Posted in Chosen, Chosen Series, Christian, Church, Grace, Sermon, Story, United Methodist Church, Worship, Young Clergy

God Created YOU

We are launching into a trilogy series called “Chosen.”

Part One: Running to You

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July 8th – “Chosen:  Running to You” God Created You.

July 17th – “Chosen:  Running to You” God chooses us just as we are.

July 24th – “Chosen:  Running to You” God chooses us FOR something.

Part Two: Choosing You

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July 31st – “Chosen:  Choosing You” We choose to follow Jesus.

August 7th – “Chosen:  Choosing You” We choose to step out.

August 14th – “Chosen:  Choosing You” We choose to be restored.

Part Three: Chosen to Act

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August 21st – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to share the Good News.

August 28th – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to bring light.

September 4th – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to love the world.

Psalm 139

The Inescapable God

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

This passage is titled “The Inescapable God.”

inəˈskāpəb(ə)l/

adjective

adjective: inescapable

  1. unable to be avoided or denied.
synonyms: unavoidable, inevitable, unpreventable, ineluctable, inexorable;

assured,sure, certain, guaranteed;

necessary, required, compulsory, mandatory;

rareineludible

“meeting the future in-laws is inescapable”

Meeting the future in-laws is definitely inescapable and I’m glad that I have good ones.  God’s love is unavoidable, compulsory, unpreventable….Do you find comfort in this or discomfort?  It sort of depends on how you see God or the nature of God.  If you see God as an all loving, omnipresent (all present), and omnipotent (all knowing) that’s our strength and our shield and a very present help in times of trouble, you are comforted by this Psalm.  You realize that even though God knows all you’ve done and said and the things you’ve hidden away and the deepest recesses of your heart, God loves you anyway.  Jesus scatters your sins from the east to the west and they’re not held against you anymore by grace alone.  Christ is the victor over all evil and injustice in this world and we work with the Holy Spirit to bring God’s kingdom to earth.  If your view of God is a task-master, one that checks off like Santa if you do this naughty thing, or that, or if you simply don’t trust God because what you see God doing in the world seems so unfair, unjust, and unfathomable, then you have an entirely different picture of who God is.  Scriptures abound painting with  all kinds of different strokes about the nature of God, but if you take the full picture, the full painting, you begin to see that God is longing for us to return home.  Just like the father in the familiar prodigal sermon.  God’s longing for us to come home so that God can throw a party just as the father did in the story.

This points to what United Methodists call prevenient grace.  God woos us to God’s self, even before we knew, even before we are aware of it.  God seeks each of us out to have a relationship with God.  God calls us where we are, in all of the mire and muck of sin, and as Jeremiah 18:1-4 says, “18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.”  God, as the potter, has the power to make all things new.  As Isaiah 64:8 says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  God creates each of us and calls us each by name.  God cares about each of us.  God seeks the heart of each of us.  To give us hope and a future.

8th grade was a very difficult year for me.  My dad was a United Methodist pastor so we moved the summer before my eighth grade year.  The exact wrong time to move if you’re a 5 foot 11 ½ inch girl and none of the guys at your school had hit their growth spurt yet.  I grew to this height in seventh grade, but we had been in the Hartsville schools for 7 years, but when we moved to Cheraw I was fresh meat.  My nicknames abounded that year:  giraffe, Olive Oil, stick.  They made fun of me for my long fingers and after a dance where some people had gone through my purse, I went home crying and being oh so dramatic and yelling at the top of my lungs to my parents, “I hate this town and everyone in it!”  I wanted to go “home” to Hartsville.  I felt out of place and wanted my old friends, old church and the familiar status quo.  Have you ever felt like an outsider?  That you didn’t belong?  Like Dorothy did you realize there’s no place like home.  It’s easy for adolescents to feel that way.  To hope that some day they will find a place where they fit.  As a teenager I always searched for this mythical home.  Even writing about it when I was 17 in a poem titled “My “Ganny’s.”

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This place has been my haven, through life’s many storms

A constant place of refuge, where things are close and warm

It’s seen my tears, it’s seen my smiles, and it’s picked me up each time

The one place that has never changed in the journey of my life

When I have felt lost – no real “home” – and confused

Or when I thought my heart was broken and my soul had been stripped bare

I go through life as a little child trying to keep on her disguise

But in these walls my face lights up for this is where my strength and hope lies

Things are brighter, life more precious, feelings really matter

Here I find my true self, amidst the family’s chatter

This place is not a castle, a mansion, or a dream

What makes it great is not itself but the things that are unseen

The simple words full of wisdom, lack of pretense, and genuine love for people and each other

Are the things I admire and respect about my grandfather and grandmother

Although I can’t say I have the pleasure of living here from day to day

This place is my strength and my rock and in my heart it will stay

A place given from God to me, to help me light my way

A place where I can dance and sing, a secret hiding place

Everyone needs a refuge, a place to feel free and loved

There’s always a light, open door, some chocolate cake and a hug

People need a “Ganny’s” to escape our stress-filled world

A home that shows the love and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord

Everyone should have a safe space, where they can simply be.  Simply relax.  Simply to take off the armor we sometimes carry around in our day to day lives.  Whether it is a societal shield or a learned behavior, to protect us from further wounding or to hide our hurt.  Why do we remember only the negative things years later, but we forget the praises in a heartbeat?  Why do we carry around our wounds?  When the great God of the Universe created us and calls us for a purpose.  God created YOU.  God created Me.  With all of our persnicketies and peculiarities.

We have to LET IT GO, as Elsa sings, or as Taylor Swift sings, SHAKE IT OFF.  We have to stop all of the negative tapes in our heads that we’re not good enough, we’re not worthy, we’re not strong enough, we’re not….enough.  Because that’s just Satan trying to keep us silent and feeling bad about ourselves.  Our baggage is the stuff we carry; the stuff we can’t shake.  At times, we carry it so long it becomes a part of us.  We begin repeating it in our heads in our litany of why we can’t do something.  It holds us back.  It holds us down.  It enslaves us, keep us in bondage, preventing us from being who God truly wants us to be.  Who God truly created us to be.  It can either be mistakes we’ve made or things that we’ve been subjected to be others.  Nevertheless, it’s a pain festering inside of us, an open festering wound. It’s time to let go and let God.  That’s where the healing begins.

It’s time to lay them all down at the feet of Jesus and he can play new words on the tape players of our hearts.

You are chosen.

You are beloved.

You are my beautiful creation.

You don’t have to DO anything to have my love.  You don’t have to BE anything to have my love.  I’m your home.  The place you belong is is resting in my love and grace.  You can hang out there forever.

If you’ve been carrying around these wounds, this baggage inside – take a moment and consider freedom from those things.  If you know someone carrying around this baggage, pray for them and that God will give you the courage and the words to ask them to lay their fears, worries, tapes, baggage at the feet of Jesus.

I’m reminded of the words from Paul encouraging Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-10.  “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

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, 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.”

God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear.  God wants to take away our burdens.  God wants to be our refuge.  A very present help in times of trouble.  Don’t let anyone tell you who you are.  Tell them Whose you are and rest in that.  I know what I’m saying is easier said than done.  Some of us hold tight to our woundings like familiar, old security blankets.  Ask God to work on that with you.  God created your inmost thoughts, God knows everything about you, and God desires to give you abundant life in Christ.  Not a half life.

We cannot love our neighbors with God’s agape love until we first love ourselves with God’s agape love.  That sacrificial love that is exemplified as Christ dying for our sins.  So whatever your burdens are….Whatever separates you from feeling the love of God….ask God to reveal it to you….whatever baggage you carry with you….ask God to free you from it in Jesus’ name.  As Mother Teresa says, “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can live your life radiating that love.”  I want us all to radiate the love of God.  I’m praying as it says in Micah that we all seek to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  Aberjhani, in Journey through the Power of the Rainbow says, “Love is our most unifying and empowering common spiritual denominator. The more we ignore its potential to bring greater balance and deeper meaning to human existence, the more likely we are to continue to define history as one long inglorious record of man’s inhumanity to man.”

I will tell you if you let go and let God in, God doesn’t promise to take the pain away, God doesn’t promise it will be easy, God doesn’t promise you will not be challenged and face all that the world throws at you, but God promises to be with you.  In Psalm 139:18, “I come to the end – I am still with you.”  These are the words of David, but they could express the emotion and commitment of Martin Luther King Jr. as well. The “end” nearly came sooner than later.

The year was 1968. The place: Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis Presley is living at Graceland with his wife Priscilla and newborn daughter Lisa Marie, and is enjoying the Grammy he has just won for his second gospel album, “How Great Thou Art.” In the minds of many, he is “The King.”

Another King comes to town on April 3, 1968. Several death threats have been directed at King, and tension is high, but he feels that it is important to press ahead and speak at a rally on behalf of the sanitation workers. In the course of this address, he tells the story of an earlier attempt on his life, one that brought him perilously close to death. According to Ralph Abernathy, his friend and successor, Martin Luther King stood up that night and just “preached out” his fear.

“You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood, that’s the end of you.

It came out in The New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. [Some time] after the operation, after my chest had been opened and the blade taken out, they allowed me to move around … and to read the mail that had come in from all over the states and the world. Kind letters had come in. I read a few, but one I will never forget. I had received telegrams from the president and vice president, but I have forgotten what those messages said. I received a visit and a letter from the governor of New York, but I forgot what was said.

But there was another letter that came from a young girl at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I will never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing to you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”

And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I [too] am happy that I didn’t sneeze.”

In his autobiography he wrote, “If I demonstrated unusual calm during the attempt on my life, it was certainly not due to any extraordinary powers that I possess. Rather, it was due to the power of God working through me. Throughout this struggle for racial justice I have constantly asked God to remove all bitterness from my heart and to give me the strength and courage to face any disaster that came my way. This constant prayer life and feeling of dependence on God have given me the feeling that I have divine companionship in the struggle. I know no other way to explain it. It is the fact that in the midst of external tension, God can give an inner peace.”

He died the next day after giving that speech in Memphis.  In the course of his life, Martin Luther King walked through many dangers, toils and snares, but through it all he knew that God was walking with him. He had the very same faith as the writer of Psalm 139, the ancient poet who said to the Lord, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

After this week of unspeakable tragedy in our nation, “sides” being picked in our offices, homes and especially on social media, and children being afraid to go outside and play in their yards, we can draw comfort from the knowledge that God made each and every one of us, God is with each and every one of us, and God works all things together for God for those who love God.  God was with those who were shot, God was with the people at the rally in Dallas, God is with the ones that are recovering, God is with their families, God is with each of us as we grapple with the who’s, why’s, and how’s, as we explain such events to our children. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

I will close with this prayer that Beth A. Richardson wrote after the awful tragedy and deadly violence in Orlando.

The news is bad.
We are outraged and horrified.
We are shocked and afraid.
We are overwhelmed and numb.
How many more times will we awake to such news?

Some of us sit in front of the television,
Search the internet for stories,
Watch, listen for something
That will help make sense,
That will soothe or comfort,
That will bring order back again.

Some of us can’t bear the words, the images.
The press conferences and scrolling news feeds
Freeze our brains, our hearts, our guts.

Some of us pray.
Some of us escape.
Some of us rage.
Some of us cry.

God, have mercy on our world.
Have mercy on the powerless and the powerful.
Have mercy on the first responders and those in ministry to the brokenhearted.
Have mercy on the victims, their families, their friends.

Sit with us in our terror, our sadness, our hopelessness.
And let us hold the space for others as we
Sit or cry, light candles or pray,
In solidarity, in hope, in love.
Amen.

You are chosen.  God created you in God’s image.  God created all of us in the image of God and freely forgives us no matter the baggage, no matter the doubt, no matter what.  You are loved.  Don’t let anyone or anything wrestle that fact away from you.  You are a beloved child of God, a fearfully and wonderfully made creation.  May we all feel , after this particularly hard week, God’s tangible love for each of us that calls us to a new, higher way, when we will all journey home.

Posted in Campus Ministry, God made YOU, More Beautiful You, psalm 139, Sermons, Suitcases, The Help

God Creates YOU – You’re Dust

College

Okay, I confess, I sort of copped out. This sermon is not going to be about sex and dating. I know, I know. But I have a plan that doesn’t put the cart before the horse, so to speak. We will start this Sunday with God creating us and lifting up the theme of Ash Wednesday because it falls on Spring Break. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” March 9th will be all about healthy communication in community and practical advice for dealing with conflict. God wants us to live life in community. March 16th will be all about guarding your heart, no matter if you’re a single person or a dating person or you’re on your way to being a married person. We’ll wrap up with, “God wants you to have a great sex life” because God does want you to have a great sex life. We give mixed messages as a church universal about sex so we’ll delve into those. What do I mean by that? Well, you’ll have to come on March 23rd to hear it in person or listen at gatorwesley.com or read it on my blog. And then we’ll go into our Lenten series as we make our way towards the cross and Easter. Sound good?

So now that you know where we’re going, hear now the word of God:

Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24
1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end[a]—I am still with you.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked[c] way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.[d]

Isaiah 64:8
8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Jeremiah 18:1-4
18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

8th grade sucked. My dad was a United Methodist pastor so we moved the summer before my eighth grade year. The exact wrong time to move if you’re a 5 foot 11 ½ girl and none of the guys at your school had hit their growth spurt yet. You see, I grew to this height in seventh grade. We had been in the Hartsville schools for 7 years so they were used to me being tall and I felt at home and self-confident there. When we moved to Cheraw I was fresh meat. My nicknames abounded that year: giraffe, Olive Oil, stick…. A teacher at the time, used me as an example in geography class, telling the entire class to remember the country of Sri Lanka, by me, because I was so lanky. Now, I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, but I can’t believe she said that. I didn’t like Cheraw very much at the time and my eighth grade self remembers being oh so dramatic and yelling at the top of my lungs to my parents, “I hate this town and everyone in it!” and running up the stairs to my room and slamming the door. I wanted to go “home” to Hartsville where I knew people and they knew me. I remember relying on the spiritual strength of my mom a lot that year.I later read the book Reviving Ophelia for my Teacher Cadet class my senior year of high school and my behavior makes perfect sense as the transition between girl and young woman. I now appreciate with fondness, love and treasured memories, the four years that I spent in Cheraw, SC “The Prettiest Town in Dixie.”

What came out of this, is an understanding that we’re all uniquely created and wired. God created YOU. God created ME. God even claims the dramatic eighth grade me that thought everyone didn’t like her, that she was skinny and awkward and lanky, and I still can recall as if it were yesterday the hurtful and negative things people said about me that year. Why do we remember only the negative things years later, but we forget the praises in a heartbeat? Why do we carry around our wounds? Because that’s what they are: wounds.

My mom continues to give me insight on me. I don’t remember if we had ever had those conversations before that year, but she has continued to give me wisdom since then. She said since I was three years old, I’ve always taken things personally. She said I came home from preschool every day for a month saying nobody liked me. Do you remember that song, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat worms?” I picture little 3 year old me, singing that song, but I digress. When she visited the preschool for the open house and asked the teacher about it, the teacher looked surprised and said everybody likes Narcie, but (blank name), the class bully, doesn’t like her because Narcie stands up to her. That’s the thing. I’ve been wired to be a people pleaser. If someone is mad at me or upset with me, I fester on that, all of my thoughts continually drift back to that, and it becomes like an obsession. Now, I have grown over the years. I don’t take people’s criticism that personally anymore. Well, scratch that, maybe I do. But was that nature or nurture? Was I born that way (nature)? Or was it put upon me by birth order or family system or gender bias? I don’t know. I’m still reasoning that one out. But I’ve also been wired to speak truth to power. I honestly try to not give my opinion, but I HAVE TO speak out. It doesn’t matter whether I sit on my hands or figuratively tape my mouth shut, if I feel like something’s not right….I can’t help but speak up. For a man this may come across as one way, but because I am female, I’m seen as bossy or worse. And I fully claim to be bossy! There’s no denying that. But is it nature or nurture? Was I wired that way?

Speaking of gender bias, John Eldredge in his book Wild at Heart and in the book he and his wife wrote together Captivating say that men and women were created differently. We used to have a Battle of the Sexes board game based on the popular book in the 90’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (and I realize that most of you were born in the 90’s) and the gender bias’ showed in the questions. Check your parents’ shelves for this book over the break. The game makes the assumption, that women don’t know anything about sports or power tools or camping or cars and the game portrayed the women’s cards all about fashion, make up, and other girly stuff. Now, I agree with some of Captivating and Wild at Heart, the essence of them both but I disagree with them both at times too. This is what Wikipedia had to say that sums up Wild at Heart, “”If Christian men are going to change from a pitiful, wimpy bunch of “really nice guys” to men who are made in the image of God, they must reexamine their preconceptions about who God is and recover their true “wild” hearts, writes bestselling author John Eldredge in Wild at Heart: Discovering a Life of Passion, Freedom, and Adventure. Eldredge claims that men are bored; they fear risk, they refuse to pay attention to their deepest desires. He challenges Christian men to return to what he characterizes as authentic masculinity without resorting to a “macho man” mentality. Men often seek validation in venues such as work, or in the conquest of women, Eldredge observes. He urges men to take time out and come to grips with the “secret longings” of their hearts.”

Wikipedia says about Captivating, “It proposes that women have three core desires: “to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty”(Eldredge 8). It also proposes that God made woman as the “Crown of Creation”, an embodiment of God’s beauty, mystery and vulnerability. The book rejects the idea of an ideal woman and explores biblical scripture from the view that God desires woman to embrace her glory, rather than fear her femininity. Captivating is a companion to Wild at Heart, also by John Eldredge, and argues that its model of femininity complements men’s innate desires for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

See what I mean? It’s worth it to go through the books in small groups, like the guy’s group did last semester reading Wild at Heart together because it definitely gives you a lot of material to discuss.

My children, Enoch and Evy, are 6 and 5. I can tell you that Enoch is all Enoch and Evy is all Evy. What do I mean by that? Enoch’s first name is Daniel, but Enoch’s his name. A Daniel wouldn’t fit him. Enoch is a bundle of energy. You more often than not will see him in motion, running around Gator Wesley. He believes like Ricky Bobby that if you’re not first, you’re last. So with competitive things he is frustrated when he’s not number one. He has a sensitive heart. But strong. My mom said when he was a year old that he would either be a spy/CIA operative or a thief because he could get into anything and figure out a way to open it. Enoch called me on Friday. Although Mike had has phone locked and he has the new iPhone with all of the security measures. Enoch was able to break into it. So I answered the call expecting Mike’s voice and heard Enoch giggling with Evy right beside him. Mike said later it was the second time had broken into his phone over the past two weeks.

Evangeline Grace Jeter is Evy because that name fits her. We decided to name her that because we were obsessed at the time with the tv show LOST and I always liked the actor that played Kate who is Evangeline Lily. So there you have it. We decided to call her Evy Grace because she was born on the first Sunday of Advent. Evangeline means good news. Evy is a girly girl mixed with a tomboy. Girls in her preschool class typically flock to Ms. Davies, who loves Cinderalla, or Ms. Cardoza who’s incredibly outdoorsy and was a basketball player. Ms. Cardoza told Mike that Evy is somewhere in between. Evy is extremely sensitive. I mean she fake cries all the time because she knows she’s adorable, but I know the difference in her trying to get something and wounding. Anytime, Mike or I, say we’re disappointed in her, which isn’t that often, she immediately bursts into tears.

I can tell you that with both Enoch’s essence and Evy’s essence, they entered the world that way leading me to believe that Enoch’s strength, tenacity, and smarts comes naturally to him and Evy’s zest for life, sensitivity, and empathy makes her who she is.

The point is, we are ALL uniquely created to be US, but we’ve all been wounded at one time or another, and some of those wounds are deep. It reminds me of the Jonny Diaz song More Beautiful You:

Little girl fourteen flipping through a magazine
Says she wants to look that way
But her hair isn’t straight her body isn’t fake
And she’s always felt overweight

Well little girl fourteen I wish that you could see
That beauty is within your heart
And you were made with such care your skin your body and your hair
Are perfect just the way they are

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

Little girl twenty-one the things that you’ve already done
Anything to get ahead
And you say you’ve got a man but he’s got another plan
Only wants what you will do instead

Well little girl twenty-one you never thought that this would come
You starve yourself to play the part
But I can promise you there’s a man whose love is true
And he’ll treat you like the jewel you are

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

So turn around you’re not too far
To back away be who you are
To change your path go another way
It’s not too late you can be saved
If you feel depressed with past regrets
The shameful nights hope to forget
Can disappear they can all be washed away
By the one who’s strong can right your wrongs
Can rid your fears dry all your tears
And change the way you look at this big world
He will take your dark distorted view
And with His light He will show you truth
And again you’ll see through the eyes of a little girl

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

There can never be a more beautiful, handsome, smart, strong YOU. The words remind me of what Aibileen Clark says in The Help to Mae Mobley, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” If we praise girls for only their looks and say they’re beautiful or adorable or cute, but then we praise boys for their athletic prowess, what are we doing? What are we saying? As a society, what are we prioritizing? We need to shed our parent’s expectations, our teacher’s expectations, society’s expectations, our own expectation’s, anything that holds us back from embracing our selves fully in the grace of God.

I’m not going to ask you to write anything down, but I invite you to pray in your seat as I play the song that the dance team danced to earlier. Come up to the prayer candles and light a candle signifying a decision to appreciate yourself, love yourself more. Because we cannot love our neighbors with agape love until we first love ourselves with agape love. Hear me now saying that, We cannot love our neighbor with agape love until we first love ourselves with agape love. Mark 12:30-31 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The first step is to love God. The second step is to love your self. And the third step is to love your neighbor. So whatever your burdens are…Whatever separates you from feeling the love of God…ask God to reveal it to you…whatever baggage you carry with you…

Stop at 5:08

“Suitcases” Lyrics by Dara Maclean

How can you move when they’re weighing you down
What can you do when you’re tied to the ground, yeah
You carry your burdens, heavy like gravity
Just let them go now, there’s freedom in release

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be afraid

Can you imagine what it’s like to be free
Well, send those bags packing, they’re not what you need
Abandon your troubles by the side of the street
Just let them go now, believe me

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be afraid

There’s nothing hold you back now, just run

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be
You don’t have to be afraid.

Posted in Campus Ministry, journal, lectionary, martyrs, narrative, Sermon

Martyr of the Holy Innocents

Isaiah 63:7-9

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

God’s Mercy Remembered

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely”;
and he became their savior
    in all their distress.
It was no messenger[a] or angel
but his presence that saved them;[b]
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Most pastors avoid this text I’m about to read you like the plague.  It’s even called the Holy Innocents or Martyrs in the Lectionary.  You see, we’re still decorated for Christmas.   Most people don’t know it’s even part of the Christmas story, and Lord knows we wouldn’t want it depicted in any way.  But my friend and colleague the Rev. Paul Shultz, had a way of wading into texts that still made you uncomfortable, still did not give you all the answers and didn’t tie up the loose ends.  He would act like he relished making you uncomfortable, but he let slip one too many times, his care for people.  He died this past week from flu complications.  We texted on New Year’s when he first started coming down with something.  He was only 50 years old and had three kids, 1 grandchild and a fiancé Jana.  I will travel tomorrow morning to represent the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association at the visitation and the funeral because he was my co-chair on UMCMA.  Prayers for his family, students at The University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, and all those that loved him

Hear now the word of God. 

Matthew 2:13-23

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”14 Then Joseph[a] got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,[b] he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.[c] 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph[d] got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.

 

So how do you deal with the implications of an angel warning Mary and Joseph to flee with baby Jesus while hundreds of children, 2 years old and younger, were slaughtered?  This is my attempt to not gloss over and fast forward the 3 verses, but to deal with them, realizing that I have my own limited understanding of what it’s like to lose a child.

This is the journal of Divorah, daughter of Amos, of Beyt-Lechem.

Journal Entry 1

I am a young woman today, full of strength and life, and I’ve been blessed by God.  I am from, well, not a wealthy family, but a good one.  I have a good name, something that, among my people, is priceless.  The Lord led me to my love, my husband, Yoseph, and we have had three full years of joy together.  We have good lands that flourish with wheat and barley and honey, and I have praised God daily for it.  God even favored us enough to give us a child, a daughter, whom we’ve named Hannah.  She has been the most precious thing I have ever known.  Every movement, every sound, every new thing she learns or discovers – it has been overwhelming the amount of unconditional love I feel.  Her father and I would commission someone to paint her life, one day at a time, if we could.  That is how this journal came to be.  Yesterday, on Hannah’s first birthday, we bought this book of memories, with as many blank pages as we could afford, to begin to record her life.  And all of that, taken together, is an overflowing cup for any person.

But that was yesterday.  And today let no talk pass my lips of the Lord’s favor.  Let no one speak his name before me.  May no prayer to this “god” pass my lips or those of anyone in my household as long as I live.

Yesterday morning my Hannah turned a year old, and yesterday evening a Roman detachment arrived in town under Herod’s orders.  Yoseph and I could hear the crowds and shouting from here, and in only minutes they had come to our door.  They didn’t ask for the tax, or if we were harboring a fugitive, or if my husband was a member of the latest insurrection.  They demanded, of all things, our little girl.

And I cannot tell you how bitterly I fought them, four armed soldiers.  My husband was clubbed nearly to death, and these men murdered my Hannah.  Yoseph couldn’t protect her.  And no matter how loudly I screamed and scratched and hit, the soldiers just pushed me to the side.  They killed my sweet, precious Hannah and they might as well have killed me as well.   My husband keeps shaking me, asking me if I need anything, anything at all.  Doesn’t he know I can’t bear to go on?  Doesn’t he know that it’s all I can do to record every last thing I can remember in this journal?  For her short and brief life.  What made her smile and giggle……I can’t bear it.

Journal Entry 2

Almost thirty years to the day, I open up these pages again.  I’ll confess that I’ve read and re-read those last words many, many times since that day.  No birthday of my Hannah’s ever passes that I don’t come back here to remember.  On more than one occasion I even thought to record my feelings, to write to her, to tell her things I would’ve told her at 8 or 12 or 20 years old.  But it seemed wrong to change this book.  It seemed like moving on from her.

Nevertheless, I write today because new facts have come to light with regard to the history of Hannah’s life.  My husband and I’ve met again a young man named Yohanan, John, son of Zebediyah the fisherman from the Galilee.  John’s mother is my cousin, and he spent some time here on the farm as a boy.

Anyway, in the city, John had been invited to teach.  I thought it strange for the son of a fisherman, but the local Rabbi seemed to wish to almost interrogate him about the happenings of another wandering Rabbi that John has taken up with, one named Yeshua, or Jesus.  So my husband and I attended, and if I’m honest I was shocked and moved by John’s wisdom, and the “spirit” that was upon him.  We greeted him afterwards and he invited us to lunch and started to open up his heart to us.  And it was he who mentioned Hannah’s name to me.

He explained that this Jesus, whom he takes the foolish risk of calling “lord,” is none other than the Messiah.  And I told him that I’d heard all of that talk before but that I no longer have time for any of God’s Messiahs.  But he went on to say that it was because of this Jesus that the soldiers were sent to our village so many years ago, that it was this Jesus who threatened the evil rule of men like Herod, that it was this Jesus who is God’s great savior.  He spoke of the boy’s birth to a man and wife from Nazareth who had traveled to Bethlehem; he told me about Herod’s schemes and the appearance of angels in visions and dreams to deliver the child and his parents.  He started to describe the kingdom of God coming, and an age where even grief like mine would be no more.

Now that I think of it I can still remember the Roman census that year, and the rumors that were circulating in town at the time – a king was to come from the city of David, after all.  It was only a few months later that I became pregnant with Hannah, so we had taken it all as a good omen!  Our daughter, growing up to see the reign of Israel’s great king!

But that is when I remembered myself.  That is when I remembered the kind of faith that had left my home unguarded on that bloody night.  I remembered the kind of hope that naïve children cling to before they’ve grown up to see what life is like here and now, on earth.  I asked John why it is that our great God, the Lord of heaven and earth, had his son born to peasants in unsecured and unknown towns; or why this God speaks in fables and dreams while men like Herod give orders to armed legions?  Or why was it only God’s son who was warned to escape Bethlehem while Hannah was left alone to die?  And hundreds more with her?

I cannot even remember John’s reply, but my husband Yoseph had a few choice words for John that he had the audacity to bring up that terrible night as if this Jesus……    As Yoseph regained his temper, he thanked him for the lunch and sent him on his way without another word.  He wished him luck that he and his Jesus might somehow survive either Herod Antipas or Caesar or the Chief Priest, for that matter, but I feel none the better for our conversation.   There’s no way this Jesus being born could justify my Hannah being taken from me.  Here I sit, and thirty years have passed, but no words and no anger will bring Hannah to me.  I no longer know who I am or how to live.  I write, only, to keep record of what I now know of her story.  God have mercy on us.

Journal Entry 3

Today, Hannah’s story in this book comes to a close.  Very briefly I’ll say that, through John, in the past year I’ve been able to meet Jesus in person.  To follow him in the crowds, very skeptically at first.  Then, to eat with him and speak with him intimately a few times.  And the same wisdom and Spirit that I saw in John in that synagogue, I’ve felt in Jesus – as the source of it, like the sun sharing its light.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I first even entertained the idea that he could really be our Messiah.  It was gradual, as he answered many of my questions, and gave me new ones.  But something in his teaching, that the others usually overlooked or rebuked, started to call out to me.  He would occasionally speak of death, and of his own suffering.  He would hint at the need to shed his blood, and to tear down the Temple only to rebuild it again.  He spoke of a time of great personal sorrow to come, and of his own pain, and of his followers being prepared to carry a cross every single day.

And I don’t know what it was, but while the others murmured about these strange, off-hand comments of his, they rang in my heart.  While the crowds asked him not to say such things, but foamed at the mouth for the triumph of Israel over the Romans and all our enemies, it sounded to me like something deeper was at work.  So, yes, just weeks ago during the Passover when he was arrested, I was stirred to draw near to Jesus like never before.  What did I have left to lose?  What could the soldiers take from me now that they haven’t already ripped from me?

As some of his crowd fled in fear or others shouted out in their disappointment for him to be killed like a criminal, I prayed for him.  As I watched what they did to him, and how he endured, as he suffered, and felt unspeakable pain, at no fault of his own, in spite of his innocence, I thought of the innocence of my 1 year old, Hannah.  And I ached for his mother Mary, to witness the unspeakable ways they were treating him.  It was this final thought that confirmed in me that this was my Lord and my God.

I, who wasn’t one to look for a Messiah, who felt like no one on this earth knew my tragedy or could possibly feel my pain – I understood the injustice and cruelty, tyranny and evil, that was upon Jesus.  And I knew for certain that this was not God’s doing, but it was the fruit of what men and women had chosen to do, that day and since the beginning.  Then I remembered Jesus’ words about freedom.  “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  It convicted me that, in all of the many ways that I’d hardened my heart these decades, some of his suffering was my own doing.  But Jesus’s way was to come and submit to such a thing, in order to finally set things right.  In his own words, he had become the Passover lamb for my sake and for the sake of his children, and for the sake of the man next to me that day shouting curses at him, and for the sake of his own weeping mother, and even for the sake of Pilate and Herod and Caesar.

I stayed that day until the end; I followed them out of the city, heard his final words, and watched him pass into death.  I grieved and mourned.  I wondered what could be next.  And then I received word about Jesus at my home in Bethlehem, a simple message from the believers:  “the grave could not hold him.”  And today I remember his words:  “Because I live, you shall live also.”    And though, more than 30 years ago, while his innocents were slaughtered in Bethlehem, God did not intervene in that moment to spare Hannah’s earthly life, I trust that, today, she lives also.  And I will.  So, as I said, today her story in this book comes to a close, because it continues elsewhere.

John 3:16-17 —

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

This was written by Josh McClendon and Narcie Jeter.

Posted in Campus Ministry, Communion, God's love, Jesus, Revelation, Sermons, Song, Zacchaeus

Zacchaeus – You Need a Reject but we’re ALL Rejects

Today, we’re talking about Zacchaeus and this particular chapter of Len Sweet’s 11 indispensable relationships you can’t be without, our sermon series this Fall, asks the question – “Who’s Your Zacchaeus?  You Need a Reject.”

Did you ever climb trees as a kid?  We had a magnolia tree in a neighbor’s backyard that was perfect for climbing.  If you know anything about magnolia trees, their branches are close together, which makes it an easy tree to climb. We spent many afternoon of my childhood climbing trees.  That’s why the story of Zacchaeus has always fascinated me.

Not to mention the song we learned in Sunday school, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he.  He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.   Jesus said, “You come down for I’m coming to your house today, for I’m going to your house today.”    I can’t believe after all these years I still remember that.  Which leads us to our scripture reading for today…

Luke 19:1-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus and Zacchaeus

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Sweet says, “One of the oddest people Jesus ever befriended was a short, wealthy, self-made entrepreneur named Zacchaeus.  He was the chief tax collector which made him one of the most hated people.  Have you ever heard people say nice things about the IRS?  And Biblical tax collectors were even worse.  If there were pictures with definitions of words, he would be the one with the caption “ostracized.”    Are you surprised that Jesus decided to go over to his place for lunch?  Not at all.  Jesus was at home with social outcasts, lepers, women of ill repute, AND the chief tax collector.  Jesus didn’t care much for the hyper religious or the wealthy.  So this was not out of the norm for Jesus.  But have you noticed that it always disturbs/upsets the crowd.  They are surprised every time.  What company do we keep?  Would the crowd be surprised with whom we hang out?

Most of the characters within the series have something to give us – Jethro – the butt kicker, Jonathan – the true friend, Deborah – the back coverer.  But Zacchaeus is different than these.  It all begins with fully seeing Zacchaeus for what he is, and inviting him down from the tree.  If we let them, the Zacchaeus’ of our lives help to illuminate our own need for grace.  Because we’re all in fact a little bit messed up.  Not one of us is perfect.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  All of us are walking and talking “steaming cauldrons of moral failures and ambiguities.”

Zacchaeus doesn’t need to be told he’s a sinner.  Society’s already made that clear.  He doesn’t need people to tell him he’s an outcast.  He already feels it.  Most people know that the Inuit have a hundred words for snow.  The English word sin is used to translate at least six Hebrew and seven Greek words.  Soren Kierkegaard defined sin this way.  “Sin is the steadfast refusal to be your one true self.”  That is a very different understanding than the typical definition of sin.  Evigras of Pontus’ understanding of sin is that sin is a “forgetfulness of God’s goodness.”  Hmmm…Jesus actively sought out sinners and made room at the table for them, maybe he was searching them out reminding them of God’s love specifically for them.

Jesus didn’t seem to mind that he was getting a “reputation” for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes.  Everyone that he encountered, he saw as a person in need of God’s love.

There are no outsiders because no one is out of the reach of the love of God.  Nothing can separate us from it, actually.  Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus taught us to see others not as “others” but as “one of us” as “oneanothers.”  So y’all don’t know about my LOST obsession.  Scores of students were subjected to this madness as sermon illustrations poured forth each week for years and years.  They had the ability to weave their way into my sermons.  Josh alluded to it on our Fall Retreat but you’re about to see a clip of Jack’s live together, die alone speech.

I imagine Jesus would have given a similar speech and he would be befriending con man Sawyer and criminal Kate.  What made LOST special was that it delved into the messy-ness of the survivors lives.  It showed in real and tangible ways the flaws of each one.  Characters were never pure evil or purely good.  But they were REAL.  And you pulled for their redemption.

This episode ended the first season.  And it was here that a motley crew of people triumphed.  A community.  Michael and his son Walt, and their complicated relationship of abandonment and reunion.  Jin and his wife Sun – their evolution as characters from Jin working for Sun’s father to their estrangement and to their eventual homecoming.  The reason that LOST worked so well for those who watched it and dare I say were obsessed with it, was because you bought into the characters’ stories, and you saw a little bit of yourself in each of them.  It helped to have a full orchestra that performed each score – conveying emotions!

We have quite a few “characters” in our lives.  People that are either larger than life or a bit peculiar or a bit “off” or those that march to the beat of a different drummer.  What “characters” do we have at Gator Wesley?

Often we have to find the Zacchaeus’ of our lives.  Sweet writes, “We have tried to “live in” rather than “live out” the gospel.  It is time for Christians to “Get out more,” to try alfresco forms of faith and community.  The Christian church is too “in here” and not enough “out there.”  Late fourth century philosopher Caius Marius Victorinus was afraid to show up in church with his pagan friends and said this about the church, “Do walls make Christians?”  That’s the reason for Wesley lunches on Tuesday and Friday, Love Campaign, and leadership team discussing whether to do Evensong on the Plaza of the Americas once a month – TO GET OUT OF THE BUILDING!  This outward focus is a natural part of the Christian faith.  We are to be the church in the world.  SO WHY ARE WE NOT OUT THERE?

In essence, moving from inward to outward is central to the revelation of Christ by the church to the world.  John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, called the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion an “outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same.”

Thus leading us to an obvious segue to Communion that we celebrate each week.  But I want to make sure you get something.  It bears repeating.  Zacchaeus’ are obviously “out there” – the social misfits, the anarchists, the people on the fringes or outside society’s norms, BUT there’s a bit of Zacchaeus in all of us.  We’re all Zacchaeus.  Jesus would have come into the world for any one of us.  Like the parable of the good shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep.  All for one.  So this scene from the Rise of the Guardians is a turning point.  You see Pitch, the villain in the movie, has wiped out the whole world’s belief in the Guardians (Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the Sand Man, and a new guardian Jack Frost) and only one boy is left that believes.

All for one.

I’m not saying all of those things are real, even though Enoch and Evy believe them to be, and I find it problematic that as parents were supposed to enlighten our children one day that they’re not real, however saying at the same time that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit also that they can’t tangibly see – are real?  I’ll let you know how that conversation goes down.  However, I know what I will say, that God will give you the evidence you need to help you believe.  Like in Luke 9:24, when the man of the child that Jesus is healing says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.”  Just ask.  Jesus desires a personal relationship with each one of us.  That’s why before we even have understanding of it, God searches us out and draws us to God’s self in God’s prevenient grace.  We recognize we’re in need of God’s grace – that that grace is for us – in justifying grace.  God doesn’t leave us where we are in the mire and the muck.  In God’s sanctifying grace, God helps us to grow and mature as Christians.  Growing in grace and growing the depth of our faith that the world may see and know that our God reigns and God’s grace is available to them.  Tax Collectors.  Prostitutes.  You and Me.  Amen.

Posted in Back Coverer, Campus Ministry, Deborah, Grey's Anatomy, I've got your back, Sermons

Deborah – Who’s got your back?

Who’s got your back?  That’s your Deborah.   Urban dictionary defines the words “got your back” these two ways.  The first way, is an expression assuring someone that you are watching out for them. It comes from making sure you are safe by watching what’s behind you, when you’re busy looking ahead. Example:  I don’t know about this.  Don’t trip, son.  I GOT YOUR BACK. The second way is when your friend, colleague, cheerleader, or someone of a close affinity is by your side (either figuratively or literally) making sure that you make it through the troublesome, difficult, or tedious times or predicaments you are currently in.  Urban dictionary used Craig and Arianna of Saturday Night Live fame, in their example.  Craig says, “Oh, Arianna, are you ok?”  Arianna answers back, “I just can’t get this cheer down. I don’t think I’ll be able to do the perfect cheer.”  Craig responds, “You can do it! I know you can! I got your back.” 

Urban dictionary is quick to note that it can be converted to a threat, “Watch your back,” from the possibility someone might injure or kill you from behind when you aren’t looking.  They protect you from getting stabbed in the back.

Have you ever called someone your guardian angel?  They seem to protect you from outside forces – like a friend’s betrayal.  Or missing that student loan payment.  Or if you don’t know when you will get your next meal, and you’ve eaten your last left-over and everything else in the cabinet, a Deborah’s already got you covered.  Or if it’s something internally you’re struggling with, for example, who you are after x, y, z situation (break up, loss of job, change of major, maybe you’re struggling with even staying in school, a death in the family, grief at life).  Maybe you’re questioning your faith, how much of a difference you’re making, or you’re experiencing a dry season in your relationship with God.  Maybe you need to get back on track spiritually and you need someone to ask you the hard questions and not let you off the hook until you answer them.  That’s your Deborah.

Author of the book we’re studying this semester, 11 indispensable relationships you can’t be without, Len Sweet says, “Everyone who has made a dent or a difference for God in history has had ‘protectors’ – people who have said to them, “I’ve got your back!” 

I would take it a step further.  Everyone – all people – need protectors.  You need someone to have your back if you are going to realize your dreams and push forward when those that seek to tear you down are increasing in number.  Likewise you need someone to protect you when the doubts pile up inside your head. 

So who was Deborah and what did she do that was so special?

Judges 4:4-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment.She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him.

So what do we know about Deborah?  She was a prophetess our text says.  She was the fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel and she was the only female judge.  The Bible tells us nothing of her family except who her husband was. In the history of Israel, only three people combined the offices of prophet, judge and military leader:  Moses, Samuel, and Deborah.  Deborah was one of the early judges of Israel.  The judges were charismatic leaders who by their wisdom oversaw the simple and rather disorganized government of Israel during the first couple of centuries of its existence.  One of the greatest contributions of the early judges was their ability to stir up a sense of national unity and great loyalty to the rule of Yahweh among a fiercely independent and generally ignorant people, who had not long before been Egyptian slaves.

What exactly is happening in the scripture passage that I just read?  Deborah summons the general Barak to give him an oracle from God ie. a message from God.  She tells him to bring 10,ooo men from two tribes of Israel, and she will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army.  Barak answers her that he’ll only go if she goes with him – if she’ll cover his back.

Barak’s request of the presence of Deborah has given interpreters and commentators headaches for years.  Some see Barak here as cowardly, afraid, and distrusting of God.  Other interpreters see Barak’s request as a gracious and insistent invitation to Deborah as God’s prophet to join him so that she might bless the military expedition and share in the glory of the Lord’s victory over the Canaanites. It’s ambiguous.  Either way Deborah delivered.  Not a single man of Sisera’s army survived, except Sisera himself (and another strong, gutsy woman took care of Sisera, Jael drove a tent peg into his head, killing him).  The narrative of what happened is told in Judges chapter 4 and the “Song of Deborah” is told in Judges chapter 5, one of the earliest examples of Hebrew poetry.

Bottom line, Barak would NOT go without Deborah. 

It is certainly not true that “behind every good man is an even better woman.”  That’s sexist garbage.  It is true that behind anyone who has had any “success” whether personal or professional, you need someone who has your back.  Or a whole community of people.  That’s why in any Oscar speech people thank the one’s that got them there.  Who’s in your corner.  TV shows abound with this.  Scandal, the workers of Olivia Pope and Associates, willing to take a fall if any of the team get hit.  Once Upon a Time’s unlikely alliance busy finding Henry and begrudgingly covering each other’s backs along the way. Grey’s Anatomy – this season as the interns realized they didn’t know each other and if they were to “fall/collapse/die” they would be left alone to face it because they had not reached out and realized they didn’t know each other. If you watched it in the olden days with the original 5 – Alex, Meredith, Izzie, George, and Christina – they invented delving into drama and gossip with who was hooking up with who and they pushed people like my brother Josh away with their shenanigans but made me love them all the more because they cared about each other.  It may not have been from the moment they met, but they became each other’s family, each other’s “person” as seen in this clip. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9bFnrSp998

Your family can offer good protection.  Your adopted family can offer good protection.  Your friends that become like family offer good protection.  Who’s got your back, is not someone who in an argument or dispute automatically sides with you.  It’s much more than that.  Deborah was a judge.  She was fair.  Your Deborah can help you see things about yourself that no one else sees.  They can point out your blind spots.  The areas where you’re not exercising your best judgment.  They can handle your vulnerability.  Your laughter.  Your tears.  And they can give you a good kick in the pants.  And you’ll accept it, because you know they have your best interest at heart.  But be discerning, don’t let just anybody give you a kick in the pants.  Because people will line up for that job.  People offer criticism freely.  But guarding your heart and being a back coverer, it will be a shorter line. 

I posted this on the “Encouragement Board” a facebook group that seeks to offer encouragement, birthdays, and prayer requests of Gator Wesley.  William Arthur Ward writes, “A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities.”  Read those words again. 

Sweet writes, “The world is full of people who like nothing better than to kill—your reputation, your spirit, your mission.”  Have you ever heard of being attacked on all sides?  Have you ever felt like your world is falling down all around you?  If you are a right-handed quarterback – one of your most trusted allies is the left tackle on the offensive line.  This is your blind side, and the best defensive linemen are put here to intimidate you and make you mess up – your success depends on your left tackle. 

Deborah didn’t fight next to Barack – but she covered his back with the fire of her words, her spirit, and her courage – she was always close enough to catch Barak’s eye.  Some people have a holy spirit, and the presence of that Holy Spirit in your life is enough to be a Deborah.  Sometimes Deborahs fight alongside you on the front lines or they’re actively covering you in prayer from a distance.  My mom is a prayer warrior.  She’s on the front lines in battle over our lives every day.  Mom’s not a pansy or a shrinking violet.  She covers it well with her southern charm, manners, and proper etiquette – she writes thank you notes.  Which is a big deal to me who never writes thank you notes.  I would say she epitomizes a Deborah.  She would be a really good judge.  Always fair.  But with a deep and abiding strength about her.  Centuries ago it was the function of knights to be back-coverers for the weak and wounded.  Especially in the age of chivalry, knights were the protectors of the marginalized and unarmed – the priests, the peasants, the poor, and the child in a violent world.  My mom is a modern day knight of sorts.  In her work as an elementary school guidance counselor she comes into contact with all sorts of things and she’s a Deborah to each of her students.  And she’s a Deborah in each of her children’s lives.

Your Deborahs should point you back to God.  My mom is certainly quick to ask, “Have you prayed about this?”  Because she knows God is our ULTIMATE back coverer.  God’s got your back 24:7:365. David wrote this Psalm after escaping from Saul. Psalm 18:1-3 “I love you, O Lord, my strength.The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.”

Thank you God for ALWAYS having our backs.

***The Gator Wesley worship band picked these songs to do after the sermon during communion and as our closing song, “Not for a Moment” by Meredith Andrews and “Taste of Eternity” by Bellarive, and I thought they were both pretty powerful.

Not For A Moment – Meredith Andrews

Taste of Eternity – Bellarive

Posted in Campus Ministry, paul, peter, relationships, Sermons, yoda

Yoda – Who’s Your Peter/Paul?

Maybe I built this up too much in my mind, but I really, really, really was looking forward to the Yoda chapter in Len Sweet’s book 11 indispensable relationships you can’t live without.  To say I was disappointed when Sweet only talked about Yoda for a paragraph is an understatement.  Yoda ihe says is a mentor, a guru, a coach, a spiritual teacher/director.  I was discussing this in the College Room and Carly mentioned she had no idea who Yoda is so I should not assume that everyone has watched Star Wars even once, forget watching it incessantly.  Enoch, my 6 year old, got both trilogies for Christmas, so I’ve watched them REPEATEDLY.  He even watches the offshoots from Lego Star Wars to the Yoda Chronicles. 

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

I love that clip.  Because Yoda doesn’t let Luke get away with anything.  And yet he clearly cares about him.  R2D2 is clearly the encourager from last week’s chapter.  The Master is showing the Apprentice how it’s done.  Seeing is believing.  Yoda says, “Always two there are, no less:  a master and an apprentice.”  A master pushes us to help us navigate the way that seems unattainable.  A master can help us move to new levels of perception and experience.  A master KNOWS us.  Our limits.  Our strengths.  A trusted master knows when to push or prod or ask the right question.

Disney movies have rich and meaningful mentor characters.  The emperor from Mulan, Phil from Hercules, Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas, Sebastian from The Little Mermaid, Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio, Merida’s mom in Brave.  They clearly provide the morale compass of the story or the wise sage.  Their all over pop culture as well.  Morpheus to Neo in The Matrix, Mr. Miagi in the Karate Kid, Mother Superior in The Sound of Music….

Mentors often can give a reluctant protagonist a necessary push to get the plot rolling.  Mentors also often personify the moral of the story in the protagonist’s story.  They offer the inspiration to the protagonist to keep going when they would rather give up.  They’re often the voice inside your head urging you on.  Urging you forward.

Sweet actually titles this chapter, “Who’s Your Peter/Paul? You Need a Yoda.”  So I’m going to read to you snapshots of each.  Peter was the one that constantly stuck his foot in his mouth.  He was a fisherman.  He was with Jesus at the Transfiguration, the glow in the dark Jesus, where Jesus’ divinity is on full display.  He was the one that walked on water with Jesus (before sinking).  He was the one who denied Jesus three times.  He’s the one Jesus said he would build his church upon, because Peter means rock.  He was also the one who tore it up in Acts, proving that he was a changed man, preaching at Pentecost. 

Acts 3:1-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Peter Heals a Crippled Beggar

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Let that simmer for a second before we launch into Paul.

Paul was the one who persecuted Christians.  He was the chief persecutor of Christians.  And he had an experience on Damascus Road with the Living God.  He then presented himself to the early Christians and thinking he was going to violently persecute them, they fled.  14 of the 27 books of the New Testament are attributed to him so to say he was a prolific writer is an understatement. 

Acts 16:25-34

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer[a] called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord[b] to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Acts was nuts!  There were all sorts of things going on.  That’s why you hear people model their churches on Acts.  I don’t entirely agree with Sweet’s simplified explanation of the difference between Peter and Paul.  He says Peter was intellectually and culturally slow, but interpersonally was quick and rich, he was a hands on person when it came to relationships, it took him a while to realize the gospel was for everyone, he had a relational point of view.  In contrast he says Paul was intellectually and culturally quick but interpersonally slow, he was hands off, not relational, Paul understood early on that the gospel was for all, he argumentative point of view.

I would like the opportunity to be mentored by either one!  They were obviously men of God who had much to teach, and they had obviously experienced a conversion experience.  Neither Peter nor Paul was afraid of a fight – but a mentor can tell you which battles are worth fighting and which ones aren’t – a lesson that both Peter and Paul had to learn.

You will be mentored by lots and lots of people in your life.  I hope you will be.  I pray that you will be.  Because one having a mentor, means that we do not have it all figured out.  You remember when Luke says to Yoda “he can’t do it” and Yoda shows him he can if he just believes….You can’t be cynical or jaded for long around a Yoda.

Sir Isaac Newton said, “IF I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

  • Whose shoulders are you standing on? 
  • Who do you see and say, “I want to be like them someday!”
  • Who sets standards to which you aspire?
  • What person are you seeking out to help you find your voice and be true to your own voice?
  • From whom are you learning when to suppress and when to express yourself?
  • Whose blessing do you seek?

 

Those are all good questions as we find our Yodas.

 

We must choose our Yodas carefully.  Sweet writes, “There are as many kinds of ‘Yodas’ as there are heads, minds, and hearts! – don’t hitch your wagon to any single star or listen to any voice that seems to attract a following.”  So be discerning in who you choose.  Do you see Christ in him or her?  Mentors come in all different shapes and sizes, some for only a season and some for a lifetime.  We may not even know our spiritual mentors.  Do you have a favorite author who’s dramatically shaped your life?  Whose books you pick up at just the right time and they challenge you long after you finish reading them.  Rob Bell.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Teresa of Avila.  Brennan Manning.  Donald Miller.  Elisabeth Elliott.  Hannah Hurdard.  Bob Goff.  And countless others.  It’s like a continued conversation when you find an author that engages you.

 

Sweet says we must choose our Yodas based on these three things:  Humility, Honesty and Honor. 

 

Humility.  Peter objects to Jesus’ washing the disciples of feet.  In John 13:7 Jesus challenges Peter back, “You do not realize now what I’m doing, but later you will understand.”  The Great God of the universe humbled himself because he wanted to get in the disciples heads and make clear to his followers that you must serve.  The Master wants to study WITH you, not demand you to study UNDER them.  A true Yoda sees themselves as constantly learning.  As Sweet says “An ideal Yoda is a One-who-knows … but a One-who-knows he/she doesn’t know it all.”

 

Honesty.  The best Yodas will be honest enough to share their secrets with you.  But they will be honest enough to tell you the truth, even to rebuke you, especially when you settle for easy answers.  The best mentors let you see behind the curtain to the man underneath – a la the Wizard of Oz.  They let you see through to their vulnerability.  Their weakness.  It’s not a façade.  I appreciate people who are “real,” “authentic,” and don’t have it all figured out.  Even the Yodas second guess themselves.  But they push you out of that same second guessing….towards the light.  Because that’s innately who they are.

 

Honor.  To be blessed by and to bless a mentor are two of life’s richest blessings.  A Yoda wants to mentor people who will honor them by demonstrating both a love of originality and a love of conformity.  So you being you, is all the thanks they need.  That they had influence on your life is all the thanks they need.  That they see their legacy in YOU is all the thanks they need.  Yodas love questions.  I’m reminded of a seminary professor, Dr. Thomas Thangaraj, who asked all the right questions.  He was from India so he even sounded very much like Yoda.  I had the pleasure of being in his Contextual Education class and taking his Images of Christ class.  And I had the nerves-inducing opportunity to preach in front of him in Chapel upon several occasions because he attended University Worship at Emory.  He would find the one question we hadn’t thought of or engaged in.  He was not afraid to answer our questions either.  Like Yoda, he often answered a question by asking another question.  He modeled the give and take between Master and Apprentice unlike any other.

 

Throughout this chapter I was writing in the margins the names of my mentors.  My parents.  Bridgette.  Susan.  Risher.  Sara.  Ms. Rhodes.  A mentor’s function, according to Sweet, “is to guide and guard us into a living, dynamic relationship with God, to help us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to help us live in a daily relationship with the divine.”  With that definition, who are your mentors, your Yodas, your guides? Have you thanked them for shaping you in big and small ways?  I encourage you during this week to thank your Yodas.  Also, to whom are you a yoda, mentor, or guide?  To whom are you going to pass the baton?  Or leave your legacy?

Posted in Campus Ministry, Exodus, Eye of the Tiger, Jethro, Len Sweet, Music, Roar, Sermons, Social Justice, Spiritual Mentors

Jethro – The Butt Kicker

Exodus 3:1, 4:18-20

My campus minister retired while I was in college after serving 27 years in campus ministry.  Risher Brabham was a true character.  All of the Wesley Foundations in South Carolina would do a joint mission trip the week after graduation in Hollywood, SC down in the Sea Islands of South Carolina to work on different houses of the mission site Rural Mission on Johns Island.  We would sleep on the floor of a church and take outdoor showers that teams had previously constructed, where if you were a tall person, like me, you’d be able to look the other tall people in the eyes.  You either would try to make small talk or……it was more than awkward.  The Sea Islands trips were some of the best memories I made in college.  One of my favorite parts would be the way that Risher woke us up.  He got his kicks from waking us up morning after morning at 6 am, where in a mischievous voice he would say grinning, “The sun is rising, the coffee’s hot, the pancakes are on the griddle, it’s a beautiful day to be alive.”  When we grow up, we don’t have our parents to kick us out of bed, but we still need someone to kick us around when we’re intellectually or morally or spiritually lazy.  Basically we need a Jethro – a butt kicker!  Risher took his job of butt kicker of the work camp very seriously!

Who is Jethro, anyway?  The short answer is the father-in-law of Moses.  Reuel is probably his proper name and Jethro his official title.  Jethro is a priest of Midian and is recorded as living in Midian, a territory stretching along the eastern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba in what is today, northwestern Saudi Arabia.  Some believe Midian is within the Sinai Peninsula.  Biblical maps from antiquity show Midian in both locations.  The Midianites were a nomadic Semitic tribe – they were descendants of Abraham through his second wife Keturah.  In the previous scene prior to our passage, Moses is seen fleeing from Pharaoh after killing an Egyptian.  He ran into the wilderness and met Jethro’s seven daughters, who needed Moses’ help at the watering hole because shepherds were driving them out.  Moses came to their defense and upon their returning, their father asked them why they had come back so soon.  They answered, an Egyptian had helped them and Jethro invited Moses to dinner.  Jethro gave Moses his daughter in marriage.  Then Moses tended Jethro’s sheep for 40 years. 

40 years is a long time, and ironically for Moses he would spend another 40 years in the wilderness.  But that’s a different sermon.  It is believed that Jethro, while not an Israelite, did believe in a monotheistic religion that professed the existence of many gods, yet taught that only one was all-powerful, and only he should be worshipped.  It is thought that Jethro taught Moses about the one God.  Moses had been raised to believe in the Egyptian deities.  An illegal Egyptian underground religion – Atonism – also taught one God.  This belief was held surreptitiously by many of the Egyptian nobility, and it was very likely that Moses was exposed to this in the palace so Jethro’s ideas were familiar to him.  Because of Jethro’s teaching, Moses was prepared to accept God’s charge to him when he appeared to him in the burning bush.

That’s where Exodus 3 verse 1 comes in. You have the scene where Moses sees the burning bush where God calls to Moses and says God has observed the sufferings of the people of Israel, and God wants Moses to deliver God’s people from the Egyptians by doing signs and wonders.  And that’s when Moses needs a good kick in the pants because he says in Exodus 4:10-13, “10 But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” 13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” 

One morning, Moses woke up and his father-in-law was grinning, not smiling, much like Risher.  Jethro kicked Moses’ butt out of the tent and into the mission God had given him.

Jethro officially returns in the story in the second passage I read, in verse 18, “18 Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Please let me go back to my kindred in Egypt and see whether they are still living.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.”  The proper translation of the Hebrew phrase is a bit different, lech b’shalom, means “go to peace.”  “Go to peace” was a push to make the best use of whatever life remains.  “Go to peace” has the peacemaking sense of ‘shalom,’ the channeling of energies that brings wholeness and wellness to the world.  It’s one of the most powerful acts you can do to another human being – bless them forward.  Len Sweet writes, “When you’re spiritually neutered, or when you’ve become complacent, when you begin to shrink from your mission, you need a Jethro to keep you loyal to your dreams.”

You need a Jethro to kick you in the rear and get you off the couch with whatever Netflix episodes you’re obsessing over or off of the time vacuum of facebook or the latest youtube sensation and says, “What’s your favorite future?” and blesses you forward.  You need a Jethro, a nagger who kicks open the doors and window of your house and finds your hidden potential, resources, and the person that you were created to be.  You need a Jethro: a commanding voice  that kicks it up a notch and asks, “How are you?” to which your soul responds by asking itself, “How should I be?”

Who is your Jethro?  And who are you Jethroing? 

I bet Johnny Manziel felt like he was being “Jethroed” at times during the game yesterday! 

Jethros bless you to go to what God is calling you to do so that you can receive peace in your life – everyone needs someone that’s wild and crazy about them – and cares enough about them to wake and shake them up to dream big and live large.  A Jethro is a blesser, not a flatterer, and Risher was not at all a flatterer.  He would rather give you honest criticism than empty praise.  He was not the most “religious” man even though he was a pastor, but he took seriously the calls of Jesus, and in the words of Micah 6:8, “To do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.”  He inspired all of us to be and live better.  He was the one that introduced me to social justice as a life, not just a concept.  Risher was the first one to do Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week even when it wasn’t cool.  Risher founded the oldest CROP Walk in South Carolina, which raises 75% for the world’s hunger needs and 25% to go to fight local hunger.  And there’s one right here in Gainesville.  He’s also the one that invited me on a trip to Nicaragua my freshman year – my first international mission trip, frankly the first mission trip that I had ever been on – and pushed me to apply for a summer mission internship for two summers at the Cooperative Ministry, which was a clothing bank, food assistance, car assistance, counseling center for the homeless in Columbia.  The first summer I worked in the clothing warehouse part-time and led a summer camp part-time and the second summer I wrote grants and coordinated the largest school supply drive in Columbia.  My commitment to social justice is in direct response to Risher’s pushing and his legacy.

A Cheyenne Native American song says, “Only the stones stay on earth forever.”  We all end up in the same box – we all must die someday – we only have a short time to fulfill the mission that God has called us to.  To leave our legacy.  To do the things that we were created to do.  “Jethro pushes you out the door with these questions haunting your every step:  Will you look back on your life and see a succession of sorrows, missteps, and missed moments?  Or will you look back on your life with a sense of satisfaction and joy?” 

Risher died from multiple battles with cancer the August that I returned as the campus minister of Winthrop Wesley.  Man, I wish I had had more time with him.  His daughter at the funeral said that she was glad I was at Winthrop Wesley because she knew I would understand her father’s legacy and life’s work.  Fr. David Valtierra, the Catholic priest assigned to do campus ministry, at his retirement party due to his losing battle with cancer, was a part of the Winthrop community and shared in ministry with Risher for over 30 years and also indeed was a butt kicker.  I have to admit I was a little afraid of him as a student, and I was a little afraid of him as a campus minister, because you had the sense that he could see inside your soul.  Fr. was formidable.  It was the day of Winthrop’s Potato Drop ironically, and during his retirement speech, he looked me right in the eye, and called me Risher’s spiritual daughter.  You don’t understand what high praise that was!  And what a moment of blessing.  He was blessing me forward.

Jethros function as reminders that no matter what the world says or thinks – that we are called to a purpose by God and God ‘breathes into us’ the second wind of hope and purpose and puts our mind back on our mission. 

My Dad coached my two brothers’ little league baseball team, and he was a DEFINITE Jethro for the team.  He wasn’t afraid to give them a good kick in the pants, he was honest and not a flatterer, and he cared about each one of them.  Northcutt Motors, the blue team, Dad’s team played in the championship against Sara Lee, the red team.  I don’t know why I remember the names and the colors.  Dad wanted to get them psyched up for the game so he came up with an idea.  He had memorized the rule book, as he is want to do, so he knew it wasn’t against the rules.  He set up a boom box. Note for the youngsters in the audience, we have one of these in the prayer room.  These are ancient relics that play tapes and the radio, I don’t even think CD’s existed back then.  He played this song…..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgSMxY6asoE  Eye of the Tiger

I have no recollection if they won the game.  You’ll have to ask my brother on fall retreat that one.  But I definitely know that it sure pumped the team up.  Big time. 

It was just the kick in the pants that they needed to play their best. 

Remember, your Jethro blesses you forward – forward, not backwards.  Your Jethro believes in YOU.  Your Jethro believes you will complete your mission, in fact he or she has no doubt about that.  Your Jethro is one of God’s angels sent to help us handle the “dark night” of the soul and the “dry well” of the spirit. 

Katy Perry experienced her own dark night of the soul after her divorce from Russell Brand.  He broke the news to her via text message, and she’s not heard from him since. She says she has been to therapy since her last album, which influenced her new music to be that much more self-empowering and that much more “her.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CevxZvSJLk8 – Katy Perry’s “Roar”

Jethro’s help us find our “roars.”  Jethros don’t seek out those people that need a good butt kicking for butt kicking’s sake.  A Jethro seeks to inspire and bless.  Just as bruised apples make the best pies – bruised and broken people, like you and me and even Katy Perry, make the best blessers and blessings.

I don’t know what Katy’s therapist said, but a Jethro will push you out the door while telling you, “Trust God.  The way will open.”  Trust God.  The way may be hard, but I’ll be there to both cheer you on and give you a reality check.  Trust God.  Because when you trust God, God will give you the words to say like he gave to Moses, God will give you the inspiration you need for the journey, like the Eye of the Tiger, and God will give you the shoulder to cry on and the ability to do the healing you need. 

Amen.

Holy and Gracious God, we come to you seeking your will and seeking your guidance.  May we let the Jethros break through to us, may we hear what the Jethros have to say, may we trust that they’re blessing us forward.  Your grace doesn’t leave us where we are down in the mire and muck, your grace lifts us out of the pit of despair and realizing that your grace is meant for us inspires us to live life to the fullest, abundant life, and pushes us forward that we may grow in you more deeply.  We thank you that you love us so much that you sent your son to die for us and you left your Holy Spirit to guide and lead us in all that we do.  We pray now as you taught your disciples to pray, saying…

Posted in calling, Campus Ministry, God's Voice, Movies, Nathan, Sermons

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….

Posted in Anne Lamott, Prayer, Sermons, Theodicy, Wrestling

Sermon on Prayer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DlNF_ukr0I

You see you don’t have to be nervous about prayer.  If Ben Stiller can do it when he is trying to impress his in-laws, how hard can it be to make it part of your daily routine?

The text from Luke obviously has to do with prayer, starting with the familiar words of what we now call the Lord’s prayer.  I played basketball in high school and at the beginning of every game while we were still in the locker room, we would say the Lord’s prayer together.  Don’t know if it was superstition or the fact that it was in the South, but it was a thing that united us.  We said the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm after the death of my grandfather with all 25 of us crammed in the hospital room holding hands.  There’s something about those familiar words lifted in corporate prayer that shifts our focus to what truly matters, and it’s not preseason rankings, even though we in the SEC may disagree. 

The Lord’s Prayer provides the basic framework.  And just as the memorized lyrics of a hymn or recalling a Bible verse can help us through the darkest valleys, so can the remembered words of a prayer. At the very least, they’re a good way to pierce the darkness toward the Source of light.

As we read Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, along with a parable and commentary from Jesus about persistence in prayer. Luke’s version of the prayer is shorter than the more familiar one from Matthew 6, containing only five petitions instead of the seven in Matthew. But the included five are all important petitions: the first two — “hallowed be your name” and “your kingdom come” — are spiritual, and the other three — for daily bread, for forgiveness of sins and being spared the “time of trial” — ask for help with daily life.

Another difference between the two passages is that in Matthew, Jesus gives the Lord’s Prayer as a model as a part of a larger discourse about praying in general, whereas in Luke, he gives it in direct response to a request from one of the disciples, who says, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” We have to wonder why the disciple made that request. After all, the disciples were all children of the synagogue. They had grown up going to worship and hearing public prayers. So didn’t they already know how to pray?  Maybe they wanted to hear it directly from the horse’s mouth.

Jesus starts his prayer with a surprising address to God. He says, Abba. The word typically is translated as “Father” and that bothers some people. Certainly the nature of God cannot be summarized in a purely male image. Let me suggest that Jesus does not use the word Abba to describe the nature of God so much as to describe our human relationship to God. Rather than as Father, Abba is better translated Papa or Daddy or Dad or like I call my father, Padre. It is an intimate, family form of address. When Jesus starts the Lord’s Prayer with “Abba,” he means we are to come to God in prayer as though we have an intimate, personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

“Hallowed be your name.” In Hebrew a person’s name was more than just how the person is identified. One’s name referred to the whole character of a person. The Psalmist writes, “And those who know your name put their trust in you.” That means more than knowing God’s name is Yahweh. As William Barclay observes: “It means that those who know the whole character and mind and heart of God will gladly put their trust in him.”

Then Jesus says, “Your kingdom come.” Jesus talks extensively about the kingdom of God. In the Gospel of Luke alone it shows up 38 times. These references are usually parables, metaphors, and analogies, not descriptive prose. Although Jesus refers to the “kingdom of God,” one never gets the sense it is a place.

In Romans 14:17 Paul offers a definition when he writes, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy, in the Holy Spirit.” God reigns in this world where peace, joy, and righteousness prevail. As individuals, we experience the reign of God when we do what is right and when we experience the resulting inner peace and joy. 

Saints Origen and Jerome, early leaders of the church, translated this phrase, “Give us what is necessary for daily existence.” We might add, “And, Lord, help us understand the difference between what we really need and what we just want.” 

Maybe the prayers the disciples heard didn’t translate easily into meaningful personal conversation with God.  Indeed, in Matthew 6:5, Jesus referred to “hypocrites” who stood and prayed in the synagogues “so that they may be seen by others.”  The fact that Jesus responded by giving this prayer as a model suggests that he understood that praying is something with which people need help but it’s not something that is innately difficult.  Anyone can pray.  Not just the holy.  Not just Mrs. Smith who sings in the choir and is the most Godly person you know.  ANYONE can cry out to God.  Just because you’ve been going to the church you’re whole life, doesn’t mean your prayers count any more or less than someone that has never darkened a door of a church.  God judges the heart.

I admit that praying, for me, is one of the hardest parts of the Christian life. I’m not referring to public praying in worship, but to personal prayers, those that Jesus referred to when he said, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret …” (Matthew 6:6).   I love the old Cokesbury Hymn, “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” but it’s a challenge for me to put that amount of time in, I guess maybe I would make it if all of the times I prayed were added together.  I struggle with prayer.  My mind wanders.  I get sleepy.  I have a running to do list flashing through my head.  One of the students, BJ, challenged me with this, “Pray for us daily.  More than once.”  So I’ve got to set aside some time to pray, and be intentional about it.

It’s helpful to think about prayer in the context of spiritual gifts.  In more than one place in his letters, Paul talks about different Christians having different gifts — talents and abilities that can be put to work for the church. Paul lists such things as the gifts of prophecy, serving, teaching, preaching, giving aid, acts of mercy, discernment and others, and he says that they are given in different measure to different people. We suspect the same is true of prayer. Some people have the gift to be “prayer warriors” like Beth Keith.  She puts out a prayer chain email asking for prayer for members of this faith community.  Nonetheless, whether we’re “good” at prayer or not, the mere act of it draws us closer to God.

My Dad recently wrote a blog, questioning real prayer versus the phrase, “I’ll be praying for you!”  He writes, “This phrase sometimes comes across as a Southern way of saying, “Goodbye.” “I’ll be praying for you,” is it a greeting, prayer, or an unfulfilled intention? So how do I do better? I think one way is to personalize it. What I mean is that prayer is a relationship expressed in words, a give and take, with much more listening than me spouting off a list of what I or others need.  What’s really crazy is for us not to listen to God.  It’s the difference between a soliloquy for an audience of one and a divine-human dialogue.  Therefore, prayer is an art, practiced and spontaneous, speaking and listening to God, both/and, not one without the other. It is meant to be more than a conversation-ending pleasantry, “I’ll be praying for you.” It’s supposed to be a real conversation!”

I’ve mentioned to some of you, I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s book on prayer, “Help, Thanks, Wow.”  She says all prayer can be summed up in these words.  In a recent interview, she said about Help, “Well, I’ve heard people say that God is the gift of desperation, and there’s a lot to be said for having really reached a bottom where you’ve run out of anymore good ideas, or plans for everybody else’s behavior; or how to save and fix and rescue; or just get out of a huge mess, possibly of your own creation.  And when you’re done, you may take a long, quavering breath and say, ‘Help.’ People say ‘help’ without actually believing anything hears that. But it is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.”

She says about Thanks, “Thanks is the prayer of relief that help was on the way. It can be [the] pettiest, dumbest thing, but it could also be that you get the phone call that the diagnosis was much, much, much better than you had been fearing. The full prayer, and its entirety, is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. But for reasons of brevity, I just refer to it as Thanks.  It’s amazement and relief that you caught a break; that your family caught a break; that you didn’t have any reason to believe that things were really going to be OK, and then they were and you just can’t help but say thank you.”

She says about Wow, “Wow is the praise prayer. The prayer where we’re finally speechless — which in my case is saying something. … When I don’t know what else to do I go outside, and I see the sky and the trees and a bird flies by, and my mouth drops open again with wonder at the just sheer beauty of creation. And I say, ‘Wow.’ … You say it when you see the fjords for the first time at dawn, or you say it when you first see the new baby, and you say, ‘Wow. This is great.’ Wow is the prayer of wonder.”

On the way she sees prayer, “Prayer is not about saying, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to pray now.’ Or, ‘Oh, I see I’ve made a notation here to pray at 2:15.’ It’s about getting outside of your own self and hooking into something greater than that very, very limited part of our experience here — the ticker tape of thoughts and solutions, and trying to figure out who to blame. It’s sort of like blinking your eyes open.  It’s sort of like in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands in Oz and the movie goes from black and white to color, and it’s like having a new pair of glasses, and you say, ‘Wow!’ “

I think of prayer as a turning towards God.  Or being in tune with God.  If we walk and talk with God, consistently with a mind on prayer, how much would we see the world around us differently?  It’s a turning towards God out of desperation, out of gratitude, at the awesome grandeur of God.  

This has been of help to me, the words of Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Augustine echoes this, “In affliction, then, we do not know what it is right to pray for. Because affliction is difficult, troublesome, and against the grain for us, weak as we are, we do what every human would do. We pray that it may be taken away from us. However, if he does not take it away, we must not imagine that he has forgotten us. In this way, power shines forth more perfectly in weakness.”

I often don’t know what to pray, but I can turn toward God and listen to worship music.  Some people walk outside in the garden.  Some people draw or do arts and crafts to get out of themselves.  To get out of their own way.  God will show up.  Prayer is not about a particular technique or some sort of magic words, but the means of nurturing our relationship with God.  The most important factor in praying is the recognition of the One to whom we pray.

I can’t talk about prayer without being thankful for all of yours.  When I had brain surgery on May 10th and woke up not being able to speak and unable to use my right hand or arm.  I remember writing Mike a note a week and a half after the surgery with my left hand asking how long would it be until I recovered.  You were some consistent and persistent pray-ers.

This is a clip from Bruce Almighty that’s self explanatory…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0cG11lTS1E

We don’t know how prayer works.  Why does God answer some prayers versus others?  How did I get a miracle when 45 year old Charlie Summey who was diagnosed after me with a brain tumor died last Saturday?  It seems as if there’s no rhyme or reason sometimes.  But like a friend said we mourn with his family just as we rejoice with yours.  It’s not about asking why so much as who?  If our God is a loving God and we believe in the power of prayer, than we can trust in the words ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.  Just turning towards God with our hearts set on God and drawing nearer to God is enough.  I know that God is with us.  I feel that to the very core of my being.  God journeys with us through our seeming answered prayer and our seeming unanswered prayer alike.

 

Barbara Brown Taylor writes in an article in “Christian Century,” about some monks she encountered on her journeys, “Four times a day, a bell rang in the courtyard. As soon as it did, the brothers stopped to pray. The rest of us were welcome to join them, but it was not required. If we did not show up, then they would pray for us, as they prayed for everyone else in the world – for those who were present along with those who were absent, for those who were inclined toward God along with those who were not, for those who were in great need of prayer along with those who were not aware they needed anything at all. Prayer was their job, and they took it seriously. They prayed like men who were shoveling coal into the basement furnace of some great edifice. They did not seem to care whether anyone upstairs knew who they were or what they were doing. Their job was to keep the fire going so that people stayed warm, and they poured all their energy into doing just that.”

Persistent prayer is not so much for God, but for us.  For the strengthening of our faith, for the drawing closer to the One who created us and numbered our steps, for a lifting of our eyes to make the impossible possible.  May we live that out.  In Jesus name.

Let us pray…God we know there’s no magic words, but we know that we humbly come before you, seeking your will and your kingdom on earth.  Guard our hearts.  Guard our lips.  May we earnestly seek to draw closer to you.  Guide us and lead us in all that we do.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

 

Let us pray…Holy and Gracious God, we earnestly come before you seeking your will for our lives.  Even though we may not always understand it, we trust in you.  For those that are sick, please surround them with your healing power.  For those that are hurting, please surround them in your grace and comfort.  For those dealing with uncertainty, please surround them with your peace that surpasses all understanding. For those that it’s been a long time since coming to you in prayer, help them to know it’s a conversation.  Give them the words.  And reassure them there’s no pressure.  For all of us, spur us on that we make prayer an integral part of our personal lives and of the life of Gator Wesley.  We ask these things in your holy name and we pray as you taught your disciples to pray….

Posted in affliction, Campus Ministry, Community, Hope, Life, perseverance, Promise, Sermons, Story

Four letter word – Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A four letter word.  Unlike the others.  Hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your hopes?

In your personal life?

In your professional life?

In your vocational journey?

In your spiritual journey?

For your family?

For your friends?

For our Church?

For our world?

Hope.

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

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