With our Guest Speaker, ordination candidate Bobby Langhorne, comes a devotional!  Bobby is speaking on the second week of our new theme “The Tie that Binds”.  “The Tie That Binds” focuses on relationships and invites us to consider how our relationships with the Holy and with each other form and transform us.   Come and hear Bobby speak Sunday, September 18th or listen to the PodCast at http://mac-coop.org/coopcast/


Text Genesis 1:27-2:4a

27 So God created humankind in God’s image,
   in the image of God, God created them;
   male and female God created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that had been made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation. 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

Notes on the Text

  1. Genesis is part of the Pentateuch or Torah – a set of five books traditionally ascribed to Moses, despite the events occurring long before Moses was born – that make up the core religious texts of Judaism.
  2. There are three strains that scholars believe point to three traditional texts that were merged for the final form of the Pentateuch (with a fourth strain that starts in Deuteronomy and continues into Joshua and 1 and 2 Kings). The three strains are J, the Jahwist source, E, the Elohim source, and P, the Priestly source. Like all Biblical criticism and scholarship, this is not universally accepted. Some scholars now believe there is not a difference between the J and E sources and that the P source was actually a revision instead of a separate document.
  3. However, the above could explain why there are two creation stories in Genesis – one from the P strain and one from the J strain. The creation story in the selected text is from the P strain.
  4. Some scholars believe that verse 30 shows that humans were vegetarians initially, which changed either after the curse or during the events of Noah.
  5. The selected text are day 6 and day 7 of the Weekly Torah portion, similar to the lectionary.


Some months ago, Pastor Kathy told me that the preaching I would be doing during my ordination process would be almost exclusively with difficult Scriptures – Scriptures that would challenge me. After several such assignments, I have decided that challenging Scriptures means text that will seem to be at odds with my science-leaning brain.

This passage is one such Scripture that hits me in the science gut. It, and other parts of the Pentateuch, has been used to justify Creationism, Young Earth, and Intelligent Design, all things that conflict with a scientific understanding of interstellar formations and the biology of life. Young Earthers and Creationists believe the world and the universe were created 10,000 years ago. Astronomy and physics tell us that the world was created 4 billion years ago, and the universe 13 billion years ago.

Part of being able to resolve this difference relies on self-determination – are you someone who believes the Bible to be the literal (dictated or written) word of God or are you someone who believes the Bible to be inspired by God? If we take the literal approach, the Young Earth and Creationism wins out over science, but we also have to believe that the Earth is flat and there are four pillars, one at each corner, that holds up the heavens.

However, if we take the inspirational route, we can view Genesis and the creation stories as allegories. I have to say, for an allegory that was written thousands of years before archaeology or science in general existed, it holds up pretty good. On Day 6, as seen in our text, God created the beasts of the land and then the humans, after having created the plants and whatnot. That order matches pretty well with the archaeological order we have discovered in how life progressed and appeared on the Earth.

So, the allegory and the science have places they match up fairly well. This allows us to derive some lessons from the text:

Lesson 1: Beasts and humans were created on the same day, out of the same materials, and God granted them both the same foodstuffs to eat. God declared that humans were the masters of the garden God created, intended to look after  and care for the creation that God had wrought.

Lesson 2: All humanity stems from the first parents, whether you believe the inerrant word of the Bible, or the archaeological history. Because of this, we cannot exclude any other person as “other.” This is true as people of Earth but especially as Christians – as the Gospels tell us, “Those who say they love God but hate their brothers and sisters are liars.”

What are we to take from these lessons? It is fairly simple. Humans do not exist in a vacuum. Humanity is a part of the world that God created, and cannot separate itself from the world. All of humanity, all the beasts and all of the creation that God has wrought – they are all intertwined. To deliberately separate or cut off those ties are to disregard what God has created us to do.

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A Summer of Mysticism, Part 1

May 22nd to June 19th

 “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”    ~Matthew 28:20b

A strong tradition running throughout Christian history is the mystical tradition. Mysticism is an approach to Christianity that emphasizes a direct experience and awareness of the divine. Mystics through the ages have also expressed a deep awareness of the holiness of all creation, and the ultimate goal of union with God. This summer we will explore the roots of Christian mysticism, and look at the works (very briefly!) of some of the more well-known Christian mystics. In Part 1, we will look at the words and actions of Jesus and Paul that provide a basis for the Christian mystic tradition.  Again the three aspects of Christian mysticism we will focus on throughout the summer are:

  • A strong desire for direct connection and constant awareness of the presence of God
  • A deep awareness of the holiness of all creation
  • An ultimate goal of union with God and Christ


Main Readings:

May 22nd:  Introduction to Christian Mysticism: Psalm 1:1-3

May 29th:  Jesus the Mystic: Mark 1:32-39

June 5th:  Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas: Logion 27 and 77

June 12th:  Paul the Mystic: Acts 9:1-19

June 19th:  Paul and “In Christ”: Galatians 2:15-21


May 22nd: Introduction to Christian mysticism: Psalm 1:1-3

Christian mysticism is an approach to faith that centers on unfiltered experience and awareness of the Divine.  Christian mysticism has parallels in almost every religion.  The Hebrew Bible has many passages that praise the type of devotional life that would lead to mystical experience. And of course, the psalms were the most widely read and memorized book of prayers in the time of Jesus for the Hebrew people. On this Sunday we will look at the first psalm, which sets the tone for the whole book.  This psalm praises devotional reading of the Hebrew Bible as a path to happiness.

May 29th: Jesus the Mystic: Mark 1:32-39

            The gospels depict Jesus as having a deep prayer life in which he communed with God.  A prayer life which centers on contemplation, or opening oneself to the presence of God, is the foundation of Christian mysticism.  Unfortunately, just like today, Jesus often had to run away from people in search of a quiet place to pray and meditate.  The world works against us finding the quiet that is necessary for real contemplation.

June 5th: Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas, a non-canonical gospel, was found with other writings in the Nag Hammadi library in 1945 in Egypt.  Unlike the other gospels, the Gospel of Thomas is a sayings collection, and many of the sayings emphasize common Christian mystical themes.  About half of these sayings are common to one or more of the canonical gospels.  The other sayings emphasize a non-dualistic approach to life and thinking.  This may explain why a Church that was moving toward a rational, legalistic approach to faith did not find the Gospel of Thomas acceptable.

June 12th:  Paul the Mystic: Acts 9:1-19

Many people would not at first think of Paul as a Christian mystic.  Lots of folks associate Paul with that more rational, legalistic form of the faith, but that is mostly due to the way Paul’s writings have been interpreted.  In fact, Paul was very “mystical” in his understandings of how God transformed the world through the gift of Christ.  This is hardly surprising since Paul’s faith journey toward Christ began with a classic mystical experience, one in which he was overcome by the presence of Jesus.

June 19th:  Paul and “In Christ”: Galatians 2:15-21

One of Paul’s more common phrases is “in Christ.”  By this he meant that the true Christian life was one of union with Christ, so that the person’s will becomes the will of the Christ.




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A Place at the Table

     This week’s blogger is our Traditional Service Worship Assistant:  Joanne Walker.   This week Joanne speaks on what having a place at the table, or not, has meant to her and how this concept has shaped her life.
     Did you grow up in a family where there was always a place at the table for the unexpected guest, where there was always enough food for the folks who dropped in? I didn’t.  My mother was a single, working mother from the time I was nine years old, and her food budget did not accommodate casually inviting friends or acquaintances for a meal, and she instructed my sister and me to decline similar invitations if we happened to be at a friend’s home at mealtime. My friend Barbara  once told me that her mother liked me best of all her friends because I said, “No thank you,” and offered some excuse for not eating when her mother felt she should ask me to join them. But if someone insisted I join the family, I always took small portions and the worst piece of chicken, usually the neck.
     My mother-in-law was of a different school.  She always insisted that drop-ins pull a chair up to the table and share the food and fellowship even if it meant she had to supplement the menu with a can of Franco-American macaroni and cheese or a  bowl of canned peaches or tomatoes.
     Since I established my own home, I am always ready to set another place at the table, but I would  be mortified to serve company canned macaroni and cheese so I compensate by cooking too much. Fortunately, my family did not object to leftovers. I am pleased if a guest asks if he can bring a friend, and I set the table with the good china, stemware—if the occasion calls for it, and cloth napkins. I want my guests to feel welcome and special and that they are a delight rather than an inconvenience.
     On the other hand,  I always felt I was very special when a friend would call me at the last minute and invite me over to share leftovers with her or when friends felt comfortable enough to use paper towels for napkins because they hadn’t been to the store.
     Here at the Coop, all are welcome at the Lord’s Table;  all are recipients of God’s grace. Perhaps we cannot all get down on our knees, but here we break bread together, drink wine together, and praise God together, and there is a place at the Table for each and every one of us and all of our neighbors and guests.

Matthew 15:21-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

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All Are Welcome

Through Easter-tide we will have guest bloggers, our Worship Assistants, who are working with different themes around the idea of “A Place to Call Home.”  Our first guest is Joanne Walker, a member of our Lutheran congregation, Community Compassion Fund intake volunteer, Traditional Service Worship Assistant, and all around wonderful lady.  Joanne has a varied and unique perspective.  Read on to learn her thoughts and feelings on the theme “All Are Welcome.” 
Some thirty years ago in a new member class at Dove of Peace Lutheran Church in Tucson, Arizona, Pastor Adolph was explaining to would-be members the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Prior to that time, I doubted that I had been given any—I didn’t speak in tongues; I couldn’t heal the sick; I could teach, but I did not consider myself a gifted teacher, and I certainly could not prophesy.  That pretty much covered it—I had been left out when the Holy Spirit was distributing gifts. But then , Pastor mentioned “hospitality” in his list. Hospitality!  Was that a gift of the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps I had not been left out after all.  Folks frequently commented on my hospitality.  I love having company (except for the house-cleaning part) whether for a drop-in visit, for club and committee meetings, for meals, or as house guests. I find it far more comfortable being the hostess than the guest. My children always knew their friends were welcome in our home. As recently as Christmas Eve 1996, my grown daughter was certain I would say yes when she called to ask if I could put another bowl on the table for our traditional Christmas Eve clam chowder because “This guy from work showed up at my front door and he’s alone for Christmas Eve.”
She married him in June of 1998. They are no longer married, but when I invited her for Easter dinner this year,  she asked if she could bring a teacher from Germany who was staying at her house while chaperoning a group of German high school exchange students who were staying with McMinnville families for two weeks. I was especially glad because work issues interfered with my son joining us and preparing Easter dinner for only three just didn’t seem right. I called her back to ask if Burghart Gebauer, the retired, disabled  German, McMinnville High school German teacher would also like to join us.  “I don’t know—I’ll ask him,” Kristin said. He said yes, and Easter Sunday morning as we were setting up for the Easter brunch, I asked Alice Howell if she had plans for dinner, because if she didn’t, I would be pleased if she would join us.  Preparing dinner for six was much more fun than for only three.
All of the guests seemed to enjoy the meal despite the fact that the asparagus was overcooked and the roasted sweet potatoes “crisp.” Considering my German  guests, I considered the Dietrich Bonhoeffer table prayer appropriate, and with such a diverse group, the conversation was lively.
Making all people feel welcome at my church home is also a personal priority, and, I believe, a priority of most of the folks at the traditional service, but I wonder if I (we) are  always successful. When traveling, I have attended churches where no one greeted me or spoke to me, and  I vowed to never make the mistake of returning to that church.  On the other had, I have visited churches that made me think that it might be nice to live in that community just so I could attend that church—e.g. Bethany  Lutheran in Gold Beach, Gloria Dei Lutheran in Coos Bay, and United Methodist in Myrtle Creek ,which incidentally, is the church where in 1951, at th age of eleven, I was confirmed the first time.  (There was no Lutheran church in Myrtle Creek.)
I try to make a point of introducing myself to visitors, inviting them to the coffee hour, and telling them I hope they will return.  I even tell them that we have a second service, “the Celebration Service,” at eleven in the event  (strange as it may seem) they prefer a less formal worship style.
On Monday mornings, I cheerfully (most of the time) greet applicants for Compassion Fund help and members of the “Every-Day Congregation” as they make their ritual treks into the church for coffee and goodies, to use the facilities, to check their mail, to get warm, or escape the rain.  Yesterday, a young man, who appeared to be fighting back tears, asked me if I would pray for him with no explanation of who he was or what specific prayer requests he had.  He offered his hand; I took it, and I prayed. Later a member of the every-day congregation applied for funds to pay for the reinstatement of her driver’s license, and she asked me if she could list me as a reference. I told her she could.
I believe these people feel welcome—they greet Pastor Kathy, Ty, Cindy, Amber,  Ron, and me with smiles.  I believe the applicants for assistance are grateful when we can help them.  But rarely do I see any of them at worship on Sunday morning.  If one of them is in the building, it’s to use the facilities. I’d like to think they attend the Celebration Service, and maybe one or two do meander in there, but not most of them. Once in a while one will come up to the fellowship hall before the service is over to get something to eat from or a hot cup of coffee, but they do not joint the worshipers. Why? Where am I failing?  What should I be doing to make them feel welcome at worship? What can I do to make them want to seek the reassurance that God loves them, to offer their praise and thanksgiving.  How can I make each of them know that they are a child of God, my brother or sister, and I would like to share my worship experience?  How do I make them know that ALL are welcome here in this house of God, this church home?

Scripture:  John 20:19-22

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 

20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 

22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 

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The Gift of Misfits

How is being a misfit a blessing?  Why do misfits with counter viewpoints seem to upset the powers that be?  Is that upset always a bad thing, and how do you channel that energy to constructive ends?  Read on!

Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11

1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately. ” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Background on the Text:

  1. This is the beginning of the last section of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus has been making his way toward the center of power, Jerusalem, for some time.
  2. This scene is one that the people would have been familiar with: processions were an important social event, especially when the army had defeated the enemy and it wanted to show off the military rulers. Processions also occurred when important political leaders came to town.  The role of processions was to remind the oppressed people that they were under the control of the Roman Empire.
  3. Jesus takes the opportunity to put a completely different spin on the occasion. He participates in a kind of “street theater” which challenges the conventional wisdom of who is in charge of the world.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. The Mount of Olives was a place symbolically associated with judgement and salvation.
  2. To mock the Romans, and to keep with Jewish tradition, Jesus decides to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, and not a horse, as a Roman general would. But in Jewish history, Solomon rode a donkey in procession.
  3. Matthew is quoting from the book of the prophet Zechariah, specifically the part of this book that dates to about 450 BCE. This was a time of very slow rebuilding of Judah and Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.  There were great hopes for a ruler to arise that would help restore Jerusalem to its former glory.
  4. The placing of branches on the road for the “conquering king” was a sign of reverence and respect. “Hosanna” means “save us.”
  5. When forced to decide who Jesus is, the crowds still say that he is a prophet. This declaration still sends “the whole city” into a tizzy.   “The city” represents those in power who will continue to oppose Jesus and his ministry.

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. There are two crowd scenes in this section of the gospel, and they both bring up questions of mob mentality. This first scene of Jesus entering Jerusalem seems to be a fairly positive one for the crowds: they express admiration for the person of Jesus.  The second crowd scene occurs when Jesus is brought before Pilate, and Pilate asks the crowd (the same people) what to do with Jesus, and they demand he be crucified.  The stories suggest that everyone in the crowd went along with the flow of the sentiment.  We don’t get a lot of stories saying, “Joe Blow stood up and disagreed with everyone around him.”  What keeps us from disagreeing with the crowd, even when we know they are going in the wrong direction?


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The Gift of Temptation

How is temptation a gift?  Where is there “crowd mentality” or “mob mentality” in the bible and how well to those people fair against temptation?  Would you be able to fight the urge to follow?

Scripture: Luke 4:1-13

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.’ ”

5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.

6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Background on the Text:

  1. In the Gospel of Luke, this passage represents Jesus’ commitment to his calling. From this point forward, Jesus will be resolute in following his mission to save the people of Israel.
  2. Jesus and the devil are employing proof-texting to make their debate points. This is the practice of pulling scripture verses out of context to support a particular point.  It’s not a good model for scripture interpretation today, but common at that time.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit because he has just been baptized. (Luke 3:21-22).
  2. Jesus is brought to the “wilderness” by the Spirit (notice not the devil) as a place of both deprivation and encounter with God.
  3. After 40 days, when Jesus was supposed to be weak, he is tempted by the devil. There are three temptations: to be fed, to worship something other than God, and to replace one’s own agenda for God’s.  These temptations parallel the temptations of the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. Notice that these are not temptations to do evil things, like commit murder, or start a war. Instead, they could be construed as very positive things:  turning stones to bread could feed the world!  Having authority over the world might lead to more peace and prosperity for everyone.  Following our own agendas might lead to good things.  When have you been tempted to “do good” for all the wrong reasons?  What was your response?
  2. What gives you the strength to resist the temptation to do good for the wrong reasons?
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The Gift of Being Lost

This week we have a guest blogger, and guest speaker:  Bobby Langhorne

Bobby is a candidate for ordination through the United Methodist Church (UMC) and a member of the UMC of McMinnville, which is a part of McMinnville Cooperative Ministries.  Read on to see how Bobby finds being lost a gift, then come to service this Sunday (9am Traditional or 11am Celebration) to hear him preach!

Scripture – Psalm 42 (NRSV)

To the leader. A Maskil of the Korahites.
1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,  so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Notes on the Text

  1. The psalmist used to lead hundreds of people in rowdy celebrations of God at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now he is banished hundreds of miles away in Babylon – one of the Exiles.
  2. Historically – it was a time of great upheaval for the Jewish kingdom. The kingdom of Judah had been a client state of Assyria, which was torn apart by Egypt and Babylon, a former province of Assyria. In the first battle, the King of Judah was killed. Tithes were set in place by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, including some noble youngsters. When the next king of Judah revolted against Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege against Jerusalem for three months, culminating in the city and Temple being pillaged, the death of the King, and a much larger Exodus. A new King revolted a second time, leading to the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora.
  3. This psalm mirrors a path through depression – it goes through two cycles of despair and hope.
  4. It’s a beautiful metaphor – comparing how the animals thirst for water just as our hearts thirst for God – without ever giving any practical solutions on how to quench that thirst.

Gospel Reading – Luke 15:1-7

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.


Our series in Gift of The Dark Wood continues this week, with a theme that seems appropriate to the Dark Wood – getting lost.

When was the last time you were lost – really lost? I don’t mean temporarily displaced because you missed your turn and are now in a part of town you are unfamiliar with. I mean the kind of lost that a child experiences – the first time they turn around and realize they have no idea where they are, where their parents are, and that they are surrounded by an ever shifting mass of unfamiliar faces and places with no clues on how to get un-lost. The gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, terrifying feeling of befuddlement when you are irrevocably lost.

You can also be lost in your faith. Have you ever experienced a time when you felt so lost from God that it was a physical ache? This is the pain the psalmist feels – his entire being is crying out for God.  How did you realize you were lost – was it a sudden flash of insight? Or was it a gradual realization, a small twinge that started so low it was unnoticeable at first? How do you recognize that you are feeling lost? What do you do when you are lost?

The temptation many have when they are feeling lost is to stay still – don’t make any changes, don’t move away. Just wait until something familiar comes along to help us find a new anchor in the world – something to help pull us out of the mire and muck. But what if nothing comes along to help us out – or what if we don’t recognize it when it goes by?

If we have someone who is with us, even if they are just as lost as we are, the befuddlement doesn’t seem quite so bad. That’s why a phone call from a friend can bring you out of a dip into depression. It is why a small act of kindness from a neighbor can mean so much to someone who is feeling lost.

Even when we do not have a friend with us, we are still not alone. Even in the depths of the most destructive despair, even when our faith has turned into faithlessness, God is still by our side. “Deep called to deep” says the psalmist. At the darkest, lowest points of our lives, God will still reach out and bring us back home. How will we know that God is reaching out, calling out to us, so that we can be found and saved again?

God has given us the tools to listen – prayer and Scripture, plus a wide variety of teachers and reminders of God’s love – preachers, Sunday School Teachers, friends, books, hymns – What a friend we have in Jesus, cries the hymn, and oh do I believe it! There are so many tools to use, everyone will have one they can find that will help them hear how God is bringing us back to the light.

What about something practical, that we can do right now? Here is a simple exercise, from Debora M Coty’s book Fear, Faith and a Fistful of Chocolate. When you are feeling paralyzed by fear or worry of being lost:

  1. Postpone worry or fear – have a worry notepad. When a worry or fear is stressing you out, jot it down on the pad.
  2. Transform worry into prayer – make a point to spend some time in prayer each day over the items on your pad.
  3. Rest in the Word – find a time each day to read the Scripture, listen to hymns or whatever tool works best for you to hear the message of God
  4. Exercise intentional gratitude – spend some time each day deliberately thinking about the blessings that are in your life.

You will get lost in your life and in your faith at times. The world throws too many obstacles in our paths for us not to get lost sometimes. But being lost in faith will not lose you permanently – God is still at our side at all times, even in the deep dark woods. God has given us the tools to realize that love is always beside us – we can practice our faith deliberately. A musician has to practice 10,000 hours before they are proficient in their instrument. A person has to speak 100s of hours before they are fluent in a new language. A person is not proficient in their faith in an instant. Accepting a faith promises many things – being saved, adoption into a church, transformation into a new life in Christ. It does not promise that we will be immediately perfect in our faith, however. Like the musician or the linguist, we must practice our faith. Then, when we do get lost, we will be able to use the skills we have learned to help us get through the dark woods.


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