Friday, December 2, 2011

An Advent Meditation

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. 

For I the LORD love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the LORD hath blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

Isaiah 61:1-4,8-1 (KJV)

At the beginning of His earthly ministry, as recorded in the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus boldly declared his mission, drawing on the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” In his declaration, Jesus cites the impetus for His work. Like the prophet, Jesus is clear that His motivation and power are a direct result of the presence of the Holy Spirit moving in His life. Sadly, during this Advent and Christmas season, too many people—including some in the church—are being guided by the spirits of materialism and consumerism. In His declaration, Jesus also explains the nature of His work—to preach good news, to free people from broken heartedness, captivity, and bondage, and to unleash joy that has no bounds in the lives of God’s people. On the surface, this season has the appearance of freedom and joy—Miracle on 34th Street on the television, bright lights on Christmas tress, and gifts overflowing. However, for many it is a season when depression and loneliness strike, sadness at the thought of a loved ones passing creeps in, and anxieties about skyrocketing credit card balances abound.

As we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ child, and continue to our work in the Kingdom of God, I wonder if we could avail ourselves to be guided solely by the Spirit of the Lord and if our work would be about the inherently liberating power of the Gospel? Perhaps then we would experience God causing “righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”

(c) Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah, written for Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle, Advent Meditation Book 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I Love You Like I Love Cooked Food...

I hadn't planned to write today. In fact, I told my mother about two hours ago that it would be a while before posting again. It doesn't matter why, but what does matter is that from time to time there are events that happen that provoke you out of blogging hibernation.

Earlier today, I was working on the programs for not one, but two Homegoing celebrations. I updated my Facebook status at at around noon: preparing for two Homegoing services at once and praying with the Psalmist, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).

I had no inkling that just five hours later I'd be updating my status again: Mourning the loss of Dwight "Heavy D" Myers...we loved you like we love cooked food.

I am deeply saddened. I am at a loss for words.  Death is an inescapable fact of life, and despite knowing this, it always takes me by surprise. Just yesterday, on Twitter, Heav tweeted to express his sadness at the loss of "Smokin" Joe Frazier. Just yesterday, in what would be his final words of encouragement to his followers, he tweeted, Be Inspired.

Inspired I was. As a hip-hop head coming into her own in the late-eighties and early-nineties, Heavy D's music was part of the soundtrack of my life. As a born and bred Mount Vernon girl, Heavy D was a hometown hero. More than Denzel, Heavy D put us on the map. (Money Earnin' Mount Vernon...'nuff said.) As a chunky girl, seeing him move the way he did let me know that size was no hindrance to getting your groove on on the dance floor. Beyond the microphone and dance floor, Heavy D flexed on the big screen, the small screen, and the stage. He was a rapper who was smart and creative enough to successfully venture into acting with patience and integrity. And although I did not have a personal relationship with him, my sister and niece did. As such, he was family.

My heart goes out to his parents, who already know the pain of losing a child. My heart goes out to his daughter, who from now forward will live with only the memories of her father. My heart goes out to all of his family and close friends, who never imagined he'd be gone so soon. My heart goes out to my city, who has lost a treasured son. My heart goes out to the music industry, who still has much to learn from Heavy Bum-diddly-diddly-dee.

In honor of Dwight "Heavy D" Myers, I'm going to leave you with a video...

Overweight Lover, may your soul rest in peace...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August Reflections...

I cannot believe that today is the first day of September. No, really...where has the year gone? Better yet, where has the summer gone? Just yesterday it was Memorial Day, and I was excited about all of the time I was going to spend poolside.

In the most wonderful way--even though I only made it to the pool once in August--it was a really great month. I set some goals. I made some moves. In fact, I set ten goals for the month which included completing my applications for doctoral studies, reading one homiletics book every week, and establishing a regular sleep habit. I posted on Twitter one day last week, "One of the best feelings is watching the "to-do" list transition to an "it's-done" list...I am proud to say that I completed eight out of ten goals. One is still lingering, and another (for reasons that will remain unwritten) I had to realistically remove from the list. (It feels so good to recognize when goals are really girdles in disguise.) 

I also had a wonderful praycation. I praised and thanked God for His "Is-ness" and "Does-ness." In other words, I acknowledged the awesome being of God and the mighty and miraculous acts He performs in the lives of His people. I opened up my hymn book, lifting my voice in song; There is a wealth of theology and encouragement in the New National Baptist Hymnal!  I was nourished spiritually by reading a chapter of Proverbs each day. I am convinced that a chapter of Proverbs a day keeps the foolishness away. Better than apples, and as my boy often says, they have a much longer shelf life, too! I also cried out and laid my supplication before the Lord. The days when my prayer was skipped or truncated because of the demands of life, I suffered. The days when I lingered in God's presence, trusting that the demands of life are in God's hands, I flourished. 

What else? Let's see:
Hubby and I were blessed to travel to Ohio for the wedding of one of his dear friends and brothers in Christ. We had a wonderful weekend away, reliving our vows as the beautiful couple confirmed theirs. Look at us...don't we look good?

Our senior church mother, Mother Emma Jeffries, departed this life. She was a super-centenarian. She passed on August 20, 2001...two weeks after celebrating her 112th birthday. No, that is not a typo. Mother Jeffries was 112 years old, and as the old folks would say, she was clothed in her right mind! Her homegoing service was a wonderful celebration of her life and legacy; She was a woman who loved and served the Lord, in word and example!

Lastly, hubby and I closed out the month at my parents' house being sheltered from the storm and and showered with the loved that is experienced in my mother's cooking. And thanks be to God, when we arrived home, everything was just as we left it. That said, I am not insensitive to the devastation in the wake of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. My prayers remain with those who are cleaning up the waters and picking up the pieces.

That's it for August; I am looking forward to September and all that it has to offer...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Think on These Things...

The will of God will never take you
  Where the grace of God cannot keep you,
  Where the arms of God cannot support you,
  Where the riches of God cannot supply your needs,
  Where the power of God cannot endow you.

The will of God will never take you
  Where the spirit of God cannot work through you,
  Where the wisdom of God cannot teach you,
  Where the army of God cannot protect you,
  Where the hands of God cannot mold you.

The will of God will never take you
  Where the love of God cannot enfold you,
  Where the mercy of God cannot sustain you,
  Where the peace of God cannot calm your fears,
  Where the authority of God cannot rule for you.

The will of God will never take you
  Where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears,
  Where the Word of God cannot feed you,
  Where the miracles of God cannot be done for you,
  Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.

Author Unknown

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Holy Exclamation...

I love exclamation points! I use them more often than I should. Of all of the punctuation marks, they are the most exciting. I love questions, but there is something about being able to emphatically declare, to exclaim, and to proclaim with conviction what one knows to be true. Admittedly, as my preaching professor at Drew aptly noticed, I am not the most excitable preacher. (Hello, My name is Reverend Donna and I do not whoop!) However, in my contemplative kind of way, I manage to insert my exclamation points. Exclamation points do not have to scream, but they do need to drive home the point.

Case in point. One of my favorite hymns is Holy, Holy, Holy. It speaks of the holiness of God--the perfection and purity--that is the essence of God's nature. It speaks of the majesty of God and human (and angelic) proclamations of praise. As I understand it, utterances of praise are our proper response to God's majesty. God is so Loving, so Merciful, so Good, so Mighty, so Holy, and so Beautiful that all we can do is praise. And praise, my friends, is marked by exclamation points.  So, with a heart of worship and shouts of adoration and exclamation points to boot, our hymn of the morning is Holy, Holy, Holy:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Words: Reginald Heber
Music: John B. Dykes

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Plain and SImple...

Sometimes, I get to a place where I have to cast off the complex, in favor of the simple. Sometimes my fancy language and eloquent speech needs to made plain. Sometimes my words fail, but I feel like I must say something. Sometimes I have to come to the end of myself--my intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, and ability to keep things under control--to arrive at a place where I fully recognize the sovereign power of God.

In times like these, I cling to the great hymns of the church--those sacred songs that have shaped the faith of our worshiping community. Those sacred songs continue to shape my faith (and theological understandings), even today. This morning, the refrain that has been echoing in my soul is: I need thee, O I need thee; every hour I need thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

It find it ironic that while we (as a church), have been dealing with the theme, "Moving from Tradition to Intimacy" that I have been moving toward a closer relationship with God using the disciplines and traditions of old. All that is to say, here is the hymn of the morning...

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
no tender voice like thine can peace afford.

I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby;
temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;
come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need thee every hour; teach me thy will;
and thy rich promises in me fulfill.

I need thee every hour, most Holy One;
O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son.

I need thee, O I need thee; every hour I need thee; 
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

Words: Annie S. Hawks
Music: Robert Lowry

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Use What You Got...

In her song, "Think," Aretha Franklin sings, "You gotta use what you got, to get what you want..." And that has caused me to think, and rethink some things. Using what you've got speaks not only to our natural strengths, but also to notions of stewardship. In our culture of consumerism and materialism, it is easy to go out and buy what you need to make something happen, instead of pooling your current resources to see how you can work with what you have. And so, those thoughts have inspired my post for today. Let me break this thing down...

What do you want, preacher?
I want a healthy, fit, strong, and curvy body...
I want a consistent fitness schedule...
I want to be able to chase our children around the house... (when God wills, don't go starting rumors)

What do you have, preacher?
I have an elliptical machine in my bedroom...
I have a lovely neighborhood...
I have three beautiful parks and a high-school track within a 5-minute drive...
I have two yoga mats...
I have a medicine ball...
I have a set of free weights...
I have resistance bands...
(and resistance tubes...)
I have Wii Fit...
I have a hula hoop...
I have arm hoops...
I have pilates, bellydancing, and gospel aerobics workout DVD's...
I have an iPad with a plethora of fitness apps:NikeTraining, Fitness Class, Ab Workout, MyNetDiary, etc...
I have a pink and cream Schwinn Cruiser to ride around the neighborhood..
I have a jump rope...
I have a Nike+ arm band...
I have a pool in the complex for use during the summer...
I have a cramp in my finger just from typing all of this...

So, what don't you have anymore?
Ok, so Aretha didn't sing that, but reflecting on all of the exercise equipment in the house has led us to cancel our gym membership. I suggested it, and hubby agreed. If I cannot reach my fitness goals with everything I have at my disposal (I'm sure there is something I left out), what good is a gym membership, especially if I don't use it? Sure, the classes are good, but now that I have Zumba DVD's, I can Zumba at home. In the past, I have successfully lost weight without a gym membership. In fact, I haven't used the gym consistently and successfully since I was 21 and actually enjoyed the meat-market feel of the gym. (You know what I'm talking about: the stares, the flirting by the free-weight machine, the dude who offers to train you just so he can get your number.) Well, I'm a grown woman now and I have everything that I need and desire at home (and I'm not just talking about exercise equipment.)

So, I'm planning to use what I got, to get what I want...

*this post could have easily been about clothes shopping as I struggle not to purchase a new dress for a wedding we are going to next weekend. I want to be beautiful, elegant, and tasteful. I've got a great dress already hanging in my closet. What's the issue? I've worn it, been photographed in it, had said photos posted to facebook and my blog, and I momentarily think my name is Beyonce so I cannot be photographed in the same dress twice. I hate the way celebrity culture has infiltrated my thinking. But thanks be to God for Princess Kate Middleton who has gracefully hit the repeat button...Use what you've got...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hush, Hush, Somebody's Calling My Name...

Hush, hush somebody's calling my name
Hush, hush somebody's calling my name
Hush, hush somebody's calling my name
Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord what shall I do, what shall I do?
Sounds like Jesus, somebody's calling my name
Sounds like Jesus, somebody's calling my name
Sounds like Jesus, somebody's calling my name
Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord what shall I do, what shall I do?
I'm so glad, troubles don't last always
I'm so glad, troubles don't last always
I'm so glad, troubles don't last always
Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord what shall I do, what shall I do?
This African-American spiritual, simply and beautifully, communicates where I am today—August 1, 2011. A year has passed since that sacred convocation of ordination took place. A year has passed since the laying on of hands. A year has passed: I have waded in the baptismal waters, given thanks at the table, and committed the dust of humanity back to the kindred elements from whence it came while spirits soared. A year has passed: There have been triumphs and trials, mountains and valleys, laughter and weeping. A year has passed and all I can do is get quiet. The Psalmist wrote, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him” (Psalm 62:5). Hope. Aspiration. Expectation. If I am going to be prepared for what is to come—if I want to know what shall I do—then I ought to get quiet in the presence of God. He's calling my name and I've got to hush so I can hear...
And so, for the next month, I am going on praycation with Bishop Vashti McKenzie. On her blog, she describes praycation in this way:
Praycation is a spiritual discipline vacation from your ordinary prayer routine. It is a 31 -day step away the ordinary without catching a plane, boat or train. It is a journey from where you are right now to where you can be in Christ Jesus through prayer, praise, silence and study. This journey can be taken in a matter of seconds and minutes.
I invite you to take a praycation. It has been said that prayer changes things. I don't discount the validity of that statement, but more than changing things, prayer changes me. And I don't know about you, but I want to be changed—transformed—into the woman that God created and purposed for me to be.
("Hush, Hush Somebody's Callin' My Name" is a traditional African-American spiritual song. The author is unknown.)

Vision Board...

Last week, in my Monday Morning Reflections, I wrote about creating my vision board. After a week of reflection, cutting, reading articles in Essence and Glamour (glossed over the first time), more reflection, and pasting...I present to you my 2011 vision board.

For now, it sits on my desk in our home-office (you know, the one that I vowed to spend time in getting stuff done). It is two-sided. One side is devoted to my vocational goals; The other to my emotional, physical, and spiritual self. There isn't much else to say...they speak for themselves. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What the Scale Doesn't Say (part two...sort of)

One of my sista/girl friends emailed this to me earlier. The subject of her message was "This could help us tremendously with our Weight Loss Goals." In the body of the message she wrote, The correct way to weigh yourself:

I think she might be on to something...

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Morning Reflections...

I know most people don't care for Monday mornings, but I have to admit, I absolutely LOVE Monday mornings. Perhaps it is because my week flows a bit differently than most, so Monday mornings are usually a time for a wee bit more rest, a burst of domestic energy (vacuuming, anyone?), and a renewed commitment to my goals (spiritual, vocational, physical, etc.). Plus, Monday functions in some ways as my official Sabbath, so I usually plan to do something nice for myself on Monday. So, what's on for today, you ask?

On this particular Monday, I plan to lounge at the pool before the impending rain makes its appearance, get a mani/pedi (these yellow toes are NOT working for me, though they seemed like a good idea two weeks ago), and create a vision board.

It dawned on me last week, as I taught a digital art class during our Vacation Bible School, that my feelings of purposelessness and stagnation are a direct result of my creativity being put on a shelf and being unclear about where God is leading me and what I desire in my life. Last week I had energy, on the inside and out, that was amazing (even with over 100 screaming children running around). Being with the children reminded me that my creativity is important, that I LOVE being in the classroom, and that there is so much that God has in store for me to be and achieve.

Back to vision boards. I created my first vision board when I was living in DC. They are simple to create. All you need is paper/poster board, a glue stick, some magazine, and--for me--my Bible, some good music, and the capacity to be unafraid of my dreams. Oh yeah, a pair of scissors can be helpful, but they aren't necessary.

I can recall the last vision boards I created. I made five of them, each four by six inches in size. One simply had the word "love" pasted all over it from different sources and included the words of the Apostle Paul found in 1 Corinthians 13. The second had the phrase, "something beautiful is about to happen" juxtaposed next to a recent picture of me. Another had an image of my five-year old, sassy self, surrounded by words about strength, courage, and the power of using my voice. Honestly, I cannot remember the others, but I do know that there was something affirming and motivating about seeing those vision boards hung on my wall. Sometimes I would stand in front of them, intently listening to what they had to say to me. Other times, they would whisper sweet somethings to my soul, gently encouraging me to be the woman that God created me to be.

The prophet Habakuk was given these instructions from God:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay. (Habakuk 2:2-3)

Creating a vision board is my way of writing the revelation/vision for my life. I must tell you, my vision boards have evolved over the years. My first board, some ten or so years ago, had an image of a big sparkly wedding ring, some luxury car, and dollar signs. As I've matured, they have included less of the stuff of life, and more of the qualities and characteristics I desire for my life. I traded a ring for righteousness, bling for beauty, and a car for compassion.

During the periods of winter--when the vision is growing out of sight--the vision board reminds me that a seed has been planted. Memory and speech have tremendous power. So much so, that I have taken to writing my name "Reverend Dr. Donna Olivia" in as many places as I can. I may not have the PhD yet (part of the vision), but seeing my name written in such a way pushes me to press through the application process, to trust God with the language requirements, and to make all that I pray/say/do/think part of getting me to that place. Don't get me wrong, a doctorate degree can be understood as part of the stuff of life--a degree that comes with the trappings of status and privilege--but for me it is less about the title and more about the places the title affords me access to, namely the hallowed halls of the academy where I hope to teach in a way that impacts the witness and growth of Christ's church.

My question for you, dear readers, is: Do you have a vision for your life?
If so, is that vision inspired/breathed by God? Have your written/drawn/painted the vision? Is it in plain sight?
If not, why not? Are you afraid to dream? Have you listened for God's voice concerning your life's path?

I would encourage you to create some kind of vision board. It can be as simple as a list and as elaborate as a poster...but do it, and put it somewhere where you can see...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Think on These Things...

A quotation from my latest read, Anonymous: Jesus' Hidden Years and Yours by Alicia Britt Chloe...
Life does not sleep—though in winter she retracts all advertisement. And when she does so, she is conserving and preparing for the future. And so it is with us. Seasonally, we too are stripped of visible fruit. Our giftings are hidden; our abilities are underestimated. When previous successes fade and current efforts falter, we can easily mistake our fruitlessness for failure. But such is the rhythm of spiritual life: new growth, fruitfulness, transition, rest . . . new growth, fruitfulness, transition, rest. Abundance may make us feel more productive, but perhaps emptiness has greater power to strengthen our souls.

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Anniversary Reflections...

It is hard to believe, but three-hundred and sixty eight days have passed since hubby and I made a covenant with God and each other in marriage. On Saturday we celebrated our one year anniversary. It has been salubrious and sublime.

It has also been fun and growing and—in the words of rapper Keith Murray—the most beautifulest thing in the world! It has also been challenging, in the best possible way. The rhythms of married life are quite different from that of single life. I've learned as much about myself as I have about my hubby in this year: We've laughed together, cried together (ok, I've cried and he has wiped my tears), danced together, made decisions together, and—most importantly—we've prayed together.

On Saturday evening we watched our wedding video. We relived our vows. I was reminded of the promises I made aloud before that great cloud of witnesses, and the ones I made to my love.

I thank God, everyday, for my hubby and for our union!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Think on These Things...

There is privilege—and sometimes pain—in living the sermon before actually preaching the sermon. (Or in my case, in living the Bible Study before actually teaching the Bible Study.)

These are the words that God just spoke into my spirit.

While these are not comforting words, they are reassuring words. Today has been a rough day. No reason in particular, but rather an amalgam of stuff intensified by what my ace-boon C Alma aptly labeled the "post-vacation blues."

I've got it bad.

Last week I maxed and relaxed, swam and tanned, sailed and kayaked, galloped and climbed in beautiful, sunny Ocho Rios with hubby extraordinaire. Not that New Jersey isn't beautiful and sunny, but I am mourning. My mourning has left me tired and unmotivated. All that would be well and good except I am teaching not one, but two Bible studies tomorrow.

But thanks be to God, He meets us where we are.

Somewhere round about 3:00 a.m. on Monday morning, I work up frantically grabbing for my iPad. I was up for about two hours meditating on and asking questions of the Apostle Paul's words in Philippians 4, specifically the fourth through the ninth verses:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (NKJV)

By this morning, my selective amnesia had set in and I forgot about the joy of my musings on the Word. I forgot that my Bible Study was ready in my head and heart and just needed to be transcribed in a cohesive format onto the page. I forgot that though there may be things weighing heavy, that God is at hand for an unleashing of His peace. Instead of rejoicing, instead of praying about those things that are weighing heavy on my mind and heart, instead of inviting the peace of God to enter in and surround me on all sides, I mulled and brooded...on the my skivvies...

And then God spoke to my heart. How can you encourage the people you teach to rejoice when you are choosing to mourn? How can you expect my peace to permeate your life when you aren't completely releasing all of your concerns to me? Ummm, where is your thanksgiving? How about shifting your thinking to all things just, pure, noble, lovely, virtuous and praiseworthy?

As always, God was right.

And so, I am grateful to have spent six awesome days with my husband in Jamaica. I am grateful to have a home and vocation to return home to. I am most grateful for the love of God, which always meets me where I am, picks me up, and gets me moving again. And in this moment, I am glad that I can be a living witness of what happens when one rejoices in the Lord, always...

(and oh yeah, I'm glad to be writing again...)

Monday, May 23, 2011

I am...

I am alive and well and enjoying life and working hard and attempting to find places and times for respite. I am serving and teaching and preaching and growing all the while. I am walking and running and singing and dancing and laughing as hard as I possibly can. I am traveling and sitting still. Most of all, I am being kept by the grace of God. As such, I am smiling...

I am writing, just not here. One day soon my words will grace this blog again. They are good words, I promise. But for now I prefer living the words over writing the words.

Until later...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Big and Chunky...

I must admit, this song is from one of my absolute favorite scene in Madagascar 2. Really, how can you not smile when Moto Moto tells Gloria, "Girl, you junkin'!" I was just talking about Big and Chunky with a colleague in ministry as we did our weigh-in for the Pray Away the Pounds ministry at church. We chuckled, recited the lyrics and shared stores about our chunkiness. I like 'em big! I like 'em chunky!

So imagine my surprise when Big and Chunky came on during my ZUMBA class this morning. I know you are wondering how I responded. For one, I must have looked strange because I was holding back laughter which must have translated into a creepy smile on my face. But secondly, I must have looked strange because, though I had already been dancing hard, I started dancing harder. It was as if I was auditioning to be Moto Moto's principal dancer in the Big and Chunky music video.

No doubt, this song will be added to one of my workout playlists, mostly likely the one with The Commodores Brick House, Anthony Hamilton's Sister Big Bones, A Tribe Called Quest's Bonita Applebum, and Carl Carlton's She's a Bad Mamma Jamma!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Think on These Things...

would you turn off that faucet, I shout to my husband
but to You I say: never turn it off
-Alicia Ostriker (from the volcano sequence)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Think on These Things...

Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won't stay there.
(Clarence W. Hall)

Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.
(Luke 24:1-11)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Think on These Things...

We praise Thee, O God!
For the Son of Thy love,
For Jesus Who died,
And is now gone above.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Hallelujah! Amen.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Revive us again.

We praise Thee, O God!
For Thy Spirit of light,
Who hath shown us our Savior,
And scattered our night.

All glory and praise
To the Lamb that was slain,
Who hath borne all our sins,
And hath cleansed every stain.

All glory and praise
To the God of all grace,
Who hast brought us, and sought us,
And guided our ways.

Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.

"Revive Us Again" lyrics by William P. Mackay (1863)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Seven Signs that Spring has Sprung

My sister, in all of her silliness and profundity, wrote this poem a few years ago:

Spring has sprung,
The grass is green.
I know you wonderin'
Where I been.

In mid-March, my sister calls (usually with my niece on speakerphone) for her annual poetry recital. This poem reminds me, when the weather isn't doing such a great job, that Spring is coming. There is a certain rhythm with which she recites it. There is a lilt in her cadence that isn't normally present when she speaks. And when she is done, without fail, laughter erupts on the line. We laugh until our bellies shake and tears come out of our eyes. We laugh so hard that we have to catch our breath from laughing, which usually makes us laugh again. That is the silliness.

The profundity, you ask? Well, in yet another act of silliness, during the 2011 recital, as the resident scholar in the family, I provided a narration to the poem that caused me to think (and us to laugh). I don't remember my words verbatim, but I recall highlighting the way in which the poem speaks of the blooming and bursting forth of Spring, the rich verdancy of the season, and the way in which Spring calls us out of winter's hibernation.

That being the first sign of Spring, here are six other signs that let me know that Spring has sprung:
2. Even the weeping willow trees have a certain air of joy about them....
3. Forsythia blooms outside of my window signal that something beautiful is about to happen...
4. My toes rejoiced at the thought (and practice) of being free to soak in the rays of the sun...
5. Dawn and dusk deer sightings...
6. I could sermonate from a park bench, instead of cooped in my office or at Panera Bread...
7. Hearing the varied sounds kids playing cricket/soccer/basketball at the field across from our bedroom window...

What signs let you know that Spring has sprung?

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

iPad App of the Week

This week's app of the week isn't an app, but rather is an invitation to unplug from time to time and live life disconnected from technology, reconnected with God, family, friends, and self. This post was inspired by my friend in my head and one of my conversation partners in the blogosphere Rev. James Ellis III.

In his latest blog posting about social media, Ellis writes, "We are becoming too technological for our own good. Not that the technology is bad, per se. It is simply a tool that can serve us well if we make good choices. Just like students who can't solve math problems without a calculator or adults who can't function without spell-check, we need to get back to the basics. We must learn to value real people and real relationships more than the technology that gives us access to everyone and everything at all times."

His posting made me think about a commercial on the USA Network that aired last year that caught my attention. The commercial lifted up the dinner table—with real, live people passing the peas—as the ultimate and most effective social networking site. How often are our eyes fixed on a screen—television, laptop, iPad, Blackberry—and not into the eyes of those we love?

I experienced the joy of connectivity this weekend in ways I hadn't in a while: at the park jogging with hubby as he encouraged me to keep pressing on; at breakfast with my folks after early morning worship on Sunday, and through the laying on of hands by my sisters in the ministry when I wasn't feeling well during morning worship. I took this connectivity to the next level when on my outing to the park today to sermonate and people watch. Instead of toting my iPad, I carried a paper-bound Bible, a good old-fashioned notebook and an ink pen. Can you imagine? Between journaling and working on my sermon for Good Friday, my hand couldn't get enough of connecting pen to paper. In all honesty, I did update my Facebook status via Blackberry when I saw signs of Spring before my very eyes (see next blog posting). In hindsight, I wish I had lived the status updates to the fullest—breathing in every ounce of them—instead of taking/wasting time to let my 428 "Friends" know what I was experiencing.

As much as I like my iPad and enjoy the productivity it has afforded me, I am more stimulated by conversations (and kisses) with my hubby, hugs from my mother, smiles from my father, and laughter with my girlfriends. This doesn't mean that this feature is dead; Far from it. Nor does it mean I've exhausted my apps; Far from it. However, it does mean that I am keenly aware that the best application of life is to live it, in relationship with God, self, and each other.

All that said, the iPad App of the Week is a life well lived in relationship. It doesn't cost anything and is well worth the time and energy invested!

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Response to Spring Things...

This was sent to me by my dear friend Shanee' Yvette. Like Mary, I am pondering these things in my heart. I invite you to do the same...

This is Shanee'

Your use of the world camouflage to describe dresses and your thighs was very striking.

Camouflage is a method of crypsis (hiding). It allows an otherwise visible organism or object to remain unnoticed, by blending with its environment (according to wikipedia---I Know Not a Great Source).

I thought about what camouflage means when I read your post about dresses. Hiding? Blending? Trying to maintain a certain level of safety? Survival. What about compliment? complement (a thing that completes or brings to perfection)? I know the word camouflage, personally. As someone who is struggling to love ALL of myself I read your post and thought about how I speak about myself using language that doesn't exactly benefit my "Body Loving" cause. How did I learn to speak in these ways about myself. How did a word describing a evoluntionary mechanism animals use to avoid violence and destruction become an appropriate way to describe the ways in which beautiful fabric adorns my precious body? Beautiful fabric which I choose in accordance with my own creativity and aesthetic. Beautiful fabric that makes me smile and happy to be alive. Beautiful fabric that tells the story of me: tragedies, dramas, romances, and comedies. How did violence become a part of my description of the adornment process? Who taught me to hate/hide myself? How can I unlearn that? Hiding. Hiding and fear hold each other's timid hands. What am I afraid of? Someone seeing me? Others beholding parts of me that the world has convinced me are unsightly? The truth of me is I have big chunky thighs that will never not rub when I walk and a heart shaped butt with fanny pack-like pockets at top but rather than camouflage these parts of me I'd rather learn to drape them with fabrics so that they feel safe, safe in that they are loved and protected by me and not subject to my vicious critiques and scathing looks of dis-appreciation. These are my great-grandmother's thighs and my grandmother's booty; my mother shares these gifts with me. Would I look at the three of these women and say "Hide yourself woman, be thee concealed for your are repulsive!". Absolutely Not! Then why do I disgrace them each time I shimmy into some garment that wasn't made with me in mind all the while damning the reflection of the women who made me. Camouflage, eh?

I'm curious. I assume short skirts are out due to modesty issues and insuring credibility and comfort(personal and public) in your ministry but what about you and how you feel about you. Is camouflage the right word? Am I making too much of the verb? Perhaps. Am I calling you out? No stones over here. Did something you said you call out to me? Yes, the sound of my own voice.Thank you for sparking my reflection today. I love you.

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Things...

On my morning walk today, I realized that as much as Spring is a time of spiritual renewal for me, it is also a time of physical newness. As the sun peeked through the clouds, it was clear to me that hibernation time is over. It is time to shed the bulky layers for lighter wares. It is time to pack away the grays and black for yellows, greens, blues, and pinks. It is time to buff, polish, and slather away the ash to reveal glowing skin. It is time...

I am keenly aware of the trends, but the older I get the less interested I am in trends. These days, I am interesting in things that work well for me. With that in mind, check out just a few of my Spring Things...

Spring Thing #1: A Fresh Face
At thirty, many women will experience adult acne. No one warned me before this happened. It was crazy. But thanks be to God, almost five years later, I have adjusted. I have learned to find new products that work when my skin gets too used to a product (when it stops working). These days, I am using Burt's Bees Radiance Day Cream to moisturize and Acne Solutions cleanser, scrub, and blemish stick.

As far as make-up goes, I am loving a pop of color on my eyes with nude lips. Hence I am using Bobbi Brown's Creamy Lip Color in Heather Buff and Sunset Nude and Lancome's Color Design Shadow Palette in Amethyst Glam and Bronze Amour.

In addition to the product on the outside, the key to a fresh face is drinking lots of water!

Spring Thing #2: Supple Skin
I don't know about you, but the "ash monster" visits me during the winter. In fact, he moves into my house without invitation, never pays rent, and reluctantly leaves in the Spring. This year, to move him out of the way, I am bringing in heavy artillery: Brown Sugar Body Polish and Nivea Body Cream.

Spring Thing #3: Jewel-Toned Dresses and Nails
With supple skin ready, it is time to throw on a pretty dress! Dresses work for me. Not only do they camoflauge my thighs, they make me feel beautiful. My latest snag is this floral number from Target. And we all know that a pretty dress is not complete without manicured nails. This season I am shelving my Essie Chinchilly for OPI Strawberry Margarita!

Spring Thing #4: Healthy Hair
So, this is not just a Spring thing for me, but an all year round thing! This Spring, I have made the decision to keep my hair short and sassy. To maximize the shine, I rinsed my hair black and I use Elasta QP Mango Butter.

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

iPad App of the Week

I know, I know...

I hear you: Thursday came and iPad App of the Week. Friday came and went...still no iPad App of the Week. For crying out loud, it's Monday already and you haven't blessed/annoyed us with a new iPad App! What gives?

Well, since you asked, the truth is that I've been so caught up playing Scrabble that my other gaming apps are probably jealous. UNO doesn't stand a chance. Mancala doesn't do it for me like it used to. And who wants to play Solitaire by yourself when you can play Scrabble with Facebook friends? Huh? Huh? Huh?

So, as an act of transparency and authenticity, the iPad App if the week is Scrabble. Again. It really is that good!

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Hovering Over the Deep...

This morning during my time of prayer, I became overwhelmed by the Presence of God in a way that I've never been before. Everything was filling up: the air in the room, my mind, my heart, and the recesses of my eyes where the tears well. The Presence of God was palpable; I knew that I was not alone. And not only was I not alone, but I could sense, without a shadow of a doubt, that God was doing something.

At first I could not name it; The atmosphere was, at once, extremely heavy and awesomely beautiful. I sat with Him, exchanging my usual stirrings to be still in the Presence of God. After all, we are admonished to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:1). And in our knowing, which can also be understood as acknowledging Him, our paths will be directed (Proverbs 3:6). More than anything, I want to walk in a God directed path. Donna directed paths usually lead me straight into ditches, dead-ends, going the wrong way on a one way street, or circling the block too many times to count.

After a period of stillness, I started writing. As the words began to pour out of me, I was able to name what I was feeling. It was a brooding. It was as if the Spirit of God was hovering over me and we were at the brink of God bringing forth newness in my life. And all of a sudden I knew that today was the beginning of something new. I was reminded of the foundations of the world:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

The formlessness in my life is about to be shaped and fashioned into something beautiful. The emptiness and void in my life is about to be filled so that I am fully satisfied. The chaos in my life is about to be ordered. The darkness in my life is making way for the light of God.

I do not know exactly what, "Let there be's" God spoke over me today. But I do know that, that just as God looked at His work in creation and declared it to be good, I know that whatever was spoken into my life today will be good, and even very good...

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Allow Me to Introduce...

...a fellow preacher of the Gospel;
...a thinking woman of faith;
...a teacher par excellence;
...a wife, mother, career woman and student (who does all of it well);
...soon to be graduate of the Master of Theological Studies Program at Drew University;
...a woman I can cry with and close down the mall with;
...a lover of books and a fierce pair of heels;
...a woman who can sing so well the hairs on your arms stand at attention; sister from another mother;
...and her newly launched blog

From time to time, when you aren't stopping by here, I encourage you to visit her site for inspiration, information, and incitation...

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Location:Alexis Ln,Edison,United States

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Think on These Things...

Lead Me, Guide Me
Lyrics by Doris Mae Akers

I am weak and I need Thy strength and power
To help me over my weakest hour
Lead me through the darkness Thy face to see
Lead me, oh Lord lead me.

Help me tread in the paths of righteousness.
Be my aid when Satan and sin oppress.
I am putting all my trust in Thee:
Lead me, oh Lord lead me.

I am lost if you take your hand from me,
I am blind without Thy light to see.
Lord just always to me thy servant be,
Lead me, oh Lord lead me.

Lead me, guide me along the way,
For if you lead me I cannot stray.
Lord let me walk each day with Thee.
Lead me, oh Lord lead me.

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Location:Lincoln Ave,New Rochelle,United States

Sunday, March 20, 2011

iPad App of the Week

Sorry I have been incognito. Much has been happening in life and ministry. During the in-between times, instead of blogging, I have been caught up with the iPad App of the week. I'vv been working with words, just not in the way I'd grown accustomed to.

I must admit, I love Scrabble in it's analog form, but the digital version knocks my socks off! At home we have the board game and the new Scrabble Flash game, but the iPad app gets the most play.

Funny (and true) story: Some years ago when hubby and I were dating, we would play and play and play all night long. Nerds! It didn't become obvious to us, until we were at a house party playing with other couples, that we had been making up rules to the game. Yes, we were that couple. You know, the people who make up rules and don't know how to lose gracefully when playing by the real rules. But thanks be to God, we have matured and we now know how to play the game. Not only can we play correctly, but we play well!

The iPad app has so many options for play. Let's see...
I play it alone, to pass the time...
I pass and play it with hubby, for bragging rights in the house...
I play it when my sermons are hiding from me, hoping that one of the words will inspire a thought...
I play it with Facebook friends, although a game can sometimes take a week to complete...

The only way I haven't played is using the Party Play option. You need to have iPhones for that, and since we are a Blackberry household, get the picture. But I imagine that this option is great for a party full of iPhone geeks, I mean users. But look at the cool is that! I'd become and iPhone geek just to play Scrabble like this...

All that said, I would suggest you get the Scrabble App for iPad. It was my first iPad download, and it hasn't disappointed me yet!

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Making the Sermon: I Ain't Dead Yet

Since this sermon was different than any one I previously prepared and preached, this entry, too, will be different. To be honest with you, a good friend of mine and I were speaking recently about how information gets used, and abused, once it is published online. Sadly, there are preachers who get up on Sunday mornings and proclaim, "What thus saith the Lord..." only they are sharing not what God gave to them, but what God gave to another preacher that she or he posted on the Internet. I hate to sound like a paranoid preacher, but this conversation has caused me to think...

So, for this sermon I will be sharing my creative process and methodological approach, without the snippet. For those of you who are interested, email me at and I will send you the audio file. We read in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, so I'd rather you hear the sermon instead of just reading it anyway...

In the Church at Worship: Introduction to Preaching class two weeks ago, Doc Simpson had a moment of inspiration during his lecture—almost like we weren't in the room—and then remarked that sermons will sometimes sneak upon you. So it was with this sermon. A few weeks ago, after preaching my last sermon, I started to meditate on Psalm 121 for the purpose of preaching. On Wednesday of last week, during the reading of Scripture during our Charles Emerson Boddie Lenten Lecture Worship Service, the sermon snuck up on me. It was as if the text and title ran up to me, tapped me on my arm, shouted, "You're it!" and ran away. From Wednesday evening to Saturday evening, the sermon was elusive. In this game of Hide and Seek, I sought...reading, listening and meditating...while the Word hid.

So the Word was hiding, and I was busy. Last week was like no other week I've experienced since being ordained. And as such, I had to draw upon my ordination vows. During the Sacred Act of Installation there was one line that I repeated several times in response to the the vow: I will endeavor to do so, the LORD being my helper. I will endeavor to do so, the Lord being my helper. These words resonated in my heart as I eulogized my uncle on Tuesday. These words resonated in my heart as I prepared for Bible Study on Wednesday and Preaching Class on Thursday, as I coordinated not one, but two, Homegoing Services, as I prepared for Women's Prayer Service on Friday Night, and taught Biblical Attitudes Shaping Bible Study (BASIC) 201 on Saturday. These words resonated in my heart as I struggled to keep my eyelids open and as I laughed hysterically at times in an exhausted state of delirium. These words resonated in my heart as I struggled with my own health challenges that left me lacking energy. Please understand, this is not a complaint. I am so blessed—fully satisfied—in my service to the Lord. These are the honest words of a young preacher trying to get used to the times signature of ministry. This time signature—this rhythm—is sometimes legato, sometimes staccato, and always wildly complex.

I will endeavor to do so, the Lord being my helper. These words resonated in my heart when Saturday evening came and I had no sermon. Let's rewind a bit. I arrived at my parents' house around 3:00 p.m. after an early morning minsters' meeting and a four-hour discipleship class. I was tired beyond belief, so I laid down and closed my eyes for a few hours so that I could be refreshed to write my sermon. I woke up, ate and the sermon was still hiding. I watched a movie with my mother and the sermon was still hiding. In between all of this, I read the text and tried to write. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the sermon was hiding. At around eight o'clock, I decided to shut myself up in my room until the sermon came. I read the text. Still hiding. So I let the audio version of the Scripture play as I ironed hubby and my clothes for church. At that point I figured it was going to be a long night and I might as well be productive. At that point I also figured I'd be preaching from bullet points, the thought of which, admittedly, makes me a tad nervous. Anyway, as I was ironing and the audio was playing the ideas started to flow. I bounced back and forth between typing and ironing until the ironing was done and all I was doing was typing all the while the Scripture was playing in the background. In that moment I was experiencing something that I had heard the old preachers talk about. I now know what the old preachers mean when they say, I feel my Help coming on. In two and a half hours time I had a full manuscript written. It was only God!

As I think about it, while I did not preach Psalm 121, I did live Psalm 121 last week. With all that was going on, I had no other choice but to lift up my eyes to the hills, knowing full well that my help comes from the Lord. I felt my help on Saturday night and on Sunday morning I endeavored to preach, the Lord being my helper...

Title: I Ain't Dead Yet

Text: Mark 9:14-27
And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?” Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

Methodological Approach:
Paul Scott Wilson, in his highly regarded book The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching writes, "What if people in the church pews on Sunday were to view the content of our sermons as movies that they are seeing in their minds as we speak?" (14). His response is an offering which he calls the metaphor of four pages. These four pages "identify four basic kinds of theological focus" (15). This is not a literal four-paged sermon, but four areas to explore: Trouble and conflict in the Bible; Similar trouble and conflict in our present day; Grace/good news in the Bible; and finally, God's grace/good news at work in our world today. I know some might think that there is no trouble in the Bible, but Wilson remarks, and I agree, "We cannot get to a strong theology of grace except via a strong theology of human trouble. While [trouble is] essential for the first half of the sermon, we simply do not want our tour of it to be the entire journey. Trouble, after all, does not have the final word on faith" (79). Wilson suggests that if you cannot find the trouble (or grace) in a text that you need to wrestle with it some more. Sometimes the trouble is obvious, and sometimes not so much. A great example that I've heard about of not so obvious trouble in a text is the question of the presence of Mrs. Certain, the wife of "a certain man who had two sons" in Luke 15:11-32. We know the tremendous power of a mother's love...What did she have to say when her youngest son left? What did she do? How did she respond to the son who remained at home? What was her reaction when her son, who had extravagant taste and a strong will, came back? Where was Mrs. Certain?

In addition to the four pages, Wilson suggests that when preaching a sermon, for the sake of sermon unity and captivating the listener, that the preacher deal with one text, one theme, one doctrine, one need, one image, and one mission. Sometimes preachers try to do way too much in a sermon and end up being all over the place. As a result, people get lost. Ever try to keep up with a movie that has several plot lines? Difficult, at best. So he underscores the power of ONE in developing a theologically and biblically sound sermon. Choose one text and, for lack of a better phrase, milk it. Choose one theme and be sure that your sermon communicates that theme. Choose one doctrine and explore only that. For example, don't try to explore the doctrine of Christ (Christology) and the doctrine of the church (ecclessiology) in depth. I learned in Chris Boesel's Systematic Theology class that doctrines are not linear, but rather are interconnected in a web, so it is impossible to talk about one without mentioning another, but we can be focused in our proclamation. Choose one need, some issue or concern that people in your congregation might be struggling with. Choose one image. The artist in me thanks Wilson for this. Preachers, don't talk about houses and hands and a journey and glass blowing get the picture. Choose one image to sear the sermon into the minds of your hearers. In my sermon for my Uncle Melvin's service, I used the image of a home/dwelling place from beginning to end. Choose one mission, one action item that you hope that people will do. James admonished us to be doers of the word...what do you want people to do after hearing your sermon? Sometimes the doing is an actual action item and sometimes it is simply changing the way they think.

That is the abridged version of Four Pages... and of all of the homiletical approaches presented during my tenure at Drew, this one made the most sense to me as a way of preparing and presenting the Gospel.

Perhaps because I have been influenced in my current work as a teaching assistant in Doc's preaching class at Drew, I intentionally used this approach when working through Mark 9:14-27. The trouble in the text that I honed in on was found in verse 26:b, "... And he became as one dead, so that many said, 'He is dead.'" The trouble in the world is that many (which other translations call "the crowd") will look at our situations (spiritually, physically, emotionally, and financially) and will pronounce us dead without being qualified to do so. The grace in the text immediately followed the pronouncement of death, "But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. " The grace in the world is that Jesus takes us by the hand and lifts us up, when we accept His love, we experience resurrection not only into eternal life, but resurrection from seemingly dead situations in our lives. This of course, is a rough sketch. You'd have to hear the sermon to know how it all gets filled in...

Like to hear it? Email me at with your email address.

- Posted using BlogPress on the fiercest device ever...the iPad!!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Making the Sermon: There's No Place Like Home

I know I said I would be away during Lent. Truth is, blogging is a life-giving, life-affirming activity for me; One that, as I write, allows me to experience and glorify God in new ways. As I taught about Lent last week in Bible Study, I was pricked by the Holy Spirit. Giving up for the sake of giving up is no up those things that draw our attention away from God or make us dull to the movement of His Spirit is the way to go! And so, here I am...again.

This sermon was both a challenge and a joy to write. Mostly because, at first, I did not want to write it. Let me back up a few steps. This sermon is the eulogy for my Uncle Melvin, who departed this life on March 7, 2011. As the resident minister in the family, not only do you get to bless the food at Thanksgiving, but you are also looked to to deliver a word of comfort and hope in the face of the death of a loved one.

I was hesitant. I recalled the words of Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson, my preaching professor at Drew, who counseled us against preaching eulogies for our family members because one, as family we need to be together, and two, you never know how grief is going to manifest itself. But how do you say no to your closest cousin, in age and relationship, when she asks you to preside at her father's funeral? You don't. You can...but really, you can't.

The kid in me, who likes to have tantrums and wag her fists, wanted to be able to grieve Uncle Melvin's death in my own way and in private. The insecure girl in me wondered if I would be able to stand, literally, to declare what thus saith the Lord. The faith-filled woman in me was trusting God to speak to my heart and stir up a word specifically for my family during this hour of grief. The prophet and priest in me recognized the awesome privilege of being able to function in this way in my family of origin.

I started out on Tuesday, after being asked if I would officiate the service and eulogize Uncle Melvin, knowing that I would preach from Psalm 90. I just knew it. I read the entire Psalm, but I kept getting stuck on "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away...So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:10, 12). I was thinking about Uncle Melvin, who lived to be seventy-three years old and who wrestled with lung-cancer (and the treatments that accompany it) for what seemed like forever. I thought about those of us left on this side of glory, and how we need to live our lives well, counting our blessings along the way. And then I got stuck. The words wouldn't come...but the tears certainly did.

By Wednesday morning, when I arrived at church for Bible Study, I was a mess. I looked good on the outside, but inside I was struggling. So, I walked into my pastor's office and, to make a long story short, I sat on his couch and wept as he ministered to me. He encouraged me to seek God's face not only for a word of comfort for my family, but for one that would strengthen me in the days ahead. He encouraged me to proclaim to love and comfort of God and my vision of the eschaton—last things—as outlined in the words of Scripture.

When I left his office, I felt free. Not only did I feel free, but I was free. The ideas and words were flowing. The Spirit was moving. My focus was shifted from "the days of our years..." to "Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations" (Psalm 90:1). As I meditated on what it means to understand God as our home, I made a journey over to the first six verses of the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. And then the most amazing thing happened...the Lord brought to the forefront of my mind my fondest memory of my Uncle Melvin. It was the story I had rehearsed over and over in my mind. It was the story that I had told several times since Uncle Melvin's passing. It was the story that connected the text of the Bible to the text of Uncle Melvin's life.

By Thursday, I had an outline. On Friday I was confined to bed, so not much written sermonating was happening. By Saturday evening, the floodgates opened and the word was written. By far, this was the most exciting sermon to write (after the blockage was cleared, of course). Why? Well, because it gave me a chance to work through and articulate my understanding of what happened when we depart this life. It also gave me hope, looking forward to the day, when I will be at home in the presence of Almighty God.

Text: Psalm 90:1; John 14:1-6

Title: There's No Place Like Home

Sermon Snippet:

It is customary in these moments, when a clergyperson leads a funeral procession, to utter the words found in the first verse of the 90th Psalm which begin, “Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.”

Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Dwelling place. House. Home. Habitation. Residence. Refuge. Abode. A place of retreat. A place of rest. A place if safety. A place where you live. A place where you flourish. A place there you can be vulnerable. A place where you are comfortable. A place where you are at ease.

Luther may have understood that a house was not a home--a dwelling place--until the love of his life was there, but the Psalmist declared that God is our dwelling place.

God is our home. God is our place of rest and refuge. God is...

Beloved Family, I stopped by this morning to proclaim that in this hour of grief, in these moments of loss, that home is the place to be. I stopped by here this morning to proclaim that our true home is in the Presence of God. I stopped by to remind us all, myself included, there is comfort in God, who is our dwelling place.

And that got me to thinking...

Each of us in this room could tell stories about encounters that we had with Melvin. I could tell you a few. How he used to slip me cash whenever he saw me, until I was old enough to start making my own money. How he used to call me Big Bertha...whether I was chubby or slim.

But one of my fondest memories of Uncle Melvin imprinted in my mind is from Christmas of 1982. I was in the second grade, and like every second grade girl at the time, I was immersed in Barbie culture. That particular Christmas I begged for and received the Barbie Dream House.

And I can remember my father and Uncle Melvin, two grown men, trying to put this house together. Black coffee drinking, Uncle Melvin, putting together Barbie’s Dream House. Strong man, Uncle Melvin, putting together Barbie’s Dream House. Uncle Melvin? Barbie Dream House? You all know, there is nothing Melvin wouldn’t do for those he loved, even putting this big dollhouse together for his niece.

If you remember the Barbie Dream House, you will recall that it was a beautiful home. It was grand and had many, many rooms. Barbie was doing it! The version in the early eighties was a step-up from her humble abode in the sixties. In the sixties, Barbie had a cardboard, fold-up, one room, studio apartment. But for Christmas of 1982 she had moved up in the real estate world. This Dream House was multi-storied and even had an attic for storage. She had several bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and living room. Her house came fully equipped, though not fully assembled, with a pool and winding slide. But if I recall it honestly, the house didn’t have enough room for furniture AND Barbie, Ken and Alex. It was a big house, a beautiful house, with plenty of rooms and yet not enough room.

But I must tell you that Barbies Dream House pales in comparison to the house that God has prepared for His children. Hear these words of Jesus found in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John:
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Jesus begins with, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Jesus was speaking of a pain and disappointment that happens on the interior landscape. He was speaking of the heartache that comes when death arrives, even when it arrives with warning. He wasn’t necessarily speaking about sadness per se, but rather he was instructing His disciples then, and us today, to stand strong in the face of death, because it may seem that death will have the final word, but Jesus ultimately will have the last word because He conquered death and rose from the grave with all power in heaven and on earth (NIB 740, Matthew 28:18).


In My Father’s House there are many mansions. In this home there are many mansions, many rooms! Another translation puts it this way, there are many dwelling places. In the ancient tradition, in Jesus’ time, to speak of a dwelling place, was to speak of a residence, a resting place, for the righteous. And this home isn’t a place—like the neighborhood that I live in now—where you can live right next door to someone and not know them. This home is a family dwelling. It is the place where God’s family dwells! Where you know and are in relationship with everyone in the house. It reminds me of the stories that are told about when our family had a home on South Second Avenue, here in Mount Vernon. Some of y’all lived there, others had been there, and some of y’all know the kind of place I’m talking about. One house with several units. Grandma upstairs with the twins and Muffin. Mildred and her children on one floor. Lois and hers on another. Open doors, open kitchens, open hearts. Always a bed available if somebody needed one. It seemed there was always plenty of room in this house. But, if we tell the truth, at some point, there could have been one too many folk up in the house.

Beloved, there is plenty of room in God’s house. There is plenty of room in the presence of God...all we have to do is receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior. There is plenty of room for all who believe in Him! Plenty good room!

And what I like about this home is that we do not have to buy the home. We don’t have to be mindful of the market. We don’t have to research the neighborhood, the school system, and such. We don’t have to take out a loan. We don’t have to renovate the house. We do not have to clean the house up. We do not have to prepare the place…decorate it and such. All we have to do is accept Jesus, and His love for us: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. And that everlasting life, beloved, is in the dwelling place that Jesus is preparing for us, even now. That is good news!