Pray, Praise, Serve


Our Pastor Paul is retiring. Last Sunday he gave his last official sermon. He was just back from Africa and he told us about the resiliency and gratitude of the folks from Tanzania. He told us of the tremendous hardships they have endured. He told how he asked the one of the Christian radio leaders how he kept going and going under the terrible circumstances. The radio worker replied that he stuck to three words: pray, praise and service. Pray for guidance, praise the Lord, and serve man.

The elephant in the room of course, is that this also describes Easter’s own leader, Paul himself. It could have been a sermon about himself.

The fourteen years that I have known Pastor Paul? They started with Calvin’s baptism. Pastor lifted Calvin’s little baby body high above his head at the alter–symbolically offering Calvin to the Lord, and simultaneiously scaring me to death–in that new mother sort of way.

Pray, praise, and service. Really that is the central theme of Pastor Paul’s life. When I think of service to man, I think of Paul.

I will miss his sermons. But not really–because I actually remember almost every single one and there are a dozen of which I could rewrite the outline. The sermon the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I don’t remember the year. . . well actually it was 2002. . .the catch line. . . was “heaven is not a place of leisure.” God has us here to serve. And that might put us out of our comfort zone, again, and again, and again.

He can stand up and say those works to the suburban congregation because Pastor Paul put his money where his mouth is. Most of that money and those mouths being in Tanzania.

Pastor Paul’s sermons have pushed me out of my own comfort zone more than once. Heaven is not a place of leisure. Heaven is a place of service. And it’s right here.

Pastor Paul is facing some of his own challenges with his health. So, he’s in our prayers. I remember a lecture series he gave on resiliency. I still have the notes tucked in my Bible. Pastor Paul is a resilient man. He knows all about that.

Prayer. Praise. Service. God wants us out of our comfort zone. Resiliency.

Thank you for living all those words and blessings on your retirement, Pastor Paul.

Finding Faith with Ferns and the Fibonacci Sequence

D7K_5095D7K_5088 D7K_5100 D7K_5104My grandpa Stephens used to say that he found the dividing line between church and nature elusive. Though he was a faithful Methodist he found it easier to connect with God in the field than in the pew. He saw God best in God’s own handiwork.

I can go there, and I would add music, to that list of the unmistakable proofs of a loving and all powerful creator. Did you know that the mathematical ratio of numbers that creates the spirals found in the springtime fern frond is the same mathematical ratio of the harmonic series of pitches that is the foundation of all tonal harmony? In other words–the scientific system for the scales and chords that has been the building block of music from Bach to u2 is the same formula found in the spiral shells on the beach. That is no cosmic accident. Look up the fibonacci sequence.

Music, ferns, shells, hosta plants and lilacs–the fingerprints of God are everywhere. Add in the fact that a composer like Mozart can take those scientific ratios and create music that touches our souls, and I don’t know how there could be an atheist left in the room.

Did you know there are pine trees in Montana that only release their seeds in the heat of a terrible fire? God loves and protects what God made. And those pinecones? In the shape of the fibonacci sequence.

God must have had so much fun creating. And he must be so smart, to align the planets with the music and the ferns.

When I’m feeling small and wondering if there could possibly be a God out there who knows us by name and cares about the fall of the sparrow–I think about Beethoven and Bach and ferns and the way even our bones share the same fibonacci ratios–and I feel more confident that the answer is yes.

“Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, had been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”  Romans 1:20.

I’m still gonna go to church faithfully, but when spring comes I’ll probably spend at least one Sunday morning in the church of the garden. I’ll listen to the message of the ferns and the fibonacci sequence which is almost as good as an Easter pastor’s sermon.

Sara Stephens Kotrba

My Life Goes On in Endless Song

Since I am a pianist it probably won’t surprise you that music is at the foundation of my faith. Just the idea that God takes different vibrations and turns them into pitches–which create a musical language, which expresses emotion–bolsters my faith. Add inspirational text, for example Handel’s Messiah, and suddenly you have a complete miracle. Music is no accident of the universe. Music is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

At the lunch table ten-year-old Mary asked a question from church this morning. What does consecrated mean? It came from the hymn “Take My Life and Let it Be.” Both kids started singing it right there at the table. Many Sunday afternoons I catch my family humming or singing songs from the service. Since I accompany the choir those anthems can stay with me for a very long time. What a high class problem–to get those pesky songs of faith and love stuck in your ear for the whole week! I believe that is the Holy Spirit at work. . .

I love all kinds of music–but I’m especially fond of old music. Old music feeds my faith because it anchors me to the faith of the past. When we sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” I remember that it was my grandfather’s favorite hymn and I think about the legacy of faith that he handed down. One of the last moments I had with my dad was sitting on the edge of his bed and singing through the LBW. After a mild stroke he couldn’t speak, but he could sing that bass part loud and clear. Now, when I hear those hymns I also hear my father’s voice. Music connects faith from generation to generation.

At the lake, the Messengers sing “The Spirit Intercedes for Us.” With sighs too deep for words to express. Music is part of that Spirit. Sometimes when things are so tough we don’t know what to say or what to pray–all that is left is to sing. The comfort of familiar melodies and harmonies gets us through to God when words alone fail. When even our faith fails. Once when I was having one of life’s little faith crises I overheard my son, Calvin, at the piano singing “God of Wonders Beyond Our Galaxy.” You are holy. Holy. It brought me back to whole. Back to holy. Sometimes we can sing for ourselves, and sometimes someone else has to sing the song for us for a little while.

My prayer is–wherever you are in your faith and whatever is going on in your life–that Easter and Easter’s musicians help sing the song for you a little every week. God bless.

Sara Stephens Kotrba