What’s Your Story | Kimbol S.

Telling your story—the story of your journey of faith—can change the world. It can bring light to the darkness. It can shine the light of hope in a weary world.
This is Kimbol’s story.
 


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The Wilderness is Somewhere We’ve Been Before

By Sarah Are | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org
 
 
I’m not the first.
That’s what I tell myself when I wake up in
     the wilderness—
Big sky, worried heart, wondering which way
     to start.
I have been here before.
We have been here before.
For as long as there has been creation,
There has been wilderness.
 
First it was an endless void,
Until God and God’s paintbrush painted the
     sky gold.  
And then it was all that lies east of Eden,
Which is everywhere that our story unfolds.
 
So like a child memorizing their home address,
You’d think I’d learn my way out of
     this wilderness. 
But like the Israelites who wandered for forty
     plus years,  
I think I’ll spend most of my day to day here.
For the wilderness is everywhere that I start
     to grow.
 
Cracks in the sidewalk, daisies take hold.
And the wilderness is every single place
     of unknown,  
Or when shame and fear move into my home.
And the wilderness is where dusty feet tread,
Familiar with the truth that we have days left.
 
So where is God, you ask?
 
God is in the big sky and in my worried heart.
God is the sidewalk cracks where new
     life starts. 
God is in the realization that I am not the first.
So may we take these limited days left  
And remember that we’ve been here before—
God and I and this untamed world.
God and the Israelites and the
     gathered assembly.  
God and the horizon and the new
     day beginning.

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The Path to Peace

By: Rev. Dr. Leon Bloder
 
My wife Merideth has this awesome sign in her office that reads, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” That sign troubles me and excites me all at once. It excites me because I love the idea of it. I like the idea that I might be the kind of adventurous person who would actually do something scary every day for the purpose of overcoming fear and moving forward in confidence.  
 
But the message of the sign also troubles me because I know that deep down inside I’m probably not going to do anything that scares me every day. Instead, if left to my own devices, I’ll probably do a thousand things that are well within my comfort zone.  
 
How do I know this? I’ve got some empirical evidence. You see, I go to a physical trainer three to four times a week. She pushes me pretty hard, sometimes to the very limits of what I think I can do, and more often than not I leave my training sessions barely able to walk or lift my arms.  
 
I told her the other day, “I could easily go on the internet and learn how to do all of these exercises that you are showing me, and do them myself. But I wouldn’t. At least not to the extent you make me. What I’m paying you for is your will, because I don’t seem to have any.”  
 
I was reading an article by a woman who began experiencing a kind of peace that she never thought possible. She wrote, “I got to this point in my life by doing one thing: by living one day at a time. I focused on doing one thing each day that moved me a little closer to where I longed to be.” 
 

The path to peace is not one that we can sort of wander down aimlessly and comfortably until suddenly we find it.

 
It’s quite the opposite, actually. And the idea of finding peace sometimes clashes with our realities, and our own frailty and fears. The Apostle Paul wrote about this conflict in his letter to the Romans: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” 
 
Then he writes this, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  
 
Paul discovered that when we follow Jesus, when we go all in as His disciple we are going to be challenged each and every day to do more and be more than we ever dreamed we could be without Him. And when we accept those challenges, we will find ourselves closer to the true peace that can only be found in Christ himself.  
 
During this season of Advent, I encourage you to do one thing each day to move the needle in your life toward the peace you undoubtedly want.
 
Spend time in prayer. Be intentional about your family time, even if it means clearing your schedule. Take the time to encourage a friend in need. Give of yourself and what you have to feed the hungry, clothe the needy and give hope to the fainthearted. Tell the story of Christmas and what it means for the world by your good words and good deeds. 
 
May you be filled with the courage to stumble after Jesus even if the way seems scary and filled with challenge. May you discover that you are more than you ever imagined because of Christ and his continuing redeeming and reconciling work in the world.  
 

And may the grace and peace our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all both now and forever. Amen.


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Follow the Star

By: Ellen Perkey, Member
 
In this time of year I spend a lot more time out of doors at night than I usually do. I walk down to the barn, make sure the horses in over night have blankets, hay and water, and walk back to the house. It’s often cold, I usually don’t feel like leaving the house again by that time of night, and I’m generally tired by the time 7:30 hits. But I get to see the stars.  
We live far enough out in the country that we have much less light pollution than even the suburbs of Austin. The first time I looked up and saw the Milky Way burning bright right overhead I just stopped and stared for a minute. Constellations are so clear and easy to find in the sky over our house; my two favorites, Orion and Cassiopia, are usually visible this time of year. Even in the coldest weather it’s hard not to pause and spend a moment looking up. I wish I could help you feel the same vast, breathtaking beauty I get to see on those nightly walks.
In the busy-ness of the Christmas season it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed by my task list, tired at the end of the day but with present wrapping still to do. I enjoy Christmas but the struggle for me each year is to take time to be overwhelmed by the meaning behind the season. It’s easier for me to plod through my daily chores and extra Christmas duties without ever looking up. If I can remember to look up occasionally, I might just be captured by the beauty of the Christmas star.

I’ll try to take a moment to look up in the next week or so, as we draw closer to Christmas and the birth of our savior. I’ll try to savor the time we spend with our traditions and to enjoy the reminders of God’s great gift to us. I want that to be my guiding star in this busy season. 


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Present in the Proceedings

By: Chris Gordon, Senior Director of Family Ministries
 

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

– Luke 2:19

Sweet Mary: a young girl, with an unbelievable story around her pregnancy. What thoughts she must have had in those months leading up to the birth of the Savior of the world. Her experience—according to the Gospel writer—is a whirlwind of events. As modern-day readers, we get few opportunities to peek into her thoughts as the proceedings play out before her, just as the angel of the Lord said they would.
 
I love that Luke includes this small verse in his version of the story.
 
This one little note, reminding us of the amazing young woman Mary was. Post-childbirth–as the stable fills with visiting shepherds and those curious passersby who receive the Good News of the Messiah—Mary takes a moment to observe the proceedings. It conjures up images of a mother sitting back and surveying the landscape of all that has occurred…a promise, a journey, a birth, a celebration.
 
Mary is intentionally present in the midst of the miracle.
 

In the busy-ness of this season, may you find a moment to consider the here and now: to be present in the proceedings. May you find PEACE in a deep breath, or JOY in a memory in the making. Be intentional as you look for the miracles unfolding around you today, and may you celebrate them as they are revealed to you.


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Peace Like A River

By: Rev. Dr. Leon Bloder
 

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast caused me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” 

– Horatio Spafford “It Is Well With My Soul
 

“Peace like a river ran through the city/Long past the midnight curfew/We sat starry-eyed/Oh, we were satisfied…Oh, oh, oh, I’m gonna be up for a while…” 

 – Paul Simon “Peace Like A River” 
 
 
Because it’s the essential theme of the second week of Advent, I’ve been writing and thinking about “peace” all week long. And there’s been a phrase that has drifted in and out of my head over the past several days that I can no longer ignore. I’ve been saying and singing this phrase in one way or another for most of my life, and I’ve never really understood it. Here it is: “peace like a river.”
 
 
What does it even mean to have peace like a river? Are all rivers inherently peaceful? I’ve seen a few in my life and some of them might fall into the peaceful category–at least from afar. But many of them are full of rapids, deep eddies, and generally always have the potential to overflow and flood everything around them.  
 
 
Horatio Spafford wrote the great hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” in 1873 after losing all four of his daughters when the ship carrying them and his wife sank in the Atlantic ocean. He’d lost nearly everything he owned in the bitter economy that followed the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The first line of the hymn begins with “When peace like a river…”  
 
 
When I was a kid, I would sing that old song, “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” at the top of my lungs in Sunday school. Little did I know that the song originated from African American slaves, who would sing it at the top of their lungs in the fields as they worked.  
 
 
Paul Simon wrote “Peace Like A River” during the turbulence of the 1960’s and amid the many protests of the Vietnam War across the United States. In his song, he sees a “glorious” day as a vision that includes a river of peace that flows through a city made new. He realizes that it was just a dream, but he can’t let it go–he holds on to vision long after he’s awake.  
 
 
Where do all of these visions come from? And why is it that all of these songs that contain the phrase “peace like a river” have their origins in the midst of strife, pain and suffering?  
 
 
Rivers are highly symbolic in literature, poetry and song. According to one scholar, a river in a song, poem or prose seems timeless and constant “…only because it finds its own way without short cuts, straight lines, or disregard of any physical impediments but in full acknowledgement of the reality of all that surrounds it, implying that the longest way round is the shortest and only safe way to the sea.”  
 
 
In other words, the river gets to where it is going–in it’s own time and in it’s own way. To put a finer point on it as it relates to peace: Peace will come. The world will be made right. Everything that is troubling you will be resolved. There is a “glorious day” ahead of us, brothers and sisters.    
 
 
In Isaiah 54:10 the prophet declares the word of the Lord to the people of God: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
 
 
In the end, God gets what God wants–a new world, a new Creation free of strife, war, disease and death. A world filled with the peace of God. And every tear in every eye will be wiped away. John the Revelator, who penned the last book of the Bible glimpsed a vision of the City of God, with a river running through it–a river that flowed from the very “throne” of God. This vision should fill us with hope. It should, in the words of Paul Simon keep us up “for a while.”
 

May you be filled with peace like a river–peace that flows from the very heart of God. May your visions of a world made new, filled with God’s shalom give you the courage to live a bold and hope-filled life. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.


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Prepare the Way of the Lord

By: Rev. Britta Dukes
 
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”    — Isaiah 40:3-5
 

Prepare the way of the Lord!

 
An ancient prophetic voice promises the coming of God’s glory, urging a time of preparation for hearers to ready themselves for the revelation of the divine in their midst. Transformation is taking place all around, causing things to look different to what has been known in the past. God is doing something new, says the prophet, so be prepared to see!
 

Prepare the way of the Lord!

 
We see these words echoed in all four gospel accounts when John the Baptist comes on the scene, calling all who will listen to change their hearts and lives in preparation for the Coming One. John baptized them with water to mark their turning-around moment, pointing out that the Coming One would empower them instead with the Holy Spirit. And so it was. Transformation is taking place all around, causing things to look different to what has been known in the past. God is doing something new, says John, so be prepared to see!
 

Prepare the way of the Lord!

 
And here we sit, centuries later, with the season of Advent at hand. Because Advent means “coming” (from the Latin word adventus), it is time purposefully set aside to acknowledge the coming of Christ, both through remembrance and hope-filled anticipation. In addition to re-telling faith stories commemorating the first coming of Christ, we also prepare ourselves and wait expectantly for Christ’s coming again. As we wait, await and anticipate this consummation, we are called to prepare the way. 
 

As always, God is doing something new. Transformation is taking place all around, causing things to look different to what has been known in the past. How are we being called to prepare ourselves to see? 

 

Prayer

God of Grace and Glory—we acknowledge Your coming and our need to properly prepare.  

Attune our ears to voices drawing us to You. Captivate our hearts to loving You wholeheartedly. Use our hands and resources to uplift others. We know You are doing something new, Lord, so please, give us eyes to see!  Amen.


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What Is The Church To Do?

Is there a life for the church after COVID?

By: Rev. Dr. Leon Bloder
 
 
In 1966, Robert Kennedy delivered a speech in Cape Town where he addressed the challenges of his day with these words:
 
Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.
 
It’s fascinating to me that even though Kennedy was speaking about the sweeping changes that were a part of his own time, he could have easily been referring to any number of unique moments in history—including the one we find ourselves in at the present.  
 
I’ve been asked repeatedly throughout the months of quarantine, social distancing and online church what I think about the future of the Christian Church. Most of the conversations have centered around technology, and what innovations will take root in the new world that is being created.  
 
But I think there’s something deeper at work in the heart of the Church right now—something that has the potential to transform the Church’s role in society, and could be a new source of life and light for congregations and faith communities who embrace it. 
 
There have been disruptions in society throughout the history of the Church—events, wars, pandemics, schism, you name it. But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought something new to the table. 
 
First, this is something that everyone, everywhere has an experience of  at least in some capacity. This isn’t isolated to just one region, one culture. We are all in this.
 
Second, none of the previous societal disruptions that the Church has muddled through over the centuries has had the benefit/curse of being covered in real time, 24/7 with news and stories accessible in so many ways to so many people. 
 
I’ve been saddened to see that some church leaders and pastors see this moment as one of great potential for numerical growth. They predict that people will flock back to church in droves when this is all over, and all we need is good marketing and the right technology to capture them. 
 
I don’t see things that way at all. I’m always excited about new technology and engaging messages. But I firmly believe that if church growth is at the heart of why church leaders do what they do during this crisis, they are doomed to fail. 
 
You see, I believe that as followers of Jesus we have been given a unique opportunity to do something that could very well change the way we “do” church forever.  
 
What is this opportunity? Well, to put it quite simply: We have an opportunity to come alongside our neighbors and communities—all of whom have experienced great loss and trauma, and to become a loving, non-anxious presence of Resurrection in their lives.
 
This is what Jesus referred to over and over again with his followers when he urged them to be unified, to be one with one another.  
 
Fr. Richard Rohr once wrote:   
 
We must all feel and know the immense pain of this global humanity. Then we are no longer isolated, but a true member of the universal Body of Christ. 
 

The way that the Church truly becomes the Church is when she embodies Jesus to the world, and there is no better opportunity to do that than right now.

 
In order to do this, we cannot be so embroiled in our own affairs, so caught up in our own fears and desires that we are blinded by the great need around us. 
 
I read the poem “If You Knew” by Ellen Bass recently and it spoke to me: 
 

When a man pulled his wheeled suitcase

too slowly through the airport, when

the car in front of me doesn’t signal,

when the clerk at the pharmacy

won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember

they’re going to die.*
 
*Excerpted from the The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry

 

If we can’t look out into our world and see the people around us in their fragile and beautiful humanity, we are not looking through the eyes of Christ. But if we do look through the eyes of Christ, we see them outside of the petty divisions, labels and the like that even we ourselves employ.  
 
Perhaps no other act that we do as the Church symbolizes our connectedness to one another in our common humanity than the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. While it’s true that we have been sharing Holy Communion virtually over the last few months, we have still shared it, and the way we have shared it truly brings home its importance. 
 
We are separated from one another and our neighbors. We are physically isolated to a certain extent, but we are not unconnected, and the Eucharist shows that.  
 
In closing, I’d love to share the following prayer from Thomas Merton that I believe is so life-giving for us in our current situation. I urge you to pray it as your own prayer today:  
 

O God, give peace to Your world. Give strength to the hearts of men. Raise us up from death in Christ. Give us to eat His immortality and His glory. Give us to drink the wine of His kingdom.

 


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New Heart

By: Rev. Rob Mueller
Lead Pastor, Divine Redeemer Presbyterian Church
 
 
The Bible offers us many metaphors to help us understand the journey that God invites us to undertake in the Spirit’s transformation of us…a journey many of us choose to engage with greater intentionality during Lent.  
 
 
In John Chapter 3 we encounter the image of being “reborn” or “born from above” by “water and spirit.” It was a metaphor that the Jewish leader and Pharisee, Nicodemus, was unable to grasp. His literal, black and white thinking kept him stuck and unable to reach for the more than literal meaning that Jesus held out to him.
 
 
In the New Testament there are many other images used by the authors of various books to help us grasp the essential task of the spiritual life…to be made new by God. We can “become a new creation;” we can be “buried with Christ in baptism so we can rise with Christ;” we can be “crucified with Christ;” we can “take up the cross and follow Christ;” we can prune off the dead wood to allow new growth from the vine of our lives; we can move from blindness into sight, from illness into health, or from lostness to being found.
 
 
In the Old Testament there are also various images offered to those who submit their lives to the transforming grace of God. The prophet Ezekiel offers one that is particularly important to me as I write this…being given a new heart. My Dad has just had what can only be described as a miraculous surgery…an old and malfunctioning heart valve has been replaced by a new one, crafted from a bovine heart valve. He has literally been given a ‘new heart’ for the third time. The first two were equally miraculous coronary bypasses. We live in a time that makes possible the literal renewing of the heart…even the transplanting of a dead or dying heart with one that is vital and alive. 
 
 
How could Ezekiel have ever imagined that such a thing would one day be possible!! He couldn’t, of course.  But the idea that God could renew the heart-center of our lives, take a “heart of stone” and replace it with a “heart of flesh” presented a powerful image of the kind of change that God can work in our lives if we submit ourselves to such transformational grace and love. 
 

I don’t know what your favorite metaphor is, but I encourage you to find one as you journey this Lent into greater awareness of how God is able to make all things new…including YOU!


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What Will We Carry Away?

By: Chris Gordon, Senior Director of Family Ministries
 
EXODUS
 
The world would never be the same.
Told to pack up people and belongings; to leave everything they had ever known.
 
Told to defy a tyrannical leader; to follow dispatches from I AM.
 
How could this be?
 
The signs had arrived…first, the blood, then the frogs.
What followed next was all pestilence and pain.
 
On and on, until the 10th took Egypt’s 1st.
 
Finally, they fled into the night. Delivered unto the desert.
A mass of bodies and baggage, anxiety and anticipation.
 
Nothing left to do but follow the flames; to step inside the walls of water.
To Freedom. To Milk & Honey.
 
Someday.
 

Along the way, I wonder…

…might one child have considered it all a great, big adventure?

 

An extended trip with breakfasts found on the ground and water from a stone.
Take only what you need: no more. Consider the whole: all must be fed.

 

A wilderness quest with days of rest after a lifetime of labor.

God knows when ENOUGH is ENOUGH.

 

A long overnight with stories told by elders around the fire.

Listen here to how you came to be…blessed to be a blessing…beloved, you are chosen.

 
Hardship all around, and yet.
And yet.
 
God delivers.
 
Resilience from struggle.
Grit from determination.
 
Imagination from experience.
 
Hope from a remnant.
 

What will we carry away?


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