Mountain Meditation: Sure Foundations

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 7:21-29.

This week I have the privilege of gathering with 30 pastors from around the Florida Annual Conference to participate in the third retreat for the 2016-2017 Generative Church Leadership Academy. This retreat – ironically? with greatest timeliness? both? – subjects seeing, knowing, and serving our neighbors.

As Mordecai said to Esther, “For such a time as this…” (Es 4:14).

Recently I attended a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting at Winter Springs High School with the one, the only, Ashley Lilly. The student offering the lesson that day posed the following questions to his classmates – “What does it mean to be a Christian” – and invited those present to respond. I was struck by how many of the responses were epistemically based – episteme meaning belief.

“Believe in God.” “Believe in the holy Bible.” “Trust in Jesus.” And more.

As Ashley and I left FCA that day I asked her what she thought about the responses, and immediately she replied, “Being a Christian is about the believing and the doing. It’s not just something you think or say. It’s something that you live.”

That response earned a fist bump…my heart was and is so warm.

I wholeheartedly agree with Ashley. When I think about our sure foundation, the bedrock of Christianity, it is believing and doing. It is faith and works. It is showing we are Christians by our love. It is seeing, knowing, and serving our neighbors.

The Apostle James asked, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (Jas 2:14-18). This is the ongoing work of sanctification (right, Gravity Youth!). This is the ongoing work of being made holy in this life.

Many, if not all, of us in the Tuskawilla Faith Family will agree that recently this has been a very hard season for our church. We have experienced the deaths of very dear friends and loved ones, we have watched folks we love navigate broken health and relationships, we have experienced the ebb of transition across all our ministries. I believe there are two stances we can take on what we are in the midst of: (1) we can be angry (and trust me – I have had many angry days) or (2) we can take this opportunity to return to the firm foundation of our faith, to our bedrock, to seeing, knowing, and serving our neighbors.

I don’t know about you – but I would rather serve than seethe. So that is what I will do. And I hope you, Tuskawilla Family, will continue serving with me.

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate with my colleagues at GCLA this week. And I am hopeful for how what is learned will further equip our ministry and mission and TUMC.

Prayer: “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her lord; she is his new creation by water and the Word. From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. Though with a scornful wonder we see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.”* Amen.

*”The Church’s One Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 545.

 

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Faith and Works: Heavenly Wisdom Breeds Earthly Hospitality

Sunday’s Scripture ~ James 3:13-18

This Sunday Reeves UMC welcomes Michael Slaymaker, President of Orlando Youth Alliance, as our guest speaker. The Orlando Youth Alliance is a peer-to-peer mentoring and support group whose mission is to provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth in Central Florida.

Last Fall the idea for Be The Change 5K was birthed by Lisa – Reeves’ Youth Director – and myself after months of discernment and prayer. In our discernment God led us in a desire to not only support Reeves with the proceeds of BTC5K, but also to support a local agency with BTC5K proceeds so the community surrounding the church – and the community in which the church participates – can be the change they want to see in the world. Lisa had a history of volunteering with OYA and recommended them as a beneficiary of BTC5K proceeds. In November Lisa and I met with Michael to discuss the possibility of a partnership between OYA and Reeves – to receive a portion of the funds from the 5K and to invite OYA to utilize our campus as the site for their weekly gatherings. The invitation was extended and Lisa and I entrusted it to God to do what God does.

Michael contacted us in late January; the OYA Board of Directors were interested in seeing the space Reeves had to offer the group. I am so happy to say that OYA moved their weekly gatherings to youth room at Reeves back in February. Before this time this group of vibrant, passionate, inquisitive, discerning, and fear-conquering young adults met in temporary spaces around Orlando. They didn’t have a space to call their own. They have truly blossomed in this space and cherish the security of calling this space their OYA home.

Lisa and I felt called to extend this earthly hospitality to OYA after much time spent in prayer and discernment, in which God imparted what I believe is heavenly wisdom. Our Scripture lesson for this week tells us that wisdom is from above and that it is pure. And when wisdom from above reigns down it cleanses the greatest vices of the world – jealousy and selfishness. This refers to not just jealousy and selfishness at the individual level, but also at the corporate level – the congregational level – the church level.

When the church opens its doors and invites our brothers, sisters, neighbors in to find sanctuary and experience hospitality – however that may look for them – we embody that we have received, are attuned to, and responding to God’s heavenly wisdom. From that pure wisdom flows peace, gentleness, and a willingness to yield to the desires of others – not to compromise our witness or integrity of faith – but to remain vulnerable and aware of the needs of our neighbors so as one people we can promote healing.

It’s true – Reeves is providing hospitality to OYA, but we are not simply givers and they receivers. We are mutually giving and receiving as OYA’s weekly presence on our campus helps Reeves live into our mission of intentional inclusivity and hospitality with the LGBTQ community. God’s wisdom is reigning in the mission and service of these two groups – individually – corporately – congregationally.

I hope you join us in worship on July 28 to hear Michael share more about the partnership between Reeves and OYA. You will be enriched, encouraged, and blessed by his sharing.

Prayer: “Called by worship to your service, forth in your dear name we go to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show; hope and health, good will and comfort, counsel, aid, and peace we give, that your servants, Lord, in freedom may your mercy know, and live.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.

Faith and Works: Taming the Tongue

Sunday’s Scripture ~ James 3:1-12

A cherished time for pastors – The Sabbath.

A cherished time for pastors with ice cream and sprinkles and hot fudge and caramel and a cherry on top (which I give to Andrew because I don’t do cherries) – The Extended Sabbath!

I begin my vacation this coming Sunday and I am able to rest easy as the service at Reeves will be under the wise leadership of my worship arts director and lay speaker.  I think at times in the church – even The United Methodist Church – we forget we are the people’s church.  We – all of us – are called to the ministry – the priesthood of all believers.  Sometimes we slip into a mode of thinking that the work (the service, the administration, the scheduling, the dishwashing, the plumbing, the candlestick making) is only for the person at the church bearing the title “pastor”.  That’s an ecclesiastical myth!

(Ecclesiastical meaning Church!)

We all have the title of pastor.  The work of the church is for all of us to share.  And on Sundays when the pastor is away, the parishioners stay (and probably play a little!) and offer their talents and passions in leading worship.

//

In continuing our series on the book of James we turn to the beginning of Chapter 3.  Whenever I think about taming the tongue I immediately have an image in my head of a cartoon cat.  I can’t remember if it’s Tom from Tom and Jerry or Sylvester from Sylvester and Tweetie.  The point is Tom is in search for Jerry or Sylvester is after Tweetie and his tongue is leading the way…and it becomes completely tied up!  The tongue is wrapped around furniture, slammed in doors, drug through garbage – and as it should in cartoon land – ends up being tied in a neat little bow at the end.  Obviously the cat can no longer talk – or move for that matter – and his compatriot just sits alongside laughing until his sides ache.

//

Our tongues can get us into trouble.  I’m pretty positive that we won’t end up with our tongues wrapped around objects beyond the reaches of our mouths or the ends tied up with a bow…

But then again, Scripture says “with God all things are possible…”

*snicker*

//

Purity of self and body have always been a huge concern for God’s people.  In the early days God’s people whole-heartedly believed that their purity, cleanliness, or holiness was determined by what they physically encountered through touch or taste.  Commandments directed what God’s people could and couldn’t eat and what they could and couldn’t touch, as well as the process for ritual cleansing.  If a person wasn’t clean, then they were not permitted in community life – within their families, within their trade, or within the temple.

This understanding was the standard.  And then Jesus showed up and tweaked it.  In Matthew 15:11 Jesus says, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (emphasis my own).  What most readily spills forth from our mouths is words.  And our words flow from our tongues.

Have you ever sat with a toddler that is learning how to speak?  Essentially he or she is learning to tame or control his or her tongue – to curve it the right way, to place it with intention against the back of the teeth, to raise or lower it in relation to the palette.  Over and over and over again the child will practice to gain one word to his or her vocabulary.

There are words of judgment, ignorance, cruelty, and hate flying around like bullets these days – ricocheting off of everything and claiming God’s precious children as casualties.  I cannot believe that these words are innate – God would not and does not place these words in our hearts; they are a learned behavior practiced over and over and over again, which leads to cursing rather than blessing.

My friends, it is time for us to unlearn these words.  It is time for our tongues to be tamed.  It has long been time for us to be about the business of building up people and tearing down walls.  It will take time.  And in that time, God will make us holy – from the inside out.

Prayer: “As we worship, grant us vision, till your love’s revealing light in its height and depth and greatness dawns upon our quickened sight, making known the needs and burdens your compassion bids us bear, stirring us to tireless striving your abundant life to share.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.

Faith and Works: No More Favorites

Sunday’s Scripture ~ James 2:1-9, 14-18

For the last ten years – in volunteer and employed opportunities – Andrew and I have had the privilege of weekly serving alongside incredible middle and high school students.  Together we laugh, sometimes cry, goof off, study Scripture, leave it all on the 9-square court, worship, and serve.

(And this week I have an even greater privilege and opportunity to do all these things and more as I and 500 of my closest friends spend a week on the holy grounds of the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp!  Week 5!  Woot woot!)

You may be surprised – or may be not – to know that the most fulfilling part of serving alongside these students is not what I teach them.  It’s what they teach me.  And I am thankful for each and every lesson.

It is incredible to watch these students blossom into young adults and mature in their faith as they engage in ministry.  Usually when students enter this ministry we can visibly split them into two groups:

1 – those that seek friends by way of pleasing others

2 – those that seek friends by walking the (sometimes difficult) path of being him or herself

//

Those that seek friends by way of pleasing others show favoritism or partiality, I believe, as a way to cover or shield their own insecurities.  If this behavior is not addressed as teenagers, it continues – and I believe festers – in adulthood.  What may begin as innocently going out of your way to be noticed by someone in the popular crowd could become what James describes in our Scripture text this week:

If a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  …  You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:2-4,8-9).

//

Those that seek friends by walking the (sometimes difficult) path of being him or herself I believe draw closer to the heart of pure Christianity, which James defines:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

These students strive to remain unstained by the world.  They don’t play games.  They don’t show off to get the attention of the popular crowd.  They don’t show partiality.

What they do show is genuine care and concern for their neighbor – all their neighbors.  It doesn’t matter their family history, age, grade level, what sort of student they are, what kinds of extra-curriculars they engage, their economic status, or any other factor that might divide rather than unite.  They show their genuine care and concern through their speech, actions, service, and commitment – to God and to others.

//

I didn’t always find myself among this second group of students when I was in middle and high school.  I struggled with insecurity.  I struggled with learning the difference between friends in quantity and friends in quality.  I did eventually learn it – and frequently revisit the lesson – through the study of Scripture and walking alongside true friends and mentors that pointed me towards keeping myself unstained by the world.

I am truly blessed to now find myself as a mentor to amazing students that teach me the value of service, authenticity, and personal integrity.  Our world is in desperate need of more adults like these students.  Don’t worry; they are coming!

Prayer: “Still your children wander homeless; still the hungry cry for bread; still the captives long for freedom; still in grief we mourn our dead.  As, O Lord, your deep compassion healed the sick and freed the soul, use the love your Spirit kindles still to save and make us whole.”*  Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.

Faith and Works: Hear and Do

Sunday’s Scripture ~ James 1:19-27

Andrew and I are high school sweethearts.  We met as 16 year-olds in our church’s handbell choir – and as they say – the rest is history.  We dated through our remaining years of high school and on into college.  In December 2004 we got engaged outside the Japanese archway that is affixed in the World Showcase Lagoon (not sure Walk Disney calls it a lagoon, but I am!) at Epcot.  We are very fortunate that have friends, students, colleagues, and congregants that work for Disney and invite us to spend the day with them in the parks around our anniversary in December.

As a special treat when we visit Epcot in December the Disney’s Candlelight Processional is in full swing.  The Candlelight Processional is a mass choir/mass orchestra ensemble that sings its way through the Christmas story while portions are spoken by a celebrity narrator.

A few years ago we attended the processional not knowing who the narrator would be and I was stunned to learn that Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin would be the narrator that evening.  If you are not familiar with Marlee, you should know that she is deaf.  She lost most of her hearing by the age of 18 months, but loss of hearing did not hold her back in life or keep her from her dreams.

I cried through the entire processional.  Marlee spoke the Christmas story to a hearing crowd…she spoke the story perhaps without any significant knowledge or awareness of what her own voice sounds like.

The most moving moment of the evening, however, was listening to her sing.

Silent Night.  Holy Night.  All is calm.  All is bright.  Round yon virgin mother and child.  Holy infant so tender and mild.  Sleep in heavenly peace.  Sleep in heavenly peace.  

In her final words to the congregation gathered that night she bid each of us to do what we could to ensure all people would sleep in peace.

In peace.

//

I will never forget this evening with Marlee.  She couldn’t hear the Word; she was physically stopped from doing that.  But her deafness did not impair her from doing the Word, from speaking truth in love and truth to power in a very public forum.

She connected hearing and doing/speaking and doing in such an incredible way for me that evening.  She spoke with integrity.  She spoke with conviction.  Yes, she’s an actress by vocation.  But this, my friends, this was authenticity.

Marlee spoke “pure and undefiled before God, the Father” and challenged all who could hear – and those who can’t – to do what we can so that all may sleep in heavenly peace.

I heard.  And I’ve been doing.  And I’ll keep on keeping on.

Prayer: “Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed: we, your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to your purpose every gift that you impart.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.