A Season to Grow Up


Here in Alaska, it is the season of studded tires.  Now, as a southern boy, I have no concept of this and getting to see them for the first time on cars and bicycles, is just a little odd to me. They are far more practical than snow chains but it is just...odd.

Change does that to us.  As we change with the season and experiences of life, there is always an “adolescent” period where we awkwardly come of age and we must incorporate the changes, the “hormones” and growth spurts and growth pains, into the journey toward maturity. 

And the spiritual journey is no different. 

Even so, we don’t want to talk about it.  Though the great leaders and theologians of many faiths speak and teach on growth, even indicating how like infants they are, our version of the Christian faith is egotistical and built upon spiritual celebrities.

Paul speaks to the church at Corinth and rebukes their attitudes and how they stand so “mature” in their own eyes.  I have been “rebuked” as a pastor for not giving “meat” in sermons enough times to get how these words of Paul get abused.  If you and I determine we need more “meat” we don’t need to look farther than Paul’s words:

1My friends, you are acting like the people of this world. That's why I could not speak to you as spiritual people. You are like babies as far as your faith in Christ is concerned. 2 So I had to treat you like babies and feed you milk. You could not take solid food, and you still cannot, 3because you are not yet spiritual. You are jealous and argue with each other. This proves you are not spiritual and you are acting like the people of this world.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

It seems to me, the Bible’s images are more often slow growth models.  Not only are the images of human babies like Paul, but also like the Psalm writer who notes we are to be “like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season.” (Psalm 1:3)  Not too soon or out of season, not forced or rushed but we grow and produce fruits “in season.”

Paul points out the church was acting like “the world.”  How does the world act?  The world is “jealous” and people “argue with each other.”  Uh... hello???  Anyone listening? 

The spiritual journey requires watering and maturing not steroids and botox.  If you are constantly in arguments and expressing jealousy then make note of it - the issue is in you and it is a sign you are not growing.

Ask yourself if you are keeping your soul watered?  What exactly does that look like?  Are you spending time in God’s word?  Prayer? Journaling? Meditating? Walking?  What fruit are you bringing to the world?  

The American Revolution and The Wesleyan Way: An Election Reflection

I have been a voter since I turned 18 but I have been a student of our history and government since I can remember.  My mom and dad would take my sister and I to historic sites and battlefields.  In grade school, I walked the decks of the USS Constitution and threw “tea” over the side of a ship in Boston Harbor.  I have been to Valley Forge and later, to Monticello.  I would visit Shiloh Battlefield and have walked the fields of Gettysburg.   Today, one of the most significant books on leadership for me is “The Founding Fathers on Leadership,” by Donald T. Phillips.  In it, his quotes are numerous as our founders were very observant and wrote extensively.  One quote has long resonated with me from Samuel Adams, “A state is never free but when each citizen is bound by no law whatever that he has not approved of.”  Powerful words.

They are words that both build pride but cut through pridefulness.  While they were words that addressed oppression, they were and remain words that would address the oppression felt by minorities who were denied that same voice.  But the founders were wise enough to craft a legacy in our nation and Constitution which would allow for people to make a way for all to be free, even if there might be some struggle along the way.

On the other side of the “pond,” another revolutionary of a different sort was advocating for a different freedom.  In the Rev. John Wesley, the Gospel of Jesus found a new and passionate voice whose words and heart for God, prevented revolution in Great Britain.  It was (and remains) a message of grace that would cross the Atlantic and in Francis Asbury, find a champion who would lead the spread of Methodism in the new nation.  

What Wesley understood was a person must indeed be free, fully, so they might then fully respond, freely, to the grace and gift of salvation found by giving one's faith and life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Wesley struggled with the revolution taking place in the colonies but came to understand the significance.  Though he could not prevent the revolution, what he lived and taught would change the heart of England.

Just as I keep the founding father’s lessons near, I also keep the Works of John Wesley close by in my office.  While traveling on horseback, Wesley read and wrote often. While preaching in England, on October 6, 1774, John Wesley wrote:

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:

1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy,

2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and

3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

Consider these “Leadership Lessons of John Wesley,” if you will, that challenge us in our day to act as Jesus might to others who we might disagree with.  We might disagree without being “disagreeable” people.  Some might consider Wesley’s three points, an application of Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44), but are they really my enemy or the neighbor I am called to love into the Kingdom of God? 

Thanks to My Pastors

There are so many who have made a difference in my life and yes, many clergy but there are some I feel I have to mention during this month of clergy appreciation and as I step back into the world of blogging again.  I know I could name some more...maybe next year I'll revisit this list.  I know they likely won't even see the list but I can't help it (and those of you youth pastors and volunteers, I owe you a separate thanks!)

I know they didn't do it for accolades or thanks but thanks nonetheless!

Allen E. Bailey - the first pastor I remember as a kid at Starkville UMC.  Thanks for putting up with me and our confirmation class.  Based on all of us in ministry now, God's prevenient grace is indeed good.

Malloy Owens - I remember your smile and gracious words to all.  Your best sermon was your life.

Sid Huggins - You opened your home and allowed me to be part of your family and sent me into ministry.  Thanks for encouraging me.

Don Joy - The most influential pastor and professor in my life. 

Gerald Thurman - I can never thank you enough for being a mentor and guide as I matured and grew into my call.  You have been a gracious friend and support.

Christy Greenwald - Truly, you were and are a spiritual director and helped Heather and I during some trying days and times.

Walter Kimbrough - You made time for me and taught me the rich history of the African-American Church.  

Glenn Ethridge - When I was ready to throw in the towel, you reached out and helped me see clearly where God was leading.

Michael Selleck - You were a voice of calm in the storm and believed that God had something else in mind for me to be doing in ministry.

Warren Lathem - You NEVER allow me to be complacent and are a voice of convicting grace.

Sharma Lewis - A true friend and colleague.  You are an inspiration to all and I am honored to count you among my friends.

Doug Thrasher - When I needed a pastor and not a DS, you stepped up to the plate for me and our family. 

Andy Hinderlie - You helped me rediscover why I do what I do. We are still on the journey brother.  Thanks for being a friend.

To those who have passed on, Godspeed!  
For those who are staying the course, Follow Jesus!

For us all: Who has been there to bring you along the way? 

Time to Work on Words

Breathprayer for the week: "May my words be your words today, Jesus."

It is getting harder to live the life we once knew.  The changes in our world seem to throw us off our game and our plans.  Even our spiritual aspirations have been disrupted.  Looking at the Bible though, we find that we are called to simple actions, simple changes and more simple spirituality.  While I am not Jesus, Scripture tells me I am to seek Jesus' Kingdom, Jesus' way, first.  Well, today, I can start in my home to be more like Jesus with what I say to those near me and with those I connect with in the digital world too.

Looking at Paul's worfs in Colossians 3, we are encouraged to "take off old garments" and put on new ones.  Our words impact us and others.  It is a good and simple place to start today to make the most of the time and improve relationship. Invite Jesus to be part and do what God does best.

Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.

Condemnation or Kindness? You Get a Choice You Know.

One day St. Epiphanius sent someone to Abba Hilarion with this request, ‘Come, and let us see one another before we depart from the body.’ When he came, they rejoiced together. During the meal, they were brought a fowl; Epiphanius took it and gave it to Hilarion. The old man said to him, ‘Forgive me, but since I received the habit I have not eaten meat that has been killed.’ Then the bishop answered, ‘Since I took the habit I have not allowed anyone to go to sleep with a complaint against me and I have not gone to rest with a complaint against anyone.’ The old man replied, ‘Forgive me, your way of life is better than mine.’ (p 57, ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’)

Do you see the difference?

On the surface, I know that as much as I’d like to live as St. Epiphanius, there are those with whom I cannot reconcile. The reasons may be many, a few or just one, but it remains there is not going to peace. Do you have similar situations that have played out in your life? Are there those who you are odds with by your doing or theirs? Do you find your sleep unsettled? Do you find hatred at the heart of the matter? Pain? Grief? Loss of control?

Truly, the life of desert fathers and mothers limited their interaction with other people. They escaped to the desert to wrestle with the passions, with their sinfulness. It was the formation of the monastery life and the convents we are familiar with today. It is an admirable life and one which is more complicated than it may appear. Still, there are times when the complaint against us is beyond anything you can control.

But there is a lesson here, even deeper. Besides the truth that we are not able to control the behaviors of others, there is a deep difference in how people perceive the devout, religious life. For some, it is about maintaining rules, of manufacturing points of judgment where we might compare and complain and present ourselves as mightier and greater than others. You might even tear down those who threaten you. In the recent upheaval of the evangelical church, John MacArthur’s deriding comments to author and teacher, Beth Moore, is a great example.  Why make it a spectacle?  Where was the personal conversation?  Why the naming? And why the shaming? Let's be real here: how on earth is Beth Moore going stop any man from watching her videos?  Is she to hire bouncers so men don't "sneak into" her seminars?

What is the greater life? To be merely about rules or about being in a relationship? Is it about loving the “law” or is it the law of loving God first and loving others as you love yourself? In the story of Hilarion and the Epiphanius, we see a ‘law’ of personal preference and the law of God, which in truth, is the Law of Love. We see two gracious people, seeking after holiness and righteousness before God. We see gracious words spoken, not in condemnation but in kindness.
Centuries later, the lessons are still there for us to learn.  What will you now do?

Do or Do Not - Say It or Don't - Words Matter

The Lion had been hurt by the horns of a goat which he had brought down. He was very angry to think that any animal that he chose for a meal, should be so brazen as to wear such dangerous things as horns to scratch him while he ate. So he commanded that all animals with horns should leave his domains within twenty-four hours.

The command struck terror among the animals. All those who were so unfortunate as to have horns began to pack up and move out. The funny thing is, even impacted the Rabbit. As you know, rabbits have no horns and so had nothing to fear, passed a very restless night, dreaming awful dreams about the fearful Lion.

When Rabbit came out of the warren in the early morning sunshine and saw the shadow cast by his long and pointed ears, a terrible fright seized him. He turned to the branch where his friend, Cricket, lived. "Goodbye, Cricket," he called. "I will miss you, but I'm off. Lion will certainly make out that my ears are horns, no matter what I say."

This fall, our Bible Study at church has been delving into the Book of Proverbs. These past few weeks, we have been looking at what this book of wisdom has to offer about the tongue (how we talk) and then we’ve looked at how we are encouraged to choose a good name over riches (22:1). 

Do or Do Not - Say It or Don't - Words Matter. 

There is so very much that is out of control in our lives, so many things we can do nothing to change, it strikes me as interesting how we have not been more attentive to these two very important aspects of our world and lives we do have the power to influence. We are told the tongue can be incredibly destructive to others. This we see regularly spewed throughout our radios, social media, and TV. Even the calls for people to “say something” are more often attempts to shame others.

When I read the words of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early church, we find they wrote very little but their disciples are the ones who recorded the words of wisdom we read today. They saw many evils and witnessed as much corruption as we do in our day. They rarely spoke unless spoken to by others and even then, at times, they said nothing at all leaving people to their own conclusions. Proverbs 10:19 states: “Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but those who restrain their lips do well.” Actions and words both form a reputation for sometimes our words ARE actions.

And here I come back to Rabbit. He understood clearly there was nothing more to be said or that could be said to change the heart of the Lion. There are times that the pen is mightier than the sword and there are times to realize no matter what you might say or do, nothing will impact others.

So what are we left with? We are left with Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever pursues justice and love will find life and honor.” You do what you can and take to heart John Wesley’s encouragement: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. When you fail: admit and repent. Follow then what the Apostle Paul taught: “If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.” (Romans 12:18)

As noble as lions can be, they have bad days and bad moments. As peaceful as a rabbit might be, they can be prideful, too, just ask the tortoise. The choice we have is in ourselves - how we respond. Know yourself and when it is right, do right. If you must, use words.

Image: Pixabay

Walking Out of Church with Abba Bessarion

Once, when the desert father, Abba Bessarion, was attending church, a brother was turned out of the church by a priest. Abba Bessarion got up and went with him, saying, “I, too, am a sinner.”

The stories and sayings of the desert fathers and mothers often are seen for simple stories. Like the parables of Jesus, however, there are often far deeper truths present. These truths “explode” upon our reasoning when we are often unaware. Sometimes those truths change us for the better and at other times, we are forced to deal with blind spots.

One understanding of human beings is the Johari Window. 
If you look at the idea of the Johari Window, you find four “window panes.” One is the OPEN AREA where you are completely transparent and all around you know about these parts of your life. Then comes the BLIND SPOT, the places where other people know things about you but you don’t see these parts. Thirdly comes the FACADE, what you know about yourself that you don’t let anyone else know. And finally comes the UNKNOWN, the part of you still don’t know and neither does anyone else.

Each one of us has these four parts in our lives and our beliefs. The more I journey the life of faith, I find it more and more valuable to own my blind spots that I most especially share with others. Abba Bessarion’s words are a good reminder: “I, too, am a sinner.”

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