Blessed to Receive

I appreciate your words of kindness as we have made this pastoral transition.  Your recent words have been consistent in tone and feeling throughout my tenure, and have not just been reserved for these days of departure.  Your collective words brought me to this text for this last Sunday, where Jesus reminds his disciples that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

In the scene, children are flocking to Jesus.  His disciples sternly shoo them away; trying to do Jesus a favor.  Even Jesus disciples are guilty of deciding for him who deserves to receive what degree of love and care from the Christ.  Seeing what was happening, Jesus became indignant and spoke imperatively saying, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them.  Then he turns their understanding upside down when he makes children model citizens in the kingdom of God saying, “such as these that the kingdom of God belongs“; suggesting all should be as a child.  He sets a condition to this conversion saying, “Unless we receive the kingdom of God like children we will never enter it.”  He underscores his point by taking the children, who his disciples were preventing earlier from approaching him and “laid hands on them and blessed them“.

The text reminds me disciples both then and now; need to be told again and again this simple, but profound truth.  At our core, none of us are no more than a child of God; called to embrace the blessings of receiving the gifts God offers to us through all circumstances and persons.  Assuming the position of the child puts us in the best posture to receive.  A child’s best quality is they are good receivers.  Children do not think like grownups in terms of earning or deserving.  They live unapologetically with open hands.  It seems the older they get, the bigger their open hands grow.  If adults act like this, we call them sluggards, or worse.  Jesus says all of us, young and old, are to be like children in the way we receive.  The reason Jesus affirms we are to receive like children is they model the way God loves the world.  God offers love and we are to simply receive.

Over the years of my ministry, I have not always been a good receiver.  I have a hard time saying thank you and being quiet.  I am more comfortable giving than receiving.  This is why I do what I do; serve and give to others.  Despite my best intentions to offer myself for the sake of others like my big brother Jesus; I admit it feels more noble when I give, than when I receive.  Blessed to receive is easier to say than actually do.

The people of FUMC, SS have helped me learn and relearn this object lesson Jesus taught his disciples about children-“It is more blessed to receive“.  As I have had the privilege of serving this church. I’ve come to know in personal way, through you, God’s love and care is not dependent on what I produce for God or others.  I have come to repent of the futility trying to be worthy of God’s love; recognizing all the ways I fool myself into thinking the kingdom of God is for the taking or that heaven can be had by working for it.  I have been taught by you what it means to simply receive as a child of God.  I have come to know more thoroughly God’s love through receiving gifts from you; than I ever could have known trying to earn God’s love by doing something for you.

Many personal experiences have put our family in the position of being a child, who can do nothing, but receive.  You have graciously shepherded our family; welcoming us to a new city/new church, praying for us, walking with us, and sometimes carrying us during unexpected times.  Through it all, you have loved us through difficult experiences.  You have been good pastors to your pastor, Terri, and our family.  As we have received your gracious gifts, we have reconnected to what Jesus meant when said we are to receive as a child.

We can tell how some of you helped Terri find a place in the school system.  We can speak of the ways you supported us as we were walking with a wandering child.  We can tell stories of night time visits by some of you after my heart surgery.  We can tell of small acts of kindness that were bigger than you could have imagined, extended to us while our parents struggled with multiple health issues.  Through these experiences, we have come to appreciate the act of receiving your gifts of grace for the moment like the children of God we are.

Jesus’ revolutionary teachings concerning children were shocking because in his day, (even a 150 years ago), children were not much good to anyone.  So, for Jesus to teach children are to be blessed for no reason other than they exist was as outrageous then; as it is to say today to adult disciples God’s desire for a loving them is not conditional on their behavior, nor is it something they can attain by their own goodness or hard work.  These ideas are beyond the scope of reasonable thought both then and now.

So, it may sound unusual for me to say: Terri and I have been greater recipients of the love of God than we could ever offer.  I can attest this to be true because I have often been in the position of being a child of God while serving you, receiving the gifts God was offering through FUMC, SS.  We could’ve prevented ourselves from experiencing your gifts of grace by not being willing to receive.  You steadily embodied the gospel message.  The more times we received your gifts, the more we relearned this simple but fundamental childhood message-it is blessed to receive.

Your legacy along with this text points to values that will shape my ministry beyond FUMC, SS.  Thus, I will always thank God for you because much of this understanding of being more open to receiving what God gives sunk in my soul last fall as we walked through the book, He Loves Me.

First, I will be more mindful of the children, who model God’s love.  I will be looking for more ways to bless them; spending less energy turning them into little adults too quickly.  I am convinced by allowing them to experience the love of God at their own pace; makes room for others to experience God in all the various ways and times God comes to them.  After all children are our models, and the way in which they receive God is the way God intends for each of us to enter into the divinely intimate relationship.

Secondly, I will cultivate a greater openness to the gifts God wants to share through others.  I will receive the blessing of receiving; offering a model of God’s love.  I will resist the temptation to be any more than what I am-a child of God, dependent on receiving the blessings God wants to offer through those I serve.  In doing so, I hope to portray the best qualities of a child of God by being open to the gifts of each day and every person.  I will remain open to the gift of others for the sake of others and myself; inheriting the kingdom of God.

There are many ways you have shaped me and my ministry.  I’ve learned to receive grace in order to experience God’s grace.  I’ve learned to be still so I might better recognize God’s gifts when they show up.  I’ve learned God is more interested in blessing me than my work.  I will leave here with empty and outstretched hands so they might remain open to receive the gifts God wants to give.  When I boil it down, it’s not about doing something special for God; it is about becoming a child willing to receive the gifts given for the moment.  John’s gospel says, “For as many as received him, to them gave he the right to be called children of God.  

So, I am going to say thank you and be quiet.  Thanks for being a model of God’s love.  Thanks to our God who graciously gives in ways that cannot be measured.  Thanks for open hands to receive it all!

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I am Not Going to Grow Up!

Jesus reminds his disciples that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

In the scene, children are flocking to Jesus.  His disciples sternly shoo them away; trying to do Jesus a favor.  Even Jesus disciples are guilty of deciding for him who deserves to receive what degree of love and care from the Christ.  Seeing what was happening, Jesus became indignant and spoke imperatively saying, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them.  Then he turns their understanding upside down when he makes children model citizens in the kingdom of God saying, “such as these that the kingdom of God belongs“; suggesting all should be as a child.  He sets a condition to this conversion saying, “Unless we receive the kingdom of God like children we will never enter it.”  He underscores his point by taking the children, who his disciples were preventing earlier from approaching him and “laid hands on them and blessed them“.

The text reminds me disciples both then and now; need to be told again and again this simple, but profound truth.  At our core, none of us are no more than a child of God; called to embrace the blessings of receiving the gifts God offers to us through all circumstances and persons.  Assuming the position of the child puts us in the best posture to receive.  A child’s best quality is they are good receivers.  Children do not think like grownups in terms of earning or deserving.  They live unapologetically with open hands.  It seems the older they get, the bigger their open hands grow.  If adults act like this, we call them sluggards, or worse.  Jesus says all of us, young and old, are to be like children in the way we receive.  The reason Jesus affirms we are to receive like children is they model the way God loves the world.  God offers love and we are to simply receive.

Back to my childish ways!

Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 7:13 am  Leave a Comment  

On this Anniversary I am Falling in Love, Again and Again and Again

God is the true lover of my soul.  God’s love seeks to satisfy my soul.  When I allow myself to be loved as God’s love is offered every longing is satisfied.

When I seek to be loved in the selfish way I want to be loved, my longings are never met.  When I am fixed on my own cravings I not only mess up my life, but also my relationships with others who love me; and most importantly my relationship with God.  My wrongful cravings are adulterous; leaving God and those who love me feeling like an unrequited lover.

It is starting to take hold in my life God is not an unapproachable holy figure needing nothing and no one; totally self-satisfied.  I am becoming more intimately acquainted with a God who has a broken heart and feels like a spurned lover.  God loved me to death–literally.  Why would I choose a false God of my own making; when I can have the passion of a true God?  “God yearns jealously for the spirit that God has made to dwell in us”, James says.  God put a craving mechanism in my heart, so I might respond to God’s craving for my love.

So, I am coming to realize God’s sole desire is not for me to meet divine demands of execute a heavenly plan.  God’s will is not something stern and foreboding; like doing errands for God because I don’t want to be called on the carpet.  It is starting to sink into my soul, God has a craving for me in a romantic way.  God is passionate about me and wants to share in a fruitful relationship.  What God wants most is ME!  God needs me not just to be a minister, but God’s needs me to simply love God.  

Today. Terri and I celebrate a wedding anniversary.  Our marriage has taught me much about loving another person and loving God.  Our marriage relationship and my relationship with God reciprocally teach me more about loving her and loving God.  For most of the time these relationships are full of great joy, and sometimes I experience great sadness.  The key to both is to remain faithful in my focus on how God and she crave me with their love.  The more I allow God and Terri to love me, the more love I can offer God and others.  Yet, when I allow myself to be distracted by other desires like preserving my time, holding onto my share, or meeting my needs I am unable to experience the love of God and others.

I thank God I have a spouse who is stubborn about our love being first and foremost in our lives; she will not cave in to my unnecessary cravings.  I am amazed again on this day how she has shown me love that has stirred up an awakening of God’s love in my life.  For all that more I thank a loving God who craves my love.  And, I thank Terri who loves me more than anyone else on earth.  I love you Terri, I am the luckiest, and Happy Anniversary!

Published in: on June 14, 2011 at 11:01 am  Comments (1)  
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Speak Up!

In Acts 2 God through the Holy Spirit performed artificial resuscitation on a room full of well-intentioned bumblers.  The Holy Spirit turned them into a force that changed history.  This story asks if we still believe that kind of good stuff can happen as we live our faith outside these wallsLet’s look.

The power of the Holy Spirit comes on the disciples.  They’re aware something is happening.  They do not know what, or what it means.  Yet they speak in languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  They can communicate.  We don’t know if they were actual languages with foreign words or a language connecting heart to heart if not mouth to ear.  The remaining disciples were Galileans; they weren’t by reputation “learned” men.  They were fishermen, and their language was likely limited, if not salty!  The crowd gathered in Jerusalem was astonished at their speaking.  Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans?  “How can this be?” they wondered.  Some said they were drunk.  They said they were soused by the Holy Spirit, not by distilled spirits.  Rather than impairing senses and dulling their minds; God made them more acute and sharpened.  Rather than making their tongues thick and slow, the Spirit loosed them to speak.

The simple truth of Pentecost is they spoke.  Unlike some of us who claim to have a difficult time putting into words what is in our hearts.  We are scared to try because we fear being misunderstood; making things worse.  But, when we don’t try, we don’t give the Spirit a chance.  Pentecost says when we breathe in the Holy Spirit, we are meant to breathe out.  When that happens: shy people say audacious things; cautious folk become creative; introverts lead people; and those who typically stay to themselves build mentoring relationships that change lives.  Even, people who are as sour as pickles, smile.  I know it is hard to believe but there is no limit to what the Holy Spirit can do if you will quit holding your breath and use the gift of the spirit and open our mouths and speak the good news.

We are wary of those who appear to be building their own kingdoms in the name of the church.  But, at times we are so reticent of the gift of the Holy Spirit we quench the Spirit instead of being drenched in it.  We have tendency to treat the gift of the Spirit as if it were our own personal experience.  There’s nothing wrong with knowing the Spirit has come for you, but the Holy Spirit is not your private reserve.  The primary purpose of the Spirit is to make witnesses like these at Pentecost.  The Spirit gives power beyond ourselves to speak, even when we don’t know what or how to say it

Do you think Peter rehearsed his sermon at Pentecost?  It isn’t elegant in style.  He preached with power beyond himself.  He connected his experience of the Spirit with Jesus the Christ, and Jesus the Christ with the prophets.  He let it fly and his words hit the fan.  Instead of flying anywhere, the wind of the Spirit carried them where they needed to go.  3,000 were added to the church.  God custom fit the words to each heart.

Who is the spirit leading you to have a heart to heart chat?  Why have hesitated?  Are you afraid you will blow it?  You doubt your words will make matter.  If we stall and miss the timing and wait to rehearse our lines, we could miss the movement of the Spirit.  Our improved articulation helps, but it is the Holy Spirit who makes the difference.

When we speak in love, we’ve done what God asks.  Then we trust the Holy Spirit to do with our words what we cannot do.  God has given us the Spirit who is on the job translating and transforming lives through our words if we will simply open ourselves up and trust that gift.  Can I get a witness?

Published in: on June 12, 2011 at 5:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Are Lay Staff Becoming the New Pastors?

Lewis Center Leading Ideas: Strengthening the Ministry of Lay Staff

Click on the link above to read this article.  It confirms a holy hunch I have been feeling for over this last decade, as I have watched lay staff members be and act as pastoral leaders in churches I have served.

Thanks to people in my life such as: Lynda Whitman and Jason Dietze and others who are showing the way into our future.

What names come to mind when you think of lay staff being a pastor?

Published in: on June 8, 2011 at 9:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bad Boomer Theology Fails Recent Graduates

Terri and I have attended two commencement exercises in the last few months.  In December 2010, we celebrated Tara’s MBA graduation from the University of Houston.  Then in May 2011, we relished in Erin’s BA graduation from Oklahoma City University.  We heard lukewarm keynote speeches that echoed similar themes.  I left feeling I had been served pabulum in each of these addresses.

David Brooks and his recent New York Times column titled, “It’s Not About You” noted the popular themes of graduation addresses, largely delivered by Baby Boomers to a Millennial audience.  He believes we may be misguiding today’s young adults; or as he says it, “this year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders.”

Are we (I) giving poor advice during this liminal moment of the young adult’s life?  We are sending them off into this world with our baby boomer theology ringing in their ears like: “Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself.”  We have fed our children a heavy diet of individualism, unapologetic independence, and self-sufficiency, which has (mis)shaped American culture.

Brook’s suggests the concept of vocation may resonate more clearly with the coming generation.  His article made me recall the distinction between a vocation and an occupation.  Occupation is something we can do.  A vocation is something we cannot not do.  There are many ways to make a living.  The way to make a life is to do the kind of work that best fits how we are made-doing work we cannot not do.

Vocation makes the quest for happiness look differently.  Our calling may mean doing something arduous, costly, and could even arouse contention.  Yet, we can find happiness in vocation as our calling becomes the center of our life, instead any self pursuit of happiness.

May this coming generation show us how to engage vocation rather than pursue happiness.  May those who are to come demonstrate how in employing self in vocation causes self to dissolve into this greater calling.  May all of us be caught by the infectious spirit of vocation, so every generation comes to realize the purpose of life is not to find self, but to lose self.