Mercy Tree

Hey everybody.  My church is doing a series for Lent on trees in the Bible.  Each week we have a sermon on a tree, and then discuss the sermon and the tree in our small groups.  Our theme song is called “Mercy Tree,” by Lacey Sturm.  If you haven’t heard of it, go look it up online and read the lyrics, and listen to the recording.  In my opinion it is a great song for reflection on Lent, Jesus, sin, forgiveness, and hope.

The first two weeks of our series have focused on the trees in the Garden of Eden.  I have read that passage many times over the years and each time I notice something different.  For example, I had not considered that both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil were in the midst of the garden.  I always pictured the “bad” tree as a gnarly, foreboding looking tree on the opposite end of the garden, in some dark creepy corner with a big fence around it and a sign with a skull and crossbones, “KEEP OUT.  BEWARE OF SNAKE.”  But reading the story closely, it seems it was a pretty nice looking tree, with yummy fruit, and it was in the middle with the “good” tree and all the other vegetation.  At least that is how Adam and Eve perceived it.

Things are not always what they seem.

I have often wondered, if that tree were forbidden, why did God put it in the garden in the first place?  And why did it seem so attractive?  Seems kind of mean,  like God was deliberately baiting Adam and Eve and setting them up to fail.  But that’s not the God I know.  The sermon suggested another perspective.  Everything in the garden was about God’s benevolent, thoughtful, abundant provision for mankind.  Perhaps that forbidden tree was an opportunity for Adam and Eve to worship God through trust and obedience.  By choosing not to eat of that tree, they accepted God’s loving authority over their lives, even if they didn’t understand it.  So a tree that appeared attractive was hands-off, but it’s forbidden-ness made it a source of blessing?

Things are not always what they seem.

There are some choices in life that may seem obvious.  “Thou shalt not….”  Murdering comes to mind.   But our perceptions can be a little off and the bad stuff can get mixed in.  A little rationalization and something we know we aren’t supposed to do suddenly seems OK.   Is it possible to murder a relationship without anyone actually dying?  I’ve done it.  Somebody says or does something that hurts me, so I just distance myself and let the relationship drift and shrivel from neglect.  I justify it by thinking to myself, that person betrayed me and therefore can’t be trusted so I don’t need to be that person’s friend.   I may have avoided the painful process of speaking the truth in love, forgiving, and attempting to reconcile, but I also lost what could have been a great opportunity to grow, and what could have become a closer friendship.  Very sad considering the whole thing may have been a misunderstanding.

My relationship with my Mom is….challenging.  I have always been a pretty independent person who prides myself on learning new things, figuring out how stuff works, and doing things for myself.  I have worked full time since finishing college, lived on my own, taken several road trips by myself, and even became a homeowner a few years ago.  So it has always bothered me that my Mom just doesn’t seem as driven as I am.  I have taken several trips to visit her in Arizona, but she has only made one trip to see me, when I graduated college nearly 20 years ago.  I have had 6 surgeries since then, and each time I had friends care for me because she would not fly out.  I kind of resented it. OK, I didn’t just kind of, I completely resented it. So some years ago I decided I just wouldn’t visit her again until after she came to visit me.  Of course I rationalized it by saying I was setting boundaries.  Yeah, that’s mature.  So much for honoring my father and mother…..  Now all of a sudden Mom is in her 70′s and really can’t travel.  Ironically, it has become much more difficult for me to travel because of the EDS, which I probably got from her, which is partly why it was so difficult for her to travel in the first place.  While I’ve been having my decade-long tantrum I have been robbing myself of a relationship with my mother. For some strange reason my stubborn snit didn’t improve our relationship any.  What I thought would  vindicate me left me feeling  like a whiny little kid.  What appeared to be a good choice left me empty.

In a few weeks I am traveling to see my Mom.  There are consequences to waiting so long.  Our relationship has suffered from neglect.   In my stubbornness I robbed us of the opportunity of a visit when we were both in better health.  I robbed myself of many lessons God may have wanted to teach me through sharing life’s journey with my Mom.  I cannot get that time back.  However, I can choose today whom I will serve.  I can see through eyes of faith rather than relying on my own flawed perception.  I can go against the world’s school of conflict “resolution” and instead choose humility, compassion, forgiveness, and honor for my mother who, like me, is flawed.  I can choose the mercy tree.

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Welcome Pastor Jeff!

My pastor just started a blog.  If his writing is anywhere near as good as his preaching, it is a must read.  Go check it out!

http://gloriousintoxication.blogspot.com

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Where I’ve been, and where I’m going

Hello everyone.  Welcome to 2014.  A lot has been happening here at the cafe.  The irony is, I started this blog to chronicle my journey through seminary, but as with so many things in life the journey had some unexpected twists that I was having a hard time articulating so I have been blog silent.  Now that the cloud has lifted a bit let me give you the cliff-notes version of what I have been up to for the last 12 months or so.

In December of 2012, I saw a geneticist who specializes in connective tissue disorders.  The purpose was to confirm what one of my doctors and I were already pretty sure of.  Yep, it’s official.  I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS).  This means that the “recipe” my body uses to make collagen is wrong.  The best way I know to describe it is to think of a piece of elastic.  If you pull it, it stretches and then goes back to its original shape when you stop pulling.  But a bad piece of elastic, when you pull it, will crackle, possibly break, or else it will stay stretched out when you let go rather than contracting.  Collagen is like that.  Because it is found everywhere in the body, the entire body is affected.  So, my skin is unusually stretchy and sensitive.  My muscles and tendons are overstretched and weak, causing virtually every joint in my body to slide around too much and sometimes completely dislocate.  As a result I have a lot of joint and muscle pain.  My bones are too porous (osteoporosis).  My digestive system is sluggish and my intestines too stretchy.  My blood vessels are too stretchy so when I stand up for very long blood collects lower in my body.  Instead of accelerating a little bit like its supposed to, my heart rate tanks and I get lightheaded.  

It took about 2 years from the time I first heard of EDS to official diagnosis.   By the time I got to diagnosis, my entire being–body, mind, spirit, emotions–were exhausted.   EDS can be very nasty.   This is scary stuff.  Having an expert in the field go on record saying I have it made it real.  All the fear I had been desperately trying to keep at bay came crashing to front and center.  I freaked.  

The day after diagnosis, I went to my psychiatrist (Depression, anxiety, and chronic illness, especially when chronic pain is involved, often go hand in hand) and he promptly suggested I be admitted to the hospital.  He wanted to adjust my depression medication but because I had a history of reacting badly to medication changes thought it would be safer to do it under 24/7 supervision.  So I spent 4 days inpatient followed by 4 weeks in a half-day mental health program.  From there I continued the hard work of grieving the life I thought I had and figuring out how to go forward.

I am very fortunate to have a great support system.  I am part of a great church with treasured friends who are not afraid to climb into the mess with me.  Friends brought meals, cleaned my house, called and emailed and texted me.  I have foggy memories of sitting in my small group meeting, giving myself silent pep talks to get through it, trying desperately to focus on what the other people were saying.  It was awful.  But they hung in there with me as I crawled my way through recovery.  I switched to a different psychiatrist who did some additional testing and got me on some better medication.  

In September I took my last Seminary class, the Pentateuch.  I will have plenty to say about that in future posts.  But I will graduate in June.  I feel it is a huge victory.  I could not have done it without God’s help.  It feels really good to say that word, graduation.  

Having finished school now, I wish I had some exciting  “burning bush” story of calling to tell you.  I may never have one.  However, I am grateful to be in a place now where I am engaged with the world around me and open to opportunities to serve in small ways.  I have made some wonderful friends through an EDS support group, and have many opportunities to extend God’s love as a result.  I have participated in a couple activities at my church’s disability ministry and have provided some input for making the building and its activities more accessible to the disabled.  They are small steps but I believe God is present in them.  And  I pray they make Him smile.

Diana

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Belated link

Hello friends.  I wrote a blog post back in April for Today’s Christian Woman, and I thought I posted the link.  Ooops!  Here it is….

http://blog.todayschristianwoman.com/2013/04/what_me_mary_and_martha_have_i.html

My thanks to Today’s Christian Woman, and Christianity Today, for the opportunity.

 

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I’m a Real Live Author!

Friends, I am published.  For real!  Please share my joy and follow this link.  If you like what you read post a comment or post a link on your Facebook so we can get more traffic to the site and I can get more opportunities to write for them. 

http://www.giftedforleadership.com/2012/12/the_sacrament_of_evangelism.html

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A Promise and a Plan

As promised, here is the text of my sermon…..

           

            How many of you have a big family?  So, for Thanksgiving how many people are there usually? 

            When I picture the Israelites, I see a big extended family.  When they arrived in Egypt, there were 70 descendants of Jacob.  They did well in their new home.   After a while, things changed.  Joseph and all his brothers died.  By then, they had gone from a big extended family of 70 to a people group of several hundred thousand.   The Egyptians were afraid that such a large foreign group would align themselves with other groups in the area and overthrow Egyptian rule.  Strangely, the Egyptians did not deport them.  Perhaps they wanted to keep them around so they could control them.  So, they put them in hard jobs with little or no pay—jobs that privileged Egyptians would not want to do.   When that didn’t work, they resorted to infanticide. 

            The Israelites cried out to God to help them.  At first their prayers were probably confident.  Surely the God who had delivered their ancestors from trouble would rescue them as well.  Surely he would keep His promises to the children of Abraham right?  As generation after generation suffered though, their prayer may have become more distraught.    I cannot imagine suffering for that long, crying out for deliverance and getting no relief.  I get discouraged after a few weeks!    Maybe they decided God had forgotten them and His promises to them….or worse, He never existed in the first place.    

            Then there’s Moses.  He was born Israelite but raised in Egyptian aristocracy.  He had led a privileged life.  But then he stuck his neck out.   He defended a Hebrew that was being beaten by an Egyptian.   Moses tried to do the right thing, and it blew up in his face.  Not only did he get in big trouble with Pharaoh, but the very people he was trying to help, the Hebrews, treated him with contempt for what he had done.  As a result, Moses had to leave the home he ever knew.   He soon was stuck out in the boonies with a bunch of stinky sheep that weren’t even his.  Like the Isrealites, maybe Moses wondered if He had been cast aside, or if God still had a plan for him.  Chapter 3 of Exodus is God revealing to Moses that He has not cast them aside, and that He absolutely keeps His promises.  But God has more on His mind than property.

            The name God uses for himself here –the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–was a familiar one to Moses.  It’s a name that has been evolving since the beginning of the Old Testament.  To Isaac, He was the God of Abraham.  To Jacob, He was the God of Abraham and Isaac.  At the end of Genesis, he was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And He is the God of Moses’s father.  Imagine how that sounds to someone who finds himself in such humble circumstances, whose people have been in bondage for 400 years.  There is a feeling of comfort and familiarity in hearing the voice of the God your people have served for hundreds of years, speak after so many years of silence. 

            In verse 7,  God says he has “indeed seen” the suffering of His children and “heard” their cries.

            Now I am not a Hebrew scholar, nor do I play one on TV, but I have what I call the “Bible languages for dummies” Bible.  “Indeed seen” is more than just a casual observation.  It implies the one observing feels the experience of those being observed.   “Heard” means to give undivided, focused attention.  

           

            In other words, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who has been caring for them since even before Abraham, is intimately aware of all that has happened.  He did not leave them or forsake them.  He did not forget them.  He heard every shriek to the core of his being.  He has felt every lash of the whip as if it were his own back tacking the stripes.  And God has had ENOUGH.  Verse 8 says God has come down.  Dad is on the scene. 

            Let’s continue reading….(8-9) God is going to rescue them—and bring them from Egypt to a new land.  God is concerned with more than just the immediate crisis.  He has the long term in mind.  He is not going to just get them out of a bad situation and dump them somewhere for them to figure out the rest on their own.  Further, they are not going to be crammed into some refugee camp in the desert with poor sanitation and bad food.  He is going to see them all the way to their new life in a new home. It is a land flowing with milk and honey.  These are two things which are produced with very little human effort.  Feed the cow and she will make milk. Bees make honey all by themselves.  Think about how this would sound to a people who have been in slavery, doing backbreaking labor for four hundred years.  They will have room to spread out.  Their needs will be met.  They will finally be able to rest.

            Where is this land?  The land of the  Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  This is not some random clump of dirt.  This is the land promised to Abraham way back in Genesis 15!  Even when God was talking to Abraham, He knew this day would come.  God has not forgotten His promise.  He is going to bring it to pass, and the time is now. 

            God makes clear that His promise is about more than property, however.  Moses is listening as God expresses His concern and unveils His plan, and Moses is right there.  God is going to rescue them—Amen, LORD!  He is going to give them a new home—Halleluiah!  And you are going to go down and talk to Pharaoh—Wait, who me?!  Then we see another part of the promise:  God said, ‘I will be with you.’  We see variations of this phrase throughout the Old Testament.  He said “I am with you” to Joshua, to David, to Jeremiah.  Jesus said it to His disciples.  The Lord said it to Paul in Acts.   This promise is for us today.  How do I know? Even Jesus is called Emmanuel, God with us.   Whatever our location, whatever our circumstances, God promises to be with us.  It may seem like we are all alone, but we are not. 

            Immediately following, we see the third part of the promise:  The sign, that once the Israelites are safely out of Egypt, Moses will worship God on the very mountain where this conversation is taking place.   God desires to have a relationship with us.  He wants to communicate and be present, but He wants us to reach out to Him and worship Him and love Him.

            In Verse 14, God refers to Himself in a new way.  He uses the phrase, I AM WHO I AM.   God has many names throughout the Bible, most of which describe what He does or aspects of His character:  The LORD will provide, the Captain of the Hosts….but this name is different.  It doesn’t describe anything about what God does.  But it fits with what God has been saying all along.  It says God is God.  That He exists.  That He is personal, not some vague cosmic ooze.  More than that, He is timeless.   In Revelation He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.  He is the God who was, and is and is to come.  He is always present.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of Moses and the Israelites.  He is also the God of Diana, and the God of Tiffiney, and the God of Samuel.  He will still be God long after we are gone.

            Sometimes I feel like I have been forgotten, or that what I am doing doesn’t have any purpose.   Some years back I was leading a singles ministry.  I believed I was in the center of God’s will.  We had a solid community and we were growing in our faith.  But than things changed.  There was serious conflict between some of the members.    It was serious enough that I felt the singles’ pastor needed to know, and I needed his input.  The church took a “he said/she said” stand and the group was shut down.  Many of the women involved left the church and I lost them as friends.  I ended up leaving as well.  Like Moses, I took a risk and tried to defend people who I thought were being mistreated, and it blew up in my face.  I lost my church, my friends, and a ministry I was passionate about.  I found myself wondering if I had been cast aside.  I started to question what I believed to be God’s call on my life, and if God was even still around.  I didn’t understand.  But God did.  God used my change in circumstances to bring me to a church that loves me and that is like family, that supports women who are called to serve, and that is passionately reaching out to a community where people need to know Jesus.  God did not abandon me; He did not change.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is the God of Diana.  He brought me to a good and spacious place.  He showed me He is faithful to His promises.   I don’t know what will happen next but I am walking in God’s promises every day.  God is with me, and I am worshipping Him.

            When we read the story of Exodus, we focus on the deliverance of an entire people group from bondage.  But there is a side to the story we often overlook.  What about the Israelite who lived between years 100-200 of captivity?  He started and ended his life in slavery.  These folks in chapter 3 and following, they get to see deliverance!  But what about the poor guy who was born waiting and died still waiting?  We don’t like to talk about him, because that guy could be us.  Sometimes I feel like that guy.  I have been praying for healing and deliverance and restoration for my family and my body for over 20 years, and I am STILL WAITING.  This side of heaven I may not see deliverance.   I do not like to think about that.  But this is what I know:  Whether I see my family healed or not, whether I see my body made whole or not, I am walking in God’s promises every day.  God is with me, and I am worshipping God.   

            Are you stuck on the backside of a mountain in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of stinky sheep?   Have you been crying out to God for a really really long time and you are STILL WAITING?  Do you wonder if you have been cast aside?  Well He has not forgotten you.  He still has a plan for you.  A plan that goes all the way back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and will continue into eternity.    Do you know Jesus?  If so, than you are walking in God’s promises, too.  God is with you, and every moment is an opportunity for you to worship Him!

            Many of our neighbors came here in search of a better life, like the Israelites did when they went to Egypt.  Maybe this life is better than the one they left, but it is still hard.   They are stuck in low-wage jobs, at the same time hearing on the news they are a threat because they are taking away jobs from more deserving people.  Maybe they know God.  Maybe they gave up on Him a long time ago.   God has a message to deliver to His kids.  Maybe we who are stuck on the back side of a mountain, who are waiting, are the ones to deliver it.  Maybe the message God has goes something like verse 15:  “The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”  God has not forgotten us, and He doesn’t want us to forget Him.  No, He wants us to know Him and worship Him.  Because just like He promised, He is with us. 

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Real Live Preacher….sort of

Hello friends.  It has been a while!  This Fall I took an introductory preaching class so I was focused on studying, writing, and delivering my very first sermon.  What I didn’t know when I signed up for the class was that the assignment was to prepare and preach it WITHOUT NOTES.  On our first day of class all of us expressed a little fear.  Many of my classmates are already preaching in their congregations, yet even these veterans (compared to me) were nervous about setting the 3×5 cards aside.  Now that I have finished the class though, I want to say it was awesome.  To my preaching friends out there, if you have never tried preaching a sermon without notes, DO IT!

The premise of note-free preaching comes from two books, 360 Degree Preaching by my professor, Dr. Michael Quicke, and Preaching without Notes by Derek Webb.  I highly recommend both books.  The idea is that you so immerse yourself in the text that it becomes a part of you, of your story, and the story of those in your congregation.  As a result, by the time you actually preach the message is so engrained in you that notes are not needed.

This is not to say preaching without notes is off the cuff or ad libbed.  To the contrary.  We spent hours reading and rereading our texts, doing research, reading commentaries, and using Hebrew or Greek dictionaries.  I had a detailed plan of how the sermon would flow, from the opening story through the major points to the conclusion.  I wrote a word-for-word “stereo draft” which is like a paper or essay but is written as if it were spoken.  However, when I practiced I did not read from the draft, and the goal was not to memorize it.  The sermon draft only served as a tool to reveal what would “work” and what wouldn’t, and it gave my professor a guide to see what my plan was.

When I delivered my sermon, all I had was my Bible.  What I said came out a little differently than what I had written. I completely forgot one illustration.  I changed a visual effect.  But the message God wanted to deliver came through loud and clear.  Because I wasn’t using notes, I was free to look at my friends in the class.  I was able to reference something from a previous student’s sermon off-the cuff.  I wasn’t focused on remembering everything I had prepared.  I was focused on saying what God wanted to say.  It became more about the message and less about the words.  It became more about our relationship with God and less about instructions.  By the end, it was a part of me.  And as my professor advised, afterwards there was a bit of a crash.  I felt a little depleted and sad.  I imagine it is like post-partum blues.  This thing that had been growing inside me had been birthed at the appointed time.  Now it had been released into the lives of the listeners and it was time to move on.

I took this class because I have an interest in public speaking.  I would have never considered speaking without notes, but I had an incorrect view of what that really means.  Now that I have experienced the meticulous preparation, the intense fellowship with God, and the amazing experience of delivery, I would consider incorporating much of this philosophy into my future speaking endeavors.

This experience also gave me great appreciation for all the preachers out there who deliver sermons every week, with or without notes.  Speaking God’s message to people who desperately need to hear from Him is intense.  I had 4 weeks to prepare  my sermon.  I cannot imagine doing that every week on top of the other things a pastor does.  So I would like to say to all the pastors out there, thank you for your service.

My next post will be my “stereo draft” of my sermon on the Burning Bush.

 

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