Sunday, October 28, 2012

Happy Halloween!

I finally had a chance to explore some of the pins I've collected on Pinterest and try out some new ideas. My mom and I organized the joint Junior/Senior Youth Group Halloween Party last Sunday and it was a great hit!

We kicked it off with a "getting to know you" game. Each kid was asked to take as much or as little candy corn out of a bowl as they would like, but they had to wait to eat it. After each kid had their handful of candy, they were asked to count the pieces and then one by one, share a fact about themselves with the group for each candy corn they grabbed out of the bowl.


It was a fantastic way to get the kids to talk about themselves and learn about each other. We had a huge age range at this event, from 9 to 18 years old!!! It was especially neat to see the elementary school students bonding with the high schoolers. A very unique experience for the younger kiddos.

Then it was dinner time. We had apple bagels which are delicious! Apple bagels are my all time favorite lunch from my childhood. They sound a little strange, but trust me, they taste simple and great.

Apple Bagels
Ingredients

  • 3 bagels, sliced
  • 1-2 apples, cored and sliced horizontally into 6 1/4 inch slices
  • 6 American cheese slices
  • Cinnamon
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit
  2. Place each bagel slice on an ungreased cookie sheet
  3. Place a slice of American cheese on each bagel
  4. Place an apple slice on each piece of cheese
  5. Sprinkle a small amount of cinnamon on each apple slice (emphasis on the small - a little cinnamon goes a long way)
  6. Place the apple bagels in the oven until the cheese begins to melt (you'll see the corners start to curl slightly. You don't want the cheese too gooey!
  7. Let the bagels cool slightly until they are safe to pick up with your hands
  8. Enjoy!

We also had some Halloween themed snacks

The table spread of Blow Pop spiders, Oreo spiders, jello worms, candy corn, and small pumpkins. Yum!


 Close up of the jello spiders. (Click for the recipe)

 Blow Pop spiders, made with 8 cut pipecleaners.

Oreo spiders. I cut pull-apart Twizzlers, opened the oreo, placed 8 small Twizzler pieces inside, and "glued" them shut with a little frosting. Then I added the M&M eyes with a dab of frosting. How cute!

After digging in to the apple bagels and the treats, we played a skeleton scavenger hunt challenge. Two teams were challenged with finding all the pieces of their cut up plastic skeleton we hid around the church. One team had a white skeleton and one team had a green skeleton, to avoid confusion of bones.

Then we had a mummy-making challenge. Each team was given 5 minutes and 3 rolls of toilet paper to make one of their team members into a full-fledged Halloween mummy. It was hilarious to watch and they were very proud of their spooky creations! (I can't post pictures, but you can use your imagination!)

Hope our next joint Junior/Senior Youth Group event is this much fun! They definitely all had a great time. Mission accomplished.





Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Courageous Servant, Bravely Humble

I am so grateful that my priest has given me these opportunities to give the sermon at Trinity. I stress out a lot beforehand while I am preparing, but after lots of prayer, preparation, several drafts, and more prayer, the final product is so rewarding. I am always amazed at how God works in my life and the lives of others. Hearing from congregation members that something I said really touched them is so humbling. And the time that I spend in prayer and thanksgiving before, during, and after the weekends I speak is fantastic. I really enjoy intentionally reveling in God's wonder. I need to do that more often.

Here is the sermon I gave at Trinity. I hope you enjoy it. Once it's posted, you can hear the audio version here.


Courageous, Brave, and Faithful

Do you remember this little sing-song? "Here the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. Close the doors, listen to them pray, open the doors and they all run away!"

Now as a kid, I learned that last part was not true, especially for those with kids at the 10am service which was followed by coffee hour. It felt some Sundays like were were stuck in coffee hour forever. 

But that's because my parents are part of the Trinity family. They have friends that they want to talk to, catch up with, ask how they are doing, see how things are going. They are part of this community.


Community is essential to our faith as Christians. We break bread together. We sing together. We pray together. We worship together. We talk about our Christian family around the world. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even Jesus had companionship and community during his time on earth through the twelve disciples. And Trinity Episcopal Church is more than 130 North West Street. It is the people who come here and worship and the people who go out into the community to serve.


And God requires us to have the courage to step up to the plate and serve each other. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to be a friend to the friendless. And when you see someone in need, to help them whether or not it is convenient for you.

I personally have a hard time keeping that last one. I make a lot of excuses for why I don't have time or why I can't help. I often joke and say, "I wish there were more hours in the day," when really I should be saying, "I wish I used my time more wisely."

Every so often, God finds a way to share with me exactly where I stand. Which is usually not quite where he wants and needs me to be. This time, I got that message from the most unlikely of places.

I have the opportunity to sponsor a little girl in Honduras named Angela Nicoll Escoto Salgado. She is part of a program called Compassion International which serves children in extreme poverty around the world. She is 11 years old and lives with her single mother and grandmother. In addition to being raised in a single parent home in extreme poverty, Nicoll has a handicap. She is crippled in one foot and one hand. A single parent home, a severe handicap, and extreme poverty have molded one of the most encouraging girls I have had the chance to communicate with.

In addition to monetary sponsorship, we are pen pals, writing back and forth every couple months or so. I received a letter from her last week which literally brought me to tears. Even when I tried to tell my mom about it I got choked up. I'd like to share the translation with you.


God bless you, Emily. I hope you are well and your family, too. I want to tell you this, my dream is to be a pastor because this way, I can teach everyone that they should receive the word of God and that they are given a marvelous, marvelous gift of Jesus Christ our Savior. If I don't become a pastor, I will serve God another way, but I will serve him. Another one of my dreams is to be a doctor so I can help those who are sick, like my Grandmother. She has diabetes. I want to help cure this disease. And I know that God is our best doctor. I say goodbye to you with kisses and hugs. God bless you. Thank you for being my sponsor. Can I ask you a question? Have you accepted God?

Talk about humbling experiences.

This, out of the mouth of an 11 year old girl. She is facing extreme circumstances that I think would give her every right to complain, but instead she tells me about her dreams to serve God, heal the sick, and teach about the gift of eternal life.

It takes bravery to face seemingly hopeless situations and trust in God. And it takes courage to help someone when you are nervous, unsure, or are putting something at risk.

Like in today's Gospel (Mark 7:24-37), I'd like to point out that no one asked for help for themselves. This wasn't about someone touching Jesus' robe and being healed or someone begging to be cured. Mark tells us about a mother who leaves her possessed daughter at home while she pleads with Jesus for healing on her behalf and of friends who bring their deaf friend with a speech impediment to Jesus and ask for him to just lay his hands on him.

I think that takes courage. She risked a "no." She risked leaving her daughter at home while she sought after Jesus. They risked public humiliation. They risked traveling to Jesus with their deaf, mute friend.

But just as God requires us to be his hands and feet, he also needs us to humble ourselves to receive help and healing. It may be extreme such as in recovering from addiction or support when tragedy strikes. Or it could be much smaller. Those are the times when I find it most difficult to ask for support or help. I don't like admitting that I don't have it all together. I don't like letting people know that I can't do it on my own. I fear that I will seem weak or inadequate or dumb. But those are the times when we need to have the courage to humble ourselves and ask for prayer, for help, for healing.

You see, our God is a living God! He is alive and very much present in our lives. We hear about these ancient miracles and it is really easy to think "that was then, but this is now." And that just. isn't. true.

God is here.
 God is present.
He is listening, and you just need to ask.

But you have to believe that God is listening when you ask, waiting as you seek, and behind that door when you knock. Just as faith without works is nothing, so are our pleas without faith.

When the woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter, he replied seemingly harshly stating, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." I learned something interesting while preparing for this sermon. A biblical scholar named John Dummelow explains the passage like this:


"In this passage, 'children' refers to the Jews whom Jesus was focusing his mission on at this time. And Rabbis often spoke of the Gentiles as 'dogs.' So the statement is speaking of how the Word of God should go first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. But here, here Jesus says not 'dogs' as the Gentiles do, but the exact translation is 'little dogs' such as household, or favorite dogs, giving the passage a different meaning. The woman catches this expression and responds cleverly that if the Gentiles are household dogs, then it is only right that they should be fed with the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
Yes, the woman responded cleverly, but without faith in Jesus' power to heal, her confidence would have been broken by a "no." And the men who brought their friend had unwavering faith that Jesus could heal him as they begged him to just lay his hands on him.

We should not let the pressure of this world allow us to swipe away the inconvenient needs of others. We need to humble ourselves and ask our Christian family for help and prayer when we are overwhelmed by life and in need of healing. And above all, trust in our Lord God to guide us, always and everywhere.

Mark writes, "They were astounded beyond measure, saying 'He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

This isn't just a story about what happened. It is a story about what happens when we have faith in our God, when we have the courage to serve, and when we humble ourselves to be served.



Amen.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I had the pleasure of giving the sermon at Trinity Episcopal Church this past weekend, which coincided with Father's Day. I had a really tough time getting started, but after a lot of reading, prayer, and a handful of drafts, I think the finished product turned out to be a good message.

Good morning. Happy Father’s Day! Gosh, fathers are something special, aren’t they? We have so many father figures in our life that are so easy to take for granted. Not all relationships are perfect, but most of us have had some great father figure in our lives, whether that is a biological father or grandfather, an adoptive father, a coach, teacher, professor, neighbor, or friend who has stood in as a father figure. And the most important father of them all, Father God.


We learn such important lessons from the fathers in our lives. There are unnumbered how to’s that I learned from my dad. How to use a hammer and nail and how not to use the hammer and nail. How to mow the lawn and how to avoid the woodchips. How to paint a room, and how to put down a drop cloth before beginning to paint. How to follow your dreams. How to resolve arguments. How to, how to, how to. And I’m learning that it doesn’t end. I’m still calling my dad with a “gotta quick question for you” phone call every week or so.

Our earthly fathers are all very different. Some of us have wonderful fathers. Some of us find something lacking. But no matter what we have here, we have the assurance that our heavenly Father is perfect. A flawless Father.

In Matthew, Jesus says to the people,

“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Our Father in Heaven knows what we need and he provides. He is there to those who do not have someone to turn to. He is, as it says in Psalms, a “Father to the fatherless and a defender of widows.”

But unfortunately, that level of perfection doesn’t just rub off on us. Sometimes we need a little discipline. In Proverbs, it is written, “For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.”

I kept thinking about God as the Father as I wrote this sermon, but then I began to contemplate the other half of the equation. Us. If he is our perfect father, then we are the children, striving to please him. Just as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him."

Just like many of us have tried to please our earthly fathers over the years by doing the right thing and working hard, we also aim to please our Heavenly father. We might make mistakes, but we try. I believe that God counts our efforts, even if the finished product is less than perfect, unlike many of my college professors who only looked at the final answers on my exams.

A lot of life is about what we learn, how we grow, and it’s important to be thoughtful about what we do with our time here on earth and how we impact the lives of others. Both my dad and God have taught me a lot of lessons throughout the years. One of the biggest and most important rules my dad taught me, was also a key message in Sunday school – the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do to you."

Perhaps that explains why when my sister and I would come running to our parents after an argument, they would ignore the part about what she did, and instead ask, “But what did you do?” My parents taught me very early on that I cannot control my surrounding, but I can control what I do about them. I remember seeing in my parents room when I was very young, a wooden plaque that read one of my favorite prayers to this day,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
It kind of sticks in your mind. Unfortunately, when those situations arise when I can’t change it, I often would prefer to ignore that bit of wisdom and convince myself that there’s got to be a way around it. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way a few times.

When I was a teenager, I was pretty typical in that I felt a little awkward, most of the time. I was too tall, my glasses felt too big, I was too clumsy and shy, and sometimes I just thought I was weird.

Now…ten years later. I can confidently embrace the truth that we are all unique and that God did so on purpose. He doesn’t make any mistakes.

You know, now I like my body. Sure, it’s one of those love-hate relationships and it took some time to get used to, but I’m getting there. My eyes have seen New York City and San Francisco, the green mountains, the blue ocean, and the yellow prairies. My nose has smelled Christmas trees in December, flowers in the spring, and pumpkin pie in the fall. My ears have heard teachers’ lessons, parents’ advice, and the songs of nature. My hands have felt pens and papers, rocks and dirt, hands and hugs from friends and family, have wiped tears and stifled inopportune laughter. I have tasted food, drink, and everything in between. I have been beyond blessed in this body. So many memories. So much love.

And then I ran across today’s reading where Paul writes to the Corinthians,

“Therefore, we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.”
While I am in my body, I am away from the Lord? Yes, God is always “with us” through the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. However, we will not be standing face to face with God in heaven until we have left the familiarity of the earth. My body is a great vessel, a shell for my soul. But that’s just it. It’s only a shell.

And sometimes it’s hard to imagine anything else. I like the familiar. But I am among very few who find this world “comfortable.”

There are countless organizations trying to help those who live in conditions we can’t quite imagine as we sit in our air conditioning, driving our cars around town, and calling and texting friends with our phones.

The Water Project is reaching out to the billion people around the world who suffer needlessly without access to safe water, one village at a time. Building wells, providing water, and unlocking potential.

The Heifer Project is feeding the hungry and providing sustainable food resources by giving impoverished villages animals for milk, eggs, and meat and plants to grow grains, fruits, and vegetables.

UNICEF works to help children survive and develop, provide basic education and fight gender equality, prevent HIV/AIDS and other diseases, protect children from violence, exploitation, and abuse, and serves as an advocate and leverages partnerships around the world, all to serve as a driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized.

Clean water, food on the table, and a basic education? If you have these three things, you are among the richest people in the world. Sometimes it’s easy to lose that perspective with our American culture telling us we need to be smarter, faster, prettier, cooler, richer. It’s all in perspective. Like I said, our bodies are only temporary shells for our eternal souls. Your life doesn’t end here. What’s really important at the end of the day?

I once heard a beautiful analogy to explain what happens to our souls when we move on from this world. Have you ever put on a glove? Imagine you have a glove on your hand right now. When you wiggle your fingers, the gloves’ fingers wiggle too. When make a fist, or peace sign, or a thumbs up, the gloves follows the shape of your hand. Now, when you remove the glove and wiggle your fingers, the glove no longer follows your movements. The same can be said about our bodies and souls. Our when we move our bodies, we move our souls.

But our souls are not our bodies. When Paul refers to “we” in his letter, saying, “Therefore, we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him,” he is referring to our souls.

Bodies seem normal, but they are not eternal. That being said, I think it is good, and healthy, to come to terms with the life God has provided for you – the good and the bad. Each one of us has a story that is unique. We all have joy and sorrow, pain and happiness. But you’re not a photocopy or a manufactured product. You’re the original, with the artist’s signature still drying. You’re a work in progress. He isn’t done with you yet. You are beautiful, but not complete. Each day, a few more additions, alterations, finishing touches are made to make you into the work of art he envisioned when you were first created. I know that God sees each and every one of us as beautiful.

I have been fortunate to have two fathers who love me. Both my father God and my father Jim Brown.

Tomorrow/today is Fathers day. While we will take time to honor our earthly fathers, remember your Heavenly Father. Take time to sit with God in love, thankfulness, and praise.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Zoom!

When I was younger, there was a show on called Zoom! I thought all the kids on the show were super cool. I imagined how fun their lives were, how smart they were, how many friends they had, and how easy everything must have been for them. I wanted to be cool, too.

Looking back on it, the show was incredibly dorky.

I had planned on using this post to create a thoughtful, meaningful entry, but instead I'll leave you with a clip of Zoom...the one  that made me believe I could rap.





Saturday, January 21, 2012

Following Directions

Last week there was a Chinese New Year celebration at work and I offered to bake for the dessert competition. I wanted to bring something really good, so I looked online for a great recipe. Finally, I found the one: Macadamia Lemon Bars. I went to the store and bought all the ingredients. I came home, measured out the different quantities of flour, sugar, nuts, lemon juice, and so on, and got started.

First, I made the crust. Then, as the crust was baking, I made the lemon filling to put inside. When the final product was finished, I took it out of the oven…it looked awful. Something was not right. Somewhere along the line, I messed up. I looked at the beautiful picture on the recipe, then at my slimy creation. I had no idea what I did wrong.

I popped it back in the oven, hoping to bake the goo into something edible. Then I started on batch two. The second batch was going to be better. It had to be, I couldn’t bring that stuff I just made into work. So I called someone who could help.

“Mom! I need your help.”

We went through the recipe together as I started on batch two.

Did you cook the crust separately? Yes.
Did you add the right amount of flour? Yes. Of lemon? Yes. Of sugar? Yes.
Did you beat it til it was fluffy? Like this? I asked, stopping the blender.

No, definitely not. And there was my mistake. A seemingly small part of the instructions, but I guess it made a big difference.

I turned the blender back on. "Is this fluffy?" I asked. "No, not yet," she said.
"Is this fluffy?" I asked again. "Nope, keep going."
"Is this fluffy enough?" I asked for the third time. "Yes, that’s good."

I poured the bubbly, or fluffly, filling into the crust and viola! 15 minutes later I had a beautiful dessert that looked exactly like the picture in the recipe. As it turns out, you can’t just follow some of the directions. You have to follow all of them, as the baker originally wrote them. Of course there is always room for creativity, but the basics remain the same, especially when you’re learning.


Then I started to think about how that compares to my relationship with God. He’s the original baker. He wrote the directions, he gave us the ingredients, and now it’s up to us to follow them. He gives us very clear directions through the commandments, Jesus’ teachings, the prophets. Hey, we have a huge instruction manual called the Bible. It has examples, stories, and some versions even have pictures.

You know, we get a lot of instructions in life, from all different directions.
  • Family: clean your room, be nice to your sister, set the table for dinner.
  • Friends: come over to my house, come out to dinner, come to a movie with us.Fri
  • Teachers: Study hard, do your homework, read the directions before taking the test.
  • Bosses: Prepare the report for Friday, schedule a meeting for Tuesday, get the information to me by Wednesday
  • Inanimate Objects: Do not remove tag from mattress, read instructions before assembling, allow 5 minutes to cool before eating

You would think that with so many instructions in our lives, we would be used to it by now. Yet somehow, I still find myself falling short when it comes to God’s instructions for my life. But I know I’m not alone. Today, we heard the latter part of the story of Jonah, who, when he received God’s instructions, ran far. Ninevah, was east. He ran to Tarshish, which was in Spain. He really couldn’t have gone any further if he tried.


But within this story, we hear about the Ninevites, who were not very good people. They didn’t know about God and their lives showed that. It was so awful there, that God was going to destroy the entire city in 40 days. That’s pretty bad. But you see, Jonah came speaking God’s words and they believed him and acted immediately. Immediately. The people and the king, the government, all stopped their violence and put on sackcloth and hoped God would be merciful. They even put sackcloth on their animals.


I don’t know about you, but I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I generally listen, and my response usually isn’t to run halfway across the country. At the same time, I’m guilty of taking quite a bit of time to do what he tells me.

The story from Mark is a prime example of obediently following God’s instructions from the get go. He called, they came. No questions asked. But I think that our relationship with God goes much deeper than just following directions.

There’s a great song by Matthew West titled The Motions which goes:

I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions

No regrets, not this time
I’m gonna let my heart defeat my mind
Let Your love make me whole
I think I’m finally feeling something
Cause just okay is not enough

The disciples definitely didn’t just go through the motions and okay wasn’t enough for them or for God. They lived out their faith each day of their lives. In the translation of the passage from Mark we heard today, Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Jesus wasn’t asking them to add this on to their to-do list: Fish for dinner, fish for a living, and now, fish for people. No, Jesus was inviting them to a new life. A different translation of the same passage shows this more clearly, saying, “And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Not another task, a new lifestyle, a complete spiritual makeover if you will.

When God puts questions, challenges, or tasks in front of you, how do you respond? Do you run? Do you get up and follow his instructions? Do you follow just some of the directions? Do you give God the opportunity to change your life?

A dear friend of mine once spoke these words to me, which really hit home. If your vision for your life, your ministry, your church doesn’t change you, it isn’t going to change anything else. Sometimes following the directions requires us to change our direction.

I’m sure you’ve heard the Woody Allen quote, or a version of it:



You see, God already has directions for you and he wants more than just the motions. He asks us to come and follow. He will make you fishers of men.

When I finally followed the directions, I was presented with a delicious dessert. Today I ask you to listen to what God is asking of you. What directions has he given you? If you step out of the boat and follow him, you might just find something sweet.