SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Christian (Page 1 of 6)

Why #givegrace?

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

© All rights reserved by mollie | corbett | photography

This past Sunday we gathered as a community to eat together and to hear about how our financial resources continue to allow us to live into God’s call for our life together as a congregation. Some of us met each other for this first time — over half of attendees at the meal have been with us twelve months or less — others were able to finally catch up with friends and neighbors.

We have much to celebrate. Our children and youth ministry continue to grow and each weekend we have many guests that are looking for a place to call home. Those that are new to our community speak to our welcoming atmosphere as a primary reason why they choose to return. Our new people describe our congregation as loving, kind, and filled with energy. Wherever I go in Shreveport folks tell me that they have heard great things about our church.

We are blessed in so many ways!!

As I walked away from our time together on Sunday afternoon I began to wonder about the impact that our congregation has had, is having, and will have in the future. I began to wonder about the stories that illustrate our impact, that tell of the many ways that we are encountering God in this place and of the ways that this place is helping each of us see God in places unexpected.

I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have received it!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we cannot help but respond in generosity!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that our congregation is needed in this city and beyond!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because there are so many children, youth, and adults experiencing God’s unconditional love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are finding healing from our addictions, freedom from the things that keep us bound, and redemption into new life, abundance, and joy!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a unique community called by God to provide a place for ALL people!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because everywhere I go I meet people who have disconnected from the church and are looking for a place where they can be who God has called them to be!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our identity is rooted in service of neighbor, especially those who would be easily forgotten, who have been ignored!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we have been called to be a diverse community that reflects God’s love for ALL people, no matter our story!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we are a community willing to live in the tension of unanswered questions and the messiness of life stories!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we believe God is found in unexpected places!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because our only requirement to come to the table is to be hungry for Jesus!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because we know that being a follower of Jesus is more than just showing up at church or talking about Jesus, it’s about loving ALL and growing in that love!
I want us to #givegrace in 2017 because only together we can live into our call to welcome, love, and serve!

I am so thankful and honored to be one of your many leaders. Leading in this season towards a fruitful and life-giving future is challenging but extremely rewarding. Leading in this season inspires me because our unique community is sorely needed.

So why will you #givegrace in 2017? Tell me in the comments here on the blog or in the Facebook comments. I cannot wait to read of all the ways that inspire you to make our 2017 ministry possible!

Very Married: A Review

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The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.

Gabriel García-Márquez

The music begins and the couple walks proudly and anxiously towards the future, a future together. Decisions have been made, preparations completed, and now it’s time for covenant making, vow taking, or maybe just contract signing. No matter what, life together begins.

As one who gets the joy of witnessing and officiating at these public/private, sacred/secular, end/beginning type of events I’ve often wondered if there is something that can prepare the couple for this momentous event. Would this couple take vows if their future life together was revealed to them? Would that vision help them discern or prepare them?

Maybe it’s best that Hallmark cards, romantic comedies, Instagram pictures, and the wedding industry monopolize the marriage press! Or maybe we were just waiting for Katherine Willis Pershey to provide us with the revelation that all engaged and married couples needed, a revelation of the beauty and trials of married life.

Very Married: Fieldnotes on Love and Fidelity is not for the faint of heart. Pershey’s poetic prose leads us openly yet carefully through the landscape of married life. As she aptly tells us the “agony, ecstasy, and tedium of wedlock.” (18) This is not the stuff that we are used to hearing about nor the kind of journey that we expect from one who is both married and who officiates at marriages. Yet Very Married is the book needed to awaken all of us to the beauty, reality, and poetry that is life together.

Very Married sets itself apart in how humbly it speaks to those of us who have ears to hear. Pershey’s tone is rooted in the Christian practice of testimony, the humble recognition of God’s presence in the midst of life. This testimony is not just an individual encounter with God but the result of living life in covenant with another. Her vulnerability and honesty are palpable as she guides us through the inner life of one who desires to live life together with another yet found herself ill-prepared for the reality of what that meant.

As she tells her story we quickly realize that all of us come to life together unprepared and yet it is there, in our willingness to recognize the mystery, that grace comes visiting, that blessing becomes activated.

My favorite part of the wedding ceremony is the blessing of the marriage. As I wrap my stole around the hands of the couple I invoke the Spirit. I ask for the Spirit to make them fruitful, to make them one, to help them recognize, like Pershey, that “I know now, and I am known now, in marriage.”

This knowing comes with joys and sorrows. It tests our capacity to be faithful, to stay attentive to our chosen over the long term. It tests our capacity to forgive, to reconcile, and to begin again. It also tests our capacity to love another as we live life with them.

There is yet more for us to know of each other, physically, spiritually, emotionally. And as husband and wife we have the incredible freedom to explore each other without hesitation or shame.

Katherine Willis Pershey in Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity, 94

The struggles of life together challenge our self-centeredness, immaturity, and desire for control. God uses this way of life to transform us, or as my United Methodist tradition calls it, to “sanctify” us. Pershey’s willingness to share with us her journey in grace allows all of us to identify the God moments in our own relationships and to recognize that “even a family’s sorrows give way to gratitude, eventually.”(164) Pershey’s candor reminds us that perseverance, tenacity, and humility are key components to becoming very married.

Katherine Willis Pershey does not shy away from the difficult topics connected to married life. From pre-marital sexuality, infidelity, and submission to same-sex marriage, divorce, and death, Pershey guides us with humor, humility, and understanding. Like a faithful pastor, she shines a light behind the closed doors of covenant life. Along the way she gives us hope that in the midst of the many challenges that marriage faces today “[t]here’s no shame in needing covenant to live.”(210)

So take up and read! In Very Married we are gifted with an invitation to a new-old way of living life together. Pershey gifts us with a faithful blueprint to the daily rebuilding of this thing we call marriage. Now is up to us, letting our very married life end daily by making love and following the blueprint to rebuild it, again and again, before breakfast!

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Thankful to Herald Press for providing me an advanced copy of the book for this review.

And With Your Spirit

Ritual is the way we (learn to) believe with our bodies.
James K.A. Smith in Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

There were no announcements, no instructions, no words of welcome, and no introductions. We gathered, called by the melodious sounds of music. We settled into our places, hushed, by a few chords on the instrument. Before we knew it, we were worshipping.

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Abbey Church at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Benedict, Louisiana

I’ve been to mass many times. Parishioner’s family funeral, weddings, and the occasional “stop” to worship. I love the worship rhythms of this ancient tradition, its sensuality, earthiness, and aesthetic. I love how those around me know by heart the movements, gestures, and words. I love how you can “sneak in” and still feel part of what is happening, even if you don’t know the choreography.

I am not saying that it is perfect. Sitting in Mass reminded me how thankful I am that our tradition includes women as leaders. I also longed to partake of the Eucharist alongside my brothers and sisters. For the un-initiated it could be intimidating: with its movement, responses, and gesturing. And there are a series of other important theological differences that make Wesleyan Christianity my home.

In the end I’ll have to say that from the moment I entered the space — with its smell of incense, the baptismal waters, the gathered community kneeling as they prayed — I began to be transported into God’s presence.

I wish those of us in the protestant tradition would lean more towards this kind of kinetic aesthetic. I think at times we are too “chatty,” explaining too much, acknowledging too much, and moving too fast. We leave little room for silence and we certainly struggle with using our bodies.

It is our bodies that open the door for the holy to shape us into a sanctified people. It is our bodies that move us into a life of discipleship. Theologian James K.A. Smith tells us:

[P]ractices — communal, embodied rhythms, rituals, and routines that over time quietly and unconsciously prime and shape our desires and most fundamental longings.

We need these movements, silence, and common language to fully experience God’s transformative presence. Our ministry of hospitality should extend in worship as we “teach” each other what it means to worship in this place, at this time.

Our Christian tradition is rich with ritual, movement, and embodied practices. Our Wesleyan heritage is rooted in an experienced grace, through sacrament, through looking over one another in love, through study and reflection on God’s word, and through worship on the Lord’s Day.

My prayer is that we find ways to move, to bow, to kneel, to raise our hands, to pray together, to hear God in the silence, to allow the smells and sounds to call our bodies to a posture of prayer. Our bodies becoming visible temples of the Holy Spirit.

Reading, Writing, & Listening

The aim of church leaders should be to balance active ministry and compassion for our neighbors with prayer and a life of study and contemplation, so that our hearts dwell constantly with God and at the same time are mindful of the needs of others.

Christopher A. Beeley in Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today

2012-10-20 13.21.14I have heard it again and again. At the core of pastoral life is a life of prayer, study, solitude, and active listening. These are key postures of the Christian life, of our discipleship. If pastoral leaders are to lead the Christian community into a deeper relationship to God and neighbor, then it makes sense that we are leading the way by example.

Life happens though. Our plates get filled up with meetings, “emergencies,” and general “busyness.” I am not sure what my “busyness” was exactly in 2012 but I found myself in busy mode often. Then there are our other responsibilities in our home and in relationships, the “stuff of life.”

Some years ago I wrote a short New Year’s post called The Yearly Examen. There I called on all of us to look back at the year as part of our “examination of life” and begin to see the places and times where God seemed fully present and the places and times where God seemed absent. It has been an exercise that has produced much fruit in my life through the years.

This year as I began this exercise some weeks ago I began to notice a hunger in my soul for more prayer, more study, more contemplation. I recognize how little writing I had done outside of my weekly sermons and church communication, how little reading I had done outside of the “required” stuff, how little listening I had done in meetings, gatherings, and in daily life.

Now that I knew the places where I could shine a light on God’s work in me I had to do something about it. These are not resolutions, these are goals for the year. I am thankful that I have found some companions to share this journey with in 2013.

With my brother Joshua Hale (@expatminister) I plan to read four books this year and blog some reflections on them at Liturgical Nerds. We are beginning with Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life by Scott Cairns, followed by  Isabel Best’s The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D. Stephen Long’s Keeping Faith: An Ecumenical Commentary on the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith of The United Methodist Church, and James K.A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. I look forward to this journey with Josh as we read, write, and listen to what God is up to in us through these texts.

On January 2011 I embarked on a Bible in 90 journey that included daily blogging on the portion of scripture that spoke to me that day. This year I embark again on a Bible in 90 adventure but this time I do so with a group of friends and colleagues. Some of us will probably post some reflections along the way. Reading the bible in this way has given me a renewed appreciation for the great narrative of scripture.

I am sure that along the way I’ll find a few more books to read, reflections to write, and conversations to listen to. My prayer is to be fully present to what God’s up to in my life and in the life of the congregation by prioritizing the life of study and contemplation that is at the core of pastoral life.

Thank you for being part of the journey!

Becoming A Feeding People

“In short, the presider is a guardian to all those who are in need.”
(from Justin’s 1 Apology 67 in Gordon Lathrop’s The Pastor: A Spirituality)

It has been an exciting day! Tears came to my eyes as I observed all those who gathered this morning around food. Some gathered to serve, others gathered to receive. All shared stories, smiles, and difficulty. A vision, a vision from God, was becoming a reality in our midst.

I am amazed that we are here. It all started with conversation about God and about what God was doing in someone’s life. It all started with the realization that although a ministry had been ended, another one was emerging. It turns out that God was speaking, clearly, about our life together. Little by little opportunities came our way, partners appeared, others called came forth, and preparations got on their way.

A decision was made to become a community that fed people . . .

So I became the spokesperson for this call of God in our midst. Little did folks know at first how close this calling is to those of us who are set apart to be “gatherers of people.” It turns out that this incarnate call to “feed” is truly at the center of our identity as God’s own people. After all aren’t we at our core a people of table?

Time and time again I reminded the assembly that we were becoming a “feeding people.” And so as I headed to the pantry this morning, right before opening time, there were people gathered, waiting. Hungry people, people in need, people wandering what this “place” could provide.

So we said words of greeting, cut a huge yellow ribbon, and then invoked the holy into our space. It was amazing to hear those gathered praying along, giving thanks to God, praising the one that gathered us there. For a moment it was as if we were gathering around the great table, in that moment we knew that the presence of Christ self was there among us.

As I put my “apron” on for a few pictures and some greetings I was told that I was needed to help with the intake. So as I helped to  fill paperwork, ask questions, and help pave the way for food, I was encountered by stories. I was encountered with real life parables, struggles, blessings, and thanks. So my apron was an extension of the stole that I wear around my neck week after week as I lead the assembly into its sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

I am sure that there will be many stories to share in the years ahead. We are becoming a “feeding people,” I am becoming a more faithful “presider,” all of us growing together in our discipleship as we allow the Spirit to shape us in the way of Jesus.

Lent is About Discipleship: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

"Jesus in the French Quarter" © 2012 Todd Rossnagel

This past Sunday I had the great joy of baptizing three month old Jane. It is always an honor to gather people around these important times in their life. As she laid quietly in her mother’s arms I asked her mom to renew her own baptismal promises and to make a covenant to raise Jane into her baptism.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?

(The United Methodist Hymnal, p 34)

Living into these promises takes the community into which we have been initiated and it takes intentionality and a constant rehearsal of what these promises mean. After all renouncing, rejecting, and repenting takes the continued work of the Spirit in us, accepting, resisting and confessing requires the same.

So as I poured water upon her head I wondered if we ourselves recognized the magnitude of what was happening here? As we welcomed another into our community of the baptized, did we see it as an entrance into the community of those who have made covenant to the Lordship of Christ, to the way of sanctification?

Each time I begin ministry with a new congregation I am thankful for the season of Lent. Here in Louisiana it is common for many to give something up, chocolate, cokes, alcohol . . . As I enter these new spaces I remind the community of something that has transformed my own Lenten journey: Lent is not primarily about giving up instead, at its core, is about discipleship, about those who are preparing to make baptismal vows and our renewal of those vows in light of Easter.

This Lenten season I am thinking about Jane, about how we as a community of believers will model for her the meaning of what John Wesley called Christian perfection, our journey towards a fully sanctified life.  How do we help one another open ourselves to the work of God’s Spirit in sanctification? How do we allow our worship, our devotional life, our service to the world shape our souls into reconciling love? How do we grow into justice seeking, forgiveness, and radical hospitality?

So it begins today, with our recognition of our humanity and our need for divine grace. It begins with God’s invitation to change our hearts and life, to turn from sin and death, and believe the good news. It begins with our gathering as God’s people and the mark of our baptism being made visible.

Here we go again Jane, your family is about to begin a journey we’ll take together for the rest of our lives. A journey into the promise of our constant conversion, our perfection in love, our sanctification, the Risen Lord made evident in us, for the life of the world!

Let us observe our Lent thus, giving our sufferings, our bloodshed, our sorrow the same value that Christ gave to his own condition of poverty, oppression, abandonment, and injustice. Let us change all that into the cross of salvation that redeems the world and our people. And with hatred for none, let us be converted and share both joys and material aids, in our poverty, with those who may be even needier.

Archbishop Oscar Romero

What Next? – Gospels in 90

“The women went out quickly; and when they were outside the tomb, they ran away trembling and astonished. Along their way, they didn’t stop to say anything to anyone because they were too afraid.”

Mark 16:8 (The Voice NT)

The Gospel according to Mark has three endings: verses, 8, 20, 21 (or later part of 20 depending on translation). All of these possibilities are vying for attention, each of them making a significant difference in the way the story is heard.

I join the group of biblical scholars that believe that verse 8 is the “original” ending to this amazing gospel. It makes sense that this gospel would end as it opened up, fast, to the point, open-ended. It almost seems like the writer wants us to place ourselves in the narrative and come to our own conclusions based upon our own experience with the risen Christ.

As we continue to think about our life together and our way forward we might feel the same kind of whiplash that this gospel closes with . . . we might have many questions, it all might seem “fuzzy,” and we might still be wondering what is coming next.

The most repeated phrase asked of me is: “Tell us what’s next? What is the plan? What are the next steps?”

I can honestly say that I do not know. I stand with you, like the women who came to see Jesus, experiencing the risen Lord. We are wondering together what all of this might mean to us and to our community of believers. There are no clear answers, but there is the reality of what the risen Lord has done, is doing, and will do through us. There is also an awareness that at times the way of discipleship is scary, uncertain, and difficult.

Early Christian communities encountered the abrupt ending and added their own take on what happened next. These were amazing tales of the invincible nature of true discipleship. Today we stand at verse 8 and I want us to ask ourselves, who are we going to be as followers of Jesus in light of our encounter with an empty tomb? What will our discipleship look like? What does that discipleship mean for our life as a congregation?

Disciple Them! – Gospels in 90

Go out and make disciples in all the nations. Wash them ceremonially in the name of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then disciple them. Form them in the practices and postures that I have taught you, and show them how to follow the commands I have laid down for you. And I will be with you, day after day, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20 (The Voice NT)

It turns out that the real challenge in our life together as a congregation is the issue of discipleship. Guiding others to learn the “practices and postures” that Jesus taught is difficult work. No amount of sermon hearing and hymn singing can truly accomplish this task. In fact I would venture to say that worship reinforces and reminds the community of what they need to be modeling and learning in weekly gatherings with a small group of fellow believers.

As I look at our congregational life I recognize the need for us to become a pathway for these opportunities for disciple forming. The pathway to these in our midst is not clear. There are many in our congregation who gather for these conversations, they gather at the church, in their homes, and even in their workplaces. It is exciting that these actually exist in our community of faith. What is missing is the path to these, the open invitation for new comers to know that we are the kind of congregation that encourages and makes the way of discipleship a priority. We also need some new groups to form as a large portion of recent attenders and members have not plugged in to these opportunities. Along the way we need to be better at communicating the importance of these communities of discipleship to the life of faith.

As a congregation we are recognizing that as we grow deeper in our life with Jesus, as we engage in the ministry of Jesus in our community, and as we keep each other accountable to our life with God and one another that we are tilling the ground of God’s kingdom in our midst. As we continue this journey through the story of Jesus I am thankful that we are experiencing these stories and their effect in our lives together . . . now let us “disciple them” making a commitment to become the kind of congregation, the kind of community of proclamation, that becomes a pathway to communities of discipleship.

Joseph the Dreamer – Gospels in 90

After the wise men left, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.

Messenger of the Lord (to Joseph): Get up, take the child and His mother, and head to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to leave. For Herod understands that Jesus threatens him and all he stands for. He is planning to search for the child and kill Him. But you will be safe in Egypt.

So Joseph got up in the middle of the night; he bundled up Mary and Jesus, and they left for Egypt.

Matthew 2:13-14 (The Voice)

I’m so thankful that Joseph is attentive to dreams. He obviously is familiar with this way of communication with God. This time his dream was of utmost importance and he took action immediately.

I’m sure he had many questions, concerns, and fears. Imagine being woken up by a dream that told you that your family was in mortal danger. You had to get up immediately in order to save their life. I can feel my heart trembling, my gut wrenching, my eyes wide open in the middle of the night. Without delay he woke them up and got them on their way.

Once again we have evidence of how dangerous this birth was to the powers that be. The ruler wanted this child eliminated so that there would be no threats to his power. It turns out that Jesus was indeed dangerous, he was going to question the structures of power and the ways of life all around him. Jesus would also threaten the religious authorities of his day, pushing them to remember the core of their tradition, their reason for being God’s people. All this is truly dangerous work, haven’t you heard not to engage in conversations about religion and politics?

I wonder what it would mean for us to ponder how life transforming and dangerous to the “status quo” Jesus still is? What would it mean for us to follow this savior? What difference does this savior make to those of us who claim him as Lord today?

I am thankful for dreams. Time and time again they are used to speak, show, and make clear. I am also thankful for dreamers . . .

The Gospels in 90 Days

As readers of this space know I am a believer in systematic reading of scripture. I have used different reading plans throughout the years from the fast and furious bible in 90 to the two year daily office lectionary. For me is about having a method to my engagement with the narrative of faith. Last year I began 2011 with the Bible in 90 days, this year I have invited my staff and leadership team at the church to join me in reading the gospels in 90 days (actually 89 days, one chapter a day).

My prayer is that we’ll have a common narrative as we engage our leadership this year. Each time I engage the story of faith I am amazed at what I hear, learn, and struggle with, I am sure this time it will not be any different. I am not promising a daily blog on the chapter of the day but I can guarantee that I will have things to say along the way. I am excited to be reading the gospels in The Voice New Testament translation, a different translation forces us to hear the story in a different way, and this one is truly different.

Jacob was the father of Joseph, who married a woman named Mary. It was Mary who gave birth to Jesus, and it is Jesus who is the Savior, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.

Matthew 1:16 (The Voice)

Jesus is the savior, the anointed one, the one who frees us from sin and death. I tell this to myself often as I engage in ministry everyday. It is difficult to recognize our need for a savior, our need for an anointed one, it is even more difficult to recognize our need to be freed. This is why we need this story so desperately, this is also why we need the community of faith to remind us of our common need for God.

In my own life I am still trying to understand what this savior means in my everyday life. And as a father of three children I also struggle with what it means to raise our children in the way that leads to life. Then we read the narrative and recognize that we are not alone, that many others have struggled with it too.

In the end a savior is needed, we need to be made whole, need to be freed. I am thankful that a way forward was provided for, that the way of redemption has been provided. It is amazing to hear, read, and experience how God provided for this way.

I know that this story will be transformational, it always is! Let the journey begin . . .

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