The Pen and People are a Funny Thing

PenI am not a poet and I know it, but

This morning journaling came out in rhyme.

So, I share it with you and this may be the only time.

People of every kind experience life

in so many ways on each and every day.

So, why are we so concerned that

all the crayons fit perfectly in the box?

Let’s just allow for a variety of different color socks.Socks

I have an idea: Let’s celebrate each person

For whom the Big Hand fashioned them to be

and then flung all of us across every sea.

Let’s gift each other with respect and a listening ear.

Let’s treat each one on this planet

like a sister or brother

or even a great aunt.

Listeing Ear DogWe can go beyond imaging how things may be different by

Engaging in a real conversation that:

Treats their presence as a gift ,

Inquires how they are, or

Simply offers them a lift.

These behaviors may sound human, but

If we will take time to notice,

They are more like the God we each cherish inside.

So, off to this day meet persons of every kind,Friend New

I look forward to discovering all the ways

Someone shows me the Divine and

How they are so interesting and even sublime.

© Russell S. Floyd

Published in: on June 28, 2013 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Running with the Wrong Crowd: The Rejected Luke 9: 51-56

Charlie Brown and LucyLucy tell Charlie Brown, “I would make a good evangelist.”  Charlie Brown asks, “What makes her think so?”  She says, I convinced the boy who sits in front of me at school that my religion is better than  his.”  Again, Charlie Brown asks, “How did you do that?”  Lucy simply says, “I hit him over the head with my lunch box.”

Criticisms of a pastoral opinion or a sermon point, comes with the territory. But, the harshest criticisms make it difficult to not personalize a sense of rejection.  At times, when I feel rebuffed, I wish I had a lunch box.  This is the trap that befalls James and John; seeking Jesus’ consent to retaliate against the Samaritans for not welcoming them.

Try to imagine what Jesus followers felt when Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem”.  Jesus had known success as crowds hailed him as the hoped-for-one.  He also experienced early rejections as hometown folk and rural religious leaders questioned him.  Now he was certainly headed toward the wrong crowd as he sets his course to the nerve center of Jewish traditions.  Luke makes no bones about it, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up…”  True north for Jesus was due south to Jerusalem.Road Sign Jerusalem

Jesus passes through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem, the natural route to travel from Galilee to Judea.  The Jews held the Samaritans in such low esteem that most took the detour; traveling the coastal road or crossing the Jordan, travel along the east bank and then re-crossing once they passed by Samaria.  Jesus held no prejudices, so he takes the direct route through the province, again showing his disciples there’s no wrong crowd for him.

Jesus sends messengers to a Samarian village to prepare for his arrival.  The disciples traipse through the town looking for sympathizers; hoping to find a Samaritan who would welcome Jesus.  The villagers hadn’t yet heard he tell the Good Samaritan story; nor had they heard of his encounter with the Samarian woman at the well.  They couldn’t have known Jesus was friend of the rejected.  So, it was a hard sell; convincing these Jewish kin who were enemies of the Jews that Jesus was on their side. 

SamartitansSamaritans felt rejected because they were the ones left behind when Israel was exiled to Babylon.  Most were uneducated, unthreatening, and thus unworthy of deportation.  With no one left, they intermarried with non-Jews.  When the exiled Jews returned, they sneered at Samaritans as half-breed infidels who had poisoned the faith.  

The Samaritans thought they conserved the teachings of the Torah, they were conservatives.  They accused the returning Jews of adopting liberal ways of a foreign land; they were liberals.  Each thought the other was a traitor to the true God; setting up criteria for what was faithful or unfaithful.  The Jews held the power, thus the Samaritans were the rejected.

James and John, fresh off rejection by the Samaritans wanted to administer their own rejection medicine.  They wanted to dish out some shock and awe to the infidels.  Forgiveness is not top of the mind when we’re rejected.  When we feel rejected, we do what we know-reject; it’s a vicious cycle. Shock and Awe

An Indian, a cowboy, and a Muslim are talking.  The Muslim goes on talking and talking.  The cowboy gets tired, pulls his hat down, sticks a toothpick in his mouth, and naps.  When the Muslim stops, the Indian laments: Once we many, now we few.  The Muslim brags: Once we were few, now we are many. Why do you think that is?  The cowboy perks up and says, We ain’t played cowboys and Muslims yet!”  Jesus takes no thrill in playing cowboys and anything with those who others reject.  Winning by making others lose or adding to the flock by subtraction isn’t the Jesus way.  

Our reluctance to offer forgiveness is usually rooted in unfounded fears of what might happen if we forgive the rejected for rejecting us; not fully trusting the hand of God.  This causes us to seek our own way, though we know getting even will never satisfy.  Our desire for vengeance leashes us to those who rejected us.  It’s like walking an untrained dog: who’s following who?  A leash has two ends that can tie us up.  As long as we hold on to strong feelings toward those who reject us, they hold on us, too.  

Walking AwaySetting our face toward the current call of God means, turning our backs on the past; offering forgiveness, and leaving alone those who reject us.  When we walk forward letting go; leaving our backsides exposed.  This is the risk we take when running with the wrong crowd others have rejected.

Jesus runs with the rejected crowd; holding no ill will toward persons whom others wouldn’t be caught dead in their company. He practices what he preaches until he breathed his last.  After he’s scourged, mocked, and nails hammered in his body he doesn’t say, “I should forgive those who rejected me, I’m going to even the score; cast down fire on these ingrates.”  Instead he says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  After being rejected in Samaria and Jerusalem Jesus doesn’t strike back or will the ruin of his detractors.  He does nothing; there’s a lot of something in nothing.  It takes more strength to hold and keep the peace than it takes to strike back.  Tolerance and empathy are needed to resist retaliating at those who reject.  

Running with the rejected requires tolerance for those who walk different paths and practice different beliefs.  Samaritans had offered to help rebuild Jerusalem as Jews returned from exile.  They were refused; sparking a feud that lasted for 500 years.  In the years that followed, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim and instituted their own priesthood.  They rejected the Old Testament except for the Torah and claimed to have a copy older than any possessed by the Jews.  Once, they sneaked into the Jewish temple leaving a pig on the altar, polluting the sacred place.  Mutual rejections breed ignorance, fear, prejudice, and bigotry.  Love Never Fails

Tolerance requires being secure in our faith in God, leaving the changing of others up to the work of God’s spirit.  This shows a trust in the hand of God while respecting the rejected that are very different from us.  We tolerate in the same manner Jesus tolerated those who rejected him; believing God is equally active in all persons lives, even the rejected.

Running with the rejected requires empathy that doesn’t personalize the rejection others make us feel.  The Samaritans thought knew Jesus, so they identified him as a Jew, thus rejecting him.  They assumed Jesus held the same contempt other Jews directed toward them.  They snubbed him based on the group they thought he associated.  If the Samaritans had given him a chance they would have known his compassion for them as he shared his love for each; offering a peace that village had rarely known.  

EmpathyEmpathy takes into account others actions are tied to previous events.  Thus, our empathy helps us see that any rejection we experience is usually tied to a rejection experienced by the person rejecting us.  Empathy is cultivated when relationship precedes label; giving persons a chance to show their character apart from any assumed identity is the way forward.  Not all poor students are intellectually challenged; liberals, loose; conservatives, callous; Americans, arrogant; Southerners, rednecks; Muslims, terrorists; immigrants, freeloaders; or church people, hypocrites.  Our empathy allows us to be in relationship with the rejected.

In the face of rejection, Jesus finds another way.  Jesus and disciples went to another village and to Jerusalem by another route.  God’s redeeming work can’t be thwarted by human actions.  God doesn’t lose momentum when we hit each other with our lunch boxes.  The new course may not be apparent, but God’s hand is at work and our faith must not waver.  We are to offer tolerance and empathy; even when we feel rejected and do not know what to do with each other for the moment. Refugee

We’re to run with Jesus in the wrong crowd, despite being rejected by the rejected.  We are to offer as much as possible, to those who reject us.  Running with Jesus always put us in the wrong crowd.  Go figure? 

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Running with the Wrong Crowd: The Disturbed Luke 8:26-39

Head AroundLetterman said, “You might be possessed if sparks fly out of your mouth when you hiccup or if you don’t need a rearview mirror to see the car behind.”  Eugene Lowry said, I don’t believe in the devil, and furthermore I wish he would leave me alone!  We would like to think this demon-possessed man is a strange story and has little to do with us.  When we take a closer look at this encounter with this disturbed man, we see how God might use us if we’re willing to go with Jesus into the wrong crowd.

Jesus and the disciples disembark from their boat on the Sea of Galilee.  He just ordered the winds and waves to stop; showing he isn’t just a teacher that helps us cope with things beyond our control.  Jesus has power to change things beyond our control that control us. Gerasene Demoniac

We see what Jesus can do in the wrong crowd as he meets this man of the city who no longer resides in his home.  This man has come apart; lost control of himself.  It’s hard to be an upstanding member of the community when you sleep among the dead and can’t keep your clothes on your torso.  This man’s body was now a tomb, which demons made their home.

We know this man.  He’s the person we once knew who is now someone we never knew.  Persons who live in a disturbed state feel like they live in a cemetery.  So, we do all we can to help them get the help we cannot give.  We work hard to keep them from hurting themselves or others.  They take meds, receive counsel, rest, pray, and learn patience; hoping that what disturbs their very existence will settle them one day.

Mental illness is a mysterious disease that doesn’t come from one bolt of cloth.  It’s very scary for all who suffer from its effect and to those who care for them.  Sometimes people are mentally ill and function fairly well, though inside they feel they’re dying.  There is dementia, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and other diagnoses.  Alzheimer disease creates many of the same dynamics as traditional mental illnesses.  It leaves us feeling confused about our loved one and unsure what we are to do with them,  It is hard to look into eyes, which once danced with joy upon seeing us, and now see something that looks like a neon vacancy sign.

Inside OutWe don’t know if this Gerasene man was mentally ill or demon-possessed.  The ancients only knew one cause – demons.  Any of us can be possessed by foreign and unholy powers, which we internalize into our being.  When we think we are defined by what is outside of us, it’s usually not outside of us.  It’s usually something inside of us that has occupied us.

Addictions possess us; invading our bodies and souls like an army; dividing us from within and without.  When we misuse substances we become separated from our will; robbed of our freedom and ability to judge.  Possession happens when we allow another person to introduce us to priorities, which compete with our best interest.  Worrying what others think, ceasing to be ourselves, or trying to please those who need to control us for their purposes all are things that can possesses from the inside.

It’s unnerving to live in a disturbed state or relate to disturbed persons.  It causes us to feel like we’re running with the wrong crowd.  While we moderns have a broader understanding of the human condition, we aren’t entirely different than they; we too set the disturbed aside.  The disturbed go along willingly; thinking they are not worthy to be in the right crowd.  Besides, we’re not sure if those who are disturbed will get better, we feel impotent and incapable in their presence. Legion

Jesus comes to this disturbed man who family, friends, and even himself had written off says there is no degree of being so disturbed that a person is beyond the reach of the grace of God.  Jesus says, “What is your name?”  The reply is, “Legion”, which means, “We are many”.  A Roman Legion was a garrison of 6,000 armed men.  Jesus recognizes an occupying force named Legion is about to undergo war with the invading powers of the grace of God.

All of us are called to be present with the disturbed for there’s no such thing as having gone too far.  This week and in coming weeks, Luke tells of Jesus in Gentile territory; pointing that Jesus goes anywhere to liberate those possessed by occupying powers. Luke’s gospel was written years later to speak a word to early followers of what it means to be the church in the world.  Luke brings a reminding word to his readers who think nothing can be done for those who are possessed by a power within.  He prevents them and us from writing anyone off as beyond help.  The story asks us to examine our tendency to quarantine people in our own version of a Gerasene cemetery, creating for them a less than fully human existence.

Gone too farAll of us need some form of healing from within; none of us have come together perfectly.  This story reminds us the power of Christ at work within us can free us from any alien power.  At times, God uses good medicine and counselors.  Other times, but not often, it happens quickly.  When it does happen like a miracle, we are allowed to see God speed up time in making things new.  Most of us have to wait patiently while Christ’s works within us; trusting redemption is coming on a coming day.

Thus, none of should be a part of any activity that denies the power of the Good News.  If Jesus can transform our lives, he can do the same for anyone.  Jesus’ can make whole any person who has been separated by any manner of divisiveness people suffer; whether what has happened to them by their own doing or it was done to them.  The power to liberate is not ours.  We know One in us has the power to work miracles through us.  God’s power that has been effective in us can be effective in any other person if we will be the presence of Christ in their midst.

We’re to liberate people from any unholy power.  We’re to go to the tombs where wrong crowds reside isolated in ignorance, hopelessness or poverty.  We declare Jesus’ saving power can change those who’ve been written off; not fearing their differences, but embracing them with a love that has the power to bring change.  Jesus’ clarion call sounds a hopeful voice to the suffering; declaring all can be made well by the power of Christ. Change we can believe

LifeNet Community Behavioral Healthcare is our area’s largest provider of services to the indigent, homeless, and mentally ill.  They say its greatest challenge is finding housing for their clients.  No one wants “those kinds” in their back yard.  Can we imagine the Jesus who stepped into anyone’s backyard saying, “Not in my back yard?”  Let us refuse to join the NIMBY crowd (Not in My Back Yard); and follow Christ into the wrong crowds; believing we can make the presence of Christ known in every place we go.

Destination HomeDallas County has more than 5,000 chronically homeless.  Destination Home services 133 people; including an increasing number of disabled veterans.  Each one participating in Destination Home works closely with a Case Manager to transition out of homelessness and into self-sufficiency.  They receive help with budgeting, employment, applying for benefits, connecting with mental health and substance abuse support services, and additional resources specific to that neighbor’s goal.  The program is unique because it doesn’t require certain standards like: drug testing, sobriety, and recent history of mental stability.  They have found that a stable living environment is the launching pad for dealing with their life-long legions of issues that possess those they serve

Church, let’s run with the wrong crowd; offer ourselves freely because we refuse to set anyone aside.  We will believe in them, but most importantly we believe in the life changing power of our Living God.  With no apologies to the Beatles: Let us come together for the sake of those who need to come together right now, over HIM”.Come Together

Published in: on June 17, 2013 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

New Life School in Santa Maria de Jesus Releases New Video

New Life SchoolThis is a school our church has worked with over the years and continues to support.

The video was done by some film major students at University of Miami.  It tells a great story in a very moving and inspiring way.  Click on below link to view.

Through their Eyes-New Life School

Published in: on June 10, 2013 at 1:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Running with the Wrong Crowd: The Outcast Luke 7:36 – 8:3

Guess who is coming to dinnerThese next four Sundays we will remind ourselves of the wrong kind of people Jesus hung with in his ministry.  When we read these stories in Luke, we have to wonder what his mother thought upon hearing who her son was with last night in Cana.  In this story, Jesus starts out running with the right crowd as a man of the temple invites Jesus to his home for dinner.  

When I was a young pastor a well-respected couple moved into the town.  I was excited when they asked me to their home; feeling like I was running in the right crowd.  I assumed we get to know each other and I would tell them how we hoped they would join our church.  We sat in the living room that didn’t look overused.  They begin by pointing out problems with the church, my preaching, and what I needed to change if they were going to be a part of the right crowd at First Baptist, Blossom, my bubble busted. 

I wonder what Simon thought when inviting Jesus to dine.  Jesus had created a stir as an original holy man and all sorts were attracted to him.  Did this leading citizen think he was placing himself in the right crowd? Unamed Woman

His agenda was interrupted by someone who would be considered the wrong crowd, a woman of the city, says the text.  She is described as a sinner which most think meant she well-known prostitute. Luke didn’t say so; she might have been a known adulteress.  It doesn’t matter to Luke who she is.  But, it matters to Simon; he can’t have someone like that around good people, especially when there’s God talk going on.

They’re reclining at the table that would sit inches off the ground.  The diners would lie on one elbow with one hand free to eat, legs dangling behind; making their feet accessible.  This tainted woman breaks into the room of dignitaries and pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and weeps.  This would be a tasteless show of affection; shattering all customs. 

JudgingShe ignores their disparaging looks; she was liberated from the oppressive need of worrying about what others thought.  She sees no basin or towel, so she lets her hair down and dries her tears from his feet with her flowing locks; an act only appropriate for a husband and wife.  A woman’s hair was a sign of sexual fertility, which is why women wore head coverings.  

This woman had experienced a breakthrough that changed the way she understood herself, her past and how she would live in the future.  She came to express gratitude to the one who had opened her eyes.  We are astonished at the way Jesus responds to this awkward situation.  If we had been Jesus, our first thought would be “What are people going to think?  They’re going to wonder how I know this woman.  This will devastate my reputation?”  Jesus had every reason to be embarrassed.  Jesus could have stopped her and not risked being accused of running with this outcast. 

Jesus did not need her conform to their standards of respectability, nor was he worried of his reputation.  He simply celebrates what had happened to this woman that prompted this behavior, which we’re not told what it was, except we know it was life-changing.  The mercy of God broke into her life through the gracious ministry of Jesus.  What happened to her was more important to Jesus than being reputed to run with the wrong crowd.  Change

Luke contrasts the hospitality of Simon to the unnamed woman.  This woman was confident she had received undeserved love and forgiveness so she expresses her gratitude by giving herself to him completely and recklessly.  Luke portrays Jesus welcoming her affection.  Throughout Luke’s gospel he points to times Jesus met people with scandalous joy rather than scrupulous judgment, while running with the wrong crowd.

Simon wonders if Jesus is a prophet since Jesus isn’t insightful enough to know this woman.  Jesus is prophet enough to know Simon’s thoughts.  He tells of a creditor who cancels the debt of a great debtor and a small debtor.  Which one will love their benefactor more? Jesus asks.  “The one for whom he canceled the greater debt,” Simon says.  Exactly, those forgiven most, love most.  Those forgiven little, love little.  Jesus insists!

debt forgivenSimon tabulates good deeds against bad; figuring how people measure on a balance sheet.  Jesus had a different scale that weights what we do with after we have been forgiven, not what we did to need it!  To weigh in on what things people have done to need forgiveness is not only inhospitable, but is a breeding ground for hostility.  To weigh in on how people live after experiencing forgiveness creates a community of hospitality because all stand equally at the level ground around the cross. 

Jesus asks Simon, Do you see this woman?  If he were truthful, Simon could not see her, for all he saw was a woman of the city who ran with the wrong crowd that broke into his right crowd.  The reason he couldn’t see this woman is because he couldn’t see in God’s eyes they were more alike than different; both equally in need of the undeserved grace of God.Forgive

How do we avoid the trap of Simon?  We like to say we’re not perfect, but we prefer to not be specific about our imperfections.  We fear admitting a particular sin could lower us from the perch from which we peer at other’s faults.  Admitting our own errors could cause other people to think we are running in the wrong crowd.  So, we standardize our relationship with God; using spiritual checklists to keep up the appearances we’re running with the right crowd.  This short-sheet us from experiencing the depth of God’s love, for righteousness cannot facilitate relationship.

We’re to be honest with the weakness of our flesh so we might know more of the amazing grace of God.  Authentic living chooses sincerity over pretentiousness and reality over image.  We will make this choice when we have deep trust in God who loves us completely; confident God seeks to be in a life-shaping relationship with us.  It is at this point, we come to embrace real grace, knowing there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more or less, God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love. 

Ponder anewMuch of these lessons are learn from a curriculum we begin to comprehend often times while begging God to change circumstances in our life.  God has a history of using what might feel wrong to peel back any illusion we’re in control.  This isn’t a comfortable, but we’ve not been abandoned by our faithful God.  Part of the process of growing as a child of God is being in situations that teach us we are not the master of our universe.  It is here, we learn to trust the One who can make anything happen.  

Our security in God’s unlimited loving patience redefines all our relationships.  We now have God’s approval, who is transforming us, so we can love others the way we’ve been loved.  We’re set free, not needing human approval or insisting anyone meet our needs or conform to our expectations.  We let others have their own journey; giving them the same freedom God gives us.  Loving others effectively means we’ve been loved extravagantly, which is impossible to keep to ourselves.  We might find ourselves in circles some call the wrong crowd, but we’re confident in the life changing power of God’s love.  We trust if something or someone needs to change, God can and will make that happen in them or us. Glasses on head

Living in the security of God’s love might cause us to think, “I’m not like this.”  Yet we are, we always have been.  We just did not recognize it while we were at the helm.  We were like that person in Thomas Merton’s parable that rode around on an ox looking for his ox; anxiously surveying the terrain trying to find something which he already had.  It is the ancient parallel of looking for glasses while they sit on top of your head.

Coming to really know we’ve been saved by grace opens us up to be more like Jesus who welcomed the outcast.  When we err on the side of loving those in the wrong crowd, we err like Jesus did in Simon’s home; holding close the outcasts who are forgiven. (Luke 8) We may be in the wrong crowd, but this is the place to encounter the grace of our amazing God. 

Published in: on June 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment