“To everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”
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I was overjoyed when my last church gave me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer as a retirement gift. I planned to start cooking once I had the time, and so after my last Sunday, the mixer was christened with flour. Cookies and cakes began to appear on the kitchen counter. And best of all was the homemade bread.
The first day I made bread, the taste was okay but the loaves didn’t look quite right. They did’t seem to rise enough. As I thought about it, I realized I may have been a little over anxious to get them made. The directions called for me to let the dough rise for an hour, punch it down, divide it in half and put it in loaf pans. Then I was to let it rise again until it was higher than the edge of the pan, about another hour, before baking. I think I was so excited about making bread that as soon as the dough got anywhere near the top of the loaf pan, I shoved it in the oven, not giving it the time it needed to rise the full amount. What came out tasted good, but wasn’t really as high or light as it could have been if I had waited the full time. I was too impatient.
Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has a sense of time as well. Sometimes we want to rush things along. We don’t allow God to accomplish things in God’s time; we want it done now. I remember a woman at one of the churches I served who told me how alone she felt after her husband died. Her friends were great for the first two months, but then they started to tell her to get on with life and stop moping over her husband’s death. They wanted her grieving to be over in their time. The reality is that it takes years to fully grieve the loss of a spouse.
Too often we want to leave behind the old and dive right in to the new without taking time for reflection and evaluation. We want to shed the old with its challenges and hurts, disappointments and concerns, leaving it behind like a hermit crab moving to a new shell. But our life experiences are not something we can shed like an old shell. What happens to us in our lives becomes a part of who we are. We need to acknowledge what we’ve experienced, process it, learn from it and discern how God is inviting us to move forward, incorporating our past experience into our approach to life in the future. Where there has been success, what can we do to build on it? Where there has been hurt, how can we become wounded healers? Where we have failed, what might we do differently in the future?
In the New International Version, Ecclesiastes 3:11a reads “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” If we are sensitive to God’s time, if we refrain from rushing things and give God the time to work as God desires, then we, too, will find that God can accomplish wonders that make life beautiful.
Prayer: Loving God, help me to live this day in your time, not mine. Let me wait patiently for your way to be made clear; let me live hopefully, knowing that in your time all things work together for the good of your people. Show me how to learn from every experience in my life, and to find your presence in the middle of every situation. For I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This past week’s events have left many people wondering, what can I do? Over the months ahead, there will be many suggestions and opportunities to live out our faith as Christians in loving our neighbor, no matter who that might be. But right now, I want to invite all of my friends to unite in prayer for our nation and her people.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”
Pastor’s Friday Reflection
“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
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The Scripture from Hebrews is one of my favorite passages from the Bible. But there’s always been an inherent contradiction for me in these words – “…provoke one another to love and good deeds…” My kids are now 32 and 29, but I can still remember when my daughter was about five and her little brother knew just how to provoke a response from her, and not one of love and good deeds. Doug knew every one of Jenny’s buttons, and he had no difficulty pushing those buttons to get a rise out of her. He “provoked” her unmercifully, and always got a response – tears, anger, or frustration. So when I read the passage from Hebrews, that’s the first image I see – my daughter red in the face and my son with a smug, “gotcha” look on his visage.
But as I thought about it, I realized there was actually something helpful in that image. Doug knew Jenny’s buttons, and knew how to provoke her; I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew each others good deed buttons? If we knew how to provoke love instead of anger or frustration? What would happen if we could interact with each other in ways that were just as provoking as my son’s when he was 2 and 1/2, but resulted in good deeds rather than crying and calling for mommy?
Perhaps that is what the author of Hebrews had in mind. We all have a pretty good idea of the buttons that will send our neighbors into anger and frustration, but how well do we know the buttons that result in love and good deeds? Those buttons are much more difficult to find, but they are the ones that we Christians are called to discover. Christ understands that left on our own, the world around us is pushing the wrong buttons; it doesn’t take much to send us into that downward spiral of anger, accusation or frustration. That’s why we have the church, a place that will help us counteract the natural tendencies of the world and move us toward love and acceptance rather than anger or hate. Here in the church, we can encourage each other when those natural negative tendencies raise their heads; we can help each other let go of the anger and frustration that the world naturally elicits from us and instead move toward loving affirmation, forgiveness and hope.
This summer, why don’t we study each other with an eye to finding those buttons of love and good deeds, to discovering the ways we can provoke each other to living as gospel people? It is my hope that we can encourage one another and discover that each of us has love to share and good deeds to offer that will help make our church all that God could desire.
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
The Broadway musical “Wicked” tells the story of the land of Oz before Dorothy and Toto dropped in unexpectedly. It introduces us to two remarkable young women – one smart, fiery and with emerald green skin, the other beautiful, an airhead and very popular. The musical explains how the former woman goes on to become the Wicked Witch of the West, while the other becomes Glinda, the Good Witch. But in this version, they are both admirable.
In the course of the show, the two women sing a duet, the song, For Good. Listen to the words they sing:
It well may be that we will never meet again
In this lifetime,
So let me say before we part, so much of me
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart;
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine by being my friend:
Like a ship blown from its mooring by a wind off the sea,
Like a seed dropped by a skybird in a distant wood,
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.
This will be my last Friday devotional. I’ll keep blogging at http://www.bronyocum.org for those who enjoy these columns. But as I come to the end of my time at Grove, I can echo the words of the two witches – I have been changed for good by you, the people of Grove Church. Your love and care for one another including me and my family, your passion for ministry and the community around you, your desire to learn more about your faith and deepen your relationship with God, all of these qualities have had an impact on me, helping me grow in my faith. I leave Grove a better person and a better pastor than when I first arrived. I know that because I knew you, I have been changed for good.
And as the song says, you will be with me, for the rest of my life, like a handprint on my heart, shaping how I live and how I believe. For the many gifts you gave me, from your affirmation of my ministry to your care during my recuperation to your wonderful and generous gifts as I prepared to leave, thank you. I hope we do meet again, but no matter what, please know that because I knew you, I have been changed both for the better and for good. I pray that you, too, have been changed for good by God’s work through me during my time at Grove. For God can accomplish through us so much more than we could ever ask for or even imagine. God bless you and keep you until we meet again at Grove’s 250th anniversary!