Four letter word – Hope

Hope is one of those words that evokes….hope, promise, possibility, trusting something to completion, believing against all odds.

Sometimes hope is something that you grasp hold off in the darkest or most challenging of times. Sometimes hope is what you cling to when you know something may not work out.  Sometimes hope is that thing that keeps you moving forward and putting one foot in front of the other.

A friend and colleague emailed me a few weeks ago and said that he was glad that I was hopeful about our Church because we need that.  He said he just wasn’t there anymore and had no idea where his calling/ministry was going.

A student and I talked this week about a relationship where things aren’t quite working out and whether one should be hopeful that things might change or if after time and time again of things not changing, it was better to move on.

Another student and I talked about how it totally sucks sometimes to be single and whether God had someone out there for her or if she would every meet someone.  Should she hope?

I look at all of the freshman coming through Orientation and their hope and fear and wonder about what the next step in college is going to be.

I look at people facing health concerns whether personally waiting for the next checkup to see if tumors or cancer has returned, those facing the health concerns of family members, or those facing the loss of a loved one and I wonder about hope.

A four letter word.  Unlike the others.  Hope.

One of my favorite lines in the Matrix movies was said by the Architect to Neo in the second movie (yes the first one is probably the best, but I really liked this quote) – “Humph. Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.”

Now I’m not saying in the case of the relationship that we live into Albert Einstein’s quote of Insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  I agree that sometimes our hope may be misplaced or that we’re trying to see the silver lining when there’s not one.  We have to be wise and discerning and honest with ourselves in that.

But I do think we rest in the hope of God and let that four letter word shape our story.  I think of the words from Lamentations 3, beginning with verse 19, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fails.  They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;”

The thing about hope to me is that it’s an active thing.  You don’t just hope to win publisher’s clearing house or the lottery or to strike gold or to find a big pile of money in a brief case outside your house and expect it to happen just by hoping for it.  You have to actually enter to win publisher’s clearing house or buy the lottery ticket or rob the bank to find the briefcase full of money or work hard as heck on “Gold Strike Alaska” on the Discovery channel.  Not really encouraging any of these things but you get my drift.  You discern where the Spirit is leading you.  You don’t sit passively and hide out, but you grasp hold of your life with two strong hands and engage and grow and keep pushing forward.  You rest in the hope of God.  Giving God the chance to move and breathe and blow all over your life and your plans and your hopes and dreams.

If you really want a more solid devotional life, be intentional in making that happen.  Set aside time to pray, journal, sit in silence and listen, subscribe to the Upper Room email every morning, check out Alive Now, ask God to lead you to the people and resources that would best speak to you.  If you want joy at work or you want to do that thing that you’ve always dreamed of but that doesn’t fit with the “plan” in your head – ask God to show you the way.  Actually explore the possibilities and open yourself to making changes and making it happen.  There are many “what if” dreams that we have or moments or seasons of dissatisfaction or frustration, but in some ways we just comfortably stay in our safe little ruts because actually doing something about these things are scary as heck.  And we don’t know if it will work.  Or we’re scared that we’ll try and it won’t work and then we’ll have failed or lost that dream.

Swinging for the fence, hoping when it seems like it’s fruitless – you’ve got to actively and sincerely and intentionally do it and put your time and actions and heart where your mouth is.

What are your hopes?

In your personal life?

In your professional life?

In your vocational journey?

In your spiritual journey?

For your family?

For your friends?

For our Church?

For our world?

Hope.

Not a “Christian” song but I do think it talks about grasping hold of your life and not making excuses or complaining when we feel hopeless or frustrated or afraid.  Live your story with hope, actively engaging, and knowing that the crud will come, but there is One who gives us hope each step of the way.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. — Hebrews 11:1

Duck, No Eye Contact, Run, Run Away

It’s that time of year in campus ministry world when we’re enjoying Orientation.  What that means at Winthrop is that we as all of the campus ministries (WCCM – Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries) come together and greet people at one table and provide brochures and info about all the groups.  We also let students know about the campus ministry open house and worship service for freshmen that we do right after they move in.  Good times.  A great way for people to get connected and meet other people of faith.

What is always amusing to me is the interactions with the students.  As soon as they read the sign on the placard behind me that says “Campus Ministries” some quickly look away and move quickly to the Greek Life table or the Study Abroad table or the DSU (Campus Entertainment/Activities/Awesomeness) table.  As parents read the sign though it’s funny to watch them often nudge their child and say, “Look campus ministries.  We should go over there.”  And the students that then pull them in another direction or say Mo-om or Da-ad, in that lovely two syllable exasperated way many of us Southerners have.  I can tell you that 9 times out of 10, that when a parent walks up to our table and signs their student up and the student is no where to be found or the student is standing impatiently behind the parent or grandparent hoping that they’ll just sign them up and be done with it – we’ll never see that student.  Sometimes it happens.  Rarely.  But that’s the thing about college – it’s on the student/young adult/person making their way on their own.

Two things happened today that were thought-provoking for me.  The first was a lady who stopped and got a card.  Her child wasn’t with her but she said that she wanted her to be involved with campus ministry.  She said that her daughter had never been involved in church and hadn’t ever really been inside one except for funerals and she really wished she would get involved.  She then said that the girl was dating a nice Christian boy that goes to church and she was hoping that maybe she would start going.

The other was a guy who walked up to the table and I smiled at home and he’s reaching his hand out to shake mine and I’m about to give him a WCCM card that has our website info with all of the campus ministries listed, and he reads the placard above my head that says “Campus Ministries” and then quickly jerks his hand back and says that’s okay.  I don’t need one of those cards.  Ouch, dude.

It’s just really funny dynamics. Some are super excited to hear about campus ministry on campus and this new church experience.  Some of our strongest leaders at Wesley are people I met at Orientation or at the beginning of the year Open House.  But I do wonder about all of the ones that cringe and walk away.

I ate lunch in the student center yesterday with the Dean of Students who is also our Board Chairperson.  She stopped to talk to some of the Orientation Assistants and I joined her.  At the end of the conversation she introduced me as the United Methodist Campus Minister.  As we were walking away afterwards, she asked if I had noticed how they blinked and paused.  She’s a campus minister?  Who knows what they were thinking?  I had seen a few of them before but didn’t know any of them.

There’s so much rich ground to cover here – what is the perception of the Church today?  What do these young adults think of when they hear campus ministry?  I have the feeling that some of them think I’m going to make them walk over to the West Center and jump in the pool so I can baptize them right there. The mixed bag of looks from relief and joy and hope at finding a community to apprehension, mistrust and all sorts of things.  It’s interesting.

I’m curious whether more or less students would stop at religious affiliated tables in different parts of the country.  It’s always fun to see which denominational affiliation stops by or the increase in how many people check non-denominational.

My primary question today though, in the midst of the news covering Koran burnings, church trials, and the like – what does this new class think of when they hear the word “Christian”?  What do they think of in the importance of finding a community of faith while in college?  Are they going to stay connected to their churches back home and just take a break for awhile?  What does it mean to be Church?  What are the differences and similarities in how we would define that?

Such a Different Perspective

I’ve been contemplating and playing over a blog post in my mind for a bit about two of the songs from The Book of Mormon Musical on Broadway.  I know, I know…one day I will have run out of songs to talk about.  The first song is called, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” or in other words Salt Lake City.  Nikki James sings a beautiful song that is endemic of the entire musical – it’s such a funny, both mocking and serious look at faith and harsh reality and the conflict that is of the somewhat prosperity gospel that is sometimes preached and how that is seen and viewed in the various lenses of most of the world.

It’s an interesting tension.  And for me it really is a tension.  I’ve spent most of the day working going over the budget and expenditures for this year at Wesley and budgeting for the year ahead.  As some of you know, this past year our Annual Conference stopped providing program or building support for our campus ministries, but is still covering our salaries and benefits (which we’re really thankful for).  As scary as that was, people stepped up in huge ways this year.  And we have tried to use that money wisely – from mission trips to educational and missional opportunities on campus to small groups to worship to training up leaders and people going into ministry and everything in between.  It’s exciting to look at.  We couldn’t have taken students to training events without you.  We couldn’t be in ministry with the poor and hungry here in York County, in our state and around the world without you.  So I’m thankful for that.  Hugely.  Especially as we start visioning for a new year.

This afternoon, actually right now, I’m on a conference call with some folks working on getting equipment for the Women’s Spinning Plant, a cooperative of the CDCA (Center for Development in Central America) to be working and functional.  We have worked with these women making concrete blocks, pouring concrete in the floors of the building, and tying rubar.  We’ve protested the company that mislead them.  We look forward to visiting again in August and continuing to work alongside these faithful, resilient, strong and powerful women and men who have withstood and determinedly marched on in the midst of all sorts of adversity.

See that’s the rub.  When I think about what so many around the world are facing in terms of World Refugee Day that we celebrated earlier this week, those in the midst of war zones, atrocities that we can’t imagine, it really puts things in perspective.

We are beyond so blessed here.  And to me blessed isn’t even the right word in some ways because to me that implies that God has blessed us and not someone else just because they were born in a different place to a different family in a different set of circumstances.

It just seems like a lot of time we throw our own “stuff” around and we’re selling people this line that may not be ours to sell and sometimes it even seems cheap and cliched somehow.  One of the last numbers in the musical is the two lovely white guy mormons singing, “I Am Africa.”  It’s very a la “We are the World” or something along those lines.  And I’m not trying to hate on we are the world or Live Aid or the other benefit concerts or celebrity commercials out there.  I’m really not.  That raises money.  And if it raises money and the money gets to the right people who will put their money out there and not just fund overhead and all of the work getting into a country, that’s a great thing.  There are so many good folks like the CDCA, UMCOR, Church World Service, International Justice Mission, Imagine No Malaria that are doing work on the ground with people in-country who speak the language of the people and are being as least patronizing and colonializing as possible.  And these folks aren’t doing the bait and switch and they’re not peddling mink coats.

Don’t have any huge answers today, but I just wanted to name the tension between our problems (check out those tweets #firstworldproblems by the way) and the things that are facing much of the world.

Still a big believer in the tremendous groups working on the ground and who live it out every day.  Still a big believer in hope and love and humanity.  But wrestling with all that these songs evoke in my mind.  Which is what I think the writers did in a beautifully comedic and amazing way.  To take something so funny and sarcastic and ironic and put so much real life and struggle in it – powerful stuff.

When it all boils down – what is the Gospel?  How do we speak that clearly to the person next door, down the street, in the next state over, on the other side of the world?  How do we share our faith in real language in the face of real problems?

Check out the words for Sal Tlay Ka Siti below.

My mother once told me of a place with waterfalls and unicorns flying

Where there was no suffering, no pain, where there was laughter instead of dying
I always thought she’d made it up to comfort me in times of pain
But now I know that place is real, now I know its name

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: not just a story mama told
But a village in Ooh-tah, where the roofs are thatched with gold
If I could let myself believe, I know just where I’d be
Right on the next bus to paradise: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

I can imagine what it must be like…this perfect, happy place
I’ll bet the goat meat there is plentiful, and they have vitamin injections by the case
The warlords there are friendly, they help you cross the street
And there’s a Red Cross on every corner with all the flour you can eat!

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: the most perfect place on Earth
Where flies don’t bite your eyeballs and human life has worth
It isn’t a place of fairy tales, it’s as real as it can be
A land where evil doesn’t exist: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

And I’ll bet the people are open-minded and don’t care who you’ve been
And all I hope is that when I find it, I’m able to fit in
Will I fit in?

Sal Tlay Ka Siti: a land of hope and joy
And if I want to get there, I just have to follow that white boy
You were right, mama, you didn’t lie
The place is real, and I’m gonna fly!

I’m on way…soon life won’t be so shitty
Now salvation has a name: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

Video for Sal Tlay Ka Siti

We have this poster framed on one of our tables in Wesley.  I’ve always liked it because a lot of what we do with CROP Walk or Stop Hunger Now or Imagine No Malaria focuses on not just spreading a message of faith to folks but also feeding the hungry and providing basic needs.  But singing “We Are Africa” in my head over and over because it won’t get out, part of me think this can be patronizing in some ways as well, because the continent of Africa is not the only region that faces these concerns.  Again, things to think about.

The video for “I Am Africa”

Check out these great organizations:

Imagine No Malaria – http://www.imaginenomalaria.org/

Church World Service – http://www.churchworldservice.org/

International Justice Mission – http://www.ijm.org

UMCOR – http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/

Center for Development in Central America – http://www.jhc-cdca.org/

Jesus to a 4 year old

Okay, so I’m terrible at telling my kids about Jesus.  Yes, this is confession time.

Yes we have books about Jesus.  We have bought tons of books from the Christian bookstore.  We’ve tried to get the kids to watch Veggie Tales and I’m thankful that 3-2-1 Penguins usually throws in some Bible verses and prayer.  We say our prayers before the kids go to sleep.  Slight caveat – when we’re not completely exhausted and just trying to survive and get them to actually go to sleep.  We do say prayers when we sit down to eat although not so good if we’re in the car eating a happy meal.  You get the drift.

It’s weird that something that is a big portion of my life and significant portion of Mike’s and the rest of the families – is not something that I know how to communicate to two little people.  I’m starting to think that the kids during children’s sermons are humoring me and actually have no idea what I’m talking about half the time, or like I think – they’re just super smart.

So I’ve been trying to do better.  I’ve been asking Enoch about Jesus or what he knows about Jesus.  He immediately said Father Voss talks about Jesus.  Thank you again Episcopal Day School for coming through for me!  Enoch is now wanting us to tell him stories when he goes to bed.  And of course, he wants super heroes and Iron Man.

So last night I’m telling him about super heroes like Iron Man and Spider Man and Batman and the greatest, most powerful super hero of all – Jesus.  Could be kind of lame, I know.  And then he interrupts my story because he wants to know about the bad guys.  He is always curious about the bad guys.  Where do the bad guys live?  What do they do?  He even asked about their mommies and daddies.  So then I start telling him about the bad guys and I’m going down this path like not all bad guys are really bad.  Some of them want to be good, but they’re misunderstood.  You know – misunderstood – is not something I think Enoch gets.  So hear I am, this preacher who was an English major and I am struggling and I do mean struggling to tell this Super Hero Jesus story and give some exposition about the bad guys and use words that he would understand in his tired, just turned four year old state, and wowzers.  That is hard.

I came downstairs after Enoch fell asleep listening to my story.  (Of course my awesome story was not related to him falling asleep, that was just a coincidence.)  And I’m talking to Mike about telling Enoch about Jesus and I’m like, if only there was a cool cartoon.  An awesome very kid-friendly cartoon with Super Jesus.  But then I thought, well that would be potentially very cool but also could be very weird and not well done.  Although the healings and the teachings and the letting the children come to him would work well, I don’t know how the crucifixion would play.  And what would Jesus look like?  Our blond haired blue eyed Jesus or the for real Middle Eastern Jesus?

My mom has been looking a lot at children’s Bibles and Bible story books about Jesus’ life and she says it’s hard to find them now showing a picture of the cross.  Most seem to go straight from healing and teaching to Easter without any in between.  She was saying that it’s hard to tell the story in a way that makes sense when you start with a baby and end at Easter with nothing in between.  A baby that’s born in a stable and then grows up and comes back to life.  There’s so much more to it.  The teaching – the love, the sharing, the care for those that are sick, or as I was saying last night the one who is kind to people that aren’t feeling well, who are sad, who are scared, who need a hug.

Part of me thinks – no worries – when he gets bigger we’ll take him on mission trips, we’ll show him the joy of giving his clothes and toys away to people who need them, we’ll teach him how to share and be kind and honest with people.  It will be a lot easier to explain this stuff to him then.  But there is a foundation being built now in the world view of a child that separates the world into super heroes and bad guys.  We haven’t even gotten into the bad guy turned super hero or super hero turned bad guy.  It’s just funny to think about and ponder.  With as much Christian marketing and advertising and everything under the sun Jesus-related from mints to bracelets to shoelaces to action figures, you would think that it would be easier to explain something so all over the place.

And it is.  But it’s not.  How would you describe Jesus to a 4 year old or a 2 year old?  What do these stories that are our stories, our sacred texts – what do they say about God and Jesus and the Spirit and the world and us?  What do they say about how we treat one another or who we can go to when we’re scared or hungry or hurt?  How do we teach this?  Or sometimes even more importantly – how do we model this?  (I for real need to not watch South Carolina baseball around the children because I’m not such a good model during any Gamecock game.)

So, I’ll be continuing to figure out how to tell a child about Jesus.  I know some of you have that down pat and if any of you are in the Rock Hill area and want to take Enoch and Evy to lunch or to the park to tell them, let me know.  I trust that we’ll figure it out.  I trust that they’ll one day get it.  And I trust that in my trying to ineptly explain this to them, I’ll learn a heck of a lot too.

In thinking about how I learned about Jesus – I think about VBS and Sunday School and singing in children’s choirs.  One of the songs that I clearly remember is this one.  It is so in my head now.  AAAHHH!!!!

Listening and Following Directions

Yesterday Enoch got in trouble at school.  When you have a child as boisterous as ours you’re not entirely surprised by this, but you may think to yourself, okay – we’re due for one of those.  However, it’s never fun as a parent to hear that your kid got in trouble.  Everywhere we go and Enoch sees someone from his class, he’s not always great about remembering and saying everyone’s names, but they all seem to know his name.  I’d like to think it’s because he’s wonderful, but wonder if it’s because they hear his name called a lot.  Hopefully a little of both.  Anyway, Enoch got in trouble because he wasn’t listening and following directions.

I am always eternally grateful for the Episcopal Day School here in Rock Hill and all of the many ways they have worked with our kids and support them.  I can’t say enough what a great job they all do there!  I also cannot say enough how much I appreciate that Mike works while the kids are in pre-school and than has the opportunity to be with them in the afternoons.  I know that everyone doesn’t have these choices and opportunities and they are a gift.

Mondays are Mommy Day when the kids get home from school because Mike teaches piano and guitar lessons and then has practice with the worship team at St. John’s.  As much as I don’t always like to drag myself away from work and trying to make a dent in the to do list, I really enjoy Mondays and look forward to being able to tell the kids, you’ll get to see and spend time with Mommy this afternoon and evening.

We usually have a great time.  And we did at times yesterday.  But there were also a lot of times I wanted to scream and say I’ve had it.  That whole listening and following directions thing – yep, it’s for real.  In putting in time out after time out whether at home, in the car, or at the park, we talked over and over about listening and following directions.  Over and over after he stayed in time out, he would agree to start listening and following directions, and over and over when he didn’t want to listen and follow directions, he wouldn’t.  Oh the cycle of parenting.

It got me thinking a lot though.  We keep talking about listening and following directions together.  It’s one thing to not listen and it’s another thing to not follow directions but it’s also a bit of both.  We all know about selective hearing.  I know that if I reach a certain decibal or tone than maybe he’ll turn around and stop, but before I get there he may not be paying a hill of beans of attention to me.  Oh to have the child that immediately stops and listens and follows directions.  My mom has frequently classified Enoch as the strong-willed child, and I promise his picture should be in the books describing it.  But again, as I’m thinking this yesterday and typing it today – I can’t say that it’s not something the rest of us don’t do at times.

We selectively listen for the things that we want to or don’t want to follow.  We don’t have the discipline to always listen to those that might know more than us or to the Creator who actually for real knows better than us.  Were you the child that immediately stopped and listened and followed directions or were you the child that questioned authority and wondered if it really was as threatening as they said it or if this was really serious or not?

Listening and following directions for a child is a great deal about safety and what’s best for you and trusting that your parents are telling you what’s best for you.  But isn’t it the same way with us and God?  Do we listen and follow directions?  Do we read the scriptures or dig down in our faith and engage with texts on justice and mercy and kindness and love?  Do we follow the directions of love God and love neighbor or do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God?  Are we really hearing it or are we hearing it when we want to and it fits and it still allows us to do what we want to do?

Move over, Enoch.  There may be some more strong-willed children out there.  Heck, I think the Bible and our pews and our grocery stores and all around us – we may be chock full of them.

As we try to teach Enoch about listening and following directions, there’s a lot of time outs and boundaries and loss of privileges.  How does God get our attention about listening and following directions?  Does God use our full name at the top of God’s voice?  Does God shoot a message across the sky saying hello – take the call dude?  Are we plowing so full steam ahead in whatever we think we’re supposed to be pursuing that it’s going to take something radical to derail us and make us re-evaluate?  I don’t know.  When I think of a loving Parent, I don’t think of someone that just lets us get our way all the time or do what we want to if it’s harmful to us.  I think of One who is patient and fair and consistent.  I think of one who corrects and is present and who is there to make sure the consequences are real but who is ready for a hug and to wipe away a tear and offer words of encouragement and a new opportunity.

How do you do at listening and following directions?  How has God our parent shaped and molded us?

What’s Your Story?

I have no idea who said this but I know I didn’t make it up myself.  Someone told me once that we all have a sermon and each Sunday we just preach it a lot of different ways.  I’ve thought about this for awhile, and I have found this idea intriguing.  In discussion with Josh back and forth over sermons or with Mike back and forth over music, there’s a part of me that does believe that each of us is given this essence, this thing within us that’s just trying to get out and that’s our story.  It’s our thing to share with the world.  All of us are different.  And that’s what makes it beautiful.  We’re not competing over who has the best one or who has the loudest or most compelling, but we each have one to share.  Each of us.

I think for me it’s this incarnational theology thing.  I don’t even want to know how many sermons I talk about Emmanuel – God with us, that the Great God of the universe decided to come and be one of us, that God is with us in the midst.  I know I must say in the midst all the time.  I don’t know why this gels with me so much, but even if I’m not preaching about it – let’s say I’m talking about human trafficking or Ruth or the early church in Acts – whatever it is, somehow I end up back with this same uncontrollable and thirsty desire to talk to people about this Savior that wants to know them.  Not in an arrogant, aren’t we humans so cool, kind of way, but in a I want to know you and I created you and I have this awesome and amazing journey for you to go on.  Not saying that those are always easy stories – because there’s a lot of hurt and evil and junk out there, but a God that goes with us and that gets down in the mud and muck with us – that’s a God I can follow.

I could go down a list of what I think people’s sermons/songs/stories are.  Is that weird?  But can you think about it?  The people around you – what is their thing?  What is their essence?  What is that thing that they point to?

Let me put in a musical perspective.  I am not a musician.  I am married to one and I love him and he says I don’t count anymore as a non-musician because I’ve heard him talk so much about it.  Maybe that’s true.  But I love music.  Y’all know I love music.  My mind thinks in songs which is why I should give money to youtube because I use their videos so much.  So back to music – I digress – there’s this guy Stephen Oremus – arranger, orchestrator, musical director.  Randomly in July 2005 Mike and I won tickets to Wicked, the musical on Broadway.  (I know, I know, I can’t shut up about Broadway, but I like it.  I really, really like it.)  There’s was a guy conducting or whatever you would call that and he had the best time.  He was laughing and smiling and enjoying it in an amazing way.  Then here we are this past May and we won tickets to the Book of Mormon Musical and here’s this conductor smiling and so enthusiastic and really loving it and lo and behold – same guy.  Stephen Oremus.

Now the guy doesn’t even have a wikipedia page, and I’m tempted to write it myself because I really enjoy what he does.  He arranged the music for Avenue Q and Wicked and 9 to 5 and High Fidelity and All Shook Up and the Book of Mormon and as someone who at least loves and owns the soundtrack to three of those, I can hear similarities and musical themes that are common throughout and it’s so cool.  It’s just good music and arrangement.  As Mike and I were talking about this he talks about how sometimes musicians don’t want to have those themes throughout – you know just like in Project Runway when the girl had all the clothes with petals – you don’t want to be stuck on the one note.  But then he changed his mind and said, maybe that’s this guy’s thing.  Maybe that’s his gift, his essence – his thing to give.

I don’t know.  Call me crazy.  But I feel like all of us have that “thing” within us that’s waiting to burst out.  That gift whether it be the timid girl who then starts belting out the notes in Sister Act or even the first time Billy Graham stepped behind a pulpit or the first time you do that thing that just makes you feel beyond any word like happy, but alive or content or at purpose.

What’s that thing you want to share with the whole world?  What is it that you think they just have to know?  How do you share it in your own unique, God-given way?

I get the fear and the doubt and the times you may not feel it and the times when you’re frustrated or annoyed or just plain old pooped.  But what’s the story of your life?

Is my story – tired, frantic mother?  Is my story – I’ll be glad to talk to you when I’m fully rested and in a good mood and with the right amount of caffeine?  Is my story…

If you could tell someone in three sentences or less your greatest purpose or piece of advice or rule to live by or other cliched phrase.  If you could share the very essence of who God created you to be with someone, what would that look like?  Words?  A picture?  A song?  A hug?  A sweater?

Think about it.  What’s your thing to share?  Your gift to give?  What’s your story?  And how is it part of the greater story around us?  How are we sharing it with the world?

 

I love this song.  I actually love Michael W. Smith’s entire Trilogy on the I’ll Lead You Home album.  I know, I know – old school Christian music.  Don’t ask me how something titled Angels Unaware fits with this, but somehow I think we live our stories.  We live who we are in the good, the bad, and the ugly.  On the great days and on the dark days.  Whether there are angels unaware or whether we’re right there in the presence of God – we’ve been created and life breathed into us and a story placed in our hearts and on our lives.  We don’t always have to have it figured out or feel like we’re good enough, but God is faithful to us and we can trust God’s grace and mercy and never-ending love is available to each of us.

I honestly think of this song every time I say, what’s your story?  Matthew West says it well in the Next Thing You Know.

So what’s your story about God’s glory?  How are you letting your life speak to the world?

Great Commission not just for Superheroes…

Yesterday morning’s lectionary text, Matthew 28:16-20 was one of the most well-known scripture passages around.  It’s commonly known as The Great Commission.  In verse 18 it says, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There’s a lot summed up right there.  Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t have Jesus ascending into heaven or promising that the Holy Spirit is coming to help them.  Matthew has the disciples showing up to a mountain where Jesus told them to go and both the ones who began to worship Jesus and the ones who doubted all being commissioned to go ye and tell the world.  He didn’t just commission the Super Christians that had done everything right (do those even exist anyway?).  Jesus commissioned these eleven – a motley crew – to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity, and teaching them to obey the commands of Christ.  Surely some of these were gung ho and ready to go.  Surely some of them were a little scared and wondering what was going to happen next.  Surely at least one of them thought – wow, that was a cool three years, is this about the time I go back to my day job?

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to participate in my brother Josh’s ordination service.  During the ordination service at a certain point you go up to the altar and there the Bishop, your District Superintendent and two people who have touched your life in some way or who have helped you on your journey to ministry, all lay hands upon you.  I was honored to lay some hands on the little bro.  Listening to the words the Bishop said to him reminded me of my own ordination.  One of the parts that stands out is where the Bishop says something about authority.  I actually carry the cards she read from in my Bible as a reminder of what I was ordained to.  Here’s what they say:

Narcie McClendon Jeter, take authority as an Elder to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

There’s more to the whole service course, but there’s something important about that authority part.  Not that we want the ordinands walking around with big heads and saying what’s up, look at me, I’ve got it all figured out now and I’m taking my authority and running with it.  Not even.  But there’s something about this ordination, the laying on of hands and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit that lets you know for sure and for certain, that it’s not about you.  It’s about this larger story that you’re apart of.  It’s about all of the years that you’ve worked, all the hoops, all the times of doubt and struggle, but even more than that it’s about this Greatest Story Ever Told that we’re apart of.

Enoch has now turned 4 and he’s close to 4 feet and the size of one much older than him.  If you try to put the straw into the CapriSun for him, walk across the street holding hands, put him in his booster seat, you’ll hear him say these now familiar words.  “By myself, Mommy.  I do by myself.”  There’s something inherent in us that wants to do things by ourselves, by our own might, our own smarts, our own strength, our own glory.  Yes there’s the natural claiming of one’s identity and independence, but there’s also something in us that wants to do it by ourselves and not ask for or need someone else’s help.  I hear the “I do by myself, Mommy” so loudly and clearly and confidently.

Jesus with all the authority of heaven has commissioned us (sent us out with blessing) to preach the Good News but we don’t have to do it by ourselves.  There’s a tension there.  It’s not all on whether we do everything right, have the most energy or enthusiasm or have all the right words to say.  A little secret – we don’t suddenly get ordained and have everything figured out with the perfect eulogy, all knowledge of scripture and the ability to pray beautifully on command.  So it’s not all about us or our merits, but we do have to DO something.  It’s not about earning anything, but it is a command to GO and make disciples and baptize and teach and remember.  Those are action words.  It’s not based on our power, but God’s power.

Enoch is loving superheroes right now.  Somehow he heard about Iron Man and Spider Man and Batman and he loves them.  He wants to pretend to be them, he plays with the action figures, the whole thing.  We can’t let him watch a lot of the cartoons because they’re scary and violent but he still loves the whole idea of these heroes.  We were talking to him about Sunday school last week in the car on the way to church yesterday and he was talking to my mom about Jesus healing the paralytic man and how the man got up off his mat and walked.  Enoch started asking a lot of why and how questions.  Why did Jesus heal him?  Why did he need healing?  How did Jesus heal him?  It finally ended with – because Jesus is powerful.  Jesus is powerful.

Jesus is powerful.  More powerful than any superhero – Iron Man, Green Lantern, Black Widow, any of them.  It’s not about our power in this Great Commission, it’s about God’s power.  It’s about being willing to go forth and tell all nations.  Not just the people in our church already.  Not just the people in the USA.  Not just the people that look like, act like or believe like us.  Or the reverse of that – it’s not just about going to some far off place like Fiji, India or Zimbabwe to tell people about Christ.  We have to look around right here, in our time and place and live not just by our lives and actions but also by our words, the Great Commission.

What does this commission of God mean to us?  What does it mean that Jesus called these folks, not great scholars or awesome speakers, not just ones full of faith, but also those with their doubts?  Who are the “all nations” or all people that we are called to reach out to?  How does our life, our home, our family, our community, our church show by our words and actions that we are taking this Great Commission seriously?

Those are questions to think about, pray over and wrestle with.  It seems like a tall order at times.  Especially verse 20 – “and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  That’s a lot of stuff to teach.  It seems pretty big.  But we can’t forget the promise, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  We are not alone in this journey.  We are not alone in this task.  We are not alone in this great story.  We just have to be willing to be an active part of this tapestry of movement within our world.  We have to trust that even when things look darkest and at their most doubtful that God is with us and we have been given the blessing and the commissioning to go and tell the world about this great God we serve.

What does the Great Commission mean to you?

What are those little nudgings from God about ways to serve or ideas that may seem impossible or people that you just can’t stop thinking about, praying for, and wondering about, or the things you keep wanting to do but putting off?  Often God calls us toward something, long before we answer.  What is God laying upon your heart?  What is holding you back?  Who are the bad guys/girls that your superhero is facing?  What fears and concerns can possibly stand up to the power and majesty of Christ?

May we not push aside or compartmentalize, may we not put off until another day.  May we embrace and wrestle and intentionally wonder and vision and ask God to lead us and guide us as we depend on God’s power and might to carry us forward.