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    Sermon – Seeing With Your Eyes Closed

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    A Weird Way to Walk

    Sometimes I succumb to boredom and do strange things to amuse myself. Most Sundays now, I come to church early and make sure everything is ready for the service. I adjust the temperature, make sure the soundboard is on. Set up the camera and things like that. One of the other things that I have taken to doing is get here about an hour or so early so I can walk around the gym.

    This falls into my new personal health initiative where I try to eat better, exercise, and keep myself mentally healthy. Usually, I walk around the edge of the basketball court markings following the rectangle painted on the floor. One day, as I was walking around the gym, I started realizing that I was taking 31 steps to go around the long side of the rectangle and 19 steps on the short side. Almost every time I walked the marked path, I ended up with the same number of steps, a 31×19 step path.

    Then, I got a weird idea—I can walk the path without looking—just count my steps and stay in a straight line. Sounds like it makes sense, right? It made sense to me, so I tried it. I closed my eyes and I started walking from the back corner near the door toward the sound booth. I managed to take about fifteen steps and opened my eyes to see how I was doing. At fifteen feet, I was two feet to the left of the line and drifting toward chairs. I moved back to the line and tried to get to the end, but I found myself opening one eye or the other because I felt off balance after realizing that I couldn’t walk the line straight. I tried it for one lap and could walk more than a short distance with my eyes closed without getting off track. Finally, I gave up and decided to bring a book and read while I walked.

    What the Pharisees Couldn’t See

    Pharisees were an interesting and often misunderstood lot. They came into existence around the Maccabean period about a century and a half before Jesus was born. They were a group of devout Jews who wanted to keep the entire will of God. These Jews rejected the Greek and other external influences around them and insisted on knowing and obeying the Law (Torah) of God.

    One of the difficult things about that is dealing with the ambiguity of the Torah. For instance, the Torah says to remember the sabbath and keep it holy, but it doesn’t say what that means. Is it work to walk? How far can I walk before I begin working? If I carry something while I walk is that work? The Pharisees became the group that devised rules to help people answer these questions and keep the Torah.

    Over time the laws of the interpretations of the Pharisees became a tradition which indicated what people could/should do or not do. They became a sort of ‘oral’ Law that was set alongside the ‘written’ Law of Moses. The idea was that if you kept the oral Law you would most likely keep the written Law as well. Some theologians see the Pharisee as a closed group. They only ate with, lived with, hang out with these who were like minded and refused to accept those unlike them. They had some religious authority among the people but no real political clout with the Roman authorities. They were, however, aware of the fact that they needed to be careful of the Roman authorities who saw any unrest as a reason to become stricter with the people they conquered.

    Jesus, like John before him, was challenging the people to live in a way that the religious leaders thought could be construed as insurrection. Jesus was drawing crowds and making a name for himself in a similar way to others before him—others who started revolutions that were put down by Roman authorities. I believe the Pharisees and Sadducees were both afraid of this, for themselves and for their way of life.

    What the religious leaders of Jesus couldn’t see was that the people were not willing to live under Roman rule. They had continually risen and revolted behind one person or another and were not going be held down by what they saw as an oppressive regime no matter how well the religious leaders got along with Rome. Even without Jesus teaching, a sense of nationalistic pride drove a large enough population of the Jews that more intense conflict with Rome was inevitable, Jesus or not, something that would come to a head in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. This destruction was the cultural and societal backdrop for the Jewish writers who penned the first three gospels of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

    Whose Authority

    When they come to Jesus with a question of authority, I think they were hoping that they could find put an end to Jesus ministry. Maybe they thought they could turn the people against Jesus or get him to say something that would considered treasonous and have him arrested by the Roman authorities—something that would happen later and lead to Jesus crucifixion. But for the moment, Jesus decides to spring their little trap for them and ask a question of his own,

    I have a question for you. If you tell me the answer, I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?

    And now the trappers are trapped,

    If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But we can’t say ‘from humans’ because we’re afraid of the crowd, since everyone thinks John was a prophet.

     In other words, affirming John’s authority will also affirm Jesus’ authority. So, they answer that they don’t know, and Jesus says he will not tell them whose authority he does these things by.

    Then Jesus goes on to tell a parable about two sons, each is asked to go into the vineyard and work for their father. The first refuses at first but then goes into the field. The second son says he will go into the vineyard but then chooses not to go. Jesus asks the religious leaders which son did the father’s will and they answer the first. Jesus then goes on to say that the prostitutes and tax collectors—the socially undesirables, the outcasts, the lowest of the low—heard John’s message and repented. They had originally led lives that we against the will of God but changed. The religious leaders on the other hand, claim to be hearing and following the Spirit of God and the direction of the Law of Moses but instead create loopholes and burdens with their ‘oral’ Law interpretations. They are trying to lead people to walk after God with their eyes closed, using the ‘oral’ Law to blind the people to Spirit of God.

    Are Your Eyes Open

    We too find ourselves with the same choice of the first and second sons, the choice of religious leaders who dug into their traditions and rules and those outcasts who changed their lives and truly followed after God following John and then Jesus. Many of us have chosen the rules and traditions because honestly, they are easier. It’s easier to have a set of dos and don’ts that seem to be spelled out for us. But relationships are not rule based. They are messy and unpredictable, and they take work. Engaging God in the Way of Jesus isn’t about following rules but about spending time with a person, learning about that person, and learning to imitate that person not with certain rules but with a certain way of being a person.

    And now we must ask ourselves: do we chose the way of ‘oral’ Law and traditions that rob us of a relationship or do we choose the relationship and the Way of Life that is messy, difficult, but worth it in the end.


    What are we doing?

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    Last week, I sat in my home office in a Zoom meeting with other clergy from the Rock Hill District. We went through the usual: prayer and prayer requests, announcements, and for this time of year, questions about charge conferences. These are all standard, normal things to talk about and in all honesty, the combination of fighting the flu and boredom at the same time was almost enough to make me excuse myself and lean into being sick.

    Around the time I was feeling “sicker enough” to step away, we started discussing an article sent to us by the DS called, “Six Reasons Your Pastor is About to Quit” by Thom Rainer (https://churchanswers.com/blog/six-reasons-your-pastor-is-about-to-quit/). This wasn’t the first article I’ve heard about addressing the subject of pastor burnout or people leaving the ministry but it was recent so I thought I would hang around for the discussion. I’m glad I did because that discussion led someplace the article did not necessarily point to and an interesting subject: paradigm shifts.

    Paradigm shifts are an interest of mine, sort of an off shoot of human behavior. In my way of thinking, paradigm shifts or changes in the way we think about ideas, is at the heart of following Jesus. When Jesus came on the scene, his first sermons were about paradigm shifts, Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The word repent is the Greek word metanoia which literally means, change your direction, of put another way, shift your paradigm. In essence, we are constantly shifting our understanding of paradigm to match that of Jesus as we are led by the Holy Spirit in our following of Jesus.

    Back to the meeting. As we talked about the challenges pastors deal with—various theologies and politics among church members, pastoring in the time of Covid, expectations and responsibilities of family, church, and denomination—I began to think about something, something a little uncomfortable, a little subversive, a little dangerous.

    We. Are. Doing. This. Wrong.

    My thoughts went back to the early church and a paradigm shift I believe made much of the New Testament’s church’s faith and practice foreign to us. Before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, the church was a persecuted, growing, but still minor religion. Most early Christians worshiped not in official buildings but in private homes. The teachings of Christianity were a practice to be lived not a dogma, a way of life rather than a declaration. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, an official theology needed to be declared, official buildings needed to be erected to declare the glory of God and the glory of the empire. It was a compromise that made life easier for Christians but what I see as true Christianity harder to live. The focus went from people to institutions, from discipleship to membership, from way of life to declaration of creed and confession. Personally, I think the church—with the exception of a few revival/renewal movements—became shadow of what it was and was intended it to be.

    I imagine some of you reading this are thinking, Yeah. Okay. Is that so bad? What would we do about it? I’m glad I assumed you asked. For the next several weeks, I’ll be writing about this very subject:

    • How do we create innovative ideas for people to grow instead of looking for ways to preserve the institutions we are part of?
    • How do we move from making church members to making disciples?
    • How do we move from defending creeds, declarations, and confessions to embracing a way of life?

    Stay tuned. If we open our minds and hearts, I imagine this could be very interesting.


    A Parable

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    A certain Dreamer woke from a restless sleep of strange and uncomfortable visions. The visions were an odd assortment of images and scenes that seemed like lives lived by other people but through the Dreamer. Only one thing seemed to make any sense. As the man awoke, he saw a vision of light and heard these words, “Live the gospel.” While he wasn’t sure exactly what to do, he felt he must do something to heed the words of his vision.

    As he began to wonder about the gospel and how to live it, he remembered several people, acquaintances really, who called themselves or were called by other people believers or followers of Jesus. While the man did not himself know how he might live out the gospel, perhaps one his acquaintances would. Making his mind up to answer the call in his vision, the Dreamer sought out the first of these people to learn from.

    The first person was a righteous man. The righteous man greeted the Dreamer warmly and asked what he could do to help. The Dreamer told him of the vision and explained his desire to answer the vision’s call. The righteous man was overjoyed! He began to show the Dreamer many things from the bible and encouraged the Dreamer to learn the words by heart. The Dreamer was taught by the righteous man—on God’s behalf of course—that only by memorizing the words, knowing the rules, and believing the right ideas could he ever know the gospel. The Dreamer also had to learn that anyone who disagreed with the righteous man or his ideas was a heretic, an agnostic, an atheist, an apostate, and many other words that separated the righteous man from other ‘lesser’ believers.

    The Dreamer felt something was wrong but did not know how to express this to the righteous man without loosing their friendship. One night as he slept, the man had another vision of the light and once more, it spoke to him.  “Seek the gospel.” The next day he told the righteous man about his vision and the man was insulted. Obviously, the Dreamer wasn’t listening to him because he had been telling him what the gospel was. The Dreamer was resisting the Spirit and the truth and not listening to what he had been taught. As he told the Dreamer the words, the Spirit spoke again to the Dreamer, “Seek the gospel.” With that he left the righteous man to his indignation.

    The second person the Dreamer went to see was the scholar. The scholar listened to the Dreamer and when the story was told, the scholar went to his bookshelf and began getting materials together. He began explaining to the Dreamer that the key to the gospel was being able to properly define it in its time and its context. After all, if you can’t define the gospel by using the traditions, histories, creeds, and other interpretations, you can’t really know it. You will forever be talking about a thing you do not understand. The Dreamer read through book after book, one explanation after another, relating the history, nature of, power of the gospel to the point that he felt he was drowning in the information. As the scholar lectured, the Dreamer heard a familiar voice in his mind speak into his soul, “Seek the gospel.” Quietly, as the scholar wrote ancient words and quotes on a blackboard, the Dreamer slipped out of the classroom to continue his search.

    Dejected, the Dreamer found himself wandering through the busy streets of town. All around there was the buzz of activity as business hawked their wares and restaurants sent the aroma of good food into the air. Near a coffee shop, the Dreamer saw a man sitting against the outside wall near the door. He was obviously homeless, a beggar trying to survive from one day to the next. A voice spoke to his heart and said, “Watch,” as a woman stepped out of the coffee shop. She walked up to the beggar and handed him a sandwich and a cup of coffee along with a small bag of food for later, She sat down next to him on the sidewalk and talked for a few minutes before leaning over to give him a hug and walking down the street. Intrigued, the Dreamer followed, and they walked to a thrift store. Inside, she changed into a smock and began sorting clothes into piles to be washed, picking her way through dirty, discarded garments and getting them ready to wash. When the clothes were sorted, she walked to the front of the store where she talked with a few of the customers inside, even paying for a few extra things for those who could not afford them.

    Finally, the woman left and walked down the street to a hospice care home at the end of the road. The Dreamer walked in a stood just out of sight as the woman went to a cupboard and brought out a tea set for a group of ladies seated around a table. She mad tea and got out cookies to snack on as they sat and enjoyed their tea. When the tea was finished, the woman took out a book and began reading to the ladies. In all this, the woman was bringing warmth to their final days and moments in this life.

    The voice rose up inside the Dreamer’s mind and heart and said, “This is gospel. The good news is not a thing to be believed but to be lived. Go and do likewise.”


    Learning New Things


    About a year and a half ago, I sent in a DNA sample to ancestry.com. The initial results came back and were not much of a surprise. It said I was mostly English/Norman French, a little Scots-Irish, and slight bit Norwegian. The thing about Ancestry and other companies that are engaged in this kind of work is that they are always updating their techniques and technology. The hope is that they have better diagnostic tools that can give more in-depth answers by digging deeper into the genetics.

    On a whim, I decided the other day to check on my account and found that there had been some updates, big updates in fact. As of their best guess now, I am 59% English/Norman French, 24% Scottish, 7% Norwegian, 5% Swedish, 3% Welsh, and 2% Irish. For a guy that grew up being told his family was predominantly Irish, this was a bit of a surprise. This was a bit of a revelation to me as I never knew I had any Scandinavian blood and no idea that I had that much Scottish blood. For anyone other than me, this is a glut of boring, positively meaningless facts. But they are, to me, an explanation in part of the genetic makeup that is me.

    All the test results aside, what fascinates me is that the results can change because there are better tools available to the scientists doing the testing. The newer tools at their disposal found certain genetic markers that would not have shown up in the past. These refinements allow for future testing to be even more accurate as the science continues to be refined and developed.

    In much the same way, my faith has been refined through the years. While God is no different, my understanding of God and who God is and how I relate to God has changed considerably. First, it had to do with learning about the bible by being given certain tools like topical bibles and concordances to help me begin learning to study. As I learned more about these tools in college, I was also given other tools—books from noted scholars through the ages, and new ways of studying God and the bible. I began to accumulate more and more of these tools and then in seminary I acquired even more precise tools that helped me to learn things like biblical languages, historical context, cultural definition, and other means of study that speak to the bible and our understanding of God in both academic and personal ways.

    In all of this I have discovered something very important: I don’t have God figured out and I never will. I daresay neither does or will anyone else for the simple reason that if their finite mind were able to understand the infinite God we claim our belief in, then God would no longer be infinite because we would have explained God. And a God that can be defined and figured out to that degree isn’t much of a God. When it comes to our advances in understanding the ancient text and culture it was written in, we find tools that have gotten better through the years—history, archaeology, anthropology, and other social sciences—and can now open the doors of understanding even wider. Yet even with all that, we are still as Paul says “seeing through a glass darkly” or in other words, seeing shadows of things but not the thing itself.

    I thought about all this considering the passage from a week ago from Romans 14,

    Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion. One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don’t, and the ones who don’t eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand). One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God. This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. Because it is written,

    As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.

    So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

    I say all that to simply say this: don’t be quick to pass judgement on what you think you know when none of us knows nearly enough. What might seem clear and direct to our understanding may not be so much so if we were better informed of had better tools to work with. Our experience may give us insight into our way of seeing but it cannot give us complete insight into all things otherwise, we’d be God. Be patient with those who disagree with you. Be encouraging to those who, like you are still walking their path on their journey. Be open to instruction from the Holy Spirit, even it means learning things you may not have always thought of in that way.



    Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

    Since the pandemic started in earnest this past spring, I have been driving Heather to work and back most days. It started as a way to have a little time together since our family was at home all the time during the early days of Covid but over time it became the norm. With school starting back, it has become a necessity since we have two kids going to school at different times and one of them driving herself on a different schedule than the rest of us. Suffice it to say, this little daily activity has given Heather and I a lot of time to talk while going to and from her office.

    One of our recent conversations found us talking about the idea of vocation and life calling and she asked me, “What is your calling?” For those in ministry this is a common question that we ask ourselves on a regular basis. Many ministers—myself included—find the answer to this question changes with the seasons of life at least in terms of the details and way the calling is carried out. At first, I tried to answer her by talking about various ideas about calling and the purpose of calling and vocation—seminary speak in truth—but my wife was asking a very specific question and was not dissuaded by anything other than a very specific answer.

    Finally, I quit the theology and got to the personal answer of calling. My answer: to be a disciple to make disciples. Sounds simple, right? It’s the answer found throughout the gospels especially when Jesus is talking to his disciples at the end of Matthew 28 and gives them their marching orders going forward: Go, make disciples. Get out into the community and the rest of the world and find people to teach the stuff I taught to you so they can mature in their faith and understanding of the Way of Jesus and then in turn teach other people.

    As I thought about my calling and Jesus words of calling to the disciples, I began to think about the state of the church and how we find ourselves here and now with declining membership and communal influence. Many would say it has to do with everything from a changing world and values to liberalism to conservatism to the imminent return of Jesus. While those things might play a part in it, I don’t think it has to do with any one of those things. I see them as results more than causes. I think the problem is we have become a religion that has made church members but failed to make disciples. We have traded a lifestyle and way of being for creeds and confessional statements. We have become a people who says things about God rather than a people who follows the Spirit of God.

    For years now, centuries even in some expressions of the Church, we have used the litmus test of believing rather than being. The test of believing calls us only to offer intellectual assent or mental agreement to certain statements about God or the church: The Apostle’s Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Articles of Religion, and others like them. While these things are good at helping us understand certain ideas about God, they are not a substitute for the Way of Life we are called to as disciples. I believe the true calling, the calling that will draw people to presence of God and the Way of Jesus are teachings of Jesus from the gospels: The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 25’s discussion of sheep and goats, The Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians. These are not just statements about what we think, these are teachings about how to be and encourage others to be. I believe many people in the Church has come to think that the statements and declarations of and about God are more important than how they are supposed to live out the Way of Being those documents point to, even when people say otherwise. In this case, the proof is in the actions and the current state of our Church has seen little to no action. Being a disciple—as the gospels illustrate—is giving up the life you thought you wanted for a better life in the Kingdom. It is putting aside self and embracing Jesus as master (one who knows the greater way and is willing to teach you) and lord (one whom you submit to having authority over you and your life). Being a disciple is learning from the teacher to become one who teaches others and the curriculum is a Way of Life and being not a set of propositions to argue about.

    There seems to me to be a massive divide in our Church culture between those who declare and those who do. Declaring is easy. Offering your assent or agreement to an idea is easy. Living the way of Jesus is challenging. Living the Way takes work. When it comes to being a disciple, we are called to a Way of Life and being, to not only know but to do what we know. It is my hope that those who claim the title of Christian as those who profess belief will be willing to exchange that for the title of disciple as those who follow Jesus, for the sake of the Kingdom and the Creation it is here to restore.


    Why Were You Sent


    Learning a trade or a craft from someone requires a lot of things from the student. The student must be disciplined enough to follow instructions over and over and dedicated enough to believe in the what the master is teaching. The student must also practice for hours, days, weeks, years, to master the craft and be able to practice the necessary skills well enough to do it on their own. If the student cannot be dedicated and disciplined, they will likely fail as a student, learning the craft poorly or not at all.

    Jesus talks of learning the craft of discipleship in Luke 6. He talks to the disciples about learning to be like but not greater than the teacher. He talks about seeing the student being able to see their faults before seeing the faults of others—a practice teaching humility—and he talks about good fruit having to come from good plants. These are all great lessons in and of themselves, but Jesus is using them, I think, to lead into something else, something jarring but necessary for the disciples to hear.

    Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?

    This almost seems like common sense and in truth it should be. If Jesus is master/teacher/rabbi/lord, it seems common sensical to allow ourselves to be taught and then to follow the teaching. Unfortunately, much of Christian theology has tried to move the focus of being Jesus’ disciples toward a type of belief more interested in confessions and proclamations and less focused on learning and following the actual teachings. Why? I think the answer is simple: the teachings are hard. The teachings call us to do things that are, many times, in opposition to the way our culture has developed over the past two millennia. The teachings call us to connect with and serve the poor, the disenfranchised, the outcast, the immigrant, and the enemy. They call us to put aside self, comfort, and status, to embrace these ideals taught by Jesus. They call us to see the world in an almost upside-down way from what we are taught and see our success in life as being nearly the opposite of what many, if not most, people in our culture see it.

    The fact is Jesus is only master and Lord when we not only believe but act according to his teachings—teachings that extend far beyond moral platitudes—and live as true followers of the Way. What we need, as followers of Jesus, is to either do as the master/Lord has said or renounce our claim to call him that.


    Growing Up


    I just spent 180 some odd dollars on back to school stuff for the kiddos. Among the items were a backpack, specialty tools for geometry, lots of pens & pencils, and assorted other things feel into various categories of needed or might need. One thing that struck me as odd or curious was the differences in specifics for the sixth grader and the junior in high school. Donovan needed certain items and certain amounts of them: 96 pencils, 4 packs of notebook paper, 1 set of page dividers, etc. Avery had a list of things, but the amounts were designated enough for the year or as required by school projects. In other words, there is some discretion for how much you need as you get older and as an older student, you know if you need forty sheets of loose-leaf paper a week or four.

    I think there is something to be learned from this in the way we approach God. Much of our traditions and habits of worship—be it liturgy, music, preaching styles, teaching—are intended to act as training wheels of the faith. As we get older our spiritual balance gets better, we should be able to take the training wheels off and ride without them. What I mean by this is, when start your journey of faith, these training wheels are there to help you develop some basic ideas understanding about God and the Way of Jesus. Most of our practices that are communal are just that for the community—the entire community, first steps to final steps, no matter where they are in their journey. Mature practices, those of disciples that have been walking the path for years, sometimes decades are things that require deeper, more critical thinking about what we believe and our way of practicing those beliefs (remember, you don’t really believe until you put it into practice).

    Many people, I would say unfortunately most, who have been members of churches for a long time, are still trying to use the training wheels. They are still focused on the parts of the journey intended for those taking their first steps and focused quite often in unhealthy ways. When challenged to move to the next stages in the journey, some become quite defensive even angry at the thought of being seen as immature while wanting to persist in the practices of the beginner. Others may say things like, “I’m just a simple Christian. I’m only able to do the basics.” We are called to learn the basics and simplicity can be a virtue but reveling in immaturity is not. Paul says to the Ephesians,

    He [God] gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. — Ephesians 4:11-16

    Maturity in the faith is goal. To use another metaphor, staying in the shallows and splashing around isn’t an option for the disciple past a certain point. We are called to dive into the deeps so that we can learn the riches in the depths and teach them to others while teaching them to dive deep as well. Otherwise, we all end up being children playing on the sand and never becoming what we were meant to be.




    Years ago, just after Heather and I were married, we went on what I considered a dream trip. We traveled out west and spent the better part of a week at Rocky Mountain National Park near the little town of Estes Park, Colorado. We hiked, camped, and wandered all over the general area from the campground around the lake to the town proper. We hiked up to the boulder field in the shadows of Long’s Peak, though we only it made it part way before we turned back because of snow and ice. For a week we lived in a picturesque wilderness and enjoyed it as home. I even tracked down a newspaper at one point and looked for jobs in the hopes of staying. A seed was planted, and from that point on, I returned to the idea of moving west on a regular basis, though I had no idea how it might happen.

    Fast forward a decade or so. I was sitting in a library conference room at Asbury, talking to a district superintendent from the Rocky Mountain Conference. During my seminary experience, I had a series of aha moments and had begun to explore faith and theology beyond the bounds of my upbringing and early adulthood. Moving west appeared to provide an opportunity to not only get back to the mountains but to also be part of a conference where I could do some theological and ministerial exploring. I happily joined the ranks of the commissioning class of 2015 with the hopes that I could wander not only the Rocky Mountains but new faith mountains and pastures as well.

    When we moved to Colorado, our family found a house in a neighborhood near the church I was appointed to serve. At the time I was excited to be living so near the mountains less than an hour from Mount Herman. I was hopeful that I might get to spend ample free time wandering the mountainous forests and boulder fields. The mountains were calling, and I thought I should go. From our home the view was nearly all the same: a house on either side, a house in front, a house in back. There was one window on the top floor that faced Mount Herman and if you sat on the bed and looked up rather than out, you got a beautiful panoramic view of the Rampart Range. Otherwise, you saw a generic looking subdivision, not unlike the other dozen or so in Monument.

    My theological view wasn’t much different. The conference thought I would be well matched with a successful pastor who had graduated from the same seminary as me. The truth was, he was only willing to accept another minister under appointment if they came from our shared school. I was the only one with youth ministry experience, woeful as mine was. Our theological and personal differences were so extreme, I only stayed a year before being moved to a nice quiet hamlet on the edge of the Black Hills, which interestingly enough, was closer to what I had hoped for in Colorado. My dreams of exploring mountains and theology were somewhat dashed or the very least seen through a glass darkly. The Colorado I had hoped for and the conference I had hoped to be a part of didn’t really materialize. As I was wrapping up ordination, Heather was applying to graduate school back east and we felt the need to be back closer to family. I found an opening in the South Carolina Conference and well, here I am.

    The journey of my dreams out west taught me some things. Mostly, you don’t necessarily see the whole picture, even if you are looking for it (which I wasn’t). My idea of life in Colorado was based on a single trip—one vacation taken decade earlier—to a very particular part of Colorado at a certain time of year under specific circumstances. My idea of ministry in Colorado was based on a freedom I thought I would find among like minded people and the truth ended up being most people were entrenched on one side or the other of the great battle for the denomination called United Methodist. As much as I wanted to be there and be a part of things, my desires for what ministry is and should be (evolving as they were and continue to be) were not the same and I found I didn’t fit in either camp (a still don’t).

    Looking back, I’m glad I went out west, glad I was ordained there, glad I got to see the other side of the camp so to speak. Mostly I’m glad I had the chance to reorient my perspective and step away from some misconceptions. Perhaps that is the greater lesson. It is only when we stop running toward the things we think we see, and step away from the situations we are in, then we see where we are that we can truly have perspective. The Way of Jesus offers us this if we are willing to embrace it above and before all other ideas and ways of life.


    Being and Becoming


    “Everything changes and nothing stands still.”—Heraclitus

    “After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives and trust this good news!”—Mark 1:14-15

    Change is a funny thing. On the one hand, we recognize it is inevitable, it is going to happen. We say things like, “Only two things in life are guaranteed: death and taxes.” We look in the mirror and watch ourselves age from childhood to adulthood to old age, all while encouraging or discouraging the result. We can look at the world today see clearly that it is not the world of our yesterday.

    On the other hand, we struggle against this inevitable change. We try exercise and special diets to combat the aging of our internal bodies while using an assortment of chemical concoctions to keep the outside looking and seeming younger. We hang on to the things of our youth, things keeping life change at bay: music, clothes, culture, ideas and are loath to give them up. We talk about the good old days as though they were the perfection of our civilization, a way of life to return to in order to feel right about the world.

    Change is also something out of our control, something that will happen whether we like it or not. It is happening as we speak, everything on this planet, in this universe, is changing. Everything from the molecular structure of the flowers outside to the ideas about culture which will be prevalent today but gone tomorrow, all of it is growing, becoming, ceasing to be what it was. It is being altered into something not quite as it was.

    For some of us, this acceptable. Some recognize it is simply how things God has ordered in the universe. For others, it is a frightening movement in a direction that is at the least fearful to travel. Many if not most of us find it to be a mixed bag where we accept some kinds of change but not all of the change. Things like aging can be conceded to change but things like belief and culture, not so much. I think the level of acceptance seems to be limited to those things which have the least immediate effect.

    There is also a kind of change that really isn’t change at all. It’s really more of a superficial, fadish thing which doesn’t actually change anything in a deep, meaningful way but simply makes it appear to be something new on the outside. It’s kind of like fad diets or exercise programs for the soul: you think it’s great for a while, show all your friends you’re doing it, then get bored with it, put it back in a box, and put it on a shelf somewhere. This isn’t real life change. This is being aware of social trends and finding a bandwagon to ride.

    The truth of the matter is change is central to the Way of Jesus. In fact, the Way of Jesus is the way of change because the goal of following Jesus is become like Jesus, to change into a kind of living version of Jesus in the here and now. We become “a new creation” as Paul writes, and that new creation is something which leaves the old ways, old culture, old way of being behind. We no longer live for ourselves but for the goal of becoming like Jesus as little imitation of Christ. In order to do this, we must embrace change as we let go of self. This process of letting go of self to embrace change is central to what the Way fo Jesus calls us to do and be.

    In so many ways, the greater Church finds itself at a crossroads. We are looking at being a quarter of the way through the twenty-first century in a few years. What have we really accomplished in the grander scheme of things, going the direction we are now? Church division? In fighting? Distancing ourselves from the people we are seeking to make disciples of? Good change is like good trouble: we need to get into some on a regular basis. Who knows? Maybe good change can bring healing to some of the wounded in the Church and some of those the Church has wounded.



    Winston Churchill was rather quotable, probably because he talked a lot, but also, because he was well spoken. One of my favorites came out from a radio broadcast in 1939 when he said, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” Mark chapter five isn’t quite a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but it does have has a story that is a double feature: a story told inside another story. The two stories capture a similar idea which is why, I believe, they are told together, perhaps so that one reiterates the other and helps us to see the bigger point.

    The story starts off with Jairus a man on a mission. That mission is saving his daughter’s life since she has fallen ill—near to death—and the physicians can’t seem to figure out why. Jairus decides to try a last-ditch attempt to save her by seeking Jesus. Maybe the prophet from Galilee, the one who is known as a miracle worker, can work the miracle of saving his daughter. Jairus tracks down Jesus and begs his to save the girl, which Jesus agrees to, and the disciples along with a crowd follow. Within the crowd is the second story, one of equal desperation to the first. A woman is among the crowd whose last hope seems to be Jesus as well. She trails along behind the Galilean with one thing on her mind, “If I can just touch the fabric of his robe, just get close enough to brush against it, maybe I can be healed.”

    While narrated as two different things, this is same story twice told. Both are stories of desperation, of last hope, of dreams that may never be. Jairus faces the loss of his daughter, a child whose life has not yet truly begun. Any parent can see how you would do anything or everything to save your child if you faced those circumstances. The woman within the crowd suffered from a hemorrhage, a constant physical suffering that led to emotional and social suffering. The bleeding she dealt with made her ‘unclean’ in the eyes of the Jewish community and therefore outside the community as one who many may have thought was being punished by God (look up retribution theology for a detailed explanation). In both cases, the desire to be healed drives the woman and Jairus to do whatever is necessary.

    That makes me wonder. When it comes to our relationship with God how desperate are we? Are we desperate enough to seek healing from God for the emotional and spiritual damage of our lives? Are we desperate enough to put aside ego and pride to seek God no matter the cost? Are we willing to do the hard work of being attentive to the leading and teaching of the Spirit so that we can change to become more like Jesus, to step onto the Jesus Way in a fuller, more surrendered way? Are we willing to live the Way of Jesus no holds barred, no retreat, no regrets?

    How much do we really want the Kingdom of God and how much do we want our own kingdoms?

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