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Bullets on the Tennis Court, or Mission trip to East St. Louis, part 1

Lessie Bates Davis logoThere was a bullet on the tennis court.  Not a spent shell. A fired bullet. Among the mess of leaves, sticks, and broken glass, one of our youth reached down and picked it up, looked at it for awhile then said, “I found a bullet.”  I knew right away he wasn’t joking.  I looked at the little cone-shaped piece of metal.  I don’t know enough about guns and ammo to know anything about its caliber, what weapon it was fired out of, or any details.  There was probably something else we could have done with it, but all I said was, “throw it away.”  So he tossed it in the garbage bag and we went about our business of cleaning up the tennis courts at Lincoln Park in East St. Louis, Illinois.

We were a group of nine youth and three adults.  Some were inside the Mary Brown Center, working with some kids from the neighborhood.  Most of us were outside sweeping.  It was unseasonably cool for late July in Saint Louis.  It was a gray morning, and we were looking for something to do.  Miss Terry had told us that the tennis courts were unusable because of all the broken glass, so we decided to try and sweep it up.  We had some rakes, brooms, trash bags, and a dust pan.  We raked the sticks, leaves, and grass into big piles and swept the broken glass into the dustpan.  Even when we were joined by about a dozen youth from the neighborhood, most working for a few dollars an hour, we realized there was no way we were going to clean up the courts entirely.  By the time we finished though, I would have felt a lot better about kids playing there, as long as they had good shoes on.

Of course, it was entirely possible that once the sun went down, the park would be filled with young people with nothing better to do than throw their empty bottles into the courts.  Miss Terry hoped though, that the presence of people cleaning it up would discourage them.  We could hope.

The first day of the mission trip did not go exactly as we had planned.  We had planned to show up at the Mary Brown Center at 8:15 so we had plenty of time to set up our version of Vacation Bible School for the 25-30 seven to nine year old kids that would arrive at 9:00 a.m.  We had planned to spend the two hours with them in neatly divided groups so we could have 20 minute sessions of worship, devotion, Spanish, art, dance, and closing worship.  We had planned to stay to do some other kind of chores around the center until having lunch, and then going about the rest of our day in Saint Louis.  They say that if you want to give God a good chuckle, tell him your plans.

The Mary Brown Center is a part of Lincoln Park.  The geodesic dome houses a beautiful gymnasium.  The Center is also home to most of the youth programs of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House.

The Mary Brown Center is a part of Lincoln Park. The geodesic dome houses a beautiful gymnasium. The Center is also home to most of the youth programs of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House.

On the first morning drive to the Mary Brown Center, I got turned around.  I took the wrong exit after crossing the bridge.  I read the map, but the streets I wanted to drive did not go through.  After a process that included about four u-turns, our two minivans arrived at the Center at about 8:50.  We were welcomed graciously by Miss Terry.  She gave us a quick tour of the facility.  There are two main sections of the Center.  There is the beautiful domed structure that houses an immaculate gymnasium, and there is the education wing, home to a computer lab, a youth room, a dining room, offices, and a larger room with tables for seating and table games.

During the tour she told us about the pool, which would be opening for the first time in five years, and the tennis court, which despite having the money set aside for new nets, rackets, and balls, was unusable because it was covered in broken glass.  We unloaded the vans, started setting up our stations, and waited for the kids to start coming.  At about 9:30, there were about four kids.  That’s when I asked Miss Terry what else we could do.  I thought of trying to clean up the courts.

Some stayed inside with the kids that came, and as the morning went on a few more trickled in, and others swept the courts.  That is when I felt the futility of what we were trying to do.  We were invading this space, not sure of our place, unsure of our role, wondering what the mission of this trip was really going to be.  We had all the right plans, but the reality of the situation weighed heavily on my heart.  And then we found the bullet.

“What the heck are we doing here?” I wondered.  Then I kept sweeping.  I could pick up glass, and if that was all I was meant to be doing, then I was going to do it well.  We worked for about an hour and a half.  When we left, there were still young people sweeping in the courts.  There were others outside the fences, laughing at those that were foolish enough to pick up a broom.  Later I talked to our youth about the courage it took to remain there while their friends taunted them.  We agreed that those that remained there to clean up their park were among the bravest people we had ever met.

To Miss Terry’s enormous credit, she sat down with us for awhile before we left and taught us about what the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House was all about.  She told us about her struggles as a community leader.  She told us about the kids on the corner with no hope.  She told us about the adult leaders that give their time and their energy so that they did not have to lose another kid to the street.  When I asked her, “What do you mean by lose them?” I knew that the only answer anyone needed was that bullet we found on the tennis court.

Part 1 – “Bullets on the tennis court.”

Part 2 – “You were made in the image of God”

Part 3 – “Not ‘goodbye,’ just ‘See you later.'”

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My first Father’s Day gift came years before I was a Dad

I’ve been given a lot of Father’s Day gifts over the years.  I’ve gotten shoes, books, a basketball, shirts, and pictures.  When I was in eighth grade, I got a phone for my room.  This might sound strange.  Not many eighth graders get Father’s Day presents.  I remember once telling a friend about the gift my Dad gave me for Father’s Day, and he was confused.  My Dad always gave my sister and brother and me gifts for Father’s Day.

“Being a Father is the best thing that ever happened to me,” he would explain to us.  “And I couldn’t be a Father if it wasn’t for you.”  Although that was only technically true of my sister (his first born), I never argued the point.  The message was clear, and it was one that I don’t think I truly grasped until I was a father myself.  Becoming a father is the best thing that ever happened to me.

I am the father of two girls, and I adore them.  Their laughter is beautiful music.  Their smiles are the greatest of masterpieces.  Their imagination is mind-boggling.  Their dance is breath-taking.  I savor every moment that we are together.  They make me want to be a better person.  I want to give them everything.  On this Father’s Day, I want to give them a gift.

This year though, I’m not going to give them a doll or a toy.  I’m not going to give them a book or a Blackhawks t-shirt.  I’m going to give their gift to someone else, and they are compassionate enough to understand.  Instead of giving to them, I am going to give to other daughters, because everytime I look at my daughters, I can’t help but see the future.

I dream of my daughters growing up in safety and health.  I dream of them getting educated, finding their talents, discovering their gifts.  I dream of them making lasting friendships and falling in love.  I see tremendous giftedness in both of them, and my most important role as a father is to help them see and develop these gifts for themselves.  My dream for them is to fulfill who they were created to be.  My dreams for their future are a luxury that I will never take for granted.

My dreams for their futures are a luxury that most fathers in the world cannot afford.  For most daughters of the world, safety, dignity, education, and health are unattainable dreams.  So my gift to my daughters on this Father’s Day is to the daughters of the world.  My gift this Father’s Day is a word of encouragement.  It is a word of awareness.  It is a call to action.

Maternal health is not a women’s issue.  It is a global concern.  For millions of women, giving birth is the most dangerous thing they will ever do.  Motherhood should be a gift of life, but far too often it is a death sentence.  In many places in the world, women are valued for little more than giving birth.  They are treated as a walking uterus, to be valued if they give birth, and thrown away when or if they cannot.  Girls are forced into motherhood too soon, when it is biologically possible but anatomically dangerous.  They are not allowed to rest and heal between pregnancies.  They have little access to contraception.  If pregnant, health care is difficult to find, and often impossible to afford.  And postpartum care is not even on the RADAR for most.

My faith does not let me standby and allow this to happen.  Jesus raised the widow’s son because he had compassion for her.  He healed the woman that was bleeding for 12 years, returning her to a life fully integrated into the community.  He invited the women to learn at his feet, alongside the men.  He debated a foreign woman at the well, and exulted her faith.  Jesus believed that crazy notion that women are to be valued and treated with dignity and respect.

I believe the same, and so I am called by that same Jesus to do something.  I am called to give my daughters – and all daughters – a gift.

no woman no cry posterThings you can do:

  • Go to Healthy Families, Healthy Planet.  This initiative is funded by the United Nations Foundation, and housed by the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society.  On this useful website, there are fact sheets,  resources for worship, tips for hosting a panel discussion, and instructions on how to host a screening of the film, No Woman, No Cry.
  • Find or host a screening of the incredible film No Woman, No Cry, which tells the story of four women with at-risk pregnancies.  This is a touching, emotionally charged movie.  It is documentary film-making at its best.
  • Write to your Senators and Representatives, and tell them to support aid for international maternal health and family planning.  Supporting women’s health is the single most cost-effective form of aid that we can give.  Remember, Family Planning does not equal abortions.  Increased access and education about contraception can reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and reduce the demand for abortions. US Aid to International family planning efforts in 2012 provided contraception to 31 million families.  This helped prevent an estimated 9 million unintended pregnancies, and 4 million abortions.  Maternal health and family planning is Pro-Life. (source: the Guttmacher Institute)
  • Men, stand up and be heard.  Too many believe that maternal health is a woman’s issue.  In most of the world, men’s voices are the most influential in determining public policy and education.  If more men demanded that their daughters were taken care of, it would happen.  There are education programs being set up through developing nations teaching men about their role in family planning.  Stand up men, for your sisters, your mothers, and your daughters.  Do no take the dreams you have for them for granted.

Dads, give someone a Father’s Day gift.  Give a daughter hope for a future where she is not sold into slavery for her uterus.  Give a daughter hope for an education.  Give a daughter a dream for her future.  Give a daughter the gift of life, and life abundant.

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“Following Christ means you surrender your right to apathy.”

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May 2, 2013 · 12:54 pm

You are the light of the world.

Part Two of my story of Godspell. Read part one here.

Click here to go to the full sermon, where I talk about our experience with Godspell, called “You are the Light of the World.”  From 11:30-20:00, I talk more extensively about the salt and the light as found in Matthew 5:13-14.

Our Riverside UMC "Godspell" cast

Our Riverside UMC “Godspell” cast

“You are the light of the world,” I sang. And then I went home and reflected on the amazing thing we had just done. Godspell had forever changed me, but in the hours after the show I don’t think I had any idea just how much.

“You are the light of the world,” we all sang. Dino Hayz, director of the Center for Living Arts and our Jesus, went out into the audience. He grabbed someone and had them stand up so we could all sing to that one particular person, “You are the salt of the earth.” Then quickly to another man he dashed. He got him to stand up so we could point to him and sing, “You are the city of God.” Finally, he found one last woman. She was sitting near the back, and we sang one more time, “You are the light of the world.”

It was the last song before intermission. We left the sanctuary rocking. We were half way home, and we all sensed that things were going well. None of our rehearsals suggested that the show would go as smoothly as it had been. At the end of the show, after singing the beautiful refrain “We can build a beautiful city, yes we can. Yes we can. We can build a beautiful city. Not a city of angels, but finally a city of man,” I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

After the show a woman approached me. She told me that she had a great time. She loved the music, and she was so glad she could come. For years, she told me, she had a Playbill from the original Broadway production. She also had an album she had never played. For years she had kind of wondered what Godspell was, and when she saw us in the paper, she decided on a whim to come check it out. I told her how happy I was that she was there, and invited her to come again to worship with us.

The next day I was talking to our head usher about what a great experience the show was. We were marveling at the amount of people that came, and how many people came that were not a part of our church. I told him about the woman I talked to after the show, and he quickly realized that he knew who I was talking about.

“Yeah, I was talking to her at intermission. She seemed like she was looking for something, and I wanted to help her. I saw her and said, ‘You are the light of the world,’ she was one of the people that you guys sang to when Dino got her to stand up.'”
She kind of laughed when I said that,” Tom told me. “And then she said, ‘No one has ever called me that before.'”

I got goosebumps when he told me that, and I thanked Tom for telling me about their exchange. Then I went back into my office and was overwhelmed. Something washed over me that I can only describe as the Holy Spirit as I prayed “Thank you God.” Tears started to flow, and my efforts at standing became feeble. I literally fell to my knees in tears as I was struck at once with an overwhelming sense of awe, wonder, sadness, joy, and purpose. “No one has ever called me that before,” she said.

There were so many moments that made Godspell a memorable experience. If it were not for Tom’s story, I would have counted it as a great memory. I would have remembered the impromptu rehearsals in the kitchen with my wife and daughter as we sang and danced together. I would have remembered Molly gently nudging me into the right place so I was ready to be one of the priests in the Good Samaritan parable. I would have remembered the prayer we shared before the show. I would have remembered hugging Dino during the farewell song, and whispering to him. “Thank you, brother.” With or without that conversation with Tom I would have relished in the glow of accomplishing something as a team.

After hearing the story of the woman that had never been told that she was the light of the world though, I had something more.

“You are the light of the world,” is not just a catchy line in a pretty song in an upbeat musical.
“You are the light of the world,” are Jesus’ words to his followers. They are words from what we call The Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5-6. It is a small part of Jesus’ dissertation about what it means to live in this world.

“You are the light of the world.” It is a claim on those that had gathered. It is an assurance of what Jesus’ followers are, and what they shall be.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said so long ago.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus declares today. You.

So let your light so shine. There is a light that is within you that is good. There is a light within you that is of God. There is a light within you that needs to be seen. I think for a moment of the children in this world that have never been told that they are the light of anyone’s world, and it breaks my heart. I think for a moment of people stuck in abusive relationships, allowing their light to be crushed, and I want to scream. I think for a moment of youth that want only to hide and be as invisible as possible so as not to draw anyone’s attention, and it kills me to know that they have never been told, “You were created in the very image of God. The light that God created at the very moment of creation. That is in you. Hear Jesus crying to you, ‘You are the light of the world.'”

That little musical gave me a lot of things. It gave me memories. It gave me friendships. It gave me knowledge about myself. And it gave me a renewed sense of purpose. It gave me a way to think about my mission as a follower of Christ.
I will strive to never allow another man, woman, or child pass me by without letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that they are the light of the world.

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Be You. Be God’s. Be the Church.

Audio file of the full sermon.  The music that plays during this sermon is by Christopher Grundy.  The songs are called “Out on This Wire,” and “Stepping In.”  The mission projects I talked about are the Redbird Mission, and Kids Against Hunger.

“Be You. Be God’s. Be the Church.”

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.’
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lordsaid to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

Excerpts from the sermon:

“Being called into God’s ministry is for all who claim Christ.  Those who call themselves Christian are called to do more, to be more, to be transformed, to be a part of God’s work in this world.  God is calling.  God is speaking today.  God is calling you to be you; to be who God created you to be.  There are a lot of stories, a lot of descriptors people use to define themselves.  All too often we define ourselves by who we’re not.  ‘I’m not old enough. I’m not strong enough. I don’t speak well enough.  I’m not educated.  I’m not good enough.  I’m not qualified. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not smart enough.’  It’s all lies.  It’s all lies.  But all too often we believe them.  It’s so easy to believe the excuses, and say ‘No I can’t do it….’  But God is calling you to tune out the lies, and let go of all the obstacles, and to be who you were created to be.

“Allowing yourself to be God’s is hard sometimes.  Being God’s means that there will be words you are called to speak that you don’t want to speak.  There are places you are called to go that you don’t want to go.  There’s forgiveness that you need to offer that you don’t want to offer.  There is shame that you are called to let go, but for some reason you still cling to.  There is a neighbor that needs a friend.  There is a stranger that needs a hand.  A young person that needs a mentor.  It’s not always easy.  And if you try to do it on your own, it will be impossible.  Because this is God’s work.”

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Sermon: Declare that the dawn is coming

Click here for a podcast of the sermon, “Declare that the dawn is coming,” which was preached on December 23, 2012.

Click here for the blog-version of this sermon.

“God has called you to your life.  Let it speak.  Let nothing get in the way of being the person that you are.  Zachariah claimed in his prophecy that through the birth of Jesus, “we have been rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear.”  We need no longer fear.  We need no longer hide from God or from each other.  We are free to use the gifts that God has granted us for God’s purposes.  We can serve God in our homes, in our churches, and in our workplace.  We can serve God with our hearts, hands, feet, and minds.  We are free to love God, because it is only in freedom that love is possible.  We are free to love ourselves because we know that we were created in the image of the God that is love.  We are free to love one another because God has called us to do no less.”

Scripture:

Luke 1:65-79

Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

 

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Declare that the dawn is coming

girl on beachI love holding babies.  I have held many babies.  Countless times I have held a baby in my arms, and looked down and wondered, “What will this child be?” I can think of no act in life that is more full of hope then holding a baby.  I held each of my daughters within minutes of their birth.  Each time I was filled with awe and wonder.  Each time was a holy moment beyond explanation.

This year at Advent I have rediscovered Zachariah.  I’ve been a Dad for a few years, but for some reason I’ve always been drawn to Mary’s song.  I wrote last year at Advent about preparing for the coming of a child.  This Advent though, I have been drawn to Zechariah’s prophecy when his son was born.

Zechariah praised God when his son was born.  He praised God for the promises that God made.  He praised God for the promises that God kept. He praised God for the promise that was in his son.  For he knew that his son was created for a purpose.  He knew that his son would be called a prophet.  He knew that his son would “go before the Lord to prepare a way.”  He knew that is son would “tell the people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.”  Zechariah was filled with joy at the birth of his son, so he praised God.

But I’m here to tell you that God rejoices no less for you than did Zechariah  for his son.  Zechariah so loved his son that he could glimpse him through God’s eternal eyes.  God so loves you that he has laid out a path for you to follow.  God has given you something that makes you uniquely you.  There is something in you that transcends employment, labels, gender, race, or status.  God has created you with a purpose, and is calling you to that purpose today.  You were created to do no less than John once did – to prepare the way of the Lord, and “to show the people the way to salvation through the forgiveness of sins.”

God has called you to your life.  Let it speak.  Let nothing get in the way of being the person that you are.  Zachariah claimed in his prophecy that through the birth of Jesus, “we have been rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear.”  We need no longer fear.  We need no longer hide from God or from each other.  We are free to use the gifts that God has granted us for God’s purposes.  We can serve God in our homes, in our churches, and in our workplace.  We can serve God with our hearts, hands, feet, and minds.  We are free to love God, because it is only in freedom that love is possible.  We are free to love ourselves because we know that we were created in the image of the God that is love.  We are free to love one another because God has called us to do no less.

Fear is powerful.  Fear can be overwhelming.  When we sit in the shadow of death, fear can be crippling.

Many of us have experienced that kind of fear.  We have experienced that kind of sorrow or loss.  When the chaos of the world is too much to bear, we sit in the shadow.  When the diagnosis is positive, and the prognosis is not optimistic, we sit in the shadow.  When the job is lost and the source of the next check is a mystery, we sit in the shadow.  When we fail to love as we were called to love, we sit in the shadow.  When thousands of children die from undernourishment or  preventable disease, we sit in the shadow.  When a man breaks through the sanctuary of a school and shatters the lives of innocents, we sit in the shadow.

Though some would claim that God does not go where God is not wanted, such a claim stands in direct opposition to the claim of Christmas.  The claim of Christmas is that God goes where God is not expected and is not wanted.  God goes where it one time seemed impossible.  God breaks through the cosmos, tears through the curtain, crumbles our dividing walls, and makes the audacious and spectacular claim that God was made flesh.  God was a baby.

The claim of Christmas is that God broke through the darkness.  As Zachariah said, “Because of God’s compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 CEB)

Through our freedom, humanity has created many dark and terrible places.  The shadow of death at times looms large over our world, but in the midst of darkness a baby is born.

Zachariah saw a great purpose in his son’s life.  People wondered, “What then will this child be?”  John grew to be the voice in the wilderness that cried out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

What then will you be?  For what purpose have you been created?  Use what you have been given to do as John did.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Show people the way of salvation.  Find those that sit in the shadow of death, and sit next to them.  Hold their hand.  Weep with them.  Give them love.  Show them the light, and declare that the dawn is coming.  Declare that the dawn is coming, and let the Holy Spirit guide us on the path of peace.

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Let Your Life Speak is one of my favorite books.  It was written by Parker Palmer.

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The Unnamed Miracle of Christmas

Mary survived.

She gave birth to a boy surrounded by animals, filth, and dirt.  There was no midwife or doctor or antiseptic or sterile instruments.  There was no one to help.  She was young – probably not fully physically mature.  Still, she gave birth to a boy and survived.  The unnamed miracle of Christmas is that Mary survived.

Healthy Families Healthy Planet

I first heard this statement from Katey Zeh, Project Director of Healthy Families, Healthy Planet.  This initiative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society is funded by a grant from the United Nations.  Its mission is to educate people about the dangers of motherhood in the Global South, and to advocate for the protection of these mothers.  They have produced this video, which is worth a watch.

A lot of people get very tense when you start talking about family planning.  This is a hot-button issue in American politics.  Yet I believe that this project is one of those things that can and should transcend partisan politics.  Maternal health is a pro-life issue, and so is family planning.  Family planning includes education about contraception, birth spacing, and the importance delaying a girl’s first pregnancy.  Maternal health is not a women’s issue.  It is a human issue.  When women are healthy, their children are healthy.  Education about women’s health reduces abortions, miscarriages, and maternal mortality.  That is something we should all be able to support.

In many parts of the world, where women are still treated much like cattle, family planning and education can be a matter of life or death for a mother and her children – both born and unborn.

This Christmas season, as you ponder the miracle of God becoming flesh, think also of Mary.  Think also of a 14 year old girl you know.  Ponder what would happen to her if she were forced into pregnancy, and was unable to access a doctor, a midwife, or even a clean floor on which to give birth.  Think also of the mother that died in the last 90 seconds in childbirth.  Think of the women that are valued not as people, but for the service their uterus provides.  They are forced into pregnancy too young, and too often.  They are giving birth in terrible conditions.  They are dying.  Their children are suffering.  They need us.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief provides a guide for putting together Birthing kits.  If you are interested in putting these together, you must follow the guidelines precisely.  Follow this link, then click on “Birthing Kits” along the right side of the page.  This is a great way to #BeChristInChristmas.

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Sermon: Whose job is it, anyway?

Click here to listen to Sermon: Whose job is it, anyway?

A related blog post: Feel angry, then do something.

Scripture passage:

Luke 9:10-17

When the apostles returned, they described for Jesus what they had done. Taking them with him, Jesus withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds figured it out, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about God’s kingdom, and healed those who were sick.

When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “ Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place. ”

He replied, “ You give them something to eat. ”

But they said, “ We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people. ” (They said this because about five thousand men were present.)

Jesus said to his disciples, “ Seat them in groups of about fifty. ” They did so, and everyone was seated. He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers.

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Where is the Love?

I am not a conservative or a liberal – as they are portrayed by the other side.  Most people aren’t.  I know that good, loving people can consider the same issue, read the same Bible, pray to the same God, worship in the same pew, and come to very different conclusions.  Some of the most valuable lessons about God and Christ have been taught to me by people that would consider themselves liberal and conservative.  I’ve been taught about grace, and shown unconditional love by people from across the spectrum.  Differing political opinions do not have to be the end of a loving relationship.  If they are, then we’re all in more trouble than I thought.

The current political climate is a difficult one to manage.  I have some strong feelings, and I’m sure you do to.  I have come to my conclusions through prayer, Bible study, reading other sources, examining the current culture, talking to friends, listening to speeches, and a variety of other ways.  I try to listen to those with whom I disagree, but like most people I probably go to my tried-and-true comfortable sources more often than not.  I have changed my mind over the years.  I have cast ballots that I now regret.  My faith informs everything I do, including how I vote.  It must also include how I engage with those with whom I disagree.

I try to focus not on the areas in which I disagree with others, but seek to strengthen the places of contact.  I try to focus on those things which we can agree, and see where it goes from there.  I think an important starting point is here: Acknowledge that the world is broken and in need of healing, so let’s love each other and leave room for disagreement.

I guess that is the question with which I struggle.  Can we love each other and leave room for disagreement?  And a second question that seems to be of particular importance to our churches.  Can we disagree and still work together for the Kingdom?

My answer to these questions is “Yes, and Yes.”  But it’s not easy.  How do we go about loving each other in the midst of disagreement?

Remember that all people are created in the image of God.  Every person is of sacred worth, and is loved by God.  Even if they are driving you nuts.  Even if you think that person is a conceited, ignorant, know-it-all.  That person is loved by God.

Remember that all people are flawed.  And so am I.  I am not the final authority.  I’m just a guy with a wordpress account.

Consider the last time you  changed your mind.  Someone in one of my Bible studies brought this point up.  When was the last time you changed your mind?  If it has been awhile, then ask yourself why that is.  I’m also guessing that you didn’t change your mind because of a well constructed 140 character tweet, or a bitingly funny picture with words on it.

Be willing to concede that the Bible says a lot of things, and also very little.  The Bible should be the primary guide to discernment for Christians.  According to the United Methodist Church, “The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”  In other words, it is our greatest source of divine truth, but it is not the only source of truth in the world.  For most modern issues that are so divisive, it has little to say directly, but much to say indirectly.  I try to take it as a whole, living Word.  This means Bible verse wars are probably not very productive.  In depth analysis, reading, prayer, and conversation over the Scriptures can be extremely productive.

Keep your eye on the mission.  Instead of getting bogged down in particulars and pet projects, see the grander scope of what’s being done.  Part of the political disconnect is that it seems like the mission has turned into winning, when the mission should be working to make our nation stronger, more stable, and safer.  If we can start with a common interest, e.g., helping the poor, then a conversation can begin.  What is the nature of charity?  What does the Bible say about how a government should care for its people?  If we start with a common value, then the particulars of how to go about that become ways to grow, learn, and expand.

-Acknowledge that there are fundamental differences sometimes, but this can be a good thing.  In other words, we need each other.  Liberals and Conservatives and everyone in-between needs each other. We need each other to act as checks and balances.  We need conflict to generate creativity, but sometimes the conflict can rise to levels that are destructive.  Media, pundits, memes, TV commercials,and tweets like caricatures.  They like broad sweeping statements and biting sound bites.  They love gaffes – as if Mitt Romney actually believes that corporations are people, or that Barack Obama actually believes he built your small business for you.  Candidates are not sound bites.  People are not caricatures.  Values, beliefs, and principles cannot be wrapped into packages and labeled.

Can we disagree and still work for the Kingdom?  If the answer is no, then I am deeply saddened.  I pray that the answer is yes, we can work together in the midst of disagreement.

We need each other.  The body of Christ is meant to be a complex, working body.  There is room at the table for everyone.  I may be more liberal than you.  I may be more conservative than you, but I will do my best to love you.  I believe together, with the Holy Spirit, we can make a difference in this broken world.  I believe that together, in the midst of turmoil, political bantering, name-calling, and fear, we can bring people to know the good news of Jesus Christ.  We can work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

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