Worry

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

How many times have you heard those words, or something similar? The song, “Don’t worry, be happy” is certainly catchy, but not as “Hakuna Matata.” Maybe what you heard was a distinctive New York accent saying, “Fuggedaboudit!”

Those four words — “Don’t worry about it” — are, in combination with each other, possibly the most useless words in the English language.  You could say “no worries” and the words could mean very different things.  Someone could say them honestly “no worries” and it means genuinely don’t worry about it or they could say “no worries” because they’re really mad that you made something they cared about seem trivial or you said something to hurt their feelings and when they saw it, they brushed it off.

They’re useless not because banishing worry isn’t a good idea. Certainly, it is. Duh.  “Don’t worry about it” is advice routinely ignored and impossible to obey.  It’s a clichéd phrase that often doesn’t get at the weight or depth of the issue.

Some psychologists — borrowing language from medical science — draw a distinction between acute anxiety and chronic anxiety. Acute anxiety, they say, is related to some immediate threat. Leonardo DiCaprio when he comes face to face with the grizzly bear in The Revenant has acute anxiety.  You could say he’s experiencing acute anxiety and fear for most of the movie because he just reaches the double digits with his lines.

Yet, if you wake up each morning with a sense of free-floating dread, but have little idea where those dark forebodings come from — nor any idea when or how you’ll break free from them — then chances are, you’re a victim of chronic anxiety.  My mom calls this the worry cycle.  When you wake up every morning going down the list of worries…your family…your classes…your job…that particular test…that girl or guy that you like…what am I going to this summer…

The word “anxious” is historically related to a Latin word, angere, which literally means “to choke or strangle.” I figured it meant something along the lines of nervous, but I didn’t know it meant to choke or strangle.

There’s another English word that traces its lineage to the same Latin root. The word is angina — the sharp, piercing pain that precedes a heart attack. Angina arises when one of the coronary arteries becomes choked off by arterial plaque, blocking oxygen from reaching the heart muscle.

Anxiety, in other words, can kill you, if you let it fester.

Another English word that grows out of this Latin root, angere, is “anger.” Anxious people, as it so happens, are often angry people. They sense the breath of life being choked off from their soul, and so they lash out, flailing wildly in an effort to remove the threat, whatever they imagine it to be.

Anxious. Angina. Anger.  It would be so easy to link this to Star Wars as leading to the Dark Side, but I won’t.  In our 24 hour news cycle, we’ve gotten numb to the headlines. Would you say it is worse now, more violent now, more worrisome now?

Although we may imagine ourselves the most anxiety-ridden people ever, gazing back longingly, a quick look at the Scriptures reveals this is hardly the case. Speaking God’s word to the community of Israelites in Babylonian captivity, our text reminds us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. … For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (vv. 2-3).  The good news of the salvation oracle in Isaiah 43 is that God directly addresses this experience of exile.

It can be hard for us to conceive just what Jewish people went through as they were uprooted from their homes, and transported to the Babylonian capital. Not everyone was compelled to relocate, of course — just the political, intellectual and economic elite, the ruling class. The Babylonian rulers seem to have followed the advice, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Settling the cream of Judah’s leadership in comfortable quarters, in a neighborhood of the city all their own, the Babylonian overlords made certain there were none from the defeated nation’s leadership who could raise a rebellion back home.

The entire identity of the Jewish people, by contrast, was rooted in their theological understanding of the land. They were proud to be the chosen people Moses had led out of Egypt to claim the land of milk and honey for their own. The land was the principal sign of the Lord’s favor, the continual reminder that they lived in a state of divine grace. The temple mount in Jerusalem was the spiritual center of their universe.   Remember God’s broader plan of salvation is for ALL people, unlike what those Turlington preachers say, but God focused attention on the shocking particularity of God’s love for this one people, Israel, for whom God would pay any price.

When all this was suddenly snatched away from them, not only for their immediate physical circumstances, but, also, whether they could maintain an identity as the Lord’s chosen people without that tangible reality of the Promised Land. They also wondered how they could worship God apart from the cherished temple rites. Their cry of despair is echoed in Psalm 137:4: “How could we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land?”

Isaiah assures them. He gives the people a word from the Lord. “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Who but the Lord could accomplish such a wonder, redeeming the exiles from their hopeless situation? How could such a miraculous release from their captivity happen, unless the Lord willed it? This prophetic passage pictures the exiles’ journey home, passing even through rushing rivers without hindrance or danger.

The image of passing safely through the waters may recall Song of Songs 8:7: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” What miraculous power is it that brings the exiles home, across the mighty Euphrates, but divine love?  How is it that God can bring us out of the muck and mire of our own lives and set our feet on solid ground?

God is with us.  We are not the first generation of human beings to feel inundated by worry. True, we often use our mass-communications technology to construct an echo chamber to amplify our natural anxieties, but the fundamental psychological fact of worry is no different. By nature, we are a worrying people. At times, worry keeps us appropriately vigilant so we may fend off tangible threats. Yet, more often than not, it’s simply a burden.

Yet the Bible in today’s text reminds us that we need not fear.

We can live without anxiety because:

– God created us – In John Wesley’s notes he wrote about this particular passage.  “I have not only created them out of nothing, but I have also formed and made them my peculiar people.”  God formed us.  When you build or create something, you know it inside and out. God, as our Creator, knows us better than we know ourselves. Moreover, the text says, God redeemed us, God calls us by name and God says “you are mine.”

So worry is a lack of trust. If we truly believe that God says, “You are mine,” then how can we be anxious about the things that cross our paths?

This does not mean that there will not be waters to pass through, or fires to put out, but God promises to be our faithful shield and strength.

Such anxiety does not honor the God who created us, calls us by name and not only says “You are mine,” but “you are precious in my sight” (v. 4).

I invite y’all this week as worries or fears flood your minds and hearts, that you come up with 3-5 word phrase like, “Lord have mercy” or “God give me peace” that you say in your head as these thoughts come unbidden.  The Holy Spirit will lead and guide you and we as a community will be here for you.

The Bible says that we should “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Here, the writer echoes the comforting voice of Isaiah the prophet.
Two Days We Should Not Worry

There are two days in every week about which we should not worry; two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

One of these days is Yesterday with all its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains.

Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.

We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday is gone forever.

The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow. With all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and its poor performance, Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control.

Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet to be born.

This leaves only one day, Today. Any person can fight the battle of just one day. It is when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down.

It is not the experience of Today that drives a person mad. It is the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring that renders a person wild with anxiety. Let us, therefore, live but one day at a time.

–Author unknown.

Matthew 6:25-34 says it this way, “25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Chronic anxiety — unlike the acute variety — isn’t based on outside threats. It rises from within. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  The great God of the Universe knows your name.  And some of y’all may freak out at that.  Don’t worry.  Confident that you are more than your name, that you are first and foremost a baptized and beloved child of God, you can look at the world, and even around your neighborhood, with new eyes.  How would that affect how we live?  If we know the Living God?  How would that shape us being in the world?  Do we spread peace that way?  Would that affect how we see the challenges that come daily into our personal world?  And the broader world?  I’ll let you wrestle with those questions.  It’s easy to say what we would do, it’s much harder to banish worry from hearts and minds, to act as peace agents in the world, seeing if we could help, only a little, and trusting God will be our strong fortress……all the days of our life.  Amen.

 

The C Word (and it’s not Cancer)

You know how in different seasons, there are specific words or lessons or visuals that seem to keep popping up in your life?  Maybe that doesn’t occur for everyone but for at least for some of us stubborn folks, it’s like God has to drop clues all over the place for us to actually get the picture.  The thing that keeps coming up to me right now is this idea and belief in community.

For those of you that read the blog (or at least when I used to write regularly) you know this is something I talk about A LOT.  Probably annoyingly so at times.  It’s the thing that I’m most passionate about.  The thing that I believe is integral to the body of Christ and to any semblance or form of Christian life.  You just can’t get around it.  But for some reason, in this move and transition which was months ago at this point, I’ve pulled back a little from it.  I don’t know if it’s new places, new people, new community building, or the grief and loss or change of old close community, but there’s something that is raw inside me around this concept.

I then start to think about student and campus ministry life and how hard it is to transition in from high school community to college community and then transition from college community to being out in the wide, wide world.  I also think about how hard it is to transition from friend groups and single life to married life and professional life and all these in between times and the things that work out and don’t and how so many, random things affect how we view community, who we think are part of our “tribe,” and what we need from community.  It’s not all about what we get out of it and it’s not all about what we put into it, but it seems to be this dance of times and places and seasons.

What are the things that hold us back from real community?  Not pseudo surface-level stuff, but showing people the cracks and vulnerabilities.  I think it’s scary.  It’s unnerving.  We want to be stronger and more patient and more perfect on the outside than the swirl of gunk on the inside.  It gets messy.  It takes a lot of time and real sharing.  It sometimes makes us feel like we’re on display, left wide open or being dissected.  But are these some of the same things that hold us back from fully sharing with God?  Or fully sharing from the heart all aspects of our lives?

I know that not everyone is going to get along and gel 100% of the time.  I’m not talking about being bff’s with everyone you meet.  I’m not even talking about everyone “liking” each other even though I believe we’re all called to love each other and live in community together.  I do challenge us to pause and think before we speak.  I concede that sometimes our guard has to be let down to create those thin places where God can speak to us.  I hope and pray that the world doesn’t see how we fight, bicker and belittle each other, but how we love, support, uphold, and care for one another.

For me, the song that’s been holding me through this season is Phillip Phillips’ “Home.”  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Manna

The highlighted verse in The Upper Room online this morning was Numbers 11:5-6 (NRSV), “The Israelites murmured, ‘We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing…but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

This speaks powerfully to me today.  As a family we’ve been discerning what the future holds for us.  Where is God leading us, how will God provide for us, what are we “supposed” to do???  So many questions surround these decisions and weigh on each of our hearts.

Over the past few months, Mike and I have transitioned out of a place that we loved and cared about and from a worship service that we helped create and foster and grow over many years.  There are definitely seasons for everything and I believe that to be true, but there’s also grief and loss as seasons change and it’s sometimes hard to see the daily provisions in that.  

As these changes have happened, that has meant a new economic reality for our family and I write about this not looking for some quick fix or answer, but because I think there are a lot of people in our churches and communities and families that are struggling in these economic times and are asking some of the same questions that Mike and I are asking.  There are friends’ facebook statuses that I see talking about eating peanut butter sandwiches at the end of the month and their couponing exploits and I know there are many people that are living wisely and practically, trusting not just in God’s provision but also being wise about what we’ve been given.  I had the pleasure of hearing my brother, Josh’s sermon series on Stewardship some this fall and he really brought to life all that it means to be a good steward as we give our time, our presence, our gifts and our service.

Sometimes we’ve become used to all of the extras of life – like that coffee from Starbucks or being able to get that skirt from Target or the luxury of cable tv and we forget the beauty and sustenance of the manna that God provides us every day.  Times may get tough and things might get real tight (how many ways can you use the whole chicken – a lot apparently) but God is with us providing for us each step of the way in big and small ways and giving us the wake up calls and the encouragement we need to move forward in wisdom and faith.

May we treasure these gifts and those that neither most nor rust will destroy.  May we trust that no matter where God leads, that God “gives us this day our daily bread” and that manna is not something for us to look down upon, but something that is a visible sign of God’s provision.  This manna is not just money, by any means, but it’s the daily sustaining through those beautiful ways that God draws us to God’s self each day.  What that means for us is that in the midst of that trusting, we must also be intentional and committed to our prayer life and to being open to God’s leading and promise in our lives.

This is one of my goals for the year, to see the manna as valuable and as grace given to me, not just as something to take for granted.  May it be so!

How has God provided for you? How do you see God’s daily providence? What does this manna also call us to do in our communities and how does it shape the living out of our lives and faith?

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.

Tears

Annual Conference this year was both a whirlwind and a marathon.  Busy-ness or business was everywhere and it was both challenging and inspiring, a call to action and a test of will as we waited/persevered to the end.

I’m starting to think I’ve become more and more emotional as I grow older.  There were several times over this past week when I felt tears come to my eyes.  Some of those times were times of happiness and thanksgiving – feeling the Spirit move as Telley preached at Annual Conference, Josh’s ordination, the prayerful and powerful way our South Carolina delegation laid hands on Dad and prayed over him after unanimously deciding he would be our episcopal nominee.  There were so many great moments from the teaching to the preaching to the videos shared like this:

It was also a great time to camp out for Imagine No Malaria and to train some amazing Students In Mission (SIM) to commit their summers to being in mission = ministry with.  Much to be joyful about!

Sometimes the tears were both thankful and a little bit of just overwhelming gratitude.  It was surreal being back at Annual Conference this year.  Last year, I came in for two days right before the brain surgery and although some probably thought I was insane for coming, for me, it was my church.  The conference – both lay and clergy – are our people and that’s where we as a body share our joys and concerns.  I didn’t realize going into this how much being back at conference would bring up for me in terms of last year’s struggle.

We sang the song, “In Christ Alone” during the opening worship and those words and all of us a large body singing together was such a powerful witness and testimony to the love and providence of God.  (A video and lyrics are below.)  I’m glad we also sang this song during the ordination.  What a powerful song for our commissioned members and ordinands.

My mom’s birthday is June 11th and the brain surgery (left frontal craniotomy) was on her birthday last year.  There’s a part of me that would love to forget that date and not have any mark or reminder of it.  There’s another part of me that knows that it was everyone’s prayers and the grace of God that brought me through and it should be celebrated.  Don’t know which one is winning yet.  The jury is still out.  I get teary just typing about it.  Does that mean I haven’t fully dealt with it yet?  Could be.  Too soon?  Maybe, but not entirely.  Does that mean that was a mucho grande big deal and it’s still crazy to me that all of that happened a year ago and wasn’t just a bad dream?  Yes.  It’s hard to believe that that was me and if I didn’t have my lovely scar that I worry about getting sunburned, I might forget.

It’s hard to process things.  There’s a certain grief and emotion that swells up when you least expect it sometimes.  And it happens to all of us.  I was sitting in the Memorial Service for ministers that have gone to be with God over the past year on Mom’s birthday on the anniversary of my brain surgery and I just couldn’t do it.  I got through the sermon but the slide show of the pictures just did me in.  It’s always been a powerful service to me since in my mind the South Carolina Annual Conference is my home/my church and I know that one day there will be a service for each of us.  And there goes a Sandi Patti song and slides of the pastor that helped during my Gandaddy’s funeral and I have to head on out.  Even in the midst of the thanksgiving for life, even in the midst of the joy of the swelling of the Spirit, even in the midst of realizing that nothing can pluck any of us from God’s hand – there’s still both the realization that something really scary and really serious happened and a something that’s even beyond the word thanksgiving that describes that depth of feeling behind all that could have been and is now.

As I think about those that have faced such devastation in the storms and floods this year, those that have lost loved ones, those that are facing moves and transitions, those that are searching for hope and a rock to lean on when it feels like the walls are closing in around you – I know that the great Comforter is at work in our world and is blowing, inspiring and surrounding us every step of the way.  I am grateful that it is in Christ alone our hope is found and that we will never be turned away from it.  It’s available to each of us.

What are you grieving today?  What are your struggles?  When’s the last time you felt that ground swell of emotion?  How do we see the Spirit at work in our world?  What are the fears and frustrations that we’ve held on to and not given over to God?  What are those buttons of grief that can be turned in to sources of joy in our lives?

We are given songs or videos or movies or sermons or scriptures or friends or emails or a beautiful tree or the melody of the ocean or the stillness and quiet to claim as our promise from God.  It’s there waiting for us.  May we open ourselves to the Word God would speak to us this day.  May we claim it and know it and feel it to the depths of our souls.  May we know and trust.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sin?s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

I will stand, I will stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I stand

What do people see?

Do you ever wonder what people think when they see you?  I’m not completely just talking about visual judgments here, but the whole shebang.  It’s just funny to me to think about how we are each perceived and how close to the mark that is.

One of the students and I walked over to the campus Starbucks earlier today to talk about seminary and candidacy and all that is wonderful and crazy about heading into ministry in the United Methodist Church.  It was a fun conversation and I’m excited about his journey.  What was funny to me is that one of the folks we met along the way, that I know pretty well, didn’t even speak to me or seem to recognize me.  Now, I must say, that since there’s no meetings today and I’m not anticipating having to look too terribly nice, I’m in jeans and a short sleeved shirt with no make up.  You could call this one of my uniforms.  What is hilarious is that when I’m dressed nicely with my make up on, I’m recognized immediately, but in my “natural” state, not so much. Now there are pros and cons about being recognized and pros and cons about blending in.  I just think it’s funny to think about.

I mentioned this to some of the students at lunch and one very nicely and graciously and probably a little untruthfully, said – “What?  You look exactly the same.”  God bless the young.  We were having some conversation about the upcoming school year and getting ready for Welcome Week and the first few weeks of classes and how we need to plan and prepare and get rocking this summer so that we show the very best of Winthrop Wesley those first few weeks. In other words, we’re going to put on our nice clothes and make up and rock this thing.  Or as my Ganny would say, we’re going to put our “face” on.  Thinking about it – it’s the truth.  When do I clean up and make sure everything looks nice – when someone’s coming over, when there’s a board meeting, at the beginning of the school year.  When do we put out fresh pine straw and make sure the outside of the building looks good – Orientations and the beginning of the school year.  When do I actually consider wearing a suit or ironing that dress – Annual Conference, a district meeting, or some other professional gathering. When do our congregations particular dress up – Easter, Christmas, graduation, the big days. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with celebrating or dressing up for dinner or actually using the fine china every now and then.  (Come to think of it – we have NEVER used ours and that is a sad, sad thing.  Maybe we should plan a big dinner sometime soon or at least use the stuff.  I don’t know why we even registered for those tea cups.  My Lord.)  Reality is that I think sometimes we need those occasions or deadlines to get geared up and do something.  Although I know that I need to exercise more and stop eating all of these delicious cookies from Lell’s, I also keep thinking to myself – I’ll start tomorrow or maybe one day when I get a bike and ride it to work or maybe before bathing suit season.  And yet, we’re at bathing suit season and I’m thinking, I don’t really have to wear a bathing suit, right?  Or maybe I can scratch the bikini this year and actually go for the “Mom” suit.  (You know the kind I’m talking about, don’t even try to deny it.)  Sometimes without an imminent deadline, we languish where we are and don’t make the extra effort to get our “stuff” together. So as much as I in some ways don’t like being recognized and it’s nice not to be “seen” all the time, it’s also a good reminder that we’ve got to keep it moving and keep it flowing not just on the high traffic, big deal, main event kind of times, but maybe at least a trickle of keeping it hospitable, welcoming, genuine and open all the time.  You never know whose going to walk into your congregation at what time or who you’re going to welcome to your door.  You don’t know if today’s going to be the day at Starbucks that you meet someone that is going to rock your socks off and be that missing piece to some ministry idea or ministry team or whatever for your congregation.  I’m not saying we’re not authentic – and I’m certainly not saying that I’m going to suddenly dress up for Wesley each day, but I am saying that we’ve got to be aware of what the world sees.  We’ve got to be aware of how we’re perceived.  We’ve got to be aware of the image that we create.

While at lunch there were three professors in the restaurant with us and one of them who comes to our Faculty-Staff lunches looked over and smiled and waved as the students and I were discussing Nicaragua and the upcoming school year.  That’s what I want these folks to see – students engaged and excited and brainstorming – not just about their schoolwork or their majors but also about their vocational journeys, their worlds – all the fun and mess and real life.  We want the world to see all of who we are – not just the Sunday morning shiny with the great hair, outfit, and full face, but also the struggles, the tears, the frustrations and everything in between. So the challenge – put our best foot forward – true – but be real.  What is your image of yourself?  What do you think the world sees?  What do you think God sees?  How are we called to be in the world?  Do we need a big fancy event to throw on some nice clothes or use the good china?  Who or what has helped to define how you see yourself?

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”  – Parker Palmer

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. 1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Hello!

I readily admit that I am a lover of Broadway.  Love it!  Especially musicals.  From the first time I saw Cats in the 6th grade to Wicked to Avenue Q to Phantom to Promises, Promises to In the Heights to most recently The Book of Mormon, there’s something about a story being acted out in the midst of great acting, catchy songs, and neat stages/dancing/the whole atmosphere that I just can’t get enough of.  I know, I know – it’s a long way to Broadway.  But there’s loads of shows that come through even wonderful South Carolina.  And you could see the Legally Blonde musical on MTV or the anniversary special of Les Mis on PBS or even bootlegging from your wonderful youtube.  There’s just something about being transported and watching really great art – singing, dancing, acting, the amazing orchestra – the whole experience.

So that’s the place I’m coming from when Mike won tickets to the Book of Mormon and we could see the whole thing from boxed seats and into the orchestra.  I’m not the hugest fan in the world of South Park.  I think it’s sometimes funny – the episodes about Tom Cruise, Scientology, Mormons, the Christian rock band, those I can find the humor and appreciate it.  I’m not a fan of the overkill of language and violence but I know that is part of what they’re trying to speak to.  I get that.  I had no idea what to expect out of this musical.  I had read about it in Entertainment Weekly and how they described it as “an atheist’s love letter to religion.”

I was pleasantly surprised.  Yes, there’s some awful language.  So much so in parts that I can’t even describe some of the songs.  But how real and open they were to work with real issues and serious situations in the midst of the hilarity and satire, was a unique look about religion, faith, and just how cruddy or overly fake life can appear to be and yet how real and authentic it is.

I think about this how end of the world hoohah right now.  When we were in New York people were wearing signs and handing out brochures in Times Square about our upcoming May 21st big day.  One of the newspapers quoted a retired bus driver who had put in over $40,000 to get the word out to the “unbelievers.”  That’s a whole lot of money to put out there.  It also quoted a bunch of people who had already quit their jobs and sold their houses.  I can’t even imagine that kind of….what’s the word….devotion?  (lots of other adjectives that could be used here)

In the opening song of The Book of Mormon and also as part of the finale there’s a song called “Hello!” and it’s a melody of Mormons doing their somewhat cliched ringing of doorbells and introducing people to the Book of Mormon.  I wouldn’t say the musical is completely anti-Mormon, but it certainly does poke major fun and lots of holes and questions about the legitimacy of Mormonism.  It talks about these missionaries being dropped into these communities and not really caring how the people are actually doing or how they live, but only caring about witnessing.  Now I’d like to get on my high horse and say that the United Methodist Church doesn’t do that – we’re working with communities, handing out bed nets, providing food, clean water, education.  You can’t deny that UMCOR rocks.  Very true.

But do we care enough to give our $40,000 savings to anyone or anything to get out any kind of message?  I’m not saying you should start shelling out money a la to some televangelist – quite the contrary.  I’m just saying, I don’t know how many of us are willing to part with our life savings for anything.  And definitely not to our churches.

What do our missionaries look like?  And not just our missionaries because that’s putting it off on just a few, but what do we look like as we share the Gospel?  Do we share a Gospel with strings attached or just the simple bare basics in our every day lives?  Do we tell people how our scripture could change their lives?  Do we share how Jesus is relevant to our lives today?  Have any of us shared scripture with someone else, much less a Bible?  Do we think that’s too pushy or too “something”?

It’s great that we are doing Change the World weekends as a UMC.  Really great.  That’s what we should be doing.  But all the time and all the churches.  Too much to ask?  Maybe so.  But if we as a church – not just UMC, but all of us – aren’t doing something, living something, breathing something, actually giving a fig about something enough to put our time, hearts, and money where are mouths are, than what are we doing?

Hello!