Status Report: Mission Trip Summer 2012

Read Ephesians 5:8-14.

This Sunday the mission team from Reeves will share their experiences with the congregation during worship.  I am so pleased these individuals offered a week in service to the community near the Hinton Rural Life Center – a United Methodist related agency – in Hinton, North Carolina.  I was unable to join the mission team on their endeavors in North Carolina as I was on my own mission trip that week.

I served as the worship leader for the Elementary Campers at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Youth Camp in Leesburg, FL!

(Well…it’s really in Fruitland Park…but are we going to split hairs over that?  Nah!)

I spent the week with an incredible group of rising 4th and 5th graders and the adult volunteers and camp counselors that were with them.  They were so full of life and energy and eagerness and energy and spirit and energy…

Did I mention they had energy?  Oh yes!

Our theme for the week was AWAKENING and each night in worship we learned what it means for us to be AWAKE: for God, for God’s purpose for our lives, for God’s purpose for creation.

To be AWAKE we have to (be):

A – Aware / W – Wonder / A – Act / K – Know / E – Engage

We have to be aware of who we are and whose we are.  In that awareness, God gives us space to wonder about things we do not have answers for or understand…like why there is evil and why bad things happen.  Once we are aware and have had the opportunity to wonder with God, we arrive at the critical point to act – that point of making a move towards God and saying “Yes! I want to be part of what you are doing!!”  As we act we continue to learn and we come to know that following God isn’t always easy, but it is so worth it.  This knowing leads us to engage – engage our journeys with God, engage with our churches at home, engage with our friends at camp outside of camp, engage what we have experienced so we won’t forget it.

Aware – Wonder – Act – Know – Engage

When these combine, we are AWAKE!

I learned so much from the campers during my time at camp.  They reminded me of what it means to have faith like a child – to have a simple faith.  That doesn’t mean it is an ignorant or uninformed faith.  It is just simple, uncomplicated, beautiful relationship.  Yes, I can ask questions.  Yes, I can doubt.  Yes, I can yell and scream if needed.  God has created space for all of that.  God creates space for me to be me in my faith.

That’s what I learned on my mission week in Summer 2012.  God’s message prepared especially for me in those 63 rising 4th and 5th graders was a much needed awakening.

Reflection: Did you have an opportunity to serve God’s people in some way this summer?  How did that time of service make you feel?  How were you changed? How did you grow?  How did God use you?  Share your story with someone this week.

And if you’re struggling to come up with an answer because you didn’t have the opportunity to “go” on a mission trip, I encourage you to spend some time in quiet reflection asking God to reveal to you how in fact God did use you to serve this summer.  You might be surprised by what God lifts up.

Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between ~ New Creation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 22:1-6

I can’t believe it!  Our 12-week series Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between: The Bible in 12 Themes has come to an end.  And what a trip we have shared.  We have one more installation this week – New Creation.  Next week is Laity Sunday at Reeves and then the first week of October I’ll kick off a new series.  It will be…uhh…interesting.  So you’ll want to make sure you stick around.

Y’all come back now, ya hear!  (Polk County Moment of the day)

But first things first!  New Creation!  Huzzah!

I can’t help but think of social justice when I think of God’s New Creation.  When I reflect on present creation I do so with a spiritual gaze that I received upon welcoming Christ as the Lord of my life.  In welcoming Christ as my Savior I was reborn in him and given spiritual senses that help me see and interpret the world in the mind and manner of Christ.

This gift isn’t just for me.  I don’t have a monopoly on it.  Everyone who has Christ as the Lord of his or her life shares in these spiritual senses.  Our challenge – not a burden but a time of discovery – is to learn how to use them to the fullest!

When I gaze upon creation with my spiritual senses I can identify the good that persists in creation – friend helping friend, peaceful negotiations rather than arguments with guns, feeding the hungry, access to healthcare and fresh water, companionship, care for the earth, and so much more.  But I also see where creation continues to ache…where our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, neighbors continue to cry out, “Where were you when I was hungry, thirsty, naked, alone, sick and in prison?”  Where were you?

Where was I?

When I think of the New Creation I imagine a place where we will no longer have to ask one another “where were you?”  Because we will all be there.  We will all have shown up.  We will all have loved and served and accompanied and healed and reconciled.

I crave this New Creation in the present.  And the awesome thing about God is that we can help God bring it about right now.  Yes!  Right now!

The writers of The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary agree that the New Creation – this New Jerusalem – is a city coming to us from heaven, “but humans can be the means of channeling God’s grace into it…Human agents infused with the Spirit of the new creation may contribute to that future reign of God here and now in the midst of the debris of the old world” (NIB: Revelation, 729).  I love that.  In the midst of the debris, the ashes, a fractured people living in a broken world can rise up in God’s Spirit, be made new, and partner with God in making all things new!

What an incredible opportunity!!!

Theologian N.T. Wright says that the Kingdom of God – this New Creation/New Jerusalem/heaven on earth/eternity – comes and will come “as the church, energized by the Spirit, goes out into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, misunderstood, misjudged, vindicated, celebrating: always – as Paul puts it in one of his letters – bearing in the body the dying of Christ so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed” (Surprised By Hope 112).  

God’s New Creation is coming.  And we can help it get here.

Reflection: Think of a time in your life where someone or some portion of Christ’s Body asked “Where were you when I was hungry, thirsty, naked, alone, sick and in prison?”  If you weren’t with them, where were you?  Was that place or activity helping you bring about the New Creation?  How will you be mindful now in how you spend your time so that your actions partner with God in bringing about the New Creation?

Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between ~ Discipleship

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 10:1-11 and Acts 2:37-42.

In talking recently with my great friend Sarah, who serves Rehoboth Congregational Church in Massachusetts, we shared what we thought we’d be preaching on this coming Sunday…because…you know…that usually comes up when pastors talk.

(We also talk about recent stiletto acquisitions…this may not come up when other pastors talk…and it’s a shame.)

As we were talking, I shared I would be preaching on Discipleship.  And Sarah said, so eloquently, “Discipleship is like Nike: Just Do It!”

Wow…shortest.sermon.ever.  And full of truth!

So I started pondering…how do we “just do Discipleship?”  We have models for Discipleship in Scripture.  There are TONS of books out there about Discipleship…but if we get caught up only reading about Discipleship do we ever really DO it?!  I love me some books…and reading…but Discipleship is not and cannot be all theory and study.  There has to be praxis – or practice/actively engaging the theory learned – in there!

It’s like the saying I’m sure you’ve heard…sitting in church makes you no more a Christian than sitting in a garage makes you a car.  Along the same line of thinking, we are not disciples if we simply read Scripture, sing hymns, attend committee meetings (Lord help!), pray, attend worship, and talk to folks who are at church.  We are disciples only if we actively engage Scripture and take what we have experienced inside the the church facade into our communities!  We have to go beyond the walls, beyond our comfort zones, “to infinity and beyond!”

(Thanks Buzz.  Forgive me, I serve a church near Disney…)

But does our gospel message translate?  Do we speak the same language as our neighbors who do not yet have a relationship with Christ?  Do we share the same vernacular?

And beyond that…does the gospel message translate to present day?  Is it relevant?

Leander Keck and his band of editors for The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary ~ Luke and John say, “YES” to both!  The gospel message and the mission of the church – to spread the gospel message to the ends of the earth – has not “become unnecessary or impractical.”  It translates, but the challenge of the translation is “the changing conditions of the communities in which we live [that force Christian believers] to rethink the Gospel’s teaching about the mission of those who follow Jesus and to find avenues of obedience that are effective and appropriate for our times as well as faithful to Jesus’ teachings” (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1995, pg. 222).

In other words, our challenge to make sure the gospel message translates to our communities is to contextualize the gospel message to our surroundings.  We consider Scripture in light of our circumstances and seek what truths Scripture can offer to us to make sense of them.  True, we may not relate to laborers in the field at the time of harvest if you work in a high-rise office building or manufacturing/distributing warehouse.  But you do and can relate to being overwhelmed by the work that needs to be accomplished each and every day and sometimes wishing that more help was readily available to you.

So it is with Discipleship.  There is so much work for the Kingdom to be done, but if we limit the workers that attend to our Kingdom tasks to the persons already in our churches then the work may never be done to the fullest.  And limiting the workers also robs potential workers – our brothers, sisters, neighbors just outside our walls – from joining in our mission, from becoming a Disciple.

To invite these brothers, sisters, neighbors to join our community, we have to go beyond ourselves and beyond our ecclesial walls, and seeking the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, share the gospel message in a way that is accessible, relevant, inspiring, and inviting.  This looks different for every person in every faith community and that difference is an example of God’s beauty in diverse mission and ministry approaches.

Reflection: How is God calling you beyond to meet your brothers, sisters, neighbors and share with them the gospel message in a relevant way?  What fears, if any, do you have about getting beyond your personal comfort zone and church comfort zone to be a disciple and make disciples?  How can God and your accountability partners help you address these fears?  What is one way you can “Just Do Discipleship” this week?  Share with a friend what you will do and then follow up with them after you have done it!

Discipleship…Just Do It!

Alpha, Omega and Everything In Between ~ Incarnation-Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 2:1-11

This week we turn to the first major theme in the New Testament: Incarnation-Salvation.  I couple these themes together because I believe the presence of one brings about the presence of the other.

When discussing Incarnation-Salvation we are talking about God’s one and only, begotten not created, Son – Jesus Christ.  As we read the Gospels and examine the epistle texts, like this week’s from Philippians, we gather from Scripture that who Jesus is – Christology: the study of the person of Christ – is inextricably linked to Soteriology: the study of what the person of Christ does, which is save.

So when Jesus was incarnated and entered the world, it was with a specific purpose – to save humanity and redeem all of creation.  Incarnation-Salvation.

In our Scripture lesson this week Paul describes that in Jesus’ incarnation Jesus emptied himself that he would be able to save humanity.  Paul sets Christ as an example for all humanity in this text.  Paul encourages us to empty ourselves that we may be God’s hands and feet and participate in the salvation of the world for ourselves and for others.

Paul wanted the Philippians to do this, but it wasn’t in the vain of “do this for me.  Win this one for me.”  The Philippians empty themselves not for Paul’s sake, but for Christ’s sake.  Pastor Fred Craddock writes, “If [the Philippians] failed to live by faith in the grace of God and to offer themselves to each other and the world as servants after the manner of Christ, then Paul saw himself as having labored in vain” (Craddock, Philippians, 36, emphasis added).

When we empty ourselves – following the example of Christ – we do so for Christ and Christ alone.  When a person encounters pastors, religious leaders, Sunday School teachers, small group facilitators and is asked to respond to particular teaching it is not (and should not!) be in the vain of “do this for me.”  It’s not about them.  (And for the folks at Reeves, it’s not about me!)  It’s about the budding relationship between the individual and Christ, about what Jesus has asked and asks that individual to do.

In emptying out ourselves we prepare our minds to turn our focus towards our neighbors.  We do not lose our identity our individualism in this emptying.  Paul supported individualism “in the sense that one is to be responsible for oneself and bear one’s own burden” BUT “if minding one’s own business meant unwillingness to bear another’s burdens, a distracting oneself from partnership in the gospel, an aloofness from the common joy and suffering, a coldness to all the ways we are members for one another, then such individualism is destructive of the community and a contradiction of the gospel which speaks and sings of a Christ who was first and always the servant of others” (Craddock, Philippians, 38).

*whew!  That was a long sentence…definitely a good one!  Marinate on those words for a while: unwillingness, distracting, aloofness, coldness – all of those are destructive.  All of those words paint of picture in opposition of who and what Christ wants us to be.*

In emptying ourselves, our visions become clear.  This clarity hones our focus.  No longer are we unwilling, distracted, aloof, or cold.  Our focus is our neighbor.

In emptying himself, Christ’s vision became clear.  This clarity honed his focus.  He was never unwilling, distracted, aloof, or cold.  His focus was and is his neighbor.  You – me – humanity – for eternity.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, in the words of Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.  Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily yield all things to they pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.  So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.