Quo Vadimus?

Quo Vadimus – Where are we going?

The first time I heard that phrase was on SportsNight. It was one of my favorite TV shows and it was the title of one of my favorite episodes.  In it, this mystery man comes up to one of the characters from the show, Dana, and tries to cheer her up.  He says to her, “I’m what the world would consider to be a phenomenally successful man, and I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded.  And each time I’ve failed, I gather my people together and I ask them, ‘Where are we going?’  And it starts to get better.”

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From SportsNight, one of my favorite shows ever

It’s a question we need to ask ourselves every once in a while, because if you don’t know where you’re headed, how do you know when you get there?  We spend so much time on the day-to-day, we seldom take time out to really think about the future; about what we hope to accomplish and where we hope to be.  Then one day, the future shows up on our doorstep and the past is history.  How many people spend their lives wandering aimlessly from job to job, from place to place, without any idea of where they are headed?  In that way, we’re a lot like Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice bumps into the Cheshire Cat early on and asks him, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”  The Cat replies, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t care much where – “ said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.[1]  We have to stop from time-to-time to figure out which way we are headed and then stop once in a while again to see if we’re still headed where we want to go.  Otherwise it doesn’t matter and our lives lack purpose and meaning.  What we need is a vision.

01 Cheshire Cate
The Cheshire Cat encounters Alice

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

That’s the King James Version of Proverbs 29:18. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The guy who wrote this must have come from the Central Valley because he probably wrote this on a “fog day.”  Don’t be surprised if you don’t know what a “fog day” is.  I certainly didn’t when we first moved to Fresno, but schools in the area have built in “fog days” in the schedule.  Back in Georgia we would have “snow days” and those were few and far between, but whoever heard of being held up by fog?  Well, it only takes one time experiencing it before you become a believer.  You can literally be driving along and your visibility goes from miles in front of you to nearly zero in seconds.  It only happened to me a couple of times, but it’s scary.  To have absolutely no idea if there’s a car in front of you, or worse there’s a car coming the opposite way that perhaps drifted over the line without knowing it?  Pulling over doesn’t help because you’re just as likely to get rear-ended. You just have to keep going, hoping you’re headed in the right direction and not knowing what’s around you.  That’s what our lives are like when we don’t have a clear idea of where we are headed.  Without vision, we won’t get far.


“Vision is the bridge between the present and the future.”[2]

It’s the connecting link between where we are and where we want to be.  It provides us direction, focus, drive, passion, and so much more.  It sustains us in times of doubt and in times of trouble.  Vision gets us out of bed in the morning and makes us excited about the day.  It can change your perspective and inspire you to see the ordinary in extraordinary ways.  Back in 1671, the famous architect Christopher Wren, was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  He observed three bricklayers working on the project, one was crouched down, one was half-standing, and one was standing tall.  He asked all three of them what they were doing.  The first man said, “I’m laying bricks.”  The second man said, “I’m building a wall.”  The third man, who was by far the most productive of the three and eventually would become the team leader said, “I’m building a cathedral to the Lord.”[3]  That’s the power of a vision.  It gives meaning to life.  It helps us to realize we’re part of something bigger, something worthwhile.  That third man didn’t see himself as menial labor or making a living wage.  He saw himself as part of a grander vision and it motivated him, made him more productive, and made him happier about his life.  And that’s what people want, a purpose in life, something to wake up to and say, “Gee, I’m about to do something worthwhile today.”

Disney - Westside Break Area
Me in the Westside break area hidden behind Adventureland and Frontierland

It’s no secret I loved working at Disneyland. 

Sure the perks were great – getting to go into the park every day for free is amazing.  But that isn’t why I worked there and it wasn’t why I stayed.  I stayed because I liked being part of something that brought happiness to people’s lives.  I stayed because I wanted to be part of something that was doing good in the world.  I stayed because I felt like I was part of something bigger than just myself.  The Disney motto is “We create happiness.”  And who doesn’t want to be part of that?  If you looked at what I did on a day-to-day basis, it certainly didn’t look all that grand and it certainly wasn’t all that magical.  Some days, I’d be scrubbing trash cans from the inside out.  Some days, I spent eight hours scraping off refried beans off of people’s plates.  Some days, I would have to stand there and get yelled at by a guy who swears he didn’t have to show ID when he wrote a check, like suddenly he got his law degree because he read about it in the paper.  But you were willing to take the menial moments and the embarrassing moments and the harsh moments for the moments when you put a smile on a kid’s face.  When you made a parent happy.  When you helped to make someone else’s day.  Some of these people spent their life savings just to be able to come to Disneyland and they’ll go home and they’ll remember all the magical moments they saved up from being there and YOU get to be part of that.  THAT’S what made it all worthwhile.

2008-05-12 - Graduation with the family
The family and I at my graduation from Candler School of Theology at Emory Universtiry

It’s also why I do this.

It’s why I became a pastor.  Because one day it dawned on me that my life was so much better because Christ was a part of it and I wanted to do that for someone else.  I wanted to help others know the love of Christ so that they too could know what I know and feel what I feel.  I wanted to help others find out about God’s love so they wouldn’t have to go through life without knowing there is a God who loves them and can be there for them and help them make it through the tough times not so alone and not so afraid.  Life is simply better with Christ!  If you’re a Christian you know that to be true!  And if you’re not, I’ve got a secret for you.  Life is better with Christ! P.S. It’s not a secret.

So “Quo Vadimus?”

Where are we going?  God has already given us the vision.  “To make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).” But that’s massive.  That’s a vision for the world.  What can we do in our little part of it?  We can once again become a neighborhood church.  We can make an impact on our community the same way we did when we first started.  We can utilize our cultural heritage, our gifts, and our graces to reach out in love to those around us.  Did you know that at one time BMUC was once a community church?  It just happened to be a community of Japanese people.  Due to land laws at the time, Japanese and Japanese-Americans were restricted to living within specific boundaries of the city.  We were literally forbidden to live anywhere else in Berkeley, and as atrocious as that is to us now, it also opened the door of possibility.  It concentrated a group of people bound by culture and heritage into one targeted area.  The Methodists decided this was an opportune place to begin a Christian ministry to the Japanese, and with the help of our Issei and Nisei founders and dedicated pastors, it was the beginning of what would become Berkeley Methodist United Church.  But its roots, its origin was as a neighborhood church.  Eventually, the restrictions were dropped and our parents and grandparents began to spread out.  But this place remains rooted in this community, and the community has changed.  We have not.

Imagine for a moment what it might be like if we became a neighborhood church once again.

Not to abandon our cultural roots, but to embrace them; to use them as the basis for ministry in this area.  We have a lot to offer our neighborhood.  Berkeley is a city known for its willingness to accept the “other;” and who better than us to embrace that philosophy?  For those of us of Japanese ancestry, we all know someone if not many people who were thrown into internment camps.  We know what it’s like to be shunned or despised based on the color of your skin, the way you speak the language, the food you eat, or the people you associate with.  We know what it’s like to be victims of prejudice and hatred for simply being YOU!  Who better than us to reach out to the community and say to this city of “others,”  “Come into this place where you will be accepted just as you are?”  Who better than us to reach out to the disenfranchised and say, “You are a beloved child of God?”  Everyone is looking for a place to belong.  Everyone is looking for a place where they matter.  We can be that place, right here, right now.  Our cultural heritage isn’t a barrier to our community, it is the backbone of our strength that will help fuel our vision to reach out and show the love of Christ.  It is because of our cultural heritage that we should feel compelled to reach out and help others grow in their faith. We are uniquely equipped to do just that.

01 Graphic Church
In a 1-mile radius around our church live 53,307 people – within 1 mile!

Within a one-mile radius of our church live 53,307 people.

Most of whom are not involved in a church or faith community.  Only 26.3% are projected to be involved leaving 73.8% not involved at all.  That’s almost 40,000 people in a one-mile radius of our church not involved in a faith community.  Of all the people likely to become active in a church or faith community?  Not quite 4%.  Almost four times as many people are likely to become inactive than active.  Those numbers seem to be depressing.  Almost daunting.  But consider this, 4% are likely to become active in a church.  In an area within just one mile of our church 4% of people would move from inactive to active faith, that would be over 2,000 people.  Could you even imagine over 2,000 people coming to worship here at BMUC?  Let’s say of that 4% we only aimed for 1%.  That would still be over 500 new people in worship with us, connecting to God with us, and finding strength in their faith with us.  Last year, when our leadership team envisioned what they would like to see BMUC look like in five years, almost all of them had us growing as a church.  Why can’t that be our vision?  Why can’t we utilize the strength of our cultural heritage to fuel our passion and desire to reach out to a new generation?  Imagine if this place was filled with people of all different colors, and all different cultures, and all different gender identities, and all different backgrounds, united by a desire to reach out to our community and embrace them for their unique being.  Imagine if we became known as the church who loved others just because of who they are because we know what it’s like not to be loved just because you are different.  Why don’t we bring THAT vision into our community?




[1] From Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Penguin Classics), p.36.

[2] https://jesusculture.com/posts/1450-the-power-of-a-vision/

[3] https://www.thecathedralinstitute.com/2012/05/13/the-recovering-bricklayer/

The Principle of Inaction

Procrastination can be deadly.

In some cases, literally.  When I was in high school, I would put off doing my term papers until the night before they were due.  If it was a particularly tough assignment, maybe I would start it that week.  But I put it off as long as I could. Then it was a mad dash to the finish!  I’d work all day and sometimes all night to get it done.  There were days I literally stayed up all night long.  One time, I was printing the last page right before my mom had to take me to school.  When my mom would ask me why I waited so long to do it, I told her I thrived under pressure.  How many of you have used that same excuse?  I THRIVE under pressure!  And there was some truth to that statement.  There’s nothing like having a deadline looming in front of you to get you to produce something quickly.  But was it always my best work?  Probably not.  When I look back, I can see that my failure to plan ahead was mostly a result of avoiding what I didn’t want to do.  Not that schoolwork wasn’t important.  I had big plans after all.  But that as long as I was still getting the grades I wanted, why change?  Why disrupt the way I was used to doing things? It wasn’t until I got to UCLA that I realized my lack of planning had some real-world consequences.  Like not getting the grades I expected.  In high school, I was near the top of my class.  I graduated in the top 5%, but at UCLA everyone graduated in the top 5% or they wouldn’t be there and suddenly I found myself struggling in school.  But did I immediately turn things around?  Did the realization I wasn’t getting the results I wanted enough to make me change my ways?  Nope.

1989 - HHRA Cabinet when I was president
Me at UCLA with my friends and Hedrick Hall cabinet

Psychologists believe that procrastination is largely avoidance behavior[1].

There’s something we know we should be doing, but we don’t really want to do it.  It could be for any number of reasons, but whatever the reason, we’re not doing it.  Maybe for you it’s doing the dishes.  For others, it’s getting that monthly report in to your boss.  Some of you might be putting off something really important like going to the doctor or starting an exercise routine.  I know too many people who avoid going to the doctor because they are afraid of what they doctor is going to say.  But why?  Better to hear it early when you can do something about it than too late when there’s nothing left to do.  Some of you have put off God.  God is important to you, but you don’t spend any time with God.  You don’t spend time developing your faith. You figure you have all the time in the world, until you don’t.  Whatever it is, you’re procrastinating.  You’re making up excuses for not doing what needs to be done.  On some gut level, you know what you have to do, but you’re still not doing it.  We’re going to read about someone very much like us in our Bible reading this morning so if you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone would you find Matthew’s Gospel and go to chapter 25 beginning with verse 14.  Matthew 25:14. What we want to avoid is going so far down that road that it’s too late.  Whatever it is.  Whether we procrastinate about the simple stuff like doing dishes or the really important stuff like our health or our faith, we don’t want to wait so long that there’s really nothing we can do.  The guy in our story waited and for him there were dire consequences.

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” – Matthew 25:14-30

What did the servant with one bag of gold do wrong?

Technically nothing.  But that’s also what he did wrong.  He did nothing.  He kept the money safe, but he did nothing to make it grow.  He knew what was expected, but instead of risking failure, he chose to risk nothing.  Sure, he didn’t lose any money, but he lost an opportunity.  He lost time and as any person who is running short of it could tell you, time is more precious than gold.  When we squander it, we are doing a disservice, not only to ourselves but to God, because it’s God who has given us these gifts.  In the story we just read, it’s why the servant who buried the money is sent packing.  He has squandered the gifts he was given. My dad had a saying, “You’ve got to spend money to make money.”  I don’t know if that was really his saying or something he just believes in, but it was something he said to me when I was a child and it stuck with me ever since.  You’ve got to spend money to make money.  And he was right.  He was trying to tell me you had to invest in something if you really wanted it to get something out of it, no matter what it was.  If you wanted results, you had to be willing to put in the time, energy, and effort to make it happen.  Does that mean every time you put in time, energy and effort things will work out the way you want?  Not at all.  But it’s guaranteed you won’t get the results you want if you do nothing.  We need to realize inaction IS an action.  Not doing anything is a choice we make like any other, and like our other choices it has consequences, too.  And that’s what the lazy servant found out when he told the man what he did.  The servant thought he was playing it safe by doing nothing, but instead it cost him everything.

Two things to overcome

Take a moment and think about something you know you should be doing.

And then forgive yourself for it.  Sometimes we dwell too much on our mistakes.  We dwell too much on our faults and that alone holds us back from doing the right thing.  We wonder if we’ll compound out mistakes.  We worry about making the same mistakes again, and then we end up putting it off for fear of failure.  Which of course guarantees we won’t get anything done.  The second thing you can do is DO SOMETHING. Dr. Tim Pychyl who has been studying procrastination for over 20 years says that too often we wait until we’re “in the mood” before doing what needs to be done.  We use our feelings as an excuse for not doing what we know needs to be done.  Instead, he suggests taking a task, breaking it down into bite-sized chunks, and then doing that first step.  And then the next one.  It’s hardly ground-breaking knowledge, but again how often do you still put off doing something you know you should do?  So it may not be ground-breaking but obviously we need reminders to do it.

Two things to overcome-2

This applies to organizations as much as it does to people.

So many churches are in decline.  Mostly because they are unwilling to change.  They like things the way they are and even though year by year, week by week, they can see the congregation aging and fewer young people in worship, they fail to realize it’s because they stopped changing a long time ago.  They stopped innovating.  They stopped trying new things. Most churches explode during their first 15 to 20 years and then they taper off over the next few decades.  At a certain point, they start to go into decline.  At first it’s slow, but as time continues, the decline becomes more noticeable until it becomes so rapid that a church is barely hanging on.  At that point, they start to make excuses for their lack of growth, pointing instead to the past or to programs they are doing to grow in their faith.  But rarely do they use the metric that Christ himself gave us – to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

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As we celebrate the past, let us also look into the future.

Because if we don’t take care of the future, the past is made irrelevant.  Every church enters into a season  of decline.  The churches that are successful in coming out of it are the ones that constantly reinvent themselves.  They make change part of their DNA and embrace it.  They don’t wait for something not to work before doing something different.  They realize how important it is to stay ahead of the times instead of behind them.  We are a strong and vital church, and we can continue to be one.  We just have to embrace change as part of who we are and realize we do it to help others know a God who loves them.  The same is true in our personal lives.  We know there are things we’ve been avoiding and we know what we need to do.  We just need to do them.  Stop avoiding it and get it done.  We need to remember that inaction IS an action and it has consequences like anything else. The good news is we can do something about it.   In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/04/27/why-you-cant-help-read-this-article-about-procrastination-instead-of-doing-your-job/

Communion 2.0

All are welcome at Christ’s table – unless you have Celiac disease.

Holy Communion is one of the most important rites and rituals of the church.  Since the church was established, we have hearkened back to the Last Supper through this important sacrament – one of only two that we celebrate.  For us it is more than simply a reminder of Christ’s call for us to remember him.  We feel there is a holy mystery around communion that draws us closer to God.  We don’t know how exactly, but even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed it to be one of the ordinary means of grace – meaning it is one of the simple ways Christians can deepen their faith and draw closer to God.  Except if you have Celiac disease or are gluten-free.  Add them to the growing list of people who are not welcome at the table of Jesus.  As of 2017, the Pope announced that all bread at the communion table must be made with at least some element of gluten.  According to the “rules” the bread must be “unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made.”[1]  For what purpose?  Just because Christ used what we assume to be bread with gluten.  But do we really think Jesus would see this as a necessity for communion?  Where is God’s legendary grace and mercy in this?

You can't take communion

By the way, there is a list.

The Catholic Church has a list of people who can’t come forward for communion.  Not an actual list of names, but of deeds deemed to be unworthy.  If you ever been divorced, had an abortion or participated in one, had sex outside of marriage or even deliberately had impure thoughts, you can’t come forward.  If you haven’t fasted for at least one hour prior to receiving communion you can’t come forward.  If you haven’t gone to confession since your last grave sin, and there’s a list you need to memorize, you can’t come forward.  If you aren’t Catholic, you can’t come forward.  If you are Catholic but don’t believe the wafer and the wine ACTUALLY turn into the literal body and blood of Christ, you can’t come forward.  There are literally billions of people not welcome at Christ’s table.

Mark Adams' Wedding
My friend Mark’s wedding was so beautiful and the priest was quite filled with grace

I always assumed we were all brothers and sisters in Christ.  But I was wrong.

The first time I found out about “the rules” was when one of my friends was getting married.  He asked me to be best man at his wedding and as part of the ceremony each of us – the groom, the bride, the maid of honor, and myself – were all to receive communion.  The priest asked me if I was Catholic and I innocently told him I wasn’t.  He smiled and just said, “That’s okay, we just won’t tell anyone.”  I was grateful for the grace, but had to ask why that was even a question and that’s when I found out – Catholics only.  Sounds pretty exclusionary for a faith that claims to be for everyone.  I read a Catholic blog that says the rules are there for MY well-being.  Someone who comes to the table without the proper requirements is putting themselves in “spiritual danger!”[2]  I guess billions of people every Sunday are putting their lives and souls at risk.

Before we pile on the Catholics, let us not forget how much WE all love “the rules.”

They may not be as formal as those in the Catholic Church, but that doesn’t make our rules any less real.  The words we say, the elements we bless, the way we do communion are all traditions that build up over time and we begin worshipping the WAY WE DO THINGS instead of worshipping God.  We forget the meaning behind the traditions and begin to worship the traditions themselves.  And Heaven forbid anyone should change those traditions.  You’d think we’d brought back stoning. But that kind of thinking has been happening since the Pharisees.  And probably before that, too.  The Pharisees especially were known for following the rules.  They were proud of it.  They would remind you if you didn’t follow the rules, and tell you what the consequences were because they had memorized the list.  But when Jesus came he pointed them out as an example NOT to follow, because they had become so obsessed with the rules themselves, they had forgotten the purpose behind them.  They had forgotten that tradition was only important as long as it continued to draw us closer to God.  That’s what happens to us in worship and in particular communion.  We praise the form and functions of communion instead of our Lord who we came to praise in the first place.  Part of that focus on the rules comes from this short passage in the Bible we’re going to read from this morning.

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The flesh and blood of Christ.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to eat the literal flesh and blood of Christ.  Sounds a bit like the zombie apocalypse.   But this belief is what is called transubstantiation – that the elements of communion literally turn into the body and blood of Jesus.  There must be some kid who has reached into his mouth during communion to see if it was true.  Jesus often talked in hyperbole.  He did not literally mean that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 19:24).  He did not literally mean that when you give to the needy you shouldn’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matt 6:3).  And he did not literally mean that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that turned into a tree (Luke 13:19).[3]  So why is it that some people take this passage as (excuse the pun) gospel?  When Jesus declared himself the Bread of Life, no one thought he was made out of wheat.  As one writer put it, “He was simply comparing himself to food in general, the most common staple of the diet. Just as bread is the basis of physical life, Jesus is the basis of eternal life.”[4]  Most of us inherently understand that interpretation.  Jesus is trying to emphasize the things of this world are fleeting.  But if we nourish ourselves by living a Christ-like life then we are feeding our eternal soul which is much more valuable to us and to God.  He didn’t literally mean we should eat and drink him.

01 camel
Jesus was not being literal when he talked about a camel going through the eye of a needle yet we take him literally about other things even when they contradict a loving God.

By the way, did you now that the word “communion” isn’t in the Bible?[5]

The King James Bible used the word to translate a portion of 1 Corinthians 10:16, but it means “sharing” or “participation” which is the essence of what communion is.  We sometimes refer to it as the Eucharist, but this too is a translation of the Greek word eucharisteo in 1 Corinthians 11:24 meaning to “give thanks” something that is also an essential part of what we do in communion.  We share and we give thanks.  When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (something by the way that is only in Luke’s recounting of the Gospel story), he wasn’t big on the details because the details weren’t important.  It was the sharing and the gratitude that were the main focus of the meal.  It was a time to draw closer to Christ.  Yet, somehow we develop these unwritten “rules” and then hold everyone to them as if THEY were the focus of the sacrament.  Yet we feel free to ignore some of the other details.  Jesus didn’t use wafers for one.  Yet some churches use wafers instead of a loaf of bread.  We use grape juice instead of wine and no one seems to have a problem with that.  Why we get hung up on some details instead of others says more about us than about Christ.

What if communion had different kinds of bread or something completely different? Would that change communion?

What we need to do is be open to different ways of doing things.

“Different” doesn’t mean “wrong.”  It just means “different.”  As long as we keep to the meaning behind what we do, then we can still honor God and find new ways to communicate Christ’s love for us.  We’re able to tell his story in different ways so more people can understand what it means to know that love.  In one of his letters, Paul was being critical of those who came to communion in an “unworthy” manner, but he wasn’t criticizing the rituals of communion.  He was criticizing those who were using communion for their own purposes.  Basically, they were having a big party and labeled it “communion” but it had nothing to do with Jesus or honoring what Christ did for us.  My hope is that in our effort to reach people for Jesus, we are open to interpret everything with fresh eyes including our most sacred traditions like communion.  Not to upset the apple cart, but to try things that might help others understand Christ in new and different ways.  I hope we will constantly be introspective about our own ideas of “right” and “wrong” and be open to the Spirit and the heart of what we are doing.

Communion is important.

It is an opportunity for the people of God to gather together in worship and to lift up thanks for God’s work in us and in the world. Communion is important as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and to help keep us humble when we are tempted to think more of ourselves and less of others.  But there is something special and sacred about communion that is more than just a shared meal.  As John Wesley himself once said, “I haste to this Sacrament for the same purpose that St. Peter and John hasted to His sepulchre; because I hope to find Him there. I come then to God’s altar, with a full persuasion that these words, This is My body, promise me more than a figure; that this holy banquet is not a bare memorial only […] in what manner this is done I know not; it is enough for me to admire. And thus His body and blood have everywhere, but especially at this Sacrament, a true and real presence.”[6] Those are very important words for us as we understand communion.  More than any other ritual, ceremony, or liturgy we perform, this one for us brings forth the “real presence” of Christ.  It is, as John said, a mystery.  One we do not fully comprehend but we experience by faith.  Let us come to the table then, with gratitude in our heart, praise for the love of Christ, the memory of his great sacrifice for us on the cross, and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.


[1] http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/07/08/letter_to_bishops_on_the_bread_and_wine_for_the_eucharist/1323886; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/07/11/the-catholic-church-says-no-to-gluten-free-communion-heres-why/

[2] http://www.aggiecatholicblog.org/2014/06/why-cant-non-catholics-receive-communion/

[3] Examples from http://www.equip.org/PDF/JAL014.pdf

[4] https://www.gci.org/church/lordssup/qanda#elder

[5] https://www.gci.org/church/lordssup/qanda#elder

[6] https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/42615/what-was-john-wesleys-view-of-the-lords-supper

Tabula Rasa

What was it like your first time?

Doesn’t matter what it was.  Your first kiss.  Your first award.  Your first time riding a roller coaster.  What was it like?  Hopefully, it was a great experience.  Sometimes it’s not.  But our first time experiencing anything is like painting on a blank slate.  That’s what tablua rasa means – “blank slate.”  It’s like watching colors unfold onto an empty white canvas, a sudden burst of color on a pristine background.  It just pours out in a brilliant rainbow of moments and you get to experience the world through fresh eyes, see things in a brand-new way, or sometimes we see things we’ve taken for granted in a new light.  We had the chance to do that when we welcomed Kristina into our home.  She was an exchange student from Russia we hosted back in 2010 and we were so blessed to have her!  She was sweet and thoughtful, always polite, and open to all the different experiences we were able to share with her.  We took her horseback riding at Pismo, brought her to Georgia for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner (Southern style), traveled for the weekend up to San Francisco, took her to Las Vegas for the New Year, and of course to Disneyland.  We’d been to each of those places many times ourselves, but for Kristina it was all so new!  Everything was exciting! Everything was a new adventure! Even things we might think were ordinary were extraordinary in her eyes.  And being able to see things from her point of view helped us to appreciate even more the blessings we have.  But I also admired her bravery and strength of character.  Can you imagine what it must have been like to travel half way across the world and spend nine months in a foreign land?  Away from family and friends, away from what is familiar and comfortable, for the chance to experience life somewhere else.  It must have been a strange mix of both excitement and anxiety, of hope and of fear all at the same time.

2010-11-12 - The girls in front of the castle.  Awesome pic!  It was really a lot of fun being with all of them.  Tiring.  But fun.  I'm really not as young as I used to be.
Kristina with Emma and Eve at Disneyland. Always a thrill to get to go with someone who’s never been before and to see what they find exciting and fascinating

I imagine that’s what it’s like for people coming to church for the first time.

Whether they have been a part of church before and are just coming back or if they’ve never been at all, it must be a mix of both hope and fear at the same time. On one hand, it’s an adventure.  On the other, it’s a place where you don’t know the customs, the people, or what to expect.  There’s a tension from the moment you walk in.  And just as if you were welcoming someone new into your home for the first time, you wouldn’t just be friendly at the door, but you’d want to make it nice and clean and comfortable for them.  You’d try to anticipate what might make them feel welcome.  Maybe have their favorite drink on hand or a favorite snack.  You’d also want them to feel safe.  The obstacle course you normally live in would be picked up, things put in their place.  Nice and welcoming is great, but it’s that extra step that can really make a difference.  The same thing is true as we prepare for new people walking in the door.  We want to be more proactive than reactive; to anticipate their needs BEFORE so they feel this is a safe space to explore their faith. It’s been so long since many of us have been new to church we don’t often think about the little things that might make people feel out of place or unwelcome.  The words we use, the assumptions we make, why we stand up and sit down are all concepts that are unknown to new visitors.  I’m hoping we will take a step back and try to see things from their perspective.  Not from the perspective of someone who comes to church or is familiar with church but from someone for whom worship is a new experience.  Like my family’s experience with Kristina, we can’t assume that what we might consider “normal” is at all normal to those who are visiting for the first time.

The apostle Paul thought about this a lot.

Maybe Paul was drawing on his own experience being one of the newest of Jesus’ disciples and the only one (that we know of) who was recruited by Christ AFTER he died. But for Paul it seemed vitally important to find ways to reach out to those who did not know Jesus or who were starting to explore a life of faith with Christ. He probably also remembered clearly what it took to convince him.  It literally took a miracle.  So he knows how tough it is for someone unfamiliar with Jesus beyond Christmas ad Easter to suddenly become a follower, and he determined to do whatever it would take to get people to listen to him.

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

What are we willing to do to reach others with the love of Christ? Even wear a Cal baseball hat?

Paul is speaking to us.

His message is clear.  It is OUR responsibility to bring the Gospel to others.  It is not THEIR responsibility to come and get it.  We sometimes act as if it is.  We act as if it is the responsibility of other people to come and seek the Gospel.  But a man who doesn’t know he’s lost isn’t going to ask for directions.  Before a person looks for help, they have to be convinced that help is needed. That’s where we come in.  There is a whole world out there chock full of people who don’t know why they should bother to follow Jesus if they even know who he is, and we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to bring the Gospel message into their hearts.  That’s what Paul did.  He became whatever he needed to become to bring people the Word of God.  To his Jewish friends, he practiced all the Jewish customs.  He celebrated the Jewish festivals.  He worshipped with them and loved them and helped them so that they would come to trust him when he shared God’s word with them.  He obeyed the traditional religious laws even though he didn’t have to.  Jesus had set him free, but in order to reach those who still held to those laws, he followed them so they knew he was one of them, so that he could speak to them and they would listen.  He showed empathy to the weak even though he was emboldened by Christ so that in his weakness, in his vulnerability, he could make a connection with others they felt they could trust.  As Paul said, he became all things to all people so that he might save some.

Hospitality literally means the love of strangers[1]

Hospitality literally means the love of strangers.  We are called upon to offer love to everyone, even those we don’t know.  Maybe especially to those we don’t know.  More radically, we are meant to be self-sacrificial when it comes to showing love to others. When we exhibit THAT kind of hospitality, when we show love for others with our gifts, our words, and our service, we honor God and we become a living testimony to his work in the world today. You matter.  While a pastor plays a big role in getting people to stay with a church, it’s the congregation who decides if a visitor is coming back in the first place. Did you know that a person decides whether or not they are going to come back to your church within the first seven minutes?  A person decides whether or not they are coming back to your church within the first seven minutes.  Generally, that’s long before they ever meet the pastor and certainly before they hear if he can even preach anything meaningful.   It’s in the little things that make a difference.  How they are greeted, how easy was it to find parking, whether or not it was obvious where they could find out what was going on; these are all important to people who have finally made the decision to come to worship.  That alone is a huge deal.

2018-07-15 - Original Entrance to the Church
What life journey happens before a person enters our doors?

What happens before a person enters those doors is more than we’ll ever know.

If someone makes the choice to come to church after years of being away or if they’ve never come to church and decide there might be something here for them, there is likely a story behind that.  I remember taking a seminar on communication and our leader told us people are like icebergs.  What we see on the surface, the things people say with their mouths, are often only 10% of what’s really going on.  The other 90% is all hidden beneath.  We are not going to know the 90% on their first visit or even their fiftieth.  What we need to do is realize they didn’t come to this decision easily or quickly, but with some serious thought.  And we have to make the adjustment to worship as painless and as comfortable as possible.  We need to offer grace.  We need to offer understanding.  We need to exhibit patience and kindness.  And we need to be self-sacrificial.  They are probably already wondering as they walk in the door if they made a mistake. Whatever we can do to help can make a big difference.

2010-11-23 - Standing outside the GA Aquarium
Kristina and Emma at the Georgia Aquarium

When Kristina first came to stay with us, we hoped we made her feel safe.

As a host family we wanted her to feel like this was home as much as it could be thousands of miles away.  We wanted to make her feel welcome and wanted.  And we tried to imagine being in her shoes and what would make her feel like this was a safe space.  I hope we did this well.  We probably learned as much from her as she learned from us. I believe that is the vision God has for our church, too.  And every church like it.  To make our spaces feel like home to those who wander in.  To remember the courage it takes for people to enter through those doors.  And to look at the world through their eyes, to better help them know the love of Christ. There can be no greater reward for us as followers of Christ than to be a part of what God is doing in the world.  There can be no greater reward than for us to see the paint spill onto that blank canvas of someone’s faith and to be a part of that moment when they know deep in their heart that there is a God who loves them.



[1] http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-hospitality.html

Be The Change

Self-fulfilling prophecies can be deadly.

If you haven’t heard the term before, A self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief or expectation that an individual holds about a future event that manifests because the individual holds it.[1]  It’s scary, but sometimes we create our own reality.  Our minds are remarkably powerful tools, and like any tool it can be used for harm or for good.  But we still get to choose how we use it.  Over the course of our lives, our minds get bent and twisted, molded and remade over and over.  Outside forces teach us false truths about who we are and what we are capable of.  We have notions planted in our heads that tell us we can achieve only so much, rise only so far, do only so little.  Sometimes, we’ve lost the battle before it even starts.  Self-fulfilling prophecies.  Eventually, we start to believe in these limitations so we stop trying.  Or we don’t even start.  And our self-fulfilling prophecy comes true.  We look around and we take a perverse sense of pride in being right without realizing that our own preconceptions helped to bring about this reality in the first place.

01 self-fulling cartoon
Thought this was a cute and poignant cartoon

Our church will die in ten years.

I’ve heard that three times since I’ve been here in just one year.  “Our church will die in ten years.”  Well, not if I can help it and I know many of you share that same passion I have for growing God’s church.  But it’s that kind of negative thinking that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Because if you really believe that the church is dying you start going into “turtle mode.” “Turtle mode” is when we hunker down, withdraw into our shell, and do our best to survive as long as we can.  Like a turtle.  When there is a perceived threat, a turtle will withdraw into its shell and wait it out until the danger has passed.  But when churches go into “turtle mode” there usually is no coming out.  They stop reaching out.  They stop inviting.  They let the building go.  They save as much money as they possibly can so the church will be around to bury them.  Literally. I had someone say that to me once about another church.  I just want it to be around long enough that they can bury me.  I once served a church that had barely any money in its operating fund, but they had over $300,000 in the cemetery fund.  They paid a caretaker to mow and weed the grounds out of the interest they earned on that money.  The church was on the verge of financial collapse, but someone would be there to take care of the graveyard even if the church itself was dead.  “Our church will die in ten years.”

01 turtle
Turtle mode: When churches decide they need to withdraw to save money. They stop outreach, they stop inviting, and they stop taking care of their facilities.

Here’s the thing about self-fulfilling prophecies – they work the other way, too.

We can believe in something so completely it seems we almost will it to happen. Jesus once told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20)”  Often, the key ingredient we need is faith.  Which doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to have doubts.  One of my favorite stories in the Bible is about Jesus and the dad who brings his son to him for healing (Mark 9:17-23).  The father says to Jesus, “…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  And Jesus responds, “If you can? …Everything is possible for one who believes.”  And the dad responds by saying, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  For as many stories there are of people who had the strongest faith, there are stories about people who had doubts, too.[2]  People like Gideon who told the angel he was just the weakest member of his clan and his clan was the weakest among all the clans and how could God want to use him?  Or someone like Abraham who pointed out to God that nobody as old as he was ever had a child so how could he? Yet these same people had faith, maybe even when there was no real reason to have any.

01 mustard seed
The size of a mustard seed. Literally.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.  (Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12)

They were longing for a better country.

Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob were longing for a brighter future, a future God had promised to them.  They didn’t know for sure what this would look like, but they trusted in the vision that God had presented to them and held true to their faith in God.  And even though they never lived long enough to see it all come to fruition, they trusted that their efforts would lead them toward a brighter future.[3]  The Scripture says to us, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” The things God promised to the people of Israel and by extension to all of us was not something they could tangibly touch or experience, but they honored God with their efforts even though they didn’t know how it would all work out and that pleased God.  Even if they DOUBTED, they still carried on.  And by their efforts, they didn’t achieve their dreams, but they unknowingly were part of something bigger and more amazing in the end.  We can’t always see where God is leading us, but we need to have faith that it is toward a brighter future.

God is future-oriented.

If you look in the Old Testament or the New, you’ll find evidence of it through the writings of so many different people.  God promised Abraham his people would spread throughout the Earth.  Abraham surely thought God meant then and now.  He couldn’t imagine the scope of what God truly meant or how that would come to be true.  Today there are over 2 BILLION Christians in the world, probably far more than in Abraham’s wildest dreams.  God promised Moses, he would lead his people to the promised land and even though Moses didn’t live to see it, that promise came true.  It would be Joshua who would lead God’s people to that place.  These are just a couple of examples of how God’s vision is so much better than ours.  Our vision is often limited, but God is future-oriented.

We need to be future-oriented, too.

We need to approach life with a goal and a vision and live into that reality.  You need to be the change you want to be. What do I mean by that?  There’s an old saying that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have.  And there’s some real truth to that.  Not just because you make an impression on the people you’re hoping to impress, but it gives us a sense of self-confidence by doing so.  When you feel confident, you radiate that confidence, and it’s that confidence more than anything that people are inspired by.  There was an interesting study done at Northwestern University where they had three groups of people do a task where they had to spot the differences between two pictures.[4]  One group was told they were wearing lab coats, one group was told they were wearing painter’s smocks, and one group was simply shown a lab coat.  All three groups saw or wore the same exact coats, but as you probably already guessed the group wearing “lab coats” did significantly better.  The research concluded that wearing certain clothes could improve your performance.  The clothes really do “make the man.”

01 Inside Out - Joy and Sadness in LTM
INSIDE OUT – Pictured (L-R): Sadness, Joy. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

We can also “dress” our attitudes. 

Has anyone ever told you to “turn that frown upside down?”  Did you want to hit them at that moment?  Me, too.  But maybe, they were doing us a favor.  Scientific studies have shown that putting on a smile actually makes us happier, whether we were happy to begin with or not.[5]  The physical manifestations of a smile have effects beyond the muscles in our mouth.  They also release chemicals into the body that reduce stress, depression, and aggression.  And various studies have shown that smiling can lower your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and may even lead to a longer life.

These principles can be applied to our community as well.

Whether it’s your workplace, your family, or our church.  If we behave like a thriving, successful church we might start feeling like a thriving, successful church.  And if we start feeling like a thriving, successful church, we might very well BE a thriving, successful church.  We need to ACT as if every Sunday we are going to have visitors come in through those doors. I want us to develop the mindset of successful church growth. A church with a mindset of growth prints extra bulletins because they don’t question IF they’re going to have 1st time guests, but HOW MANY.  A church with a mindset of growth sits closer to the front because they know 1st time visitors will feel more comfortable sitting in the back.  Churches with a mindset of growth are always aware of how someone new might feel, how intimidating that might be, and does whatever it can to make them feel comfortable, welcome, and at ease.  We live into the reality of what we hope to see.  I don’t want us to fake it ‘til we make it.  I want us to FAITH it ‘til we make it.  I want us to live in faith into the reality we hope to see in our church and to be open to where God is leading us.  Just remember, our vision for success may be different than God’s vision for success.  Let us provide our best effort and allow for the Holy Spirit to do with it what God needs it to be.

When John Wesley was struggling with his faith, this was the attitude he adopted.

As he was on board that old creaking boat in the midst of a storm, he saw this group of Moravians singing on deck.  In the middle of a storm!  He had been going through a difficult time in his own faith so he asked them for their secret.  How could they be so happy in the midst of this disaster?  They told him to have faith.  When he asked what to do if he didn’t have faith, the Moravians told him to keep soldiering on until the faith he preached was felt in his heart once again.  He wasn’t being told to fake it.  He was being told to have faith IN it.  John knew that God was out there, but he was having a hard time feeling his presence and the Moravians inspired him to have faith that it would one day come back.  And it did.  My hope for our church is that whether we are 50 or 500, we will always be future-oriented; that we will live with the expectation that God is doing something great in us right now.  And that we simply need to be prepared for whatever that is.  We can’t afford to live lives of meekness and timidity.  We need to live lives of boldness and audacity, because we serve a God we know can do the impossible.  Let us live into the vision of the church God wants us to be.  Let us take a step out in faith and BE the church we want to create – a place that welcomes those and loves those who do not yet know the love of God.



[1] https://positivepsychology.com/self-fulfilling-prophecy/

[2] From the BibleGateway blog: https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2012/08/three-bible-heroes-who-doubted/

[3] This section was inspired by Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of A Deceased Church, Chapter 3.

[4] http://mentalfloss.com/article/74310/8-fake-it-til-you-make-it-strategies-backed-science

[5] https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/smiling-can-trick-your-brain-happiness-boost-your-health-ncna822591

Eight Hot Dogs

How well do you deal with change?

If you’re George Banks…not very well. George’s daughter is getting married.  That alone is enough to trigger the panic that overcomes people going through change, but because it happens so suddenly George is REALLY out of sorts.  And when his daughter and his wife have different ideas about what the wedding will look like, George becomes overwhelmed.  He becomes obsessed with how much this is going to cost and is ruining what should otherwise be a happy time for all of them.  So after another “wedding rant,” his wife Nina sends him to the store to get something for dinner.  And this is what happens.

One of my favorite scenes from the modern day version of Father of the Bride (if you can call the 80’s modern day). George LOSES it!  He becomes irrational in a quirky, charming, “he’s kinda right” sort of way.  But there’s no doubt he goes a little off the deep end.  And we laugh or smile because it’s funny, but you think to yourself, “I would never do that,” but are you sure?  Because all of us have had times in our lives when we were resistant to change.  All of us have had doubts or fears about what the future holds for us.  And at least most of us have, at one time or another, not reacted very well to it.  Every church I’ve ever served has had its share of George Banks.  Every pastor I know can tell you a George Banks story.  My friend Brett was serving a church that at one time was a thriving downtown church, but as things go, people moved away, the congregation stopped reaching out to the neighborhood, and this one growing and vibrant community of faith was shrinking every year.  So Brett decided to energize the congregation to reach out to the community!  He started doing programs to help the church grow!  He found ways to engage people and to make the church relevant again!  And people started to come.  Not in droves, but new faces started showing up.  Not long afterward, one of the members of the church, an older guy who had been there a very long time, came up to him and said very plainly, “I don’t want the church to grow.  I like it just the way it is.  I don’t want people from the neighborhood to come to our church and if they do I might just have to leave.”  I have to admire the man’s honesty if nothing else (and truly nothing else).  He said out loud what many people think or subconsciously feel.  He didn’t sit around and criticize the programs or the pastor, he was honest that deep down, he liked things the way they were and didn’t want that to get all messed up.  Sadly, he left.

01 Bobby(1)

Deep down, he had a fear of change. 

But the question I wonder if he ever asked himself was, “What if it could be even better?”  What if this once thriving church could become thriving once again?  What if there were kids roaming the halls like there used to be?  What if worship looked like 200 instead of 20?  What if?  Did he ever ask himself THAT question?  It might have inspired him to stay.  It reminds me of a quote Bobby Kennedy once said, “Some people see things as they are and say why?  I dream things that never were and say, why not?”[1]  Do you ask why or why not?  Maybe this guy who didn’t want things to change subscribed to the old adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”  I’d have to question him on that one.  I’d say to him, “a bird in the hand is great, but then what?  Eventually the bird will die and you’ll have nothing, but two birds?  Two birds could have baby birds and could become many and together they could last you your whole life!”  True, you have to take a chance for that all to work out.  And there’s no guarantee it will.  But isn’t that just part of life?  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but do we fear change so much or failure so much that we won’t even try?  I would hope we have enough trust in God to overcome that fear.

Fear is nothing new.

It was a problem from the very beginning of time.  If we use the Bible as a reference, we see the topic of fear come up from Genesis to Revelation.  God and Jesus are constantly telling us “do not be afraid.”  And yet so often we are.  Not without good reason.  But fear often paralyzes us or worse compels us to do things that are hurtful or mean or unkind.  Now, the Pharisees and others like them, liked things the way they were.  They got pretty comfortable with how things were being run and then here comes this guy, Jesus, who kept trying to shake things up.  He eats with sinners, he associates with women and children, and as we’re about to read, he works on the Sabbath! Sacrilege! But is it?  Let’s hear what Luke writes about it.

10On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

(For eighteen YEARS this poor woman has been afflicted and Jesus comes and just by putting his hands on her, heals her instantly, but that’s not what the leaders of the synagogue focus on.  Here’s what it says):

 14Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

 15The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

(Jesus is shocked at the synagogue ruler who completely disregards the miracle he has just witnessed and instead focuses on “following the rules.”  He calls them hypocrites and then basically scolds them by saying, “If you believe that God cares about you, his finest creation, more than he cares about an ox or a donkey, then why wouldn’t he show mercy on the Sabbath to one of his children if you’re allowed to give water to your animals?”)

 17When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

2014-10-12 - Me in front of the Father of the Bride house
Father of the Bride is one of Emma’s and my favorite movies. Here I am in front of the actual house used in the film. Emma is my photographer.

Things change. 

Just as fear is nothing new, change is nothing new either.  Change is LITERALLY as old as time.  Once there was nothing, and then there was light!  But change was something the Pharisees had a hard time accepting.  While intellectually they might have understood things change, in their heart they didn’t want to believe that included them.  It’s hard to give up doing things the way we are used to doing them.  These men trained their whole lives to achieve their position in society.  They sacrificed, they worked hard, they did what they thought they were supposed to do and then here comes this upstart trying to tell them to do it differently?  They became offended as if Jesus was telling them they were bad people, even though that’s not what he was saying.  That’s true of many of us, too.  When we’re told we need to change, it’s hard not to take it personally as if we did something wrong.  But often change isn’t about our character, but about our effectiveness.  For us to achieve the goals, dreams, and desires of our heart, we have to find better ways of doing things.  We’ve always got to be willing to change, to let go of the old ways in order to get the results we hope for. And that’s what was happening here.  Jesus was trying to show them a better way. The Pharisees were all hung up on observing the Sabbath, but they forgot why the Sabbath was created in the first place.  It was meant to be a day to honor God.  To pay homage to the greatest feat in all of creation – creation itself!  And so Jesus challenged them.  He challenged them to remember what was truly important.  Not this so-called definition of “work” but the idea that the Sabbath was created to honor God, and could any of them really say that healing this woman wasn’t a way to honor God?  The Pharisees had a lot of George Banks in them that day.

Change is inevitable.

But it doesn’t have to be bad.  Change is necessary. But we can choose to embrace it or fight it.  How we deal with it, how we confront it, will often determine how effective we can be.  Will you be like George Banks or will you instead trust in God to lead you through the change?



[1] https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Remarks-of-Robert-F-Kennedy-at-the-University-of-Kansas-March-18-1968.aspx

Still Small Voice

My mom once said I had the best hearing in the world.

What she actually said was I had the best “selective” hearing in the world.  If my parents were talking about something that interested me –movies, going out to dinner, Disneyland – I could hear them from behind the closed door of my room while they were on the other side of the house.  Their voices came through as clear as day and I’d come bounding out of my room all ready to go.  But when my mom asked me to come and help clean the table or take out the trash or vacuum the living room, amazingly, even though the discussion was much louder, I couldn’t hear that AT ALL.  She might even say it two or three times and I would be totally oblivious to it.  Has that ever happened to you?  Or maybe with your kids?  It’s pretty astounding what we can and can’t pick up with our ears.  I was reading an article by Seth Horowitz from the New York Times about the difference between hearing and listening and it was pretty fascinating.[1]  Did you know that we can “hear” at least 10 times faster than we can “see?”  Our ears pick up and respond to things much faster than even our eyes.  And it’s because our hearing is one of the alarm systems for the body.  It’s designed to pick up a vast volume of surrounding sounds and over the years, our brains become trained which sounds are important to pick up on and which ones are not.  So we can actually “hear” much more than we realize.  Horowitz pointed out though there is a vast difference between “hearing” and “listening.”  We “hear” a LOT, but we pay attention to comparatively very little. Again, we train ourselves to hear what we think is important and what is not.  He said, “listening, really listening, is hard when potential distractions are leaping into your ears every fifty-thousandth of a second.”[2]  It’s up to us to train our ears to listen to the things that are important.

Copy of still small voice

Too often we “hear” what we want and tune out what we don’t.

Think about our political climate today.  It’s astounding how people can completely ignore little things like facts and instead focus on fiction.  And how both sides of an argument would agree with that statement.  We truly do live in an era of “alternative facts.” If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone please go to Matthew 13 beginning with verse 10.  Matthew 13:10. It might seem worse today given our hyperaware social media cycle, but this kind of closed-minded thinking is not new. Jesus had the same thing happen to him.  Now right before this passage we are about to read, Jesus shares with the crowd some parables.  Matthew writes that such a large crowd gathered while Jesus was by the lake he actually had to go out in a boat so people could hear him.  Jesus tells the parable of the sower where he talks about how sharing the Gospel is like spreading seeds on the ground and how those seeds can fall into different types of soil.  At the end of this parable he closes with the phrase, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”  Of course, Jesus means something much deeper than the literal meaning of this phrase.  If you’ll please rise and join me for the reading of the Gospel of Matthew, we’ll be sharing from Matthew 13:10-17.  Matthew 13:10-17.  Hear now the Word of God.

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Do you have ears to hear? 

Jesus points to the crowds, to the thousands of people who followed him just to listen to his teaching, and said even these people did not have “ears to hear.”  He told the disciples even prophets and righteous people, people we would normally associate with people who “get it,” even THESE people could not understand what Jesus was saying. It wasn’t simply a matter of following Jesus that opens up our mind to God’s Word or all of these thousands of people would have understood.  It had to be more than that.  We not only had to hear, but to truly listen.  We had to be fully present and to be willing to listen to what Jesus was saying to understand God’s work in our lives.

01 listening
From the comic strip Zits

Perhaps a better interpretation of Jesus’ words would be “Whoever has ears to listen, let them listen.” 

Because there is a big difference between hearing and listening.  Hearing is simply an auditory ability.  Listening is active engagement.  You can hear without ever listening.  Isn’t that true?  Most of us can probably remember at least one moment where we felt “unheard.”  Sometimes we do it to the people we even love the most. Just ask Cassie. I have to admit there are times I’m “hearing” her, but my mind is drifting somewhere else and I’m not really listening like I should.  I don’t mean to, but my mind is distracted with something else and I’m not focusing on what she has to say. If Cassie asked me to take out the trash…that might not register.  If Cassie asked me if I’d like to go to Disneyland, I’d remember that forever.  We listen to what is important to us, but not always what is important.   And that’s what Jesus is referring to in this passage.  Even among all the people gathered, many of them heard Jesus’ words but lacked understanding.  Not that Jesus was trying to trick them, but he was trying to convey deep truths that only those with an open heart for God could understand.  Often what Jesus was teaching was radically different than what the priests and the church leaders were teaching and on some gut level this appealed to the crowds.  But to fully understand what Christ was sharing meant we had to be actively listening, to process what Jesus was saying, and to take a step back to understand it.  When Christ says, “Whoever has will be given more…” he isn’t referring to material possessions but instead to understanding, truth, and peace.  It might be better to read it as “Whoever has ears to hear” or “Whoever has an open heart for God will be given more wisdom, peace, and understanding. Whoever does not have an open heart, even what peace and knowledge they do have will be taken from them.”

Copy of still small voice(2)

The art of listening is truly a gift from God. 

And it’s a gift that is available to us all.  What it takes is a still mind, an active presence, and a willingness to hold back from responding immediately.  Stephen Covey, the famous author, once wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  This is true not just with one another but with God.  How often is it that our prayers are filled with requests or pleas to God about what WE want and what WE need?  And how much of our prayer time is filled with us listening instead?  We spend so much time talking AT God and so little time actually listening TO God.  You might think, “Yeah, but God never talks back to me anyway.”  But I wonder if that’s really true or if we haven’t developed ears to hear or maybe we haven’t given God a chance to speak.  Now, I’m not saying God will respond the way you and I respond to each other, but haven’t you at times heard that still small voice in your head?  Haven’t you ever felt nudged to do something or say something and wonder where that came from?  When that still small voice gives us instruction that is aligned with God’s will how can we say that isn’t God?  And God can speak to us through his Word.  Have you ever been reading the Bible and found that even though you read the same passage three times already, you suddenly came away with a different understanding?  Couldn’t that be God?  And when you needed a word of encouragement or comfort and suddenly a friend calls up out of nowhere couldn’t that be God?  Perhaps it’s just that we haven’t developed ears to hear.  This week, practice the art of listening. Spend time in quiet prayer.  Start your prayers by simply being open to God’s presence instead of going down your laundry list of wants and needs.  Pray for God’s leading in your life.  And then take those listening skills out into the world and really listen to one another.  Imagine what might happen if we had the intent to really understand one another, even and maybe especially people who don’t think like we do.  Maybe we could better understand how to talk WITH one another instead of AT one another.  And maybe the world would be a place where we work together despite our differences to make things better.  Don’t listen with the intent to reply, listen with the intent to understand.  Someone once said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.”  Perhaps we should listen twice as hard as we like to speak.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/opinion/sunday/why-listening-is-so-much-more-than-hearing.html?_r=0  Seth S Horowitz, “The Science and Art of Listening,” Nov 9, 2012, The New York Times.

[2] Ibid.

No Room

Scotty didn’t get enough credit.

There would be no Captain Kirk or Mister Spock or Bones if not for the man we know as “the miracle worker” – Chief Engineer, Montgomery Scott.  One of the few “red shirts” who never died.  If you were ever a fan of the original Star Trek, you know Scotty saved the ship over and over again despite the seemingly near impossible tasks he seemed to be given.  “I cannot change the laws of physics,” he once said.  But then he did.  Even though he would protest or say why he couldn’t do it, he always found a way. It remained a mystery how he was able to do the impossible…until he revealed his secret in the movie The Search for Spock.  Kirk asks how long it’ll be before repairs are finished on the Enterprise and Scotty tells him, “It’ll take at least eight weeks sir…” and Kirk is about to respond when Scotty finishes, “but you don’t have eight weeks so I’ll do it for you in two.”  And Kirk replies, “Mr. Scott, do you always multiply your repair estimates by a factor of four?”  And Scotty says, “Of course, sir.  How else can I keep my reputation as a miracle worker?”  Mystery solved.

Scotty gives himself a “buffer.” 

He creates space to allocate for the unknown.  And that way, he’s prepared for the unexpected.  Because life can throw you curve balls, he found that this strategy worked for him.  It gave him a chance to expect the unexpected.  I found out that Disney does that in their theme parks.  No matter how short the line is on a ride, the sign outside will always say “5-minute wait.”  Even if you can walk right on!  That way, if you get through the line early, you’ll be happy and if you don’t, you’ll still think you got through the line early and be happy.  They give themselves a buffer zone to be prepared for the unexpected.

2012-06-16 - Radiator Springs Racers Sign
No exaggeration this time. The ride wait time really was about 130 minutes! And that was a short line when this ride first opened.

Do you give yourself a buffer in life?

Not necessarily a time buffer, but space in your life for the unknown.  Our lives are often full of rigidity.  We become rigid in our schedules, rigid in our viewpoints, rigid in our expectations, and we can’t handle when things come up that upset that balance we’ve created.  We get mad or angry or disappointed in the unexpected.  BUT!  BUT!!!  It’s in the unexpected that the most amazing opportunities can occur. It’s in the unexpected that the most amazing opportunities can occur.  And if we aren’t ready for it, we’ll miss those opportunities.  In our reading, Jesus has been speaking to the crowds after his encounter with the woman who committed adultery.  The crowd wanted to stone this woman for breaking the commandments, and instead of telling them “no” or speaking against them, Jesus simply said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And…they walked away.  Not long after this, Jesus is again talking to a group of Jewish people.  He is able to convince some of them he truly is the Son of God and he shares with them some wisdom they may not have been ready to hear.

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word.

The truth will set you free.

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  We often equate freedom with independence, but that’s not what Jesus is saying here.  Knowing the truth won’t make you more independent.  In fact, in some ways it’ll make you more DEPENDENT as we realize how much we need Christ in our lives.  But it will also give you a sense of inner peace and that’s the freedom Jesus is referring to – freedom from worry and anxiety because you have faith and trust in Christ.  It is in Jesus that we gain our true freedom and it is in Jesus that we learn the truth.  Having that freedom is what allows us to move forward in life – to grow and learn and fulfill our purpose.  But like the group Jesus is talking to, many of us don’t even know we need this “freedom.”  We walk around with all of this potential but are so rigid in our thinking and our perceptions we can’t see we are not as free as we think we are.  We don’t leave room in our hearts and minds for new possibilities or new ways of looking at the world and so we become slaves to our own selves.

01 shackles(1)
When we don’t let Christ into our lives, these things take over and make us slaves to sin

It’s interesting how this group of Jewish people talk to Jesus. 

Jesus isn’t speaking to Gentiles.  He’s speaking to his own people.  And even more surprising, John tells us, is this group of people actually thinks he is the Messiah.  John tells us in his Gospel, he’s speaking to believers.  And yet, they argue with him. They cast doubt on him.  They challenge him and this is why Jesus says they don’t have room in their hearts for his message.  Instead they say to him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free?”  They don’t focus on Jesus’ main point – which is that in Christ they can have freedom in a way they haven’t experienced before.  Instead they nitpick on his words and are offended by his statement.  What’s more astounding is that they deny the reality of their own history.  Could they really have forgotten so quickly when the Hebrew nation was a slave to Pharoah in Egypt or to the Assyrians or to the Babylonaians or to the Persians?  Of all the peoples in the world, it seems as if the Jewish people would remember they have often been slaves of others.  Yet in their rigidity, they tell Jesus they have never been slaves of anyone.  They didn’t even take a moment to ponder what Jesus was trying to share with them which had nothing to do with physical freedom, but spiritual.  Their own pride and rigid view of the world got in the way of seeing the truth.  Jesus tries to steer them toward the truth by clarifying his point.  He says, “Very truly I tell you, EVERYONE who sins is a slave to sin.”  EVERYONE who sins is a slave to sin.  He’s telling them, you might be “technically” free.  You might not be in shackles or collared like an animal.  You might not live in a cage or a cell.  But you are NOT free.  Because as long as there is sin within you, you are a slave to whatever that sin is.  Anger.  Hate.  Jealousy.  Rage.  Pride.  WHATEVER it is, it has a hold on you.  But when you allow for the unexpected, when you give room in your heart for the Holy Spirit, when you give space for the possibility of new ideas and new ways of thinking, you just might find something remarkable.  But even these “believers” can’t open their hearts to Christ.

2009 - Our second house in Alpharetta from the outside
Our home in Atlanta before the big move to California

Are you like that at times?

Are there times you feel yourself resistant to new ideas and new ways of thinking, even if your old ways are not producing the results you were hoping for?  Christ is asking us to be open to the possibilities, to give room in our hearts to where God might be leading you, to allow for the movement of the Spirit in your life.  God wants you to leave a buffer for the Spirit to work within you and around you.  Because it’s in those gaps that amazing things can happen.  It’s a lesson it’s taken me a while to learn, but that has become easier over time.  It wasn’t always easy for me to listen to where God was leading me.  I often thought that my plans were his plans and that made me unwilling to open up to where else God might want me to go.  That was the case when I found out I wasn’t going to be coming back to Roswell UMC.  My District Superintendent, my boss in the Methodist system, told me it was likely I was going to a small rural town outside of Atlanta.  It was a town that was racially divided.  It was a town that didn’t have a good school system.  It was a town where Cassie would have to commute three hours everyday for work on a good day and it was rarely a good day for traffic in Atlanta.  And it was a place that didn’t fit any of my gifts and graces.  How in the world could this be where God was sending me?  We tried everything to forge our own path, to go the route WE wanted to go, but every time we tried, we kept hitting roadblocks.  Finally, I gave up.  Normally, I’d say that was horrible, but in this case it was the best thing I could have done.  I literally went into my closet, laid down on the floor in the pitch blackness of the room, and prayed.  And I just said to God, “I can’t believe this is the path you want me to follow, but if it is, I’ll do it.  But if it isn’t, if this is not where I’m supposed to be, would you please open a door for me?  No matter what door is opened, I’ll walk through it.”  That honest prayer, where I finally created room in my life for God to work, helped me to let go and trust in God like I should have all along.  It only took an hour to get a response.  After that prayer, I went back to my desk and started going through my emails and found one from a friend of mine out in California who just became a DS herself.  She asked how things were going and I opened up to her about our situation.  About an hour later, I got a phone call that changed the course of my life.  I ended up coming back home to California to serve in our conference.  And it has just been one God-led moment after another.  It hasn’t always been smooth and rarely the way I expected it to turn out, but I have felt so blessed how things have turned out.  All because I was finally willing to open myself up to where God was leading me.

01 Map
Who knows where God may lead YOU?

Are you open to where God is leading you?

Do you pray regularly?  Not for what you want or what you need, but do you ever pray for what God needs from you?  Are you open to new ideas and new ways of doing things?  Or have you become so rigid in your life that there isn’t room for where God might be leading you next?  In any situation where you find difficulty, do what Scotty did and give yourself a buffer.  Allow room for the unexpected and the unknown.  Give different ideas a chance and you might be wildly surprised at where God is taking you.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jesus Is A Fluffy Bunny

Unconditional surrender.

Two words you don’t want to hear if you are on the losing end of a battle.  Unconditional surrender means you will give up without any guarantee of safety.  You are completely at the mercy of whoever you’re surrendering to.  And that is scary.  Not knowing what they will do; if they’ll be merciful or vengeful, kind or cruel can overwhelm us with fear.  Some people would rather die than surrender unconditionally. They would rather go out on their own terms than give in to someone else’s – even if it means death. So what do we do when the God we believe in asks exactly that of us?  God wants us to surrender to him unconditionally.

01 White Flag(1)
How willing are you to surrender yourself unconditionally to God?

But we are so unwilling to give up control that we can’t even put our trust in God!

We call upon God when WE want to.  We pray when it’s convenient for us.  We worship when it fits into our schedule.  We put Christ on call as if Jesus were checking his text messages for some kind of signal from us.  There was a short-lived show called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and in the first episode two of the characters, Jeannie and Harriet, are talking to each other about the uncertainty of the future so Jeannie asks Harriet, “Do we just let Jesus be our co-pilot?”  And Jeannie replies, “No. My mom used to say if Jesus is your co-pilot, you should trade seats.”[1]  But how often do we do that?  How often do we relinquish control and let Jesus guide our life?  We want Jesus to be where we want, when we want, and how we want him to be.  And when he’s not we conveniently tune him out.  Even in church.

2007-09-23 - Stained glass window in the chapel at RUMC
Why do we struggle with surrender, even with God?

A friend of mine was criticized for preaching the Gospel.

We were both starting out in ministry and she was an associate pastor at a fairly big church.  They had two services and she would lead one while the senior pastor would lead the other.  After a while, one of the church members who attended her service came in to complain to the senior pastor about her preaching.  The senior pastor sat the woman down and asked what seemed to be the problem.  Was she not preaching from the Bible?  No, that wasn’t it.  Was she sharing a message not in line with the Gospel?  No, that wasn’t it either.  So what seemed to be the problem?  She told the senior pastor that she wasn’t hearing the message she wanted to hear.  She complained, “She’s always challenging us to improve and be better than we are.  How about once in a while we hear sermons about how Jesus is like a fluffy bunny?  You know?  I’d like for once to hear about how following Jesus is like a beach ball floating in the wind.  Just floating up in the air.  How come it always has to be so serious?” Those were her exact words, “Jesus is like a fluffy bunny.”  There are just some things you never expect to hear and “Jesus is like a fluffy bunny” is one for the ages.  As outlandish as that might seem to some of you, it is more common than you might think.  I’ve had my own “fluffy bunny” moments. Not quite as extreme, but pretty close.  Some people are uncomfortable when they are challenged to change, to accept different ideas, to do something different or to think in a different way.  But Jesus always challenged us to grow deeper in faith, to expand our understanding of God, and to stretch ourselves in directions we may not have thought of on our own.  He wants us to put our trust in him, to surrender to his will.

Paul reminds us our relationship with Jesus is one of mutual submission.

Our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be one of mutual submission.  Many of Jesus’ followers talk about this concept of mutual submission.  Jesus comes to serve all of humanity.  Jesus surrenders his life for ours on the cross.  Jesus humbles himself by washing the feet of his disciples.  Jesus modeled for us the kind of servant’s heart he wants to see in us all.  Paul tells us we are supposed to submit to one another also.  Husbands should submit to their wives as wives should submit to their husbands.  Parents should honor their children as their children should honor them.  The ideal relationship as described to us by Jesus and his followers is about mutual submission.  It’s the only way it works right.  And in our passage this morning, Paul talks about his own submission to Christ.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” – Galatians 2:19-21

01 Cross(1)

In this passage, Paul isn’t telling us what to do.

He’s telling us about his own experience with Christ and how it changed his life.  Paul was probably thought of by many people as a zealot and maybe in some ways he was, but if so it was only because he was zealous for the kind of life we could all lead under Christ.  Some of what he says might seem confusing because he uses a lot of contradictory statements.  He says he died to the law so he might live in Christ.  He says he no longer lives but Christ lives in him.  But all he means is he finally surrendered to the fact he would never fulfill the law and so he devoted his life to the only one who could fulfill it – Jesus.  And by so doing he gave up his own way of life to become an ambassador for Christ. And then he closes with this powerful statement, “I do not set aside the grace of God…” meaning he doesn’t ignore, he doesn’t belittle, he doesn’t discount God’s grace in all of this, “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”  If all we had to do was follow some rules to have our sins wiped away, if all we had to do was fulfill a certain number of requirements to get into Heaven, then Jesus’ sacrifice was pointless.  We wouldn’t need his sacrifice.  We could do it on our own.  But we can’t.  As good as we can be, we cannot be perfect.  We cannot be sinless.  It’s not a matter of willpower.  It’s not a matter of being strong enough.  We just can’t do it.  The only way to overcome this mountain is to submit to it, to admit it cannot be overcome.  Only then can we change for the better.

Surrendering Your Life

Rick Warren wrote a devotional around this concept.

He wrote, “Surrendering your life means:  Following God’s lead without knowing where he’s sending you.  Waiting for God’s timing without knowing when it will come.  Expecting a miracle without knowing how God will provide.  And trusting God’s purpose without understanding the circumstances.”[2]  Following God’s lead.  Waiting for God’s timing.  Expecting a miracle.  Trusting God’s purpose.  This is what it means to surrender to God.  Have you?  Have you truly surrendered to God?  We all fall short and will at times assert our own will, but have you made that commitment to follow Christ by fully surrendering to his will?  Or are you still putting Jesus as your co-pilot?  You are the pilot of your own life.  You are the captain of your own football team.  You are the chef of your own kitchen.  But you are not the best one there.  You are not the most well equipped person to be leading your own life.  Are you too proud to admit that?  Or are you willing to step aside and let God lead and guide you?  When I worked at Disneyland, I was the captain our volleyball team – meaning I was the one who signed people up, gathered the money, and turned in the paperwork.  As the captain, I was responsible for making the assignments of who would play where.  My favorite position is at the net.  That’s where all the action is.  Heroes are made at the net.  But look at me.  Even then I was 5’ 10” at best.  My jumping ability was about the same as that of a turtle.  But I was really good at digging for the ball.  I did a great job of saving the point.  And I was very accurate at serving.  I had to admit that I wasn’t the best person for the front line so I put myself in the back row.  And even though I had the right to do it, I chose to do what was best.  That’s all God wants for our lives.  He wants us to choose what’s best.  That’s why he doesn’t force us because then not only do we not learn, but the decision is never really ours to begin with.  We have to choose to surrender to God.

Let us recommit our lives to Christ.

Let us remind ourselves that when we chose to be Christian, we chose to surrender our lives to him.  We didn’t choose to surrender our lives on condition.  We didn’t surrender our lives because it was convenient.  We chose to surrender unconditionally to God.  Let us honor that commit today as we lift up our commitment in prayer.

God Almighty,

I surrender my control to you.  I surrender my control to you.  I surrender my control to you.  I am not the best guide of my own life.  You are.  And when I surrender myself to you, my life becomes a whole lot better.  But it is hard for me to do.  The truth is I cannot do it alone.  I cannot earn my way to Heaven.  I cannot forgive my own sins.  So I put myself at your mercy.  And surrender to your grace.  Today, I give myself to you unconditionally.  And my life is the better for it.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.


[1] http://studio-60.hypnoweb.net/episodes-/saison-1/episode-102/script-vo-102.96.254/

[2] http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/surrender-let-go-and-let-god-work_993

Milk…It Does A Body Good

Milk…It does a body good.

I have believed that phrase whole-heartedly my entire life.  But I learned that as you get older, the benefits of milk aren’t so obvious.  The New York Times posted an article asking the question, “does milk do a body good?” And it turns out…it doesn’t seem so. I long prided myself on my milk drinking.  I may not always eat properly, but I would easily drink a glass of milk (and often more) once a day.  Then Cassie came up to me one day and said drinking milk might actually be CAUSING me some problems.  I have to admit, as smart as Cassie is, I thought she got this one all wrong. My entire life, doctors have been telling me to drink milk.  Even as an adult.  But in 2011, the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research did a study of over 200,000 women and could find no correlation between milk drinking and lower rates of bone fracture.[1]  Another study of over 100,000 men and women could find no correlation between drinking milk as a teenager and incidents of bone fractures.  And one study published in the British Medical Journal showed men and women who drank high quantities of milk had a higher death rate and women actually had MORE bone fractures than those who didn’t drink as much milk.[2]  While they couldn’t prove milk actually caused those deaths, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t seem to be doing much for us.

Me holding Emma on her literal birth day, wrapped like a baby burrito

The story, of course, is different for infants and children.

Especially for babies.  Babies need milk – specifically mother’s milk. It strengthens the immune system, decreases disease, and helps to protect children from developing allergies.[3]  Later in life, these babies have fewer cavities, are less likely to be obese, tend to have fewer problems related to blood pressure, and tend to be more mature and assertive.[4]  The evidence is so strong for all the different benefits of baby milk that there are even milk banks where mothers can donate so other mothers who have problems making their own still have a source for their babies.  Virtually everyone agrees that milk is essential for young developing infants.

And just as we need milk to grow physically, we need spiritual milk to grow spiritually.

Milk in the Old Testament largely referred to God’s promise of a land overflowing in abundance, but in the New Testament, milk is seen as spiritual sustenance.  It’s the building block for a strong spiritual life.  Just like milk is a necessity for babies who grow up to be adults, spiritual milk is needed to help our faith life develop into something strong and robust.  Our passage this morning is just one that refers to spiritual milk but one that sheds light on what this “milk” will do for us.

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. – 1 Peter 1:13-16 and 2:1-2

Crave pure spiritual milk.

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”  Spiritual milk is essential for our faith and Peter writes here that we should crave it!  We should crave those things that feed our faith and help to keep away all of those things that would rob us of salvation – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.  Peter hopes that because we have tasted this spiritual milk that it will be enough to keep us craving more.  What he means by having “tasted” spiritual milk is that there was something in us that turned us toward Christ and away from all the other temptations of the world.  There was some part of our life that Jesus’ message of hope and salvation connected with, and Peter hoped that was enough to fuel us wanting more to keep craving that spiritual milk that is so essential to grounding us.

Works of Piety
Just a few examples of Wesley’s “works of piety”

And this is where John Wesley’s ideas about the means of grace come in.

Wesley believed that God provided us with many ways to find this spiritual milk and to keep connected to Christ.  He believed even when we felt distant from God, the means of grace would help bring us back. He called these “works of piety.”  Works of piety are those personal practices that help us grow closer to God.  Things like prayer, reading the Bible, going to worship, taking communion, taking part in Bible study, sharing our faith and fasting; these are the practices that Wesley felt would help connect us to our faith.    Regularly doing these things, regularly praying or reading the Bible or fasting or going to worship creates in us a foundation for a life grounded on faith.  It’s like brushing your teeth or taking a shower.  You don’t even think about these things any more as part of a list of things you need to do.  You’ve been doing them for so long that they are simply a part of what you do every day.  But doing them makes you a healthier person and much more enjoyable to be around.  And not doing it makes us feel off the entire day.  The truth is, doing these works of piety will have the same effect.

In our seemingly time-crunched world, it doesn’t feel like we have time for it.

We don’t have time for Bible study.  We don’t have time for worship.  We don’t have time for prayer.  But is it we don’t HAVE time or we don’t MAKE time?  Like with taking a shower and brushing your teeth, you could skip these things if you were seriously short on time.  In the long run, we’d be able to do more if we stopped wasting time on hygiene.  Think about it.  The average shower lasts 8.2 minutes.[5]  Assuming you take one every day, you could save yourself nearly 3,000 minutes a year.  That’s more than 2 full days of time!  But we would never do that, right?  We feel taking a shower is important.  Or at least keeps us from getting a divorce.  So apply that logic to what Wesley calls works of piety.  Almost all of these things – prayer, worship, Bible study, communion, sharing your faith – take less than or about the same amount of time as taking a shower every day.  If we value our relationship with God, then why wouldn’t we schedule that into our day?

Stephen Covey had some great advice about this.

As you know, he’s the author of the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and he writes, “The key is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  You’ve probably heard that before.  The key is to keep the main thing the main thing.  We know this intellectually, but we don’t always do a great job of executing it.  He says, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” We’re so busy with whatever is in front of us that we don’t look at things long term.  So how do we get around that?  Covey says, “The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”  The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.  If you believe God is important then carve out time for God.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s just a matter of priorities.

This is the spiritual milk that will help us grow in our faith.

The common, ordinary, everyday types of things that take very little time or money to do – prayer, Bible study, worship, communion.  At times they might seem boring.  At times they might even seem meaningless.  At times we may not feel the working of the Holy Spirit within us.  But it is.  The Spirit is at work even if we don’t “feel” it all the time.  But it is important to keep doing these ordinary means of grace so that our faith will continue to grow even if we don’t “feel” it.  When babies drink milk, they don’t say to themselves, “Hey look! My leg just grew a quarter of an inch!” But slowly, over time, as they keep taking the nourishment they need they grow.  Sure and steady they grow.  And the same is true of our faith.  So take time out to drink your spiritual milk.  It does a body good.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/upshot/got-milk-might-not-be-doing-you-much-good.html

[2] https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6015?etoc=

[3] http://www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/benefits.asp

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.home-water-works.org/indoor-use/showers