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;
...my sister from another mother;
...and her newly launched blog www.mbcdoc.wordpress.com







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.

Chorus
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, well...you 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 picture...how 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 reverenddonna@gmail.com 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...

Process:
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 and...you 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 reverenddonna@gmail.com 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 bueno...giving 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!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Journey...

Lent begins tomorrow, commencing with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is marked in Catholic (and some Protestant) congregations by the imposition of ashes. Back in the day I used to wonder about people who had the dirt smeared on their foreheads (my uninformed understanding). As a student at Drew, I received ashes for the first time. My eyes were opened. Like King David, when confronted by the prophet Nathaniel, I recognized that to wear the ashes was to "...acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin [that] is ever before me" (Psalm 51:3 KJV). What more powerful way to be reminded that we, as believers, are sinners saved by grace than to look in the mirror and see the ashes. What more powerful way to express the weight or sin to the world, and your allegiance with the One who has the power to forgive sin, than to wear the ashes. We Christians love to talk about grace; Sin, not so much. But the truth is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). I may look good on the outside, I may look good now, but glory to God that Jesus died for my sin (and yours, too). I will not be wearing the ashes on my forehead this year, but they will be imprinted on my heart...

During this season of Lent, I am focused on movement...
from gray bareness to verdant blossoms;
from Winter to Spring;
from death to new life;
from sin to righteousness;
from sickness to healing;
from bondage to liberty;
from fear to faith;
from self to the Savior;
from carnal to Spiritual;
from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection Sunday;
from tradition to intimacy...

Fellow sojourners, where you at? Looking forward to sharing with you as we journey together...
(the sharing, however, will happen after Resurrection Sunday)


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

Growing Old (and Cute) Together...

I am writing this post with mixed emotions....

On the one hand, I feel tremendous sadness in the wake of the death of my uncle, Melvin Simmons, who departed this life early yesterday morning, Monday, March 7, 2011. I feel especially for my cousin Michelle, who in just a few short days, at the age of thirty-seven, will have buried both of her parents. I know that both Uncle Melvin and Aunt Mildred are resting in peace. I also know that God will flood Michelle's heart with the peace that passes human understanding during this time, and in the hard moments that will follow.

On the other hand, I feel an overwhelming sense of joy after having celebrated my mother's sixty-second birthday at dinner on Sunday afternoon. Her birthday was yesterday, Monday, March 7, 2011. After dinner on Sunday, I had made up my mind to blog about my parents and how cute they have become in their older age. At first, I felt funny blogging about my parents, seeing that Michelle had just lost her father. It seemed wrong. But on second thought, after losing uncle Melvin, I recognized that we are not to take the gift of life, and the gift of our parents, for granted. Let me rephrase that and make it personal: I am not ever to take the gift that God has given to me, in the form of my parents John and Lois, for granted. Not ever.

With that in mind, I want to share a moment from Sunday afternoon:

Dad, Mom, hubby and I went to an early dinner at the Bayou in Mount Vernon. Seeing that today is Fat Tuesday, and that this is Mardi Gras season, it was appropriate that we enjoyed some good Louisiana Cajun cuisine for dinner. Plus, mom had mentioned the Bayou several times in the preceding weeks. Anyway, we talked and laughed the whole time. There were moments when the men folk were talking sports while mom and I were laughing about God knows what. After a filling meal, I virtually forced mom to have dessert so that we could surprise her with one lone candle on a slice of pie and two not-so-enthusiastic waiters singing, "Happy Birthday..." The funniest part was when they stopped at her name, because they never got her name! Dad joked about the lack of presence of the other sixty-one candles.



At some point we got to talking about Dad's age and his big birthday coming up. In June I will be thirty-five (brace yourselves) and, in September, Dad will be seventy. At that point, I will be half his age and, at least by the parameters set in Psalm 90, he will have lived a good number of years. If by reason of strength he has some more years, God be praised!

So, with mom's birthday candles and Dad's upcoming monumental birthday, deep down I was thinking about their lives and their mortality. The truth is, we often pay so much attention to the ways in which infants grow into toddlers, toddlers into children, and children into teenagers that we miss the beautiful and strange things that happen when we age past fifty: deeper faith in God and the proliferation of gray hairs; the ability to let things roll of your back while shrinking several inches; a profound sense of humor that comes from having to purchase Polident in bulk from Costco; and the gems of accumulated wisdom to share with family and friends coupled with hearing loss (which could be a blessing, who wants to hear others complain?). On Sunday, I got a good look at my parents and noticed the changes taking place in their lives that signify their age, maturity, and wisdom. I also noticed the markers that signify aging and slow decay.

One such moment was when hubby and I were dropping my parents back at their home. It was pouring raining, and I watched them exit the car with the kind of attention you would give to a six year old exiting a car. I don't say this in a condescending way; I say this with the care of a daughter who loves her parents and would hate to see them get hurt in any way. I watched as they were exiting the car: my father with his short—old-man—gait turning back to see if mom was nearing his side; my mother smiling, stopped over, and shuffling along so not to get her hair wet (older yes, but she is still a black woman in America with a standing hair appointment on Saturdays); and the two of them watching for each other as they made their way into the apartment building. Suddenly a question entered my mind: When did my parents become cute, old people?


When did my parents become cute, old people? I remember my parents, young and spry. I remember my parents thinner and standing a bit taller than they do now. I remember my parents as people of forty and fifty. I remember my parents with black hair, and only black hair, on their heads. I remember my parents (quietly) traversing the terrains of working full-time, familial security, and financial stability. But now the game has changed. My parents are in their sixties and approaching seventy, and they are aging well...cute and old...but doing it with grace while leaning on each other. The game may have changed, my parents may be changing, but I am grateful for their witness and model of what it means to grow older together...


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

Friday, March 4, 2011

Iron Sharpen Iron...

I am so grateful to God for new opportunities that have come my way and for the people that He has blessed and enriched my life with. To God be the glory, for the great things He has done!

The writer of Proverbs lets us know that, "As Iron sharpens iron; so a wo/man sharpens the countenance of her/his friend." I was blessed on Wednesday evening to sit down with G. Morris—who is a friend and a wonderful worker in the Kingdom of God—to discuss the connection between faithful stewardship and self-love. This conversation was a riff on the six-week Bible Study series that I led at Bethesda which was the inspiration for revamping the Praying Away the Pounds ministry and has been a reminder to me that I am living my life, and as believers, we are living our lives—including our eating, movement, and rest—to hear God say, "Well done thou good and faithful servant..."

Like to hear it, here it goes...

video


I was also blessed because Morris invited me to become a blogger on the newly introduced online community Iron Sharpens Iron. So, in addition to checking on me over here, check me out from time to time over there, too. And don't just check me out...check out the various podcasts and blogs. The address is www.iron-2-iron.com. Become a part of the community, join in the conversation on the forums, and be sharpened by others who are following after Christ...


Image (on clip) taken from christianworkoutdvds.org.

iPad App of the Week

(Warning...my male readers may want to tune back in next week...this app is certainly NOT for you)


I know your curiosity is piqued... The iPad app of the week is PinkPad by Alt12 Apps. I'll spare you all of the juvenile and euphemistic language....this app allows women to track their monthly menstrual cycle.





I have been using PinkPad since early January. It saves me having to put little red dots on the calendar in our kitchen/bedroom/office. Little red dots on a calendar are one thing when you are single, but they're another story when your calendar is our calendar.


Besides, this app does more than track the days when Aunt Flow is in town. It allows you to track your flow frequency, intensity, moods, symptoms, etc. It also has a place to track weight and body temperature. And, when we are ready for little people in our world, it let's you know the days when you are fertile. Guess work, gone!


The interface is like a journal. In fact, you can choose from several different styles. We all know, I love a pretty journal; They had me at the design. But the design is just the start. On the home screen it has a reminder box which displays the estimated start date of your next cycle, days until your next cycle, and peak fertility dates. The calendar screen has, on the left, a monthly calendar with icons that correspond to your entries. It also has a monthly list so you can go back and see trends in your cycle. The adjacent page is a daily log to record the following: flow, spotting, intimate, mood, symptoms, fertility, weight, basal body temperature, and notes.






Besides the functionality, this app is kind of fun. I cannot help but laugh when I go to enter my exhaustion and/or moodiness and I see the emoticons. How can you continue to be frustrated when you see an emoticon with piercing eyes and a furrowed brow. Really?


The only drawback to the app is the forum section. It has the potential to be a place for great discussion among mature women, except it seems to have been taken over by twelve-year old boys pretending to be sixteen-year old girls. No bueno! But since I have a great OBGYN and amazing women in my life to ask questions about sensitive subjects, I can make do without the forums.


So, if you want to stop marking your cycle on public calendars and you want an efficient way to monitor all of the details of your cycle, then this is the app for you...


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

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Making the Sermon: Do You Believe?

This installment of Making the Sermon is different than the previous entries because it is an occasion sermon, rather than my usual Sunday morning word. It is also different because I will not be sharing a sermon snippet, but rather will be posting my (limited) personal evaluation of the sermon. Why? Well, because this was a eulogy/funeral sermon and I feel that it was for the hearing/experiencing of the family and friends present at the homegoing celebration. I am also sharing my personal evaluation because I have been inspired by the Thursday afternoon Introduction to Preaching Class at the Theological School at Drew University. Last Thursday I began my tenure as Teaching Assistant for Rev. Dr. Gary Simpson. The considerations I engage below are the ones that Doc asks his students to consider as they hear the sermons of their peers and evaluate their own sermons.


But before I go there, let me tell you how this sermon came to be...


On Sunday evening during my sacramental post-preaching nap, I received a text that the mother of my friend/cousin-in-law passed away earlier that day. On Monday, I received a call alerting me of her passing and asking if I would be available to help in some way. I take my ordination vows seriously, I take my call seriously, and I take the privilege of ministering to families in times of joy and crisis seriously, so I said yes. Little did I know then that I would be officiating the service and preaching the message. By Tuesday evening it was confirmed...


Although it was confirmed that I would be preaching, I struggled a bit. What do you say to a daughter who has lost her mother, and her rock, after a long bout with breast cancer? What word of hope did I have to share to this particular gathered community? I phrase the question in that way because the service was not held at a church, but at a funeral home, where the atmosphere and expectation is different. Place doesn't seem important to most, but it makes a huge difference in the perspective of the people. Even language makes a difference...using the term funeral carries with it a finality that is foreign to believers, whereas the term homegoing celebration suggests, as Christians believe, that, "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).


On Thursday morning I didn't have a word. During coffee with a friend, as I recounted the events of the coming weekend, she said (as we always do when things are overwhelming, frustrating, or someone cuts you off in traffic), "Jesus wept." And then the Spirit spoke to me. Jesus did weep; He mourned the loss of his friend Lazarus. That was the text: John 11:32-44.


So, I went to work. I read, reread, and read again. (Instead of only reading the text at hand, I read John 11:1-44 so that I wouldn't lose the context.) I wrote furiously. The Lord was speaking and the words were coming. By the time Friday evening came around, I had eleven pages (about 45 minutes) written, but deep down, I knew it wasn't done. I was tired, and I had another homegoing at nine that morning at the church, and I was driving to NY from Jersey, so I read a commentary, prayed, and went to bed.


I woke up Saturday just before six, and still no change. The service was beginning in six hours and I didn't have a word. I had words, but no word. When I got in the shower, I realized that a grieving family is not interested in hearing me wax eloquent for 45 minutes. What I had was good stuff and my work was not in vain, but it wasn't the word for the day. I finished getting ready, hopped in the car, and began to pray, "God, just let me preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and a word of hope to this grieving family." I prayed that prayer over and over and over again. God heard my prayers, and after a few minutes of silence, the word came to me. All I kept hearing was Mary saying, "Lord if you had been here my brother wouldn't have died" and Jesus (eventually) responding, "I am the resurrection and the life...do you believe this?" By the time I arrived at the church for homegoing #1, I had the sermon outline in my head. By the time I arrived at the funeral home for homegoing #2, I had the sermon typed in my iPad. By the time the service was over, the gospel had been preached, Jesus had been lifted up, and the sermon that death preached had been rendered void. To God be the glory!!!


Text: John 11:17-28 NIV
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.”



Title: Do You Believe?


Personal Evaluation:


Did you hear the good news? If so, what was it?
There were two pieces of good news that I wanted to communicate: first, God desires that we be authentic, vulnerable, and honest before Him in prayer (as Martha did); and that when we receive Jesus as our Savior, that we can rest assured in His words that, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die."


What preparation helped or hindered the hearing of the sermon?
Before I preached, I read from James Weldon Johnson's "Go Down Death." It is a beautiful funeral sermon in poetic meter and was appropriate for this particular homegoing celebration. Here is the final verse:



Weep not—weep not,

She is not dead;

She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.



I wove in textual information and contextual information, without the word being too heavy or scholarly. I also made connections between the text and our contemporary practices. For example, the presence of the Jews who visited the Martha and Mary in the loss of their brother, and the way that we, as Black folk, will gather with, "a pot of greens, some fried chicken, and potato salad and eat and tell lies to help the grieving family in their time of loss." This helped people, those who may not engage the Bible often (or at all), to relate to the events and people int he text. In hindsight, the preparation--even the pages that ended up on the cutting room floor--helped the way that I told the story. Other issues that helped or hindered hearing, and I know there were others, would be better gleaned from someone present at the service....


What performance issues helped or hindered the hearing of the sermon?
This service was well attended--the deceased touched many, many lives.* I knew many of the people there. Some where family. Some were friends from the playground of Lincoln Elementary School. Some I know from my neighborhood growing up. Most don't know me as Rev. O. With that in mind, I wore my robe. It was important to me to function in my priestly/prophet role and in a suit I still would have been seen as Donna from the block. I think the presence of my robe helped people to hear me. The microphone wasn't booming, and I had a difficult time adjusting my voice, so literally there may have been some folks in the back who couldn't hear the word. Other issues, and I know there were others, I am not aware of because I was proclaimer, not hearing or seeing the sermon unfold...


*The decision to have the service at a funeral home, and not her home church, was one that the deceased made before her death so that her clients that she worked with at the United Cerebral Palsy organization could attend the service. It caused me to raise the question about the lack of accessibility to our churches when Jesus, himself, is fully accessible. That is another post for another day...


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