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Archive for January, 2016


But [Jesus] passed through the crowd and went on his way.”  Luke 4:30b (CEB)

Jesus never seemed to have self-esteem issues.  He was confident in himself and in his mission, and he was able to face even his hometown crowd, trying to call them to accountability.  Their response?  Throw him off a cliff – get rid of him!  Even in his own hometown, people resisted his message.

Most of Jesus’ ministry was surrounded by controversy.  I mean, think about it.  He touched lepers, healed gentiles, talked with women, contradicted the religious leaders, defied or even revised some of the laws, loved little children, faced angry demons, and stood firm without flinching when people hurled angry questions and words at him. He knew who he was and stuck with it even in the face of death.

So, when I think about my own struggles with self-esteem when I was growing up and even lingering issues now as an adult who is nearing retirement, I wish I could be more confident and not let myself get in the way.  I do pretty well most of the time, and I DO have confidence a lot, especially in my work as a pastor, but there are always those moments that jump up to make me doubt myself.

Then, this week I learned that one of the teenage daughters of a friend of mine was having tremendous self-esteem issues to the point of trying to harm herself.  She is confused and struggling to figure out who she is.  She’s looking in a lot of not-so-great places to find affirmation, but what she is receiving is a host of mixed messages about what she “should” do and how she “should” feel.  That only confuses her more.  Her parents are working with her and counselor to get help for her.

My reaction was that, even though I never went that far (probably because we didn’t have social media), I understood the depression, fear, confusion, and bewilderment that goes with trying to figure out your purpose in life.

The pastor part of me wanted to figuratively “shake” her and say, “You are God’s precious child!  You have an identity!  God loves you!  I love you!  Now you need to love yourself!  Come on, snap out of it!” Unfortunately, I don’t have the right to say that to her, and I doubt that it would be very productive.

So, what do we do to help our children, teens, and even other adults see themselves as God does and love themselves so that they aren’t oppressed by lack of self-esteem.  How do we give them tools so they can move to a better place?  I’m not sure I have any real answers, but I believe we can start with prayer:  for the other person and for ourselves.  We can pray to be open to opportunities to say words that build up rather than tear down.  We can pray for God to give us chances to love, love, love that person.

There are no guarantees that even that will work.  However, we can be assured that the grace of God is with them, and maybe that’s the starting point.

Prayer:  Gracious God, heal, renew, restore, make whole.  Amen.


Can you go home?

When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger.  They rose up and ran him out of town.”  Luke 4:28-29a (CEB)

Luke 4:14-30 is the story about Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth where he goes into the synagogue and reads the scroll of Isaiah.  He then announces that the scripture had been fulfilled in him, meaning that he was the Messiah.  Oops . . .  that didn’t go over very well.

At first people were really impressed with how well their “hometown” boy had done.  Maybe they had forgotten about the questionable circumstances around his birth, but I grew up in a small town where people’s memories don’t fade and the stories go on and on and on.  So, I suspect that they somehow just felt that he had become too “big for his britches,” and the fame he had acquired had gone to his head.

He managed to offend them, and they ran him out of town.  I sometimes wonder if that would have happened in my hometown if I had come in as a famous preacher with lots of publications and awards.  Oh well, I guess I don’t have to worry about that!

What I DO know is, that when I go back to my little hometown to visit my family, everyone still sees me as the child I was when I lived there.  In their minds, I’m still the shy little girl who loved to sing, wear large twirly skirts, and who wore glasses way before anyone else my age did.  Many still call me “Debbie” which I no longer like or even tolerate, but how do you tell the older folks who are your parents’ age to stop calling you something they have called you for over sixty years?  You don’t.

Can you go home again?  Jesus certainly had trouble with it.  As it was, Nazareth didn’t particularly have a great reputation in the nation of Israel.  Philip wondered if anything good could come out of Nazareth.  It was a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, so Jesus would have been exposed to a wide variety of ideas and religious practices.  He was raised in a poor section of the town, and his family would have worked very hard to make a living.

Of course, we only have this one story about Jesus in his hometown, but I suspect he was home a lot because of his mother.  We can only speculate about Joseph because we don’t hear anything about him except for a few snatches, including the trip to Jerusalem where the twelve-year-old Jesus was in the temple talking to the religious leaders.  It would seem that Mary was a widow at some point after that, so Jesus, the oldest son, would have been responsible for her.  He may have moved her to Capernaum where they made their home and where he lived as his home base.  We don’t know.

Regardless, the less we can take away from Jesus’ return to Nazareth and his experience at the synagogue is that people who know us well don’t always appreciate who we have become.  I was raised in a staunch Republican household.  No one EVER considered voting for a democrat!  As I grew up, I realized that I wanted to vote for the person rather than the party, so I’m registered as an Independent in my state.  When I return to my hometown, I am reminded of the heavy Republican population, so I learned quickly to not get into political discussions (I was never good at debate!).

Most of the people assume I vote Republican, and when I have told them that I vote independently, they think I’ve become a radical liberal.  Hmm.  Maybe I have (at least in that context), and if I have, I definitely would not fit in with those in my hometown should I choose to move back there.  I guess my conclusion is that we can go home, and even though we have changed, we shouldn’t expect those who knew us “before” to see the changes.

So, we celebrate who we are, what we have learned growing up; we celebrate the gifts we were given as children, and we recognize that we don’t need to prove anything to anyone except maybe ourselves.  No matter where we are, God is with us – and with our hometowns, too.

What can we learn from our hometown?

How has your experience of “going home” been?

In what ways are you stronger because of your hometown?

Who Are You?

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:22b (NRSV)

After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the writer of Luke says that a voice from heaven spoke the words in the verse quoted above.  Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry, so his baptism was like an affirmation and sending forth.  In his baptism, he was named and claimed by God as God’s own beloved son.

There is truly nothing like a parent’s love for their child.  Most parents would do whatever they could to care for their children and protect them to the best of their ability.  My husband talks about the privilege of being there when his children were born and what a joy it was to be able to care for them. They are all grown now, but he still has great pride in them and would do whatever he could to help them.

God’s love for Jesus came in the amazing word “beloved.”  God rejoiced in the beloved son and sent him forth to spread the message of God’s love with others.  Jesus personified God to people – put flesh on God.  Jesus was touchable, tangible, and always teaching.

Good parenting includes being touchable, tangible, and always teaching.  Love encompasses both nurture and correction.  God’s love nurtures us and leads us, guides us, corrects us as we grow into the likeness of being God’s beloved child.

For years, I have invited folks in my congregations to put their name in the sentence, “__(name)__, your are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  I’m not sure how many actually do it.  I’m not sure how many really believe it.  I’m not sure how many are affected by it.  And I’m not sure how many develop a better understanding of God’s love because of putting their name there.

Whenever I put my name in that sentence, I’m reminded that I’m wonderfully and uniquely made in the image of God, as a special child of God, who has been blessed, named, and ordained in my baptism to live in this world as the vehicle for sharing God’s love with others.  It’s a ministry all of us have when we are baptized in Jesus’ name.

So, who are you?  Who is God calling you to be?  How is God calling you to live?  And how will you live it?

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