I often wonder about life.
Why we exist.
What our purpose is.
Whether we should seek change through our actions or wait for God to act.
Why we spend so much time preparing for the future and forget to live in the moment.

For the February newsletter, I wrote up an article about preparing ourselves.
We live in a world where we receive warnings that may be ignored or heeded.
Totally up to each one of us.
Some days I prefer the ignorance and denial. I would rather simply wait and see what will happen in life.
Other days I prefer to heed the warning and start preparing. I make lists and try to predict the future events.

But today I find myself just thinking.
I’m not preparing for the future.
I’m not pretending that warnings don’t exist.
I’m pondering.

Yes, I still plan and prepare and pretend.
But I also sit and reflect.

Over the last couple days, I have received a few compliments for my short article in the Feb 2013 TCM newsletter.
And while it is not unheard of to receive compliments, I ponder what exactly speaks to people.
I’m curious what exactly connects with people.
I’m curious if it is a new thought or one they encountered new ones.
I’m curious how the words affect lives.
I know that whatever I write or speak will not matter unless the Spirit is active.
When God gets involved, words contain much more power.
And that seems to be the case yet again.

Here are the words I wrote early one morning (the text arrived at 4:51 am and I wrote this article before going back to sleep):

Recently I was woken up in the wee hours of the morning when my phone started making a weird noise. Since I was sleeping, I was confused enough to think it was dying. But it turned out that it was a message to warn me about a blizzard. It would not disappear until I confirmed that I read the warning. I literally had to click a “Confirm” button so that I could go back to sleep.

One line of this warning was literally “Prepare.” This got me thinking about the warnings that Jesus gave to his disciples to prepare themselves for the danger and death that was to come. During Lent we prepare ourselves as we think about the reality of death starting with Ash Wednesday and are faced with Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Lent is a very somber time and yet is very honest. I could compare the somberness of Lent to a warning from a meteorologist who is trying to warn us to be prepared for a worst-case scenario. Jesus warned his followers who lived in denial, and I can understand. Few people to spend their life preparing only for the worst. I myself do not like living my whole life in such a state of preparation, but for a short time each year, I am honest about danger and death. Most of the time we prefer to prepare and plan for the good things in life, and the list most definitely does not include betrayal, beatings and death upon a cross.

The reality of our world is that bad things do happen. We have blizzards, extremely cold temperatures, ice and countless other weather phenomenon that can threaten our safety. But we can prepare when we are warned. The same applies to us preparing for the reality of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ warnings unsettled the followers who ought to have had a “Confirm” button so that Jesus could know that they paid attention to the warning. They had to know that the danger would not go away even if they ignored it.

Lent is coming in a few short weeks. We are being warned yet again of how messed up our world can be. Some of us will decide to make sacrifices or seek to change habits. Others will live in denial. But at the heart of the whole season is a warning that comes to us again, telling us that bad things are going to come, but also reminding us that God can see us through even the worst that this life can throw at us. We can prepare ourselves so that when the time comes, we won’t be shocked but can learn to live with the reality of mortality and be at peace.

Prepare yourself. Please confirm.
Peace, Pastor Kara

Taking a break

One of the biggest challenges many of us hyperactive Americans face is knowing when we can and should take a break.
Lent is starting soon when people will adjust some habits in life: changing what food to eat, working on spiritual practices, exercising, reading more scripture or theological writings, etc.
McVille will be taking a short break from their weekly bible study. We finished skimming through the book of Isaiah. This morning was the last week after three months of talking about prophets. We shall refresh ourselves until April when we meet after Easter. Topic suggestions are always appreciated!

In the meantime, we shall meet Wed evenings during Lent for worship.

January mid-month update

January 2013 has been an interesting month so far. We have just officially entered the second half of the month. I am being selfish and praying that the second half is not as busy or chaotic as the first half.

Each January, people spend time reflecting. They look at the past year(s) and see if they have lived into their goals or accomplished their dreams. They make resolutions for the coming year. They reflect upon where they were, are and want to go.

I am no different (well, except I don’t make resolutions). I look back and around and ahead. I am always amazed at some of the events I live through and people I meet, especially when that part of the journey unexpected.
I don’t make resolutions because I have learned that I’m horrible at trying to start something new in the middle of winter, which does not seem like the time to change. I would rather change when the weather changes from bitter cold to balmy spring.
But that is exactly what is happening this year. The big change is happening as the calendar switches from 2012 to 2013.

Currently, I have the privilege to be the only pastor at Tri-County. Thankfully, that will change again and I will have a partner in ministry in a couple weeks. But until then, I am learning how to do ministry on my own for the first time without a co-pastor.

This change is both terrifying/stressful and exciting/energizing.
I am terrified that I will fail. I am stressed that I don’t have enough time.
But I am also excited. I am energized through the ministry, working with people in the midst of the best and worst life has to offer.

I am learning a lot about balance. I am figuring out how to better use my time and to prioritize.
Part of this is a harsh lesson I learned when I fell ill around Christmas. I have learned the hard way how much I miss out on when I don’t even have enough energy to pick up a phone to talk, let alone to leave my house and visit in person.
Part of this is learning how to be available when people are ill (which is common now during the peak of flu season), when people die and families grieve (which has happened often so far this month), when people can feel lonely or forgotten and want to be remembered.
Part of this is knowing what needs to be done, what can wait, and what I really want to be doing. I have had to learn to be honest with myself regarding my interests, strengths, and energy levels.

But the biggest lesson is realizing yet again that all ministry is truly by the grace of God. If it were simply me bumbling around without God’s help, nothing would matter. But God is in the thick of it, doing God’s thing and transforming lives. I’m the hands, feet and mouth for God.

One thing has really kept me sane this month: support from people.
Many are praying for me, for their churches, for TCM. And I can feel it.
Many have said words of encouragement to me. And I cannot express how much that helps to know that people trust and believe that it will be okay.
And of course, many are stepping up to help. I am always overwhelmed with how God truly does equip the community with more than enough gifts and talents to care for one another. We are never alone, never without. God nudges each of us to contribute what we can. And I appreciate it.

This year I’m choosing to join up with several others to pick one word as our focus for the year. It’s called One Word 365. One word that becomes your focus for 365 days.

My word is PEACE.

Peace in the midst of change and chaos. Peace in the midst of illness and death. Peace in the midst of busyness and running in circles. Peace for us all.

May the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (Col. 3:15).

Bible Study and Music

Over the last couple months, I have been leading a Bible study in McVille where we have been talking about prophets.
We looked at the big names within the books of Samuel and Kings: Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha.
We talked briefly about Jeremiah (whom we shall revisit in a couple weeks).
And the last two weeks we have been talking about Isaiah.

I wanted to talk about prophets because their words mattered and continue to matter.
The prophets spoke to specific situations and people. They preached to kings, community leaders and the misguided children of God. They looked at the world around them and sought to encourage people to give up their misguided ways and turn back to God.
Their words mattered thousands of years ago, and their words matter today as we can still learn from their messages.

The prophets were not afraid to look closely and honestly at the world to see what was going wrong. They talked openly (even if no one wanted to hear their message).

Their words of judgment can sting because we live in a world just as broken and messed up and misguided.
When we stray from God and God’s path for us, we are chastised and warned.
But their words of promise also give us hope when we read about how God did not abandon the people of God then but instead continued to provide hope and a future.
When we trust and believe in God, God is gracious and merciful and kind and generous.

The words in the Bible connect to our experiences today.
Our prophets today show up in unlikely places, are unlikely people, use different ways to get their messages out.
I have learned to really appreciate musicians for their willingness to write and sing honest words about how they view the world.

Yesterday we looked at oracles against nations and cities, against people who have not been following God.
I paired the prophet Isaiah up with a song by Flogging Molly. We listened to “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down” then read chapters 17, 22, and 24 from the book of Isaiah.
We listened to a song that talked about troubles faced in the 21st century then read messages preached 2700 years ago to places that faced trouble.
Homes would be and have been destroyed.
Businesses would be and have been closed.
Panic would be and has been prevalent.
Despair would be and has been a reality.
Nothing has changed in 2700 years and yet everything looks different.

And through all the troubles we can so easily cause for ourselves, God still waits for the people to figure things out and turn back to God.

Transition time

One of the hardest parts of our lives is the fact that we are constantly journeying, constantly undergoing change and trying to adapt to new ways of living, thinking, being.

On Sunday, we said our farewells and sent Pastor Jessica off with blessings for her new ministry as she moves and starts a new call. Her last words to us were about the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus with Jesus. They were with their lord and yet did not recognize him during the journey, until their eyes were opened as they shared in the mystery of breaking bread. Even when they did not recognize Jesus, he was with them. And so we have the same promise of knowing that Jesus is with us even when we might not recognize his face.

We have officially entered a new time in TCM.

Right now, we are also searching for an interim pastor as we also start searching for a new pastor through the call process.

The year 2012 is over, and 2013 has begun. This is a time when many people set up resolutions for the new year. Our culture is excited about new beginnings, and I don’t think we should be an exception.

Yes, the future is scary with the unknown elements. We don’t know the twists or turns or roadblocks or detours that we will encounter on our journey.

But we do know that God has a destination in mind, even if the journey seems a bit treacherous at times.

So in this time of transition, may we know that God walks in front of us to prepare the way, beside us to be our friend, behind us to encourage us, above us to watch over us. God walks with us, even when we cannot see God.