We are chosen for something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still another voice persists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.

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

http://vimeo.com/46300983

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

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

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

What’s Your Story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Beautiful Things

I admit that Mike and I are a bit obsessed with Gungor at present.  I really, really enjoy their music and their “God is Not a White Man” video is hilariously awesome.  youtube it.

A couple Sundays ago I played their song, “Beautiful Things” in church and because I just couldn’t get it out of my head and I also think it’s something that is really important for us to “get,” we played it again this past Sunday.  The text was Jeremiah 1:4-10 and it’s where Jeremiah is saying “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy…” And God responds saying hey – I’ve got this.  Don’t just tell me the I’m only’s because I’ll send you where I need you to go and I’ll give you the words to speak.  I’ve got this therefore – you’ve got this.

During Salkehatchie for many years when the camp director would give out t-shirts, he would place the t-shirts like a mantle over the youth or adult leaders necks and he would say “God is counting on you” or “The Lord is counting on you” and then your response would be “I am counting on God” or likewise. 

For me this was always a little bit an uneasy thing.  Maybe the t-shirts were heavy – just kidding.  But I guess I felt the weight of the statement that we were saying.  Now there’s a part of me that says – hey God is God – God doesn’t need us to do anything – God can do anything God wants.  But there’s another side that says – but God called us – we are to be in on this awesome partnership with God.  We are the agents for change that with the Spirit of God are called to bring God’s kingdom to earth.

Weighty.

I think of the Mercy Me song – “Word of God Speak.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTY-UKgLlXs 

Love that song.  Great to help quelch some fears and very true.

But sometimes this fear of being called to this place.  This fear of speaking out in truth and love.  This fear of stepping up to anything can rob us of so much…much more than we realize.  And let me tell you – we pastors fear these things too.  I’m sure professors and great presenters and presidents and congresspeople and all sorts of folks – feel a great deal of fear when they step up to the mic.  How can you not?

But we in this partnership with God – we can trust that we’ll have the words to speak when we need them.  God will come through for us.  If we open ourselves up to the leading of God, God won’t leave us hanging.  I’m calling this a partnership even though I completely realize that what we bring to the table and what God brings to the table are two totally different things and we only bring stuff at all to the table by the grace of God.  But I also say it’s a partnership because we are active and alive and crucial to this spreading of the Gospel – the spreading of the Word of God. 

In seminary I took this class with Dr. Brian Mahan called “Forgetting Ourselves On Purpose” or FOOP for short.  He wrote a book by the same name.  We also read Parker Palmer’s “Let Your Life Speak” in this class and I enjoyed both of them.  For some of us we are so concerned about what our life will say – we’re so concerned about our book sales, our successes, our failures, etc. that we get lost in the mix.  We’re so scared that we won’t measure up or be good enough that we lose ourselves and the whole point of all this in the process.

Zechariah 4:6 says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.”  This dance that we’re doing with God – it’s not by our own abilities, it’s by the Spirit of God at work in us.  It’s not based on who has lived what’s seemed like the “best” life, but it is based on the grace of God that is alive and well in us.

One of the students at Wesley last night said that she asked a friend of hers from high school to come to Wesley with her.  They were working on in the gym – no big deal – just come on over with me.  And she said the girl told her that if she went, people would laugh at her.  The student of mine told her – no one there will laugh at you, it will be great…and then the girl told her, no not them.  If I tell my family I’ve gone to Wesley, if I tell my family I’ve been to church, they’ll laugh at me.

God did not make us with a measuring stick stuck to us that we may test out who is good enough and who is not.  God did not make us to live in fear and shame from ourselves without way to get out.  God made beautiful things out of dust and God breathed life into these beautiful things and God calls these beautiful things to be the mouthpieces of a new way of life.  No it is not easy and yes we will sometimes be scared, but God has called us to this place, in this time for a purpose and a word for those around us. 

I remember on one of my little brother’s walls as a child, there being a cross-stitched picture that said, “God don’t make junk.”  I think there was another phrase with it and a picture, but all I can remember is the “God don’t make junk.” 

We are each made in the quirky sometimes weird way that we are and that’s beautiful in and of itself.  We had a beautiful, amazingly spirit-filled, beautiful offertory on Sunday in The Journey – awesome clarinet music.  Wow the talent and the amazing gift of God!  We don’t all have to be the best musicians or the prettiest girl and the handsomest guy or the most athletic or the smart one in the family or the friendly cheerleader, or whatever else.  God made Jeremiah.  God called Jeremiah.  God made each and every one of us (hello Psalm 139) and God has called us.

And if you’re like me and you want to see them play the instruments…very, very cool.