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Blog posts July 2016

July 25, 2016 "Ride the Ocean Waves?"

My step-dad worked hard in a textile mill for very little money.  My mom stayed home, took care of my brother and me, and was a dressmaker earning a few extra dollars a week.  Ours was a luxury-free home, but somehow my parents knew the value of regular saving, some of which provided a week-long beach vacation for the family as the mill closed down over the week of the 4th of July.

My brother and I learned to ride the waves on the floats we were able to buy fresh and new almost every year as we arrived at the beach.  Hour by hour we relaxed into the waves as the tides came and went in each day’s time. 

Now I admit to moments of alarm.  After all my dad had drowned while on a fishing trip when I was only a year old!  But despite the alarm buttons that occasionally sounded, I learned to love the waves which seemed to wash all my cares away. 

In the night the “washing” continued!   Our beachfront house rested on stilts. As my brother and I relaxed into our single beds, our bodies still tired from the day’s activity, we could still almost feel the movement of the ocean around our bodies.  The feeling of movement was compounded by the ever-present sound of the waves as the tide came in and crashed beneath the house!

To this day I love to ride the waves.  I suppose I’ve outgrown the need for a float.  My body is enough.  I simply bend over, relax my back, and my whole body is afloat, riding the waves as certainly as on air-filled layers of plastic purchased at the corner gift shop. 

I confess—when I’m out there I still have moments of panic.  I still stand up, look around, check to see if I’ve floated down the beach too far or if I’ve moved out much farther from the shore than I had intended.  I even confess that sometimes I make sure there are persons much farther out in the water than I should any unexpected shark activity begin to take place!  But for the most part I relax.  I can’t think of any other times or places that I am more relaxed than when I’m out in the water, giving my whole body over to the action of the waves!  Faith is a lot like that. 

Things happen to us in our lives, in the lives of our families, and in our churches.  Things sweep over us like unexpected waves higher than our heads.  Our tendency is to allow the alarm buttons to go off, to begin a flurry of activity, to work harder.  Sometimes in our sense of alarm we go in fruitless and unhealthy directions.  We begin to blame someone.  We begin to be angry.  We often turn in every direction other than the one direction where true help always may be found!

What if we relaxed into the waves?  What if we gave up worries that the waves might go over our heads or wash us out to sea?  After all, the lifeguards on the beach always remind us that when the sea begins to take control and to wash us further out in the ocean what we need to do is to go with it!  Swimming against the current, flailing with all our might, and becoming frantic with fear seldom ever help.  But when we relax and go in the direction the current is trying to take us most often we will get deposited in a place of calm—a place that allows us to find our way back to shore! 

What if in all the anxieties of our lives—job stressors, money troubles, strife in our families, stress and strain in the life of our church—we simply learned to turn to God?  What if instead of pushing alarm buttons or working harder or blaming someone or becoming angry we simply gave ourselves—our lives, our families, our churches—over to the loving caress of God, a caress that enfolds us and buoys us like waves upon the ocean! 

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July 17: To the Ends of the Earth

Hello, Winterville and Athens, and BLOG friends wherever you are!

Summertime is especially noted in our culture as a time of travel.  School is out.  We are ready to rest and unwind with our families, to get out of our routines, and to enjoy travel.  In our conversations we like to talk about upcoming trips and adventures, and when we get home we can hardly wait to show off our pictures and to re-live our trips by telling others all the wonderful things that happened.

Now Biblical folks were scarcely as travel-minded as are you and I!  With no cars, trains, and airplanes and only donkeys, camels, or two good human legs as substitutes most folks seldom traveled and even then it was to places not too far from home.  Imagine what it must have been like when Jesus commissioned his followers to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria—to the ends of the earth!

Jerusalem—well, okay—not too hard!  While travel to Jerusalem for some folks might still have been long and difficult, the city was at the center of their faith and worship.  Going to Jerusalem represented high points in the life of faith—time of celebration, joy in worship, a preparation for going back home and living life with a renewed commitment.

Modern Christians may find it hard to imagine what their “Jerusalems” are.  United Methodist youth and young adults might point to Camp Glisson where they have over and over experienced the joy of retreat with others and where they’ve grown in faith.  Many clergy persons in our denomination say that were it not for those “mountaintop” experiences at Camp Glisson they might never have felt the call to ministry.  For other United Methodists faith is renewed through worship and retreat at Camp Junaluska in the beautiful North Carolina Mountains or in the tidewater surroundings and beach experience at Epworth-by-the Sea. 

But mountaintop experiences always call us back home.  They call us back to our routines, back to our towns and cities, back to our work, back to our ministry in everyday life.  We leave “Jerusalem” and go back to Judea—something of a challenge but still manageable, right?  I mean it’s different living out faith when we’re mellowed out from fun-in-the-sun versus when we’re making our way through traffic, other drivers slowing things down, co-workers not pulling their share of the load, and too many tasks to juggle between home and work.  But nonetheless in Judea—back home—we are called to live and serve, to be witnesses starting in our own homes, going to our jobs, to the grocery store, wherever we go!

Then comes the real challenge—Samaria!  Why did Jesus have to say Samaria?  Jews and Samaritans almost always were at odds.  Attending to a Samaritan was a challenge to a Jew, and attending to a Jew was a challenge to a Samaritan.  And Jesus calls us to points of honesty whereby we admit to having our own “Samaritans”—people with whom we find difficulty in ministering.  Maybe it’s homeless persons who often are smelly and disheveled.  Maybe it’s poor people in general.  Maybe it’s any group with ways different than our own or with skin different than our own.  Guess what!  Jesus calls us to be witnesses in our own “Samarias”!

Then Jesus says the truly unthinkable!  To folks who have only donkeys, or camels, or only their own two feet he says they are to be witnesses to the ends of the earth!  Time to form a committee, right?  Time to develop a feasibility study!  How could such a thing be remotely possible?

All the while the calling of the disciples seems to imply a sense of urgency—no moment to spare, no time to sit and just reflect on all that’s happened including Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and his ascension into heaven.  There seems to be a sense of not-one-moment-to-lose before getting about the work he’s called them to do, but suddenly Jesus hits a figurative kind of pause button and asks them to WAIT in Jerusalem and to PRAY as they anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit that will become their guide and their enabler!

Wow!  What a calling—a calling with intensity, a calling that takes us to the ends of the earth with the good news of Jesus’ peace and love, a calling that takes us into relationships with people at the ends of the earth—relationships filled with Jesus’ peace and love!  But we will never do it on our own.  Our best planning, our most adept committees with the most detailed action plans will never accomplish what Jesus intends apart from his Spirit-filled guidance.  For that the disciples have to wait and to pray.  For us—for modern day followers—we need also to wait and to pray!

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July 11, 2016: In God's Time

Good morning, Winterville UMC folks!  Good morning Winterville and Athens, and BLOG friends wherever you are!

Today I am thankful for the freshness of morning, for God’s waking me up to a new day and the possibilities that it brings!  What a gift—a gift none of us should ever take for granted!

Last Sunday in worship we reflected on 2 scripture passages—on Revelation 21:1-6 and on John 13:31-35.  Despite the sometimes confusing message and the apocalyptic tone of Revelation, you and I can take comfort in the wonderful words of chapter 21, verses1-6.  John’s amazing vision from God includes a new city coming down from heaven, God’s coming and being at home among human beings.  It includes God’s wiping tears from all eyes, the death-blow to death, the creation of all things new!

As Christians we lean into the future—not just 2017 or 2018 or beyond.  Instead we lean into God’s future.  Our hearts yearn for the “new city,” for all things made new.  Certainly we have a sadness in our hearts as we experience 2 black men in America killed by police, and we experience pain as 12 policemen are shot doing their jobs of trying to maintain peaceful protest and as 5 lives ultimately are claimed. 

Such events cause a yearning in our hearts, a desire for the reality of God’s new city, for God’s making all things new.  And we find ourselves, along with the Psalmist—questioning in our hearts—“How long, O Lord?  How long must we know pain and suffering, evil and injustice in our world.”  We plead with God, “Come, Lord!  Come quickly, and redeem us all.  Come quickly, and make us white as snow.  Come quickly, and prepare our hearts to live in that great new city—the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven!  Come help us know the peace and joy of your new creation.”

The good news is that God always hears our prayers!  God stands ready to help us catch a glimpse of the future only He can ultimately provide.  God at the same time issues a calling of us—an invitation.  The invitation is to join him in the work that needs to be done in the world.  The invitation is to be a part of his redemptive work in lives and in the world at large.

That work begins as we hear and heed the words Jesus gave to his disciples in John -35:31-35.  In this passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for his ultimate death.  He is trying to finish the work of teaching them so that they may continue his work on earth.  He says to them, “I give you a new commandment—that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus’ love is a sacrificial love.  Jesus’ love is a love that includes all—not just those easy to love, not those who share all our same agendas and perspectives, not just those whose skin color is the same as our own.  Jesus’ love is a love that stands defiant in the face of evil and injustice.  So guess what?  His new commandment means that we live out that same kind of love!  And as we do so we begin to experience transformation of the world around us.  We begin to catch a glimpse of the “new city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.”

As Christians we are those who live attuned to two different time frames.  We are a people with a faith and a hope in God’s good and perfect future, and we live with a sense of joyous anticipation about the world transformed according to God’s ultimate plan.   But for now—for today and for the present moment—God calls us to live fully engaged in the present.  God invites us, “Come and be a part of my redemptive work in the world.  Come and be a part of binding up broken hearts, and of comforting the lonely, and of visiting those sick and in prison.  Come and be a part of resistance to evil and injustice.”  And our good and perfect response to God’s invitation is, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done—in my heart, in the hearts of all your children!”

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