SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Tag: God

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.

A Generation of Missionaries: Three Movements

9021045256_1a5ad61dc3_kIn 2003 we were at a crossroads and now in 2015 we find ourselves at a crossroads again. This is an opportunity to live into our identity as a missionary people, there three movements that I believe we must make in order for us to be able to be who God has called us to be.

The first movement is to foster spiritual maturity among our members. This means that we must go beyond providing space for the seeker but also provide opportunities for people to grow deeply in their life of discipleship. It also means that we must recognize that we are not a small church with its deeply interconnected relationships and ways of life. Instead we are a large congregation that is seeking to deploy a large numbers of disciples to make a difference in our city and beyond.

We must strengthen our discipleship pathways, our missional partnerships, and our worship life to include the discipleship needs of more mature Christians. We must also learn to practice honest assessment of our systems, pathways, and processes. Do they align with our mission of being a missionary people, of turning seekers to the servants? Are we doing that, how? Can we do it better? These are only some of the questions that will help us not just attract people who are seeking but retain people who are turning to servants.

Maturity in the life of faith includes emotional as well as spiritual practices that lead to growth in God’s love. I am excited to announce that on March 1, The Samaritan Counseling Center will be opening a satellite counseling office here at Grace Community.

This partnership seeks to bring to this part of our city much needed counseling services, as well as giving us an opportunity to model for the community that spiritual transformation and emotional healing are part of the whole that we call an abundant life.

Soon you will hear about some opportunities like care giving seminars for the sandwich generation, parenting workshops, and couples groups (to name a few) that will be birthed out of this partnership.

The second movement is to begin modeling “courageous conversations.” We must begin to become open to hear the stories of others, to be made uncomfortable when we recognize that our diversity is complex, and to open our doors to community conversations. It is my hope that our partnership with the Robinson Film Center, especially with their Faith in Film initiative provides us with an initial seed towards this end.

I also believe that our partnership with the Common Ground Community also provides for fertile ground as we seek to live justly, mercifully, and lovingly with one another.

We must model, GRACE, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, asking three key questions before we engage in conversation: Does it do harm? Does it do good? Does it build up the body?

It is my prayer that we become known in this community for our space-making and for our love in spite of difference. I cannot think of a bigger witness for the Gospel in a culture so divided and polarized. Can you?

The third movement is to become once again passionate for those who are not yet part of this community. In her episcopal address last year Bishop Cynthia Harvey said:

“You have to tell people about this abundant life in Christ; you have to tell people about your connection in the community. You have to share your own experience of the living God . . .You have to live this testimony by living out of your own life. Living and telling the story by how you live, who you are – to BE – is a telling of the story. When people meet us–before a word is uttered–they ought to get a sense that there is something extraordinarily different about us.”

This passion for those who are not yet here is what propels us to fruitfulness. To making sure that we together are part of the infrastructure that helps those who are not here yet find this community, enter into this community, find healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation in this community, then are deployed to do the same for others, to be agents of God’s justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and love, to be witnesses to the presence of Christ in the world.

In order to help us with shaping the structure we have been selected as one of 10 churches across the Annual Conference who are part of what is called the Benchmark Project. This project I believe gives us a helpful structure by which we can dream new dreams, and make a clear pathway for our ministry now and into the future. Chris Williams will guide this team and you will hear from this initiative soon for it calls us to grow by 10% in our average worship attendance by mid-year 2016. Cannot wait to see the fruit of this team’s work!

We find ourselves like those disciples long ago . . . I know I do! We are being called to the root of our identity as followers of Jesus. Leaving behind the comfortable, the familiar, and the self-centered is difficult. But I believe that we hear that call, and that we are ready to leave home and go on the amazing adventure called the Christian Church.
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Next- A Generation of Missionaries: Our Prayer

In Memoriam VI

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St. Joseph and the child Jesus at St. Joseph’s Monastery’s Abbey Church

Dear Garrett, 

A few months before your leaving our Isabelle Celeste was born! I can’t believe that now she is the same age that you were when you took your leave. I see her so full of life, promise, and possibility and can not imagine losing her . . . but your story is a constant reminder that life sometimes unfolds in unimaginable ways.

Last year, on the fifth anniversary of your leaving I thought I was writing my last letter to you. It seemed fitting to end my conversation with you at that time. But as another July got closer, I knew that I could not, that there was more to tell you about, that your visitations were still an inspiration.

The last year I have done much reflection on my vocation. Pastoral ministry, the work of curing of souls is at times as overwhelming as it is life giving. I’ve wondered, like I have wondered since I began this work, whether I am being faithful to God’s call in my life. Am I in a role that best allows me to be an effective disciple, an effective instrument of God’s kingdom? If not pastoral ministry, then what? 

Well, you know the answer to these questions: Yes, Juan!!! Stop wondering and keep on leading, curing, and proclaiming! (and stop the pity party ;-)) 

This year someone recommended a wonderful book called If You Know Who You Are, You Will Know What To Do by Ronald Greer. I can say with much confidence that the process surrounding your leaving, even though it soured Julys forever, was one of the key markers that allowed me to “know who I am,” and has continued to clarify for me not just what I am to do as a follower of Jesus, but continues to inspire me, convict me, and thrust me to be passionate about the church’s call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the world. 

I was telling the people of St. John’s your story recently and how each time I stood behind the table to share the bread and the cup that you were standing by me, your arms moving with mine as we gesture together across time and space (kairos time), united by the promise of the great banquet were we will feast together. Till then I’ll take the rehearsals for they remind me again and again that although life unfolds in unimaginable ways, that God’s presence is with us, the promise of resurrection keeping us hopeful in the midst of hopelessness, keeping us awake when we are tempted to go to sleep, and keeping us alive when we are tempted by death.

We’ll keep at it  . . . see you at the great feast!

Peace & Love, Juan+ 

P.S. I do hope to bring life again to spiritstirrer.org. Writing, as you know, feeds my soul!

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Be a hero, Donate Life! If you want to know G’s story click here.

Here are the previous yearly notes: In Memoriam, II, III, IV, V.

Watching from Afar – A United Methodist GC2012 Reflection

ImageI’ve been preaching to my pews this morning. Like I do every week I’ve stood in front of my imaginary congregation and proclaimed what I pray will be a “word of the Lord” this coming Sunday. I am always amazed at what stirs up in me during these times, at the conviction of God’s word in me, at the passion that cause me to pause and take a breath, at the “spirit” that I sense in our sanctuary – a spirit that I know is present always and everywhere.

Then I get back to my daily work. To the e-mails, phone calls, conversations and doings of pastoral life. There is a leak coming into my office, planning for a few meetings tonight, and hopefully a lunch date with my spouse. All of it while the “word of the Lord” is still stirring in me . . .

Like many United Methodist people I have been observing our holy conferencing from afar. I’ve been watching the live stream, twitter feed, and Facebook postings.  I’ve not commented yet, I am not sure that I know what to say yet, I am still taken by the mix of the ordinary and extraordinary by the juxtaposition of worship and plenary session.

I love United Methodism. I am thankful that it found me a little over twelve years ago when I needed “good news.” I also struggle with it. I know that much change is needed and that something must happen to help us change our direction.

As I watched the Call to Action presentation last night, as I read the tweets, and the Facebook commentary, I was taken aback, there was reality mixed with hopelessness everywhere. But then worship began; the sounds and sights of the gathered community, the symbols of our life together taking center stage.

Something struck me as I thought about all of this through this morning: to the reality of our decline and of the need for change, and of the desire for something new, there is a response and that response might just be our gathering around the signs and symbols of our faith. A doxological response might just birth the new life that we are so desperately seeking.

It is true that we must do something and I trust that our brothers and sisters in Tampa will tend to the Spirit as they find ways for our church to continue its witness by empowering  all who call themselves United Methodist to grow into holiness of heart and life.

I’ll continue “watching from afar” (and praying) as I continue leading the body of United Methodist believers in this part of the connection into the work of God’s kingdom.

Bible in 90 – Day 6: Leadership

‘What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’ Moses replied to his father-in-law, ‘It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.’ But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.’

Exodus 18:14-18

Wow! I’m sure that for the pastors reading this there will be no question why this caught my attention as I read this morning. We as a whole tend to have “lone ranger” tendencies. At times it seems like we take great pride in what we have accomplished all by ourselves. Lifting up examples of great “lone rangers” we fail to provide a different model for leadership in the faith community. Moses father-in-law was a wise man. He recognized human limitations and the unhealthy patterns that Moses was perpetuating. In the end this way of leading was not good for him nor for the people he cared so deeply for. The answer to this dilemma was in front of him, the people themselves could be empowered to lead each other.

‘You represent the people before God; you bring the disputes before God, and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the
practices they are to follow. You shall also seek our from among all the people cabable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands,
hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. If you do this — and God so commands you — you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.’

Genesis 18:19-23

I know that none of us are leading communities in the wilderness trying to reach a promised land. We are leading faith communities to be about God’s kingdom in the midst of life. What would it look like to adopt a more collegial and communal approach to leadership? What if we shared the burden of the people with others? What if we visioned, ordered, and led in leadership groups?

God in Haiti

We are once again staring at total destruction and human suffering. The images make you stop and wonder why? We are overwhelmed, saddened, and lost. We feel powerless and wonder what we can do?

The “talking heads” have begun chanting their analysis and solutions. The world just watches as people like us face the terrorizing reality that has become their life. Those of us who claim to be bearers of good news have much to reflect upon and must be careful guardians of the gospel words. Making sure that these words are communicated in ways that are constructive, hope filled and life giving.

Much of the conversation in religious circles has turned to the nature of suffering. In a recent New York Times Op/Ed, Pooja Bhatia, asks “Why, then, turn to a God who seems to be absent at best and vindictive at worst?”

In one sentence Bhatia asks the question that many are asking. If God is the one responsible, as some so called Christian leaders have already suggested, then we are indeed in deep trouble. If God is absent, somehow oblivious to the situation at hand then we too have much damage control to do.

Jon Sobrino, Latin American theologian & priest, understands this dilemma in the Christian faith. Like many others before him he reminds us that God is present in suffering, he tells us that “God is the God of the victims.” He then focuses our attention on the biggest tragedy in such situations,

The greatest tragedy – in an earthquake or any other situation – is not the material damages it causes, but the destruction of what is human. The greatest solidarity is to help rebuild that humanity. The greatest hope is to keep walking, doing justice, and loving with kindness.

– Jon Sobrino in Where is God?: Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope

The good news of Jesus, is not going to save us from the struggles and tragedies of life! We as people living in a troubled world will be victims of brokenness, strife, and injustice. Some, like the people of Haiti, have found themselves victimized time and time again by forces outside their control. This is not God’s doing instead it reflects the brokenness of all of life, the brokenness that God came to redeem.

The images return: the rubble of buildings, bodies scattered, loved ones carrying their dead, beloved children of God walking in the destruction: lost, hungry, nowhere to go . . . there is God! Grieving, holding, walking, broken . . . It is because of suffering, pain, and destruction that God came in Jesus.

The challenge is how we as God’s people will respond and how we will show solidarity with these sisters and brothers so far away? How are we going to make the good news of hope, restoration and humanity incarnate to the people that needed most? How are we going to make sure that what we build is not the infrastructure of empire but the infrastructure of communal life?

We will respond by being loving, generous, attentive. We will love those who are unlike us and yet struggle like we would. We will give generously of what we have, reflecting the way that God gives all of God-self for the life of the world. But we will also become more attentive – we will shine the light of oppression, injustice, and alienation – we will become bearers of what is human for those who have experienced its destruction.

Through our imperfect prayers, relief efforts, and dispersed presence we will become the incarnate presence of God to those who this day needed most. Through our offering we show the world that God is indeed present, caring, comforting, guiding and opening the way for new life!

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