Facilitating spiritual and cultural transformation through connection with wild spaces, with the help of God and neighbor, to create a world where wildlife and wild spaces are known as neighbors worthy of our love, kindness, compassion and care.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Trekking the AT

A couple of my friends from the Tyoga Running Club are about to do something epic. Jesse and Erica are going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail!

To be honest I’m a little jealous of all that they are about to experience as they begin Mile 0 in Georgia and make their way to Mile 2,200 in Maine! Surely while they are on the AT they will tap into the fullness of an experience that defies the ability of words to articulate. Living our best lives possible has something to do with living into community; not just with other people but with all the great variety of life forms that share this good earth. To experience this for the better part of a year sounds incredible. It also sounds incredibly challenging.

I hope they will be inspired by the spirit of adventure stirring within them, by the energy of the forest; all of its sights, sounds, smells and flavors.

I understand that they are about to embark on this adventure for a number of reasons:

Hiking for the health of it.

Crossing the AT off the bucket list.

For the challenge and the adventure.

During their adventure they will be blogging, but I wonder if the greatest artistic feat they will accomplish during their time on the AT will be that which they accomplish with their actual feet; as hiking boots press against a canvas of rock, mud, dirt, and stream.  Jesse and Erica, may you take only memories and leave only footprints.

All of this gets me thinking about a zest for life that many of us share. As great a feat that hiking the AT is, it may also be viewed as a microcosm of the adventure that we want all of life to become.  Maybe I should speak for myself. I want my whole life to be a great adventure.

I want to catch some inspiration as I follow my friends via their blog, as they experience this fullness of life in community with all that has life, as they find creative expression painting on a canvas of trail with muddy boots.

I long to paint on the canvas of trail with muddy boots too; but my experience will probably be limited to a day hike in the Pine Creek Gorge. And I want to paint on the canvas of life and of community with the things that matter most. I want to paint on the canvas of life and community with love; with many shades of love at that; shades of patience, kindness, forgiveness, joy, and strength.

I hope my friends do leave more than just footprints; as they travel by foot on their epic adventure I hope that the Creator of it all provides them with many opportunities to paint with many shades of love on the hearts of those whom they meet along the way.

Here is a link to their blog:  https://www.facebook.com/JEtrekAT/

me with Jesse (middle) and Erica (right)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Stay the course

 Life is hard. Some days more than others it feels as if the world's brokenness is on full display. Have you been there? I want to tell you that its okay if you are there. I want to tell you that its okay if you are struggling. I want to tell you that God's love for us is the most powerful power in the universe and friends, whatever life has thrown at you today or will throw your way tomorrow; God can handle it. Nothing is impossible with God.

I am given a unique perspective as a pastor; it is a blessing which is also a very weighty responsibility at times.

Some days it is easy to see the blessings; and some days the brokenness of the world and of the lives of others (and even my own life at times) acts as a foggy barrier, restricting sight of blessings that are yet to come. For me those days are days of hope; of believing where I have not yet seen.

(Locke Mountain-just south of Hollidaysburg, PA) 

Maybe you have been there. Maybe you are there today; and if you are I want to encourage you by telling you that you are not alone. Today I had the experience of speaking hope into a number of discouraging and messy situations; a friendship lost, a spouse on hospice care due to a cancer diagnosis, a struggle with addiction that is yet underway, dealings with temptation, a heart broken by a decision made by the governing body of the United Methodist Church. This was my day in a nutshell.

 But in the afternoon I get to come home to a dog that I love very much; and yet sometimes on days when the fog sets in the whole day can be compared to the feeling of what it is like to pick up a pile of dog poop with a plastic bag only to have one of your fingers puncture the bag. 


When we have days like this though, let us resolve to live in solidarity with each other. Let us resolve to stay the course because the fog that limits our view of the blessings God has in store for us is also a veil of hope and an invitation to believe there are good things to come where we have yet to see.

So whenever you are having a day that's highlighted in brokenness, stay the course in your commitment to live your best life possible; stay rooted in relationship with God, give yourself in love and service to others, and enjoy life with those whom you surround yourself with. 

This is just one persons opinion and interpretation on life but I believe at least part of what it means to enjoy life with others is to relate to others in a spirit of non-judgment and mutual encouragement and to surround ourselves with people who will do the same for us.

Some days the best we can do (which is more than enough!) is to pray this prayer or something like it: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
the courage to change the things I can, 
and the wisdom to know the difference; 
living one day at a time, 
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, 
taking as Jesus did this broken world as it is; 
believing that as I trust in the power of God's love all things will be made right, 
So I may be given the strength to live my best life possible.
(Serenity Prayer-revised)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Dumpling House Hospitality

Today I'd like to shine a spotlight on the generous hospitality, kind service, and delicious food provided by my neighbors at one of my favorite restaurants; The Dumpling House, located on Main Street in Wellsboro, PA.

It is a place where birthdays are celebrated, good food is prepared, and guests are always greeted with a smile and a word of welcome. There is no doubt in anyone's mind or heart that the welcome that Gary, Yuchi (the restaurant owners) and Shudee (a server) is totally authentic and genuine.

There is no telling when Yuchi will come around to all of the tables with something extra special that she cooked up (sometimes so special that its not on the menu!).

Once Yuchi sent me and Erin home with a radish. I'm not talking about the little pink radishes that show up in the typical American vegetable garden; it was a GIANT RADISH like I'd never seen before and I used it to make stir-fry's for lunch three days in a row!

I always know in my heart that each of them is truly glad I am there and the feeling I get is that they consider it a joy to serve those who enter their space.

They build community in their store through God's gifts of kindness, hospitality, and generosity. Not only do they serve good food; they inspire me to reflect these values of kindness, hospitality, and generosity in my own life.

Gary, Yuchi, and Shudee; thank you for the kindness and welcome you've shown me and so many others as you give yourselves in love and service through the food you make and your own character and personalities that are the greatest gifts of all! May God continue to work through you, inspiring all of us to be better neighbors for each other.

As the spotlight is shown on Gary, Yuchi, and Shudee at the Dumpling House, I want to ask; what other local businesses do you see investing in the community through kindness, hospitality, and service?

 (Me with Shudee (right) and Gary (center)

(Dumpling House store front on Main Street in Wellsboro, PA)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Rooted in love

The Community worship experience at the United Methodist Church of Wellsboro might as well be called the "Community Orienting-our-lives-in-relationship-with-God Expereince," because that is exactly what it is about.

There is something very special about the community gathered in worship of God; voices and prayers converging as one unified expression of thankfulness and love to God who loves us unconditionally and irrevocably.

I also want to point out that as I open myself to think about worship as an orienting or re-orienting of my life in relationship with God it follows that worship of God is bigger and broader in scope than the flow of a traditional Sunday worship experience.

Worship is the individual whom I met with in the Tioga county prison this past week who expressed sorrow for his failures to love himself and others and a desire to live as an expression of God's love.

Worship is singing or praying in the morning to have that daily spiritual touch point with God (perhaps you saw yesterday's blog post with Dovie- https://www.bestlife.community/2019/02/morning-prayers-with-dovie.html when he so joyfully and confidently lands on my head!)

Worship is one person helping another who is in need - because loving God and loving others are two things that are very often accomplished in one and the same moment of love and kindness shared with another.

Worship is two or three people praying a prayer of thanks to God as they begin a hike or a run through the woods.

Worship is me orienting my life in relationship with God in the sanctuary of the United Methodist Church of Wellsboro.

Worship is my friend Ahmad orienting his life in relationship with God in the Mosque in the Greater Harrisburg Area.

Worship is the two of us talking over the phone, praying for each other, and allowing ourselves to be drawn more deeply into the broad and mighty expanse of God's love togehter.

Worship is all us together and each and every one of us taking time each and every day to orient and re-orient our lives in relationship with God...to live life rooted in relationship with God who loves, knows, and empowers us is to trust in the most powerful power in the universe.

Friday, February 22, 2019

A servant among servants (a joy, a priviledge, a way of life)

Today's post is dedicated to the doctors and nurses, other staff members, patients and residents at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital (Susuquehanna Health) and The Green Home (a local nursing home) here in Wellsboro.

I spent time at both places this afternoon and I can't possibly say enough about how I saw God at work there...

...In the hospitable greeting I received from the woman working at the hospital's Welcome desk.

...In the quick organizational skills of the woman working the hospital directory.

...In doctors and nurses tirelessly visiting room to room checking on and caring for patients.

...In the kind and gentle demeanor of a woman diagnosed with cancer; by the way she, even in the midst of her own struggle and anxiety, welcomed people into her room in a way that emanated God's love from within her.

...In a moment of prayer with a woman whose mother was suffering from pneumonia.

...In a brief conversation with a supply chain worker as he quickly made his way from the Green Home across the street to the hospital.

...In the pleasure that a resident of the Green Home took in educating me in a number of old-time sayings, like what it meant to "cut a rug."

Jesus taught that the greatest is the servant to everyone else. He taught it in a way that he did not expect his disciples simply to study, read and write about it; he expected his disciples to follow his example and do it boldly.

He said it. He modeled with his own life. He called them to go and do the same.

There are some people doing some pretty great service work at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital and at The Green Home here in Wellsboro, PA and the way they give of themselves for others is worth celebrating.

Where have you noticed people giving of themselves in service to others today?

What opportunities did God give you to give of yourself in service to someone else?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

More than enough

During my day off today I took some time to "count my blessings," reflecting on all that I am thankful for. 

I am thankful for the beauty of Ives Run Recreation Area on this beautiful sunny day, and all of the ducks gathered together on the open water.

I am also thankful for a lot of people in my life. I'm most thankful for Erin, and for our dog Ivy and for Dovie and our other pets. I'm thankful for my extended family; and I'm thankful for my friends; I'm thankful for the people whom I get to work with each week.

 One of the groups of people I'm most thankful for are those I'm acquainted with who are in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol. A big shout out to those in the recovery community I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside as your pastor. Without exception you all (you know who you are) have such big hearts and you inspire me in your commitment to healthy living while trusting in the power of God's love.

As a pastor in a Christian denomination I have hope that all will come to know the power of God’s love in Jesus. That being said, my goal is not to convince anyone to think and believe exactly as I do. I started this blog with the hope that all who believe in a personal and loving God might encourage one another in our journey of faith; be they Muslim, Jewish, Christian, unaffiliated with a mainline religious tradition, etc.; in a spirit of non-judgment and mutual encouragement all are welcome here. To me these qualities of non-judgment and mutual encouragement are some key ingredients of what it means to follow the example of Jesus.

I am also aware that there are those who follow this blog for the love and service component of it...or for hearing about some good things happening in community; or even for the sake of reading about the stories of particular individuals who have been highlighted.

I do hope that all will come to know the power of God’s love and that we can all live lives that are rooted in relationship with God who knows and loves each of us. The fantastic news is that I believe God has already empowered each of us live our best life possible. Each of us has always possessed within ourselves all that we will ever need to live the best life possible. Sure, the gifts that God gives us need to be developed ...but the gifts were always there...Erin has always loved animals...that is one of her gifts...and she received training to be a veterinary nurse and that activated her gifts to a fuller degree.

Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (that's a tiny seed!)...I'm paraphrasing a little here...that is more than enough. If you struggle with the idea of believing in God, of trusting in God, and of taking a step in faith you are not alone; not even close! If you have doubts, if you wrestle with unbelief; I want to acknowledge that even the tiniest step towards being open to a relationship with God is always more than enough. Not just a good start; more than enough. 

Do you believe that you are known, loved and empowered by God to live your best life possible?

Is your answer a confident "YES!"? Is your answer a tentative "sometimes"? Is your answer, "I want to say yes"?  Even if you believe it with faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, God will work through that and make it grow.  

You are known, loved, and empowered by God. You have always been and always will be MORE THAN ENOUGH.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Doing something good while enjoying life together

Thursday evening is a special time when I have the joy of going for a run with some nice people. Every Thursday at 6pm the Tyoga Running Club meets for a run. To be honest, I'm not as regular as I'd like to be with my weekly runs, but I'm working at it.

Part of why I like being a member of the Tyoga Running Club (TRC) is that its fun to run with good company. That is just part of the reason though. 

This short snippet from the TRC web page aptly describes what the club is all about:

"It is our pleasure to support regional athletes while promoting lifetime fitness in both youth and adults by creating outdoor activities that encourage an appreciation for the natural environment." (TRC web page)
TRC has tapped into something about what it means to live the best life possible; living into a beautifully crafted intersection of enjoying life and encouraging health and well-being in the community together.

We do some good things throughout each year. Scholarships are given for students transitioning from high school to college. A couple years ago one of the young people of the club used social media to organize a county-wide trash cleanup among the TRC members.

Perhaps the quality I appreciate most is the strong values of non-judgment and mutual encouragement that are reflective of the qualities of Jesus in the Gospel accounts. In the context of TRC it sounds like this; "whether you are able to run 1 mile or 50 miles you are welcome here. Whether you are a beginner or a professional or anywhere in-between you are an equally valued member of the group."

What organizations do you see doing some of the best work in community? (Please take a moment to leave a comment and you'll give me one more good thing to shine a light on through my blog)

When it comes to making a positive impact in our communities, we are better together.

(photos copied from TRC web page)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

“Someone had to do it!”

"Someone had to do it!," was my friend Carrie's response when I asked her about what motivated her to make a second trip to Kenya, Africa to invest in relationships with Kenyan locals for the sake of a community deeply affected by poverty and the Aids epidemic. Many of the children are missing parents and that makes the living situation for the children very unstable. 

Some years ago it seems that God had placed a vision of hope on Carrie's heart as well as on the hearts of a number of others in the US as well as in Kenya, Africa. This international partnership has led to the creation of an orphanage and a school that is called Oasis of Hope. Through Oasis of Hope, a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment is provided for the children of the community; and the children as well as the adults are empowered to work for the betterment of their community together! Oasis of Hope just recently was able to acquire additional property and construct some much needed additional buildings.

It all started when a number of disconnected individuals (including Carrie) received a God-sized vision to bring hope to the hopeless. The way it all continues to unfold is a testament to the truth that when a God-sized vision is given and one steps out in faith, God is faithful to place it upon the hearts of others, bringing people together and making it happen.

Carrie recently made her second trip to Kenya because someone had to go to invest in the vision and keep the international relationship strong.

I believe that God has given many of us a God-sized vision for our lives, for our communities, and for the world. The thing about a God-sized vision is that it is always without fail WAY TOO BIG for any one person to do it alone. Its easy to cast aside our God-sized visions as being too daunting, to difficult, or just downright impossible; while it's easy to think things like, "I'm not good enough," "I'm not smart enough," or "there's just no way!"

We need each other to accomplish the good that God would have us do. When we step out in faith trusting that God will make a way, God will lead us to every step of the way towards fulfilling the God-sized vision of hope and of love that was given. In most cases it is not the easy way and in many cases it is the most challenging thing we can possibly do. But there is another truth that Jesus reminds us in chapter 10 of the Gospel According to Mark: "Everything is possible with God." (Mk 10:27)

I know that there are others whose hearts break for children around the world whose communities have become torn by poverty, the Aids epidemic, and other forms of brokenness.

There are also a number of reasons our hearts break for people across the world as well as in our own local communities.

I know there are those whose hearts break for those affected by suicide.

...those whose hearts break for those bound by the chains of addiction.

...those whose hearts break for those affected by loss.

...those whose hearts break for those dealing with divorce.

...those whose hearts break for people and animals who have been abused and neglected.

I know there are those whose hearts break for the environment and creatures that humanity has used and abused as nothing more than a commodity for far too long.

I know there are those whose hearts break for families, communities, and nations torn by war and violence.

Once again, its easy to be overwhelmed by all of the bad stuff, all of the suffering, and all of the things that break our hearts into a million pieces. But it is possible, and a blessing for our hearts to be at once broken and flooded with hope because the God who cares to know us and love us is the author of the most powerful power in the universe. After all, everything is possible with God. There is no God-sized vision of hope too great that it cannot be accomplished together.

What God-sized vision of hope is connected with what your heart breaks for the most? 

What is your next step in faith to make that dream a reality?

Thank you, Carrie, for giving us a testament of what is possible with the help of God and each other when that God-sized vision hits us and we step out in faith!

(A selfie I had the opportunity to take with Carrie when she recently made a visit to Wellsboro, PA to share with some of our community members an update of the Oasis of Hope ministry in Kenya, Africa)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Speak their language

Notice that in this video I first attempted to communicate with Dovie using English. It seems he is either ignoring me or simply does not care. But notice how quickly he does respond when I speak his language!

It turns out that even in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania it is beneficial to know more than the English language; and I'm not just talking about learning to speak Dove-ese.  I recall a moment in which I wished that I had seriously invested the time and energy to learn a second language.

I have a very outgoing personality and so it is natural for me to initiate conversations with others. I was quickly thrown for a loop when I unknowingly introduced myself to a person who was deaf. I said hello and he waved back. He made a gesture to let me know that he could not hear.

I did take a crash course in ASL (American Sign Language) a few years back and figured that in this moment maybe I'd be able to use that prior knowledge to fumble through a conversation using ASL. The only thing I was effectively able to sign was "hi." I was not able to decipher any more than a few scattered words from his signing.  Thinking on my feet, I quickly took a notebook and a pen out of my backpack and then he and I were able to share some thoughts and a brief conversation through writing.

It got me thinking, is it worth me investing the time to sharpen my ASL skills?

For that matter, how important is it to me to be able to effectively communicate God's love to others, and to inspire others to live a life that is rooted in relationship with God and given in love and service to others?

For me it is pretty darn important! How important is it to you?

It seems to me that learning to speak new languages provides us with opportunities to invest in the lives of even more people for the sake of sharing God's love whether we are talking about ASL, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, or another world language. Keep in mind that sometimes sharing God's love with words is about sharing some truth about God's love and sometimes its simply about letting someone know that they are loved and appreciated by you. You may be the most profound expression of love that another person has ever experienced; consider the importance then, of learning their language.

Then again, even within the English language there are words and phrases that are unique in different generational and cultural contexts! Sometimes its challenging enough to be a 32 year old person learning to speak the language of the generation that is now 60-80 years old and at the same time learning to speak the language of the generation that is 15-20 years old!

It is important to learn their language (whoever "they" may be) since part of what it means to follow the example of Jesus (my example for what it means for me to live the best life possible) is to be able to effectively communicate with people who are sometimes very different.

If I speak my language to them the message will never get across.

If I invest the time and energy to learn their language and then speak their language good things will happen; and community can be built upon a foundation of non-judgment and mutual encouragement as each party seeks to live the best life possible.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Running with endurance the race God has set before us

Steep, Cold, Snowy, Icy, and Treacherous are all words that aptly describe the conditions of the course for this morning's Mount Tom Trail Challenge that was organized by the Tioga Running Club. The route consisted of about a two mile loop (one mile to the top and one mile back down). The goal: run as many laps as possible between the hours of 9am-11am. It seems like there were 30+ people who decided to take the mountain this morning and I was glad to count myself in as one of them.

It goes to show that there are different kinds of crazy, many of them good!

While I consider myself to be a proficient trail runner, my idea of a solid trail run is maybe 5-10 miles over moderately difficult terrain. Some of those men and women I ran with this morning are bold enough to take on 30-50 mile trail runs over some of the most rugged terrain; talk about challenging! One of the people I ran the mountain with this morning was actually out last night putting in abut 26 miles on the Mt. Tom course! (nice job Eric)

While I may not personally have a desire to run anything more than, oh lets say about 13 miles at a time, I am inspired by those who pour their hearts out in the long and grueling endurance races known as ultra-marathons.

They inspire me because I want to live my whole life in a way that is reflective of that kind of tenacity, endurance, and grit.  It causes me to reflect on the example of Jesus. He knew the vision that God had given him; to invest in the lives of people for the sake of bringing about healing, wholeness, peace, love, and hope even when doing so came at great personal cost. Jesus embodied this kind of tenacity, endurance, and grit in the way he poured out his life in love and service to others.

As we seek to live lives that are rooted in relation with God and given in love and service to others let us resolve to do so in a spirit of tenacity, endurance, and grit; after-all, it is said that love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance...sounds like an ultra-marathon of faith lived out to me.

On your mark, get set, GO!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Shining a spotlight on something good

Walking on the sidewalk along Main Street in Wellsboro on this cold Saturday morning I had the joy of encountering Lonny. He and I were both out and about in preparation for the Wellsboro Winter Festival which included a "Chili with a chance of Chocolate" event (chili tasting competition and chance to win a basket of chocolate) which was to benefit the local animal rescue organization called Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries. In addition to that there would be ice sculpture carving and other activities for kids and families to enjoy around town.

 I found out that Lonny was a reporter and a photographer of local events. I also found out that Lonny had a heart attack some years ago and it sounds like it limited some of his abilities. Unable to work, he wanted to invest his time in something positive and encouraging. There is something truly remarkable about someone who gives of themselves to shine a spotlight on good things that are happening, especially when he is not getting paid or compensated for his efforts.

Lonny shared with me that one of the challenges in what he does is that sometimes the good news does not get spread as quickly as the bad stuff. "We need more people to share good news," said Lonny.

This does not mean that we should ignore the bad stuff and the brokenness that we see around us; actually in my own experience some of the most profound good news happens when people give themselves to others who are suffering. 

Something good is hundreds of people partaking in delicious chili all around town.

Something good is children learning to cross-country ski in downtown Wellsboro.

Something good is people baking and decorating cookies together to celebrate the Winter Festival.

Something good is two people with arms joined as they walk along the sidewalk because one needs the stability of the other to keep from falling.

Something good is one person praying for God's healing presence over another's cancer diagnosis.

Something good is a service dog helping a disabled person with her needs and the bond of love that is shared.

These are some of the good things I noticed today.

In a world where the bad news spreads oh so quickly, let us give ourselves in solidarity with Lonny, and, in love and service to the well-being of our community let us each shine a spotlight on something good today.

Friday, February 15, 2019

"It could have been me"

For those teachers, pastors, counselors and others who are involved in prison ministry one thing is made abundantly clear the moment one steps into the building; you  can't take anything with you; no wallet, no cell phone, no books (except in cases when special permission is given); YOU ARE THE GIFT. 

And for the past thirty years Marian has been helping people who have ended up in the Tioga County Prison by blessing them with the gift of her presence, personality, and faith in God. Her goal is to help others come to know God and set a better trajectory for their life going forward. 

My chance encounter with Marian today was one of those "God moments;" a moment of blessing that I had not anticipated. Just as I was leaving the prison she had arrived for a program that she leads for the inmates each week. I'm so glad that we didn't just walk right by each other and that I had an opportunity to hear her story.

Marian and I talked about what it meant to live the best life; to live a life grounded in relation with God and given in love and service to others. We talked about how the example of Jesus has been the driving force behind our common desire to work to better the lives of others. We shared our own brokenness with each other and took time to pray together.

I could sense in Marian a very profound passion for prison ministry and so I asked her, "What motivates you to give yourself in love and service to inmates?"

"It could have been me," said Marian.  When she was young and people close to her were making the kind of bad choices that might land someone in prison she felt that she too was at risk. Anyone who spends five minutes talking with someone who has spent time in jail should be quick to notice that one bad decision is all that it takes to end up there. How many of us, if we haven't done something that could have sent us to jail haven't at least thought about a corner we might cut or a sketchy way we might cope with the pressures of life?

Marian has said that her 30 years of prison ministry have given her an increased sense of hope for people; that while it is in the minority of cases she is occasionally greeted in public by people who she has worked with in prison; people who at one time habitually made choices that hurt themselves and others but now live lives that are rooted in relationship with God and given in love and service to others.

Marian, thank you for being God's gift to those in prison who want to live a better life. Thank you for your story that helps the rest of us to develop and increased sense of hope for our own lives and for the lives of others. Thank you for allowing God to work through you, inspiring us to follow the example of Jesus, to give ourselves for others.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine's Day

I couldn't help noticing that my Facebook Newsfeed is flooded with Valentines Day messages this morning. It's nice to see the affection that many people have for each other. It's clear that Valentines day is not just about romantic love. It's also about expressing love for friends, family members, and others; and I understand that some just love to wallow in these Valentines Day displays of affection while others find the sappy emotional expressions totally gross and off-putting.

I'm glad to say that after eight and a half years of marriage and eleven and a half years together I still feel emotionally happy when Erin and I are together. My heart truly is full of affection and gratitude when I say to her and she says to me, "I love you." 

Love is most certainly part of what it means to live the best life possible. But isn't it funny that Jesus is never reported to have spoken the words "I love you"? In his instructions to his disciples he does say, "love each other as I have loved you," and three times he asked his disciple Peter, "Do you love me?;" but the closest Jesus came to saying those three words were when he said things like, "your sins [failures to love] are forgiven,"(Lk. 5:20) and "I am with you always." (Mt. 28:20)

Jesus showed his love by healing people who were sick, diseased, blind, deaf, and paralyzed. Jesus showed his love by welcoming people who were poor, marginalized, and oppressed. Jesus showed his love by his steadfast commitment to non-violence and compassion even for those who persecuted him, and he showed his love by extending mercy to those who betrayed, denied, and abandoned him.

I think that in writing his letter to the Corinthian church Paul was thinking of the example of Jesus when Paul wrote:

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

In my desire to live the best life possible; as I seek to live a life that is rooted in relationship with God and given in service to others I want to be all about God's love. For God's sake, (using a little trick I learned 8 years ago from a friend named Denny), I want others to be able to say of me:

Rich is patient and kind. Rich is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Rich does not demand his own way. Rich is not irritable, and he keeps no record of being wronged. Rich does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Rich never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

I think that "insert your name here [in place of love]" is an interpretation of Paul's letter that Paul himself would appreciate.

Some days I do alright, and other days I fail miserably; but I do believe this is God's vision for the love we are to share.To fall short of God's standard of love is to sin, and I celebrate that one of the primary ways I see Jesus expressing love is to say, "your sins [failures to love] are forgiven."

I hope this Valentines day (and for that matter every day) affords each of us plenty of opportunities to be patient, kind, and everything else that God's love is.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Broken, The Beautiful, The Empowered

If you want to talk about people who have been empowered by God, I know plenty of them.

If you want to talk about people who are broken, I know plenty of those too.

And if you want to talk about people who are beautiful, I'd say that's every one of us because each of us holds our own unique beauty as the manifestations of God's creative and loving presence that we are.

It looks like I've just laid out at least two separate categories: broken, and empowered.

One of the first things any pastor who is even moderately attentive to the people in her or his care comes to discover is just how broken most people are. Broken by addiction, depression, loss, fear...

There are also a handful of people in most social circles who are clearly empowered so much so that you'd have to be blind not to see it; I'm talking about people who are so confident in who God made them to be that it seems nothing is impossible for them.

Now I want to tell you that the separation between broken and empowered is nothing but an illusion. It is an illusion that I used to believe; that is, before I became a pastor 5 1/2 years ago. I entered my vocation as pastor with plenty of big visions that God had placed upon me; visions so big that I knew I couldn't do it alone.

Very quickly I came to an awareness that all of the people in the community who had opened up to me were broken in some way. I started to wonder, where are the people who are whole? Where are the people who are empowered by God and ready to invest themselves in love and service? It's amazing how thick headed I can be. I eventually came to discover that these broken people were the same people God had empowered. I was one of them too.

It was not too long ago that a friend named Troy reminded me that when we look at the story of Jesus in the Gospel according to John; when you get to the part about his resurrection from the dead in chapter 20; when Jesus is supposedly totally whole and complete, he still carries on his body the scars of his suffering as he instructs his disciple Thomas to examine his wounds and to believe that it really is him.

Somehow the scars of Jesus' suffering are made to be part of his wholeness, his beauty, and his empowerment by God.

While I write this I am thanking God for so many individuals I get to work with, pray with, and do life with who are broken yet empowered by God at the same time; people who so generously give of themselves day in and day out in love and service to others, but also people who live with the wounds and scars of anxiety, depression, loss, addiction, abuse, and fear.

Somehow their scars and deep seeded wounds have become a significant element in their story of empowerment. I do not believe that God caused their suffering; but here is truth, that God is able to work through even our most deep seeded fears, brokenness, suffering, and pain to bring about healing and something good.

Let us once more commit to living the best life possible not because the struggles, hardships and pain have dissipated but because the Spirit of God living in us has empowered us to live lives that are rooted in relationship with God and given in love and service to others.

There are so many beautiful people out there who are broken yet empowered, scarred and wounded yet whole and complete in the power of God's love.

Are you one of them? If so, we are in good company.

(notice the bonsai tree; broken yet empowered to reach towards the light, scarred yet whole, complete and beautiful-photo taken at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA 6/25/2009)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Snow Day

As I sit at the computer in my home office this afternoon there is a certain beauty to the snow-covered town-scape as a light sleet-mixed-with-rain combo fills the air. These inclement conditions have forced me to cancel two meetings that were scheduled for this evening. There is so much that I wanted to get done today that will now have to wait until next week.

I am a creature of habit. I don't like having to re-think what my plans are for the day in the middle of it.  This is frustrating. That being said, one of my normal concerns is having limited time to invest in my own spiritual growth and professional development.

I think its time for me to re-think my original thoughts about this snow day. Part of living the best life possible is, by nurturing my relationship with God, learning to see as God sees. My prayer for the duration of today is that the Spirit of God might help me to have eyes to see the blessing in every situation, even in rapidly changing situations like the weather and my plans for the day (however trivial that may seem).

After all, if I'm looking at Jesus and his apostles as my example, it is clear that in the Gospel stories of Matt, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus is one who was always able to turn every situation and change of plans into blessing.

Perhaps this evening is my opportunity to dive into one of three books I've been meaning to start reading for several weeks now!

 I hope this snow day holds blessings of spiritual growth for you too.