Lessons in Leadership: You Are That Man

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 11:26-12:13a.

The story of David and Bathsheba is a story of uncontrolled lust.

Lust is not just an intense desire in the body; it is also a strong passion for something that does not belong to oneself. That which we lust after is something that must be learned, experienced, or acquired. It could be a lust for knowledge, laziness, or food. It could be a lust for power, pleasure, or possessions.

When we lust we do not think rationally. We are immune to counsel. We are driven by appetites that demand to be fulfilled – even if fulfilling them results in our own detriment or the detriment of others.

I believe we can all relate to struggles with lust; it is part of the human condition. We have experienced (or are experiencing) lust running rampant through exuberant eating or spending; through the pursuit of perfection; through judgment, promiscuity, or keeping up with the Jones. Likewise, we have been exposed (or are being exposed) to offerings of wisdom, arguments, and counsel from God, others, and our own selves in the midst of our struggles with lust.

At times, we have accepted.

At others, rejected.

That which we lust over – and may eventually achieve – does not satisfy. When our lust runs rampant, we are not the only ones that suffer. We may be oblivious to the suffering we cause because we are so consumed by our lust; even worse, we may turn a blind eye to the suffering or claim ignorance so we can persist in the enmeshment of our desire.

When lust runs rampant we harm

  • Those whom we share relationship,
  • Those who could benefit from the resources and assets (presence, time, funds, effort, and passions) we pour into our obsessions,
  • Those we use and abuse to achieve our own ends,
  • And last, but certainly not least, we harm our relationship with God as the items, persons, and/or pursuits of our lusts become idols that we seek to worship and serve.

The work of the ever-maturing child of God is to interrupt and disconnect from our lustful appetites. John Wesley, the founder of the people called Methodist, offers a method to do just that.

Wesley understands all Sin as having two components – inward and outward. Inward sin is not a loss of faith whereas Outward sin is. Lust begins as Inward sin; lust begins in thoughts alone. Wesley argues that these thoughts alone are not sinful, but actualizing them – acting them out, moving them from the abstract to the concrete, incarnating them from the ideal to the real – that is the sin. And Outward sin is a loss of faith.

We are all sinners. We have all “fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We have all experienced losses of faith.

We are also redeemed by God’s grace. We are all “justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). By God’s grace in justification we, who are sinners, are declared righteous before God. By God’s grace the power of sin over individuals breaks, causing an inward spiritual change that interrupts and disconnects the link between inward inclinations resulting in outward sins.

Our challenge – our invitation – is to growth in God’s grace and to seek the interruptions to and disconnections from lust. This happens through prayer, through being held accountable, and through implementing boundaries in your life that guard your heart from lust(s) and keep your heart attuned to God.

This work is needful. This work is on-going. This work is essential to our development as disciples.

Prayer: “Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Just as I am, thy love unknown  hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”* Amen.

*”Just As I Am, Without One Plea,” The United Methodist Hymnal 357.

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Seven Questions of Faith: What About Suffering?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 27:27-31.

Some smells never leave you.

Growing up in Polk County I was introduced early on to the smell of burning leaves. In the late 80s and early 90s citrus canker was a huge ordeal. Once the canker set in the only solution was to burn the trees. Burn the trees. Defeat the canker. Protect the living.

No matter where I am, if that smell is in the air, I know exactly what is happening. Somewhere near something is burning. Something is being defeated. A measure is being taken to protect the living.

On Friday, January 29, 2016 I stood on the side of highway in the region of the Golan Heights in Northeastern Israel. Behind me was Israel and down the hillside below my feet, beyond the fence of the demilitarized zone, was Syria.

Syria

The smell of burning was in the air.

It was not trees burning this time. Smoke rose from homes, buildings, and ground cover due to the burnout of explosions. And the burning smell was not on its own; it was accompanied by the popping of gunshots. Due to the distance the popping sounded like a woodpecker drumming against a tree.

This scene broke my heart. It is burned into my memory as the flames burned the ground. I stood on that hillside and listened. I inhaled. I exhaled. I wept. I raised my left hand to my heart and extended my right hand towards the broken land. I joined in prayer with my friends gathered there.

We prayed for the people that decided that land should burn. We prayed for the people that believe more in violent defeat than in justice and peace. We prayed for the people who chose these methods as the means to protect only some of the living. We prayed for those who suffered. We prayed for their suffering to end.

Inhaling. Exhaling. Weeping. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

As we left side of the highway our bus fell silent, which for a group of 35 made up of pastors and spouses is quite a feat, indeed! Though the bus was silent my mind reeled, heart ached, and spirit wondered, “What about suffering? What about the innocents? Why?”

I was reminded of these questions for the remainder of the day as the smell of smoke lingered in my hair and on my clothes. My neighbors are in harm’s way. They are afraid and feel alone.

Does anyone see? Does anyone care?

Jesus sees. Jesus cares. Jesus suffered. Jesus suffers still.

Jesus suffers when we suffer. Jesus cried over the venom in the hearts of the people as he looked down upon Jerusalem before he finished his pilgrimage to his grave. Jesus cries over the venom that spews and spreads evil that breaks apart families, turns friends into enemies, fortifies walls instead of bridges, and leads some to untimely deaths in unmarked graves.

But unlike our suffering, Jesus’ suffering culminates in transformation. Though battered, mocked, and spat upon, Jesus’ suffering is the gateway to resurrection.

For him. For us all. In this world and beyond this world. In ways we can see fully now and in ways that we will only see fully once the veil of mortality is completely repealed.

I pray for the day that all suffering will end. I pray for the day that burning smells and their kindred memories will be replaced with peace.

Prayer: “Almighty God , you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to suffer death on the cross. Grant that we may share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and ever. Amen.”*

*”Palm/Passion Sunday,” The United Methodist Hymnal 281.

Jobbbb: Battle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 1:1, 2:1-10

While in seminary I was introduced to the concept of spiritual warfare. When a person engages in spiritual warfare he or she takes an active stand against devils, demons, and/or other supernatural (meaning unbound by the laws of physics) or preternatural (meaning they are sourced in unknown places) forces.

At first introduction, I did not think much of spiritual warfare. I did not feel that I had experienced it in my life. But as I grew in awareness of it and talked with friends that believed they experienced it, my paradigm shifted and expanded.

In my experience I have seen people – as well as myself! – blame the devil or demons as the cause of their (my) transgressions. The devil or demons became the scapegoat. “The devil made me do it.” No, the devil did not make me do it; I chose to do that. And there are consequences for this and every choice. This personal awareness – and taking responsibility – was a huge eye-opener for me. My personal awareness helped me grow in accountability for my actions to God, myself, and others.

In my experience I have also witnessed the horror of evil in this world – evil that causes immense suffering – gun violence, substance abuse, infidelity, debilitating diseases, and prejudice. I have witnessed moral evil, natural evil, and radical evil. Sometimes I am able to “put my finger” on the root of the pain; that provides comfort and at least a place to focus actions of compassion and correction. At other times I am unable to put my finger on the root of the pain…it just “is” and that it “is” breaks my heart.

When will it end? Why does it happen? Where are you, O God?

I confess that my faith is not as strong in these times. I become angry. I doubt. I fall to my own pride thinking I will just take matters into my own hands, when really the only thing I should be left to doing alone is taking myself to lunch – and somedays I am not even successful with that.

It is interesting to see how Job engages in spiritual warfare – how Job takes a stand against the evils inflicted upon him and the suffering that it causes. He does not “raise his dukes” or “dig in his heels” in order to steady himself to fight back. He sits in ashes. He questions but does not accuse. He wonders aloud – perhaps rhetorically – “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad” (Job 2:10b)? Scripture tells us Job did not sin with his lips (2:10c). I believe he sensed God’s presence with him. He knew that God was walking with him…and as long as God continued walking, so would Job.

A song that some of my beloved students taught me is You Fail Us Not by 1,000 Generations. When I think of the trials in my life, I give thanks for God’s continued presence with me.

I invite you to listen to this song. Give thanks. In life – and especially in the battles – God fails us not.

Prayer: Holy God, “You’re bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle has ever been. Whatever will come, we’ll rise above, you fail us not, you fail us not. No matter the war, our hope is secure, you fail us not, You fail us not. You fail us not.”* For this, and so much more, we give you thanks. Amen.

*”You Fail Us Not” from 1000 Generations.

PictureLent ~ Resurrection

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 16:1-8

Holy Week is a marathon, not a sprint. We gathered at the starting line last Sunday – there was even a parade! We waved palm branches and children sang. We worshipped and then we were benedicted to continue our walk to the cross.

Most of us anticipated reaching the cross on Friday, but it showed up Sunday afternoon as we learned one of our sisters in Christ in the Tuskawilla family passed away. The parade was over. The mourning began.

As a pastor when I learn of a death in the congregation I immediately go into work mode. Phone calls to make – visits to complete – information to gather – services to coordinate. This work also accomplishes compartmentalizing the grief process. As long as I work and stay busy the grief stays at bay.

When I find stillness and quiet up the grief wells.

Wednesday morning I went to yoga as I usually do and during my practice my teachers settled me into sleeping pigeon, which looks like this. Sleeping pigeon is an introspective pose as your gaze is towards your heart-center, the core of your being. It is also a deep hip stretch and release. Once settled I began to breath deeply and my tears began to flow. Reclined on the floor I wept. I wept for Lori. I wept for Ann. I wept for our congregation. I wept and asked only one question.

Why?

Reclined in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus grieved. Jesus wept. According to the Third Gospel writer Jesus was in such anguish that his sweat was like drops of blood (Lk 22:44). “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying…My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me” (Mt. 26:37a and 39b).

In the quiet of the garden Jesus probably asked “Why?” He probably confessed his confusion and his inability to understand. He possibly even felt anger that his questions remained unanswered. Pondering, seeking, praying, Jesus turned inward. Inhaling and exhaling into the very center of his being Jesus found his answer. “Not what I want but what you want…let it be what you want” (Mt 26:39c and 42c).

In the face of grief and imminent tragedy Jesus kept walking. And we will keep walking – aware of our loss, aware of our pain, aware of our unanswered questions, and aware of our God’s continued faithfulness. Our Christ walked toward the cross accepting all of the world’s pain as he did. At the ultimate place of defeat Jesus is forevermore our victor. Sunday is coming and resurrection is real.

Lori loved Jesus and his church, this church, Tuskawilla. Lori has gone on ahead of us into glory and is helping to make room for all of us at the table. Because of Jesus’ obedience – “obedience to death, even death on a cross” – we will join her and all God’s children at the heavenly feast Jesus continues to prepare (Phil 2:8). The casseroles will be abundant. Even more so, God’s grace and peace and joy will be abundant. There will be no grief. There will be no tears. There will be no reason to ask “Why?” There will be Jesus and those whom he loved. Lori will be there…and we cannot wait to see her.

Prayer: “For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee and will ever pray thee, think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.”* Amen.

*”Ah, Holy Jesus,” The United Methodist Church 289.

New Creation: Treasure In Clay Jars

[My apologies, The Sunday Stiletto Readers!  It has been a crazy busy week so I am very much delayed in posting this blog.  I hope you enjoy and look forward to the next posting in a few days!  Blessings!]

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 4:5-12

Some of my fondest memories growing up are from the time I spent in United Methodist Youth Fellowship.  While I was in high school I had the privilege of serving in the Youth Praise Band – I strummed the bass, sang, and dabbled a little in guitar.  One of the first songs I learned to play was Trading My Sorrows by Darrell Evans.

The bridge of Trading My Sorrows sings and elaborates upon a very important part of this week’s Scripture passage from II Corinthians 4 – “I’m pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  I’m blessed beyond the curse for His promise will endure and his joy is gonna be my strength.  Though the sorrow may last for the night His joy comes in the morning!”  The tempo and drum beat would drive through the first two sentences, drop out around “though the sorrow may last for the night,” and then build again to ring in God’s joy that arrives at dawn.  This section was always my favorite.  I couldn’t help but smile when I sang it.  I couldn’t help but revel in the assurance of God’s promise.

The rest of Evans’ song is profound as well.  The verse sings, “I’m trading my sorrows.  I’m trading my pain.  I’m laying them down for the joy of The Lord.  I’m trading my sickness.  I’m trading my shame.  I’m laying them down for the joy of The Lord.”  The chorus affirms “Yes Lord!” I will do these things – I will lay them down and claim your joy.

In studying this week’s passage and reflecting on this song, I am aware that this passage speaks about and song sings about sufferings.  Sorrows, pain, sickness, and shame are sufferings and cause sufferings in this life.  Both admit that life is not a bed of roses.  Both recognize that there are thorns (if you will allow the metaphor) and, at times, those thorns cut deep.  Suffering is part of the human condition.  For people of faith, suffering is also part of our faith experience.  Having faith does not make us immune from suffering.  If anything having faith probably leads us to more questions about suffering – leads us to ask why.

Asking why is not a fissure in our faith.  Asking why does not challenge or weaken our faith.  I think asking why is a sign of faith – a sign of faith seeking understanding within our relationship with God.

As Christians we can ask why sufferings occur.  The answer is because there is evil in the world.  God did not create the evil.  God is not the cause of the evil.  I believe much of the evil that causes the suffering we experience is the result of individuals or systems of individuals abusing God’s good gift of free will.  So what do we do about our suffering?  Or more to the root, what do we do about the evil?  We respond to it with compassion and charity.  We transform it with justice and accountability.  We imbue it with empathy, love, and hope.

My biggest challenge is to lay down sufferings.  When I am asked about my day, more often than not, I quickly jump to my sorrows.  I carry sorrows for such a long time.  Doing so deprives me of joy and shields me from the beauty of God’s mercies that rise each morning with the sun.

I need to lay down my sufferings.  I need to claim God’s joy.

Yes, Lord.

Prayer: “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.  Great is thy faithfulness!  Great is thy faithfulness!  Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 140.