Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Commit to Serve

Jesus washing his disciples' feet in the upper room is one of the most vivid depictions of servant leadership in all of the gospels. John 13 tells the story, go ahead and read it!

This is another episode in the gospels where I notice Peter's faith and understanding. Peter is a wavering disciple throughout the gospels. Sometimes, he has enough faith and understanding of who Jesus is to say "surely this is the messiah, the savior." Other times, he denies being a follower of Jesus. Here, he exclaims after he has washed some of the disciples' feet: "You will never wash my feet.” Peter did not understand, at first, what Jesus was doing. So Jesus told him and the rest of the disciples: "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me... Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. "

Jesus was modeling servant leadership to folks that only knew leadership from those in power. Jesus sets an example of an alternative way of looking at the world. Matthew 20: 27 says "and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave." This is an interesting point, because slaves would have been the ones that were supposed to wash the feet of the family they lived with and their guests. This upper room was a guest room in a wealthy family's home. We don't know why this family did not have a servant or slave for the household; we only know that Jesus took on this role by washing their feet.

Washing people's feet could be a disgusting endeavor. Folks in those days walked everywhere, there were no paved roads, and the disciples did not exactly live a lavish lifestyle. They would have been very dirty, it is safe to assume. Jesus did not pick some trivial opportunity to serve; he picked the most significant and the one that took a great sacrifice. It would have taken a while to wash all 24 of those feet. Enough time for them to watch him and listen to him say that he has come to serve, so his followers can do the same.

In grade school, I loved to play basketball. Whenever I knew that we were going to get to play in gym class, I made sure to wear my good shoes and show up ready. We usually got to once a week, so it was something I could count on and get excited for. I was the type of player who dove for lose balls, ran as hard as I could, and really gave it my all because I loved to play. Well, with this way of playing, injuries and accidents are inevitable. Most commonly, I would leave class with elbow and knee scrapes. One day, though, I had a really bad scare. I went up for a layup and the defender knocked me down while I was in the air, and I landed and hit the side of my head. I couldn't move, my ears were ringing, and I felt blood next to my face. One of the older kids picked me up, and carried me to the nurse, who was already busy with other students. He wiped my head clean, and did what he could to clean me up. I had always seen him as some sort of hot-shot jock who thought himself better than everyone else. But what he showed me that day is that the surest way to influence others is to serve them.

The invitation to serve by Jesus is a call to discipleship, to follow him. Jesus invites us to use the love we have for him to turn into love for our neighbor. If you are like me, every now and then you need some encouragement that your actions can actually mean something for someone else; that you are capable of love and service. Here is a hymn, "You are the Seed," (United Methodist Hymnal, 583) that encourages me, and I hope it encourages you.

You are the seed that will grow a new sprout;
you’re a star that will shine in the night;
you are the yeast and a small grain of salt,
a beacon to glow in the dark. . . .

Go, my friends, go to the world,
proclaiming love to all,
messengers of my forgiving peace, eternal love.
Be, my friends, a loyal witness,
from the dead I arose;
“Lo, I’ll be with you forever,
till the end of the world.”

In Christ,


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Commit: Using your Gifts

We commit to being faithful followers of Jesus through the local church by commuting to its ministries by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. This week, we dive into what it means to commit  to using our gifts!

1st Corinthians 12:1-11, 2nd Corinthians 8:1-12 and 9:6-10 describe what that means...go ahead and read it....

Now, let's read from Dan Dick, director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church: 

Spiritual Gifts — Primacy, Not Priority

By Dan R. Dick*

A few years ago I received a letter from the lay leader of a congregation working on the discovery and development of spiritual gifts. One line stood out as I read the inquiry: "We are lacking in the greater gifts, but have an abundance of the lesser gifts." I phoned the author of the letter and asked her to explain more fully what she meant.

"In First Corinthians (12:27-31) Paul writes that the gifts God gives are first apostleship, second prophecy, then teaching, and on down the line. We have lots of administrators and helpers, but no prophets, apostles, or teachers. We are really depressed that we don't have any of the really important gifts."

This comment reflects one of the most common mistakes we make in our thinking about spiritual gifts. All gifts are important, and each may be the most important gift in any given situation. All gifts are necessary; and in different combinations, all gifts have the power to transform lives and glorify God. Paul does not write to prioritize spiritual gifts, but to explain the order in which they were revealed and employed in the church at Corinth. A gardening metaphor may help illustrate.

First, apostles entered to break up and plow the soil. Prophets then followed to plant seed in the tilled earth. Teachers fed and watered the new growth. Miracle workers shone life-giving sun, while healers weeded and hoed. Helpers and servants harvested, administrators organized and packed, and those with the gift of tongues delivered the growth to new sources. Paul describes a linear process whereby the gospel grew from barren ground to bounteous fullness to feed starving souls beyond the confines of the established congregation.

Is this the only order in which this wondrous work might happen? Of course not. God's Holy Spirit works in combination with each community of faith to lay a foundation and build upon it with whatever gifts are shared. The important thing to note is that whatever gifts are present, those are the right gifts — each valuable and necessary to the greater will of God.

Paul writes of primacy, not priority, when he helps the Corinthian congregation understand its identity as the body of Christ. Seek ways to better understand how you might use, combine, and grow the gifts God has given your faith community.

*Dan is director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference. He is the coauthor of Equipped for Every Good Work.


Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what you love,
and do what you would do.

*Breathe on Me, Breath of God, United Methodist Hymnal, 420, modified for contemporary english

In Christ,


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Commit to being Present

In the spring of 2016, I was fortunate enough to be a chaplain intern at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital as part of the Clinical Pastoral Education program. One of the most important things I learned was the "ministry of presence." Simply being with someone sometimes makes all the difference in the world. I remember meeting someone who did not receive any visitors besides the medical staff. I met others that had many visitors, but felt that no one would listen to them. Still, I met others who were overwhelmed with love and support. Not feeling alone can make all the difference.

This week, I am focusing on two gospel passages: John 1:1-14 and Luke 10: 25-37. Go ahead and read them....

In John 1 verse 1 and 14, we read that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth."

Jesus is the Word, he has been here all along since the creation, and he lived among us. God is committed to being present with us! God is with us. God is in us. So we can share can God with others. When we are present with others, we can share God together. Jesus did it first! He came and lived among the people. Jesus experienced everything it means to be a human being--all of the pain and joy and everything in between. So we are never alone. When you are sick, physically, spiritually, emotionally, God is there. When you are healthy, and feel like you can take on the world, Jesus is there. When you are scared, anxious, excited, tired, angry...God is there, offering you the very presence of God.

That's all well and good, but that's about God! What about us---you and me? It is awesome to feel and know the presence of God. What it means to follow Jesus, though, is to let that assurance lead you to share it with others. That's hard work. That is where Luke 10 comes in, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here is a story about someone who was beat up, left for dead, sick and alone. Now sometimes we do feel like that person on the road. We feel beat up and sick and alone. My prayer is that someone, it may not be the first or second person, or the person you expect, cares for you.

The great thing about parables is that offer timeless teaching and opportunities to learn, grow, and wonder about them. They do not present all of what may have been going on. So, we know a lot about the person on the road--they were beat up, left for dead, sick, and alone. We hardly know anything about anyone who passed them by except there occupation or status. The one who was beat up, and all of the listeners and readers of the parable, would have expected them to stop and help. We do not know much else about the third passerby except that they were a Samaratin, a foreigner who should not have been there, was an outcast in the society, so was not expected to stop and help. We know nothing of these folks' personality, their hobbies, their intentions, nothing!

What is interesting to wonder about is how the passersby felt about stopping to help or not. One could imagine that the first two felt bad, but we do not know that, the mere fact that they passed by might have meant they had to get back to where they were going fast and were only thinking about that. We could also conclude that the Samaratin felt good about they did to help this person, probably because we know what that is like. We know what it means to truly be present with someone, offering them the love of God.

A great author was once asked about one of the characters in the books he wrote about, and when he was done imagining what was happening behind the text, he concluded "but of course none of this is real, so no one can be right wrong in imagining what happened." A parable does not recall something that actually happened, rather, it is a story illustrating certain situations that provide teachable moments. There is always an audience for stories and parables, always people learning from them. As was the case for Jesus that day, and these days, when someone asked him how to inherit eternal life. After telling this parable, and reflecting on it with the questioner and the crowd, discovering the commandments to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself," Jesus concludes: "Go and do likewise.” Be present for your neighbor, offering them the love of God.


Let there be light,
let there be understanding,
let all the nations gather,
let them be face to face.

Open our lips,
open our minds to ponder,
open the door of concord
opening into grace.

Perish the sword,
perish the angry judgment,
perish the bombs and hunger,
perish the fight for gain.

Hallow our love,
hallow the deaths of martyrs,
hallow their holy freedom,
hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,
your Spirit turn to language,
your people speak together,
your Spirit never fade.

Let there be light,
open our hearts to wonder,
perish the way of terror,
hallow the world God made.


*Let There Be Light, United Methodist Hymnal, 440.

In Christ,


Monday, January 8, 2018

Commit to Prayer

Here in Florida I am adept to the feeling that comes after a hurricane passes. The holiday season, even the liturgical seasons that precede the coming of the new year, sometimes feels like a hurricane. You prepare for the storm to come by stalking up on canned foods, making sure you have all the essentials like water, batteries, and the like. This is like Advent, where you anticipate the coming of Christ as Christmas. Then it comes! Bam! The hurricane runs through the town like a bull in a china shop, wrecking and smashing everything in sight. Christmas morning comes, and chaos ensues as family comes, presents are opened, and all you want is a nap and a nice time. All of the recovery and clean up happens by New Year's Eve when you do it all over again....

....and then it's all over. the holidays, the "hurricane," has passed, and you think to yourself, "what just happened...what now?"

United Methodists traditionally mark the coming of the new year with a re-committment to following Christ. We recite a prayer together:

Here at Gray Memorial UMC, we had a service on NYE that offered an opportunity to read this prayer, consider it for own lives, and commit again this year to following Jesus, to trusting God, to loving God and our neighbors.

One of the things I love about being a UM is how we provide ways in which folks can grow in Christ. Offering this prayer is one way, and another is through our membership vows. When someone commits to being a UM, they say yes to the question"

"As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?"*

That is how United Methodists follow Jesus, trust God, and worship God and neighbor. That is how United Methodists articulate what being a Christian is.

So, for the next 5 weeks (that will take us to the beginning of Lent), we will explore each component of these vows. And the thing is, I don't necessarily think that living out these vows are what it takes to be a United Methodist, but a Christian. With that said, this time of reflection and engagement with these vows are not intended to be a time of heralding the UMC over and above following Jesus. It does not take being a UM to follow Jesus. These five practices of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness are what it takes to follow Jesus.

The first component is prayer. It is not first by accident. Without prayer, this whole "walking with Jesus, growing in Christ, loving God and neighbor" thing might all crumble. Prayer is the backbone of the Christian life. It keeps an ongoing line of communication with God open and alive. It keeps Christians engaging with God. There are so many ways that we are invited to prayer: in solitude, corporately, by asking God to do things, by asking for healing, forgiveness, or God's presence, through singing, dancing, listening, or walking...you can be prayerful in just about everything you do, if it is done for the desire to be heard and known by God, or listen or engage with God..

The following passages are examples of prayers. They also give some reasons prayer can help us engage with God and trust God.  Go ahead and read them, and maybe jot a few notes down or underline some things in the passage that resonate or impact you...

Psalm 86: 1-13

Mark 9:14-29

Matthew 6:5-13

Prayer is a way of life. A way of life that trusts and expects God to engage with you. A way of life that seeks and engages with God and what God is doing. Long gone are those images and ideas that prayer requires locking yourself in your room and using flowery language so that God can hear you and answer you. No, prayer is a way of life.

And when we don't know what to pray, or where to start, we can follow Jesus by praying possibly the most powerful prayer ever, the one he taught his disciples to say:

*United Methodist Hymnal, 38.

In Christ,