Let it rain

Let it rain

“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.”  Hebrews 6:7 (NIV)

The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  And God permitting, we will do so.”  Hebrews 6:1-3

In essence, some spiritual teachings are foundational, even “elementary.”  Repentance, faith, etc. are the basic materials for establishing a foundation of faith.  Good, strong foundations are important.  But, foundations are meant to be built on.  A solid foundation is essential.  But, a foundation is only a foundation.  Therefore, “let us move beyond elementary teaching about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.”

My particular brand of Christianity is Methodist.  One of my favorite things about Methodism is our belief that, following conversion, God begins a new work in us, growing us toward full maturity in Christ.  We believe, with God’s help and our active participation, we will become like Jesus.  According to Hebrews 6:1-3, the “elementary” teachings about Christ are simply the raw materials for establishing a foundation for a life of faith.

For years, I’ve participated in home construction in a small Mayan village in Guatemala, called Chontala.  Most families in Chontala have traditional homes, made of adobe brick, like ones built by Mayans for millennia.  The main benefit of adobe is it’s free – just made of mud and straw.  The problem with adobe is it becomes brittle and unstable in earthquakes.  The homes we build are concrete block construction, which tend to be more stable in earthquakes and storms.

Before we can build the walls of a concrete block home, land has to be cleared, trenches have to be dug and leveled, and foundations have to be created from rock, sand, re-bar, cement, and concrete blocks.  Those are the elements of a solid foundation.  But, as Hebrews describes, the foundation is just the beginning.  Upon the foundation will be added walls, doors, windows, electrical, and a roof.  Then, families will add furnishings and personal belongings to make a new house a home.  Of course, most important are the beautiful families who will live in these homes.

Surrounding most of these homes are corn fields.  Corn is the primary crop of Guatemala, and a mainstay of a Mayan diet.  Corn seed, saved from last year’s harvest, is planted in fertile volcanic soil, and grows rapidly throughout the rainy summer months.  For countless generations, corn has been annually planted, harvested, and dried.  Some is eaten, and some is saved to be planted the following year.  It’s a simple, reliable, dependable, repeatable process, vital to Mayan life.

Daily, corn is ground and cooked into tortillas, tamales and atole (a corn-based hot drink, I don’t particularly like) – the basics of the Mayan diet.  From infancy to old age, corn nourishes the daily life and work of every Mayan.

This is how I imagine the metaphor Hebrews 6:7 describes,“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.”   Our spiritual lives can be like those Mayan corn fields; abundantly fertile, sown with ancient seed, watered with dependable rains, producing fruitful harvests, nourishing the daily lives of many, passing on seed to generations of planting and harvesting yet to come.

Mayan corn is a dependable crop.  It always has been, for countless generations

Likewise, spiritual growth and maturity is a dependable process, with God’s blessing and our participation.

The question is, are we still focused on“elementary teachings?”   Or, are our spiritual lives growing, like “Land that drinks in the rain?” 

As Paul writes,I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”  (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

My Mayan friends have no control over the rains.  They simply plant their crops, and trust the rain to come and do its work.  Similarly, we have no control over the “spiritual” rains that fall upon us, or the crops we produce.  Our job is to faithfully plant the seeds of God’s word in the soil of our souls, and to place ourselves under God’s rain as much as we possibly can.

And, where does God’s rain fall?  Worship.  Christian friendship.  Prayer.  Study.  Sacraments.  Contemplation.  Service, mercy, and justice.  Silence and solitude.  Spiritual direction.  Place yourself where the rains of God’s grace flow, with an open heart and mind, and we will grow.

We will become like Christ.  We will become who we were created to be.

Thomas Merton writes, “The secret of my full identity is hidden in Him. He alone can make me who I am, or rather who I will be when at last I fully begin to be. But unless I desire this identity and work to find it with Him and in Him, the work will never be done.” 

What do you desire?  Elementary teaching?  Or, to become like Christ?

 

 

If I wasn’t a pastor…

If I wasn’t a pastor…

As a United Methodist pastor, I’ve been assigned to the churches I’ve served.  While I’ve been very fortunate to serve very fine churches and ministries, from time to time I wonder, if I wasn’t a pastor, what kind of church I might choose to attend (Some days, this thought is a bit more tempting than others!  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve quit being a pastor.  I’ve just never actually turned in my letter of resignation!).

If I wasn’t a pastor, and could choose any church I wanted…

I’d want to be part of a close-knit, loving, Christ-centered community, where I can truly know and be known.

I’d want worship that’s a genuine, heart-felt, impassioned offering to God.

I’d want to be challenged to grow and expected to become the human God intends me to be.

I’d want to fall deeper, and deeper, and deeper in love with Jesus.

I’d look for a “thin place.”

I’d want to find a church community that’s open and honoring of all kinds of people, embracing and celebrating diversity in every form.

I’d want to find a church that literally drips, oozes, and overflows with God’s love.

I’d hope to find a place I could really be myself, knowing I’ll be loved and accepted, with no reason to fear judgement or rejection.

I’d look for a church that’s a “saint-incubator.”

I’d seek a church that always asks, “What should we try next?”

I’d look for church that was perfectly imperfect – whatever that means!

I’d want to find a church that embraces the unfathomable, ineffable mysteries of the Spirit and rejects sterile, overly-simplistic, formulaic religion.

I’d want to be part of a church membership that tithes generously, and gives more to missions than it keeps for itself.

I’d look for a pastor who knows and love Jesus.

I’d look for a church where the Spirit moves equally freely in worship, and business meetings, and shared meals, and acts of service.

I’d want to be part of a church that feels less like a business, and more like a spiritually organic network of friends.

I’d seek a church that boldly dreams God-sized dreams.

I’d love to be part of a creative church, that embraces the arts as expressions of worship and service.

I’d seek a church where each and every person is treated with utmost honor and respect.

I’d want to be part of a church where my friends are hearing and responding to God’s call to attempt outrageous kingdom experiments.

I’d look for a church that actively cares for and cultivates God’s good creation.

I’d want a church that never, ever settles for status quo, or the way things have always been done.

I’d look for a church that reads the Bible as a grand story to be part of, not just as a rule book to obey.

I’d join a church led by deeply-spiritual, God-seeking, wise, inspired, godly men and women.

I’d want to be part of church that is deeply committed to a particular people and place – loving it, serving it, healing it, shining a light on it, embracing it, nurturing it, caring for it, changing it.

I’d want to be part of a church family that equally embraces seekers and skeptics, long-timers and short-timers, saints and sinners, masters and novices.

I’d seek a church that believes ANYTHING is possible, if it honors Christ.

I’d hope to find Christ-followers who could easily say, “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.”

I’d look for a church that prayed and taught people how to pray.

I’d seek a church relentlessly committed to justice and mercy.

I’d look for a church that graciously expects people to act like Jesus.

I’d seek brothers and sisters in Christ who are equally comfortable singing passionately, laughing uproariously, shouting riotously, applauding wildly, lamenting defiantly, and crying unashamedly.

I’d want to find a church equally committed to excellence and exceedingly gracious with short-comings.

I’d seek a church that primarily exists beyond it’s walls.

I would look for a church where EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is about Jesus.  EVERYTHING!

I know, I know.  I’d never find such a church.  Such churches don’t exist.  There’s no such thing as a “perfect church,” whatever that means, according to anyone’s hopes, standards, or expectations.  Every church has its gifts and graces, it’s strengths and weaknesses.

But…

If the Church is the Bride of Christ…

If the Church is the Body of Christ…

If the Church is the visible manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven, on the earth…

If the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”…

If the Church is Spirit-filled and Spirit-led…

If the Church exists for God, and God’s mission…

If the Church is God’s family…

If the Church is where saints become saints…

If the Church is where heaven touches earth…

If the Church is where the Holy Sacraments are blessed and served…

If the Church is where believers worship the most high God…

If the Church is salt and light…

If the Church is where God’s story is remembered, retold, and relived, over and over and over…

If the Church is where saints are baptized, confirmed, confessed, communed, married, ordained, consecrated, annointed, commissioned, healed, and memorialized…

If… then, perhaps, someone could explain to me why we would ever settle for a church that is less?

Maybe the point isn’t to find the perfect church.  Maybe the point is to BE the Church we know we’re supposed to be.  Why do we settle for so much less?

 

The journey toward greater health & wholeness…

The journey toward greater health & wholeness…

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I’ve recently become fascinated with a personality assessment called the “enneagram.”  The enneagram is based on a theory that there are 9 basic personality types, with some variations based on “wings” and whether one is operating in health or in “dis-integration.”  Any further attempt to explain the enneagram, in one blog post, would be futile, and would likely mis-represent what the enneagram is and how it works.  For further information on the enneagram, I would encourage you to visit www.suzannestabile.com, www.iancron.com, www.theroadbacktoyou.com, www.cac.org/the-enneagram-an-introduction, and www.typologypodcast.com

I’ve also previously shared, I am a 9 on the enneagram – the “Peacemaker.”  That means, when I’m healthy and fully-functioning, I can be flexible, open, agreeable, and comfortable grappling with diverse people, perspectives, opinions and views.  But, when I’m unhealthy, particularly if I’m not dealing with my anger constructively, as a 9, I tend to avoid conflict, become passive (maybe passive aggressive?), indecisive, and will likely withdraw and hide.  At my worst, 9’s tend to become increasingly lethargic, and look for ways to numb their growing discomfort.  If you know me, I hope you’ve experienced more of the healthy side of my nine-ness, than the unhealthy.  But, I’m also realistic.

Sorry.

For those who are curious, I’m a 9 with a 1 (Perfectionist) wing, whether I’m healthy, or not.

The thing I appreciate most about the enneagram is that it reveals both your unhealthy tendencies, AND offers a path to growth, integration, and maturity.   Rather than just revealing who I am, like it or not, the enneagram points me down a road toward potentially becoming my very best me!

This morning, I’ve been spending some time studying what my particular pathway to optimal health might be.  As 9s become healthier, they tend to take on characteristics of healthy 3s, The Performers.  My wife is a healthy 3, so I have a great example to emulate!  Healthy 3s are energetic, healthy and motivated.  Healthy 3s are optimistic and enthusiastic.   They set goals worth pursuing, and do so to completion.  Healthy 3s are dependable, and get a lot of great things accomplished!

There have been seasons of my life when I might have been described more as 3 than a 9.  Though I’ve always had 9 tendencies – especially by avoiding conflict – setting and pursuing goals, and taking on big projects, has been a defining part of much of my life.

But, not always.  Maybe not as much, recently.

As I’ve been reading and reflecting this morning, I’m wondering what new, worth-while goals I need to pursue.  I certainly need to work on my physical health, and have already started – I have a pretty big goal to pursue and attain by the end of 2018!  I have some ministry-related goals I’m working on, and a few more brewing.  There are a few others I’m actively considering, which I may share as they become more clearly defined.

But, my point of sharing this is really less about me, my nine-ness, and the ways I personally need to grow, or even the goals I’m going to pursue, and more about the opportunity we all have, at every stage of life, to become better than we currently are.  We each can, and dare I say must, strive to become our best, healthy, whole, mature selves.  After all, isn’t that who God created us to be?

As Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile write, in The Road Back to You: an Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, “We owe it to the God who created us, to ourselves, to the people we love and to all with whom we share this troubled planet to become ‘saints (our true selves).’ How else can we run and complete the errand on which God sent us here?”

Whether you like the enneagram, or not; whether you know your type number, or not; there is a path for all of us to take toward becoming healthier than we are.  It doesn’t have to be the enneagram.  There are plenty of other paths to self-discovery and development.

I’ve shared mine, in part.

What’s yours

Remember your baptism?

Remember your baptism?

Do you remember your baptism?  I do.

July 22, 1984 – around 11:00 pm.

I was at church camp, at Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee.  It was the summer between my junior and senior year of High School, and my last year as a camper.

Earlier in the evening, I accepted Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, and was ready to be baptized.

After a night-time walk through the woods, the entire camp gathered by a mountain stream.  I stepped into the cold water, with a young pastor named Alex.  Alex asked me, “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the only son of God.  Do you accept him as Lord and Savior?”  As I said “Yes!,” Alex pushed me back into the water, baptizing me in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

I remember a lot of the details of that night.  The cold water.  My friends, standing by the river.  A hundred, or so, flashlights shining on the water.  More than anything, I remember thinking, “This changes everything.”  

I didn’t make the decision to be baptized lightly.  No one pressured me.  It was entirely my decision.  In fact, I had wrestled with the decision for at least a year.  I wanted to believe.  I wanted to be a Christian.  I wanted to live like a Christian.  I wanted to be baptized.  But, before I could, I had to work through my feelings and thoughts of uncertainty.  When I made the decision, I wanted to be sure.

And, I was.  I can’t say, for certain, how or why I was sure.  But, I was.

I feel fortunate to have such strong memories of my baptism.  But, when I ask, “Do you remember your baptism?” and say, “I do,” I’m not just talking about the event itself.  Whether, or not, we can recall the details of how or when we were baptized, baptism is more than a moment.

In many traditions, baptism is considered a sacrament.  The traditional definition of a sacrament, from St. Augustine, is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”   The “outward and visible” sign of baptism is water, of course.  An “inward and spiritual grace,” is also at work.

Baptism is more than a religious ceremony.  Baptism is spiritual change.  Baptism is transformation.  Baptism is new life.  Baptism is an altered identity.  Baptism is a new affiliation.  Baptism is a new way of being and living.

I think of baptism this way…  When I was born, I was born into a physical body – male, caucasian, flat-footed, brown-haired and blue-eyed.  I was born into a particular family called “Rains,” with a certain history, values, rules, and expectations. I was born into particular culture – in my case, “Southern,” where I learned to say, “y’all.”  And, by birth, I became a legal citizen of the United States of America, and became subject to its particular laws and obligations.

But, when I was baptized, I was spiritually ‘born again.”  I became a member of a different family (God’s), and I became part of a different culture (the Church), and I became a citizen of a different kingdom (the Kingdom of Heaven).  And, my baptismal identity is my primary identity.  My baptismal allegiance is my primary allegiance.

Remembering your baptism isn’t about remembering the event.  Remembering your baptism is remembering who you are as a member of God’s family, as a member of the Church, and as a citizen of God’s kingdom.  Remembering your baptism is remembering you’ve been spiritually changed.  Remembering your baptism is remembering you’ve been called to be like Jesus.  Remembering your baptism ought to affect the way you treat people, the way you conduct business, the way you vote, the way you shop, the way you give, and the values you aspire to live by.  Remembering you baptism ought to affect EVERYTHING!

Pope Francis says, “We are called to live our baptism every day, as new creatures, clothed in Christ.”

Do you remember your baptism?

Timshel: “You may…”

Timshel:  “You may…”

My favorite novel is John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden.  East of Eden wrestles with questions of human nature, and good and evil.  Are we born good or evil, or are good and evil choices?

These questions find an answer in the biblical story of Cain and Abel.  Cain is outraged that God preferred his brother’s offering to his own.  In Genesis 4:6-7, God warns Cain,  “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (NIV)

“You must rule over it.”

Other translations say it differently…

“Do thou rule over it.” (ASV)

“Thou shalt rule over him.” (KJV)

“You must subdue it and be its master.” (NLT)

“Do thou,” “Thou shalt,” and “You must” are translations of the Hebrew word “timshel.”  Here’s where the genius of East of Eden shines…

“The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

There are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

Think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there.

Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives. But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.”

“Thou mayest” or, simply, “You may.”

Timshel means we have a choice.  In every aspect of our lives, we have choices.  WE CHOOSE!

Will our choices serve ourselves or others?  Will our choices bless others or curse others?  What will the impact of our choices be on the world?  Are our choices God honoring, or not?  Regardless of how we answer these questions, our choices are our own.    And, the responsibility for my choices lies on me.

Timshel is both a gift and a responsibility.  I get to choose how I will use my day, who I will spend my day with, what I will accomplish, or not.  I choose.  But, I am also responsible for those choices.  Were they godly choices?  Were they wise?  Were they loving?

“Think of the glory of the choice.”

What will you choose today?

“Dim Dots” – Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

“Dim Dots” – Where we’ve been, and where we’re going

Annie Dillard ends her childhood memoir, An American Childhood, by reflecting on the “dim dots” of her life that led to her becoming fully alive – “the moment of opening a life and feeling it touch this speckled mineral sphere, our present world.” By “dim dots” she means the moments and events of our lives that form a single contiguous line toward who we eventually become.  Her “dim dots” include various memories of childhood, that continue to hold significance to her, while others, she had hoped not to forget, have strangely faded away.

Though I am more than sure many of my “dim dots,” though significant, have fully faded from view, many remain clearly visible in my mind’s eye.  For fear of leaving something important out, or overemphasizing less important memories, I’ll refrain from sharing my list, as it occurs to me today.

The point is, we are the accumulative sum of all of those “dim dots.”  Though some life experiences are clearly more memorable and impactful than others, nothing can be excluded.  Remove any of my dots, to some degree, I’m no longer who I am today.  Obviously, some things matter more than others.  But, every experience, every interaction, every relationship, every sensation, every mistake, every achievement, every moment of transcendence, every coincidence, every hurt feeling, every life-stage, every moment of ecstasy, every sickness, every season, every loss, every holy moment, every employment, every abysmal failure, every skill we learn, every book we read, every test we pass, every moment of breathtaking beauty, every act of service, every gauntlet we endure, every weakness we overcome, every act of selfishness, every spiritual encounter, every moment of debasement, every goal achieved, EVERYTHING contributes to who we become.  EVERYTHING has contributed to who we are.

In fact, I think it could be argued that every dot, to some degree, predicts the dots that will follow.  Not always.  But, often.

Beyond the moments that could potentially be marked on a calendar or a map, or recorded in a journal, yearbook, or police record, or photographed or videoed, are the countless other influences – our genetics, our parent’s guidance, our birth-order, our ethnicity or nationality, our social/economic status, our geography, our traditions, our generation, our friendships, our loves and losses, our education, our religious influences, our exposure to beauty or tragedy, etc.

As you reflect on the “dim dots” of your life, here are some questions to ponder…

  • Who are the people who’ve made the biggest impact on your life, for good or ill?
  • What memories cause you the most joy?  What memories cause you the most pain?
  • When were you the happiest?  When were you the saddest?
  • Where has been “home” for you?
  • What, to date, has been your greatest achievement?
  • What would you erase from your past, if you could?
  • What if you had chosen a different school to attend, a different career to pursue, a different place to live, a different person to marry?
  • What memories haunt you?
  • What historic events do you remember most clearly?
  • What precious moment would you relive, if you could, simply for the joy of it?
  • When have you felt most alive?
  • When did you stop pretending?  Have you?
  • What moments or experiences, if erased, would most alter who you are today?
  • How has your faith and spirituality affected who you’ve become?

If you drew a line, starting with your birth, from dot to dot to dot, all the way to this very moment (yes, this moment – as you read this blog), what dots might be coming next, and after that, and after that?

What are your “dim dots?”

The Spiritual Advantages of Tending vs. Recharging (Warning: technically speaking, this might be utter nonsense. But, hopefully you’ll get the point)

The Spiritual Advantages of Tending vs. Recharging (Warning: technically speaking, this might be utter nonsense.  But, hopefully you’ll get the point)

Last weekend, while out for a ride, my motorcycle battery died, requiring a long wait for a tow home.  I also had to buy a new battery.  As I’ve told my motorcycle buddies about my predicament, many have asked, “Don’t you have a tender?”

I have a tender, but I didn’t realize I needed it, as long as the battery had a sufficient charge to start the bike, which mine did, at least while I was still at home.  Since last weekend, I’ve learned that a tender should be used any time the bike isn’t in operation.

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For those not familiar, a tender is a small device that connects the bike’s battery to a wall outlet, that charges your battery when it’s low, and maintains the battery when it is fully-charged.  That’s the key – you want to keep your battery fully charged.

When I was growing up, I remember my Grandpa having a battery charger.  He had boats, motorcycles, a tractor, lawnmowers, all requiring batteries for operation.  Since he didn’t use all of them daily, or even weekly, when the batteries got low – or died – he would “re-charge” them.  There were always batteries being charged at Grandpa’s.  A battery might have fully lost it’s charge, but it could be “re-charged” by connecting it to the charger.

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The truth is, I hadn’t used a tender or a recharger when my battery died.  But, I’m learning, tending is far better for the battery than re-charging.  Both will re-charge the battery.  But, tending, by maintaining the charge is better for the overall life-span of the battery.

Maintaining the battery’s charge versus a cycle of dead battery, charged battery, dead battery, charged batter.  Hmmmmm.  The choice seems more obvious now.

Let’s apply this lesson spiritually.  I can maintain my spiritual batteries by staying connected to the “Source.”  Or, I can run my spiritual batteries until they lose their charge, or die between uses, and then attempt to hopefully recharge them.  I can maintain my spiritual charge, or cycle between having a dead spiritual battery, followed by spiritual recharging, followed by a dead battery, followed by recharging, and so on, and so forth.

If I’m honest, I’ve always been a “re-charge” kind of Christian.  I use up all of my spiritual charge, collapse, then desperately look for something to re-charge my battery.  And, then I do it again.  It’s like a roller-coaster of spiritual energy and utter depletion.

What would my spiritual life be like if I was regularly connected to a spiritual tender, that kept me connected to my power “Source,” all of the time?

Lesson learned – regarding my bike and my soul.  Both need tending.