You Might Be A Christian If…You Are Kind of Weird At Math

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 1:1-5, 10-18 and 16:4b-15.

To quote the redoubtable Samantha Aupperlee, “Math is hard.”

True words, dear Samantha. True words.

I have had the privilege of knowing Samantha for six years. We met one another through the Young Adult Missional Movement, a ministry of the Florida Annual Conference. She was appointed to Tuskawilla UMC to serve as the church’s intern. And saying she (we) faced some hard circumstances in that first year together is an understatement.

What we really faced? Shenanigans.

Samantha never shied away from a difficult circumstance – from math or any other ‘opportunity’ where we did not see an obvious solution. Where others (where I!) saw broken bridges, Samantha always saw a chance to rebuild or to forage a new way. Samantha is calm and confident. Though she was not always eager to go along with my crazy schemes – like the day I seatbelted her into the front seat of my car with Easter Lilies when she can.not.stand. the smell of said Easter Lilies – she was and remains a faithful partner in ministry.

Recently I attended a leadership conference and one of the speakers – a former FBI hostage negotiator – who said church leadership conferences were not interesting!? –  said that humans are disposed to one of three responses when we encounter conflict: fight, flight, or make friends. I am quite familiar with the first two: Fight – take on the conflict with the hope of being victorious. Sometimes the victory is winning; other times the victory is achieving a mutual resolution. Flight – avoiding the conflict all together, a “do not pass go, do not collect $200” scenario. But the third was new to me. Make friends – curious. Very curious indeed.

Curiosity about a conflict is the first step in making friends with it. Investigate it. Get to know it. Ask questions of it. Seek to understand it. And then seek to understand yourself in association or relationship with it. Making friends with a conflict or hardship resonates on a different level with me than fighting a conflict because making friends necessarily begins from a place of peace – of hoping for the best in a person/situation, for a person/situation, for the duration of our cooperation together.

When I think back on Samantha, making friends is truly at her heart. Even when something is hard, Samantha, you seek to make friends.

You are brilliant, you know that?

When you encounter hardship or conflict or even a shenanigan – what is your response? Do you fight, flight, or make friends? How can curiosity become a tool for you to alter how you respond to future hardships, conflicts, and shenanigans? Share your answers with a friend this week. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “Crown him the Lord of love; behold his hands and side, those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified. All hail, Redeemer, hail! For thou hast died for me; thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.”* Amen.

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

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.

Dare to Dream: Perseverance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 34:1-12.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the first Florida Conference Spring Confirmation Retreat with TUMC’s Confirmands. Under the wonderful leadership of Alaine Gorman and the incredible mentoring of Dan Hood, our students had a fantastic weekend of learning, fellowshipping, and maturing in their faith.

I heard the worship speaker was pretty good, too. *wink*

One of our Saturday activities was to complete elements on a low-ropes challenge course. These elements typically involve balancing in tight spaces, steadying in large spaces, and maneuvering in narrow spaces. And for fun…why not complete the element without talking…or out of a group of nine, only one person can talk…

And it is not uncommon to select the least verbose in the group for this speaking role.

Low-ropes challenge course elements encourage critical thinking, communication, and teamwork – sounds like a good recipe for mindful and engaged leadership in the local church! During their time on the course, we watched our students find their voices, take the lead, encourage another leader, and take risks.

One element was a 12×12 grid. Their task: move from one side of the grid to another, one square at a time, according to a map that only the low-ropes facilitator could see and the students had to figure out through trial and error. Some students stepped from their starting square to the next potential square with great enthusiasm while others were cautious in not wanting to fail. They did not want to let down the team. They wanted to be correct in their choices. It was clear they wanted to succeed, to win.

It is good to want to be correct and successful. But I know that I miss out on the deeper meaning of experiences when I am tunnel-visioned on correctness and success.

It bear repeating – when you have the choice between being right and kind – choose to be kind.

Together the team of nine students – TUMC’s five and four from Peace UMC in Orlando – completed the maze. That was their last element before lunch. As we walked back to the lodge I asked the students about how the felt when they chose a correct square on the grid versus an incorrect square. Some said it was exciting; they would get to immediately try for another correct square. Others mentioned how their correct guess contributed to the team’s goal of revealing the entire map.

I mentioned how I thought their incorrect guesses also contributed to the team’s goal of revealing the entire map. They sat with that one for a minute. And then one said…”Oh, I guess that is what they mean by failing forward.”

That is it exactly. We try. We fail. We keep trying. We fail some more. And as long as we rise one more time than we fall or fail, we will succeed.

The rising – that is perseverance.

I am so proud of our Confirmands – of the faithful work they started in November and will bring to conclusion in their Confirmation Service this Spring. These students are bright, creative, thoughtful, and have some sass.

I like the sass.

They give me hope for the future of the church. Together with them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may we all persevere towards God’s Kingdom. May we all rise.

Prayer: “High King of heaven, my victory won, may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, O Ruler of all.”* Amen.

*“Be Thou My Vision,” The United Methodist Hymnal451.

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.

 

Taking The Narrow Path

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Timothy 4:2-8

This weekend the Reeves’ congregation will celebrate Laity Sunday – one of four Sundays a year where the laity of the church serve in leadership roles throughout the entire service of worship – including the sermon!  Ross – Reeves’ lay leader – will be offering the sermon.  He has selected the passage for this week so I will be offering my own musings on the same passage.

Make sure you come on Sunday to hear his interpretation of this passage!

//

This letter is the second correspondence that Paul sends to Timothy.  It is a letter of encouragement and direction for this young minister or pastor in his work with a fledgling Christian community.  Some scholars have interpreted that I Timothy is written to define or describe a faithful congregation whereas II Timothy is written to define or describe a faithful minister.  What is interesting about this “distinction” between these correspondences is this – Paul desires – and I would say God desires – all people at one and the same time to be both faithful congregants and faithful ministers.  You do not have to be a professional minister or have ministry as your chosen profession to be a minister.  We are all ministers.  We are all charged with caring for, leading, guiding, holding accountable, and interpreting Scripture for one another as well as ourselves.

So we need to listen up.  Paul is writing to us.  And then our actions in response are the evidence as to whether or not we have listened.

Here in this text – as in his other letters – Paul encourages “constant vigilance!” (any Harry Potter fans out there?  Think Mad-Eye Moody) against the persecutions the Christians are enduring and perseverance in the face of combating ideologies and theologies that are in the community.  Paul encourages strength so that the people will remain strong in self and strong for one another that they will not be swayed by half-truths and whole-lies.

Paul is assured that living a life in the world and not of the world will lead humanity towards happiness.  John Wesley believed the love of God led to true happiness whereas the love of the world led to elusive happiness.  The world is fleeting; therefore, love of the world would also be fleeting.  Our God is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, everlasting to everlasting.  Our God is eternal; therefore, love of God would also be eternal and the happiness that results from loving God would be eternal.

Our reward for loving God and not the world is “the crown of righteousness.”  It is available not just for one but for all.  In order to receive it we have to work for it.  As Wesley would say we have to work out our salvation for it – through works of mercy and works of piety.  Works of piety include individual and corporate prayer, searching and studying the Scripture, and receiving the Lord’s Supper.  Works of mercy are those works where we do good, such as living simply so our resources are available to aid others; visiting the sick, lonely, or imprisoned; advocating for the needs of others and helping to bring about change.

Working out our salvation leads us along the narrow path.  There will be moments of ease.  There will be moments of difficulty.  There will be moments of comfort and moments that make our skin crawl.  There will even be moments of triumph and moments where we want to just give up.  But we have to keep persevering.  We have to keep moving forward that we – like Paul – will carry out our ministry fully.

Prayer: “Thou hast promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be; thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse and power to free.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  We will early tun to thee.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  We will early turn to thee.  Early let us seek thy favor, early let us do thy will; blessed Lord and only Savior, with thy love our bosoms fill.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  Thou hast loved us, love us still.  Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!  Thou hast loved us, love us still.”*

* “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 381.