Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Listening for God's voice


Today has been a day of resignations and losses.  I never saw it coming, and yet it still came. One after the other, things started falling apart.  And, I was tempted to get down. I was saying that I was not affected. I was noting that people make choices and that I could not change any of those choices. I was doing a good job of putting on the mask of "whatever". 

But, on the inside I was torn. I was hurt. I was sad. I was mad. I was mad at people for doing what they did. I was mad at people for hurting others to the point of sadness. I was mad at myself for not listening to friends and just staying where we were with the family that we had and the peace that was ours. I was retracing my actions and trying to figure out where I made my fatal error.  What was I doing on this mountain? Why was I subjecting the people that I loved to this? Why was I subjecting my children to this? Maybe they were right; this is too much for any one person to do. I was praying for a Machine de Grace, and secretly hoping for a Coup de Grace. And, then I was really hurt. I remembered that it was God that directed me to this point. It was God that told me to stand on this mountain. Really!? I was not in a good place.

And so this morning I prayed to my God, and this is what happened.  The earth shook as one of my friends said they were done with the ministry. And, the voice of God was not in the shaking of the earth. The fire rung loudly with a phone call that another member was leaving our family. And, the voice of God was not in the fire.  The wind of hatred blew at my soul as another friend claimed I was no friend at all and that I had hurt them and their children. And, the voice of God was not in the wind.  I was almost ready to give up. I was standing in the cave of my own discontent staring into the "stuff" that is the service of God. And, all I could think of was how comfortable it was "before we took on this venture", and how easy it would be to find a nice dark spot in the cave and hide. It was at that moment (literally) that there was a still small voice speaking.

Sara, thank you for your note. Thank you for including me in that note. Thank you for reminding me that the service we do is important and it is worth whatever price we have to pay. God is everything. I will not abandon that which has been set before me. I will not give up. I will not give in. For, today God has again assured me that He neither slumbers nor sleeps. And so, as God spoke through Sara's still small voice, I heard what I need to hear. No! It was not a great proclamation that all was going to immediately get better. No! It was not a notification that everything was going to immediately right itself and we would sail off into the sunset of "easy" church. It was not even an affirmation that all I had did was correct and I therefore could rest in knowing that at least I was "right." It was none of these things.  Instead, I heard God ask the question "Jesse, what are you doing standing here?".
I heard God's gentle reminder that I need to get back to "running with a purpose". The race is not given to the swift, nor to the strong, but to the one who endures until the end.

I love you Sara. I am praying for you. Thank you for being the voice of God this morning.

Now, each of you go out and run for the purpose that you have been given. I love each of you.


Monday, July 9, 2012

50 Shades of Christianity


First, I need to apologize for being away from my blog for such a long time. I truly have missed sharing with you and I promise to do better. So, in a way, I am glad that this recent "episode" occurred.  It, at the very least, forced me away from the brevity that is my Facebook posts back to my blog.  

So, a great many of the women in my family and circle of friends have been reading E.L. James' 50 Shades of Grey. I have not read the book and have only been privy to a couple of veiled conversational references to it made by an assortment of these women.  However, several days ago I asked a friend what the allure was. After hearing what she thought, I started thinking about the book. I reflected on the global theme of the book and I read about 50 pages of the book. I found it "unappealing". But, that was all I thought of it. However, as I thought more about it, I wondered if the book was about more than just sexual submission. I wondered if Grey was not also submitting to Anastasia; the name does literally mean "she who shall rise up again". I just started thinking. And, in the thinking, I wondered if it would be worth looking at the writing from both a literary and religious perspective.  50 Shades of Grey: an Introspective Examination of Why God Intended for Men and Women to Submit to One Another.   I thought it would get a lot of women into a class and allow them to revisit a writing that most of them had already read. I thought it would be a challenge to examine the writing from a theological perspective. I thought it would illustrate the fact that church and God is life, and doesn't have to be limited to just Sunday morning and bible readings. And, even though I was literally dreading the thought that I would have to actually read the books in order to discuss them, I was prepared to do that.  Besides, this was just the product of my insomnia. It  was just one Facebook post. It was a budding thought that would probably die on page of my overly cluttered writing list.

Sunday came, and during the announcements at my 8:45 service, I mentioned that I wanted some feedback on this budding idea. And, the feedback was immediate. One parishioner contorted her face in what was clear disapproval of the idea. Another friend volunteered to send me more information on the book so that I would have a better understanding of the novel. Both agreed that "we should not discuss this in church."  As the day went on, more friends chimed in. (And, I am being neither contentious nor facetious when I refer to them as friends.)  One gently invited me to participate in a book study that was already established. One friend who was concerned that I would upset the apple cart too early in the life of my new church family, warned that I might want to not attempt such an edgy endeavor. Others could not see how there would be any "Christian" use for such a book or book study. And others wondered why I was seeking to be ousted from the church as a whole. People sent me Facebook posts and inbox messages. It was clear. This was not a good idea. The book was off limits. I heard them all. But, I would like to offer some observations before I lay this ill-planned venture to rest.

 The book is too raunchy to be discussed by good Christians in a church setting. According to my unscientific calculations over 70% of the women in my church, between the ages of 26 and 60, have read the book. They are all Christians. At the same time, less than 30% of my total membership, on any given Sunday, can raise their hand to affirm that they read the bible once during the previous week. This however, may make sense when you consider the fact that there are more than four times the references to illicit sexual acts in the bible than in E.L. James' writing. So, maybe Christians really don't like reading or studying books that reference sexuality. Or, maybe people just have not really read the bible and therefore have no idea as to how much "shady" stuff goes on in it. Either way, I worry that this is further indication that as Christians we seek to put on one face inside the sanctuary and another when we exit.  This does, however, make it difficult for others to know what mask they should wear when they come to visit with and investigate us.  Whatever you think about this issue, one thing is clear.  Being a Christian is neither natural nor easy. And, how we go about doing that is not as black and white as we would have the world believe.  In fact, one might even argue that figuring out how we help others understand our in the world but not of the world existence is a matter of navigating the grey areas of our lives.  

I love you,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Forgiven By God......Now what?


For the past 14 months, I have been reading and teaching from a little book called "The Journey".  It is not a common writing. It is not found in any of your major book stores. And there are several places in the book that I have found grammatical errors. Normally, I would have laid this book down to never return to it, when I found the second grammatical error. However, it was given to me by a friend who asked me to teach a series of lessons from it for a weekend School of Christian Mission.  So, tossing it into the pile of poorly edited rags in my basement was not an option.

So, as a result I began this Journey of reexamining forgiveness, restorative justice and reconciliation. For the first time in my life, I began to really look at forgiveness. And what I have discovered during this journey is soul stirring and heart wrenching.  I have discovered that forgiveness is not a single act, but a process. I have discovered that too often we erroneously teach people that granting forgiveness also releases them from being accountable for their actions. I have discovered that forgiveness is not an act for the other, but is really about releasing the victim from the bondage of hatred, anger and hurt. I have discovered that you can go over forgiveness in a 4 hour session, but to really teach it, you need months of discussion, thought, reteaching, pushing, crying, and praying. But, more than any of these, I have discovered that God forgives us a lot quicker than we forgive ourselves.

Too often we live with the guilt and pain of our past acts long after the victim of our sin and the God of our forgiveness has moved past it.  I am not sure why we do this, but I see the scars of this too often in our churches and on our people. We sit wrapped in the quilt of our own guiltiness in a way that is often unhealthy and unnecessary. I don't know how to explain this. I don't know how to teach people out of this. And, if I were being totally honest, I would admit that I don't know how to escape this state of existence, either. Some time ago, a friend suggested that this is indicative of one's inability to fully accept and appreciate God's forgiveness. I hope that is not true. This friend went on to suggest that we don't fully forgive ourselves because we don't really know how to forgive others. I don't think she was right. I really don't know why we punish ourselves in this way. What I do know is that this "thing" robs us of our lives and of our happiness. And, that is not what God would have for us.

Forgive others. Accept God's forgiveness. Seek the forgiveness of those you have offended or hurt. Forgive yourself and seek to live the life that God has for you.  And, when you have done all of this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul; and your neighbors as yourself.

Be forgiven,

Pastor Jesse

Monday, February 27, 2012

What God Has For Me Is For Me

When I was in my early 20s, my mother-in-law used these words to assure me that even though I was not selected as the pastor of the church I wanted to lead, God was surely going to give me everything that God had for me.  I found little comfort in that statement at that time. I was hurt and had "lost". And, of all the things I was, I was not a good loser. I did not care to hear that what God had for me was for me. As the years have passed, however, this has become one of my favorite "mantras". I use it to reassure people, when they feel as though they have missed out on something or been denied some "thing" that they are sure was theirs to have.  And, it has about the same effect on them as it had on me. It seems to placate their anxiety and disappointment long enough for me to sneak in a prayer and usher them out the office and back into their reality.  And having said that, the truth is that I often still employ this mantra as a balm for my own Gethsemane experiences. It's my favorite. But recently, I was reminded by a friend (I love you Rebecca) that this statement is not only true in terms of the "things", and the positive life experiences that my God has in store for me.  This statement is true of all things. And, it is even true when it comes to my own suffering.

In the middle of an uncomfortable conversation surrounding my desire to avoid (at any cost) the natural consequences of some previous behavior, Becca reminded me that my suffering is mine to own. And, that even if I chose to run from the suffering right now, I would still have to go through it at some point. She actually suggested that I could be forgiven for my actions and still have to endure the consequences and suffering of those same actions.  There is a reason that Becca is not a pastor.  There is a reason that she does not counsel the weak or the spiritually young.  She told the truth that the church too often finds too inconvenient to tell; therefore choosing to gloss over it.  She made me uncomfortable in a way that the church is not willing to do. In that moment, I understood that what God has for me is for me. And, that I have to endure it not because it is my punishment, but because enduring it is the only way to get rid of it. Going through it is required for my own salvation (please don't get to caught up on the word choice). The water that was the consequential death for those of Noah's time, is the same water that baptizes me into life today. It is the same water that nurtured Mary's little baby. It is the same water that Christ rose from to the proclamation that "this is my son in whom I am well pleased".  Suffering and salvation all wrapped up in one, and Christ caring for us all, through it all.

So, today I am thanking God for those two women and praying that whatever God has for you, you are prepared to endure until your morning comes.  I love you. And there is nothing you can do to change that.

Monday, January 2, 2012

How Far Can One Drink Go?

Every since my boys were young, I have had this tradition of traveling early in the morning. I like driving most of the trip in the silence, darkness and solitude that getting up at 3 a.m. provides one. This Saturday morning was no exception. I got up at 2:30 a.m. to start the trek from Alabama to Nebraska with both of my young men in tow. And, like most of the other times I have made this trek, it all started with a stop at the local gas station to fill-up and grab something to drink.

At the gas station, a gentleman engaged me in a conversation as I was laughing to myself about how one block from our starting point, my boys were already sleeping and had already had one fight before they went to sleep (OK, so it was probably 3 blocks). The gentleman was particularly chatty and jovial for 2:30 a.m. And I was particularly impressed by his early morning enthusiasm. As we both headed for the door, I did what I have been taught. I opened the store and held it for him to go in first. It was a very small gesture that I would have done for almost anyone. He was impressed. As we shopped for those things that we needed to start our perspective days, I was too slow and he beat me to the checkout. Then, as I headed to the counter with my drink, I heard him say "Whatever he is getting, add it to my tab."

At that moment I was blown away by a his gesture. The fact that I had only one small item was not important. The fact that I had the money to pay for that item was irrelevant. This was a random act of kindness. This was his way of doing something nice for me. This was a day and a trip changer. So, I started asking myself about the reach of such an act. How far can one random act of niceness go?

What would happen if we each committed ourselves to one random act of kindness during the month of January? Could we make someone's journey a little better? Could that act stretch across 7 states and nine hundred miles? Could that single act influence an entire congregation and potentially an entire denomination? Would people be talking about it weeks after the act was over and "consumed?" What would happen if Matthew 25:31-40 was the way we lived? What would happen if we did what we have been called to do? What if this video was the way we all lived?

Let's find out. Go out this month and perform some random act of kindness, and then let us know (if you want) what that act was. Let us know, as generically as you want, where you showed up as the personification of the Lord you serve.

Newman, where are you?