Woman in the Night: Daring to Reach

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 8:42b-48.

I recently learned about the “Stockdale Paradox” – so coined by Jim Collins in his text, Good to Great. The Stockdale Paradox states that you – whether ‘you’ is an individual or an organization – must “retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be” (Good to Great 86).

The Stockdale Paradox is named for Admiral Jim Stockdale who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for eight years. He was tortured too many times to count. Unlike POWs around him, he faced the realty that he would be tortured and mistreated. He also never lost faith that he would be rescued and reunited with his family.

In conversation with Admiral Stockdale, Collins asked him, “Who didn’t make it out?” “Oh, that’s easy,” said Stockdale, “the optimists…the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas’ and Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. They’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart” (Good to Great 85).

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be…

Those words ring true for me as I consider the woman in our Scripture passage for this Sunday. She faced insurmountable odds. She was considered unclean – and therefore full of sin – because of her hemorrhaging. She was an exile in and to her community for twelve.long.years. People did not want to touch her. People did not want to be touched by her.

A crowd separated her and Jesus…it may as well have been a chasm between two opposite cliffs. Perhaps she thought, “If only Jesus could see me! He could see me and my need for healing and make me whole…but how am I ever going to get in front of him…he has already passed me by.”

Jesus may have passed, but he did not pass her by.

Jesus may have passed by…and this woman pressed on.

She had a goal. She had faith that Jesus would help her achieve that goal. And so she navigated the crowd. She overcame social, religious, and physical obstacles. She faced the brutal facts of her current reality, and my friends, she prevailed in the end. Her faith in Jesus made her whole.

These witnesses – Stockdale and the woman healed from hemorrhaging – are two incredible stories of perseverance, of courage, and of consistently daring to reach towards God’s preferred future for one’s life.

What brutal facts are facing you? Have you turned your face towards them? And how will your maturing faith in our Lord Jesus Christ embolden you towards prevailing?

Prayer: “Woman in the crowd, creeping up behind, touching is allowed; seek and you will find! Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”* Amen.

*”Woman in the Night,” The United Methodist Hymnal 274.

Advertisements

Dare to Dream: Lose Your Big Buts

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 3:11-15.

You know what is a really long list? All of the things I learned in seminary.

You know what is an even longer list?

All of the things I did not learn in seminary.

Let us pray.

In 1964 Simon and Garfunkel released their single “The Sound of Silence.” It begins, “Hello, darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.”

My adaptation – “Hello, fear, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.”

There is a direct relationship between my fear and my lack of knowledge. And since the list of what I did not learn in seminary is longer than the list of what I learned in seminary, I am often afraid…

I immediately fear what I do not know – especially a task I do not know how to complete or a problem I do not know how to solve. At times the fear is paralyzing. I cannot move. My breathing is shallow. I feel tears welling in my eyes.

Fear stands before me. What are you going to do now? Fear taunts. The answer Fear wants? Nothing. Silence. Will Fear accept a verbalization? Sure – as long as it is an excuse which affirms that nothing will change.

My faith has taught and is teaching me a response to fear…

Fight.

(Not the word you were expecting, huh?)

I fight fear. First I admit that I am afraid. And then I get mad. And when I am mad, I am pretty unstoppable until the friend, accountability partner, or fellow servant is called; the skill is acquired; the task is completed; and the problem is solved.

I am like the T-Rex on the t-shirts with the handheld extender grabbers.

Unstoppable.

I would rather learn new skills in order to conquer challenges than make excuses. I would rather call on the community of faith that has supported and is supporting me than sit alone in my fear. Problem solving skills are vital in the church; they are vital in every day life. Fear wants to immobilize us. Faith desires to motivate us to make positive change and contribute, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to transforming our world more into God’s Kingdom.

Hello, Fear, my old friend…weren’t you just leaving?

What is your reaction to fear? How do you overcome fear? How has and does your faith form your response to fear? Share your answers with someone this week. See you Sunday!

Prayer: “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go; oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go. No more shall they in bondage toil, let my people go; let them come out with Egypt’s spoil, let my people go. Go down (go down) Moses (Moses) way down in Egypt’s land; tell old Pharaoh to let my people go!”* Amen.

*”Go Down, Moses,” The United Methodist Hymnal 448.

 

Parable of the Merchant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:45-46.

When I was in elementary school a sure sign of summer was that my mother and aunt would pile my brother, my cousin, and me in the backseat of either the Oldsmobile or the Bonneville and we would head for the beach. Anna Maria was a family favorite; beach, shade, and a playground with a really fast slide.

Days at the beach included time in the water, walks in the sand, regimented slathering of sunscreen, exploring the playground and eating special beach foods – like Pringles and Fig Newtons…I did not know it was possible to eat these foods at other times than at the beach! But the activity I looked forward to most was hunting for seashells.

And not just any seashells – specifically corkscrew or auger shaped shells – once their snail inhabitant had vacated, of course!

These shells are not typically atop the sand. They are deep within the beach and must be unearthed, taking time and patience. Some days at the beach I would not find a single corkscrew; others I would come home with an entire cupful! Each find increased my delight and fed my hunger to find more. Though other shells were readily available on the beach – that was the one I wanted; that was the one I sought. I would disregard all others for that certain shell.

The merchant in our parable for this week is in search of fine pearls, but in finding one precious pearl, the focused and determined merchant sells everything to possess that one pearl.

Our lives are full of many pearls…or things that would like us to consider them pearls. But God sets before us the pearl – the Kingdom of God – for us to seek and take hold of and thereby not be distracted by other items, people, or activities. God places within us a desire to seek the Kingdom and some days we may see it and others wonder where, in fact, it is or if we are privy to participate in it. I assure you that we are in the midst of the Kingdom, even on the days when we feel we are in a fog or a haze. Says the writer of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Says the author of the Fourth Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).

Some days we seek the pearl and other days it is in our grasp; as with the life of faith – it is about the journey as well as the destination.

Prayer: “Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne, Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own. Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee, and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.”* Amen.

*“Crown Him With Many Crowns,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 327.

FAMILY ~ First Things First

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Joshua 24:14-28

On December 23, 2006 Rev. Dr. Robert Gibbs said these words to Andrew and me, “The marriage of Andrew and Sarah unites their families and creates a new one. They ask for your blessing.”* Surrounded by our families of origin, our church family, and our family of peers, we received their blessing.

It was and remains an incredible way that we started our marriage and family together. That day we made a covenant with God and with one another through the reading of Scripture, the joining of hands, the exchanging of vows, and the giving and receiving of rings. There were over 400 witnesses to our union…over 400 family and friends that covenanted to support us, nurture us, and hold us accountable as we continued our lives together.

Andrew and I have known since the moment we started dating that our individual faiths and our faith as a couple would be primary in our relationship. We met at church. We started dating after a mission trip. And I confess that I snuck in my first kiss with him at the corner of the chancel in our home church.

Our individual faiths and faith as a couple were essential in discerning our calls to full-time Christian service. Our families raised us in the church and as young adults we spent as much time as we could at church. We majored in religion as undergraduates. We completed our Master of Divinity degrees. We launched our vocations as United Methodist Clergy. We have planned Bible studies, prepared sermons, written devotions, prayed prayers, and done all the forms…we think…and because I said that I am sure someone is now scheming up a new one!

Since I spend most of my days completing tasks that contribute to my life of professional faith I sometimes neglect the development of my own relationship with God. While I am called to prepare and study and write as that is my job and charge from the Florida United Methodist Bishop, the time allotted towards professional faith development does not always doubly count towards my personal faith development. Then add to this equation that all this preparing and planning and praying is being done by two pastors in the same house every single week!

We do professional faith development quite well…but sometimes professional faith development keeps the first thing from being first.

What is the first thing? Our growth in faith with God as individuals and as a family.

Joshua charges the Israelites with this question, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” To whom will you be devoted? With whom will you grow in relationship? Whom will you seek? As individuals Andrew and I answered, “God, the Holy One of Israel.” As a couple we answer, “God, the Holy One of Israel.” And when we are not doing that, when we are not making the investment in our personal faith development, oh it is so evident. And it is not pretty.

Our faith feeds and informs who we are; when we cut ourselves off from that source, we are not who God created us to be, alone or together.

Joshua confronts the people about worshipping idols and instructs them that in choosing to serve and seek the Lord they must bury those idols. I would not call myself an idolator or idol worshipper, but when I allow something else to take the place of my growth and faith in relationship with God, I stand guilty of my sin. I stand in need of repentance. I stand as someone looking for a hand to hold as I move forward and return to the way of keeping the first thing first, for myself and for my marriage.

I am so thankful for the many hands Andrew and I have to hold – from our families, our church families then and now, and from our family of peers that continues to grow. All of these witnesses encourage and hold us accountable in keeping the first thing first. All of these witnesses are blessings on our journey. We are thankful to serve our God alongside you.

Prayer: “I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, nor how believing in his word wrought peace within my heart. I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing us of sin, revealing Jesus through the word, creating faith in him. But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”** Amen.

*”A Service of Christian Marriage,” The United Methodist Hymnal 865.

**”I Know Whom I have Believed,” The United Methodist Hymnal 714.

 

Thrive: Depth

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:3-5

While practicing yoga I frequently hear my teachers inviting me to deepen my practice. There are a number of ways to deepen a yoga practice:

  1. Take a more full expression of a pose. For example, if you are in a pose that calls for your legs to be in the shape of a lunge (like Crescent Pose or Warrior One), you deepen the pose by increasing the bend in your front leg towards a 90-degree angle with the goal of stacking your knee over your ankle.
  2. Move to your edge. An “edge” in yoga could be the extent of your comfort zone with a pose or the extent of your familiarity with a pose. Moving to your edge means that you try on something new in the pose by bending a little deeper, growing a little taller, or extending a little longer. The goal is to not cross your edge but to increase your edge – that is how you grow in yoga.
  3. Bring awareness to the breath. What is the quality of your breath? Is it shallow and quick? Is it deep and slow? How can you lengthen the breath? How can you bring a sense of calm to a very active practice? How can you breathe with the entirety versus a portion of your lungs?
  4. Turn inward. Yes, yoga is a physical practice, but the physical practice – known as asana – is only one portion of the practice. Yoga encompasses physical as well as mental activity. It is an outward and an inward practice. It unites movement and meditation. When a practitioner turns inward, the mind settles allowing clarity to increase while distractions decrease.

As Ezekiel follows God’s messenger out of the temple and into the rushing river’s flow, he becomes increasingly aware of the river’s deepening. His expression changes as he witnesses God’s river take on its full expression as it cascades down the mountain. He moves to his edge as he wades in the water. If I were in Ezekiel’s shoes I would want to ensure a calm and even quality to my breath as I ventured into water where neither my bare nor stiletto’d feet could touch the riverbed. And I would want to focus and settle my mind. In that state of awareness and presence I would be safe and I would see and experience all that God desires to reveal.

In order to grow in my yoga practice I am committed to deepening my practice. The same holds true for my – for our – spiritual practice. God invites each of us to deepen our spiritual practices so we can deepen our relationship with God. There are a number of ways to mature in our faith:

  1. Take a more full expression of prayer, worship, fasting, service, and stewardship.
  2. Move to the edge of our comfort zones so we increase the area of our comfort zones as it relates to sharing our faith with and witnessing to our neighbors. I desire God to transform my comfort zone so it defines all that God enables me to do and that I serve in those roles with joy rather than separating what I will do from what I will not do. Continue my transformation, Lord.
  3. Bring awareness to God’s life-giving breath – God’s Holy Spirit – that dwells within us and guides us. Centering our attention on God’s breath and following the guidance of God’s Spirit will not lead us astray; it will lead us farther into the Kingdom.
  4. Turn inward away from the distractions of the world so that we may gain clarity about God’s purposes and God’s purposes for us.

(This is by no means an exhaustive list. This is what I have experienced and I would love to hear about your experiences, about how you specifically grow in your faith!)

Consider how God may be calling you to deepen your faith during this time and season. What full expression might you try on? How might you increase your comfort zone? What is God’s Holy Spirit breathing in you? When you turn inward, what do you see and how does that compare to what you would like to see? I invite you to pray about these questions this week. Ask. Seek. And share what you discover with someone you love.

Prayer: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, Alleluia. Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you. Allelu, Alleluia.”* Amen.

*”Seek Ye First,” The United Methodist Hymnal 405.

Longing For Spring: Our Stories

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 11:27-12:4

In our text for this week we first hear of the covenant God makes with Abram. God promises Abram property and progeny – all the land he can see and more children than the stars he can count. God makes this promise and God delivers.

We like to see the delivery or fruit of promises. What we are told awaits us is even sweeter when it is in our grasp. The great fulfilled promise of the Easter season is the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there are times when the promises are standing right in front of us and we still doubt. Our belief still waivers. Consider Thomas. The Fourth Gospel writes,

“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’” (Jn 20:24-29).

To trust God’s promises seems to require so much faith…and yet Jesus tells us that with the faith of a mustard seed we can move mountains.

A most holy time offered in each of our healing services at TUMC is the time when folks are invited forward for prayers and anointing. I am so humbled by the persons that come forward for prayer. I so admire their courage to share their personal requests with me. There was a common theme through many of the requests I heard. I heard requests for relief from grief, sorrow, and pain, but what really caught my attention were the requests for the strengthening of faith.

“Help me to be the kind of Christian that would make my parent proud of me.”

“Help me to hand hardships over to God and not pick them back up again.”

“Help me to trust. Help me to believe.”

Help my faith so I may fully receive God’s promises and recognize the ones that are already in my life.

I grew up singing “Standing on the Promises” – a hymn about how God’s support never falters. And that’s the funny thing about support – about foundations – most of the time we do not see them, but we trust they are there. Just for a moment feel your body supported by your feet or the chair on which you are sitting. Now become aware of the floor supporting your feet or the chair. Now become aware of the earth supporting the floor. And finally become aware that it is our God who is supporting it all.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God created all that was, is, and ever will be. God supports it all. God supports us. From the beginning of time God made this promise. This promise is blooming everywhere we turn. We do not have to doubt, and God still loves us when we do. I believe as our trust and faith grow so does our recognition of God’s promises in our lives – promises we have been longing to receive for what seems like eons and other promises we did not know we needed but are so thankful to have.

Our God is so good. God’s promises are good. And because of our God and God’s promises, we are good.

Prayer: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God. Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior; standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”* Amen.

*”Standing on the Promises,” The United Methodist Hymnal 374.

Upbuilding: Coming Alive

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 1:1-10

This week the Tuskawilla community begins a new sermon series entitled Upbuilding.  In this series we will study texts from I Thessalonians.  The Thessalonians were an exemplar community – they received God’s Word, they were convinced that true salvation is grounded in Christ, and they lived their faith outwardly.  Other early Christian communities set the Christians at Thessalonica as their example.  Paul did not write to the Thessalonians to respond to an erupting issue; he wrote to praise them.  Paul sought to build up the Thessalonians so that their work would continue inspiring, encouraging, and upbuilding others.

 

Earlier this week I was in a meeting – don’t you just love meetings?  And in said meeting I was asked to take the minutes – don’t you just love meeting where you take the minutes?  For a good portion of the meeting it was business as usual – input on this budget item, update on this ministry action, report on this project, type type type.  But then a shift.  The committee began to dream about something entirely new – not new in the way that it has never been done before but new in the way that we are intentionally sculpting this new dream by bringing in the experience of others.  I got caught up in the moment…I had to remind myself to keep taking notes when I really wanted to just bask in the beauty of this dream!  We briefly brainstormed the best practices that certain persons, certain groups, and certain churches could bring to the table as we dream something new.  No one person or group or church does everything well; we do somethings well, but not everything well.  So what if we gather all of the tasks, ministries, and gifts that individually we do well and gift that wellness of best practices to a new dream?

It’s not often that I get really excited in a meeting, but all of this made me really really excited!

So before I could lose the great thoughts I returned to my typing!

Gathering these best practices is a way is a way this leadership team can upbuild a new ministry.  It’s the way this leadership team and those who work with us can invest in our neighbors and invest in strengthening God’s Kingdom on earth.  And why are we doing this?  Not so someone will write an epistle about us.  We do it because it brings God joy – and what brings God joy brings us joy.

The Thessalonians modeled faith and perseverance as best practices.  This is what we read in our Scripture text this week.  This is what Paul praises in his thanksgiving over them.  If someone were to name your best practices that you could offer as a gift to another person or another community, what would they identify?  What are those best practices that you would like to cultivate?  God is already singing your thanksgiving because you are God’s chosen and beloved.  In offering your best practices to use in the Kingdom God will shift from singing general thanksgivings to singing specific thanksgivings of you.

Prayer: “Come, thou almighty King, help us thy name to sing, help us to praise!  Father all glorious, o’er all victorious, come and reign over us, Ancient of Days!  Come, thou incarnate Word, gird on thy mighty sword, our prayer attend!  Come, and thy people bless, and give thy word success; Spirit of holiness, on us descend.  Come, holy Comforter, thy sacred witness bear in this glad hour.  Thou who almighty art, now rule in every heart, and ne’er from us depart, Spirit of power!  To thee, great One in Three, eternal praises be, hence, evermore.  Thy sovereign majesty may we in glory see, and to eternity love and adore!”* Amen.

*”Come, Thou Almighty King,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 61.