Hike Your Own Hike: Giving Grace to Others on Their Spiritual Journey

Bly Gap at border of NC & GA
This summer, my daughter and I took our first steps toward reaching our goal of section hiking the Appalachian Trail.  We covered nearly 50 miles in 4.5 days.  There were many things she and I learned on the trail.  Some of it was about backpacking, some about life, some things about people, some things about ourselves and some things about God.

There is a popular phrase regarding the AT that goes, “Hike your own hike.”  Most of my years on the trail have been spent leading and being responsible for groups anywhere from 5 to 75.  This was the first time that I could remember in a number of years that I have done a long hike where my concern was just me and my daughter.  She and I gave each other permission to hike our own hikes, as we set boundaries and rules for staying in touch even when we lost sight of each other (pardon that pun).

Seriously though, my vision loss provided a unique challenge for me as I had to learn my limits and my abilities.  It was at times very difficult to navigate stone steps and inclines.  I did not always get to see the beauty around me as I had to pay attention to each step.  But in that process, I did get to see beauty under my feet that I would have missed in the past.

I had the chance to be more aware of myself which is something very difficult when leading a large group.  I also could be fully attentive to my daughter and I got to know her better as a very strong, very independent, amazingly creative and funny young woman.

Getting to hike my own hike made me more aware of our need to give others permission to hike their hike.  I think if I had tried to make my daughter hike “my hike,” it would have robbed her of what the AT experience can be.  If I had tried to hike “her hike,” I would have missed precious moments of hearing God and meditating on the experience.

One thing unique about our hike, was that we were going south and most everyone was going north.  A
Low Gap Shelter, Georgia
couple of times we met up with people at shelters on the top of a peak and share lunch and stories.  We were all on the same trail, the same mountain, or the same shelter but each of us had hiked a different hike to get there. 

I do not see this as an analogy for all religions.  What I “see” in my experience is that the Body of Christ is big enough and there is room for diversity and experience for everyone to hike their own hike.  I know for some, denominations are seen as a perversion of Jesus’ call for unity.  Within my own tradition of Methodism, we have a diversity and often do not reflect our heritage which the United Brethren offered us in their name: “United.”  We talk about grace but often fail in sharing it with one another.

There is within the Scriptures, a diversity of experiences regarding salvation and growth in grace.  Just look at Peter and Paul (though there are other comparisons)!  They experienced Jesus in two very different ways yet it was still the one Lord they followed and worshipped.  I think this final conversation with Jesus that Peter had, illustrates the point…

“Peter turned around and saw behind him that other disciple, whom Jesus loved---the one who had leaned close to Jesus at the meal and had asked, "Lord, who is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus answered him, "If I want him to live until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" (John 21:20-22 GNB)”

Jesus calls Peter to “hike his own hike,” and not to try and pull John into his model of following Jesus.  We are not created to be clones and puppets.  Jesus doesn’t say to us we need to be identical but to be unique, using our gifts and that means, we’ve got to take a different path up the mountain, the same mountain all followers of Jesus are on.

Be aware of God’s presence and the work of the Spirit guiding you into Christ-likeness. Beware that you do not hike someone else’s hike or insist other people hike your hike.  Be attentive to voice of the Savior calling you to follow!

Continuing to Open Our Eyes to Disabilities in the Church

I awoke on Thursday morning a bit blurry eyed as I headed out to teach our Men’s Morning Bible Study but thought, “This will pass.” It didn’t. More accurately it was my right eye that was blurry and it took a quick
trip to my opthomologist to recognize something was very wrong. Having already survived a diagnoses of testicular cancer in 2000, I had a good understanding of how things worked. When specialists like a “Neuro-opthamologist clear their schedules to see you, you know something is really amiss. But when the MRI Center takes you IMMEDIATELY? You know that you don’t know anything and that is a scary place to be.

I was diagnosed with Ischemic-optic neuropathy, a swelling of the optic nerve in my right eye due to a vascular condition. Thankfully, there was no sign of a more severe condition, though we were told it could occur in the other eye. Almost exactly a year later, it struck my left eye. A trip to the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia offered us only a confirmation of the condition and no hope of healing treatment through medicine.

According to field of vision tests, I am nearly half-blind. I do maintain legal vision in my left eye so I might drive, but just barely. Suddenly, I found myself in a different world, a cloudy, unfamiliar world that I began to learn about through the internet and Vision Rehabiliation Services in Cobb County. I have worked some to learn Braille, been trained in the use of a cane, I’ve learned to navigate public transit and have received gifts of Closed Caption Video Readers. And yes, I have also been prayed for by prayer ministries and had verifiable Christian healers pray for my healing as well with no improvement.

What are we to make of this? I have had both friends and family come to me struggling with their own faith in God because of my disability and how it has changed my life. Today as you heard my story, I suspect, only because of experience, some of you wonder as did the disciples in John’s gospel:

"Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Did he or his parents sin?" (3) Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned. Instead, he was born blind so that God could show what he can do for him. (John 9:2-3)
You may well wonder about what sins I must have committed. I have heard one preacher say, “The reason bad things happen is because people take Jesus off the throne of their heart.” And some of you are wondering about faith: my faith or the faith of those who have prayed for me.

Read carefully to the Parable Jesus tells in Luke 14:16-24 of the Parable of the Banquet…

The words of this parable have been shared for centuries. Like most Parables, we have come to see there are often times more than one interpretation, more than one meaning. Today, I want to draw your attention to what the Banquet Host tells his servant in Verse 21: “Bring back the poor, the handicapped, the blind, and the lame.”

It is not healthy who are called and it is not the rich who the hosts asks for in this third invitation. The truth in here is simple:

“In the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

Healing is not a litmus test of one’s worthiness anymore than one’s health or wealth. What one has or has not does not make a seat at the table. The seat at the table of the Kingdom of God, is the seat prepared by Jesus Christ for any and all who will say, “YES!, to the invitation the host extends.

“In the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

My disability has, pardon the pun, opened my eyes to what others face. This spring, our family spent a day at Little Five Points enjoying lunch and shopping. At one point, my son and I were walking on the sidewalk and I stepped, stumbled, and fell hard onto the sidewalk. My son was gracious to help. Me? I was hurt and embarrassed. What had happen? It has to do with what the Rev. Dr. Doug Gilreath, Pastor of Covington told me. Doug’s vision disability is far more severe than mine and has been with him since childhood. He said to me, “You have it more difficult because you do not know your limits yet.” He was right! I my vision couldn’t process all the data because I couldn’t see everything and in the end, it was a small corner of concrete that had shifted by a tree root that caused me to fall.

“In the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

The parable Jesus tells the people reiterates the explicit command of verse 13. In that verse Jesus tells plainly the followers of God are to “…(13) invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind. (14) Then you will be blessed because they don't have any way to pay you back.” So where do we get the idea that Kingdom of God is to be grown in the suburbs? Where did the idea come about that we need financially well to do people to grow God’s Kingdom? Is it not James who calls us out?

James 2:2-4 GW For example, two men come to your worship service. One man is wearing gold rings and fine clothes; the other man, who is poor, is wearing shabby clothes. (3) Suppose you give special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say to him, "Please have a seat." But you say to the poor man, "Stand over there," or "Sit on the floor at my feet." (4) Aren't you discriminating against people and using a corrupt standard to make judgments?

“In the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

You need to know that the American Disabilities Act and our Book of Discipline are not a hindrance to the ministry of the Kingdom. The very model of the Kingdom that Jesus describes should have us going far beyond these laws and requirements. Simple accommodations of larger fonts on video screens, brighter lighting and large print hymnals are helpful. Ensuring wheelchair ramps are available and doors wide enough for them is not costly, it is hospitality! Making people aware and comfortable with those on various spectrums of autism or learning disabilities should be a priority. Reaching out to families in need of respite is a vital step but it also means we recognize that those with disabilities are of sacred worth and worthy of hearing the Gospel in a way that they can understand.

“In the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth.”

At another dinner gathering recorded in Matthew 9:11-12 it says, “…the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

What if we began to not and recognize the Gospel of Jesus is for us all and there are many who have not heard because we have not said in the language of their disability, “On behalf of Jesus, I invite you to the table?” What if we quit fearing what we don’t understand and instead ask, “How can we do this better for you?” What if we asked simply, “What do you see? What do hear? What do you feel?”

What if we believed and acted on the truth Jesus tells us, that in the Kingdom, the wounded and worn are brought to a table that cannot be bought by health and wealth?” Me? I believe, there would be more healing of souls and those bound by disabilities will know the truth that they too, can be made free at last.

(This is the sermon text written for the opening service of the Mission u Conference 2014 hosted by Mission Committee of the North GA Annual Conference and the United Methodist Women in Athens, GA)

How I've Succesfully Organized My Gmail Inbox For Good

Many of my friends have "LIKED" my empty Gmail Inbox on Facebook. It has been over two months now and after making it through the 3 week challenge of establishing a habit, my Gmail inbox is clean and organized so I can get to most every valuable e-mail I have. I spent a great deal of time reading and researching after reading Ken Zeigler's book, "Organizing for Success" (which I highly recommend).

The fact is most of us our running at the whim of messages and apps as they ding and sing at us all day.  It may even seem odd, as I usually talk about more "spiritual" topics.  But the truth is, most spiritual teachers, Christian and other, talk often about how we use our time so keep that in mind as you read.  Before you tackle your Gmail, I encourage you to tackle a few things first, in this order:

1. Plan your day first. Whether you're a FranklinCovey person or not, take the time and plan YOUR day. If you don't it will get planned for you. Whose gonna do that? Your technology.

2. Turn off the sounds! You don't need them for every cotton-picking text and message you get.

3. Commit to using and checking messages a few times a day. Really, you can do this and the world won't end. Do it in the morning, AFTER you've planned your day. Before or after lunch. Before you leave work. AND, if you must, do it an hour before bed.

4. Okay, now you're ready to get that Gmail Inbox cleaned-up and Jesse Chapman will tell you how here:  The Best Way to Organize Your Gmail Inbox.  If it seems too complicated, print off the copy and read through it and mark it up till you understand it.

- You may think you need more labels than he gives you. And you might, BUT don't add them UNTIL you've set-up your new system and get use to it.

- Just like paper, don't keep holding out filing e-mails. Do it when you get them.

- Divide and conquer. Organize your Gmail box first. Then take a break BEFORE you start deleting and filing. It took me a few hours to delete/file/unsubscribe so don't try to do it all at once.

-Enjoy. If I can help in anyway, let me know!

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