sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Tag: Spirit

Why #givegrace?

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

This past Sunday we gathered as a community to eat together and to hear about how our financial resources continue to allow us to live into God’s call for our life together as a congregation. Some of us met each other for this first time — over half of attendees at the meal have been with us twelve months or less — others were able to finally catch up with friends and neighbors.

We have much to celebrate. Our children and youth ministry continue to grow and each weekend we have many guests that are looking for a place to call home. Those that are new to our community speak to our welcoming atmosphere as a primary reason why they choose to return. Our new people describe our congregation as loving, kind, and filled with energy. Wherever I go in Shreveport folks tell me that they have heard great things about our church.

We are blessed in so many ways!!

As I walked away from our time together on Sunday afternoon I began to wonder about the impact that our congregation has had, is having, and will have in the future. I began to wonder about the stories that illustrate our impact, that tell of the many ways that we are encountering God in this place and of the ways that this place is helping each of us see God in places unexpected.

I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have received it!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we cannot help but respond in generosity!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that our congregation is needed in this city and beyond!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because there are so many children, youth, and adults experiencing God’s unconditional love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are finding healing from our addictions, freedom from the things that keep us bound, and redemption into new life, abundance, and joy!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a unique community called by God to provide a place for ALL people!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because everywhere I go I meet people who have disconnected from the church and are looking for a place where they can be who God has called them to be!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our identity is rooted in service of neighbor, especially those who would be easily forgotten, who have been ignored!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have been called to be a diverse community that reflects God’s love for ALL people, no matter our story!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a community willing to live in the tension of unanswered questions and the messiness of life stories!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we believe God is found in unexpected places!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our only requirement to come to the table is to be hungry for Jesus!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that being a follower of Jesus is more than just showing up at church or talking about Jesus, it’s about loving ALL and growing in that love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because only together we can live into our call to welcome, love, and serve!

I am so thankful and honored to be one of your many leaders. Leading in this season towards a fruitful and life-giving future is challenging but extremely rewarding. Leading in this season inspires me because our unique community is sorely needed.

So why will you #givegrace in 2017? Tell me in the comments here on the blog or in the Facebook comments. I cannot wait to read of all the ways that inspire you to make our 2017 ministry possible!

Very Married: A Review


The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.

Gabriel García-Márquez

The music begins and the couple walks proudly and anxiously towards the future, a future together. Decisions have been made, preparations completed, and now it’s time for covenant making, vow taking, or maybe just contract signing. No matter what, life together begins.

As one who gets the joy of witnessing and officiating at these public/private, sacred/secular, end/beginning type of events I’ve often wondered if there is something that can prepare the couple for this momentous event. Would this couple take vows if their future life together was revealed to them? Would that vision help them discern or prepare them?

Maybe it’s best that Hallmark cards, romantic comedies, Instagram pictures, and the wedding industry monopolize the marriage press! Or maybe we were just waiting for Katherine Willis Pershey to provide us with the revelation that all engaged and married couples needed, a revelation of the beauty and trials of married life.

Very Married: Fieldnotes on Love and Fidelity is not for the faint of heart. Pershey’s poetic prose leads us openly yet carefully through the landscape of married life. As she aptly tells us the “agony, ecstasy, and tedium of wedlock.” (18) This is not the stuff that we are used to hearing about nor the kind of journey that we expect from one who is both married and who officiates at marriages. Yet Very Married is the book needed to awaken all of us to the beauty, reality, and poetry that is life together.

Very Married sets itself apart in how humbly it speaks to those of us who have ears to hear. Pershey’s tone is rooted in the Christian practice of testimony, the humble recognition of God’s presence in the midst of life. This testimony is not just an individual encounter with God but the result of living life in covenant with another. Her vulnerability and honesty are palpable as she guides us through the inner life of one who desires to live life together with another yet found herself ill-prepared for the reality of what that meant.

As she tells her story we quickly realize that all of us come to life together unprepared and yet it is there, in our willingness to recognize the mystery, that grace comes visiting, that blessing becomes activated.

My favorite part of the wedding ceremony is the blessing of the marriage. As I wrap my stole around the hands of the couple I invoke the Spirit. I ask for the Spirit to make them fruitful, to make them one, to help them recognize, like Pershey, that “I know now, and I am known now, in marriage.”

This knowing comes with joys and sorrows. It tests our capacity to be faithful, to stay attentive to our chosen over the long term. It tests our capacity to forgive, to reconcile, and to begin again. It also tests our capacity to love another as we live life with them.

There is yet more for us to know of each other, physically, spiritually, emotionally. And as husband and wife we have the incredible freedom to explore each other without hesitation or shame.

Katherine Willis Pershey in Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity, 94

The struggles of life together challenge our self-centeredness, immaturity, and desire for control. God uses this way of life to transform us, or as my United Methodist tradition calls it, to “sanctify” us. Pershey’s willingness to share with us her journey in grace allows all of us to identify the God moments in our own relationships and to recognize that “even a family’s sorrows give way to gratitude, eventually.”(164) Pershey’s candor reminds us that perseverance, tenacity, and humility are key components to becoming very married.

Katherine Willis Pershey does not shy away from the difficult topics connected to married life. From pre-marital sexuality, infidelity, and submission to same-sex marriage, divorce, and death, Pershey guides us with humor, humility, and understanding. Like a faithful pastor, she shines a light behind the closed doors of covenant life. Along the way she gives us hope that in the midst of the many challenges that marriage faces today “[t]here’s no shame in needing covenant to live.”(210)

So take up and read! In Very Married we are gifted with an invitation to a new-old way of living life together. Pershey gifts us with a faithful blueprint to the daily rebuilding of this thing we call marriage. Now is up to us, letting our very married life end daily by making love and following the blueprint to rebuild it, again and again, before breakfast!

Thankful to Herald Press for providing me an advanced copy of the book for this review.

Bible in 90 – Day 59: Lamentation

Gone is the joy of our hearts;
Our dancing is turned into mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head;
Woe to us that we have sinned!

Lamentations 5:15-16

"Bust" ©2010 Todd Rossnagel

I remember as a child being constantly concerned about my sin. I grew up in a tradition that seemed at times to be obsessed with sinfulness, guilt, and shame. Being part of God’s family meant living in very specific kind of ways. There were long lists of spoken and unspoken rules as to what it meant to follow Jesus. If you fell short the punishment had eternal consequences.

You can imagine the effect that this kind of belief system can have on someone. I was always concerned about my salvation, about my going to heaven. I would make sure to confess every night as much as I could remember, I wanted to cover all my bases. Sin meant something.

I do not wish to go back to those days. It took me a long time to recover my trust in God, it took me a long time to find grace and claim it for myself and for the world. I am thankful that I encountered people in my journey who walked with me, reminding me time and time again that I was a beloved child of God.

Yet, I think we might at times not take the power of sin seriously. Although we should not obsess over it or give it more power than it deserves, we should at least lament it.

Sin exists in the world, in us. We miss the mark, hurt others, ourselves, and the created order. In the rite of Baptism we claim to repent, to turn around from our sinfulness and claim the power of the Spirit in our cleansing. This cleansing is needed in us and in all of humanity. Turn on the television, read the newspaper, or look in the mirror and you will be face to face with the reality of sin in the world.

The power of lamentation is that it  leads to repentance. We must acknowledge our brokenness and the brokenness we cause before we can experience and be the bearers of the grace made available to us through Christ.

Bible in 90 – Day 35: Rebuild

‘If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.’

Nehemiah 2:5

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Many of us are sent to rebuild. In today’s church climate we find ourselves leading in difficult times. The walls are crumbling, the symbols of the glory days gone, the people are discouraged and are not sure what to do about it. I wish I was as bold as Nehemiah.

Nehemiah could have stayed in exile enjoying his position in this new land. He had the ear of the king, was well respected, and could have easily never thought about the land of his ancestors. His love for this place of memory was so strong that he uses his influence to be allowed back to help rebuild a city, to rebuild a people.

Many times I thought about leaving the church. Maybe I would be more effective on behalf of the kingdom if I just left the church behind? I tell myself that it’s messy to be a part of it, there’s so much work that needs to be done in to restore it, and the people who are left might not even have the energy to work on the changes needed.

Many times I have made the decision to stay and lead. My baptism calls me back, the promise of God’s Spirit calls me back, the narrative of faith calls me back. I am reminded that the Spirit was called upon me to lead, to guide God’s people to rebuild, to remind them that the best days are ahead.

Rebuilding takes time. Relationships need to be built first, then the other rebuilding can take place. Stories help us remember what it needs to look like, what changes are needed, what needs to remain the same. Little by little the community begins to have life again.

During these times of uncertainty and reevaluation may we not loose courage. We must lead into the promise of an institution that was established by Christ to be the “salt & light” in the world. Rebuilding is needed but it won’t happen by itself, it takes our hands, our feet, our courage, our commitment, our memory, our life together. It takes our claiming the promise of the Spirit to the community of faith called the church.

Now, let us rebuild!

Bible in 90 – Day 21: Evil Spirit (from the Lord!)

Now the spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord began to terrify him.

I Samuel 16:14 (TANAKH)

I kind of feel sorry for Saul. It seems that from the beginning things did not go smoothly for him. He’s found in the midst of his search for missing sheep, he’s not sure why he would be chosen to the point of hiding when the lot fell on him, and time and time again he makes dumb mistakes that end up costing him the kingdom.

Then the spirit of the Lord leaves him . . . in its place another spirit of the Lord, this time an evil one.

This little detail caught my attention. How can this “evil spirit” be from the Lord?

Scripture tells us that this “evil spirit” made Saul become angry and sad. Only well played instruments would soothe this bad mood.

Maybe the same spirit that could have guided Saul into faithful leadership was now causing Saul to be down, depressed, and angry. It makes sense that those who watched him saw this as a different spirit, I don’t think it was.

It is easy to become moody when we are not walking in ways that are life giving. We can’t seem to find comfort in anything, everything is a problem, life seems like no life at all. Everyone around seems to be happy, successful, and accomplished. Our sadness tricks us into believing that something is out to get us, some kind of conspiracy is at work here!

There is no such thing as a conspiracy. Our own actions, decisions, and indecision have paved the path to where we are. In many cases, like in Saul’s, is no one’s fault, except our own. Now our regrets become the evil spirits that haunt us and might guide us to even worst decisions in the long run.

Saul could have chosen to accept God’s decision and he probably would have been a great king. Instead he allowed his regrets and jealousy get the best of him. Once again the biblical story acts as a mirror for all us and its good to know that its portrait of the human condition is timeless.

Then again, maybe I’m letting God off the hook to easily and the biblical writers had it right, it was an EVIL spirit from the Lord . . .

Bible in 90 – Day 19: Anarchy

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did as he pleased.

Judges 21:25

Leadership is needed. Even in the smallest of groups we need someone to guide, gather, and make sure that the purpose of the gathering takes place. Without leadership it is easy to loose the way.

Sometimes our approach to the Christian life reminds me of the Israelites in the book of Judges. No king, no leader, so people just did what they want it. Time and time again this approach led to disaster of one kind or another. God would raise another leader but soon, once that leader was gone, the people would “forget” what God had told them.

We like to say in clergy circles that we are there to empower the laity for ministry. Each of us interprets it in different ways. I think at its core its about reminding the people of the covenant, of telling the story of faith, and calling the people to the promises made.

So it means that we are not to just let the people of God do what they want. Guiding the church in whatever way they see fit, being the kind of church they want to be, just patting people on the back and hoping that our “care” will be enough for them to become God’s people in their community.

Here comes the difficult part. Sometimes this means that as we care for souls, as we call them to the covenant, some will choose to not live into the covenant that we are calling them to. Some might tell us that their spiritual life is not of our business, others just want to “hear a good sermon” and go home, still others want “good programs for their kids to go to” without any desire to be real disciples of Jesus. What are we to do then? Are we to just let them do what they want?

I don’t believe so for our churches and I certainly do not believe so for our pastors. You see we have a similar problem in our clergy ranks. Time and time again we want to do our thing, not wanting to be accountable to one another for our growth in love, not wanting anyone to “question” our progress in our “going on to perfection.” If we as clergy are not willing to grow in our discipleship then how can we expect our churches to do so?

I trust that God will continue to raise leaders for the church to be reminded of their story, be gathered to praise God, and be empowered by the Spirit to be about God’s work in the world. I also know that there are many in our communities who long for God and are waiting to find a place where they are formed in another way, where they fill their deepest hunger.

May we be a led people, clergy and laity alike, may we live into the covenant, may we do as the Spirit pleases!

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