Discipleship Takes Obedience

Last week, I invited you to “own” your discipleship. To go out in the deeper water and actually follow Jesus. This week we arrive at the very next step, which is the daily decision to keep following Jesus. This is the place where most of us stall out as disciples — somewhere between that first “yes” to Jesus, and the next dozen or hundred “yesses.” After all, at some point down the road Jesus will say, or do, or ask something that makes us slow down in our tracks. Or, we will have something else along the roadside grab our attention. Have you ever seen the movie UP with that dog being so distracted by that squirrel?  I was having dinner with two of my cousins this past week and we were people watching.  Our grandmother used to love to people watch at the State Fair, so it’s in our genes.  Ha!  We observed a couple who were sitting in front of the sunset on their phones.  It was not just a quick glance, it was a whole 5-7 minutes.  Maybe they were texting each other.  They may be texting one another.  I don’t want to judge.  But these smart phones are easy to get distracted by.  Sometimes we will just long to head back to Galilee and that ship full of fish. That would definitely be easier. It’s the struggle to keep following, to keep in step with the Lord. And the word that sums that it all up is obedience. Being in the making as a disciple takes obedience.

It’s hard to wrap our heads around obedience to God, because in human relationships healthy obedience is so rare. How can we obey someone else if even the best make mistakes? And, at worst, human “obedience” can be totally corrupt, based in fear, coercion, control or manipulation. Think about child soldiers in Africa or abusive households. Think about the big ways in history that the people of faith have gone wrong: the Pharisees, the crusades, the inquisition, legalistic fundamentalism, the Jonestown massacre. Because of our fallen human condition, “obedience” can go horribly wrong. If we focus on the “rules” TOO MUCH, we miss the freedom Christ wants to give us. If we focus on getting everything “right,” we miss the beauty of grace. Not a cheap grace, as I said last week, but a costly grace. The grace that comes from a Savior that suffers alongside of us, Emmanuel, and was obedient unto death for you and me.

Philippians 2:5-8 says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Some of you may be thinking of course he was obedient. He was and is Jesus. The perfect one. Need I remind you of his 40 days in the wilderness, of temptation after temptation, or him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane “Take this cup from me.” It’s not easy to be obedient. Not even for Jesus, who was at the same time God and man.

If we own our discipleship and we’re growing more and more like Christ, it’s still going to be hard at times to be obedient, to walk in the way that leads to life. We have a hard time with obedience, because most of our culture rejects it. We want to take the easy way out, get out of things, or be ambivalent. My peers, the millennials and younger, look at all that broken human history and we mistrust human institutions and traditions, especially the Church. We say, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Question everything. Preserve your freedom!” And, culturally, we’ve concluded that there is ultimately only one person who is trustworthy to obey — ourselves. Let that sink in a little bit. Some say the only person you can truly depend on is your self. But the problem with that is my “self” is just as human as everyone else. I operate under the same fallen human condition. If I think obeying only myself is going to solve anything: *newsflash* how has that gone for me so far? I find, sometimes, that myself is an idiot. “I” am just as corrupt and self-centered and off-base as any institution. The Christian faith tells us that our only hope is to be guided by something that exists outside of this broken, fallen system. Something, or rather Someone, who loves us, who understands all the perfection and glory that God meant for us before the fall. Where are we going to find Someone like that? As a matter of fact, he came to find us, and his name is Jesus. It’s totally counter-intuitive, but what it means is that the only way for any of us to be truly free, or to be our truest selves, is to give ourselves over to him. We’ve got to lose our lives to save them. Jesus calls us to live counter-culturally. Obey God alone. Follow Jesus’ instructions. Go where the Spirit leads you. Trust.
I think we get a great glimpse of it in Matthew 10:5-15 today. It’s a great picture, literally, of what comes next right after the disciples have first said “Yes” to begin following Jesus. And it says a lot for proper obedience.
Matthew 10:5-15
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.
All of a sudden for basically the first time in Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples are going to leave the training wheels behind and ride the bikes. Jesus takes them aside for special instructions, and they’re being sent out. Can you put yourselves in the disciples’ shoes? It’s been a sweet deal. They’ve been little tag-alongs, watching Jesus do the fireworks, and being in awe like everybody else. Not only that, but they’re probably starting to be noticed, right? Like, fame by association since they’re his inner circle, like the tv show Entourage. If Jesus is the lead singer of this boy-band that everybody swoons over, sooner or later someone will start to notice the rest of us, his disciples. There’s the bad boy – Judas; the one with the good hair – Philip; the cute one – Bartholomew; the other cute one – Simon the Zealot, and so on. No risk, no effort, no tough decisions, all reward. Until Jesus says, now I’m sending you out, and by the way, I’m not coming with you. And, by the way, you’re still going to be responsible for carrying on my mission in just as powerful a way as you’ve seen me do it. As Scooby Doo would say, *Ruh roh*.
I, personally, may be a little freaked out with this change. Jesus is giving specific instruction about how to go about this mission, but he says he wants us to do these things AND not take practically ANYTHING with us!?!?!?! I admit, I’m a bit of a control freak. You may not fully realize this about me, but I like things a certain way. Some may call it OCD, some may call it organized, whatever. I’ve had to learn the hard lesson of not being so self-reliant and independent that it begins to becomes an idol or a mantra. “I can do it myself.” Just like a kid learning to do something for the first time shouting, “By Myself!!” Thomas Merton writes, “All the good that you do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used for God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.” We need to let go of the need to prove ourselves. We are enough. We are called to be Disciples of the Most High King. We all need not our own ways, but God’s provision for each of us. That God will pick us up and dust us off when we fall from the bike with no training wheels. We may scratch and scrape our knees, but our God works things for good for those who love God, and what is seen is only temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. We have to trust that if we risk ourselves and are obedient, he will give us the power and authority to move mountains.
One of the biggest ways we turn away from obedience is we doubt ourselves. We doubt our abilities. We aren’t comfortable with God’s call. And we, ultimately, secretly say to ourselves: he’ll just get someone else to cover this. Surely it can’t depend on me? There are 12 other disciples, there are millions of other Christians, there are so many better Christians than me. I’d rather just be the one “with the good hair.” But Jesus challenges that here. Jesus wants them to not only hear the Good News but take it to the world. Jesus not only wants them to see miracles, but perform them. Jesus wants them to seek out the lost, the last and the low, not the easy crowds that have gathered to hear a celebrity preacher or a magician. Jesus wants them to seek out the Zacchaeus in the group, the bent over woman, the Samaritan. Karl Barth writes, “The human righteousness required by God and established in obedience — the righteousness which according to Amos 5:24 should pour down as a mighty stream — has necessarily the character of a vindication of right in favor of the threatened innocent, the oppressed poor, widows, orphans, and aliens. For this reason, in the relations and events in the life of his people, God always takes his stand unconditionally and passionately on this side and on this side alone: against the lofty and on behalf of the lowly; against those who already enjoy right and privilege and on behalf of those who are denied and deprived of it.”
What crowd do you think Jesus would hang out with today? Republicans? Democrats? Independents? Green Party? Everything in between? Police officers? Protesters? National Guard? First Responders? Anarchists? Red? Yellow? Black? White? Brown Hair? Purple Hair? Don’t Care. God gives his prevenient grace to all people. God woos us to God’s self before we’re even aware of it. We are ALL created in the image of God. Who would Jesus want to reach? All of us sinners and saints. You. Me. The person on the other side of the political divide, cultural divide, any kind of divide.
I’ll close with these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Humanly speaking, it is possible to understand the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. But Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience — not interpreting or applying it, but doing and obeying it. That is the only way to hear his words. He does not mean for us to discuss it as an ideal. He really means for us to get on with it.”
Matthew 5:3-11,
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Being a Disciple Takes Owning Where We Are

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

We’ve embarked on a 5-week Discipleship series and this week’s is being a Disciple takes ownership.  What is a disciple?  Merriam-Webster defines it this way “someone who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of a teacher” or “one of a group of 12 men who were sent out to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ.”  The Greek word generally refers to a student or apprentice or devoted follower.

Some may not know what a big deal this was to invite ordinary, uneducated fishermen to be disciples. As Rob Bell shares in his Nooma video “Dust,”

“Jewish education was made up of three primary sections: Bet Safar – Usually from the ages five to ten, it is a time taught in the synagogue by the Rabbi. During this time, good Jewish boys memorized Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  In Bet Talmud, it continues from the age of ten on to fourteen. During this time, the student would memorize the Psalms, prophets, and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).   In Bet Midrash, at the age of fourteen, the best of the best would continue to apply oral and written law from the Talmud, the Mishna, Sages, and years and years of commentary on the scriptures. Each Rabbi would have their own interpretation of how to live out the Torah. The Rabbi’s rules were called his yoke. When you studied under a Rabbi, you took his yoke upon you.

But Jesus came and said His yoke was easy. In Matthew 11, he says He isn’t about endless lists of rules and regulations.  You see, when Jesus is speaking, He’s not just picking words out of the air; He’s speaking as a Rabbi would.

One of the Sages from the Mishna is quoted as this, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.” Rabbis are passionate and animated. They would spend their days taking their disciples around teaching them, and as they traveled from place to place, they would literally kick up a cloud of dust. And because the disciples were following the Rabbi, at the end of the day, they would actually be covered in the dust their Rabbi kicked up – May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi….

Where does this come in the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry?  Jesus has been tempted by the Devil, he’s read the scroll where Isaiah alludes to him saying he’ll proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, but they ran him off and tried to hurl him off a cliff.  So much for being welcomed in your hometown.  He set about proving his message – he healed people and preached in the synagogues doing what he said he would do.  In chapter 5 Jesus calls his first disciples – a group of smelly fishermen.  Mark and Matthew have him passing by the fishermen while they are casting their nets, but Luke has him actually going out on the boat.  In a way, this is more powerful, though the calling is still the same.

Can the world see from our “dust” who we follow?  Who our Master is?   Jesus constantly issued a personal call to people to simply follow him. It was always an open-ended call, and they were free to choose to do so or not, and just as free to bail out on following him when things got tough. The same is true for us. Even in Mount Pleasant, this life is still a choice, and we all need to check ourselves on whether or not we are actually followers of Jesus. Not just if we once were, but if we are currently “in the making,” in process of growing in the Lord and in grace. If we are, we need to own it boldly. If not, it’s okay, but it’s a life that goes through the motions from point a to b to c.  God doesn’t want that lukewarm faith for us but God lets us make the choice.  God is not a puppet master.  We have free will to choose.

The sun had just risen when the Boy Scouts began their trek up Baldy Mountain.  At 12,441 feet, Baldy is the highest peak in the Philmont Scout Ranch, a high-adventure backpacking camp run by the Boy Scouts of America. From the summit, hikers can enjoy spectacular views of the mountains, forests and lakes of northern New Mexico.

But the summit was still a dream when the crew of eight Scouts and two adults started out, hiking through a dense pine forest in the early-morning light. Reaching a gorgeous, gurgling mountain stream, they took a turn and headed down a wide and comfortable trail for about a mile.

Turned out to be the wrong trail.

Realizing their mistake, they turned around and hiked back. This detour added an extra two miles to their trip, and you might think they would be discouraged by it. But the extra distance had a surprising benefit. One Scout who had been struggling at the start of the hike gained confidence throughout the detour, and when the group got back on track, he felt strong enough to hike to the summit.

His success required venturing out, beyond his comfort zone. And so does ours.

The Boy Scouts of America have been challenging boys to push their limits for over a century now. So just exactly who has been a Boy Scout? Two-thirds of all astronauts and 11 of the 12 men to walk on the moon. 191 members of the 113th Congress have been involved in Scouting.  Ten of the 100 members of the United States Senate are Eagle Scouts. Eagle Scouts were disproportionately represented among Hurricane Katrina’s volunteer relief workers. Steven Spielberg, Jon Tesh, George W. Bush, Harrison Ford, JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jim Morrison, Jimmy Buffett, Jimmy Stewart, Bill Gates and even Sir Paul McCartney were scouts.

Mike and Enoch participated in a Cub Scout Clean Up at the Park yesterday and Enoch’s super excited to participate in all that scouting has to offer.  It got Enoch out of the house when he normally would have been playing videogames or watching TV.  That’s the beauty of the Scouts, to get us out of our comfort zone, and on our feet, doing good in the world.  Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.

We’re called to deep water, not shallow water.  To experience the fullness of the adventure of being a disciple of Jesus Christ who walks in the way that leads to life.  To own our failings and to own that we are sometimes scared to take that next step, to even cast a vision for the future because we’re so afraid of getting lost or of failing.

When Jesus finishes his speech to the crowd, he decides to extend his lesson with a dramatic illustration. He challenges Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (v. 4).

“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing,” whines Simon. He sounds like he wants to stay close to shore, safe and comfortable because his time on the water hasn’t yielded any fish.

Put out into the deep water, says Jesus. He invites us to venture out, take a chance, be active and adventurous.

Jesus is looking for commitment. The idea of doing the same thing expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity, so when Jesus asks Simon and his fishing buddies James and John to continue doing what they were already doing, they get a surprise – an unexpected, amazing and overwhelmingly abundant catch. All because they’re willing to follow Jesus’ words and scout the deep water.  This story reminds us that Jesus may use significant force to overcome our reluctance. The only reason for the huge catch of fish was to open the hearts of these men who had not previously considered themselves disciple material. And it worked, too, because as soon as Peter saw the size of the catch, it knocked him off his feet. He prostrated himself before Jesus and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

If we fish in the deep waters without Jesus, we will always come up empty, but if we fish the deep waters with Jesus and the Holy Spirit guiding us, we can fish for people.   That miraculous catch opened these fishermen’s hearts to respond when Jesus asked them to do something they had never done: “From now on you will be catching people.”   No thought to how much money that great catch would bring, Luke says they left everything on the shore and followed Jesus.

That’s the challenge for us today: to venture beyond our comfort zones and put out into the deep water in lives of Christian discipleship. Too often we stay close to shore, safe and comfortable, when Jesus is calling us to be active, adventurous and willing to explore new territory. That’s where the fish are. That’s where the growth happens. That’s where we can make surprising discoveries about ourselves and the world around us.  We scout the deep water when we venture out to share the Christian faith with our neighbors. Jesus challenges us to reach out to our friends and neighbors with the Good News of the Gospel.

In her book Unbinding the Gospel, Martha Grace Reese says that “our most important discovery is that a vivid relationship with God lies at the heart of real evangelism.” You have to ask yourself, “Has being a Christian made any difference in my life?” If so, then you’re going to want to share this reality with other people. Quite simply, evangelism is grounded in the realization that your life is better because of your relationship with God, and this is a relationship that can benefit others as well.

Reese says evangelism is all about relationships. Not high-pressure conversion programs — relationships. We need to reflect on our relationship with God, and then find natural, authentic and sincere ways to share that relationship with others.

We’re all disciples in the making. It’s an unfolding discipleship.  We are being formed into something, something new and different from when we started.  We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto, gone is the black and white and hello the technicolor.  Jesus has called us to the mission field of our community – Park West, Mount Pleasant, the city of Charleston, South Carolina…Proverbs 29:18 says where there is no vision, the people perish.  Helen Keller says it in a different way.  She says, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

What is God’s vision for the Church?  What is God’s vision for this church – Point Hope UMC? How does God want us to shape our community by being salt and light bearers and loving the people with an agape love?  If we put it off as a vision of the “church,” we can take out our personal accountability.  What is God calling YOU to do as you follow Jesus?  What is God asking you to bring to the table, the altar?  Your doubts, your fears, your excuses?  There is no one “good enough.”  As Roman 8 says we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God.

We don’t get the walk of Christian discipleship “right” all the time.  No one does.  Billy Graham shares on July 18, 2016, “”In God’s eyes all sin is equally serious, because all sin is an act of rebellion against God. This includes not only doing wrong, but also failing to do right. God also sees our hearts, and he knows the sins of greed and jealousy and selfishness that lurk there.”  Jesus knows everything about us, and yet, he STILL calls us.  Being in the making, is a Wesleyan understanding.  The first phase in that journey is to own this reality, to acknowledge (1) that Jesus has revealed himself to me, personally, in a powerful way through the different channels of God’s grace, (2) the point of that revealing is to draw me in, attract my attention/curiosity/hope, and prepare in me the desire for more, and (3) this desire is meant to open the door for calling, for Jesus to invite me to head down a very brand new pathway. It’s by sanctifying grace that God doesn’t let us wallow around in our own muck.  God keeps growing us in grace, transforming us, making us new.

For many of us, our being disciples doesn’t get off the ground, or doesn’t take clear form, or stays in a nebulous “whatever” or “blah” kind of place, because we don’t own what Jesus is trying to do, what he’s calling us to, and what it asks of us. Peter and James and John had a moment like this by the Sea. There was no doubt who Jesus was, or what he had done, or that something special was going on. And Simon left no doubt that he was changed and ready to change, ready to embark after following the Lord’s direction. And then Jesus leaves no doubt that this is exactly what he’s there for, and what he calls us each to do – go to the deep, dangerous depths.  He doesn’t promise it will be easy, but he promises to be FAITHFUL.

We need to own where we are in the process, wherever it might be. Some of us need to own that we answered God’s call and then never took another step. Some of us, we followed, but then petered out. Some of us, we’re still struggling to follow and not sure anymore where we are or what we’re about. Some of us, we’re faithfully following and ready for more. Some of us, we never answered the original call, or have claimed that we never heard one. Whatever the case, wherever we are today, we have to start by owning where we are and then deciding whether or not to own that we’re meant to be active, intentional disciples.

We are good in the United Methodist Church about talking about grace. When I was a campus minister, we often would set up in the student center a place for all of the campus ministries to share a brochure and a sticker.  The Catholics and the Baptists would get the majority of students.  At Emory and the University of Florida, we had a great many Jewish people that wanted info.  Methodists rarely came up to the table.  I would wager that we taught “grace” so well, that they knew if they took a hiatus from church, God’s grace would be enough to cover a multitude of sins in college/grad school/young adulthood.  And in fact, that’s true, but it’s a half-life or a shadow life from the one Christ seeks to give us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about this cheap grace in The Cost of Discipleship,

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

What if we believed in that kind of “costly grace”?  Surely our world would be different.  Surely it would be.  The ball is in your court, will you follow Jesus and be fishers of people?  Bringing God’s kingdom to earth, meeting the needs of those in our community, and sharing the God’s love and grace with everyone you meet?  Or will you wait on the sidelines, being non-committal as ever?  It’s your choice, as this walking the talk of discipleship always is. Do you have the dust of your rabbi?  Are you going into the deeper waters?  Are you going to rock the world as a disciple of Jesus?  I hope so.

We are chosen for something.

Our first scripture is from Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Let us start with a definition of “talent.” tal•ent
1. natural aptitude or skill. “he possesses more talent than any other player”
synonyms: flair, aptitude, facility, gift, knack, technique, touch, bent, ability,expertise, capacity, faculty;
2. a former weight and unit of currency, used especially by the ancient Romans and Greeks.

A talent is a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. Precisely as a result of the wide circulation of this story, “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities, “gifts and graces.” The talents in this story refer to money; the differing abilities of the recipients are referred to in other terms. Isn’t it fascinating that just from this biblical passage that we get the first definition of talent when it means the second one. Strange.

Our second scripture is from 2 Timothy 1:6-14 (NRSV),

6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher,[a] 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

God doesn’t choose us simply for the sake of choosing; being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re better than others. When God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something.

I posted on my facebook an article from Relevant called “So You Have No Idea What Your ‘Calling’ Is.” Here’s an excerpt from the article. “One of the biggest things was that the millennial generation, their unique challenges notwithstanding, could change the world. The first time I heard this I was inspired, but what started as inspiration began to build into anxiety. Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours. There is just no way around this. Patience and perseverance have to become defining attributes of our journey to find our calling. Sure, there are the people out there who knew they were going to be missionaries from the first time they saw a map (and even they have to wait and prepare), but for the vast majority of us, it takes more time. We have to learn new things, grow up, build community, work at Starbucks, drop out of Grad school or take our first graphic design class before we start to have an idea of what we want to do. We have to consider our talents and passions and seek out wisdom. And when we do start to figure it out, we may have to come to terms with the fact that our place in the process might look a little bit more like making someone’s day by brewing an incredible cup of coffee rather than revolutionizing the whole industry through fair-trade initiatives.”

I’m here to tell you, you CAN and WILL change the world. Don’t be paralyzed by the idea of that. Let that wash over you like a wave washing over you in the ocean. You see the God that knit you together in your mother’s womb and knows when you sit and when you rise is calling you forth to share YOUR gift to the world. Don’t start comparing yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, frustration and it’s unhealthy. We are each given a part to play.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Start at beginning – 3:22

So we’re each given skills and abilities and choices. No one is talentless. Everyone gets their own moment to shine even Neville Longbottom.

The second scripture is 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 (NRSV) says, 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

Everyone has been given gifts spiritual and otherwise. Ask God to help you see and know your specific gifts, those that you bring to a world full of darkness. Take a spiritual gift survey. Take one of the many on buzzfeed just for fun and find out what Superhero you are. Or ask someone that you trust: a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, a friend. Ask them.

This quote is from The Legend of Bagger Vance, a favorite of mine. It’s a quote that Bagger, played by Will Smith, tells Harley the young kid that is serving as the assistant caddy.

“Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Some people forget what their swing was like.”

Our true authentic swing. We have to be given eyes to see and know. When those around you are telling you and God’s leading you, you CAN move mountains. God is faithful and true and the Holy Spirit can guide and lead us in our gifts and graces as the Spirit moves us to CLAIM our gifts.

1:19 – 2:14 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60PQRpo9T-Q “Legend of Bagger Vance”

This next clip admittedly is from a kid’s movie, The Rise of the Guardians. It asks the question, “What is your center?” What are the things that make you – YOU? What makes me Narcie? What makes her…? What makes him…?

Rise of the Guardians – “What is your center?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8k8s0JyzJsk

So Santa’s outside can be intimidating, but his center is full of wonder.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKroB30l7dk – Rise of the Guardians – Jack’s Center

What makes you – YOU? What is your center? Jack’s center is fun. I would say mischief making, like my 7 year old Enoch. What is your center? Why did God place you on this earth in this particular time, in this particular place? Not in a braggy, self-centered kind of way. Too much self-love is a detriment and can lead you on the path of destruction. Not to mention getting your head through the door.

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, if it feels like you’re not worthy or good enough. If you’re feeling like the kid from Polar Express, that God forgot you when God gave out the gifts, you’re not alone. All of us struggle with doubt and fear and dark nights of the soul.

Sudha Khristmukti’s “More Than Enough” is a poem that speaks to this.

“Something is better than nothing,” I say to myself.

Still another voice persists:

“Will my gift, which appears so meager, count amidst this sea of other offerings?” I ache with doubt. And yet I saw how my leaking faucet filled a bucket last night. One drop at a time. More isn’t always the most, and less isn’t always the least. Approachability. Availability. Dependability. Listening ears, understanding heart. Words of encouragement, being present when it matters most. Selflessness and the gift of self. If the smallest act to even one life becomes significant enough, it might just make a world of difference. The endless possibilities lie with the One who can use the whole of what we think is merely a mite, a part. Here and now, if we simply present whatever we are, whatever we can, and whatever we have, somehow it would be more than enough, more than worthwhile.”

God is going to be with you every step of the way. The great God of the universe is going to be with you every step of the way. Do you realize the power in that? Or are you still in the mire and muck that holds you back? The baggage that weighs you down?

– 2:15 – to the end – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mk2Tca88Xo “Legend of Bagger Vance”

Even when God doesn’t seem like it, even if you’re hoarse from crying out, God is there.

This expresses the dark night of the soul that Henri Nouwen often writes about. “My Garden of Gethsemane” by Naomi Faw –

“In the dark night of my soul I long for someone’s comfort and no one comes. There is no one to call. I imagine Jesus in the Garden praying until sweat became blood and even the disciples would not wake. This night is my garden. When will help come? Where is grace? Will I be able to take one more step? The dark night passes and no one came. Or, perhaps Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.”

Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.

I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you. If not, come see me, and we’ll pray together and ask God to help you to see, know, and feel God’s great love for you. These are familiar words from Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” You don’t have to figure everything out now. It’s not a snap your fingers sort of thing. It’s a journey. It’s a process. There’s no pressure but as Mother Teresa says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” We can all do small things throughout the day, throughout our lives with great love.

http://vimeo.com/46300983

You were made for a purpose. If it’s clean water. Get educated. More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. If it’s world hunger. Know your facts. Every 5 seconds a child dies from hunger. You can make a difference. You weren’t put here in this particular time, in this particular place, with your God given gifts and graces by mistake. Go, ye, therefore and change the world for Jesus.

Let your light shine. Your stars that you were given represent the gifts and graces you have been given as well as a tangible reminder of the hopes, dreams, and passions as you envision your gifts being used to bring about the kingdom of God. To help you see that you’re enough. Help you see you’re worthy to approach the throne of grace with confidence. You see these stars symbolize our lights shining collectively in the world. When you claim your gifts for God, it makes the light brighter, stronger, more full. These are not gifts to hoard; they are gifts to share with the world. Like “This Little Light of Mine” says, don’t be hiding your light under a bushel because the world wants and needs to see your light.

Psalm 30 – Paul Shultz

Preached on June 29th, 2014

Psalm 30:1-12
1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cried,
and to the LORD I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

John 10:10
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Psalm 30 is an individual, first person singular, psalm of thanksgiving. Rabbinic sources identify Psalm 30 with the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah. I had never noticed that the title of Psalm 30 at least in my Bible was a “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Grave Illness,” but it makes sense. Hear these words again.

“1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”

You see God wants to give us joy in the morning. Life. Not just merely a blah life, but abundant life. God will be there every step of the way when life gets blah.

I’ve just come back yesterday from two weeks away first visiting my parents in Aiken, then to celebrate and officiate Nikki and Andrew’s wedding, and I was in leadership at a campus ministry conference in Atlanta for the second week. There was a heaviness about me as I journeyed through our time in Atlanta. You see I lost my co-chair, Paul Shultz, in January to flu complications and he was instrumental in planning this conference and the direction for the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association. Paul was a prophetic voice in the wilderness of collegiate ministry and Paul left a deep void. We wrestle with students’ questions every day – with vocation and theodicy and not giving cliched answers, so I’m not giving you an explanation of how a great, healthy man that just turned 50, that was the HAPPIEST I had ever seen him would die from freaking flu complications. It’s unanswerable and we don’t have pit pat answers to explain it away, but Paul gives answers through his sermons in the funeral service his children put together. (It’s linked to the end of this blog.)

You see we campus ministers are a bunch of misfits and after serving several local churches, Paul found that his calling led him to serve the University of Iowa Wesley Foundation. Paul was a big, hulking guy that made me feel petite. We got to know each other pretty well as we rotated on UMCMA’s Coordinating Committee at the same time in 2009. Then at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, UMCMA got two houses for collegiate ministers to volunteer their time to advocate for United Methodist Collegiate Ministry in Ybor City. Paul and I sat right next to each other on the front row for the General Administration committee for the entire time the legislative committees were in session. I will never forget our excitement when critical votes happened in the committee, and West remarked later it was like a “circus with the tent on fire.”

You see Paul before he was my co-chair was the Advocacy chair for UMCMA and had been instrumental on getting legislation passed at both the 2008 and 2012 General Conference. Paul set the course, created Advocacy packets, gave us our legislative assignments, and was the bridge between the old guard and us newbies. He floated in and out of conversations with wizened lifers (people who have campus ministry in their DNA and are in it for life) and could be a mentor or a jokester or a friend. We worked hard at that General Conference and we played hard as we went back to the UMCMA houses to strategize and blow off steam and create a beautiful community.

He had a wicked, self-deprecating, sense of humor. He would often greet people with “Glad you could see me!” instead of “Glad to see you!” And that was just Paul. Without a doubt, Paul Shultz knew he who was. He was deeply rooted and he was proud to be from Iowa, even naming the famous Iowans at dinner one night. He is one of those rare people that care about their ministry setting while equally caring for the whole denomination. I didn’t realize how rare that was. He cared deeply about the whole of The United Methodist Church. Although we didn’t agree on everything, after all I’m a girl in her 30’s from South Carolina and he was a guy that had just turned 50 from Iowa, we could disagree and it was okay because we respected each other enough to show love and grace and we felt secure in our positions. He influenced me more than he knew. He was a mentor and a friend. I’ll never forget him doing the closing of our October meeting in Atlanta as we planned for this conference. He talked about serving small churches in rural Iowa and at the conclusion of his story had half of us wiping tears from our eyes.

On a more personal note, Paul was my rock during the 2013 UMCMA biennial conference in Denver and as soon as I asked him for help he picked up the mantle and ran with it. When my second brain surgery was not as easy as the first one and left me without being able to speak for three weeks and having to go through occupational, physical, and speech therapy for 7 months as I underwent 30 radiation treatments, I just had to simply ask. He didn’t make me feel broken or not enough or handicapped in any way. He just in his Paul Shultz way made it okay. Made it normative. And didn’t ask me about it again. It was such a gift and I can’t articulate to his three children or his fiancee Jana how much that meant to me. So this week was incredibly hard because I was leading the conference without my co-chair. I told a close friend that I was tired of crying throughout the conference because I felt like I did that during all the breaks. My mom said to me yesterday on the way home, “Narcie, it says how much you loved him.” Indeed. CS Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” So I claim the verse that joy comes in the morning because it’s been a rough year for so many of us. Verses 11 and 12, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

I remain ever confident that God is with us every step of the way. It reminds me of the quote from Mother Teresa that says, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish God didn’t trust me so much.” I couldn’t have gotten through this week without the grace, love and strength of God and the prayers and support of our collegiate ministry community. If you’re away from home for the very first time as a freshman starting in Summer B, God can help with the struggle, the loneliness, the lostness and we can help with those feelings too because the only way to live this life is in community. God loves you. God journeys with you in the good times and the bad, in the times we are grieving and in the times we are rejoicing. God is present with us.

I love the new Rend Collective CD and I’ve been listening to it since Gator Wesley’s spring tour. There’s a song called “My Lighthouse” that has these lyrics,

“My Lighthouse”

In my wrestling and in my doubts
In my failures You won’t walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

In the silence, You won’t let go
In my questions, Your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

My Lighthouse, my lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, my Lighthouse
I will trust the promise,
You will carry me safe to shore

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I’ll rise and sing
My God’s love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

Fire before us, You’re the brightest
You will lead us through the storms

God’s our lighthouse and wants to give us abundant life. Not just surviving but thriving. I admit that I had written Casting Crowns off with being played out and old school, but I kept hearing this song on the Christian radio stations…
“Joy unspeakable! Faith unsinkable! Love Unstoppable! Anything is possible!”

It’s called “Thrive.” Too often I hear that we’ve just got to get through high school or college or grad school or we have to get our first job or get married or have children or figure out what in the heck to do with our lives, but God doesn’t want us to let life pass us by so that we’re only barely surviving. God wants us to have life. God wants us to thrive. It may take time. It may be challenging. It may not be easy. God wants us to thrive.

Paul would hesitate to sanction my use of contemporary Christian music, but he thrived. He embraced life. My friend, Rob Rynders, wrote a blog soon after Paul’s death and he got this response from a friend of Paul’s, “Perhaps you knew Paul had a bar where he met with his Seven Reverends group and where he had what he saw as a street ministry. Some nights he just hung out and drank his beer. Some nights he listened to heartache and helped people find their way. A year ago he organized a Thanksgiving dinner there for those with no family near. He was loved there and is very missed.” He not only thrived at The University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, he thrived with his children Miles, Hannah and August, he thrived with his fiancee Jana, he thrived in the broad reach and depth of grace he gave to each of us colleagues in United Methodist Collegiate Ministry, and he thrived in the world inviting everyone to know the love of God for each of them. May we all be and live like Paul.

Paul’s kids crafted the funeral with Paul’s words from his sermons and even his CPE application. He kept them all. A recording of the funeral is online here: https://soundcloud.com/paul-shultz-funeral/sets/a-tuesday-funeral You should listen to it.

Two additions since posting the blog. The first is from one of Mary Haggard’s students, Briana Batty.

“Lighthouse” by Briana Batty

The one thing I don’t have
right now
is an answer.
The one thing I want more than anything,
though,
is relief.

I have tried to stay strong, to stay bright,
but I’m the lighthouse
far out in the water,
bashed and battered
by cold storm winds,
left lonely in the waves
with no one to turn the lanterns
back on.
As my bold paint peels away
I’m nothing but a white-flecked pole
lost in a hurricane.

If you can see me flickering here,
pray.
Pray I’m brighter tomorrow,
pray my colors return,
pray I don’t fall headlong into
the stormy dark bay.
And while you pray, I’ll fight
I’ll stand,
I’ll try
because there’s this Man who walks across
the waters to me, climbs
the rickety stairs
in my heart, and promises that
He’s here to be my Light when I grow dark.
He gives me hope I don’t have,
strength I can’t find on my own.

Over the storm I see closing in around me
wings of prayer, white like seagulls, brave like eagles
diving into the wind.
I’m still surrounded by storms on my battered rocks,
oh yes,
but always encircled with arms and wings and warm embraces,
and lit from deep within with Light
brighter than mine.

See me out here?
I shine in the storm,
bright as new.

The second is from Hannah Shultz, Paul’s daughter, she said she’s been reading this poem by Maya Angelou a lot recently.

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

Nathan – The Editor

This semester at Gator Wesley, we are going to use as our backdrop, Leonard Sweet’s book, 11 – indispensable relationships you can’t be without – in which he talks about the 11 people [relationships] that we need to be who Christ creates us to be – we need
• an Editor
• a True Friend
• a Butt-Kicker
• an Heir
• an Encourager
• a Yoda
• a Back-Coverer
• a Reject
• a ‘Little One’
• a VIP
• a Place
• a Paraclete – “one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate”

This week we have Nathan, the editor.

1 Chronicles 17:1-15
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
God’s Covenant with David
17 Now when David settled in his house, David said to the prophet Nathan, “I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.” 2 Nathan said to David, “Do all that you have in mind, for God is with you.”
3 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: 4 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: You shall not build me a house to live in. 5 For I have not lived in a house since the day I brought out Israel to this very day, but I have lived in a tent and a tabernacle. 6 Wherever I have moved about among all Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people, saying, Why have you not built me a house of cedar? 7 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people Israel; 8 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies before you; and I will make for you a name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 9 I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall wear them down no more, as they did formerly, 10 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will subdue all your enemies.
Moreover I declare to you that the LORD will build you a house. 11 When your days are fulfilled to go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, 14 but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever. 15 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

Have you ever heard of a “yes” man or woman? It’s a thing. Merriam Webster defines it this way, “a person who agrees with everything that is said; especially: one who endorses or supports without criticism every opinion or proposal of an associate or superior.” You will meet “yes” men all the time in the workplace. Have you ever heard of a celebrity out of control because they’ve surrounded themselves with no one that ever tells them no? I can name all sorts of actors/singers/entertainers that died tragically because they were surrounded by people on the pay roll. They received no unbiased opinions, because the machine around them depended on their celebrity for their livelihood. We can give countless examples of these behaviors…..Hello, Britney shaving her head or Justin Bieber in his latest trouble or need I even say Lindsay Lohan without images flashing through your head?

They needed someone to be “real” with them or keep them grounded. They needed an editor, like Nathan. Nathan spoke truth to power. Who’s not afraid to call you into account for your actions? Who’s not afraid to get under your skin? Who’s not afraid to gently, but firmly say that you’re acting like a jerk? That’s your Nathan.

A Nathan reveals, pulls back the curtain, to who you truly are. Recently I went on a facebook posting rampage, where I watched the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance. In the movie Bagger played by Will Smith, says, “Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Some people forget what their swing was like.” A Nathan’s not afraid of calling you out because he can see through the layers to YOU. And the Nathan’s in your life, care about and love you, but they’re not about to let you get away with anything, just like Bagger Vance.

Nathan figured prominently in David’s life 3 times. At 3 critical junctures. In the text for today, 2 Samuel 7, David had just finished building his palace. He had been greatly blessed by God and decided that the ark of the covenant, which was still in a tent, needed a permanent home. He consulted with Nathan who agreed at first, but as you hear in the passage, Nathan changed his mind because it was not what God wanted. Nathan also said some good things to David – that David’s name would be great, his people would have peace, his son would build a “House for my name,” the throne and kingdom of David and his son would be established forever, and what would later become the Davidic Covenant – that Jesus would be in the lineage of David. You may be thinking that’s not gutsy speaking truth to power, he just told him not to build a church, and he said several good things after that. Well in 2 Samuel 12, David had recently committed adultery with Bathsheba and had arranged the death of her husband Uriah. Nathan was sent to David by the Lord with a parable – a poor man had one lamb, a rich man had great flocks of sheep – a traveler came to the rich man who prepared a meal for him – the rich man took the lamb from the poor man rather than use one of his own for the meal. David heard the story and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!” [vs5] Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” [vs7] Awkward.

David repented of his sin, and the Lord forgave him – but the consequences of his sin then meant that the child born to Bathsheba did in fact die. The sign, however, of forgiveness was that David and Bathsheba had another son, Solomon, the inheritor of the promise.

The third time doesn’t have the same sting as the Bathsheba story, but it’s important nonetheless. It happens in 1 Kings 1 right at the end of David’s life. God had made it clear that Solomon would inherit the throne from his father – when another of David’s sons, Adonijah, tried to usurp the throne, Nathan supported David rather than Adonijah. He informed Bathsheba of the plot and advised her on how to ensure the right successor. Nathan was called in by David and told to anoint Solomon king – this he did and it was proclaimed to the people.

An editor works tirelessly so that you can be the best that you can be.

“Joe Myers illustrates the editability with the story of his wife, Sara, handing him back an essay she had edited for him, and all he could see was red. Every page was dripping with blood. As he tried to find one pure white page, she said these words: ‘Joe, this is fantastic! This is one of the best things I have ever read! This is going to change people’s lives.’
‘You’re kidding. You hate it…’
‘No, I love it.’
‘But look at all the red. You hate it.’
‘Joe, I love it. I just want you to get your ideas out as powerfully as you can. Every time you see red on the page, you should hear me saying to you, ‘Joe, I love this, I love you, and I want the whole world to read this book.’”

How many times do we see the editors of our lives as our biggest critics? How many times do we see the ink all in red and think that we’re not good enough? How many times do we take personally what we see as criticism but those that love us have said it to make us better?

Leonard Sweet writes, “What makes the Nathans unique in your life is that they are fundamentally best understood as welcome intruders. They tend to pop in unannounced to take the moral temperature of a particular moment, especially at the most inconvenient and disturbing of times. But because you are already in a relationship with them, and authenticity is your brand, their temperature taking isn’t always welcome. In a culture of increasing transparency, thanks to the internet and ubiquitous surveillance (the average Londoner is captured on camera over three hundred times a day), you refuse them entrance at your peril.”

In biblical language, Nathans “speak the truth in love.” As it says in James 1:22, a Nathan is not someone who rushes to “tell you the truth” but someone who helps you to “do the truth.”

As anyone who has ever written some words on a piece of paper, it’s not always pleasant or fun to get edited. The English major in me, cringes at the thought of taking my paper to the writing center and for them to pull out the fine tooth comb or the magnifying glass to make corrections. It’s like they see my soul stripped bare and the vulnerability is apparent. They see me. In all of my weaknesses, in all of my vulnerabilities, in all of the places I would rather not see – they see me.

So prayerfully consider the Nathans in your life. You don’t want to pick a person that is critical for critical’s sake, that is destructive to your world, or does not care about your well-being. So be discerning as you notice the people in your life that make you better, aren’t afraid to give you a reality check when the situation calls for it, and do so in love.

But as you notice the Nathans in your life they have some tell-tale signs. The first is they get under your skin. They look at the inner workings of your life and are not afraid to call BS. An English teacher in high school taught me the acronym meant Be Specific.

The second is they will ask you questions. Sweet says that questions can comfort, challenge, or convict. A Nathan looks at the heart. Snow White on Once Upon a Time wouldn’t get away with the darkness growing in her heart, if a Nathan was around. A Nathan would ask the familiar words of Wesley, “How well is it with your soul?”

The third and final thing is that they will tell the truth. A Nathan helps us see the truth about ourselves – truth telling, not truth dumping. Truth dumping is when we tell someone the “truth” but we’re really giving our own opinion, and it’s needlessly hurtful because the truth teller is not seeking to make us better but is seeking to destroy, cut down, or belittle. Nathan’s words are blunt, but with love. It is said about a Nathan, “There are kinder words that could have been said to me, but there aren’t truer ones.”

My brother Josh just happens to be a Nathan in my life. You’ll meet him on fall retreat because he’s going to be the speaker. He’s not afraid to call me on the carpet when he thinks I’m not being my most Godly. But I trust him implicitly. I don’t always like what he says. I don’t always agree with what he says. But 9 times out of 10 he has a point. He has perspective on my life. Even when I don’t see it. Even when I can’t see it. He has a way of breaking through. It may take a couple of days, of inner debate within myself, to see truth in his observational interruptions, but I trust him. So I listen to him. Because I know he’s watching out for me and just wants me to be the best that I can be.

So I’m glad that Len Sweet writes, “Everybody needs a Nathan. Even Nathan needs a Nathan.” Even Josh needs a Nathan in his life.

So open your eyes to the Nathan’s of your life. Your Nathan’s may easily come to mind. They may not. But we all need them. Oprah is attempting to be Lindsay Lohan’s, but that is another story and another sermon.

Do you know what David named his son? That’s right. Nathan. And that’s the line through which Jesus came through Mary’s side. You see, the Nathan’s of your life will have a big Godly impact in your life if you will let them. May it be so.

Holy and gracious God, may we be ever on the look out for the Nathan’s in our life. That they call us into account and are willing to ask the hard questions. May you set our feet on right paths and may we walk in your ways. Thank you that we were fearfully and wonderfully made and we can rest in the promise that you will never leave us or forsake us. May you give us wisdom as we discern answers to questions that seemingly have no answers. May you give us your peace that transcends all understanding, when we wrestle or need your comfort. May you give us your grace that we may know your more fully and as we continue in your sanctifying grace to be the person you created us to be. In Jesus’ name I pray. We pray now as you taught your disciples to pray….

Little Hairs

I’m crying alone at my desk with the door closed because it’s been a really cruddy day.  And I can’t go anywhere without seeing these little hairs everywhere.  I’m frustrated.  And I want to go on a date with Mike and stop thinking about these things.  He’s promised me to shave my hair completely off tonight so I won’t see the little hairs anymore.  I may be vain.  But I liked my hair.  I was sort of attached to it.  Or it was to me any way.

Bald is beautiful.  It will grow back.  This too shall pass.  It’s only for six weeks.  There’s people worse off than you.  No one is unaffected by cancer.

But I want to scream.

And break stuff.

Then I listen to The Call by Regina Spektor and the tears are flowing freely down my face.  I first heard the song on The Chronicles of Narnia:  Prince Caspian soundtrack.  I really relate to the beginning of the song, “It started out as a feeling/Which then grew into a hope/Which then turned into a quiet thought/Which then turned into a quiet word
/And then that word grew louder and louder/’Til it was a battle cry…”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY0QcSQf_mc

Thanks for letting me vent.  I’ve stopped crying.  I will hold fast to the truth of John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Affirmation and Calling

It’s been an interesting process the past couple of days as our search committee at Winthrop Wesley interviews candidates for the Director/Campus Minister job. I have been thankful to not be directly a part of the process and able to spend time at the end of each candidate’s interview times being able to answer questions and affirm them.

What I’ve found from a lot of them as well as from some of my current and former students is that our church is not always in the practice of affirming our young, capable and qualified leaders if their calling is something other than that of the local church.

As a member of a District Committee on Ministry and as someone who was loved and affirmed in my calling and in this process, I’ve seen some of this from both sides. I felt some of this as someone going through trying to articulate something that didn’t necessarily include a steeple or a pulpit. But, call me crazy, I thought that with all of the research talking about young people going into ministry and with it being over 10 years since I went through our process that things had gotten better. That committees and boards were more open to young people seeing church in sometimes different ways and wanting to live out their calling in ways that doesn’t always fit the life-long career path of previous generations.

I have people tell me all the time that they feel called to campus ministry and want to work with young people but that their committees on ministry or their senior pastor or those giving them counsel on how to get larger appointments with higher paying salaries warn against this because of their career or how they’ll be perceived or pigeon holed asking questions like, “Why would you waste your gifts there?” Yes, I have really heard this.

It feels like we just want to lift up people that look like and talk like us…40 years ago and we want them to follow our exact life map. We’re talking about the Call to Action and vital congregations and I’m all about us having that conversation, but changing our general agencies in no way completely solves the problem of our relevance or our connection with the world. If we ask the same questions that we asked 40 years ago and we expect the same answers, leaving no room for change or growth or a flip the script moment, we’re setting ourselves up for great failure. Not as a Church, not as a body of Christ, not as a movement but as a system – a structure that exists to continue its existence.

In contrast to all of this our amazing intern Erica just got back from her interview process with the General Board of Global Ministries for the Mission Intern program, which would train her to be a missionary 16 months internationally and 16 months domestically. She had an awesome experience. She felt affirmed. She felt heard. She felt like it was actually intentional and discerning and open…and she is bubbling from the experience! Hers is not the most traditional road to ministry, but it is such a rich and wondrous thing to witness. It’s exciting. It gives me hope for our church. Hearing about her wanting to share the Good News of Christ makes me excited that the United Methodist Church sends out missionaries all over the world – with all of their quirks, oddities, diversity, and high caliber!

I want to be able to encourage young people into ministry – whether ordained or in great UMVIM or GBHEM or World Race or whatever opportunities. I want to know that yes, they are questioned and people help them discern and give them counsel, but I also want them to be affirmed that God has called them to serve God’s kingdom – not in a particular venue or in specific cookie cutter ways. Not hating on the cookie cutters because I love them and I am related to them, but we’ve got to lift up our young people and listen to them and hear their hopes, dreams, and passion. We’ve got to see and believe, not just say that all of these ministries are not just valid but just as “important” as the other. And this can’t just happen in our campus ministries. Our students can’t just be affirmed here, in the safety of our communities. The larger church has to be willing to affirm this calling as well and there has to be room made at the table.

I’m sitting here listening to Erica tell two of our students about her experience and what she could possibly do and it’s so contagious that we all need to hear it. We all need to hear this joy and passion. We all need to have a chance to sit down with a group of young people and listen to how they see the world and how they view the church.

So a huge thank you to all of those who have affirmed some of us crazy folks that love the local church – absolutely love it – but are called to serve in a variety of ways. A huge thank you to those that see quality, solid people and don’t say things like – you don’t want to serve there, you want to be able to move up our system, why would you waste your gifts with such a transient and changing group. A huge thank you to those that support these crazy ministries that we do and who believe in the work that we are doing. A huge thank you to our advocates who have stepped into the gaps, who have tried to translate for us, and who have journeyed with us.

May each of us experience times of affirmation and calling, as well as time of challenging and questioning. AND may we as a church realize that some of our larger struggles are not just structural, but so much more. Help us Lord to not just break glass ceilings in our particular ministries but may the greater church realize the gifts, graces, and beautiful ministry that is happening throughout our connection as we seek the already and not yet of your kingdom.