Away put your doesn't fit the next step

It has been rolling around over and over again in my head as of late. It is a small scene, not usually quoted or referenced. It does not illicit jokes or inspire t-shirts. Yet, it is a significant step for a novice Jedi...

For a long time now, I've been intrigued by the developmental features of the Star Wars saga's main characters. Dismiss the new one's if you want but if you combine them, there are numerous character studies and implications worth noting. Still, maybe none are as compelling as Luke's journey nor as easy to track from a developmental perspective such as Piaget, Kholberg, or Kegan. But what of spiritual development?

Surely the parallel with monks is evident in the George Lucas' Jedi Order but this can too easily be brushed off. There is more at work here (as there often is in all mythology). Still, the likes of James Fowler and more recently, Janet Hagberg, shed more direct light here.

Luke's decision to follow Yoda's advice and put away that blaster is a beginning...the beginning of reflection, the next step on his journey. It is one that will lead to failure. Watch the movies and you'll see that Luke will fail again and again leading to the climactic confrontation on the DS2.

Jesus told him, "Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to sleep." (Matthew 8:20) John the Eunuch said (speaking of the church), "This is a place for asceticism, not for worldly business." We're going to hit a wall, a person, a place, something is going to give in our lives. What took us so far, where we called home, what business we did will no longer suffice.

Our weapons will fail on the next step of the journey. To go after Jesus, the way of the cross, we must stop blasting away at ideas, people, genders, denominations and maybe even our own definition of evil.

May I Ask: What has been your weapon of choice lately?

May I Suggest: Consider people in your life that you've seen or heard of who are "masters." What is it about them which defines them?

Thoughts Before The Talk: Holding Back

In the great story lines of modern cinema and writings, have you noticed how often the hero or heroine is holding something back? Maybe it is someone on their team, a special gadget or just the deep down since of destiny. It inspires us, it sends that little chill up your spine. (Beware Spoilers)In the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi and when the Rohirrim appear on the hillside in Return of the King always grab my attention.

If only our lives were more cinematic! Unfortunately (to us anyway), life is usually a little more mundane. We hold back and say to ourselves (as we look at the rich and famous or maybe just our neighbors), "I've got nothing! (pause) but..." In our home it goes something like this..
Child: "I'm bored."
Parent: "Really. You've got nothing to do?"
Child: "No. I'm bored."
Parent: "Well, you bought ______________, that would be something."
Child: "Yeah, I got nothing but that, but I'm still bored."
Parent: "What about _______________?"
Child: "Yeah, nothing but that and I'm still bored."

I am no different, in attitude or action. I'm not asking if you appreciate what you have, but do you acknowledge it as yours?

Don't think for a minute this a parable about wealth, it is about the heart of possessions.

When Jesus said to the disciples, " give them something to eat (Mt. 14:16)." The disciples responded, "...We have nothing here but...(Mt. 14:17)." Is this a miracle of faith and feeding? Or do we have the humbling of hearts as the teacher digs deeper into the soul of the disciples and digging deeper into my own shadow...the side that holds back?

Bread and beans for me please.

The story has been passed on for centuries about the philosopher Diogenes who was seen sitting on a curb, eating bread and beans for his supper. It was the philosopher Aristippus who made note of it. Aristippus, lived comfortably by flattering the king (so it was said).

Aristippus came up to Diogenes and said, "If you would learn to be subservient to the king, you would not have to live on beans." Diogenes responded, "Learn to live on beans, and you will not have to cultivate the king."

Where does your understanding of power come from? Where is it that you find the ability to influence people? The diplomas on our walls, the titles after our names, the homes we live in, the cars we drive, the associations we belong to, even our sports teams are used to build up ourselves...or dismiss others.

Whose side are you on? When Treebeard was asked that by two hobbits in Tolkien's Two Towers, the old Ent was quick to note that no one was on his side! The more and more the followers of Jesus associate with sides, the closer we move to kings and the further away from our King.

Maybe Mr. Wendal can still teach us a thing or two...

Hollywood Holiness

Driving into work today I got to thinking about my disappointments with the new Harry Potter. Oh, it was good as far as movies go. It was at the heart, true to the story. However, as is the case often in the transition from book to screen, somethings get lost in translation. Maybe nothing big but for those who have never read the book, you'd miss key, meaningful symbols and subtle stories that would broaden the scope of the story.

It is not just in Harry Potter that it happens, it is consistently being done and for most folks, it makes little impact or difference. In truth, maybe it does make for a better movie...but it does not tell the whole story. We have the freedom to watch the movie or read the book. We have the opportunity to play the video game or sit in a book club discussion.

There is, in my experience, a convergence of thoughts occurring within the spiritual landscape. It is played out in our churches over and over again. It could be argued, we've been doing it for centuries. Yet, it has been ever growing in scope within the United States precisely because of our freedoms.

In his book, "Working the Angles," Eugene Peterson notes,
"The great attraction for distilling Scripture into truths and morals and lessons is simply laziness. The the hallmark of the gnostic, for whom matter is evil and history inconvenient... (134 & 135)"

Hollywood Holiness does just this. It is easy. It may or may not be gnostic, I'm not quite willing to go that far. However, it does leave the seeker of God flat and wondering over time, "is this all there is?"

No. No it isn't. There is more, so much more! Stay tuned...this will be continued.

Life Assurance - Romans 8:14-17

Click here for the verses: Romans 8:14-17

Click here to download the audio of Life Assurance

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: "You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?"
So the Man put the son on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides."

So the Man ordered his son to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along."

Well, the Man didn't know what to do, but at last he got his son up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the bridge into town, the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said:
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?"

So the they decided to get off and carry the donkey. In their attempts to lift the donkey onto their shoulders they got too close to the edge of the bridge, and the donkey toppled into the river and was washed down stream and escaped. Later in life he would bump into an ogre named Shrek but that is another story.

When we live our lives worried about multiple opinions, ideas and prescriptions it is most likely we’re going to lose our donkeys along the way. Lloyds of London has made millions off providing insurance for those who worry such as Troy Polamalu's hair for $1 million, Celine Dion's, Bob Dylan's and Bruce Springsteen's vocal cords, as well as Tina Turner’s legs. We now know even insurance counts for very little. Yet, in our world we remain committed to propping up our systems, but for what end? For fear above all else.

Jesus’ story of the soil that we read last week revealed that God is looking for good soil, that is, God is looking for dirty people to invest a treasure into. At might be said, that God is looking for those like the father and son who have lost their donkey - we’ve got nothing else to lose after all. When you’ve got nothing, insurance is worthless. But assurance? Now that is something!

Paul, who wrote this letter to the Romans, makes an important contrast and break from conventional wisdom. Positive thinking alone will not overcome fear for fear, Paul says, is something that has foot in the spiritual realm. There is no insurance against fear and the spirit of slavery, no, but there is assurance which comes from the Spirit of God, the Spirit of adoption.

For John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, this assurance of salvation became one of the defining marks of the movement. Many of the Wesleyan songs and hymns were on this theme. He implored his pastors and lay speakers to preach on it. Sermons 9, 10 and 11 in Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons were all three based on this very passage of the Bible.

Why? Why would this assurance be so important to him? Hmmm, let’s 1737 John escaped in the cover of darkness from the coast of Georgia for fear of his life. Enroute to England, the ship was cast about in a tremendous storm and worry overcame him. It was a group of Moravian Christians who prayed and sang without fear for their lives that caused Wesley to question his very calling to ministry and salvation. Months later, in a Bible Study on Aldersgate street, he recorded in his journal, “ assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

We aren’t promised protection from the storms but peace through it all. It isn’t a release to be lazy but to become loving. We are not given merely a happy face but a hopeful outlook. We come to no longer demand justice but instead begin to distribute joy. These have been the marks not merely of Methodism but of Christianity itself!

Our salvation, our decision to follow after Jesus was never intended to be a one time occurance, but an ongoing process. This Spirit of adoption which brings us into the family is one who assures us we are children of God and part of the family. How good does it feel to get that text message from a friend or a personal letter in the mail? When the phone rings and you see the name or number of your mom, your son, your spouse, do you catch a glimpse of joy? When my phone sounds off with Kenny Chesney's "She Got It All" (click for video link), I know that my best friend is calling.

It is an experience, a feeling, a reminder of being in relationship with someone else. It is an assurance that we are important - we mean something to somebody in this world. This letter of Paul to the Romans is God’s text message - Be Assured You Are My Child! And it isn’t that you are an only child!

It is in our community of faith, in the joining together as a family that we come to hear better, to understand more clearly and be transformed fully into God’s children, the heirs of God. If you’re still thinking being an heir of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett would do you more good, you’ve not been listening. Father Richard Rohr put it this way, “We are already spiritual beings; we just don’t know it.” (Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 17). But it is in being in the family AND with the family that we come to experience our full life.

You see, this isn’t about joining church - it is about adoption into a family. It isn’t about signing up for Disciple Bible Study, Disciple is about learning to eat at God’s table. It isn’t about going to Sunday School, Sunday School is about learning to get along with our brothers and sisters. It isn’t about One Great Day of Service, One Great Day is about learning to share our toys.

Surely the rains and doubts will come but there is this assurance - the Spirit promised by Jesus did come and continues to come to those who seek Him first. We can Your adoption papers have been approved, the question remains will you take them up and step out into a new life - a life assured?

Thoughts Before The Talk: An Assurance of Salvation

Dr. Thomas Oden notes that "Methodists...need to be clear about this teaching [assurance]'because it is one grand part of the testimony which God has given them to bear to all humanity.'" So then let me get down to the very point at hand, do you have an assurance of your salvation?

I know I'm not beating around the bush here. John Wesley's concern that Methodists exist as a dead sect might as well apply to all of the Church and I think this small, often neglected doctrine is a contributing factor. We run out to face the storms of life, trying to run faster to dodge rain drops and only find ourselves getting wetter. We get back soaked and wonder and wail at God but by the door sets quietly the umbrella - a gift from God our Father.

We cannot avoid going out in the storm. We cannot hope to run fast enough. In fact, we run the risk of face planting on slick path. We can however, walk with assurance that God is with us, we can KNOW, we are God's own child. Wesley wrote to Miss Bishop on June 12, 1773, "Seek one thing, and you will be far less troubled with unprofitable reasonings."

Does the idea of an assurance of salvation interest you? If so, two things jump out to me from Paul's words and from Wesley's experience. One, it is a completely spiritual thing going beyond 3 points and a poem. And two, you have to surround yourself with family, that is, other Jesus-followers going after God.

Father Richard Rohr put it this way, “We are already spiritual beings; we just don’t know it.” (Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 17). Ain't that an understatement!

May I Ask? What has been your experience with people giving you assurances? How about insurance? How does that effect your willingness to trust God?

May I Suggest? For you up to a challenge, go read and reflect on Wesley's sermons 9-12. You may want to read 1 3:24, 2 Corinthians 1:12 and Romans 8:16. Be patient as you pray for God to give you this assurance if you desire it.

Are You Dirty Enough For Jesus?

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

Click here for mp3 of "Are Dirty Enough?"

The sower is looking for good soil. A place to put the seed but what is in fact, good soil? I've walked on soil, dug up soil and face planted enough of it in my lifetime you'd think I'd know something about soil. So when I read this parable, I realized I probably talk to someone who knows more. Thankfully, we've got a great couple here at Cumming FUMC who are Master Gardners. Now, they said I couldn't say there names and that is kind of hard but after eating their tomatoes and cucumbers, I think I'll keep it a secret anyway!

I learned a great deal but of most importance was this...WITHOUT SOIL THERE IS NO LIFE. To be healthy, our master gardener noted, healthy soil must be able to breath and water needs to be able to move through it. The process of decomposing materials creates the very spaces soil needs to breath. In other words, it is death that promotes life.

Still, we must recognize the importance of the word pictures Jesus is painting. Nothing about gardening is measured in hours or even days...think weeks, months, seasons and years. We've ignored the structures God Remember, of all the animal kingdom, while humans are at the top of the food chain, our children are dependent on the care of others for an inordinate amount of time. Today we call it college.

Considering how often Jesus talks about soil and growth it needs to be noted and not ignored the importance of dirt. Are you dirty enough for Jesus? It isn't like he was out picking out the most educated or most religious folks to follow him, nor does the Bible describe in the history of faith, God looking for success.

The Apostle Paul failed; Peter failed; every one of the twelve apostles failed.
David, Israel's greatest king, "a man after God's own heart," failed.
Moses, deliverer of his people and deliverer of the law, failed.
Jacob, father of Israel, failed; Isaac, son of promise, failed.
Abraham, father of the Hebrew people, failed.

Those who want to gain their lives, must lose them Jesus said. Henry Ford forgot to put a reverse gear in his first car. Albert Einstein failed his university entrance exams at his first attempt. Thomas Edison spent $2,000,000 on an invention which proved to be of little value. Very little comes out right the first time. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in our own time no the value of the death of a dream. Babe Ruth missed more than he hit and it is still true today for Albert Puljos and Brian McCann! Abraham Lincoln's life demonstratea that the only time you do not fail is the last time you try something and it works.

Who has not face planted? Who hasn't known some element of suffering? No matter how big or small the fall, when we hit the ground, we get dirty. I know this is an idea that runs contrary to our winner take all society. The idea that the one who dies with the most toys wins is nothing more than cotton candy – it is sugar with no substance.

It seems to me that Jesus doesn't even give an indication that the harvest is of greatest importance – it just comes. After all, this is what the Apostle Paul says, one plants, one waters, but God provides the growth. What matters, ultimately, is to consider, what kind of soil we have become or are becoming? Good dirt, the best soil has to have some suffering and death mixed in.

Talk to any athlete. Whether you're playing t-ball or major leagues, or any other sport, to get stronger we have to push to get stronger. Ask anyone with a degree or who does research, one has to study. Talk to any musician about the sacrifice needed in practice. Ask anybody who has started a new business, it is going to take some pain to get the the promised land. Talk to any who has faced cancer or disease, there is suffering that takes place to get there.

In January of 2000, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Following that surgery and radiation, I faced clinical depression. To get back to health sometimes means we lose the idea of wholeness. For cancer and other diseases and illnesses, we sometimes have to step beyond this world's ideals. We must learn to trust the wounds to experience the wonder of life.

Jesus was looking for imperfect people not the ideal people. Jesus attracted salt of the earth people. In Luke's gospel he compared God to a man who had a feast. The ideal people, the perfect people, the rocky soil and shallow soil, all made excuses. Luke tells us...

"And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' "And the slave said, 'Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' "And the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. 'For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'" (Luke 14:21-24 NASB)

Jesus isn't interested in the pristine, pristine doesn't make good soil. It applies to children, teens and adults, it crosses gender and race. We are the ones who have come up with the question "Am I clean enough for church and God?" But thank God it is Jesus who asks the question of grace: "Are you dirty ENOUGH?" Thank God almighty, we are! Hear that GOOD NEWS!

Are You Dirty Enough? Thoughts Before the Talk

Bad soil, good soil, rocky soil...what gives? Jesus' parables are full of plants, harvests, and farms. I'll admit that I dislike getting out and working in the yard especially come the dog days of summer. I don't mind the sweat but dirt? I'm already thinking about taking a shower!!

Still, we must recognize the importance of the word pictures Jesus is painting. Nothing about gardening is measured in hours or even days...think weeks, months, seasons and years. Remember, of all the animal kingdom, while humans are at the top of the food change, our children are dependent on the care of others for an inordinate amount of time.

Consider taking time to read some of the Bible verses on plants and farming. I'm not talking just with Jesus, but the whole Bible. We need to review our Biology notes lest we miss some of the lessons underneath!

May I Ask: How 'dirty' do you feel these days? Does it make you seem unloveable or unacceptable? Do you think God feels that way about you?

May I Suggest: Spend some time this week learning about soil. Go to a flower show, find a master gardner or go by a farmer's market and pick up some produce. Ask any of these folks about what is needed to make good might be surprised what you learn.

Do You Hear It?

Click here for mp3 of the sermon "Do You Hear It?"

As little more than infant, I first set foot on the battlefields that cover the eastern region of the United States for the first time. It was the tradition of our family to combine home and heritage. I went from tossing tea boxes into Boston Harbor to being on the Battlefield of Shiloh. Williamsburg and Valley Forge as well as Gettysburg and Appomatax were part of those times. Whether through family or friends, most of us are connected to our military. In my time at Seminary at Asbury, I served as a Chaplain in the VA Hospital and heard the stories of those who landed on Iwo Jima and those who knew the icy winds of the Battle of the Bulge. July fourth always brings to mind these connections.

During the times that Thomas Paine wrote “that tried men's souls,” a generation of men and women asked of themselves what kind of generation they were going to be? And who were those patriots? What kind of people were those who stood fast against English tyranny? What set them apart? On the eve of December 25th on the banks of the Delaware, General Washington described them this way, “It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes. Some of them have old rags tied around their feet, but I have not heard a man complain.”

I'm just a bit humbled by those words. Do you hear it? How many times have I complained about a slight inconvenience? Too long in traffic? Too long at the fast food window? Too hard with the hammer on my thumb? Too many boxes that should have been thrown away rather than packed?

In his own day, Jesus asked a similar question of a generation. Do you hear it? Matthew's history of Jesus has Jesus answering questions from John the baptist's disciples. John is sitting in prison and beginning to wonder about this cousin of his. Jesus answers those question and then turns on those who run their mouths...maybe you know a person like that, maybe two?

Jesus addresses the crowds who had followed John the Baptist for a time and his unique blend of living and lecturing but then the flavor of the month grew stale. They turned to Jesus, this traveling rabbi, a teacher and found someone altogether different. Here he was going about spending time with the riff-raff, the outcasts, the party people of his day...and what do you know? These people didn't seem to like this either, maybe you can hear that in Jesus' tone of voice.

What kind of generation does Jesus describe? One that had grown to love convenience and complacency. But the call is a call to a life filled with experiences and an abandonment of the rigid observance of religiosity. Do you hear it?

Like other young people, myself included, one young boy misunderstood something said in church. He was terrified to go into his church alone. His mother asked him about it and he said he was terrified by the 'zeal' who who wanted to eat him. He wasn't sure what it looked like but knew it was big enough to eat a man whole because the preacher had read it from the Bible.

Going through the Bible, she came across a verse where the young man told her to stop reading: Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE HAS EATEN ME UP." (John 2:17 NKJV). She told young Theodore that there was nothing to fear but that zeal meant a zest and passion for God. And that was how Theodore would live. He would become known as Teddie, and this future president would later write that fearing God in the truest since meant to love God...”and all of this can only be done by loving our neighbor, treating him justly and mercifully (from Fear God and Take Your Part).”

Do you hear it? Do you hear the call of those who have gone before us? Not for liberty of a nation alone but for all people? They were simple men who tread the ground with bare feet taking little with them but a sense of destiny, a promise. Not of victory alone but of a rest, a burden removed. They weren't soldiers crossing the Delaware but crossing the line between a comfortable religion and the opportunity to follow Jesus, the hope of us all. Jesus promises a safe port not a quiet passage.

Do you hear it? These were not people of some special talent or birthright and today in this day they are not either. They are people who, like John, live holy and they are people who, like Jesus, party heartily. Do you hear it? It is the call to feed the hungry and it is the call to hunger to be fed.

We’re like Winnie the Pooh. We always hear the rumbly in our tumbly but do you hear the one in your soul? For today, you are invited to have that hunger filled – and it happens here, at this table – Do you hear it? Jesus is inviting you and me today, do you hear it? We welcome you to this meal that fills more than our stomachs but fills our hungry soul…(as this is first Sunday, communion is celebrated).

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