SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Tag: love (Page 1 of 2)

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.

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

“For I received from the Lord:” A Holy Thursday Reflection

“It would not have been God’s table
if they hadn’t all been gathered around it:
the betrayer and the friend
the power-hungry and the justice seeker
the faithful and the fickle.”

from “it would not have been God’s table” by Cheryl Lawrie

The Last Supper - Chartres Cathedral

We gather today to begin a journey again. We have been here before, for many it might seem like yesterday, for others it has been long forgotten. We gather around rehearsed texts, worn by their reading year after year. We gather around a table, full at first, but will end empty and plain. We gather to receive from the Lord again.

Cheryl Lawrie in her poem has forced me to consider what we have received. It is a meal, a re-membrance, a gathering. But it is the type of gathering and who it is that gathers that begins to give us clues, strong clues, as to the identity of this meeting, the reason for why it has been given for us to receive. It is people that gather, real people, who have lived real lives, saints and sinners, one and the same.

It is fitting that this becomes the beginning of a tragedy that becomes an epic drama of cosmic dimensions. God made human gathering with people in need of restoration, in need of hope. Like at many other meals, stories are shared and actions speak louder than words. The host becomes the meal, the master becomes the servant, the guests are called to follow the master’s lead, the filled called to share what will soon be out poured for all the world.

God’s Table becomes the perpetual re-ordering of our lives towards God-likeness. Those who gather are those who know that they needed most. So we receive and receive so that we can give and give, so that we can have the strength to carry on through the trials, disappointment, and surprises of the world. Love enacted in our outpouring, in our braking, in our giving.

We gather to receive so that in the midst of darkness, the light of love can shine for the life of the world. May we hear the call to gather, whoever we are, may we hear the call to walk the way of love, may we hear the call to die so that we can live again!

Eternal Life – Eternal Love

In many Christian circles we find an obsession with heaven. The way many of these Christians put it, becoming Christian is about earning an entrance ticket into heaven. This easily becomes a reason for not engaging the world, for ignoring its plights, and for a self-centered life of faith. Eternity becomes something that will happen someday, that we will enjoy at the end of time.

The world in this point of view becomes a place for “passing thru.” So human reality, earthly reality, embodied existence becomes another stumbling block to the real life promised some day, to the real concern of God, to our “spiritual life.”

In today’s reading on our journey Scott McKnight gives us a helpful corrective. He tells us that “[w]hat is finally eternal is love, and heaven and eternal life are terms that house what is truly eternal: love.” (168) In loving God, neighbor, self, we are participating in the divine life, we are participating and inaugurating eternal life. Love keeps us centered, hopeful and inspired on being about God’s own nature in the world. We, as embodied beings, making incarnate God’s nature for the many who are not yet responding to God’s initiative in their life.

We might be at a point in our Lenten journey where tiredness is beginning to set in. We are ready for celebration, we are ready to take on that which we gave up, we are ready to sing Alleluia once again. Those things might seem like the heaven that we are waiting for, so near and yet so far away.

The promise of the Gospel is the promise of eternal life that begins today. We do not have to wait. The God we serve gave us an embodied savior and through that savior has taught us to love in the same way. Let us go into these last days loving. Knowing that in our loving we are participating in God’s own nature, knowing that in loving we are making possible heaven right here on earth.

As we prepare to hear the story of Jesus’ last days let us also remember that our embodied existence is no stumbling block. In fact our savior reminded us in his suffering and death that this world, this created order, is worthy, sacred, God’s own image in the world. God’s love for that world tells us something about the power of God’s Spirit within us that allows our loving to be an agent of participating in the eternal life of God-self. Thanks be to God!

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This post originally appeared at the 40 Days Together blog, where clergy from the Louisiana Annual Conference share Lenten Reflections on Scott McKnight’s book 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed.

Bible in 90 – Day 81: Fighting

My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people have me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. What I mean is this: that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul.’ ‘I belong to Apollos,’ ‘I belong to Cephas,’ ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name?

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Is good to know that Christians have always struggled in their life together. Sometimes we have idealistic views of those early days, all seem perfect, all of God’s people working together, if only we could go back to that “golden age!”

Reading through Paul’s letters quickly bring us back to reality. People are people, today or two thousand years ago, it is still people and all of us struggle to lives as one.

What struck me about this passage today was that the community was fragmented in “factions of faithfulness.” Each of them were claiming to be right, to be righteous, to be the heirs of the real message because of who had baptized them, who they identified with. People had chosen to “label” themselves in order to claim their identity in the right camp. They belonged to these camps but did they belong to Christ?

Today as God’s people we are tempted to label ourselves. There are so many issues, positions, and causes that it would be easy to align ourselves as a way of identity and belonging. It also makes it easier for us to know who we agree with (so that we can align with them) and who we disagree with (so that we can avoid them).

Can we hold positions, struggle with issues, and speak on behalf of causes without confusing those with our real identity as baptized people?

I know this is difficult teaching. It would be so much easier to draw the line and exclude those with whom we disagree. I sense though that the message of Jesus calls us to a primary identity of love in the world. This love is not the romantic/idealistic/superficial feeling that we are familiar with. Instead is the covenantal/difficult/deep affection of the Christian life.

Love then calls us to stop the infighting, engage each other as brothers and sisters, and work together for the life of the world. After all we were not baptized in the name of our causes, nor have our issues died for us, instead Christ lived, died, and was raised so that we as a diverse creation could become one once again.

Bible in 90 – Day 73: Opposition

Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.’

Luke 2:34-35

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

I remember the many visions and dreams as I held my firstborn son. He was just a little guy, who could barely fit in the outfit we put on him and yet we had big dreams. We could see him growing up to love books, like we did, and music. Maybe he would serve God and neighbor in amazing ways. We had dreams that he would make a difference . . . and we still do.

Other people also had dreams and “prophesies” for the child. He would be a talker, like his dad, or an introvert, like his mom. “He might want to be a pastor some day,” some people said. All of these words were welcomed, appreciated, and many we still treasure to this day seven years later.

We still dream dreams for our oldest son, daughter, and youngest son. Some of those have changed as the years pass by. Seeing our oldest growing into his own has also altered some of our “wishes” for him. He does love reading, he is an introvert, he is also extremely intelligent, has an amazing sense of humor and has become one of my favorite conversation partners.

Imagine someone prophesying that your child will create opposition and will bring about the downfall of a people? No heartwarming wishes, no expected niceness, just plain truth.

Simeon provides a prophetic word of one who brings salvation, but it turns out that salvation will not come easy. The proclamation of God’s love turns out to be dangerous work. It creates tension, conflict, and opposition. The prophet figures that his parents might as well know that their hearts will be broken. The good of the world is dependent upon the falling of their child. Loves wins, but at a cost.

Sometimes we approach Jesus like we approach our children. We imagine it all so heartwarming, perfect, full of potential. Our naivete might serve as a way to help us move forward. Imagine if we truly knew the sacrifices, difficulties, and heartbreaks of raising a child? Imagine if we knew for sure what their future held?

I admire Mary and Joseph. They continued on raising this child in the ways of God and in the ways of their family. In the back of their mind I am sure they kept pondering the words of Simeon. But they kept on, like any loving parent would, no matter what. This was their child, a child that would grow up to change the world forever.

As we continue walking this journey of Lent let us remember that often the good news of the Gospel causes division and strife. But just like raising a child, let us not fear, for the difficulties are the result of what Oscar Romero called “the violence of love.”

Bible in 90 – Day 69: Seeing

The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be!

Matthew 6:22-23 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Sometimes I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. From the moment my alarm clock goes off I begin to view the world through the “eyes” of my mood for the day. All interactions seem like a problem and I wonder why the whole world decided to annoy me!

I am sure that I am not alone and after reading this passage this morning I quickly realize that this has been a problem of the human condition since the beginning, our eyes can truly be the lamp for the body, or it can be its darkness.

No wonder Jesus spent a significant time teaching us to “see.”

In order for our eyes to become lamps our inner life needs transformation. This transformation happens when we engage the practices of our faith, especially prayer and searching the scriptures both individually and in community. The practices are avenues for those of us who want to “see” better to encounter God. God’s spirit begins to transform our way of seeing which in turn changes our way of thinking and our way of behaving in the world.

Spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, in his book The Naked Now says:

This new perspective and foundation allows [us] to see things for what they really are – and also for what they are not at all. It is indeed a radical perceptual shift that the tradition would call conversion. (136)

Let us seek the light and become seers of the light. Imagine how effective we would be in our discipleship if we could “see” in the way of Jesus?

May this Lenten season be a season of learning to see. Through the practices of our faith that allow for God’s Spirit to transform our inner life so that we can be more faithful agents of God’s love in the world.

No More Church Growth: A Year Later

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

A year ago I wrote a piece that quickly became the most commented piece here and at Day1.org. It elicited colorful comments from frustration, to anger, to personal evaluation on my work as a pastor. I even received a letter and a few e-mails from pastors saddened that I had written such a piece and that a few other outlets had published it.

I thought it would be appropriate to write a reflection a year later. Some things have changed, others have not, in the end I still believe what I said. The purpose of the church is not “growth” but the sending out of transformed people to be about God’s mission in the world.

I believe that if we are faithful to our tasks as a church: to worship, to proclamation and teaching, to caring for one another in love, to connect with other institutions in the community on behalf of the poor and needy, we will be successful at our work as God’s people. (Thanks Taylor Burton Edwards for these conversations)

This can only happen if we are intentional as we form people in the way of Jesus. Our baptismal covenant takes doing, not just reciting. Doing takes time, example, and practice. If we do not provide opportunities for people to be about God’s work in the world then how can we expect the church to “grow?”

I also question what growth might mean for the church. More people does not mean more disciples, nor does more people mean more mission being done. Growth needs to mean more than people in the pews, how about growth in transformation, growth in service, growth in love?

Here are some of my learning’s of the past year . . .

  • The power of story – I am still awed at how sharing our story with one another can be a sacred moment. I am constantly touched by times when the biblical story connects with a person’s story. These “eureka” moments are gifts of grace.
  • The power of relationships – time and time again people come to the church not because of an exciting program or because they received something in the mail but because someone meaningful to them invited them to become part of the community of faith. Relationships matter and a disciple of Jesus will naturally become evangelist.
  • The power of accountability – I’ve been blessed to share my faith journey with a few close confidants. One of them is my spiritual director and a few others are close friends and colleagues. These people in my life ask me the hard questions about my discipleship. They call me to accountability for the covenants that I have made in baptism, in marriage, and in ordination. They also remind me of the importance of the faith community. I grow in my relationship to God because these people are part of my life.
  • The power of discipleship – following is difficult work. Most of the time I want to lead, I’m sure that I am not alone in this. If discipleship to Jesus becomes our reason for being church (seeking first the kingdom) then we will grow, we will multiply, we will transform the world. I wonder if we are tapping into the Spirit’s power called down upon us at our baptism?

I’m still a sojourner, in life, in faith, in thinking . . . I don’t have it figured out but I’m constantly asking, constantly in conversation, constantly listening for God’s voice as I continue to seek ways to help people hear the Good News of Jesus.

All this to say that a year later, can we be about our work of discipleship, the work of being agents of God’s kingdom in the world, and let the Spirit worry about the growth?

Bible in 90 – Day 66: May God Hate You!

God saw what they did, how they were turning back from their evil ways. And God renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon them, and did not carry it out.

This displeased Jonah greatly, and he was grieved.

Jonah 3:10-4:1

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

It would be easier if God liked those we like and dislike those we dislike. It would mean that we were always on God’s side and the others would face judgment.

We know that this is not the case, right? Then why is it that we often, purposely or not, display this kind of attitude?

I can’t tell you how many I have wanted God to be on my side. At times my own attitude was not one of blessing but one that screamed loudly: May God Hate You! I know, as the recipient of those attitudes, that I am not alone.

It is at times of difficulty that I remember that God calls us to be about good news. Jonah could not wait for God to destroy his enemies. What a surprise it was when God change God’s mind and decided to accept the new direction of these people. Jonah could not get it, and so many times neither can we. How can God love them? How can God ask us to love them?

Often the message of this amazing story of a reluctant prophet (to say the least) can easily get clouded by a small detail of a fish who swallows Jonah for three days. Although Jonah went, he did not expect God to be who God was, instead he was more than happy to be the bearer of bad news to a people that he so hated.

All the world, all people, no matter who they are, what they have done, who they worship, God loves them all. And wants to restore all people into relationship with God-self and with each other.

I pray that God’s people are always bearers of good news. Our enemy list/dislike list/abomination list can be long, let us remember that God does not agree with us. Let us remember that our task is to proclaim, May God bless you!

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