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Archive for June, 2006

Loving God, we know there are tremendous problems facing the world – natural disasters, civil wars, violence, disparities in resources, and sickness. We confess that there are days when we look the other way, change the channel, or pretend the problems don’t exist. We say that the problem is someone else’s concern or displace the blame. We are not confident that we can make an impact and we fear failure for ourselves on the behalf of others. We might even think that moving to make a difference will change us in ways that we will not like or make us uncomfortable. Before we even begin, we desire to give up – on our opponents and on the victims.

Forgive us for our faint-heartedness and selfishness, for failing to love others as we should, and for failing to believe that you have empowered us to protect our brothers and sisters.

Remind us, Holy One, that some faithful persons refused to give up on us, and that You have not given up on any of us. AMEN

A Prayer from the Save Darfur Campaign.

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What I Believe

"What I believe is not what I say I believe. What I believe is what I do." 
  Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz.

Ouch. If the above statement is truth then I believe:

  • my needs often come above the needs of others.
  • my time is more important than other people’s time.
  • God didn’t make me beautiful enough on the outside.
  • someone else will take care of the violence in Darfur.
  • it is enough to feel hurt for people.  Doing something to actually help is optional.
  • my life is my own.
  • I don’t need others.
  • food can make you feel better.
  • I can do a better job planning my own life than God.
  • God does not keep his promises.

Tonight there is a disappointing reflection staring back at me in the mirror.  I’m seeing some wrinkles and age spots I’ve not seen before under the light of this quote. I could stand here for a long time picking apart my reflection, cursing every blemish present but as I stare with a saddened and shamed heart, the transparent reflection of Christ begins to appear over my own face.  His beautiful eyes, staring back at me, are deep oceans of compassion and grace. I cannot look away.  What is it that I see in the depths of His eyes? Understanding?  Forgiveness?  Love?  Belief in me?   

I am so fixated on His beautiful face that I lose sight of my blemishes and wrinkles for a moment.  They are still there, of course, but they all but vanish from my sight.  I fix my gaze on Him and I’m not distracted by my humanness and failures. 

Don’t look down, Melissa.  Just look into His eyes and go forward.

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June 25th Sermon

“Why Can’t You Trust Me?”

Mark 4:35-41
Rev. Melissa Hatfield

There are times in life when we are a little bit glad to hear of other people’s failures.  Come on – let’s be honest.   If we can’t be honest in church, where can we be?   There are times when looking at some peoples failures makes you feel better about your own failures.

Like the time you make a major mistake and completely flub something up and then find out a day later that your friend did something even more embarassing than you did.  Most of us do an internal “phew – at least I didn’t do that” when we hear the news.

When I read this passage in Mark and I think about it a little bit, it is tempting to use it to justify my own lack of trust in God sometimes.   Let me share with you how this justification goes.

Let’s talk about everything these guys had seen up to this time where they are in the boat with Jesus and the major storm comes up.  This story is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and by comparing all three we can find out a lot of what the disciples time with Jesus had been like up to this moment.  It hadn’t been long, they were still figuring out who He really was, saw him more as a very amazing Rabbi than the Savior of the world, but they had seen some amazing things with their own eyes.

  • Jesus had personally recruited each of them to come follow him and be fishers of men.  Jesus was so incredibly persuasive that they did – they left everything they knew and loved and followed this guy that they barely knew.
  • They had traveled miles with Jesus and had witnessed Christ working miracle after miracle.  Healing the sick, giving sight to the blind. (Luke 7:21-23)
  • The disciples had witnessed Christ healing the slave of a Roman Captain in Capernaum just based on the deep faith of the captain.
  • They were eye witnesses to Jesus raising a mother’s only son from the dead.
  • Matt. 8 tells us that Jesus even healed Peter’s mother-in-law.   Come on – if you were with a guy that healed your mother-in-law, you wouldn’t forget that, would you?  You’d always be dropping a friendly reminder in front of her at family dinners about how your friend, Jesus, healed her so she’d better be nice to you or stop making comments about how you ruined her daughter’s life. Or maybe you wouldn’t forget it because you were a little peeved that Jesus actually healed her.  I’m sure that second one isn’t true at all.
  • The verse right before our passage today, Mark 4:34, tells us that the disciples even got free small-group tutoring by Jesus regarding his parables and preaching.   V. 34 “When Jesus was alone with the disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots . . .”

So, If twelve guys who hung out with Jesus all the time; who saw all these things including a man get up out of his coffin simply by Jesus touching it; and ended most nights with bedtime stories with Jesus, then I shouldn’t feel so bad that I fail to trust God.  Right? 

You would think the disciples would trust Jesus completely with no hesitations after all of these things.  But it is much easier to trust from the shore rather than when you are in the boat and you’re knee deep in water and things don’t look good.  Well . . that’s when most of us, and the disciples as well, turn to a state of panic and desperation and cry out to God, “Don’t you even care that we’re going down?  Don’t you care?”

When I first began studying this passage in preparation for today’s sermon, I was really struck with how odd this question seems to be.  Why not say, “Jesus! Get up, here’s a bucket, start bailing.”  or “Jesus! Grab a life jacket. We’re going down.”   That seems like a more appropriate thing to say in the middle of panicked moment.   Think if you were on a boat with family and you were taking a nap down below oblivious to a storm brewing outside.  Your son or your daughter comes down, shakes you awake and the first words out of his or her mouth is “Don’t you care that we’re going down?”  See how odd that is? 

After you got over the initial shock of the moment and things were under control,  for most of us the first thing we would want to address, the thing that had burned our heart as we held onto it during the chaos would be “How could my son or daughter think I don’t care?”  How heartbroken you would be that they would even entertain the thought that you didn’t care.

I wonder if Jesus felt the same way when the disciples cried out to him “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”    Even after all they had witnessed, all they had seen that had given them strong evidence of the love and compassion of Jesus, they didn’t have faith. 

“Phew – at least we’re not that bad.  Right?”   At least we’ve never cried out to Jesus in the midst of our storms “Don’t you care God?”  “Why don’t you do something?”   Oh, wait . . . I said at the beginning that we were going to be honest, didn’t I?

Okay, then, yes – I panic.   Even though I know God loves me and He has never failed me, I still question God’s care for me by the way I don’t trust Him.   Trust is difficult for me anyway and trusting God is no exception.

I had a dream once.  A dream during a time when I was really struggling with God over trust issues. 

I dreamt that I was standing on the edge of a gorge like the one displayed on the screens.  I was standing on the edge and there was a large cloud out in the middle hovering over the gorge.  I heard God’s voice call out to me from the cloud saying “Jump out to me, Melissa.  I’ll catch you.”    I looked down (they always tell you never to look down) but I did.  And I replied, “God, I love you.  I really love you but I can’t jump out to you.”

Another night I had the same dream but this time the sky was little darker and the wind was stronger.  As I stood at the edge of that gorge, I heard God’s voice again say “Jump out to me, Melissa.  I’ll catch you.”  This time I was feeling something pulling me towards the cloud and I wanted to go with it but I was afraid. “ God, I love you.  I really do but I can’t jump out to you.  I don’t believe you will catch me.”

Another night I had the same dream again but this time it was like being in the core of a tornado.  The wind was so strong pulling me in the direction of the cloud that I had inched away from the edge of the gorge and had wrapped my arms around a tree stump.   Once again I heard from the cloud, “Jump out to me, Melissa.  I’ll catch you.”  My fingers were bleeding as I fought to keep my grip on that stump.  I was getting tired from the battle between my heart which really wanted to trust and my mind which out of fear was telling me not to.   I started trying to remove my fingers from the stump one at a time but couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t figure out how to do it, I was scared of what would happen if I did.

Finally, in absolute exhaustion, I gave up.  I couldn’t look at him as I asked this question through tears, “God, will you come over and get me?”  At that very moment, the storm ceased, God came over, freed me from my grip and carried me safely over the gorge in the cloud where I rested in the presence of God.

That is a very special dream to me.  A powerful dream that I will never forget where God demonstrated for me in a very real way that I can and should trust him.  He will catch me.  He won’t fail me.

As powerful and special and real as that experience was for me, you would think that I would never stand on the edge again.  You’d think I would just stay in the cloud or at the very least, if I found myself back on the edge of the gorge, I would jump off like a kid at the edge of Memorial Pool on a hot summer day.

I often find myself back on the edge, looking over, and feeling like a kid  attempting their first jump off a diving board.  All their friends are cheering them on from below, counting down with them, “1, 2, 3” and the kid is still on the diving board.     I have to do a lot of self-talk to remind myself, “Melissa, God will catch you.  He has.  He will.  Trust Him.  Jump.”   Sometimes I do,   Sometimes I don’t.

I think when those moments come up at storms in my life, God looks at me and says “Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”  Why can’t you trust me? 

What should the disciples have asked or done?  Is the more appropriate question for them to have asked, “Jesus.  Wake up.  Will you please calm the storm?” or does that too imply that they don’t trust God to take care of them. 

I think Jesus wants us to take it a major step further.  Instead of needing Jesus to do anything, Jesus invites us to rest in him and with him.  With Jesus resting in their midst, the disciples were perfectly safe in the storm.  They just didn’t realize it and their humanness wouldn’t let them trust that despite all the chaos around them, Jesus would remain with them and see them through to the other side.

Peace. Be still.  Jesus’ words to the disciples and us as much as it was to the storm.

Peace. Be still.  Why can’t you trust me?

Before we walk out of here too defeated and thinking what hope do I have to trust God if the disciples couldn’t, let me remind you of the truth of Scripture.

Fortunately, Christ seemed to know that he would have to cover the same ground with the disciples and the crowds over and over again. Parable after parable seem to cover the same material, they seem to convey the same messages to them and to us. Jesus told them again and again about God’s love and about what Jesus would have to do in order to show God’s love. Jesus would go around the lessons with them again and again, helping them to become faithful servants.

Have you still no faith? Fear not, God is a patient teacher, who will stay the course with us. Let us put our trust in our parent, our creator, our teacher. God will not leave us alone on the stormy waters and God will not fail to catch us even if we struggle to trust that he will.

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My friend, Charles, presented a great idea.  I shared yesterday about my asking complete strangers (or friends I hadn’t met yet) two questions:  his or her greatest dream and greatest fear.

So, I invite you, all who pop onto MelissaHatfield.com, you lurkers out there who never or rarely leave a comment ….  share with us your greatest dream and your greatest fear.

My greatest fear: to waste my life on ideas and pursuits that don’t really matter
My greatest dream: to reveal the kingdom of God more than I obscure it

So… what are your answers, my friends?

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Each week I meet with some college students and this summer we are doing a book study on Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz.  It provides some great discussion for us on non-religious thoughts on faith.  By that,  I mean the text helps move us to think upon relationships, not religion.  Our relationship with God and with others.  It is very challenging and encouraging and convincting and well . . . you get the gist.

Our assignment this past week was to walk up to people that we normally wouldn’t talk with and ask them to share either their greatest fear or their greatest dream and then we were to take a picture with them.  I met three ladies of varying ages in my quest to complete the assignment.  It was a great challenge.  It was uncomfortable.  Would they think I’m a freak?  I even made sure to say that I was part of a book study, not Bible study, so they wouldn’t worry that I was one of those in-your-face Christians that unfortunately seem to be the poster children for Christianity. 

But in engaging these assignments I made connections with three friends I hadn’t met yet.  On any normal day where I wasn’t intentional about practicing the presence of people, I would not have given them much thought.  And I most certainly wouldn’t know what I know now about them- their greatest fears and their greatest dreams.  Complete strangers sharing intimate secrets.  Vulnerability is so rare these days – even among folks who would not be classified as strangers by certain standards such as our family or co-workers.  Yet we are strangers in many ways because we are not vulnerable with one another.  I would venture to say that it is probably easier for us to be vulnerable with strangers who we think we’ll never see again.  They are less likely to rat us out.  Less likely to wound us if they fail to handle our secrets with tenderness and care.

I thank these ladies for playing along with me and being real.  It was a highlight of my day to connect with them in such a deep and real way.  There simply isn’t enough of this real vulnerability in our world today. And especially not in our churches. Which is sad and not very much like a place where God reigns.

So, are you wondering what they said was their fears and dreams?  I hope so.  I pray you gave them enough thought as you read this that you cared to know. 

  • One young lady named Katy said her greatest dream is to own a horse farm. 
  • Lisa said her greatest fear is being disabled.
  • And the third lady who didn’t share her name with me said her greatest dream is to travel the world.  Her greatest fear is to go blind.  She is an artist who paints and blindness would rob her of that joy.

See what I mean?  What a great day!  I can’t believe I miss these kinds of conversations with friends I haven’t met yet.   

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Chewing

Chewing

I’m working on my sermon for this Sunday and chewing on the Gospel lectionary text – Mark 4:35-41.  This is that great little tale of Jesus taking a nap in the boat while the disciples are fighting a huge storm.

When I prep for a sermon, I read the text over and over again – from a variety of translations and paraphrases – so that I can just  chew on it and see where God strikes my taste buds.

The last couple of days I can’t seem to get past the question that the disciples ask Jesus when they rudely awaken him from his nap. Picture it – there is a storm all about you, you think your boat is going down, your worried and ready to cry "oops I crapped my pants" and you see Jesus sleeping.  You rush over to him and scream "don’t you care that we’re going down?".   

I don’t know.  It just really strikes me as an odd first question in the midst of the panic.  Why not?  "Get up, Jesus.  Grab a life jacket." or "Jesus, wake up.  Here’s a bucket.  Start bailing".  I’m not sure where it will go but I"ve learned enough to know that I need to follow the scent for awhile to see what I discovered.

What I do know I’ll find for sure is a little "touche".   God always does that with me.  I usually travel with my nose to the ground and run smack into a mirror.  Usually stings a little too.

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Miller Light

I’m listening to a sermon by Donald Miller that a new friend of mine sent to me and it is a great message. Miller is the author of "Blue Like Jazz" and "Searching for God Knows What".  Miller is such a great communicator and makes you feel like you are good buddies sitting around over coffee chatting about God, life, faith, religion, movies, music, vintage SNL skits.  It’s Miller Light – where Miller sheds light on things.

His perspectives on scripture and his relationship with God are so authentic and real.  I think his words resonate with so many of us and he has had the courage to say it out loud.  I wonder why I don’t.  Why does it require courage? Part of it is that I don’t want to hurt or trouble people or make them uncomfortable. That tough love is hard for me.  I believe in it completely but it is very, very difficult for me. But the bigger issue is that I don’t want to be wrong.  I want to have it figured out before I say it out loud.  The very ironic thing about it is that I think that our journey with God rarely resolves (like jazz music as Miller relates) and I like that.  It makes me feel safe.  It makes God more believable to me.  When it all is neat and tidy, I worry and I doubt.  Because I really don’t think it can be neat and tidy.  But I want to be absolutely right about there not being very many right answers before I state that out loud.  Are you getting that?  Do you see how insane that line of thinking is? 

God is bigger than so many things that we stop short on.  We get short-sighted and completely miss so much of what is beautiful and what is important.  I do not want to spend my life perpetuating things that don’t matter; working to bolster traditions that distract; hiding thoughts that challenge what I’ve done.

We all struggle to leave sight of the shore.  New discoveries can  never be made if we aren’t willing to take off on a new adventure of discovery.

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