SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 5)

Sunday Early Evening

Weekends are a flurry of activity. It is the one time of the week that we all gather. Worship has been prepared, rehearsals have taken place, and servant teams are ready to welcome, love, and serve. The sermon has been simmering, at times for months, but now it comes to life.

I’ve also prayed, worried, and wondered. Prayed that all who come will experience an encounter with God. Worried that something might not be in place, that people might not come, and that we are able to get out of the way. Wondered if I will see your faces, meet new people, and communicate the love of God in ways that will connect and transform.

I have also observed the world around us. This week we watched the struggle of immigrants and refugees. The continual animosity and division in our nation. As pastor and theologian I work hard at trying to listen to all who struggle while remembering that the bible tells us again and again that God sides with the struggling, the hungry, the forgotten, the stranger, the refugee, yes, no matter what political party or presidential candidate, the scriptures are clear about what our duty is as disciples of Jesus.

But even when it is clear, even when we know that love should guide all that we do, that we must proclaim the good news, I fear that my reminding the body of God’s call to love God, self, and neighbor might make some walk away from our shared life.

I have also observed and engaged our shared life. The illnesses, struggles, and challenges in your lives. The ways that God has seemed present and absent in your week. The need to remind you of God’s compassionate presence and grace. Our gathering a visible reminder that we are not alone and that salvation is near.

There is some relief once worship begins on Saturday at 5:30. We get to see you and meet your friends. We sing, pray, and hear a word. Saturdays are the beginning of the weekly assembly an important time of warming the space, of calling upon God to show up and make us God’s people again and again.

On my way home on Saturdays I hear my sermon, make notes of changes needed, and rehearse it at least once more.

It’s amazing how quickly Sunday morning arrives. My first cup of coffee is finished by the time I reach the parking lot, a second cup is consumed as last rehearsals are held and the welcome team arrives. Soon God’s people begin to gather, stories begin to be shared, places are found and coffee is consumed.

I still get nervous as worship begins, then again as I’m about to bring a word. For me, worship does not begin until we are gathered and it is not a sermon until I open my mouth and proclaim it to this body. As I proclaim I hear God’s word too, I watch you the body, trying as I proclaim to see what the Holy Spirit is doing among you as I hear what God is doing in me.

In between our times of worship, I listen. I hear your stories, I pray, I bless your children and grandchildren, and check in on your week.

As the last conversation is had, thoughts of the sermon for next week begin to flood my consciousness. Floating around are also the many stories I’ve heard, prayers said, and updates received.

As evening falls I walk around our common home, our place of worship, of gathering, and of stories. I sit in my office, look out the window and play through the day. I think about what God is doing among us, about our capacity to set the world on fire, about how our sufferings, struggles, and stories continue to shape us into a grace-full people, and about how blessed I am to be a leader among you.

 

The End is the Beginning

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Advent, a time of beginning, a time of ending. Advent, a time of expectation, of waiting, and of hoping. Advent, a time when salvation sneaks in, when needed most. A time when salvation shows up in the every day of life.

These are interesting days. Days when we wonder about God’s work in the world. Days when we are reminded that salvation is desperately needed, that our lives and our world do not reflect the fullness of God’s creation.

Unfortunately, year after year we must come face to face with our brokenness, with our need, with our sin-sick soul, and with the ways that all of creation still groans for salvation. We also must face our participation in structures of sin and death – the hatred, prejudice, and apathy about neighbor, the -isms too many to name, the ways we seem to have forgotten the centrality of the common good.

Advent invites us into reality, into the messiness of our condition, and into the hopeful expectation of new life. This requires that we are willing to embrace ending, death, and letting go. It also requires us, in this season filled with distraction, to stay rooted in the now, to sow seeds of peace, justice, and love today.

Completeness is coming, healing is near, new life is around the corner . . .

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God with Us!
We need you, with us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God with and in the world,
We need you, in us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God through the most vulnerable,
We need you, through us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
God for all of creation,
We need you, give us new life.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
We are hungry, hurt, haggard,
hopeful, end becoming beginning.

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!

Christianity, Politics, & #givegrace

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Politics & Religion

I am sure that you have heard the old adage to never speak about politics and religion. Often political seasons come and go and the church remains silent. When issues come up that hit the nerve of congregants the pastor is asked to address them, when addressed there are always those that do not want the church to become political or be political.

In some ways, it would be easier to follow the adage. Not talking about so-called political things stops the pastor from getting into trouble, from upsetting people, and might provide a political free oasis in the midst of all the chatter.

This week we begin a series of sermons that will hopefully provide some helpful context for how Christian people can and should discuss politics. Its purpose is dialogue, the learning of some shared language that will hopefully shape our community towards a different way to speak about difficult subjects.

What is the relationship between politics and God’s kingdom? What does it look like for us to engage one another and our neighbors and friends in political discussions based upon our faith in Jesus Christ? How can we model civil discourse in such a polarized political landscape? What are some key values that should drive our political decisions?

I invite you to become part of this important conversation in the next three weeks!

#givegrace

This coming Sunday we will gather for a preview of our #givegrace campaign. We will celebrate the many that have become members of our body in the last year and the many ways that we have made an impact in the lives of the people around us. I ask you to begin praying for the way that God is inviting you to invest in our congregation so that others can experience Grace in 2017.

We have a generous congregation and I know that each of you will response in gratitude to grace received through your financial investment in God’s kingdom through our congregation. All of us together making sure that others are welcomed, loved, and sent to serve!

Can’t wait for the weekend!

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!

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

Appropriate Attire: GC 2016


This morning Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Area preached on Matthew 22:1-14. She called us to put on the garment of grace that’s available to all. She called us to stop drawing a line in the midst of the conference floor and instead to join together to be agents of God’s transformation in the world. She called us to be open to reversal, to be willing to join the feast!

Those late-comers – the fit and misfit, the ones from the edge of town, the ones from the other side of the tracks, from el barrio, the ones who spoke a different language, the poor, the prostitutes – yea those – were provided appropriate attire when they arrived. 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Area

So the God that we serve is the God who provides us for the way that leads to life. No trickery, smoke and mirrors, or special knowledge. The challenge is our willingness to take on Christ, our willingness to put on a common identity in the midst of our differences. Our willingness to join the party!

I’m wondering how we do this?

At this General Conference we tried to live into a model of conferencing that was centered on conversations (Rule #44). This model was rejected by this General Conference after much debate about how we guide our legislative life. Yet I believe that if we are to put on the garment of grace that we must begin by gathering together, sharing our stories, our hopes, our fears and our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, and our hunger for new life. The local church, our districts, and our Annual Conferences might be the best equipped communities to practice this way of living life together, this way of trying on Christ, again and again.

I also wonder if a second key aspect is the going out, as Matthew 12:4 (The Voice Bible) reminds us:


I wonder how often we let others know about the banquet? Do we see our life together as a feast worthy of inviting others to? What does this feast look like, how are we celebrating together? How are we flourishing?

This could just turn the world upside down. This is what it means to be people of the cross, people of the resurrection, Easter people! 

People who are ready for a reversal- a world that is turned upside down. A world that is transformed. A world where all God’s people experience an abundant life in Christ.  
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Area

I am thankful for the Bishop’s challenge this morning. I think her challenge is not only for General Conferece but a challenge to all of us as members of the community of disciples. We taking seriously our calling to be agents of God’s love in the world. We agents of the reversal, the healing of the communities we live in, we agents of our shared growth in love, we agents of the grace given to us.

I am ready to go to the party, ready to put on the robe of righteousness, would you join me? Let’s go!

A Sound Roars: GC 2016


Yesterday the church celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. They were afraid, their savior was not gone, now they were left to live into their call as followers of Jesus. Gathered to pray and to wait as Jesus had told them you can imagine the conversations, the insight, and the struggle. Could they truly fulfill the mission given to them by Jesus?

Jesus knew that they could not! So Jesus sends them an empowerer from on high!

A sound roars! Takes over, overwhelms, oxygenates, lifts up, and takes center stage. The Spirit has come!!

As we gather to begin our work on week 2 of General Conference I wonder if we will hear the roar? The promise of Jesus to be with us, to not leave us alone, to empower us to do Jesus’ work available, ready, present, do we hear the roar?

A sound roars and it wakes us up from our apathy and slumber.

A sound roars and our personal preferences are quieted.

A sound roars and our loud voices are deafened.

A sound roars and our lungs are filled with the breath of God once again.

A sound roars and we together can hear nothing else but the Spirit of God.

A sound roars and we are pushed, prodded, and propelled into God’s mission in the world.

The question is, do hear the sound roar? Have we become so self-centered and so sure of ourselves that we no longer hear the in braking of the Spirit among us?

As we begin this week of work here in Portland and in our congregations the Spirit that came down on disciples long ago is the same Spirit that promises to come down upon us today. This Spirit transforming, renewing, redeeming, reconciling, and sanctifying. The Spirit making us one people, under our one Lord Jesus Christ, and guiding us as we move into the world to be about the work of God’s kingdom. God’s people as the bearers and signs of the Spirit of God in the world, as the ambassadors of the ministry of Jesus.

It is my conviction that Grace Community UMC is ready to live into this roaring sound! We are ready to hear each other and make spaces of the hearing of others. We are ready to welcome people as God welcomes, to grow together in God’s love through conversation and loving accountability, and to serve our community by creating spaces where others can find healing, wholeness, and new life.

I am thankful to be here but cannot wait to go home and continue God’s call in our lives. I can hear the roar! I can hear the roar! I can hear the roar!!

Tone Matters: GC 2016

Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love. 
Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together.Ephesians 4:2-3 (The Voice Bible)

I often tell my children that what matters is not just what you say but how you say it. I remind them often that the way words are said, gestures, and posture communicate more than the words themselves. In other words that tone matters.


Tone reveals deeply what words alone could hide. Our true feelings come to the surface: our anxieties, fears, anger, and annoyance. Tone also tells us if we are being heard and if the other person is truly present to us. In our social media world tone is revealed by the type of font we use (ALL CAPS ANYONE), #snark, sarcasm, and passive aggressive posting. All sending a clear signal that we are not seeing the other as beloved, as one who is the image of God, as one like us.
Tone betraying our character and our harmony with the other or the lack thereof.

As people of faith we are called to holiness of heart and life. Through grace God’s love begins to fill the recesses of our souls. God’s grace allowing us to integrate who we say we are, what we say we believe in, with how we respond to ourselves and the other.

My latest sermon series, Life Between the Lines, has introduced the rules of the Methodist societies, to a new generation of people. Last week we discussed why we needed such guides and this weekend we will be talking about the first rule: Do No Harm.

Attending General Conference has opened my eyes at the ways that our tone towards one another, especially in disagreement, is betraying a deeper issue in our life together. Our tone on the plenary microphone, on legislative committees, and on social media speaks to a lack of charity, suspicion, arrogance, harshness, lies, and a host of other behaviors that are contrary to the faith we proclaim and the values we claim. 

Our tone mirroring the tone of today’s culture instead of modeling what an loving and respectful alternative looks like. An alternative where disagreement is welcomed, where mutual respect is practiced, and where the atmosphere is “thick with love.”

One of the things that the study of Latin American liberation theology has taught me is that we cannot use the tools of the oppressor to bring freedom. If we do then we become the oppressor in its next itineration without even recognizing it as such. True freedom, true liberation, comes only through the tools of the kingdom: charity, presence, humility, gentleness, and peace.

I am not sure what will happen next at this General Conference. What I do know is that I am committed more than ever to return to the congregation I love and shepherd and come alongside them as we practice and model what a Christlike conversations look like. What the harmony of disagreement in love looks like. What it means to be a people of integrity — a people who have integrated their thoughts, actions, and attitudes — in our conversations with one another and with the world. What it means to be a people who are being sanctified.

Sin, Humility, & Mercy: GC 2016


I am a sinner. I do things that I should not do and leave things undone that I should do. Often I only consider myself when making decisions, when engaging others, and when speaking about God. The fruit looks inticing, God might not be trustworthy, my selfish desires often convince me that there is nothing wrong with me following my every whim. I look around and again I am shocked at my capacity to be an agent of brokenness, hurt, and division.

The more stories I hear, the more I pay attention around me, the more I recognize that I am not alone in my brokenness, that all creation seems to be groaning for wholeness. All of creation bound, in need of freedom, in need to be redeemed.

I am thankful that God chose to provide a path to our redemption. It was an risky path, one that required taking on our human form. Choosing a messy holiness (a messy set apartness) instead of choosing perfection, cleanness, neatness, and power. As Paul tells us:

Though He was in the form of God,

He chose not to cling to equality with God;

But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new;

    a servant in form

    and a man indeed.

The very likeness of humanity,

He humbled Himself,

    obedient to death—

    a merciless death on the cross!

So God raised Him up to the highest place

    and gave Him the name above all.

So when His name is called,

    every knee will bow,[a]

    in heaven, on earth, and below.

And every tongue will confess

    “Jesus, the Anointed One, is Lord,”

    to the glory of God our Father! 

Philippians 2:6-11 (The Voice Bible)

Our conviction about our “bent to sinning” and the recognition of our brokenness, should be the catalyst for our growing in humility. Our inability to make our selves whole, our inability to manufacture transformation, our inability to end the enmity that plagues our world, should convict us again and again of our dependence on God and our commonality with one another. It should push us to a willingness to come alongside the other, listen to their story, and begin to build community,  a beloved community, a community of saints and sinners. A community willing to do what God has done again and again, giving power away, being poured out, dying again and again to self while being born again and again to new life, whole life, abundant life.

This morning Bishop Sally Dick (you can read her sermon here) called us to “Go, learn mercy.” Mercy coming from our encounter with it, from our humble recognition of our need for grace. She stirred us up, made us uncomfortable, and challenged us to stop obsessing about the other’s sin and to begin to pay attention to ours. She called us to a willingness to enter a messy holiness so that we as a body could experience salvation.

As we continue in conversation as a church I recognize that this time together can be sanctifying. Us learning to hear each other, us making space for one another in the midst of disagreement, us learning to enter the messiness of our lives (in the messiness of our sin) and humbling ourselves, offering ourselves mercy, and learning to grow in God’s love in spite of disagreement.

The practice for this kind of sanctifying life begins in our local congregations. Can we make spaces where our brokenness is acknowledge, where humility is modeled, and where mercy is practiced? Can we learn to listen and learn to talk to one another in ways that respects the other’s dignity? Can we practice disagreeing with one another in ways that do not question the other’s motives? In ways that does not seek to convince, persuade, or prove wrong?

Broken people, humbly learning mercy and practicing God’s messy holiness . . .

Discernment: GC 2016


One of the continued conversations here is around how a body discerns. How do we hear each other? What does it mean to listen to each other? What happens when we disagree? What does it mean to discern across the many cultures found here in this body? How has the Christian tradition practiced discernment?

I could spend the rest of the day asking more questions. Many of these do not have simple answers. Being in this space is a humble reminder that often my perspectives, values, and worldview are so limited by my own story. It is also a reminder that we must have these conversations as we continue to find ways to live life together.

I believe that the best place to reclaim the practice of listening, conversation, and discernment is the local congregation. Let us make spaces beyond our echo chambers, spaces where we acknowledge our common humanity, spaces where we can share life together.

Discernment is a key practice of our life of faith as we tune our souls to the voice of the Holy Spirit for us individually and for our communities of faith. It seeks to shape our souls to God’s desires, wants, and will. It means that we are able to put aside our personal preferences, our opinions, and prejudices. It means that we learn to listening to God’s voice in one another as we share stories of life and faith, especially as we read scripture together. It means that we take a breath and take an opportunity to look our lives and life together from the balcony, where the weeds no longer distract our view.

I believe that the more that we practice discernment in our local communities, the more that we practice communal discernment, the better we’ll be able to handle legislative matters in our life together. Let’s practice hearing one another as we gather around table for dinner with our families, let us practice hearing another over a cup of coffee with a friend, neighbor, or co-worker, and let us practice hearing one another as we share testimony of God’s work in our lives.

As the pastor of Grace Community UMC in Shreveport, LA I am committed to creating an atmosphere — a culture — of discernment, conversations, listening, and respectful dialogue among our congregation and from that congregation to our families, neighborhoods, and beyond!

I can’t wait to return to Shreveport and live into this way, another 8 days to go. There’s no telling what the Holy Spirit might tell me next!

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