Nine Years On…

…It’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint.  That cliché truly holds up in my life as a minister.  On the other hand, I have come far enough along the journey of ministry to look back and realize I have traveled a good piece thus far and it didn’t seem .  There have been days of struggle, though not too many.  There have been far more days of joy and triumph, though I haven’t relished them enough.

A marathon-runner I am not.  However, I have had the audacity and the good fortune to train for a few half-marathons (full disclosure – I am not much of runner.  Never have been; never will be).  What I like about running…okay, jogging…is that it forces me out of my comfort zones.  To get up and go out there puts me into a set of circumstances that my body and my mind do not always like.  The weather is always a reality.  My mind tells me, “Stop! It’s too cold” or “Really, in this heat?”  There is always that voice in my head that says, “You’re too weak, too slow, too….” That same nagging voice of insecurity says, “Stop!” But then, just a few more steps…and a few more.

Nine years into ministry in the local church as a minister, I’ve taken enough steps on the marathon to look back, and yet, I sure hope there are many more to come.  Sure, there will be changes in the weather and I am bound to need rest along the pathway, but I’m going to keep on going.  Recently, I have been taking inventory of where I am on God’s pathway.  I am amazed at where it has taken me to this point.  Here’s to many miles ahead in His Truth and Grace; just one step at a time.

I am greatly encouraged by the many saints that have gone before me.  I have been serving in this capacity just long enough to appreciate those who have made it down the road a little further, a little bit longer, a little bit harder.  I don’t know when one becomes a veteran in ministry, but I don’t think that’s me yet.  What I do know is that I have a greater appreciation for them now than when I started to go – they made the difference.  I still love what I do and I consider it a privilege, and so I shall keep jogging onward.

“Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.—Hebrews 12:1-2.

Rules, Rules, Rules

“Rules are made to broken.”  As a child I was told that this was a bad, bad mantra.  As a result, I grew up every mindful of what the rules were.  I was likewise ever mindful of the consequence for breaking the rules.  To break the rules meant being punished by my parents or being shamed in the eye of the public.

But in a very public way, Jesus broke many rules along his journey to the Cross.  In this week’s text of Luke 13, Jesus breaks a biggie when he heals the woman on the Sabbath.  To do so carried multiple implications. Not only was he doing so on the day of rest, but Jesus was healing a woman – bringing a multi-faceted reality of scoff before the religious class of his time.  

Jesus broke the rules.  Jesus broke the rules in order to fulfill the rules.  Jesus broke with human rules to live out God’s understanding of those same rules.  In essence, Jesus gave fullness to the rules by breaking the people’s misunderstanding that had evolved over the course of thousands of years.  

Jesus takes our breath away by shining light on the rules…by breaking them…in the name of God’s unending love for all of his people.   I look forward to seeing you at Young Harris UMC this Sunday for worship at 11 a.m. as we proclaim God’s love for all and the rules that must be re-examined in our lives.

He’s calling us to this…

Last night I was introducing the imposition of ashes for Ash Wednesday and God warmed my heart!  As I was approaching the lectern at St. James UMC, the phrase “journey” came to my mind.  In a split second I decided I would say to the sturdy gathering “We are calling you to a journey this Ash Wednesday.”  Then, the Holy Spirit reminded me “God is calling us to a journey,” and that’s what I said: “God is calling us this day to journey with Him; to journey with Him toward the Cross.”

Whether this was a quick re-evaluation of right theology or a split-second word from God (I prefer the latter), the Spirit of God was present in the place.  The imposition of ashes is a discipline that we as a Church do together but it’s God that is calling us to journey.  God is calling us to repent and know the Gospel.  God is calling us to be reminded of the painful reality that we are dying a physical death; God is calling us to die in an act of glorious tribute to our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer.

Our journey to the Cross this 2012 Lenten Season (perhaps the one journey with God that we love to avoid) is actually an inevitability for each of us.  We shall all die.  In Christ we shall die toward resurrection.

For 40 days (plus 6 Sundays), may we embrace our mortality, may we repent of our sinful ways (both individually and communally); and may we be enlightened to the Truth that the God of Creation is making all things new.  He’s making us all new in Him!  He is calling us to this journey!

In Christ alone.

why sabbath

Tonight I begin sabbath rest – something that I have not had in three weeks.  The last day I called sabbath was August 4th, 2011.  That day was particularly a great day for me.  I woke up and cooked buttermilk pancakes, read the newspaper, mowed the lawn and read Bishop Wilke’s “Are We Yet Alive,” a somewhat depressing treatise on the denomination that I love (and believe has a wonderful, glorious future).

I highlight the details because, for me, everything done thereafter became a three-week blur.  Better yet, as the days went on, the blur increased and my attention to details became less and less perspectival and more and more moment-by-moment.  While our beloved Word of God is very clear that we must keep the sabbath holy, some of us clergy allow perceptions to rule reality.  In my case, these last two-and-a-half weeks were a space in time where I did what I thought was right (which may have actually been wrong for me).  In hindsight I should have taken a day off.

In all actuality I am better and more alert and focused with a day off.  Sabbath it essential and somehow I get tripped up too by taking it for granted.  At the height of the momentum of the French version of enlightenment, a ten-day week was attempted.  It was very quickly found out to be an epic failure and the seven-day week returned.  Largely because we are all designed for sabbath rest. When we don’t receive it, we become less aware, less responsive; less effective in our lives.

Tomorrow – I take sabbath.  Praise be to God!

thoughts on Grace

Isaiah 56:1-8 gives us a directive from the Lord (essentially that God is telling us to be Holy – maintain justice, keep the Sabbath, do not do anything evil – Wesley said it this way “Do Good, Do No Harm, Attend to the Sacarements of God”) AND he gives us a promise (“I will bring those that do this to me and I will gather others besides those that do this”).

In a nutshell, I hear God saying “Do what I’ve told you AND know that I’m going to save you and some others too.”

Isaiah’s prophecy here about God is central to our understanding of an ultimately love-filled God.  The God of Israel (and of Isaiah) is a God that commands his people to be holy.  But he is also a God that promises he will gather OTHERS too!  What a beautiful word!

Last night Sarah and I had dinner with an old friend of mine, visiting from Paris, France.  She left the area some ten years ago and though we have stayed in touch, our times together are now few and far between.  This time together saw a mark of change in that we both brought our spouses to the table.  They also had the most beautiful and sweet-hearted three-month-old daughter as well.  All that I could think about was how God had gathered us together again.  How despite time and distance, here we sat in God’s grace.  Ultimately this grace is that Grace that Isaiah is pointing to.

It’s grace that has impaled my heart.  It’s grace that compells me to receive entrance into the story of God.  It’s grace that propells me in belief that there is so much more to be done and that God wants me to both participate in and observe all that God is doing and going to do.

After all this is the same grace that clothed Adam and Eve, that went before Abram and Sarai, that honored Leah’s wishes, that allowed the dreams of Jacob, that gave Joseph to Israel…that entered Mary and that saved Paul.  This grace burns in us and will burn in others.  This grace seeks to gather us.  This grace seeks to bring us to the Table.  This grace transforms us and re-forms our existences.

When we realize this – we realize that all along he’s been preparing the way.  What a beautiful wooing by our God.  What a wonderful way to connect us.  What a powerful statement for this God of it all.  Last night I became aware that God’s grace was gathering us up once more!

People Get Ready!

Everyone calm down!  Everything is going to be alright with regards to the church in America.  Jesus is still moving and his people are still working hard to make disciples for Christ (and, might I say, doing it at rates consistent with the church of previous generations).  I just read a library book that has changed my perspective on pretty much everything that is happening sociologically and economically in this great land, The Age Curve, by Michael Gronbach.

This is his message to anyone listening:  The Baby Boomers comprise 78 million people, Generation X comprises 69 million people (11% less people) and Generation Y comprises over 100 million people (thanks to an expansion of fertility due to medicine).  EVERYTHING ECONOMICALLY, SOCIALLY AND POLITICALLY HINGES ON THIS SINGULAR TRUTH.  The impacts of the realities of this are enormous to, well, everyone in America.  Continue reading