I am blessed to have a source of inspiration living in the same house I do. Here is a lenten meditation Heather sent me earlier today. I am passing it on – so straightforward and true. (checkout the Loving Compass facebook page and website – just keep reading after the reflection…)
God bless everyone – we love you all,
Pastor Michael and Heather
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Practicing Courage with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind
March 31, 2020
The Courage to Practice Grace Under Pressure
What's In Your Cup?
Reflection By Scott Stoner
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
- John 14:27
I have learned valuable lessons recently that I’d like to share with you, one from a story and one from an experience. First, the story.
You are holding a cup of coffee when someone comes along and accidentally bumps your arm, making you spill coffee everywhere. Why did you spill the coffee? Because someone bumped into you, right? Wrong answer. You spilled the coffee because coffee was in the cup. If tea had been in it, you would have spilled tea. Whatever is inside the cup is what will come out. Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you, whatever is inside of you will come out.
So each of us needs to ask ourselves, “What’s in my cup?” When life gets bumpy, what spills over? Joy, gratefulness, peace, and humility? Or anger, bitterness, harsh words, and reactions? The lesson I learned was that we get to choose what’s in our cup.
Another lesson learned came while I was driving. Another car cut me off in traffic without (seemingly) any awareness of my presence. I was not proud of the words that came out of my mouth, and was glad they were for my ears only in the confines of my car. This experience showed me that there is a bit too much stress and irritability in my cup right now. That day I chose to react rather than respond and wanted to blame the other driver for my reaction. But as the story points out, that’s the wrong answer. The lesson learned is that I need to be more intentional about filling my cup with patience, forgiveness, and understanding.
Making It Personal: Can you think of a time when some kind of stress “bumped” you? Did grace spill out of your cup, or something else? What can you learn from your experience?
**Editorial note: Some people have asked why these daily Lent reflections do not address the Covid-19 pandemic and the unprecedented challenges we are all facing. Please understand that this daily devotional was written six months ago to be ready in time to print and distribute 30,000 printed booklets. The daily emails you are receiving are the same reflections as those in the printed booklets.
Please know that in our Practicing Courage Facebook group, we have very lively and inspiring conversations every day about how these daily reflections speak to us in this time of the pandemic. If you want to join us, click on the “Join Group” button below. Blessings to you all of you in these most stressful times, and thank you for your understanding.
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It is difficult to get away from the news reports. Everywhere we turn - television specials, talk shows, Facebook, CNN, FOX, ABC… this corona virus has our full attention. 24/7. The virus is thrust front and center. We cannot look away. And we should be paying attention. We need to stay informed and have misinformation dispelled. But for the good of our psyches and souls, we also need a break. Let us look more deeply into what God is saying through nature’s voice.
I love the way the Apostle Paul describes God as the One “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.” Acts 17:28. Take a few minutes every day. Sit down and look at what this God giving us – again. The magnolia trees are blossoming, the daffodils are growing tall, bright yellow, and happy. The cardinals sing. The sparrows flutter around the bird feeder. Squirrels scurry across the back yard. Rabbits do their hop and stop dance, happy to be out of wherever they go when it is cold. The sun burns bright in the middle of the sea of blue above us.
The prophet Isaiah says many difficult things. He speaks for an angry God. Yet…even in the midst of his anger and frustration, God gives us hope - and many reasons to celebrate. Healthy, healing life is bursting forth wherever we look for it!
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
Even as the virus spreads, the earth is giving birth to spring. Beneath the confusion and fear, we have reason to join the trees of the field and clap our hands.
Peace be with you all,
PS – Shaun is busy right now. Soon this week’s worship service will be available on a sound cloud link coming to you via email, Facebook and www.fpcedgewood.org. Let us gather together tomorrow morning and ask the Lord’s blessing.
Love one another
Good morning everyone,
All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Galatians 5: 14
As I read this morning’s Post-Gazette, my heart froze when I read, (regarding Covid 19 in Allegheny County) “The dramatic increase…in recent days shows there is ‘community spread.’…Please stay away from everyone and assume everyone has it.” Those are not the words of a politically motivated fear-monger. That is Dr. LuAnn Brink, the county’s chief epidemiologist, talking to you…and me…all of us.
Stay away from people, has become the new strategy of love. What strange times we live in! Stay away from them, but work harder to love them. If you are concerned or worried about someone in your neighborhood, circle of friends, or church - take the initiative, err on the side of caring too much - give them a call, email, text, facebook post, Instagram message, snapchat, messenger message. You can even send them a letter or post card (yup, they still exist). Staying away from one another does not mean to stop caring for one another.
This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.
Final question – how are you all doing? If you need a trip made to the grocery store or pharmacy, or wherever; if you need to talk or hear a prayer said for you; if you just need to know someone does love you in word and deed – please reach out. OK?
Grace and peace to all,
Special Prayer Request
Although Paul and Karen are not on the front lines of caring for people at UPMC…they see the doctors, nurses, therapists, custodial workers, and others who are in constant contact with people who are sick. These are the first-responders to the attack we are enduring as a community and nation. Let us lift up these people and families in our prayers. And remember to thank them when we see them at work.
We should also remember those serving us in grocery stores, pharmacies, the bus drivers, postal workers, police and firefighters who are not staying at home, but are serving us.
O Lord our heavenly Creator, who sent your Son not to be served but to serve:
we ask you to bless all who, following in steps of Jesus, give themselves to the service of others;
that with wisdom, patience, and courage,
they may minister in his name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy;
for the love of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
day by day, step by step
Good morning people,
This bright sun is working for me – how about you?
I am intrigued by this “we are at war” metaphor we use when talking about the Covid 19 pandemic. The enemy is invisible, hiding, ready to ambush us. The enemy could be everywhere, we won’t know until we are attacked. The weapons in our arsenal are 1. stay at home, 2. wash our hands, 3. spray disinfectant everywhere, 4. Stock up on toilet paper (ha-ha)
What an odd way of fighting a war! The most difficult part for me is step one – stay at home. Not something I like to do. I seek distraction. Can’t sit still for long. Want to go out for any reason whatsoever.
The executive of Pittsburgh Presbytery, Sheldon Sorge, shared a reflection this morning that encourages me. Just take this battle one day at a time…one step at a time…and lean on Jesus, who is fighting this battle right beside us.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary … and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) The situation in which we find ourselves is just the sort of thing Jesus is addressing. With Jesus, the stressed find rest, reorientation, and renewal
Paradoxically, Jesus uses the metaphor of a yoke to characterize his promise of rest. We think of a yoke as signifying bondage, but he offers it as a pathway to freedom.
The image of yoked oxen was familiar to Jesus’ hearers. A strong, mature ox was typically yoked to a younger ox that hadn’t yet learned the disciplined art of plow-pulling. The newbie would pull to this side and that to check out interesting sights or dip toward the ground to catch a bit of some special grass. Meanwhile the elder ox would keep moving purposefully forward, and because of the yoke, the weaker apprentice was pulled away from all seductive diversions, back to the main task. Being yoked to the master saved the novice from the weariness that comes from chasing after every stimulus that cries out for attention.
Here is a different way of reading the verses Sheldon Sorge refers to: from The Message translation of the Bible.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you – now and forevermore…
A time for calm
Good afternoon sisters and brothers,
I wonder how you all are doing? Emotionally, spiritually, physically. I change day to day. Yesterday I needed to be moving. Running an errand. Taking a walk. Doing some aerobics. Today is feeling much more easy. “I’m chill.” As they say. Maybe it’s because yesterday wore me out! I want to share with you a “chill” reflection that I came across this morning. And share a song that was part of my morning meditation time. (I know Shaun and Sunny can provide the music too…not trying to replace. Maybe this will give them a time to chill as well.
When we call out for help, we are bound more powerfully to God through our needs and weakness, our unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and our anxieties and problems than we ever could have been through our joys, successes, and strengths alone. . . . (Brian McLaren) Take some time with this – lots of wisdom here:
Anxieties can gray the whole sky like cloud cover or descend on our whole horizon like fog. When we rename our anxieties, in a sense we distill them into requests. What covered the whole sky can now be contained in a couple of buckets. So when we’re suffering from anxiety, we can begin by simply holding the word help before God, letting that one word bring focus to the chaos of our racing thoughts. Once we feel that our mind has dropped out of the frantic zone and into a spirit of connection with God, we can let the general word help go and in its place hold more specific words that name what we need, thereby condensing the cloud of vague anxiety into a bucket of substantial request. So we might hold the word guidance before God. Or patience. Or courage. Or resilience. Or boundaries, mercy, compassion, determination, healing, calm, freedom, wisdom, or peace. . . .
Along with our anxieties and hurts, we also bring our disappointments to God. If anxieties focus on what might happen, and hurts focus on what has happened, disappointments focus on what has not happened. Again, as the saying goes, revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing, so simply acknowledging or naming our disappointment to God is an important move. This is especially important because many of us, if we don’t bring our disappointment to God, will blame our disappointment on God, thus alienating ourselves from our best hope of comfort and strength. . . .
Whether we’re dealing with anxieties, wounds, disappointments, or other needs or struggles, there is enormous power in simple, strong words—the words by which we name our pain and then translate it into a request to God. Help is the door into this vital practice of petition, through which we expand beyond our own capacities and resources to God’s. . . .
Now – right click on this hyperlink… see drop down menu…click on “open hyperlink” – and (if this works) enjoy.
Grace and peace to all – Pastor Michael
Invitation to a 3-day Prayer Vigil
I ask myself, how many emails to the congregation? Am I sending too few, too many, or is the number just right? I don’t know for sure. I receive at least a 8 – 10 emails a day from the Presbyterian Church USA, Pittsburgh Presbytery, Wilkinsburg Community Ministry, other churches etc regarding what to know and how to cope with these pandemic days.
Please excuse me if you receive too many, feel free to delete without reading. If you want more information from church, county, state, etc – let me know. I will oblige.
Check out the two flyers attached regarding a prayer vigil at the Christian Church (Janet Hellner-Burris, pastor). Also here is a useful link that tries to address rumors regarding the pandemic before they gain a foothold.
God bless everyone. And if you hear of the need of a church member or friend or even a neighbor of ours in need of help, let me know.
Friends of the Sanctuary Project for Peace, The Wilkinsburg Christian Church invites you to join us in a three day prayer vigil starting on Sunday at midnight. Our Associate Minister Cecilia Sims is organizing this vigil and you can sign up for anytime day or night to participate. This is not a virtual prayer vigil, but we hope a continuous one in which the people of God pray for our community, nation and world in this time of pandemic.
How you can help others
Good morning everyone!
Now is the time to rise to our mission: feed the most vulnerable and needy.
Although precise predictions may differ, health professionals across the country and around the world agree: the pandemic is not over…the worst is yet to come. Yet the best of us emerges when the hurt is greatest. As the founder of World Central Kitchen wrote, “Writing in the middle of two devastating cholera pandemics in the early 1800s, the great French culinary thinker Brillat-Savarin articulated a truth we urgently need to grasp today: “The destiny of nations depends on how they feed themselves.” The coronavirus pandemic threatens to create both a public health and economic catastrophe. But we cannot afford to ignore the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding out of sight.” (editorial from NY Times by José Andrés, the Chef/Owner of ThinkFoodGroup and founder of World Central Kitchen, 3/22/20)
The issues confronting us are huge, larger than most of us imagine. Though the big picture can overwhelm us, the solution is not that difficult – take care of our corner of the world.
Our goal is to make sure the individuals and families in Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, and Swissvale have access to food during the corona virus pandemic. At last count, the Ministry feeds 150-175 people per week, and the numbers increase by 20-30% weekly. People have been laid off, fired, or furloughed, and haven’t enough funds to buy their food.
There are two ways you can help right now:
Send financial support to WCM. You will receive a receipt for you donation.
Thank you and God bless you for your generous support!
The Board of the Wilkinsburg Community Ministry.
Hanging in there?
Good afternoon everyone,
Are you guys hanging in there ok?
A good friend of mine posted a question on Face Book the other day: Is any one else feeling a bit stir-crazy? She received many responses…all basically saying YES!!! I was one of the responders. If you are able, click on the attachment. Heather sent it to me the other day. I don’t think the it was meant to be taken personally. Although I will admit that I had to tear myself away from another riveting episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” found another television in the den, and watched a rerun of one of the AFC Wild Card playoff games from early January.
How are you all doing? I am no expert, but a few things help through stir-craziness. Exercise. Even 15 minutes of stretching and walking up and down the stairs a few times helps. Music is always a go-to for me. Even though I love rock’n roll above all, Led Zeppelin or Bruce Springsteen do not exactly calm me down. I turn to something more soothing – go to You Tube and search for meditative music or look up “Adagios: Best Relaxing Classical Music.” Sit and listen for 20 – 30 minutes or so.
Some scripture readings are preferable to others. Psalms 1, 23, 46, 100, 121, 139 work well. Read the Psalm reflectively. Focus on the verses that speak to you. I suggest memorizing a phrase or verse and carrying it with you through the day.
Finally. Meditation. I know some of us still might believe that meditation is too much like Buddhism, or too foreign, or not to be trusted. Simply not true. Most meditation is a practice to add to your life, not a belief system. On your phone or computer, type in “peaceful meditation” and you will get lots of suggestions. Or, I signed up with a site called “Headspace.com” There is instructions on how to meditate. Mini-series of stress relief meditation. Or, what I do, is tap into the daily meditation. It can take anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes per session.
We can do more than just wait these days out…this time of social distancing and staying in the house can become a growing experience for you – even transformative.
May the Lord open your eyes to see all the fortunes that already surround you, revealing the great things he has done…May the Lord fill your hearts with joy and your lips with praise. Amen.
Day 2 (should read Week 2) without sports. Found a lady sitting on my couch. Apparently she’s my wife. She seems nice.
By Faith, Not by Sight
Good morning everyone…good morning to your family, friends, neighbors, and pets!
Habakkuk. An Old Testament prophet whose name no one is sure how to pronounce. My favorite Old Testament professor, Dr. Donald Gowan, wrote a terrific book about the prophet and his times. I like what he has to say.
The setting of his book is stark and dramatic. Habakkuk is standing on top of the rampart that surrounds Jerusalem. When he turns and looks within the Jewish capitol, he sees political infighting and back-stabbing. He watches the most needy wandering the streets and the leaders of the land cowering in their homes and hoarding their wealth. When Habakkuk turns and looks up at the mountain ridges surrounding Jerusalem, he can all but hear an aggressive and brutal army about to crest the ridge and lay siege to the Holy City.
Decaying within and assaulted from without, could the situation be more bleak?
Yet, toward the end of his brief, beautiful book, Habakkuk offers hope to his people:
I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble…
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk 3: 16-19
We look into our nation whose businesses and malls are closed, whose parks and sidewalks are mostly empty. Our economy is about to go on life-support. And no matter how hard we look, we cannot see the invisible virus that is assaulting us and nations around the world. Like Habakkuk, fear may have a chokehold on our courage;
our bellies may trembles and churn.
Listen to our brother! Rejoice – rejoice! – in the Lord. God - no one else; God - nothing else; is our strength.
Let our feet take us to high places. Let our faith rise above our fears and anxiety. Let Christ, who is the Light of the World;
Christ, whose light the darkness cannot extinguish; let Christ lead you, lead all of us,
through this dark valley toward light and life.
Live in hope, sisters and brothers. As the man says,
Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Peace be with you,