“Here’s my advice…”

adviceHave you noticed how many experts there are in the world? When I need to make a difficult decision and the way forward isn’t clear, it’s amazing to me how many “experts” come out of the woodwork. Many are well-meaning. But so often the “expert” advice of others leaves me feeling pretty small. This can be particularly true when it comes to faith.

Difficult faith questions come up all the time: Should I continue on this path? Is this what God wants for me? I’ve been praying about this for quite a while, why can’t I hear God’s response? All of these questions, particularly the last, are oh-so-inviting for the faith “expert.” Advice such as, “it sounds like you need to be a better listener” or “you’re not asking God the right questions” flow freely. Not only can this feel judgmental, but it can shake my confidence in my relationship with God. It’s tempting to think they must be so much better at this faith stuff. Have you ever experienced this? If so, Job’s your man.

When we encounter Job this Sunday, he’s been through the wringer. He’s suffered incredible loss, and his three friends have a strong opinion about the cause of that suffering. Clearly, it’s Job’s fault. That’s their “expert” opinion. But Job’s response is priceless! To these “experts” in the ways of God, Job replies, “I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you” (12:3). Amen, brother! Even in the throes of his despair, he knows they are not experts in his life of faith.

The next time you’re visited with “expert” faith advice, remember Job. Stand alongside him and remind that “expert” God loves you! God’s in a relationship with you! Experts need not apply.

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,
Pr. Rachael

You will be my witnesses…

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In college, I took a great criminal justice course. During one memorable lecture, a stranger came storming in, screamed obscenities, and dumped a soda over the TA’s head. Immediately after the stranger ran out, the professor turned to us and said, “Write down a description of the person who assaulted your TA.” It turns out the whole thing was a stunt to show us the reliability, or unreliability, of eye-witness testimony.

Sure enough, as we shared our descriptions, they differed dramatically: The perpetrator may have been tall, stocky, or of medium build, wearing a green, grey, or dark blue sweatshirt. He appeared middle- or college-aged with a southern or foreign accent. The eye-witness testimony of our group was all over the map. Left up to us, no one would find that guy.

So what do we make of the Sunday reading: Acts 1:1-14? Jesus tells his disciples they will be his witnesses. But we know their testimony was all over the map. Left up to them, how would anyone ever find Jesus? How would we?

Could it be that through their flawed testimony God in Christ found all of us?

The glorious Word we encounter this week is that by God’s grace and powerful Spirit, God used human, flawed testimony to reach the ends of the earth!

Does it get any better than that? First of all, Christ is alive! Hallelujah! Second, as WE are now called to be witnesses to his glorious resurrection, we know that God will work through our testimony, even if it’s all over the map!

How tall was Jesus? No idea. What was he wearing? No clue. But I know that my Redeemer lives! Death has lost its sting! Perfect love prevails! That’s my testimony…What’s yours?

God’s Peace,
Pr. Rachael

Leave no trace, unless…

Leave no traceAlbuquerque is a great place to explore God’s beautiful creation. If I ever feel discouraged I just step outside and look up – the mountains remind me that God is so much bigger than I could ever imagine. Hiking the Sandia Crest, biking the foothills, and wandering the Tree Spring Trail can restore any frazzled city-dweller. Throughout these gorgeous landscapes, signs are posted to remind all adventurers of one important thing: leave no trace. Pick up your garbage, respect all plants and animals, and, “There’s No Poop Fairy” (our 8-year-old LOVES those signs). That’s exactly as it should be when we are exploring the great outdoors.

But in the Gospel this week, we are brought to our knees with gratitude that Jesus, our Savior and Lord, leaves a trace wherever he goes.

In Mark 5:21-43 we experience Jesus ushering in the Kingdom of God. His appearance by the sea causes quite a stir, but it doesn’t take long for us to know what Kingdom priorities are. While Jesus may have planned to teach the crowd and preach the Good News, he is approached by a man whose daughter is dying. Immediately, Jesus follows him. Jesus follows so that he may heal her. On his way, a woman daringly touches Jesus’ prayer shawl, trusting that even his garments have healing power. She, too, is restored. Everywhere he goes, he leaves a trace of the Kingdom. He leaves a trace of God’s love, restoration, and grace – for you, for me, and for the world. Hallelujah!

I’m challenged by this text: “Will I leave a trace?” Will God’s love and restoration flow from me? Will others see the in-breaking of the Kingdom where I have been? Will I leave a ‘grace trace?’

Will you?

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,
Pr. Rachael

I can’t. But he can.

cant canAbout this time every year I reach my limit. The 12 Days of Christmas are over and the New Year celebrations are done. I can’t eat another thing slathered in gravy. I can’t address another envelope or wrap another package. I’m done.

In one way, it’s a really liberating time of year. All the guests have returned home, so the toothpaste on the bathroom floor can stay there, breakfast cereal can be an entrée, and dust bunnies can grow and thrive.

Still, there’s something defeating about this January fatigue. I want to be able to do everything imaginable to celebrate the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the world. I want to sing, laugh, pray, dance, eat, host, gift and love to the fullest. And I want to keep this up the whole year through! Every day is a celebration of Christ’s coming, Amen?! But inevitably, I reach my limit. I can’t do it all.

This Sunday we come together in various stages of reaching our limits. Life is full-steam ahead even when we can’t muster any steam. But what we’ll hear about Jesus in Mark 2:1-22 is glorious: While we can’t to do it all in Jesus’ name, Jesus does it all for us!

This Sunday we’ll experience Jesus together as he forgives sins, heals, confronts earthly power and crosses boundaries. Jesus will do it! Jesus’ love does not depend upon our energy, enthusiasm or readiness.

We can’t do it all – Jesus does!

If you’re tired and out of steam; If you’ve reached your limit; If you’re done; the Good News this Sunday is for you. Jesus is here, now, for you. Just sit back. Breathe in his grace. Receive his love without limits.

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,
Pr. Rachael

“It’s not your day.”

ChristmasIf you grew up with siblings, you may remember their birthdays. I remember my sister getting showered with gifts, attention and the first piece of cake. We were pretty competitive, so her birthday was an exercise in patience that usually pushed me to the edge. The worst was when Mom or Dad would remind me, with my tear-stained red cheeks after I’d inevitably passed the breaking point, “Remember, this is your sister’s day. This is not your day.” They were right, of course. That didn’t mean I liked it.

It’s fascinating, though. When I remember those same words around Jesus’ birthday, they hit me just as hard, but this time with comfort and love.

It is so tempting during the Christmas season to think it’s about me: What food will I prepare? What will my house look like when guests arrive? Will I be filled with the Christmas spirit, or will I be sad about the people who aren’t with me? Will my Christmas fund run out before I get a gift for everyone? It’s enough to suck every ounce of joy out of the entire season.

But then my Mom and Dad’s words come charging back, “Remember, this is not your day.” Hallelujah! Christmas is completely, totally, 100%, not my day! Christmas is God’s day! It’s God’s day to come and show us real, unending, vulnerable, perfect love. It’s the day Christ shines God’s light in all the earth: to the lowly, the lost, and even to me.

This Christmas, join me in giving glory to God that it’s not OUR day! It’s God’s day to reveal God’s unending love and the lengths God will go to give that love to all the world. That’s a day I can celebrate! Amen?!

God’s Peace,
Pr. Rachael

Because I deserve it

I deserveHave you ever treated yourself to something because you felt you deserved it? I’ve indulged in any number of self-given rewards from a run to Dairy Queen to a shut-my-brain-off action movie…with popcorn! Sometimes going above and beyond deserves a little reward.

I’m also capable of going out of my way to be hard on myself when I’ve felt I deserved it. I have judged myself without compassion and held onto things I regret far too long. Perhaps you know something about this in your own life. If so, our reading this week is for you.

On Sunday we hear from the prophet Hosea. Hosea makes it clear that if anyone “deserved” judgment without compassion it was the people of God. They trampled on God’s love for them. God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him” (11:1). But in so many ways the people have not lived or even acknowledged God’s love. Instead, God says, “You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies” (10:13a).

Yet, even in this outright rejection that would certainly “deserve” condemnation, God does something beautiful. God shows the people kindness and compassion. God gives love to undeserving people.

Hosea 11:1-11 is a fall-to-your-knees beautiful passage and it give hope to the hopeless. It gives me hope!

I am quite capable of trampling on God’s love. What about you? I certainly deserve whatever judgment God would render. But this Sunday, God tells all of us yet again, God chooses love. Whatever I or anyone else might deserve, God loves us. That’s amazing grace. Amen?!

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,
Pr. Rachael

All Saints “Day?”

All Saints DayThis Sunday is the day we set aside to give thanks for Saints. It’s a wonderful, Spirit-filled, bittersweet, thanks-be-to-God kind of day. But today I was reminded: one day is not nearly enough.

First, the doorbell rang. I opened the door to a man who told me he needed help. He’d heard St. Tim’s offered food bags and asked if he might have one. We talked and I told him about COAST . He left to seek them out, food bags in hand. But before he did he looked me in the eye and said, “May God bless you.”

Then the phone rang. It was a detective with the APD going above and beyond to follow up on a domestic violence report. By God’s grace we have been able to help a number of people fleeing domestic violence through our partnership with COAST. One young woman I met was so overwhelmed by her welcome at St. Tim’s that she prayed for God’s blessings on the people here.

In a Holy Spirit moment, I recognized that these men and women – the man in need of food, the St. Tim’s folks who supplied food, the APD detective, the COAST team, the woman fleeing violence in her home – are ALL saints. The very Spirit of God is alive and at work in ALL OF THEM!

As we gather this Sunday, I invite you to give thanks for all the saints in your life – those who reveal God’s love to you. But I also invite you to recognize the many saints God places in your life daily. I miss them all too often. Will you?

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,
Pr. Rachael

Not just for the boys

not just for boysMen are incredibly important to the unfolding story of God’s interaction with the world as we experience it in the Bible. The twelve disciples and the monarchs of Israel are men. The twelve tribes of Israel are named after sons, the prophetic books are all identified with men, and then there’s the small detail that Jesus is a man. Yep, men are really important, thanks be to God!

But it is rather astounding that in the male-dominated, patriarchal societies from which these books came, women are not silent! At times it may feel like hearing a female voice in our most holy book is as impossible as an on-time flight, but one book stands out as a champion of the female faith experience: the book of Ruth. As Old Testament scholar Patricia K. Tull states, “the tiny book of Ruth devotes more verses to speech between women than the rest of the Bible combined.”1 So hold on, ladies, Sunday is a day to shine!

In worship this Sunday we’ll hear two extraordinary female voices – Ruth and Naomi. In the midst of the expansive story of God’s interaction with the world we’ll experience the story of two women struggling with identity, purpose, hope and love. They will be faced with circumstances that are nearly insurmountable. In the end their strength, perseverance, creativity and hard work open up opportunities that had been impossible. God will be at work in the subtle nuances of their story and see them through as much as God has with anyone.

What will God give us through these women? How will God inspire you?

See you Sunday…

In Christ,
Pr. Rachael

1 “Esther and Ruth” Interpretation Bible Studies. Westminster John Knox Press 2003, p. 54.

Ever been the new kid?

new kidIt can be tough to be the new kid. I remember new kids arriving at school in my small town where they remained the “new kid” for at least a few years. There was always a difference, named or implied, between them and the locals. It wasn’t until I grew older that I experienced the new kid phenomenon first-hand. I’ve moved a number of times as an adult, and feeling like the one who is on the fringe of the community is tough to shake.

In our reading from Exodus this Sunday, we are told in no uncertain terms that God is never a newbie in the unfolding story of humanity. The God who comes to liberate God’s people from oppression in Egypt says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6). God has been actively involved in creation from the beginning. God knows us better than we know ourselves. God’s continuing presence in, with, and through all of creation is an incredible gift! I wonder, what if we could live that gift and reality every day?

By the power of the Spirit we regularly welcome visitors to St. Tim’s. I can only imagine what it’s like to walk through the doors and feel very much on the fringe. But is anyone ever on the fringe when it comes to God? NO! We are all enfolded in the love and grace of God, and in that sense NO ONE is a newbie! What if we recognized the presence of God, a presence that has been at work in each of us from the beginning, in every person? What would our church, what would our city, what would our world look like?

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,
Pr. Rachael

Let it out, please!

Senior Woman Laughing --- Image by © Steve Prezant/Corbis
Senior Woman Laughing — Image by © Steve Prezant/Corbis

I love to laugh. Show me Chris Farley falling into a coffee table and I’ll show you a gleeful pastor. I’m certainly not the only one. Comics are big business and many of us are more than happy to give our money to someone who can make our faces hurt.

Sometimes, however, we deem it inappropriate to laugh. Certainly, laughter that mocks or indicates superiority over another distorts a great gift of God. But when I was younger I heard it said that laughter in worship is not appropriate. It’s insensitive to those who may not feel so joyful. Is it insensitive to laugh when suffering is everywhere? This Sunday’s Genesis reading may help.

In Genesis 21 God does an incredible thing. God makes the impossible happen for a woman named Sarah. When her miracle comes she can’t help it, her joy takes over. She laughs freely and completely. But should she? What about all those for whom miracles didn’t come?

I’ve prayed for miracles that haven’t happened, have you? I’ve prayed for prolonged life for loved ones who are dying and that some broken relationships may heal. These miracles didn’t come. Should Sarah laugh when I can’t? I can’t speak for you, but I NEED Sarah’s laughter.

Sarah, in the midst of her miracle, says it all, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (21:6). God gives Sarah laughter so that others may hear her and join in! Sara laughs that others whose miracles have not come may renew their trust in the Lord. Sarah laughs that ALL of us may experience God’s miraculous love.

When you feel God’s joy, laugh! Laugh that all may hear you! Let it out, please! Renew our trust in the Lord!

See you Sunday…

God’s Peace,
Pr. Rachael