

1) You must take a healthy risk; have an experience

2) you must ask questions about the experience:
-what happened?
– so what?
– now what?

After falling backwards into the arms of my classmates and testing all of my comfort zones- I learned do much about my ability to have an impact through leadership. I learned that I need to jump in and participate even when I don’t have it all figured out. I need to offer what I can- even if I cannot solve the issue at hand. Above all, I need to trust my colleagues and friends.

Today, we spent a lot of time studying trust. Trustworthiness is made up of 4 components:

1) integrity- you do what you say you will do

2) intent- your motives are clear and honorable

3) capabilities- skills and knowledge of these skills

4)results- produce what you set out to create

Every minute of this experience in the Arkansas wilderness the past two days remind me that I must learn to trust- so that I can collaborate effectively.

At the end if this long day if stretching and learning- I was selected to climb a 40 foot wall with 2 blindfolded team members tied to my belt.

At the base if the climbing wall, I cried. It felt like a fist clenched my chest and heart as I prepared for this task. I filled with doubt, dread, anxiety and, well, mistrust of myself and others.

But with encouraging shouts from my teammates below- I climbed… All the way to the top of that wall… With my blindfolded team members tied next to me.

Today challenged me to my core. I leaned so much about the importance of trust and teamwork. And I also learned that we cannot thrive alone.

Just like the first disciples- we must push ourselves to the very limits to learn about teamwork, collaboration, and trust.

To build a ministry and to reach for the kingdom, we must all be prepared to work closely together, even if it means tying fellow disciples to our belts for the climb.

Glimpses of Grace: Day 8

+ Acts 5:12-16 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.

Yesterday, I sat at the bedside of one of my sweetest congregants in the hospital. He broke his neck in a bad fall. I brought him a prayer shawl from our church. I said a prayer for healing and love to cover him.

When I showed up- he told me his story and I listened intently. I saw his spirit gain strength as we spoke. I witnessed an increase in his endurance as we prayed. I watched his eyes light up as he clung to the prayer shawl.

I could not perform any signs or miracles like the first disciples in chapter 5 of Acts. However- I began to see that there is power in a collective approach to healing.

We were all meant to draw near to one another in this life- to face challenges, pains and joy together.

None of us were born fully assembled. Instead- we need one another. We must rely on our community and our neighbors.

Instead if hiding our afflictions and suffering in our own private world- we should bring our needs and our longings to the streets. If we open up to one another, we may find new hope in the shadows of our friends as they surround us.

Glimpses of Grace: Day 7

Week of Compassion

+ Acts 4:32-35 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

In our Disciples Churches across the country and the world, we designated this time as our “Week of Compassion.”

I first learned about Week of Compassion 2 years ago at a workshop focused on Community Organizing- and sponsored by Week of Compassion. I fell deeply in love with this organization. The mission statement for Week of Compassion is:

Week of Compassion is the relief, refugee and development mission fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. We seek to equip and empower disciples to alleviate the suffering of others through disaster response, humanitarian aid, sustainable development and the promotion of mission opportunities.

Week of Compassion offers assistance to devastated and struggling communities across the world. This organization changes lives and restores hope for so many of our global brothers and sisters. I trust the work of Week of Compassion because of their faithful leaders and clear vision. I also trust their Stewardship. Week of Compassion puts $0.94 of every dollar donated directly into active ministry- not administrative or staff costs.

A few years ago, my husband and I decided to host an “Instead of a Birthday Party” to mark his 33rd year. We invited 60+ people to our home and we asked our guests to avoid buying cards or gifts for Andrew, and instead, making a $15 donation to our newly established Named Fund at Week of Compassion. We raised nearly $2500 in one night. We called this event “Cheers for Compassion.”

The spirit behind this gathering acknowledged that we rich Americans already have everything we need and more. But we have neighbors near and far who struggle, who thirst, who are hungry, and who lack shelter. We must never deafen our ears to the sound of our brothers and sisters crying out from the Wilderness for mercy and assistance.

The scripture from Acts today pierces my heart- because it reminds me that I cling to my privilege and my abundance even in a world where members of my family in Christ are in need.

This is our “Week of Compassion” in the Christian Church. We ask congregants to give more than their usual offerings on Sunday. We hold events to raise awareness and money for this disaster relief organization. At Lindenwood, we dedicated a youth 30 hour famine to raising money for Week of Compassion. We will also franchise the “Cheers for Compassion” party model throughout our community this weekend.

All of this is great news.

But my prayer tonight is this: God- do not let me forget or ignore the inequality and suffering of Your people. Forgive me for the ways I hoard my abundance while others beg for water and food and shelter. Continue to work in me until I can be like these first apostles- remembering that I have nothing- but every good gift comes from you, and these gifts are meant to be shared. Amen.

Glimpses of Grace: Day 6

+ Acts 4:31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

I’ve struggled over today’s entry in the “Glimpses of Grace” reflections. The word that stands out to me from Acts chapter 4 is: Bold.

I know this word well. So many of my friends and mentors show their courage through their daily work and proclamations. This inspires me. My friends and loved ones stand up for what they believe in. They fight for justice and equality. They work hard for peace and wholeness in our community… they are bold.

Meanwhile, I hold my tongue. I must confess: I don’t always stand up for the principals and people I believe in. I can get lost in my own fear or worry. Sometimes I resist opportunities to speak out.

Reading Acts chapter 4, there it is, loud and clear- BOLD.

Peter and John live and pray and serve boldly to honor the radical and inclusive message of Christ.

Leading up to this passage in Acts chapter 4, Peter and John were preaching and teaching to the masses after Christ’s death and resurrection. Their words resonated with their listeners- and nearly 5,000 people joined this movement of compassion, humility and love in the name of Christ.

Peter and John’s prophetic voices made the most powerful people of the day uneasy. They were captured and put in jail. Elders, teachers, rulers and lawyers met in Jerusalem to question Peter and John. Their bold voices seemed to catch the attention of everybody in ear shot.

Without hesitation, Peter and John stood by their principals and morals. In the face of powerful leaders and everyday listeners- they remain consistent and faithful to their ministry.

After resisting the pressures of powerful rulers who urged them to stop their preaching and teaching: Peter and John return to public ministry. Then, the power of collective prayer is revealed. The earth is shaken. The Holy Spirit arrives. An entire community is blessed with the spiritual gift of boldness after they pray.

Tonight- I wonder- how can I take this Word seriously in my life? How can we all bear witness to the transformative message of Christ: to proclaim the good news to the captives, to offer healing to the broken and redemption to those crying out from the depths?

God, make us all bold messengers of the glimpses of grace and hope you put in our hearts.

Glimpses of Grace: Day 5

+ Acts 3:17-19 Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what was foretold through all the prophets, saying that the Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…

‘You acted in ignorance, as did your leaders…’ those are fighting words. Time and time again, generation after generation, we could utter these same words: Oh, how we acted in ignorance. The establishment of the early church did not put an end to acts of ignorance. War after war after rumor of war did not put an end to acts of ignorance. One broken heart after another… one epidemic after another… one civil rights issue after another… and still, we are caught acting in ignorance again and again.

And yet, the problem with ignorance is this: we know not what we do. The very essence of ignorance is not understanding what we have done and left undone- until it is too late. Reading Acts on my lunch break, I started to wonder: is this the phrase whispered to God’s people at this very hour? What do we not see? In what ways are we already repeating our past mistakes- hardening our hearts, closing our minds, and shutting out God so that no light can come in and transform us?

I imagine the Messiah still suffers- watching us here. We continue to forget the basic principals of our faith: to love one another well… to offer shelter, food, and healing to those in need… to embody grace and mercy even in the face of hatred and cruelty.

Even in our brokenness, I have hope. Times of refreshing will come from our Creator. We will be renewed when we thirst for the Holy Spirit. It’s time to repent. Forgive us for the ways we get lost in the trenches of competition, self-absorption, and old grudges. Have mercy on us for the times we repeat the mistakes of our ancestors and guard the doors of our churches, our homes and our public spaces- out of fear of the ‘other.’

We believe the scriptures, so we know: We will be led beside still waters, to drink in the promises of resurrection again: Love wins and God’s justice abounds… May we draw closer to this. Amen.

Glimpses of Grace: day 4

+ Acts 3:1-10 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

In worship today, I made a spontaneous decision to make the pastoral prayer a moment of ‘prayers of the people’ in our chapel service and our formal sanctuary service. Before I began, I worried. What if no one offered up a prayer request? My new supervisor suggested that I plant a few folks to say their prayer requests out loud as we got going. I didn’t. What if the prayer requests went on and on, and I had no way to stop them? What if someone requested prayers for an issue that would be controversial or divisive in the church? I worried.

As it turns out, I was filled with glimpses of grace during this exercise. The Holy Spirit moved and breathed and animated our church this morning. Together, we prayed for one another- for upcoming surgeries and griefs recently endured. We prayed for future vision and letting go of fear. We prayed together for the children of the church and the recent losses of elderly members.

Just like Peter and John, we could not offer silver or gold to one another, however, we held one another in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and healing broke forth. After each request and spoken prayer, we would say: Lord in your Mercy, hear our prayers… may it be so. Amen.

Glimpses of Grace: Day 3

+ Acts 2:5-11 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’

Teresa visited Lindenwood Christian Church during Lent last year. She wore neon leotards and layers of scarves around her neck. She carried four bags piled high over her shoulders.

Teresa was different. We were not prepared for her.

Instead, we prepared for Lent in the ways we have always marked this liturgical season. We stripped our altar bare. We eliminated liturgical colors from the sanctuary. We stopped proclaiming Alleluia as we journeyed toward the cross.

This is how we always do Lent.

But our guest, Teresa, brought her tambourine each week in this season of reflection. During the choir anthem she would rattle the tiny symbols and sing along with her own lyrics. She responded to scripture readings with applause and “Amen!” She disrupted our liturgy and the formality of our festival service.

Older members of our church started to whisper about Teresa. “Is she homeless?”, “She must be crazy.” Deacons started to follower her around the church to supervise her actions. Sunday school teachers complained about her speaking in tongues during the morning lesson.

Teresa made us uncomfortable.

Eventually, one church member pulled Teresa aside and said that we worshiped a certain way at our church, and she could either join with us, or, she should find a new church home.
Teresa never returned.

I imagine Jesus made some people uncomfortable. When I read Acts chapter 2, I imagine all those people using their own words and their own languages to proclaim the good news.

I know Jesus conjured up loud voices and joyful praises- maybe even a tambourine or two from the crowd.

His followers probably had their own worship style and altar adornments and liturgical colors—and Jesus disrupted it all. He walked the streets and reached out to the lepers and the outcasts. He challenged the formality of the religious traditions and societal expectations of his time.

As we journey to the cross year after year during Lent, we must remain open to the great mystery of our faith and the radical ways Christ challenges convention and tradition.

We tend to fear disruptions to our particular our routines, our worship and devotion. And yet, as we move to Easter, Christ reminds us that God moves around us and through us as a Spirit of transformation. We cannot predict the way God will appear in our lives. We cannot anticipate the language or actions or blessings that God will pour into our communities.

This Lenten season, let us keep our hearts open to God’s loud and glorious voice- whether stones cry out in praise or strangers in neon leotards proclaim the good news.

Glimpses of Grace: Day 2

+ Acts 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting… all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…

Acts chapter 2 describes Pentecost- the moment when the Holy Spirit descends on God’s people. This chapter is exciting and extraordinary. It describes the moment when our worldly experiences become tethered to something eternal and ageless and holy. God sends the Holy Spirit to connect humanity with the divine- forever bound together.

Yesterday, I spent a few sacred moments with a congregant living with terminal lung cancer. When I arrived at her home, an oxygen mask covered her face. Loud, buzzing noises from breathing machines filled her living room. She grasped urgently for each breath. For her, the kingdom is near.

We wasted no time on small talk. As soon as I arrived, the tears began to fall. She described her deepest wish: to remember all the joy and fun and laughter from her life- and gather the light from these memories to her spirit, so that she would be surrounded by peace.

She admitted that she has fears about death. She grieves all that she will leave behind- her pictures, her beautiful home, her earthy connections- but most of all, her relationships with her loved ones. To ease these fears, I shared some thoughts with her.

I told her that I thought, when we love another person, it is because we are connecting with the part of their soul that is eternal. The love that we share with another stretches into the depth of all depth- beyond this world, beyond our lives here on earth… our love for one another is a glimpse of grace and hope and eternal mercy.

When we die, we become closer to all that is eternal: love, connection, compassion, and light.

As my congregant prepares to say goodbye, she is starting to transition into a place with no more age, no more suffering, no more loud breathing machines- and no more tears. Soon, she will be surrounded by all that is good and warm. She will enter in to the kingdom where our eternal connections and great loves will live on forever. This is the Holy Spirit- beckoning her home.

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