The Christmas season is fast approaching. If you’re looking for an opportunity to spread some Christmas cheer, particularly with families who are finding it hard to make ends meet, consider contributing a toy to the New Hope Community Church Christmas store. I’ve visited their church a few times, and always been impressed by their approach and attitude to reaching out to the community. The Christmas Store is a great model: new or gently used toys of ~$10 value are made available to families for $2. That lets families shop and obtain toys at a much lower impact to their budget, allowing them to use their money in other ways more necessary for their families (food, rent, medicine, etc), while letting them still enjoy the holiday aspects of giving gifts to your kids that so many of us so look forward to. How much fun is it to select that perfect gift for a person you love and then get to anticipate their face as they open it and play with it?

Their church will hold two Christmas Store days – once in their worship center, and once in a recreation center in the Curtis Bay community. They’d like to provide for 600 children, so every gift added in counts! Look for sales at your local stores, and see what your budget can score to bring a ray of joy not just to the child who opens that package, but to their parents and extended family… This ministry grows each year – your gift will be put to good use.

Happy to serve as a gathering point for these toys, or to put you into contact with the ministry leaders organizing the drive overall. They’re also seeking gift wrapping items – paper, tape, gift bags, tissue paper. Leave me a comment with your contact info or email me directly if you have my address already: comments are moderated, so your info won’t be visible to the world.

My womens’ rugby team, Severn River Rugby,  is planning a tour of South Africa next summer!  Very exciting!  We’re planning to be there for two weeks, and our coach is looking at finding us three games.  Doing some poking around, apparently womens’ rugby has only really been in action there since 2001.  Coach took another local team, the Washington Furies, in 2004, so this then becomes a chance to introduce a new set of ladies to each other, communicating through the hard-hitting language of tackles on the field with socials off the field.  We’re seeking sponsors for this trip: if you’re interested in helping encourage the growth of womens’ rugby, not only here, but internationally, please let me know.

I have other interests beyond rugby  – surprise to so many who know how driven I am about getting to play my sport.  If we/I am going to Africa, I’m seeking to make good use of that time and expense to do something which honors the Lord.  I’ll sneak as many of our players in along with me, whether or not their personal motivations are for the Lord, for serving others, or just for checking out an interesting experience.  It turns out our church is connected with a missionary family in South Africa, so reaching out there.  Our coach connected me with a group called ‘Hope in South Africa’ – check out their Sundowners event this Oct 20.  I’m not personally involved with the group yet, but the things I’m seeing on their site and on their Facebook page are very interesting and inspiring to read.  If you’re personally aware of other areas, very interested in hearing.  Again, the driver here is just that if I’m investing the time and money to go to Africa, away from other areas in life, it oughta be for more than “just” playing rugby and touring around.

God does things in interesting and exciting ways..  discussed things that were high points for the week with the college group this morning, and mentioned my excitement at possibly playing rugby again.  The young man to the right of me, relatively new to the group, very quiet, spoke to me at the end of our session and was excited to hear that there’s rugby in the area.  Turns out, he was a scrumhalf and would like to play again.  Thank you, God, for giving me an opportunity this weekend to both be excited on my own behalf, and the opportunity to share that with another person who seems to be looking for his place in a new country (young man is here from Africa), new church, and new group of people.

Now, low side: turns out we may need adults to help travel with the college group to Florida for their retreat trip in May.  The college students can’t drive the rental van, and of course, we want to make sure their travels are safe.  I love this group of people, am happy to work with / alongside them.  But a week at the beach, with a mass of college students (ours + possibly hundreds more), with a 19 hour van ride?  Personally hellacious.   This week is a missionary weekend at our church – folks describing opportunities for ministry amongst hardships in the field.  This trip to Florida, and I know how ridiculous this sounds, would be my personal hardship stint. I know that sounds ridiculous: a beach trip in America as hardship?  For a 35+ year old person who sunburns easily, has all sorts of mental hangups with being in a swimsuit, and then to spend a week in that environment where I’d stick out like a sore thumb, PLUS 19 hours in a van each way??!   Talk about needing to step forth in faith that God would use my discomfort and fish out of water challenges to his glory.

Very interested to see what God will do with both of these areas over the next few months…

Callie and I decided to do the talent show at church together this year – reasonably happy with how the skit turned out, in terms of writing, and what a blast to get to do it with Callie.  She’s a natural clown, and we had a whole lot of fun working it out, practicing, and then performing.


The Treasure Chest

Our college ministry group is working through a New Testament in a year Bible study. It’s supposed to be 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Never seems to be quite that short to me, but, as in any time where I’ve kept pace with studies to help prepare for Sunday school or some such, I’m getting an amazing exposure through it to things I hadn’t considered or learned before.

I’m behind: I should be in John, but I’m working through 1Peter tonight. 1Peter has that passage about wives being submissive to your husbands. It’s not the one in Ephesians (5:22) that folks think of. But I was surprised to run into the same language.

That’s not what sent me to this post, though. I was more intrigued by the work connections I was seeing this evening. Any of the contexts of elders, of slaves, of masters, of governors… all of that advice to folks in those roles suddenly seemed pertinent to me. Sensitive to the idea that I might offend someone in a work context here (no reason folks would find this, but no reason to assume they couldn’t), I’ll refrain from details. I’ve just begun to realize that where the Bible calls out roles and gives advice, often that advice applies more broadly. I end up asking myself: is that insight only applicable to men? To old men? To old women? (etc, etc). Sometimes it seems it may be. But the context of ‘slaves, submit yourselves to your master with all respect’ seems applicable. The context of ‘a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight’ might not apply just to women. Of leading/shepherding ‘not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ sure would seem to fit a broader swath of folks than just those ordained as elders.

For those who trip across this who’re interested in the Bible study, it’s here, at least as of now:

First name to look at is referred to in the first verse of the first book of the Bible: Genesis 1:1. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. Turns out, that word ‘God’ is Elohim. Even more interesting, that word ‘Elohim’ is apparently only used in Hebrew scripture.

‘El’ means mighty one, strong one, one of many supernatural beings, one more powerful than all the rest, and mythology / creation stories often discuss conflict across the gods. However, ‘Elohim’, being used for its single purpose in Scripture, annotates harmony and peace. There is no conflict when there is only one. (Note: Elohim is actually a plural, reflecting the multiple persons of God although pulling them together into one entity/name; Wikipedia indicated it can also be examined as ‘Hebrew grammar allows for this nominally-plural form to mean “He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)”, or roughly, “God of gods”.’. There is also reference to ‘elohims’ in other verses [looking for citations] – messiness in my own brain ensues, though apparently the form of the verbs used in combination with the nouns helps clarify the intent.)

This concept of singularity expose attributes or means of reflecting upon God.
* He is personal : He (single, Elohim) created everything. He can’t create something greater than Himself, He created us, we are personal, and therefore some aspect of Him must be personal.
* He is perfect: because he stands alone, nothing can be great enough to influence, change or corrupt him.
* It is for his purpose we are created, or we wouldn’t be here. (single God created, ergo his purpose(s) are what cause us to come into being)
* Some discussion of the eternal reality being harmony

Interesting sermon, though as I reflect back over my notes, looks like I’m somehow missing threads to tie this all together well for myself (which would, of course, also mean it’s probably not tied well together for anyone reading this). I’ll look for the sermon to be posted to the site and relisten to it / see where my notes don’t follow. Will also post the URL in a comment here. It’s usually a few weeks until the messages are posted.

So much for my resolution to spread the Word – been a few weeks for varying not very useful reasons. However, still think it’s useful and would rather admit my weakness and rebegin than abandon.

Our senior pastor’s begun a series on the names of God. Last week’s sermon was on Malachi 3:16-18, in which the Israelites are talking with each other (about God). Historically, the Israelites were returning back from their exile in Babylon and basically rebuilding and recreating their culture. Israel’s strong history of the government and culture pointing its people towards God was remote; just as America’s culture is steeped in Biblical underpinnings, but those underpinnings have less and less of an impact upon us today. Rather than bemoan that state, Pastor Glenn made a point I found interesting: are we / were we depending on our culture support our Christian faith? Were we / are we reliant on ‘going with the flow’, rather than investing personally and as a faith group? Does it have to be easy to be right?

Pastor Glenn pointed out how highly God values those who seek him, and pointed to Malachi’s depiction of the scroll of remembrance and of God’s promises to ‘see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not’ for those whose names are written in the scroll of remembrance. (See also the book of life listed in Revelations 20:12, where that book of life is mentioned as being separate from the books describing deeds. There’s talk of judgement based on deeds, but then also sparing based on one’s name being in the book of life.)

So we’re going to spend our next sermon series exploring the names of God, particularly as a means to understand the attributes of God that those names convey. Per Glenn’s illustration, you can only fall in love with a real person, a person you know, by what they’re like, and by their NAME. Or, in this case, names…

“God’s Word is no longer just being heard in a building; it is being multiplied throughout a community. It is multiplying because the people of God are no longer listening as if his Word is intended to stop with them. They are now living as if God’s Word is intended to spread through them.” – part of the text we covered in Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream in today’s Sunday school class. (My son is continually amazed that his mom likes going to Sunday school class.) This was part of a section talking about whether we are receivers or reproducers of God’s Word and discipleship. Gotta admit: I aspire to live my life in a way that glorifies God, through a variety of means. I put particular effort in certain areas where I’ve recognized God’s leading. But I’m not in an out-in-front kind of person, at least in that particular area of life. (Truth be told, I’m fairly quiet in lots of others and have to put a good bit of effort in the areas where my role does involve a certain amount of out-in-front.)

Today, though, I started jotting down notes and scribbles, ideas coming to mind of how to share. How do I share other things? Facebook, Twitter, this blog, maybe Google+ in the future. I spread ideas or pointers to things and let folks consume at their own pace, much as I consume and ruminate on lots of other stuff. Why not do the same? Some of the examples in the book talked about folks who took their pastor’s teaching from Sunday and then shared it more broadly. Why couldn’t I do this here? I don’t honestly believe there’s a lot of traffic here to see this… but putting it out here is a step of faith that God can use this in some way useful to glorify Him.

So, with that intro: today’s sermon was about gossip. Pastor Glenn’s full slides are up on our church’s site, and I’d encourage you to take a look.

Starting text: Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” We’ve been going through themes in Proverbs lately, and Pastor Glenn pointed out that Solomon gives a lot of space to gossip in the Proverbs. We talked about gossip being idle talk or rumor, something that rings true even if not approaching this from a Christian perspective. Pastor Glenn said that it could be harmless or even a good thing: I’d count that as spread of good news. If I mention someone’s baby being born, I’m community-building (I think). If I mention that I think that baby’s Daddy isn’t sure it’s his, welp, I’m pretty sure that’s not doing anyone any good.

We talked about gossip being the opposite of peacemaking (“stirs up dissension”), about it causing folks who are outside of a conflict to take sides (and thus spread the conflict), and Solomon’s wisdom in declaring “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him” (Proverbs 18:17). We talked about gossip being necessarily not full truth, as the full story isn’t there – it’s the truth as at best presented from one side of a story. Thus spreading it is a form of false witness (see Proverbs 21:28 for the outcome there) and encourages us to judge each other based on incomplete information. “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent— the LORD detests them both.” (Proverbs 17:15). [That’s not even going near the texts that indicate that judgement and vengeance aren’t mine.]

What about when we’re on the receiving end of gossip’s club (Proverbs 25:18) or are otherwise wronged in a way that causes us to want to lash out through gossip? (Boy, doesn’t that image fit?!) Pastor Glenn described our desired reaction as this: (quoting from my notes, rather than him directly): “God love to rescue somebody who waits on Him to vindicate them, so God can be glorified. If we retaliate through gossip, we lose the opportunity to watch God work through us.” The image that jumps to mind is when one of my kids hits their sibling because they’ve been hit first: sort of makes it hard to punish the original offense.

What about if we hear gossip? Recommendation was to pray that God glorify Himself and bless those who trust in Him, but leave the particulars of the gossip itself alone. Why spend time in considering the spread of muck? Why “pay attention to a destructive tongue” (Proverbs 17:4)? My favorite verse of the morning: “Like someone who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.” (Proverbs 26:17)

So, you made it to the bottom here of my first attempt to faithfully reproduce and comment upon our sermon from the morning. I’m just “reproducing” : the original sermon will be up on our church’s website within the next few weeks. Looks like the ‘Recent Messages’ area is a bit behind at the moment, but there’s plenty of good material there, from both the series on Proverbs as well as other areas. Would also encourage you to check out the sermon streaming live next week: there’s a link from the front page – the service is streamed at 9:30 and 11:00 (Eastern time, for any of you who aren’t East Coast). I’ll be away next Sunday – we’ll see if I get to catch it that way myself. If I do, will try this out again. Otherwise, planning on enjoying a weekend away with the hubby and a visit with his bro (hopefully catching a ride on the back of his motorcycle) before getting “out-in-front” at the MIL-OSS conference. Somebody write one of these things and let me know what I miss in the Proverbs series, in case I don’t catch it online…

The school year ended about a month ago, which means our high school ministry has a new fledgling crop of high school graduates. Some are planning to leave at the end of the summer to go away to school, some are trying to figure out how to stay home/local but still transition to the next stage, and all seem to be in this odd stage of waiting for a shift. Bad news, guys. There’s no magic shift. On the first day that you’re in your new environment, you’re going to suddenly realize that awkward truth all of us realize when we’re in a wildly different setting with different expectations on us: we’re not ready. We’re mostly hoping to fake it until we either make it, or realize that we’re shooting for the wrong goals. (making it seems to be relative. In some cases, making it just seems to be making it one more day.)

That’s the scary news. The good news, sort of, is that God’s equipped you with lots of us who can relate. Our church is now spinning up a college ministry. We’re counting as an extension of our youth ministry, as there are some sort of statistics out there that say folks are still not yet adult until they’re in their mid twenties nowadays. I dunno about that. I can say it feels odd to be talking to these young ladies and gentlemen, and thinking back to life experiences I had at 18 or 19, that I was dating my to-be husband at 21… I look at one of the young couples in our youth group, at their plans to stay local for college for two years and then move onto their next stages of life together – at first you think – ain’t going to happen (statistically speaking), and then I think – but maybe I’m looking at a set of high school sweethearts who’re going to make it.

We’re still figuring out exactly how the ministry will work. The neat thing is that these guys are an engaging group of “kids”, who are really excited to help form their own community focused on the gospel. The adult leadership team has high hopes of helping these guys set their own expectations of what it means to engage with and through the church, such that we help them set mindsets and patterns that will cause them to help push the church to even more of a gospel community focused culture. Too many of our adults come to church on Sunday as individuals, hear a sermon, worship as individuals, and then leave to go back to their individual lives. We hope that by helping these kids feed their own hunger for something more, we in the end help spread that hunger through the church – both our own and whatever venues these guys may move to as God directs them to new geographies in their lives.

Pray for opportunities, for vision, and for excitement tied to God’s priorities. And, uh, pray that on the 16th (our first meeting) we’ll have at least a few folks there…

A few years ago, someone I worked with at the time invited folks to attend a ‘Dynamic Marriage‘ class he was facilitating at his church.  We got a lot out of it, and have in fact made some weak efforts to bring it our church.  (Weak meaning, talked about it amongst ourselves, talked it up a few times to folks at church, introduced some of the materials at a mens’ retreat…  but mostly just talked.)  This isn’t a ‘on my turf’ thing, but our friend’s church is a half hour away.  Packing up the kids and schlepping a half hour away to go meet with folks you don’t know at first?  Likely a stopper to getting this kind of information in the hands of most of our fellow church members or in the hands of other folks in our local community.  We were surprised by another reaction in class this evening, though.  When it was our turn to introduce ourselves, we said that we had been through the class before, thought a lot of it, and had considered taking it back to our church, but hadn’t really done anything substantial there.  I was surprised to hear the question “your church?”.  Realized we surprised folks by not being from their church.  May even have surprised them by suggesting that we were not considering joining their church.  May be just my read on their reaction: maybe they were just generally curious.   But it made me think some more when we got home…

I realized in “our” church, I’d likely have had the same reaction.  If someone’s in my church, I assume they’re a member, visiting to consider becoming a member, or visiting because some member made a reach out.  But not just visiting, or  visiting to interact in a program that my church doesn’t have, or heck, visiting to interact with another area of God’s church.  Intellectually I realize His church unimaginably wider/deeper/more diverse than my little pew bench.  But someone I’m still my little pew bench focused.  That pew bench focus is broken up a bit when I think about sharing with the less fortunate via missions or charitable giving, but I can’t say that I necessarily think beyond that to sharing of a less one-way directed manner.

Not sure what to do with these thoughts, as yet…  just thinking them.  Wondering if there’s some interaction there with the high school ministry, or that long thought about clowning ministry.  But it’s making me think about broadening that horizon a bit more than just that pew bench.