Joy…?

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Nehemiah 8:10 (NRSV)

One of my favorite TV commercials currently airing is an ad for dishwasher soap. A young girl, looking quite confused, questions the practice of her mother hand washing all the dirty dishes before she places them in the dishwasher. She innocently asks, “So… what does the dishwasher do???” 

This week I’m studying a well-loved passage from Nehemiah that is included in our scripture readings for this Sunday: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

It seems that the word “joy” is used a LOT in scripture – and it finds its way into many a sermon, including my own. But it’s also one of those words that some biblical scholars will tell us we are NOT to confuse with other similar words such as “happiness” or, “fun” or, “pleasure,” especially when used in reference to God and our faith.

Hmmm. Much like inquiring about the role of a dishwasher, I found myself asking, “So… what is ‘joy’ supposed to do???”  

Our reading in Nehemiah tells how a priest named Ezra gathered the people in Jerusalem to teach them about (what we now know as) the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament. In remembering the laws and commands that the Lord had first given them, the people wept as they realized how far they had strayed from God and God’s plan for them. Ezra, noting their remorse, reminded them that our God is not only a God of law and order, but a God of immense love for all of us. A God who will never leave us or abandon us – regardless of how broken our lives may seem! Instead of weeping over the past, Ezra invites them to REJOICE! Enjoy this holy time that God has blessed us with and remember to be the blessing that someone else needs today as well. Weeping is futile, for it’s the JOY of the Lord that is your real strength!

JOY is simply God given strength! Oh, how many times I have messed up in this life – times when I believed that my joy and my strength could only come from the “stuff” of this world and not from our loving and gracious God. How wrong I was.

Maybe you are feeling that way today. Shame-filled. Defeated. Depleted. Tired of trying to do the right thing, only to find yourself deeper into the wrong thing. Can I give some advice here? Stop looking at the world. Look to God. Look to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Look to God’s Word. Your joy, despite any brokenness, is waiting there for you. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13]

Like letting the dishwasher actually wash the dishes – let God be your joy and your strength today and every day. Count your blessings and share a blessing with someone else. And may your own journey with Jesus be faith-filled, fun-filled, grace-filled and definitely JOY-filled!

 

An Astronaut, A Piano Student, and a lot of Skipping

I finally had the chance to watch the movie Wonder, (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson) about a young boy named Auggie, who has a rare medical facial deformity. At age 10, he enters a private, mainstream elementary school for the first time after being completely home-schooled. Because of his facial deformity, he faces rejection and bullying from nearly every other student in the school. Heartbreaking!

But then one day, a classmate (Jack) sits down at Auggie’s table in the cafeteria, and a lifelong friendship begins – but not without its perils as well. I enjoyed the movie from beginning to end – I was either laughing or crying throughout most of it. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend it! (If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch if for free this month.)

There’s a very small part in the movie that took me back 50 years to my own 10-year-old self. In the movie, right after Jack befriends Auggie, the screen depicts (in slow motion) a jubilant Auggie, in an astronaut’s space suit, happily skipping down the hall. Really, really skipping – the “this is the best day ever!” kind of skipping!

For me, it was the memory of a warm, sunny day – I was heading home after a piano lesson that had gone quite well. My piano teacher was full of praise for a job well done. (I must have actually practiced for a change!) Oblivious to the world, I went singing and skipping down the road until I was met by an older man walking in the opposite direction. As I skipped and sang my way toward him, he looked at me, laughed, and remarked, “I think you are the happiest person I’ve ever seen!

When was the last time you felt like skipping? Skipping as if the heavens themselves had just opened up and drenched you in joy and a complete sense of love and belonging – regardless of how this sometimes very cruel world can be and regardless of how broken we sometimes feel because of it?

This coming Sunday in our worship we will talk about Jesus’ baptism – when the heavens did break open wide, and the Holy Spirit did descend, and God’s voice could be heard: “…You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [Luke 3:22 NRSV]

Do you know that the very same thing happens to you in your own Baptism?

YOU belong to God! YOU are God’s beloved! God claims YOU and will never let you go! Take a look at these beautiful, affirming, wonder-filled words God speaks through the prophet Isaiah:

“But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.”
[Isaiah 43:1 NRSV]

YOU belong to God! A God who created you beautifully and wonder-fully and uniquely. And YOU – have a purpose in this life – a God given purpose.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. [Ephesians 2:10 NIV]

So today why don’t you just grab on to God’s hand and run, skip, jump and live into that beautiful baptismal promise made just for you. And remember, in God’s world – No bullies are allowed. Who knows, maybe YOU will be the reason someone else feels like skipping today as well. And may YOU be blessed with the faith-filled, fun-filled and most definitely GRACE-filled love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen!

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Christmas Lights

Thou shalt have thine Christmas decorations down by Epiphany!”  There goes that (sometimes) irritating Lutheran voice in the back of my head again. Usually I’m more than ready to box up the decorations by now – I want “normal” back in my life. But this year it’s different – and I’m wondering why.  Maybe it’s because my daughter was home over the holidays and, although she has long since left for her home in Virginia, the decorations seem to make the memories of our time together a little more real. Or, maybe I’m just procrastinating the arduous task of taking it all down. And what about the cat — what will she do with all of her shiny “toys” suddenly gone?

As I ponder this, I realize there is an even bigger reason for my delaying the inevitable.  Truthfully, I just really like the twinkling lights. Especially this time of the year when there is so much darkness. It’s dark when I get up in the morning and it’s dark again before the afternoon is done. There is just something so comforting about sitting in my living room and sipping a hot cup of coffee, with those beautiful lights and their shimmering defiance of darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” [John 1:5]  It makes me feel hopeful.

This coming Sunday our church will observe Epiphany – the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, and to all nations. According to the 2nd chapter in Matthew’s gospel, magi, a.k.a., wise men, kings, priests, astrologers, (nobody seems to know for sure what they were) follow a star to honor a new king. Yep, it was a bright, twinkling star in the eastern sky that got their attention and drew them to the Christ child. This shining star was their light, their guide and their hope for a better future. This holy star led them to a Savior.

So as the strings of twinkling lights are slowly taken down from my tree – I will indeed be reminded of the eternal light that continues to shine long after the Christmas decorations are put away – Jesus Christ, the one true light that shines in all of our darkness, giving us hope and guidance for our future – whatever that may bring. May Christ’s light shine in your heart today and every day in 2019! Here’s to a faith-filled, fun-filled, and grace-filled happy New Year. Go ahead – let your light shine!

Wrapping it up…

Wrapping Paper

This blog marks my final blog for the class I am taking in Media and Technology in Parish Education at Luther Seminary.

(The class will end, but hopefully our blogs will live on!)

So…. if you’re ever interested in taking such a course, let me tell you a little bit about it:

(These are a few of my favorites!)

Discovering so many fun and innovative ways to reach people, serve God, and spread the Gospel!

Blogging – Both in starting my own blog, and in reading so many other great blogs along the way.

Facebook – I love the ELCA Clergy Facebook page that was recommended – a great resource! (https://www.facebook.com/groups/elcaclergy/ )

Animoto!  #somuchfun! (and easy) http://animoto.com/

The Treasure Chest – Each week, my fellow classmates sharing their favorites in videos, lectures, websites, etc. – a plethora of useful information and resources that I will – treasure!  

Videos that informed me, i.e. Michael Wesch’s “An anthropological introduction to YouTube”   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU

Videos that stirred me up, i.e. those that revealed the disturbing facts of the digital divide in our country:  Susan Crawford interview, Richard Wilkinson TED talk

Books that informed me about the internet, networking, and social media – and how to use the internet in a respectful, ethical, mindful, playful, generous, and entertaining way, i.e., Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson’s “Click2Save: A Digital Ministry Bible” (Morehouse, 2012); Mary Hess’, “Engaging Technology in Theological Education” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005); Howard Rheingold’s, “NetSmart: How To Thrive Online” (MIT Press, 2012); and John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas’, “A New Culture of Learning” (CreateSpace, 2011).

And last but definitely not least – the beautiful prayers that were offered each week.

Merry Christmas, and have a Happy, Faith-filled and Fun New Year! 

             imagesjrtyjwwj

For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called

Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  (Isaiah 9:6  NKJV)

Garbage In —-> Garbage Out

garbage-in-garbage-out

Today I’m thinking about my Mom.  It would have been her 93rd birthday. 

I wonder what she would have to say about my blogs. 

She would no doubt, “follow me” — faithfully reading every one of my blogs (because that’s what moms do), and she would inevitably have something to say about every one of them (because that’s what moms do). 

I think one piece of advice she would give me, is something I used to hear quite often from her:  “This is not the time to let your heart rule your head – think about what you are doing – use your God-given brain!”  

And she would be right.  Oh blogging is fun, social media is fun, and the internet is fun – but just like everything else in this world, there is a dark side.  Howard Rheingold talks about it in chapter 6 of his book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (The MIT Press, 2012).

According to Rheingold there are a couple things we need to be mindful about. One thing is privacy issues such as identity theft, state-sponsored surveillance and behavioral data mining.  He writes: “Find out how to flush cookies that Web sites plant on your computer. Understand the risks when you sign up for a new service, download an app, or accept an invitation to a Facebook game.  Figure out where the privacy settings are in the social media you use.  You’ll still be surveilled.  But at least you can be informed.” (p. 239).   

The second thing he talks about is “crap detection” (p. 247.)  Don’t believe everything you read on the internet and especially be mindful of anything you are going to re-post into your blog.  A quick resource for this is found in an article Rheingold wrote (Thanks Treasure Group 4!) and can be found by clicking on this link: http://blog.sfgate.com/rheingold/2009/06/30/crap-detection-101/.  He includes “the crap test” http://www.workliteracy.com/pages/the-crap-test/

Remember “Garbage In, Garbage Out” — It still applies!

CookieMonster

What do you mean, “FLUSH THE COOKIES” ???????

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5  

 (Happy Birthday, Mom!)

In this post:

Howard Rheingold “Net Smart: How to Thrive Online” (The MIT Press, 2012)

SFGate: City Brights: Howard Rheingold – Crap Detection 101 (June 30, 2009)

Sesame Street’s “The Cookie Monster”

BibleGateway.com (www.biblegateway.com) New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Internet Heaven

Man-Sells-Spot-In-Heaven-On-eBay-530-1

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned  for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

 “See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4 (New Revised Standard Version)

In his Book “Net Smart: How to Thrive Online” (The MIT Press, 2012), Author Howard Rheingold states “My years of study and experience have led me to conclude that humans are humans because we invent thinking and communicating tools that enable us to do bigger, more powerful things together.” (p. 238)

When I think about how fast and how far technology has grown and expanded, I sometimes wonder just where it will all end up.      

Sometimes I wonder if, because of today’s technology and digital networking, we are closer now than we have ever been to knowing what heaven will be like.  Do you ever wonder? 

I like to think that heaven will be a place where I will be able to somehow contact all of the people in this world that either knowingly, or unknowingly, have made a difference in my life.  My faith tells me that this is possible in heaven – that somehow we will all be connected one day.

Yet, it seems that because of digital technology and networking we are now moving closer to this “heavenly concept” than ever before in history – right here on earth.

Technology – where will it take us? 

 http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/23/tech/web/eric-schmidt-google-book/  111207012141-eric-schmidt-google-story-top

(Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has a new book that portends how tech trends will shape our planet.)

In this post:

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online(The MIT Press, 2012), Author Howard Rheingold

BibleGateway.com (www.biblegateway.com New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Google chairman: 6 predictions for our digital future
By Doug Gross, CNN, April 24, 2013

3 words: KEEP IT SIMPLE!

computer_stress

Technology and Social Media can wear me out.  Searching, chatting, blogging, tweeting, posting, emailing… with the internet at our fingertips I sometimes feel like there is TOO much information coming at me.   

And it STRESSES me out.  As a counselor, I can tell you, this type of stress isn’t healthy!

Another common phrase used in support groups and therapy groups is “Keep it Simple.”  Sometimes that means unplugging the computers and smart phones and doing it the old fashion way – you know, cut and paste — with scissors and glue! 

Here’s a fun activity to try if you are a member or facilitator in a group setting.  (If it’s a large group, divide into small groups of 3-5 people.)  Pose a question that evokes discussion surrounding your group’s purpose.  I facilitate groups that struggle with addictions, so I would pose a question something like this:  “What kind of advice would you give someone in recovery who is struggling with their spirituality?”  For a youth group it could be the question, “Who is God?”

Here’s the catch – each group can only use 3 words and 3 pictures (they will cut them out of magazines you have provided and then glue onto a piece of construction paper.)  Take 30 minutes to do this.  Then take turns showing each picture.  One more catch – they can’t talk about their own picture – have the other groups or group members describe the picture and what it means to them.

This is an exercise that author Mary Hess calls the “Rule of Threes” in chapter 8 of her book “Engaging Technology in Theological Education.”  (You can find more in her book about this exercise along with other activities to engage a group in meaningful dialogue through art, music, and video.)

glue-1107     School-Scissors multi construction paper

Don’t forget to keep things Faith-Filled, Fun-Filled, AND….

keepitsimple

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (The Message)

(p.s… Sometimes it’s hard to get your group to open up and start engaging.  I found this free download with lots of cool ways to warm up a group – it’s geared toward youth groups, but I found that most of them can be used in any type of group!) click this link:  ICEBREAKERS

In this post:

Engaging Technology in Theological Education.  Mary E. Hess, 2005

Icebreakers: http://insight.typepad.co.uk/insight/ by Grahame Knox, 2009

Scripture taken from http://www.biblegateway.com – The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Roots

Tree_Roots_at_RiversideA shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,

   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

   The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,

    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

    the spirit of counsel and might,

    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-2 NRSV

Today at church our pastor talked about roots – roots of trees and roots of people.  Everything and every one of us have roots – a history – a foundation – something that came before us, and helped to make us what we are today.

Even technology and social media have roots. In her book Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All that We Can’t Leave Behind, (2005, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.), author Mary E. Hess states that “in order to teach faithfully and well in our current context, we need to remember those who have come before us and honor what they have learned.” (page 79)

When I think about technology and the past, I think about my dad. A jazz musician by night, and an electronics wholesaler by day, he loved technology; he was always excited about the “latest and greatest” gadget to hit the market.

Sony-KV-5000-525-WPBack in the early 70’s, we were one of the first families (that I knew of) to have a tiny little Sony Trinitron color TV sitting on our kitchen table!  My dad cherished it – and I thought it made us the “cool kids” on the block.

jobs-heaven

My dad died in 1992, just as technology was taking a giant leap into the world of personal computers and all the related technology that ensued.  I sometimes wonder what he would think of all of this advanced technology if he were living today – do computers exist in heaven???

So today when we turn on our laptops or tablets and log into our Facebook accounts, Tweet about the delicious breakfast we just ate or spend some FaceTime on our smart phones with a loved one, maybe we should take some time to thank those past “techies” who paved the way for us – “way back when.”

And while we’re at it, let’s take a moment to thank God for all He has done for us. 

Check out this awesome video from Humble Beast:  (just click on the picture below:)

lifeyesLIFE

Humble Beast is a family of creatives, pastors, writers, theologians, and musicians, who leverage their talents to see the Gospel go out into the community and transform lives.  We do this as individuals and as a family.  Individually, we live our lives as missionaries, disciple-makers, and culture-creators.  As a family, we combine our efforts to create a hub of Gospel-saturated resources, communicated in compelling ways for everyday people for free. (www.humblebeast.com)

Finding my (blogging) Voice in this World

It’s a word that (as of a few weeks ago) I was vaguely familiar with but seldom was found in my vocabulary.

Blog word.I’m now on my 6th blog – and I’m finally starting to get the hang of it – turns out that something that I thought would be “a piece of cake” wasn’t quite as easy as it looked!

When I first started a class in media and technology at Luther Seminary, I was told that blogging would be a part of the coursework. My first thought was, “Blogging, how cool!  And fun… right…?”

With that in mind, I sat down to write my first blog.   And there I sat… and… sat… and… sat…

My mind was as blank as the big white computer screen I was staring at.  How do I even start?  What do I write about?  Should it be a cute, funny blog, or a mind-provoking, serious blog?  Should I include pictures?  A video?  A famous quote?  A song?  What kind of a blogger am I, anyway???

In his book Net Smart, How to Thrive Online (The MIT Press, 2012), author Howard Rheingold reflects on blogging as the participatory action of identifying your voice (what interests you) and your public (who you want to share these interests with).  He also describes four genres of blog rhetoric: blogger as filter, connector, critic, and advocate (p. 121-124), which I found to be very helpful in getting started.

So with Rheingold’s guidance, I have slowly begun the work of bringing together my “voice” (passion for the message of God’s love and healing grace), with the “public” I want to reach (those who struggle with addictions and emotional pain, and are desperately seeking the strength and hope that I know can be found in our Lord, Jesus Christ.)

(For tips on keeping God first in our blogging, click on the picture below – I found this website very helpful)

 Blogging God

And until next time, keep everything faith-filled and fun-filled!

                                                                            Jane

Love God, Love Others. (via Facebook)

LonelyIn my role as a counselor for people struggling with chemical dependency and mental illness, I would often ask the question, “What would be a sign that tells me you are struggling right now?” One of the most common replies is, “I isolate. I quit talking to people, I don’t answer my phone, and I stop going out.

It seems that sometimes the very thing that can help us in our time of need is the same thing we run away from – other people!

After all, we have a God who created us to be relational and to benefit from being with others.  Jesus says that the two most important things we can do are to love God and to love people.  (Mark 12:30-31)

With that thought in mind, I then will ask, “Are you involved in a church?” More often than not, their answer is, “NoI believe in God, I just don’t go to church.”

That’s where I think social media can become a blessing.  Most of the people I talk to in these situations are active on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, etc.  If you are involved in a ministry, I highly recommend the book “Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible” by Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson (Morehouse Publishing).  It is a great way to start learning about social media as it relates to your ministry, or if your ministry already has a social media presence, it offers all kinds of great ideas to keep it fresh and inviting!

Here are some things that I enjoyed: One is Keith Anderson talking about his 2-Minute Bible Studies found on You Tube. (Click 2 Save Kindle location 1622) The other is The Undercover Nun (Click 2 Save Kindle location 1507) where blogging takes on the form of spiritual direction.

Social media – Make it faith-filled, and fun.  Amen!

Photo Apr 3, 2013, 3-14 PM