A New Way to Reflect

I began Skipping Stones a little over a year ago. My hope was to reboot a failed attempt at  blogging from years ago; to have a place to write for the sake of writing. I celebrated my 100th post the other day! As I have shared previosuly, I never imagined how rewarding keeping a blog would be, nor did I expect to find such encouragement within the blogging community.

The tag line communicates my original intent for Skipping Stones:

“Skip a stone over water and you will discover you cannot control its destination. Some stones leap to the sky, others dance across the water, while others simply sink. My prayerful meditations are like these skipping stones. I never know where they will land, but I believe God is revealed in the process.”

My writings and messages were the ideal place to begin the blog; after all, my writing and my messages have been a reliable place to reflect upon the presence of God in my life and the life around me!

New opportunities have been presented to me over the past year, and each of these opportunities has enabled me to experience the creative power of God in new ways!

My son and I planted our first garden this past Spring. I wrote about the decision to prepare a garden in the post tillit a couple months ago. The blessings  from the garden has supplied the inspiration for many writings and messages over the last couple of weeks: everything from what a cucumber can teach us about the Christian community to the feeling of wilt when we are exhausted of the Spirit.

The garden has been a place of inspiration and I pray the garden will continue to be a place for me to witness the creative power of God, which may just show up in my writings and messages…

I have recently found another way to experience the awesome power of the creator…

My wife gave me a wood lathe for Father’s Day this year. I have no experience in wood working and I certainly have no experience in wood turning, but I have had a truly awesome time learning the lathe and trying to figure out how to turn wood!

A lot of my writing time as been given to my new adventures in woodturning, which  may explain a bit of my absence from the blogging sphere. The time in the wood shop has been very inspiring, though! I would hope, and I would image, there will be some writings and some messages emerging from the wood shop before too long.

While I might not always walk out of the wood shop with a new idea to reflect upon in my writing or in my messages, I do hope some creations will come from this time that will help me to better perceive the wonderment of the Creator. For that reason, I established a separate category on Skipping Stones to provide a space to chronicle this new adventure! Since the wood turning is different from my writings and my messages, I though it would be appropriate to properly categorize it!

Anyways, here are a few pictures of some of the pieces I have been working on over the last few weeks!

Blessings to you all!!!

The bowl and chalice were my first two projects. The bowl was made from a piece of scrap pine. The chalice is black walnut, which was given to me by a friend.

Each of these pieces are cedar from Edisto Beach, SC. My father called me a couple of weeks ago. He was driving to our beach house and passed an entire cedar tree that had been cut up and placed on the side of the road. I image the tree was destroyed during Hurricane Matthew. I picked up several logs the next day, which has produced some interesting pieces with wormholes running though many of them.

Also, the chalice and paten pictured above was the first complete communion set!

These bowls were made out of spalted Sugarberry, which is also known as Southern Hackberry, from Edisto Beach. The wood came from a tree in our family’s yard. My family has not been able to identify the wood for several years, but with the help of some friends in the timber business we finally discovery it to be a form of hackberry. The tree was trimmed a few months ago and the debris was placed in a pile on the edge of our property… I had no idea the wood had spalted nor that it would produce such interesting grain patterns! Anyways, I have made several pieces of out this wood, but here are a few examples.

My sister gave me a piece of Sapelle and several magnolia branches. The goblet is the sapele, which I gave to here. I left a bit of the bark on the magnolia to give a little additional design. I actually sent the magnolia bowl to my grandmother. The additional bowl was made for a friend. It is made from oak I found on the side of the road…

Sprout: Inspiration for Emergence

SproutWhat is holding you back from emerging from the depths of the dirt and living in the power of the light?

Many of my messages and reflections have given a great deal of attention to all things garden related over the past few moment. There is a simple reason: my son and I planted our first garden this past Spring. We really had no idea what all we were doing, but we had a fun time figuring our way through it and forging new friendships with people who wanted to help us in our efforts!

(Aside: Our first efforts for germinating seeds was pretty hilarious. You can listen to the story in this message from the series The Life of a Seed.)

There have been many blessings that have come from our gardening experiment: watching the plants produce fruits, eating the fresh vegetables, and sharing our vegetables with others! Of course, the greatest blessings has been the opportunity to spend time with my son…

Among all of the blessings, there was a most spectacular and awe-inspiring moment that helped me see the true beauty in farming! — A couple of weeks after my son and I placed the seeds into the germination cells, small sprouts began to emerge from the soil!

The emergence of these sprouts was, well, almost magical…better still, it was divine!

As these sprouts pushed through the soil, they began to unfold into the light. The first leaves opened up and exposed themselves to the light of the sun (or, in our case, the heat lamp). They made themselves vulnerable, accessible, but also receptive to the light that would nurture and sustain their growth!

The sprouting of a seed is a perfect image for a new found faith of a Christian believer.

Faith is like a seed sown into the heart. The seed begins to sprout and grow. As the sprout emerges, it (ought) to open to the light. The light serves the health of the sprout by nurturing and sustaining its growth into a productive plant!

The Word of God is sown into our hearts by the proclamation of Jesus. Those who receive and respond to his proclamation will see faith founded upon the Word begin to grow and emerge. The awe-inspiring beauty of the whole thing is faith emerges and begins to open to the light of the Son, which nurtures and sustains the faith through the power of the Spirit.

The Word of God has been sown into your heart through the proclamation of Jesus! What will you do? How will your heart receive and respond to this proclamation?

My encouragement to you today is to simply be inspired to emerge!

fontcandy

The Life of a Seed, Part Three

SeedAre you at a place where you can see and hear your blessings?

The third message in the series, The Life of a Seed, allows this question to guide our exploration of the Parable of the Sower.

The message focuses upon Matthew 13:16-17, where Jesus reminds the disciples of their blessing: The disciples are blessed to see and hear the things (the preaching, teaching, and deed of power of Jesus) they have seen and heard! The preaching, teaching, and deeds of power have revealed the secrets of the kingdom to the disciples: the hidden presence in Jesus and the future realization.

Applying these verses to our experience requires a little more of a stretch: You and I share in the blessing of the disciples. You and I have been blessed to see and to hear. Specifically, I am referring back to an earlier interpretation of sight and hearing – to see and to hear suggests our ability to receive (behold) and to respond (understand) to the proclamation of Jesus.

Our ability to see and to hear is rather evolved, too:

  1. We can encounter the secrets of the kingdom and come to a greater understanding of the proclamation of Jesus through our accessibility to the experience of the earliest follower of Jesus! – We have the witness of these early Christians’ encounter with the Word of God recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
  2. We are, also, blessed to learn from the experience of the saints! Everyone from the Church Fathers to the present theologians have passed on their experiences of divine encounter! And, we have the tradition and holy practices of the Church, which invites us to encounter the proclamation of Jesus (and, therefore, the Word of God) in Spirit-filled ways.
  3. The blessing belonging to us extends into our present experience as much as it exists in the past experiences of those who have preceded us in the faith. You and I are capable of encountering the proclamation of Jesus through the Holy Spirit! We can have unique experiences of the Word of God, which reveals unto us truths of the secrets of the Kingdom – The Kingdom is amongst us; and, the Kingdom will be fully realized in the future.

So, are you in a place to see and hear your blessings? It is more than a question of whether or not you are appreciative of the good things given to you! At the heart of the matter is your ability — really your willingness — to receive and respond to the proclamation of Jesus (through Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience)? Have you assumed a position of attentiveness to the proclamation of Jesus that might enable you to see and hear the truth being revealed by God. 

You can listen to the messages in the series at the following links:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Elevator: Awkward Encounters of God

Riding the elevator with a stranger is awkward. Bottled up inside a confined space with someone you do not know — very uncomfortable.

I do not like awkward situations, because – obviously – they are uncomfortable!

I usually attempt to break awkward tension in any given situation with a joke or some light-hearted comment! My friends know this about me. They think I am a kidder, who likes “to stir the pot,” but really, I’m just super uncomfortable in awkward moments. I guess making a joke or making a light-hearted comment is my attempt at taking control of the situation.

Inside an elevator with a stranger is a whole other level of awkward, though! I wish I had a standard comment on the ready to ease the awkwardness – something like, “Random fact: Hippos secrete red sweat when they are upset.” That type of knowledge bomb would certainly destroy any degree of elevator awkwardness!

200.gif

 giphy.com

I once rode in an elevator with James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul.” I do not think I said anything to him. I remember staring at his teeth – also, random. Maybe that should be my elevator ice-breaker. “Hello, my name is Ross. I once rode an elevator with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. And, now, my new friend, you can say that you’ve ridden in an elevator with a man who rode in an elevator with James Brown!”

200.gif

giphy.com

All of this to say, I rode in an elevator with a stranger today. A young man, with tattoos all along his arms and multiple piercings. I stepped into the elevator with him and the awkward tension. How should I stand? What should I do with my hands? Where should I look? What should I say/not say?

I went with the standard head nod and, “What’s up, man?” — You know, alpha male material.

200-2.gif

giphy.com

Apparently, that’s all the guy needed to start telling me his story – His father was in the hospital with a surgery, he was hoping to be released later in the day, he had come down from New York to help his mother with his father, he sold clothes for a living, and he was headed to Florida before flying back to New York.

Y’all, I was only taking the elevator to the 3rd floor! He told me like ten stories within 2 stories worth of an elevator ride!!

I guess the reason we feel awkward – the type of awkward we feel in an elevator with a stranger – is because we all have a story to tell. We have this inherent need to relate, and to relate well, to others. The awkward tension we feel in the elevator with a stranger is not the discomfort of sharing a small, confined space with someone we have never met. The awkwardness results from our resisting the need to relate to others.

There are times in life when we bump into God like a stranger in an elevator. We encounter God in the midst of our life and we have no idea what to say – “Hey, God! Hippos sweat turns red when they are mad, but you probably already knew that!”

God has a way of showing up when we least expect it and when we are least prepared for God’s presence. It can be a little awkward – How should I stand? What should I do with my hands? Where should I look? What should I say/not say?

The awkwardness we experience when we unexpectedly encounter God in the midst of our life results from the same inherent need to relate, and to relate well, to others.

Specifically, at the core of our heart is the inherent need to know God and to be known by God.

“Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by Him.” — 1 Corinthians 8:2-3

Any awkwardness experienced when encountering God is normal! What to do? How to stand? What to say/not say? These uncertainties are the result of a natural need to exist in relationship with God. You have a story worth being told; and, God has a story for you to live. The awkwardness is simply the assurance that you are meant to know and be known by God.

Watch out the next time you step into an elevator. Who knows, you might find yourself riding with God the Father of your soul…not to be confused with the Godfather of Soul.

The Life of a Seed, Part Two

SeedThe second message in the series, The Life of a Seed, further emphasizes the need to “see” and hear” (or, to receive and respond) to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.

The verses examined in the second message, vv. 10-15, focuses upon the response of Jesus to the question of the disciples regarding his responding for speaking to the crowds in parables.

Jesus clarifies his reasoning for speaking in parables. The blessing of knowing the secretes of the kingdom is a gift of God given to those people who have chosen to receive and respond to the proclamation of Jesus. Knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom is essentially the hidden presence of the kingdom (inaugurated in and through Jesus) and the hope for its future realization!

Click on this link to listen to the second message of the series. 

The Life of a Seed, Part One

SeedThe first message in the series, The Life of a Seed, introduces the Parable of the Sower. The parable is the first of seven parabolic teachings in the 13th chapter of Matthew.

The first message in the series establishes the context of this particular teaching – Jesus offers this parable (and the other six kingdom parables) as a response to people, towns, and the religious authorities who have failed to receive or respond to his proclamation.

The first message resists the urge to move directly into Jesus’ explanation of the parables; rather, attention is given to the instructions he gives to the crows before telling the parable an directly following the parable! Jesus instructs the crowds to “see” and to “hear” the parable, which is interpreted as an imperative call to receive and respond to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.

You can listen to the full message here.

Live Bolder: On Turning 35

fontcandyI turned 35 last week.

I realize 35 may not seem old to some of you, but turning 35 feels like a milestone in the years. Technically, I am no longer considered a “young adult.” Perhaps, this transition of categorization is what seems so upsetting!

After all, if I am no longer to be considered a “young adult,” then it means I am supposed to be, well, an “adult” — and, quite honestly, I am not sure if I am ready for the responsibility! I have kind of enjoyed the privilege shrug off my mistakes with the comforting realization that I am still trying to figure out this adulting thing…

Not so much now!

Now, I’m not supposed to lean on the excuse that I am in the process of becoming an adult…because, well, it happened somewhere along the way.

And, I am already feeling it.

I had a fun birthday afternoon with JE. We blew up water balloons, threw them at one another, sprayed Solomon with a hose, and then went to VBS where we got to go down a huge waterslide and play in a jump castle…you know, a normal kind of 35th birthday.

But, while I was jumping in the jump castle, my foot slipped out and my knee buckled. I fell awkwardly to the mat with a grimace of pain.

JE laughed, because he thought I was playing around.

I wasn’t!

It hurt.

But, that’s just it – living exposes you too the rick of pain.

Embracing the life given to us can be a blast — it can look a lot like playing with water balloons, jump castles, and water slides! And, embracing life may expose you to the risk of pain, but the joy felt is always greater!

So, here is to being 35!

I’m not going to worry so much about getting older, but about living bolder – embracing the life God has given me with the expectation of being overwhelmed by joy and not so distracted by the risk of a little pain!

You’re Welcome (II): A New View of Christian Hospitality

You're WelcomeWhat does Christian hospitality really look like?

While preparing for a sermon a couple weeks ago, I came across the sermon I delivered on June 26, 2011 – the last Sunday of my first year in appointment to the Hampton-Varnville Charge.

The message that Sunday examined Matthew 10:40-42 in consideration of the relationship between our churches’ vision to Christian hospitality.

I revisited the sermon from June 26, 2011 on July 2, 2017, which marks the first Sunday in a new appointment year! The message, You’re Welcome (II), does not drift too far from the point of the original message: emphasizing a vision towards Christian hospitality as a humble response to God’s blessings upon our community of faith.

However, our reading of Matthew 10:40-42 is particularly interesting. While the message is certainly directed at a Hampton-Varnville audience, the interpretation of might exercise the minds of anyone with a curiosity towards the nature of Christian hospitality.

Here is a brief summary:

Matthew 10:40-42 is part of a much larger conversation between Jesus and his disciples in which Jesus authorizes his disciples to carry his message of the kingdom (as apostles) to the neighboring towns and villages. The message of Jesus is not only to be spoken, but to be demonstrated through deeds of power.

Christian hospitality is often conveyed as a willingness to receive “others” – to have open hearts, open minds, and open doors as our great UMC advertises.

However, Jesus offers a different point of view in these three verses of Matthew, which pushes his followers to move well beyond “openness.” Having already addressed the possible rejection the disciples may encounter in their mission, Jesus declares, “Whoever welcomes you welcome me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (10:40) Jesus does not emphasize an expectation for the disciples to be open to receiving others; rather, Jesus cast “others” in the role of the welcomer. Others are the one expected to be open to receiving…namely, the disciples and the message they carry! The disciples, therefore, are the ones to be welcomed. 

By implication, therefore, the follower of Jesus is more than an open recipient of other people! No, the follower of Jesus is to humbly approach others with the message of Jesus – a message of God’s grace, mercy, and love!! The follower of Jesus is to approach others with the message of the kingdom, which calls for repentance so others might live a full life in the presence of the Almighty!

Christian hospitality certainly assumes an openness to the reception of others! But, Christian hospitality is more than passive receptivity. Christian hospitality embraces a willingness to humbly (and respectfully) approach others with the message of Jesus. Christian hospitality is a willingness to go to others and to offer oneself as a witness to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Welcoming a stranger in the pew is a good thing, but Christian hospitality asks more of us…

We must go beyond the pew into the dark places of our world, the forgotten places, the broken places and offer ourselves in the name of Jesus as a witness to the grace, mercy, and love of God!!!

Check out You’re Welcome (II) if you would like to hear the message!