26 August 2009

Our New Niece

Bailey Michelle Sheppard
August 26, 2009
6 lbs, 10 oz
20 inches

17 August 2009

Flower Bed Learnings, Part 3

And finally...

Without regular attention and maintenance,
any spiritual growth can be derailed.

I mow the yard once a week on Friday mornings during the summer. During the winter the grass lies dormant and I pray that it comes back in the spring. This is my routine for lawn maintenance - it works for me and produces the desired results - most of the time.

One of the things I have not explored here in WF is the idea of entering into a contract with a lawn care service to do weed control, fertilization, and the like so that I don't have to. I mention this because one of the things I have discovered in my yard is the proliferation of crab grass throughout. It is driving me crazy and I am not sure what to do about it.

As I was pulling weeds and grass from the flower beds I realized that my current maintenance efforts were not producing the results I wanted to see in regards to keeping weeds out of the flower beds and creating clear delineations between the yard and the beds. I needed something more. I needed some outside advice or some professional help to get to the next level.

Here's the spiritual application...
We all (should) have spiritual disciplines that we practice on a regular basis to help us grow closer to God. John Wesley calls them "means of grace." You may call it journaling, prayer, worship, golf, fishing, whatever...

The point is this: we all need practices in our lives that help us tune in to the Divine.

When we stray too far from those practices we become distant from God and ineffective in our calling. I know that when I forget (more likely: don't make time) to read and reflect on scripture outside of sermon prep time my spirit starts to sag and I am much more prone to sin. I know that I need to keep filling my soul with the Word of God and this works for me - most of the time.

There are times when I need more than just journaling. There are times when I need to be with people to feel my spirit filled. There are times when I need to serve others to feel my spirit filled. There are times when I need to listen to powerful worship music to feel my spirit filled.

I would bet that all of you need different "soul-filling activities" at different times in your life too.

In the end, without regularly checking the level on your spirit's "tank" you may run dry and burnout. We all need regular engagement with "soul-filling activities" to keep heading toward God's best for our lives. And sometimes we need professional help to give us options, resources, and new ways of thinking in order to maintain our journey with Christ.

Which spiritual disciplines resonate with you the most? How do you regularly practice them? Who are the "experts" you turn to for fresh insights?

Previous posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2

Flower Bed Learnings, Part 2

My ventures out into the yard to tend to our flower beds unexpectedly provided me with inspiration and insight into my own spiritual journey. Here is the second thing I learned that weekend:

Even good stuff (grass) can creep where it doesn't belong
and begin to feel like bad stuff (weeds).

Like many other North Texans, I am happy that my grass is surviving the summer heat and looks green without draining my wallet to water it. However, as I spent time close to the earth last weekend, I noticed a disturbing trend at the edges of my yard - "grass creep" (I just made up that term).

When my grass grows it puts out shoots that grow horizontally (along the ground) and roots that grow vertically (into the ground). The only things that keep the grass from encroaching are solid boundaries - i.e. sidewalks, driveways, curbs, the patio, the foundation, and flower bed borders.

Since I did not install flower bed borders on the two beds in question here, the "grass creep" was unsuccessfully being held at bay by my weekly weed-whacker trips. Needless to say, I might have won a few battles along the way, but the grass was winning the war.

As I pulled out more and more roots and shoots (s0me of which had weaved themselves into the weed block) I knew that something permanent must be set up in order to avoid facing this same battle week after week, month after month, and year after year. I discovered that I needed to set up appropriate boundaries on the flower beds to keep something good from becoming something unhealthy.

Here's the spiritual application...
Some of us are "on" 24/7 and fail to take the appropriate steps to unplug from the world on a regular basis. We have let our jobs, careers, ministries, etc. become overwhelming in our lives. We have let a good thing encroach upon our whole lives to the point that there is such entanglement we can no longer tell where we start and the employee (boss, CEO, lawyer, pastor) stops.

Perhaps the best thing some of us can do to renew our spirits is to establish boundaries in our lives that actually prohibit encroachment from otherwise good things on certain days, weeks, times of the year. Perhaps we need to reclaim our Sabbath-taking heritage. Perhaps we need to turn off our cell phones every once in a while. Perhaps we don't need to sleep with our laptops right next to our beds. Perhaps...

Because when we experience "grass creep" in our lives we are less able to live into the calling that God has on our lives. We are less able to experience true rest and rejuvenation. We are less able to slow down and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Remember, grass is a good thing to have growing in your yard, but it becomes a nuisance when it gets into your flower beds.

What parts of your life have experienced "grass creep"? What does your Sabbath ritual look like?

Previous post in this series: Part 1

12 August 2009

Flower Bed Learnings, Part 1

Establishing clear boundaries are essential to sustained spiritual health.

As I discovered that most of the work I would undertake as a weekend gardener was pulling out grass that had crossed my weed-wacker established boundary, I realized that I may have demarcated a boundary in one sense, but it was nowhere near a permanent boundary.

The weed-wacked trench between the yard and flower beds was only temporarily successful. There was no way for me to keep the grass from encroaching on the flower beds with any sustained success. I need a new/different way to establish that boundary. I need to install edging around the flower beds so that a permanent blocker exists to keep the grass out of the beds.

Here's the spiritual application...
If we do not have clear, definable, and (semi)permanent boundaries established in our lives, there will always be a battle going on to keep the grass at bay.

If I don't shut my office door, sit down with my Bible and journal, and take the time to pray, read scripture and reflect, there will always be something else that can take up that time.

If I don't work hard Sunday through Thursday to produce my weekly deliverables, then Friday and Saturday can experience "work creep" from unfinished tasks.

If I don't take a vacation with my family every year, then I start to dry up emotionally and become exhausted.

If I don't take time away to plan for future ministry, then I start to run on empty and can't lead the church from a place of overflow.

What boundaries do you need to establish? Where have you allowed the grass to grow into the flower beds? Who do you need to talk with about working on these boundaries?

What boundaries have you established? How do you keep those boundaries sacrosanct?

PS - I have already priced both metal and plastic borders for our flower beds, but I haven't decided which one to go with. Hopefully this project will be finished before Caitlyn's fourth birthday!

I Thought Epiphany Only Happened in January!

Over the weekend I spent a few hours removing weeds and over-grown grass from the flower beds in both the front and back yards. As I was crawling around on my knees I had a moment of clarity about cultivating our own spirituality.

If you don't establish boundaries in your life, then bad (or seemingly harmless) stuff starts to creep into places it shouldn't.

First, a little history lesson...
About a year ago, Deb and I decided to fix up the flower beds in our yard so that they would look nice for Caitlyn's third birthday party. We decided to remove some bushes (that didn't match the other bushes) in the front beds and plant matching bushes for green and some mums for color. In the back, we decided to plant some green and gold shrubs around the fence line and put potted mums at the outer corner of the bed.

When we did all this work we spent several weekends in a row de-weeding the beds, cleaning up the existing foliage, and preparing the beds for new plant life. We made sure to put down a layer of weed block before dumping new mulch into the beds. However, one of the things we did not do was to purchase and install any kind of border treatments to clearly delineate the flower beds from the yard.

Now, back to this past weekend...
My original intention for my flower bed work was to remove the weeds that had made their way thru the weed block and make sure they were all gone, but what I found myself doing most often was clearing away grass that had crept over the non-existent boundary between the yard and the flower beds. It was in the midst of yanking out the tentacles of St. Augustine that I received a divine whisper saying, "This is why you need a Sabbath."

It stopped me in my tracks.

I learned three things from those moments in the dirt:
  • Establishing clear boundaries are essential to sustained spiritual health
  • Even good stuff (grass) can creep where it doesn't belong and begin to feel like bad stuff (weeds)
  • Without regular attention and maintenance, any spiritual growth can be derailed
I'll spend the rest of this week expounding on these three points.

So, what epiphanies have you had while attending to the yard, flowers, house, etc.? What moments of clarity in the midst of regular living have stopped you in your tracks?

11 August 2009

Go Mustang VB!

Tonight University hosted the MSU Volleyball Team for dinner in the Fellowship Hall. I am proud of the number of church members who cooked food, served drinks, and/or sat and talked with the players tonight.

I enjoyed meeting Reagan (FR) and Karolina (JR) and look forward to getting to know the rest of the team throughout the year. The first home game of the season is during the MSU Hampton Inn-vitational September 4th-5th, so let's go fill the stands at D.L. Ligon in support of "our team"!

04 August 2009

Wholehearted Work Ahead

A few weeks ago I read about the Judean (Southern Kingdom) king, Hezekiah, who spent twenty-nine years on the throne in Jerusalem. The verse that caught my eye that morning was 2 Chronicles 31:21 which says, “In everything that [Hezekiah] undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.”

As I read that verse and reflected on Hezekiah’s leadership in Judah, I made these observations.
Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (29:2) during his reign as king of Judah. Including, purifying the temple and reinstituting the Passover celebration. Hezekiah did not fall victim to the wiles of those who distracted his predecessors. Hezekiah did not let other gods come between him and the Lord. Hezekiah took his role as the king seriously and looked for ways to seek God through his service as the king.

Hezekiah started off on the right foot (29:3) by attending to the neglected Temple, priests, and sacrifices. Hezekiah did not waste time with his own projects, he sought to put God back into God’s rightful place in the lives of the people of God.

Hezekiah did nothing half-heartedly when it came to the Lord. Hezekiah sought God and worked wholeheartedly in everything. He never let up, he never settled for less, and he never lost focus on who this was for. And scripture affirms that “he prospered.”

After making those observations, I began to ask questions of my own life, my life in ministry, and the life and ministry of University UMC. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:
Can I honestly describe my ministry in the terms that are used for Hezekiah here? Have I done everything seeking God and with a whole heart? Honestly? No. Not at all. I can say there are clear moments and seasons of ministry that have been done that way, but there are just as many (if not more) moments and seasons where it has been all about being cool or all about me. That’s sad, but true.

After penning these thoughts, questions, and insights I felt the Holy Spirit telling me that my life and ministry needed to take a turn toward action – instead of just settling for reading and writing. As our journey with the Congregational Transformation process begins this October, I am praying (as I hope you are as well) for our church to embrace this opportunity wholeheartedly. I want our next three years of ministry at University to be clearly focused on God and God’s direction for us. I want nothing to pull us off course – nothing to get in the way of prospering in the midst of our transformation.

To that end, on August 23rd we will begin a new three-week series entitled, “The Three R’s: Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmatic”. The first week of the series (“Reading”) will challenge you to crack open that Bible sitting on your shelf at home to experience what reading God’s Word on a regular basis can do for your life. The second week (“Writing”) will explore different spiritual disciplines that can supplement your scripture reading. The third week (“’Rithmatic”) will explore the Holy Spirit’s power to combine the elements of the previous two weeks into action that have the potential to transform your life and University UMC as a whole.

I look forward to seeing you in worship this weekend (Aug 9th – where we will finish the Kaleo series and share Holy Communion) and next weekend (Aug 16th) when we will learn and practice the “5-10-Link” Rule!