Thursday, October 21, 2021

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out


A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in a holy place.  Richard James, inventor of the Slinky, was trying to create springs to keep sensitive ship equipment stable out at sea.  He wasn’t trying to create an amazing toy.  And this isn’t a one off, rare example.  There are many others including: corn flakes, silly putty, potato chips, the pacemaker, post it notes, and penicillin.  All those started off as mistakes.  For example, delicious potato chips were “discovered” by a chef responding to a French customer who kept sending fries back to the kitchen until that chef made them so crisp they became the famous potato chip.  Art Fry wanted to find ways to stick papers into his hymnal for church choir that would not fall out and viola the Post-it note was born.  Yet another benefit of church!  Sometimes we start off heading in one direction only to take a U-turn, followed by a quick left, then right, and end up in a neighborhood we have never seen before. 


I pray that you are hearing in these morning meditations this week the permission that you don’t (probably won’t) have your whole calling all figured out even as we wind down and wrap up the sermon series.  I hope you hear that your five-week plan is fuzzy, and your five-month plan might have a great deal of fiction.  Things shift and swirl and spin in new directions and we try to pivot. 


One final part of the Samuel story is in the beautiful interplay between the interior and exterior life.  Your calling will have both components.  God comes to Samuel in the night when Samuel is all alone.  God calls to Samuel, causing Samuel’s heart to strangely warm.  Yet, this wasn’t just the interior call about Samuel feeling God’s love. Samuel had an exterior call too.  He needed to stand up and share the words God had laid on his heart.  Interior/exterior.


Both matter and make a difference.  Interior life is about listening to our shy soul, where our heart surges and mind is curious, and God speaks.  Then, the exterior life are the people who support you and how you share your light.  Also, there are ones who stand in your way ~ as God can work through even those who push all your buttons.  You move constantly from the interior to the exterior parts of calling ~ often without really giving this much thought.  You sense the Sacred guiding your step in that direction, you take the next logical step.  You may feel your heart glow, or you may stumble and fall flat on your face.  Or maybe it is somewhere in-between, in the messy middle.  Sometimes we go a few steps, only to realize how fraught with fears the next few moments will be and wonder if we can keep on keeping on.  Or maybe things start off awesome and you can almost see a major mile maker right ahead.  And you blink and the mile marker is now missing, gone in a flash!


When have mistakes and miscues actually guided you in a holy way?  When have those mistakes and miscues caused frustration to fume within you and pour out your ears? When has the sailing of calling been smooth?  When has it been rough and rocky?


Pray these questions this week.  May the One who move in all things and through all things ~ from calm to chaos center you as you seek prayerfully to follow your calling in these days.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

God's Calling as Listening


Throughout the Calling Sermon Series, I have been amazed by the truths that: 1. God rarely calls the perfectly polished or powerful people.  God seems to call people who questions their own ability.  As Parker Palmer says, “You can’t be fully yourself if you are full of yourself.”  When we are willing to admit our fumbles and false starts, I think that is where the seed of the Spirit starts to sink deeper into the soil of our souls.  2. God’s call is rarely an easy to accomplish task.  3.  Often times, following our calling is one step forward then two (or twenty-two) steps backwards.


Samuel is called by God.  Samuel hears God’s voice.  God tells Samuel that he needs to go fire his mentor/boss/spiritual leader Eli.  Samuel says, “Come again!”  Samuel sees the difficulty of the task set before him.  Just like Moses had to face his past returning to Egypt.  Just like Jeremiah had to acknowledge his youth and the ways people discounted his voice.  Just like Jonah had to trade in his definitions of who God loved.  Just like Hannah had to cry out for God, wondering if God was listening.  So, too, Samuel is giving a task that will take more than just his chutzpah and courage and curiosity.  Most of the call stories set the person on the pathway s/he never expected or wanted.


As we continue to listen for God’s guidance, we do this because we need God’s strength and support every step of the way.  Perhaps during this sermon series, you have tried to follow your fascination and your fears have shown up gnashing their terrible teeth.  Perhaps you have followed your curiosity only to have concerns cause you to veer off course or stop completely.  We get lost following the threads of our calling; we show up knocking on doors where we may not be welcomed or expected.  Callings are circuitous and confounding.  But there are moments, when the light bulb goes on, when the a-ha relief and release floods our bodies, when we sense a trace of God’s grace.


For those moments, in those times, we echo Samuel/Moses/Hannah/Isaiah/Mary and proclaim, “Here I am God!”  Remember the phrase from Sunday is both, Here I am – which means behold and ready to serve.  Then, we pray, “Speak for your servant is listening.”  And then, the hard part, we listen for God.  There may not be a magical, neon sign, James Earl Jones voice booming moment that sets us on the path.  In the stillness and silence, the seeds of calling sink deeper into your soul.  In those moments, there is enough grace and love to feed and fuel our life for the next stage of the journey.


Prayer: God interrupt my life in intimate ways that let me know, even if I am on the wrong track or running low on energy, You continue to go beside, before, behind, and within me always. Amen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Calling as a Nudge


Yesterday, we continued to reflect upon Samuel’s call.  We honored his confusion as speaking to our lives in these days.  We recognized that we can be in a hurry (physically, mentally, and spiritually) missing God’s prompting.  We confessed that the church has not always taught practices for listening for God, discerning the Divine’s guidance.  We named that we live in a world of endless opportunities!  For example, I receive at least one email a day asking me to join a “new, amazing, best-ever” online study opportunity.  Everyone has found Zoom and invites us to join. 


Yet, there are many times I long for clear answers from God.  I long for neon lights to tell me how to pastor in a world that has so much fear, hurt, hate, self-centered-ness, and driven by money.  I long to find words that might compel and challenge and change the hearts.  If I could just have God’s five-month (or five-day) plan for my life.  I will accept God’s wisdom via email, text, phone call, or even fax!!


Maybe God’s calling isn’t some finish line I cross or item I can check off - moving from my to-do to my to-done list.  Maybe calling isn’t a linear or logical list.  Maybe God’s calling isn’t something I possess/control or understand or can ever know fully.  Maybe built and baked into calling is not a super-highway that is smooth sailing, but calling is discovered through wrong turns, missed exits, and the GPS of my soul recalculating when I get lost!  Maybe a calling is not about my control or crafting a five-year plan with God’s seal of approval.  In fact, I may not ever be able to comprehend more than a few steps.  As I have heard it said that if we knew more than the next few steps, we would be so overwhelmed by the journey, we may not start.  God says, “Go where I send thee!” (To quote the great spiritual!).  And God says, “I will go with you.”  The promise wasn’t just something tactile, tangible, to be put on a to-do list, the promise was presence.  God’s presence.  God’s witness to with-ness.  God’s stirring and showing up in serendipitous ways. 


Where is God’s nudge for you today?  You will need to keep the prayer posture and practice of listening.  Where is that place curiosity is calling you to explore even when you can’t explain it to others?  What is that holy on the horizon that is softly whispering that you don’t have to have it all figured out.  Go.  Go to share God’s light.  Go to learn by faithful fumbles.  Remember, Samuel didn’t get it right the first few times, but our persistent and patient God continued to call him.  I trust that God is never one and done with us, rather God continually reaches out to our minds, hearts, and whole lives to respond, “Here I am, God.”

Monday, October 18, 2021

God's Calling


Yesterday, we listened to and learned from the call of Samuel.  I pray this week you will adopt the prayer posture and practice of every day saying, “Here I am, Lord.  Speak for your servant is listening.”  Then, you will listen.  Remember at first Samuel was confused and baffled.  At first, he thought the voice was Eli, his mentor and boss and leader of the synagogue.  This is an important detail to dwell with today because, for me, I can mistake and mishear and misunderstand God’s voice in my life.

How?  I am so glad you asked.

Sometimes we miss God’s movement in our midst because we are too busy.  Busy physically racing and running around.  Busy mentally trying to process all the words we encounter and experience.  There is some much information to consume and that can consume us!  Busy spiritually.  We believe the lie that taking time for ourselves to be with God is selfish.  Self-care is caring for the image of God in which you are still be created.  I write that because I still need to practice with this in my life. Dallas Willard said that hurry was, “the great enemy of spiritual life in our day,” and urged followers of Jesus to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  Don’t just think of hurry in terms of perpetual physical motion.  Our minds can be overwhelmed and darting different directions; our souls sagged down with stress and strain and still pushing for more.  Where do you need to clear the chaos and clutter in your life so you can listen to God, for God, and with God?

1 Samuel says that the word of the Lord was rare.  We can get out of practice listening for God’s presence.  I believe God’s voice can sometimes sound like comfort and care, especially when we are hurting.  Sometimes the holy hum is more challenging and convicting from someone who I struggle to love.  Sometimes the Spirit hovers and hangs silently in our lives; not so much with instructions or a series of steps to achieve but with a reassurance and reminder of who we are.  We need to exercise the Spiritual muscle of sitting silently with the Sacred.

It can be easy to want to go down every rabbit hole or chase every waterfall.  We can be lured by the bright and shiny and new.  Or someone tells us we have to/ought to/need to do something and we think, “I guess that could be God’s voice, so I guess I better go after that idea just to be safe.”  What if, rather than racing and running; chasing chaotically; you paused.  My hunch is God will understand if you check with God to be clear this is God’s call.  Of what if you talked to a trusted friend or mentor about the various directions you feel tugged toward?

Sometimes we have a clear sense of where we are being called.  I am grateful for Samuel’s confusion, because I am often baffled and bewildered and betwixt and between lots of different (competing) calls for my energy.  I need moments of holy pause, sacred silence, to let God’s wisdom to take my life and let it be guided by grace and love and unity. 

Prayer: Still speaking and singing and swirling God, cut through the clutter and chaos this day helping me center down in Your presence and letting You get a word in edgewise.  Amen.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Giving Your Calling the BEST Energy


Here we are, halfway through the month of October.  We are also starting to wind down the Calling Sermon Series…just two more Sundays left.  To be sure, that doesn’t mean that by the end of October you will have your calling completely figured out and your five-year plan firm, ready to carry out.


Chances are you will have guesses and glimpses of where God’s holy prompting is nudging you right now.  I want to offer one more framework for thinking about calling.  This one is to look at your day.  We often say that how you live your hours/minutes of life is how you live your life.  Moreover, your day has an ebb and flow.  We all have moments when we are more awake and alert and alive.  I tend to be a morning person.  I love the hours of 7 am to 11 am.  That is when I tend to do most of my writing and feel my most creative.


By 11 am, I am starting to get a bit hungry, ready for a break.  After lunch, I do get a small burst of energy.  By 2 pm, I am slowly down.  By 4 or 4:30 pm, I am approaching Zombie status.  Sometimes, rather than engaging our calling when we are at our most creative and awake, we tend to put it off.  I think this comes from our childhood when I had to eat my Lima Beans before I could leave the table.  I think, “Well, I can’t work on the sermon until I do that task I don’t really like.”  This is not the best way to calendar or live your life.  Rather, why not do what you love when your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health is at its peak?  Why not volunteer when you have the most energy and do the dishes later.  Why not go connect with a friend, then you can answer emails.  Think about your day and how you can make sure what is most life giving happens when you are most able to give that moment your best energy.


That is how you let your light shine brightest.  Amen.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

God's Calling


This week, I have shared a bit about what led me to this calling of being a pastor.  Early experiences in the church that were bread crumb moments to going to seminary.  My two opportunities I to dive deeply in seminary and learn about being a pastor.  What about now? 


I sense that my calling continues to shift in new directions.  I was recently asked what my favorite parts of being a pastor are?  I quickly, without overthinking the question, said:

1.     Sunday morning worship and preaching;

2.     Pastor care, hearing your stories;

3.     Creative writing – like these meditations or my book of devotions coming out in November.


I know, you thought I was going to talk about how much I love meetings.  I actually do like committee meetings especially when we share what is in our hearts, support each other, and talk about the calling of the church.  These moments matter too, but in the moment the person asked that question, meetings didn’t quite crack the top three.  The above three holy duties of worship, sharing God’s love, and creative writing is when my soul feels most alive.  Within your calling, where you feel most alive and engaged, there might be many layers.


What is it about volunteering at school or the hospital that fills you the most?  Try to be as descriptive as you possibly can.

What are the top three moments in your life each month? When you review your calendar, what is the cream that rises to the top?


Those questions can help you continue to explore your calling and clarify the unique ways you can share your light.  To be sure, there are many pastors who would not have the same top three as me.  So too, even if you share a passion and vocation for a certain way to volunteer or care or lead, the way you do that is uniquely beautiful to you! 


I pray for God to awaken your imagination and cause your shy soul to speak up as you seek to embrace and embody your calling in these days.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

A Sampling of My Calling Story Part Two


Yesterday I shared a bit about my experiences that led me to the doorway of seminary.  Today, I will share with you my two experiences in seminary, which provided a foundation for and formation of my calling.  I received my Master of Divinity from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.  It was a time of great learning, challenge, exploration, making mistakes (a lot of them) and growing (usually most from the stumbles and bumbles of mistakes).  I went to seminary full-time.  I enjoyed the classes.  If I had to pick, my favorite was my New Testament classes because the professor was engaging and caring. 


The joke among pastors once we graduate and begin to serve the church is, “Seminary didn’t teach me that!”  This could refer to filling the boiler on cold New Hampshire Sunday mornings, as I did in my first calling.  Or how to deal with a grief-stricken parent at the death of a child.  Or how to preach Sunday after Sunday; where do I find the strength or original content each week?  Another insider joke is that most pastors have three to five sermons in us that we repeat on a loop.  I will leave it up to you if you find that to be true about me. 


Eventually, I came to understand that while I loved many of the tasks of being a pastor, my favorite was Sunday morning and preaching.  I loved the art of crafting a sermon.  I loved the creativity that went into writing, the exploration of Scripture, and weaving a connection begin the holy words in the Bible and God’s holiness in our lives.  This led me to enroll at Luther Seminary for a doctorate program in preaching.  Those are some of my fondest memories of my education.  Every summer for three weeks, I would travel to Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  Teachers would help us explore what it meant to embody God’s word and share a meaningful message for the day.  It was a time of growth and my mind felt heavy with new ideas.  It was during my doctorate process that I left behind a manuscript and began memorizing my sermon.  This helped free me from words on a piece of paper.  My practice is that I still write a full manuscript that I memorize each week.  There is a wonderful dance between the work of writing and memorizing and inviting the Spirit in as I speak the words on Sunday morning. 


I have heard it said that a gift or calling is something you find life-giving that others think is too difficult.  For example, I see someone sit down, play the piano, and sing, I think, “Wow, that is impressive!!”  I could never move my fingers and my mouth at the same time.  When I ask the musician about it, she will say, “It’s nothing.”  Part of the reason is usually the person practices, just as I practice memorizing my sermon.  But sometimes finding your calling from God is an activity you find life-giving and comes to you.  This is not to say that you never feel stress when doing your calling.  I know I am still nervous on Sunday mornings.  I know musicians also have butterflies in their stomachs.  I know teachers who don’t eat before lecturing.  The nervousness is because we know we are doing something that is life-giving and where our deepest prayer is to let God’s light shine through us.  When we do what matters and makes a difference to us whether that is music or quilting or teaching or listening or being a nurse or sharing a sermon, we know something is at stake.


I hope in the comment section you might post something that for you is life-giving.  Or better yet, call me to talk.  Maybe it is an activity someone says you are amazing at and you think, “Really?”  Yes, really, it is amazing when you sing, play the organ, lead a meeting, teach, help a child learn to read, listen to a Middle Schooler, care for animals, garden, and even preach. 


I pray you will hold these words in your heart and God might move from them unveiling a calling for you in these days. 

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...