SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

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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!

The Bishops Speak: GC2016 Episcopal Address


One of the highlights of every Annual Conference is the Episcopal Address. The time when our chief shepherd, teacher, and overseer inspires us, convicts us, and reminds us of our identity as God’s people. As we gathered this morning in Portland as a General Church, it was not any different.

Bishop Gregory Palmer from the West Ohio Area delivered a stirring call for unity. Unity through humility, confession, and common mission. Unity through repentance, care for the other, and a common humanity. Unity through re-membering our baptism, our shared worship, and our encounter with Jesus Christ at table.

For me the key moment came when he reminded us that:

“Our credibility and integrity are suspect if we get all the words right but our behavior has little resemblance to our words.”

In his book Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud reminds us that integrity is not just about being honest but about being a person “with integrated character.” A person whose words, actions, and intentions match one another, a person that “possesses the awareness that it is not all about him or her and the ability and willingness to make the necessary adjustments to the things that transcend him or her at any given juncture.”

As I heard Bishop Palmer speak I was convicted. I realize how often in my desire to follow my call I easily dismiss the other and how often I am unwilling to do the hard work that listening to each other and life together requires. I was convicted of how difficult it is to live a life of integrity, being aware enough to recognize that is not all about me, my personal opinions, or my personal belief system.

As we continue in conversation across our global church the call to humility and unity is a call to integrity. This call is difficult but we serve the God who calls us to be a new creation, whose Spirit lives within us, giving us what we need to live life together in ways that lead to life. A God who continually calls us to conversion.

I pray that we are open, that our body has been convicted, that we not only heard Bishop Palmer speak to those that we disagree with, that we let his words about our witness inspire us to pay attention to the ways that we live life together in these days.

The Church Gathers: GC2016


Each Lord’s Day the body of Christ gathers. We sing songs of praise, hear a word proclaimed, and gather around table. Each week we remember our identity, our call, and our mission. Each time we gather we are gathering with the people of God in all times and places. But often it is easy to think that our gathering is only about those that are present in our particular community at a particular time.

Gathering at General Conference 2016 is a needed reminder of the scope and gift of a global church.

Being such a diverse community is beautiful but it comes with many challenges. Different cultures, customs, languages and different ways of telling and living the story of Jesus. This requires a deeper and more patient listening, a purposeful and intentional decision to make room for conversation, silence, and clarification.

It also requires our willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit in this place. The Holy Spirit invoked by our praise, thanksgiving, and table sharing. The Holy Spirit that makes us one people through our baptism. A people united by our call to be agents of God’s reign of peace, justice, and love.

As we begin my prayer is that we live into our prayer that God’s kingdom will come and God’s will be done. Here in Portland, in Louisiana, around the world, as it is in heaven.

Stay tuned . . .

On the Preaching Life


This week I was blessed to be part of the North Carolina Preaching Festival in Raleigh, NC. I was honored to be part of the preachers for this amazing and life giving preaching event. The beautiful and intimate sanctuary at St. Mark’s UMC provided the perfect backdrop for three days of hearing, talking, and connecting around the preaching life. My schedule was interesting because I had my workshop on Monday and my preaching on Wednesday. This allowed me the opportunity to take it all in and be a participant as well as one of the speakers.

I love preaching! I love the process, the study, and the delivery. Every time I’m about to step into the pulpit, my knees weaken, my heart races, and my stomach turns — I feel the burden of bringing a word of the Lord to the people gathered. The creator of heaven and earth still speaking, still calling, still creating, and I am humbled to listen and to speak. Honestly, one of the reasons why I have not left pastoral ministry is that the call to preach is persistent, insistent, and consistent.

As I listened in on the amazing preachers heard (Tom Berlin, Nadia Boltz-Weber, Tiffany Knowlin, Brian Combs, & Audrey Warren) my soul was made good. With each turn at the Word hope was found again and again. With each cadence, voice, and turn of phrase, a crumb of the gospel made its way to my heart and life. When each sermon was over I marveled at the amazing preaching that is found in the community of faith, marveled that the promise of Jesus was coming true before me: the gates of hades cannot stand against this!!

I was also reminded of the importance of preaching in the life of the church. I became increasingly thankful for Grace Community and their commitment to make the word heard in incarnate ways. I was humbled again and again by the magnitude and finitude of the task. I was called again to proclaim boldly, humbly, confidently, and passionately for the good news of Jesus Christ requires nothing less.

During the difficult moments of pastoral life I wonder, is this was I’m called to do? Then the word of the Lord begins messing with me, prodding, convicting, calling, and compelling me to tell it!

It is then that I am reminded of whose I am, of who has called me, and who I belong to. It is then that I am reminded once again that the world needs the Good News of Jesus Christ and that I am blessed to be a story-teller of Jesus!

Easter Remnants: A Cemetery Stroll

cemetery1

Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Luke 24:5b (CEB)

I love cemeteries! So much history, beauty, and sacredness in one place. There is also much of the present, fresh flowers, little toys, bottles of liquor, an occasional visitor in a chair, new grief and old grief. There is something about the cross-section of life and death, now and later, this life and the life to come?

In my years as a pastor, I have also paid more attention to other small details. Living people who have their names on a gravestone just waiting for their day. Young lives lost alongside long lives lived. Graves that tell the truth even when it hurts and the occasional grave for an unknown person.

Cemeteries are key places in our lives . . . but we cannot stay there! We cannot expect life to come, only the reality of our own mortality that paves the way for new life, for healing, wholeness, and the possibility of a better tomorrow.

Yet we love to hang out in the places of the dead when we struggle. We love to go to the past and believe the scripts that the past tells us about ourselves, our situation, and about the other. When anxieties and fears come visiting we tend to go to the well-worn path. We thinking that we might find answers but so often we find ourselves just strengthening our positions, digging our heels, feeding on hopelessness.

Each of us has our cemeteries. The places where the skeletons of our life can be found. They too are full of stories, wonder, and awe. They too contain the remains of our family stories and unresolved grief. These cemeteries are important for us as long as we recognize that there is no life there, that there is only death.

We go to these places because they are familiar. We are all hungry for meaning, connection, and comfort. The familiar is the fast food of those things, it provides immediate relief that does not last.

In our life of faith, it is easy to settle for resuscitation, for being the same person just breathing again. No real changes, just the relief that we are breathing, heart beating, and moving through life. Just an intellectual ascent to Jesus with an occasional trip to see him in the cemetery. There we can worship, connect, and walk away feeling like we have done our best. No real sacrifice, no transformation, just a benevolent more of the same.

The good news is that we are called to a new life. Resurrection means that we are transformed, renewed, and redeemed. Our whole selves now being shaped by a new Spirit, God’s spirit, shaped and guided by God’s love. New eyes, new ears, new posture, and a new attitude. No longer bound by our past we can freely live into a new future. No longer letting death define us, our script define us, or our past define us. Now being defined by grace and allowing grace to lead us into loving ourselves, our neighbor, and God.

Allowing our old self to die is difficult work. It is even more difficult once the Easter lunch is finished. Once the nap has been taken the well-worn path takes over, the signs pointing, and the every day of life with its worries and rhythms making us deaf to cries of resurrection.

Easter is a season so I’ve been wondering about what resurrection might look like for us in the days, months, and years ahead? What does new life centered on God’s love look like for us as individuals but also for us as a congregation? What does it mean for us to put aside our old selves and begin to search for the living among the living? How do we allow love to guide us not fear, anxiety, prejudice, or security? How do we help each other grow in compassion, peace-making, and forgiveness?

How do we help each other stroll out of the cemeteries and into the land of the living?

 

 

Love Known: A Holy Thursday Reflection

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So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways.
John 13:34 (The Voice Bible)

Holy Thursday is one of my favorite remembrances of the Christian year. There’s something about food, story, and urgency that compels us to remember and to rehearse.

I often think that Jesus could have said so many things, could have called us at that moment to so many things, yet his command was a simple return to what God’s work had been about from the beginning, love.

Love modeled in service to one another.
Love that beginning with eating, drinking, and conversation.
Love through dirty feet and achy knees.
Love misunderstood, vulnerable, and abundant.
Love becoming primary identity as God’s people for the world.
Love without disclaimers or pre-requisites.

Each time we gather, each time we eat and drink together, each time that we remember that we are baptized, each time that we claim to be Christian, we are re-committing ourselves to the way of love that Jesus modeled for us.

On this Holy Thursday, we have an opportunity to go beyond intellectual recollection of what Jesus did on that fateful night. We have an opportunity to get beyond the sadness of an event that took place long ago. We have an opportunity to get on our knees, tie a towel around our waist and show the world what it means to be a follower of the way.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
in our eating and our drinking.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
in our engagements and in our conversations.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
in the way that we come alongside the forgotten, the last, and the lost.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
in the ways that we forgive and reconcile.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
in the ways that we treat all people as God’s own children no matter what.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
by washing in waters of cross-shaped love.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
by walking in silence, re-membering love with every step.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
by confessing our loveless attitudes, actions, and encounters.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
in our beginning again, through sacrifice, posture, and courage.

May we make love known,
Christ known,
by being what God in the flesh, Love in the flesh, is.

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