Monday Beginnings

Sunrise and sunset
Your rhythms offered for all
every morning, every evening
without fail.

Breathe in and out
Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell
every day, every night
without fail.

As long as we are here
we are still together
every moment, every hour
without fail.

Attentive to work or rest
laughing or crying
Your words remain faithful
without fail.

Celebrations and sorrows
Ordinary and miraculous
Life here and there; profound gifts
without fail.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made
    and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
    he put the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him,
for he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

– Psalm 33:6-9


God, as we embark on our Monday beginnings, we welcome your assistance and presence. Let our steps be ordered by your Spirit even when we are unaware. Where work is started, let it bring good to our lives…the “good” that honors the life you give us today. Where rest is embraced, may it bring peace. When tears of sorrow or joy need release today, let them flow like fountains; watering our souls and reminding us how wonderfully you’ve created the world. Every beginning is an offering from you. We are grateful; we receive. Thank you for loving us. We need you, Lord, and we trust you completely. Amen.

Weekend in Memphis: A Reflection

Central Station is just three minutes away from the Lorraine Hotel and the National Civil Rights Museum. I’m as close as I can be right now.  The music of this city is pouring out of every speaker I pass by; it’s rolling out of the entrance of my room and flowing through the gathering spaces. Music washes over you…over me; it begs me pause…just let it flow over me like water. Let it soak, inspire, remind me…and speak in the remembering. 

I came to Memphis on “business” but I’ve stayed by necessity of heart.  My friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Autura Eason-Williams, was murdered here in Memphis on July 18, 2022. She was not “mine” per se – she was all of ours. We loved her. We appreciated her. We were inspired by her courageous leadership and certain call. Her husband and children were encouraged and bolstered by her love every day. I’m in her “district”; I’m in her city. 

Someone else was murdered the morning of my arrival. A runner. A mother, a wife, a teacher, a woman. Eliza Fletcher. I did not know her, but her disappearance changed my weekend. The tenseness in my body increased. I altered the plans I had for walking. When a man pulled up, rolled down his window and hollered at me as I walked down the street, “hey pretty lady what are you doing?”, I wanted to scream. I kept my cool and kept on walking. He drove on and I turned around for yet another route. I hate not feeling “safe”.

The museum walks me through history as I read through and get a taste of someone else’s experience. Someone I didn’t know, though I read some of his writing and particularly his letter to his pastor colleagues; written from the Birmingham jail. I am moved by the history I’m walking through but I am undone by the sobbing of the young man who is next to me. He must have been 11 or 12 years old. An older woman was with him; a grandmother, perhaps. She doesn’t try to stop him from crying, but she’s right by his side as he takes in this part of our history.

Something catches my eye: “Don’t stop now. Keep moving. Don’t get weary. We will wear them down with our capacity to suffer.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressing a rally at Shiloh Baptist Church December 15, 1961. It’s “the capacity to suffer” that won’t leave my spirit. So many people have gone before us that had the “capacity to suffer”. I do wonder…do we have that capacity now?

Memphis is not a city of murder and violence. There is more. Music is here. Amazing blues music. Rock n Roll. Country. Incredible scores of musicians found their deep rhythms in this city. I walked over to the Arcade and got a window seat looking out at South Main Street. The lady sitting next to me has a story. She’s going to tell me a little, but not much. Memphis is “home” for her. I explain that I’m not from here; I came to town to officiate a funeral, but I stayed to take in the museum and a bit of culture. I stayed to remember my friend. She tells me she’s “sorry for my loss”, but I tell her how it’s OK, because I’m a pastor and this is what we do; we do funerals. We want to honor and celebrate people’s lives. We think it’s important.

The Arcade: The Oldest Cafe in Memphis; Established 1919

She has generational connections to the Arcade. We cover a lot of conversational ground in a few short minutes. It occurs to me as we sit and chat in what is the “oldest Café in Memphis”, that Reggie surely ate here many times. And maybe Elvis and surely Aretha Franklin.  It also occurs to me that the woman I’m talking to in this moment is just as important as all of them. For all I know, which is very little, she is probably famous herself. The chances that I would recognize her are slim to none, unless she belts out a song I know. She kind of looked famous, but doesn’t everyone? 
https://arcaderestaurant.com/history/

As she gets up to leave, she looks at me and says, “you said you are a pastor; you are a pastor; right?” And I said, “yes; I am”. She said, “I’ve been needing to talk to a pastor but not a pastor from Memphis. I’m really glad I got to talk to you today.”

Of course, I was glad too; to have a true “local” to chat with and laugh a little; share a bit of history; say some things you might only say to a stranger.  Of all the things we talked about (and I met her son in the middle of it all), I don’t know what one thing she needed to say to a pastor, whether it was “content” or just the experience she was seeking.  Whatever we both needed, we seemed to get it sitting at the window seat looking out at South Main. Saturday afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee.

“In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, LORD,
make me dwell in safety.”
– Psalm 4:8

God, please be near to anyone who needs to feel “safe” right now. We love you and we trust you completely. Amen.

If you don’t know Reggie, you’ve missed something that will bless your life. Start here and just keep listening. Peace.

Reggie Young – Memphis Grease

Monday Joy

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
– Lamentations 3:22-26

I often think of how gracious God was in giving us something new every morning. The new expression of sunrise, while the rhythm remains steadfast. The new song of the birds, though the familiar melodies. The new breath in our lungs and the new beats of our hearts…that have never before been expressed!

Every moment of every day is an unfolding of something new God is creating. While that “new” is being discovered and lived one hour at a time, there is also a steadfast presence that does not change. The love and grace of God is always available and ready to be offered. The peace that only God can give, is accessible in the humble asking.

However we come into this Monday, God is right here with us. On game or not; feeling it or not; scared to death or celebrating your greatest accomplishments…the presence of the Creator is standing at your side. Listen for that voice as you walk through this week. It is far beyond the opinions and noise that swirls around with hope of distracting us from God’s wisdom that comes in the pause. Listen.

God, this morning we pause to reconnect and remember your presence and faithfulness. We embrace the mercies you give for this day. We give thanks for the compassion and love you hold; ready to come quickly and abundantly as we seek. It is our desire to honor you with the gift of life you have provided today. Help us, Holy Spirit, to do it well. We welcome your JOY into our lives. We love you, LORD, and we trust you completely. Amen.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 15:11

Dance at Sunset

After so many days of heat, the rain was all blessing. I watched the steam rising up from the pavement, it was as if the whole of creation was sighing with relief. The grass and trees must have been shouting “thank you” as water dripped from their dry, exhausted foliage.

Tonight the sunset seemed to announce the joy we feel. I will not attempt to add to its beauty with words. I offer glimpses and a prayer. Whether it is for tonight or the morning coming, may our confidence in our Creator be strengthened. May our joy be ever present.

Lord, we see your creativity in the ordinary rhythms of nature and we are overwhelmed with your beauty. The skies dance at your hand! The sunset follows its path, a practice set in place by You that unfolds every day. Nothing is out of place. And yet, every setting of the sun is for that moment in history; it will never occur again in exactly this way. You, LORD, amaze us!
Help us to trust you with our days. Allow us the gift of witnessing your presence in our lives and in our world. Please continue the redeeming work of equipping and maturing us for your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We are in awe of you, Lord, and we are grateful.
Please grant peace to those who sleep; and inspiration to those waking. We welcome you into the spaces of this night that leave us wanting. We welcome your joy as the morning breaks fully open. You, Lord, are the only One who holds this night. You are the only One who holds the dawning of a new day. Help us to honor you by living it fully, with gratitude and joy. We trust you, Father, and we love you. Thank you for the gift of this dance. Amen.

HUMILITY: Proverbs 30:1-6

“I am weary, God,
    but I can prevail. 
Surely I am only a brute, not a man;
    I do not have human understanding.”

I have not learned wisdom,
    nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.

Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

“Every word of God is flawless;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
    or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”

– Proverbs 30:1-6

It turns out that even though we humans can engage in the intimacy of relationship with our Creator, there remains so much we do not know.

I find myself truly dependent on the wisdom of the Lord to guide me in all things. Without divine help, my own steps lead me where grace is illusive, and burdens pile up without reason.  There is a lot of freedom in knowing how much God can do, when we can do nothing! 

Listening to these Proverbs as I walk this morning, I hear Jesus speaking too:  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 15:4

Morning walk; late June 2022

Lord, where your people are weary, please provide hope and strength today. Where sorrow has interrupted the best of plans, give your peace that refuses to abandon.  Be our refuge and shield; our joy and strength. Our hope is in you, and it is good; we trust you completely! Amen. 

You’re Going to Be Okay

Prudence is a Good Thing

A prudent man sees danger and seeks refuge
but the simple keep going and suffer for it. – Proverbs 22:3

There are signs to see and choices to make early on that make a difference on how things go with us. Whether in times of success or challenge, celebration or sorrow; paying attention is important. This wisdom of seeing the sign of danger and taking refuge is welcomed counsel.

Jesus and Peter have an interesting encounter with each other that comes to mind. The story is in Matthew 16:21-28. Peter has accepted and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew 16:15-16); he believes! But as soon as Jesus starts sharing what is about to happen to him, Peter refuses to accept it. Jesus mentions suffering and Peter baulks.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:21-22

The rebuke from Jesus is clear: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block for me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” – Matthew 16:23

Jesus recognizes the danger of this moment and he seeks refuge in God’s plan. There’s a danger for Jesus. Avoiding the suffering that is between this moment and the resurrection would change everything. There is a danger for Peter; his faith journey is at risk. If Peter begins to think he knows how things should go better than Jesus, he will never experience the miracles of God on earth. His faith journey will be stunted by the refusal to surrender to God’s way in any situation.

Jesus sees the danger and immediately makes a choice. His refuge is not hiding; his refuge is in God. He turns away from Peter’s enticing plan to avoid the whole mess. He turns toward what God has revealed to him and the path he must walk. Christ’s response in this moment also prevents Peter’s faith journey from being wrecked and sidelined.

What are you seeing?

God of wisdom and mercy, please give us wisdom to see, even when our eyes fail us. Your wisdom and discernment are the guardrails that guide and protect us from paths of destruction. Thank you for the many ways you show up beside us and shine light on our path! We need you and we welcome you to direct our paths. Amen.

Patience

“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly.” – Proverbs 14:29

Perhaps one of the blessings that comes with time is patience. Whether in seasons of success or suffering, this virtue seems to never fail. It is like a muscle that develops over years of training. You can’t get there quickly; you just have to take one step at a time.

It is also a total act of trust for me. To be patient now means that I trust God. In training or healing; in work that takes years to reach completion; even muddling my way through the unknown with confidence that God is working all things out…patience is gained through living it.

In a season of difficulty many years ago I came upon this quote by Mother Teresa. It was written on a card where I could keep it visible in my daily routine. Over time the words lodged deep within me. And lodging there, this became a prayer of trust and patience for me. I’m still receiving blessings from that wisdom…poured into me by someone who knew well the path.

Let nothing trouble you,
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
– Mother Teresa

God of patience and mercy, thank you for never giving up on us. Help us to trust you in moments we want to act too quickly or walk away too soon. We need never to give up on what you are doing in our lives and in the world. Thank you for your faithfulness and love. We trust you completely. Amen.

Today

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything. – James 1:4

Facing the wind, 2021

I encountered this bird on Amelia Island last year. I have never forgotten the moment. He stood there for the longest time. The wind blowing in his face. His feathers all ruffled and worn. He was shaking. Every few seconds I thought he would blow over or give up and fly away. To my untrained eye he seemed determined to stand in the wind and gather up courage and focus for the day. I wondered if this was his morning prayer.

When I think of what it takes to stay the course when we are tired or frustrated or feeling like what we’re doing is not making a difference, I think of the way James teaches about challenges and trials. It frames my attitude and thought process. If there is something waiting for us after a season of perseverance, James reminds us that it is worth the waiting. It is worth the patience, diligence and whatever else you are mustering up to walk through each day. Something more than eye can see is happening. Perseverance comes with a blessing. It is something we trust and hold on to when the days are hard. Hold on today; prayers are all around you.

Lord, thank you for being with us when we are living through seasons of challenge. Please bring patience enough for today, and hope that fills the spirit and offers peace. Protect and guide, as you have promised to do; your wisdom is our greatest source of help. We trust you completely, Father, and we love you. Thank you for your faithfulness! Amen.

When The Tall Trees Rest

She was an artist and a poet. But more than anything she was a friend. Her art began with trees reaching high into the sky. They are all praising God at the move of her paintbrush. I marveled at her creative process. I am so grateful for every painting and every poem. She left us with such beauty, and it never stops blessing my days. 

It is Susie’s art and poetry that I saw when we were by the river yesterday. A tree had fallen. A big rip from an old trunk still standing on the bank of the river. A hard fall, based on the jagged edges of the trunk. It must have been loud in falling; it must have shaken the ground. The tall, strong and beautiful tree lay quietly in the flow of the river’s current. Ah…the tall tree is resting. 

Today we celebrate the life of another friend. Nothing will be able to contain her life. No words or prayers. No song or Scripture. But everything will point to the Creator who gave her to us for a little while. Everything will praise the One who placed the Holy Spirit within her and created a channel of intentional love.  Every breath we breathe is mingled with the same breath God breathed into her. She is a tall tree resting now. So deeply loved. I do wonder if Susie is talking with her; welcoming her friend into the eternal peace, eternal joy, eternal rest. 

the roots of tall trees
go 
deep
search
crumble granite
penetrate core
impelled
by the knowledge
that they are
the linchpins
that hold this
entirety
together

– Susie Sims Irvin, The Tall Trees



Lord, for all who mourn today, please bring peace and comfort. For all who need healing, place your hand on their eyes and bodies, restore gently and completely. For the one who is searching, may your spirit guide them clearly to discover you. Let no one who needs a friend remain alone today.
Please keep us growing, Lord. Keep us reaching tall to find you; digging deep with roots that sustain us in the long journey. And for all you hold in your arms today, Jesus, thank you for the gift of their presence. Thank you for the tall trees in our lives. Amen. 

Harpeth River, May 2022. Melinda Britt photo credit

Trusted Teacher

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  – Jesus in the Gospel of John 15:4-5.

Jesus gives some last instructions and words of wisdom to his disciples before he is arrested. He reminds them that the time they have shared together and all that he has been teaching them has prepared them for all that is to come. There is a caveat to the work ahead.  If the disciples want to be involved in what God is doing on earth, they must abide in Christ. They must stay as close to Christ as a branch is with a vine. That’s pretty close.  

Abiding doesn’t mean performing for approval. A branch does not perform and then look back to see if the vine approves or not. Nor does a branch disconnect from the vine and do anything that replaces the nutrients, power, and life that the vine gives.  When a branch disconnects from its vine, it eventually dies. Abiding in Christ means living in and with that connection. It is life itself, breathing in and breathing out moment by moment. It is not a program or mandate; it is a way of being alive. 

There is freedom abiding in Christ. We are not alone. We do not have the world resting on our shoulders. We are in this life with Christ. We are drawing from the strength and love of the one who came to earth for us! Not to harm us, but to show us what it looks like when the love of God is fully in human form. 

Jesus, our trusted teacher, came to help us experience a different way.  Our trusted teacher came to save us from distorted truths and a hijacked religious hierarchy that had lost connection with God’s loving intention for our lives on earth. Jesus came to redeem all these things and to fulfill the kingdom of God on earth. What a gift our Creator gave the world – and continues to give us every day. 

The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 10:10

We seem be in a constant stream of focusing on a group of people and literally tearing them apart with our opinions, judgements, and disappointments.  We’ve seen it happen with law enforcement, teachers, doctors, nurses, and numerous other groups.  A mistake by one person becomes a condemnation of everyone. An error that needs forgiveness and justice becomes a pass to never trust anyone again. 

It may be that the noise of it all begins to make us think there are no trusted sources in a world that really needs wisdom to navigate through the circumstances of daily life.  Hear the good news:  Jesus is a trusted teacher. Jesus is the son of God; the Messiah the prophets said would come; the resurrected Christ that is with us even now.  The teaching he shared while he was on earth is trustworthy.  It is a teaching that sets us free.  The way God continues to teach and guide us through the Holy Spirit is trustworthy. Abiding in Christ helps us remain tethered to that stream of wisdom. 

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 15:11

Check out more of what Jesus said by reading the 15th chapter of John: https://bit.ly/3wT9pkf

Three simple ways to practice “abiding” in Christ right now:

  1. Read from the Gospels several times a week or even daily. Start small. Ready for five minutes. Read a chapter. When you finish all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), start back and begin again. We need to be reminded daily of these teachings. It provides focus and food for our spirit. 
  2. Ask God to hold you close to the vine of Christ. Simple & powerful prayers: 
    “God, please keep me close to Christ today”. 
    “Lord, help me to walk faithfully through this day.”
    “Jesus, come right away; I need help!”
    “Christ, you are my vine; I am your branch; let it be.”
  3. Do one small act of kindness for someone. It can be as simple as saying, “I love you” to people in your household; taking a bouquet of spring flowers to a friend or stranger; thanking someone for their service (waiter; store attendant; co-worker; teacher; etc.); listen to the one who needs to simply say their things. Anonymous kindness strengthens the spirit. Known kindness strengthens relationships. It’s always good to intentionally be kind to others. How can you be kind to someone today? 

Lord, when your ways are so different from ours, it is probably going to be hard for us to see. Please draw each of us and all of us near to you so when you teach us, we are able to comprehend. We want to abide in you, and we need you. We love you, Lord, and we trust you completely. You are our trusted teacher; our Savior; our friend. Amen. 

My Trust in the Lord – Psalm 11