How is it with your soul?

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This week as we continue in our sermon series “Searching for Truth,” we will look at what the Apostle’s Creed says about sin and forgiveness. I don’t imagine many of you are jumping for joy as you consider these concepts of the Christian faith. For many of us these words make us cringe or want to run away and hide. So I thought I would start my prayer tip by telling you an embarrassing story about a time I didn’t live into God’s best for me. I hope this liberates you to be honest with yourself about areas or moments of separation from God in your own lives.

I was in high school and my little sister in middle school. As a high school student (and even now), I have always loved a good nap. One lazy weekend afternoon, I turned on my favorite TV show and drifted peacefully to sleep. Until, suddenly, I was rudely awakened. It felt as though an earthquake had hit, and it happened to have Taylor Swift songs blaring as its back-up music. Before you get alarmed, you should realize that once I was awake enough to get my bearings, I knew these obnoxious noises were coming from the basement, where my sister was running on the treadmill jamming to her favorite tunes. I asked her “kindly” (with the grumpiest spirit) to get off the treadmill and turn the music off. Nope–nothing. And who could blame her? She was exercising and jamming, both good and healthy things. So what did I do to my kid sister? I marched downstairs and shoved my sister off the treadmill. I hope none of you have experience with this, but it doesn’t produce pretty results. My poor sister, already walking through the awkward middle school years, was now scraped up from head-to-toe. She had the most pitiful tears coming from her eyes.

Why does this story get to me? You likely understand sibling quarrels, but this went way beyond that. I acted out of extreme selfishness with little concern for someone I love so much. My potential to cause harm was a huge wake-up call. Not only that, but this incident taught me a lot about the importance of self-awareness. So often we live with a sense of what I have heard called “hurry-sickness.” We rush around, hastily tackling the task at hand so we can move on to what is next. I don’t know about you, but at that pace, I push my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health to the side. In the story I just shared, I know my mind was full of anxious thoughts on replay, my anger had been growing inside me for weeks, my body was aching from a lack of sleep and I had been neglecting my prayer life. I never slowed down to realize just how bad things had gotten. I wasn’t even aware of all I was thinking, feeling, experiencing in my body or experiencing in my soul. So I exploded! The little steps I had taken away from God’s love and peace, intentionally or unintentionally, had mounted up, and I acted out.

So this is my prayer challenge for you this week. Take some time each day to sit in the presence of the Holy Spirit and check-in on yourself. Find a quiet place. Close your eyes. Pay attention to your physical self–do you have any aches or pains? Where in your body are you carrying tension? Then take time to tune in to your thoughts–what do you notice about them? Are there any unhealthy patterns? Focus on what you are feeling–anger, sadness, fear, jealously, hopelessness, etc? Finally, consider this: how is it with my soul? Do I feel close to God? Am I living faithfully? Know that whatever you find when you check-in is okay. You are normal. You are loved. Then take time to open yourself to all you have discovered of God’s love and care. Ask God to restore, renew and refresh you.

God, may our mindfulness allow us to have a more faithful walk with thee. Amen.

– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

Sunflowers

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I recently got to see one of the most wondrous sights (at least for a Kansas girl)—a field of a million sunflowers. If you haven’t visited or seen pictures of Ted Grinter’s sunflower farm,check out this news report. Better yet, the flowers may still be in bloom if you rush over this afternoon. My husband, mother, sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews enjoyed our Monday there. We all have a lot on our hearts and minds, but the flower field was so magnificent that for a moment we—along with hundreds of others—ooo-ed and ahhh-ed, played and felt at peace. We all left the fields feeling so refreshed.

The experience was striking to me especially after a week of listening to congregants’ stories. This week, like most weeks, I had the chance to hear stories that broke my heart and others that gave me hope. Some stories made me question God’s presence, and some assured me the Holy Spirit is at work. I had the honor of several folks with alcoholism sharing about the constant challenges they face—the darkness, loneliness, exhaustion, guilt, and temptation. I turned to the Alcoholics Anonymous Book to try to better understand their experience. The Holy Spirit drew my attention to the words of AA’s founder Bill Wilson. He wrote this about alcoholics (and, I believe, about all who struggle with hurts, habits and hang-ups): “I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just underneath there is deadly earnestness. Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.” For those of us walking through seasons of great pain, this statement rings so true. The amount of faith it takes us to get through each moment is astounding. And yet we too often judge or discard those we know who are at the end of their rope, believing they have little to offer.

At the sunflower field, folks from all over gathered, with different life stories and challenges, but for a moment, the glory of the sunflowers brought them together. People, in some small way, found common ground. All was well. I believe this is how the church is supposed to be. As we come together, in the glory of the Lord, we are free to come as we are, and find common ground. God’s glory fills our hearts with grace, and everyone’s “okayness” in God’s glory is apparent. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” This is our calling as we seek to be the church.

One thing this means to me is that the church should never be a place where people feel they have to be perfect. It’s a place where we come just as we are to experience God. I read this from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: “He or she who loves his or her dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” If (like me) you often wish the church was something different or more, I challenge you to focus your energy on recognizing the God of Glory’s work in the church just as it is. Focus on the faithfulness all people are seeking to live into, regardless of their challenges. Celebrate evidence of God’s good work, even in an imperfect church and all of us, the imperfect people who make it up.

This week, every time you see a Kansas Sunflower (along the highway, in your back yard, etc.), pray for someone you know who is facing darkness. Pray that they would know they are loved. Pray that they would know they belong. Pray that they would know that they are okay—both in your eyes and God’s. Welcome them (literally, if possible, or figuratively) into the Church.

– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

Prayers for the School Year

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Prayer Tip:

In this sermon series, we will examine what we believe as Christians and why. As we prepare to dig into our faith, many in our community are also digging into their education with the start of school. This week, will you joining me in praying for the start of this school year?

A Liturgy for the Beginning of the School Year
We remember that God has promised to journey with us in all of life—school is no exception. Knowing this, we approach the school year with prayer. Lord, hear our specific prayers for…

The teachers in our community…
The kids in our community…
The parents in our community…
Our partner schools and the teachers, kids and parents there…Those who don’t have access to an education…

A Prayer For Teachers to pray:
We have a call to teach and have responded to that call.
We teach, trusting God’s promises to support, sustain and encourage us
through gifts sufficient for the task.
We teach, relying on prayer and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We teach, guiding others as they gain wisdom and knowledge.
We teach, depending on our community to uphold us in this task.

We pledge ourselves to pray for each other
and for the education of the students in our care.
We pledge ourselves to enable, encourage and love each other.
We pledge ourselves to be learners with our students this school year.
May we be the hands of Christ in our classrooms.
-Adapted from the United Methodist Book of Worship #601

A Prayer For Kids to pray:
Dear Lord, help me use my eyes to see new friends. Open my ears to hear my teacher. Open my mind to learn new things. Let my heart remember You are near when I’m afraid. Help me to love others like you do. I want to shine your light so bright in my school. Amen.
-Courtney DeFeo

A Prayer For Parents to pray:
As you head off to school today, this is what I’m praying for you:
I’m praying that your day will go smoothly—that your locker will open, you’ll get to class on time, you won’t forget anything, and you’ll find friends in your classes.
I’m praying that your teachers will know how to teach you in a way that you will love to learn.
I’m praying that you’ll make loyal friends who can make you laugh and make you better.
I’m praying that you’ll have the opportunity to be the light of Jesus to someone.
I’m praying that you will always be kind, even in the face of conflict or disagreement.
I’m praying that you will seek out the new or lonely person and help them find their place.
I’m praying that you’ll learn to be a leader.
I’m praying that you’ll do everything to the best of your ability—even when you don’t want to.
I’m praying that you will be focused on the things your teachers are trying to teach you.
I’m praying that you’ll have confidence from knowing you are a child of God.
I’m praying that if things go wrong, you’ll always remember that God loves you and so do we.
I’m praying that you’ll laugh a lot during your day.
I’m praying that you will follow in Jesus’ footsteps and grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
I’m praying that this year will be filled with learning, growth, joy and fun.
Have a great year!
A Back to School Prayer from Godvine

Students and parents, know that as you journey through the school year, you are never alone. God goes with you in all things. And we are always here for you in Congregational Care as well.

-Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier, Pastor of Prayer

Father’s Day 2015

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You may or may not know this about me, but I am the oldest of three girls. I love my little sisters deeply—they have grown into some of the coolest young women I know; they are my best friends. This being said, in one area of my life, they are my archenemies. You see, growing up in the Ebling household (let’s be honest, even now) there was an ongoing competition to be dad’s favorite. We even have a label for this oh-so-important standing: the “FC” (Favorite Child). Now most of the parents out there know that my dad isn’t doling out this award, he always says “I love you all the same.” This doesn’t stop us from coming up with reasons as for why we are certain, secretly we are his favorite. For example, when you mow the lawn, you get five points. When you get married, you lose 50 points. You get the idea…

It seems silly that we joke about this now that we are young adults but my sisters and I have always just though my dad is the coolest. He has demonstrated so well how to live with integrity, how to walk humbly, how to be a loyal human being and how to love your neighbor as you love yourself. When we were little, my sisters and I craved spending time with him. We observed the quiet but strong example of faith he set each week when he took us to get donuts that we gobbled up when counted trains at the railroad tracks, when we went fishing at the creek with him in the summertime, when we had daddy/daughter movie days and when he whipped up cream cheese and peanut butter crackers, with a side of Mac N’ Cheese and hotdogs for us.

There are special people in our life we feel we just can’t learn enough from. I mean my sisters and I begged for my dad to teach how to mow the lawn!?!?! Being assigned this chore for the first time was the crowning glory! As you all read this, my respect for my dad might remind you of your relationship with your own father, a father figure, a dear friend, a special family member or perhaps your mom.

In thinking about the way we crave the time of such people in our lives, I was convicted. Listen to Psalms 25:4-5:

4 Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. 5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

Do we take enough time to sit at the feet of Jesus to listen and learn his ways? May God transforms us into people who are zealous for God and by extension, prayer. Amen.

-Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

Spiritual Disciplines – June 7, 2015

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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to preach at Resurrection West. After my sermon, I went outside to get some fresh air and I found 5 really kind kiddos having a blast playing together. When I asked them what they were playing they went on to explain all sorts of things about chocolate and lava and monsters. I asked them how to play and they looked at me, an “old” pastor and said something along the lines of: “You just kinda do.”

Do you remember the glory days? There is something so fun about playing games without the rules – at least at first, but at some point the game gets messy. The rules of a game have a purpose. In the game of baseball, for instance, once you know the rules, you see the beautiful dance, the masterful athleticism, and the respectable integrity out on the field.

This week as we talk about discipline and practice in baseball and in faith, I want to challenge you to pray about the “unspoken” rules that guide your life. St. Benedict, a monk, started the tradition long ago of having those living in the monastery live by a common rule of life. This week I want you to pray and work on forming your own rule of life—something that will help you remember to practice spiritual disciplines. As you do so, I want you to remember this isn’t about making pointless rules, but instead “A rule for life offers unique and regular rhythms that free and open each person to the will and presence of God.” (Calhoun, 35) I borrowed the tips on “Writing a Rule” from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.

  1. When and where do you feel closest to God? How do you enter most deeply into an awareness of his love for you? Pay attention to the experience practice and relationships that draw you toward God. Are there any particular practices that open you up to God? Are there any practices that seem to stymie you?
  2. What is most important to you? What gives you a sense of security and self-worth? What would people who know you best say it’s like to live and work with you> Where do your relationships need attention? Who do you want to become? What receives the most attention in your life? Your partner? Job? Family? Friends? Hobbies?
  3. What do you currently do to realize your goals and longing? Work? Study? Pray? Network? Socialize? Diet? Work out? Which of these things hinder or help your spiritual journey?
  4. What practices suit your daily, monthly and yearly rhythms and cycles? What limitations are built into your life at the moment? What longing remain steady throughout? What responsibilities and rhythms change with various seasons?
  5. Where do you want to change? Where do you feel powerless to change? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you do through grace what you cannot do through effort alone.
  6. Choose several disciplines that arise from your desire for God’s transforming work and that suit the limits and realities of your life. Begin your practice.”

So, the question is, what spiritual disciplines is God calling you to now? How can you get your head in God’s game?

-Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

I Can Do All Things….May 31, 2015

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Growing up I was a tomboy. I still am.

In kindergarten, I decided (and loudly declared) I was the best athlete that ever lived. I would tell all my classmates on the bus ride home, “I will even prove it to you! You aren’t even good enough competition for me…send your older brother over.” Luckily, no one ever took me up on my offer, but I figured it was because they were scared.

My family likely nurtured my sense that I was an all-star. We would often play family backyard baseball. I developed an unwavering belief I would be the winner. I would envision hitting a homerun—then nail it. I was the best! (Apart from a homer by dad, I was.) I mean, my competition was my little sisters (one of them a toddler at the time) and my mom, who has an uncanny ability, even to this day, to hit the ball backwards.

As an adult, I have assumed that my athletic illusions of grandeur have worn off. A few weeks ago, I realized they are ever-present. I got it in my head that I was excellent at bowling. I told my husband tales of how wonderful I used to be and I confidently challenged him to a game. I lost miserably (my score was in the 30s), yet part of me still believes I was just having an off day.

In all reality, I am a decent athlete. I played basketball for a time in high school, and in college and seminary I took up hiking and biking. But I have never been the best—or even close to it. In all honesty, those of you who know me know I am particularly clumsy and prone to injury. So how in the world do I continue to have this belief I am invincible?

 I can’t argue that my “invincibility complex” is healthy. Now that you know my little secret, you are welcome to give me a hard time about it. What sticks out to me is how it has allowed me to really believe in myself, to believe in the unbelievable, to believe in spite of the current realities. Somehow, baseball, allows us to do this—to root for our team regardless of their record, to cheer for the underdogs, to have hope for the next game/season/year. Baseball helps us get in touch with this magical ability we have to believe.

This week, I challenge you to think about what it would look like to have this much belief, this much faith, this much hope in the game of life. In prayer, offer God an area in which you feel defeated, discouraged, in which the odds are against you, and ask God to renew your sense of belief in the love and power of God. Pray too, that God would give you a confidence, not one that comes from pride, but one that comes from a belief that God is at work in and through you. Perhaps you can read and reflect on the words of Philippians 4:13 as you spend time in prayer:  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. My prayer is that in this, we will start seeing the magical things God is up to in our lives.

– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

Lessons from Nature

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Prayer Tip:

This week in worship we will be exploring the question: How can we know God’s will for our lives? The fancy word for trying to figure out what God is leading us to is “discernment.” Discernment is a difficult thing, especially because it can take so much time!

I don’t know about you all, but I often struggle with patience. I love this old FedEx commercial because I think it captures what a fast-paced world that we live in. Take a look.

This week, was Earth Day. Apart from Jesus, nature is my favorite teacher. I love this quote from poet and naturalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. He writes: “Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience.”

Nature has taught me a lot about the type of patience required in discernment. A few years ago, for instance, I set out to start a garden. I nurtured my seeds into fragile little seedlings over the course of a few weeks and I was filled with joy when it came time to plant them. Unfortunately, the morning after I had planted, I went out to check on the garden, only to find that a squirrel (the “evil one”) had snatched up my seedlings. The only problem was I couldn’t be sure if the little booger had taken all of my plants, so I tended and watered the soil as if something might be within it.

James 5:7-8, talks about this sort of waiting: “Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

As Christians, I believe we have a calling to learn to wait patiently in hope. There are so many areas in our lives that look like the fallow soil in my garden. We don’t know if anything will come up. All we can do is wait carefully and patiently.

There are so many situations in which we just don’t know the future. Take these for instance: Will the treatment work? Will I be able to find a job? Will I find a partner? Will our marriage work? Will our baby be healthy? Will my granddaughter make good choices? Will we ever get along again? Will I ever see him/her again? Will today be a good day? Will I make the right choice? Will I make a difference? Will the darkness ever pass?

In mid-late summer, I started noticing new growths in my garden, a bell-pepper plant or two, 2-3 carrots, 5-6 radishes and what I didn’t expect, little oak tree seedlings. The new life that came up wasn’t as illustrious as I had hoped for, but after a spring of waiting and hoping, the fruit of my garden brought me more joy than I could have expected.

I say all of this to inspire and challenge you towards prayer this week. What is an area in which you are discouraged by uncertainty? Commit the situation or the question that overwhelms you to God in prayer. Practice waiting upon God’s faithfulness, understanding that the new life God might bring may be unexpected, but will be good.

– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

 

 

Mandala

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For those of you who were in worship this last Saturday night, you probably heard me share a bit about my recent vacation to Georgia. My awesome husband and I journeyed to Atlanta to spend time with my sister and brother-in-law. We spent the week hiking in the mountains, watching movies and eating fantastic food. They are in seminary and my husband and I are both pastors, so we were all so thankful for a spring break. The trip was so refreshing! As we were on our way back to Kansas, though, my husband Andy and I both started weeping. Car rides provide a lot of great time to talk and in our conversations we unpacked a seasons worth of reflections – our dreams, heartaches, joys, fears, doubts and concerns for others. I thought it was so strange that our reflection happened at the end of the trip until I stepped back and thought a bit more about it. I think it took both Andy and I being willing to step back from the busynes s of our lives to actually look at and deal with our feelings. This is so important because when we are able to reflect on our feelings, I think it becomes easier for us to see where God has been/is/will be at work in our lives.

So this is my challenge to you this week and I think it works perfectly in the season of Lent—a time of reflection. Do your best to step back from the busyness of life – for 10 minutes, for an hour, for the afternoon, for a week and be honest with yourself and God about your raw emotions. Invite God into the places that even you are afraid to go.

For some of us this is really hard (myself included), so I have included a Mandala. Mandalas are basically glorified coloring sheets with patterns that are repetitive. They contribute to our spiritual discipline insofar as they allow our minds to detach and also concentrate simultaneously – this is often the place where I can be more in touch with what is going on within me and what God is communicating to me. After you have been coloring for a while, my hope is that you can go to God in prayer with a greater sense of awareness of the God of love. [Download the Mandala here]

Peace to you,

– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier, Pastor

Why?

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Why, God? Why? I believe this is a question we find ourselves asking often over the course of our lives. Why do we have to endure losing a loved one? Why are our bodies so susceptible to illness? Why do people go hungry? Why do we have to face tragedy? Why is there so much discord and hate in the world? Ultimately we are asking: Why do human beings have to experience so much loss and pain?

Pastor Adam will be helping us think about these pressing questions in a sermon series after Easter. They come to mind again and again. But during Lent, I find that there is a lot of talk about what disciplines we can give up or take on to honor God as we prepare for Easter. So often, though, I forget that this season of Lent is a time for us to remember our fragility—a common human experience. I believe Jesus, whose life and death we focus on in anticipation of Easter, helps us come to grips with both the deepest pains and the highest joys. I believe Jesus often asked the “Why?” question.

Often during Lent, as I try to open my heart to God anew, I find that I have let my questions and doubts color my understanding of God. I have forgotten that the God we follow is a God of love. I need God’s love revealed in Jesus to give me a fuller picture of who God is. In 1 John 4:9-11, we read of God’s great love:”This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” So this Lenten week, I challenge you to think about how you can seek healing, and ready your heart for Easter, by inviting the Spirit to help see God’s love for you anew. All of this so that when Easter comes, we can rejoice in our loving God!

Matthew, Sheila, and Dennis Linn, authors of Simple Ways to Pray for Healing offer this “Prayer Process”:

1.    Close your eyes and breathe deeply, breathing in the love of God that surrounds you.

2.    See the faces of the one or two people who have loved you the most. Breathe in the special gift of each person, such as gentleness, loyalty, listening, wisdom, etc.

3.    Take a moment to be with God as you understand God and appreciate how God loves you in these same ways.

4.    If there is any way you can’t experience God as loving you at least as much as the person who loves you most, be with your hurt and longing. Breathe in God’s love and let God love you just as you are.

-Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier, Pastor of Prayer

God’s Great Works in the Ordinary

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I have spent a lot of my life just waiting around for God to show up, to make things so obvious, I can’t avoid responding. Now, God certainly does work this way in the world but for most people many days seem pretty ordinary. Can any of you all relate to this?

For a long time I despised the ordinary. I wanted the drama of a burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, a visit from the angel of the Lord, a wakeup call from God’s “thundering” voice and a special invitation to “Follow Me” from Jesus (—in person of course). How awesome would that be?

A couple summers ago, though, my ideas about how God teaches us and gives us vision changed. I spent the summer living and working at Koinonia Farm in Georgia. There, I met an African Methodist Episcopal preacher named Norris Harris. Norris grew up in rural Georgia and has a way of seeing things in a refreshingly simple, yet extraordinarily wise way.

One day, Norris took me out to the pecan tree orchard and said to me, “Pick anything you see in nature and I can promise God is teaching us something through it.” He went on to teach me about the lessons we can learn from the trees, the sunrise, the bees, the grass, etc. I had been studying really hard in seminary, trying to figure out and to experience God’s wonders, but Norris was the best teacher I ever had—he helped me realize that I was missing the wonders right in front of me.

That summer I was reminded that God is constantly teaching and giving us visions, we just have to remember that this world we are living in is Gods and walk through each day reverently. Author Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “Reverence requires a certain pace. It requires a willingness to take detours, even side trips, which are not part of the original plan.” (An Altar in the World, 24)
So my prayer challenge to you all this week is that you open each day with this prayer and then to pay attention to God’s great works in the ordinary.

Amazing God-
I believe that you are at work in the world, doing tremendous things.
Today, I pray that you would give me the faith to follow the Spirit rather than my own agenda
Give me the eyes to see that you are ever-present in the seemingly ordinary parts of life.
Amen.

-Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier


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