God is Speaking!

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Last Saturday, Brandon and I cuddled up on our gigantic couch in the family room, turned on Netflix, and proceeded to binge watch an entire season of a new show.
There was no waiting to see what would happen next… the episode played automatically.
There were no spoilers, because the series, Altered Carbon, had just come out and there wasn’t any buzz about it yet.
We just curled up, stuffed our faces with popcorn, and had the opportunity to experience the entire wild ride.

That is very different from how we used to watch television.
I can still remember in seminary how obsessed I was with Grey’s Anatomy. On Fridays, a girlfriend and I would meet for coffee and we would recap the previous nights episode. There had been one particularly harrowing cliff-hanger and to spend an entire week waiting to see what would come next felt brutal. We spent most of our time debating whether or not we wanted to go online and glimpse at the spoilers on the fan sites to get a clue as to how the situation might turn out.
In the end, we decided we wouldn’t be able to concentrate on our class work if we didn’t know if the character lived or died… We were invested in the story, in the people… as ridiculous as it sounds, we needed some kind of hope, some glimpse that things were going to be okay. So we sought out every single spoiler alert we could find.

Over these past few weeks, we have ever so briefly followed the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In reality, we’ve only scratched the surface, living mainly in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. And already, we’ve encountered God, watched ordinary people become disciples, and have witnessed any number of miracles of healing.
The gospel of Mark moves so quickly from one moment to the next… just like those episodes on Netflix play automatically and keep you engaged for just one more…. In fact – I bet if you went home after worship today and opened your bible you’d find that reading through Mark is a breeze and it would be over before you realized it.
We find out Jesus has the power to not only cast out demons and heal, but to calm the waters and miraculously produce food out of crumbs. Like any great season of television, the energy is building towards triumph and freedom and release over the first eight chapters of Mark’s gospel.

And then we get to chapter 8.
As we reach the very end, Jesus begins to teach the disciples that the path towards victory and life and God’s salvation for all people was a journey through death.
He began to warn them about the suffering and rejection and brutal punishment that awaited.
And it was not an easy message to swallow. Peter even had the audacity to scold Jesus for saying such things.
Yet, this was the path before them.

Imagine, for just a moment, that you are in the very last episode of the season and THIS was the dialogue that was taking place.
You begin to realize that the next part of this story was going to look very different than the first. What was full of joy and celebration and miracles is going to be darker and more dangerous.
You are now invested in this journey, you’ve left everything you have to follow Jesus and now the path looks so different…
How are you going to make it through to the next season?
How are you going to manage the wait and the anxiety and the unknowing?

And so before this part of the story ends, Jesus shares with a few of the disciples a gigantic spoiler alert.
He takes them up the mountain and as they reach the summit, Jesus moves a few paces ahead and then turns around to face them.
And as he does – he changes before their eyes!
His whole body seems to radiate with an inexplicable glory and even his clothes shine brighter than the sun.
Just as the three disciples begin to adjust their eyes to this brilliance they see two figures appear beside their Master… two figures who could only be Moses and Elijah.
As Peter and James and John cower in fear and trembling before this amazing visage – the three figures have a conversation.
Now, if I’m Peter, if I have been learning at the feet of Jesus for a few months, if I have been a part miracles that have taken place, and if I’m led up to the top of a mountain where my teacher suddenly begins to glow and radiate glory… and if I am terrified to face a path of suffering and rejection… then I might grab a hold of this moment and think that THIS was what they had been preparing for.
He interrupts them, offers to build shrines and temples, essentially trying to re-direct the entire journey and turn season two of this story into a show on top of the mountain.

But that is NOT why they are there.
A cloud overshadowed the trio of disciples like a fog rolling in. The glory of Jesus, Moses and Elijah was concealed by the dense cloud and in a rumble of thunderous glory the voice of God spoke to their hearts: This is my Son, This is my Beloved! Listen to him!
Just as quickly as the cloud moved it, it dissipated, and the three bewildered and terrified disciples opened their eyes to find their teacher Jesus, standing before them alone. With hardly a word, apart from telling them not to talk about what they had seen until after the resurrection, Jesus leads them back down the mountain.

I can vividly remember pouring over still images on websites with my friend, trying to guess what was going to happen next in our favorite show based on a few glimpses. We would speculate based on the characters or where they were standing or what else was present in the background and try to make meaning out of the signs so we had something to hold on to.

In many ways, this brief moment on the mountaintop was that kind of spoiler alert, giving the disciples something to hang on to.
The voice of God rang out, shaking them to their very core, and reminded them that God’s power and purpose was present in their teacher, Jesus.
The presence of Moses and Elijah, affirmed that the law and the prophets were being fulfilled in the ministry of the Son of God. Everything they had been taught and believed about the restoration of Israel… of all creation… would come to pass.
And, it was a reminder that even though the next part of this story would look different, they had a glimpse of the light and the glory that would give them hope on dark days.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus has now set his face towards Jerusalem. They were leaving behind the healing and the teaching and were heading straight towards the seat of power… not to be a force that would overthrow it violently, but through a display of righteous love.
They didn’t quite understand what the resurrection meant… but they saw a glimpse, a spoiler, of the things to come, that they could hold on to when the going got tough.

We were never called to build tents and tabernacles to enshrine these moments forever.
This story is not yet finished.
We have to keep working.
We have to keep seeing what changes need to be made.
We have to keep hearing the voice of God speaking into our lives.
And that means coming down from the mountain, rolling up our sleeves, and getting to work.

After all, that is what Jesus did.
The light of glory revealed on the mountaintop was meant for the world.
And Jesus knew that for that light to dwell within each of us, he was going to have to shine even in the darkest places of the world.
He was going to have to confront evil powers.
He was going to have to withstand betrayal and abuse.
He was going to have to carry his cross and enter the grave of death.
But he did it all so that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God could shine on us.

Unlike the disciples, we know how this next part of the story ends. We’ve seen our way through Jerusalem, through the cross, and have watched countless generations listen to God’s call to let their light shine.
What we sometimes forget is that we can’t stay on the mountaintop either.
This is not simply a story we curl up on our couches to experience.
Our season, our part of this journey is still being written.
And God is still speaking and still calling us to follow Jesus.

So as we enter the season of Lent, we, too, will set our faces towards Jerusalem.
This Wednesday, we will remember our mortality and our own journey through death with a cross of ashes on our foreheads.
We will once again have the opportunity to redefine ourselves in the light of the one who came to save us.
Over these coming weeks, we’ll explore what it means for Christ to be our hero and our savior and perhaps we will discover all over again what it means to be a disciple.
Friends, let us come down from the mountain where we have tried to wrap up our faith with a neat and tidy bow. A whole new season is beginning and this time you are ones God is calling to let your light shine.

Momentum for Life: Who is your Elisha?

This morning, we continue to explore what DRIVES us… the momentum that Christ is trying to build in our life to help us keep following him.

 

Today, our focus is on how we INVEST IN RELATIONSHIPS. How are we reaching out and building up those who will be the leaders of the future? How are we teaching and mentoring our children so that they might carry this faith forward through the ages?

Just a few minutes ago, Doug/Pam shared with us a piece of the story of the prophets Elijah and Elisha.

Elijah knows that God is calling him away from this earth and he has been trying to prepare his protégé Elisha for the task of carrying on his work.

Elisha doesn’t think that he is ready and so he keeps clinging on to his master, his teacher. He isn’t quite sure that he can do it without him.

Most of us have had a mentor or a teacher, a parent or a family member who helped to shape us in our lives. One of mine was my youth pastor, Todd Rogers. He knew the lyrics to all the rap songs and would bust out in rhyme while we stood in line for events… which was a really strange thing for a tall, white guy to be doing. But he had this way of helping every person feel connected and important. He took our questions seriously… In fact, he helped me understand that the questions are just as important as the answers.

When I headed off to college, I wasn’t sure if I would find that same kind of love and support. But Todd laid the foundation, helped me to have confidence in myself I didn’t know was there, and had prepared me. I discovered, just like Elisha, that God was with me in this new phase of my life, too.

 

As we grow and mature in our faith, one of the tasks we are called to is to nurture the next generation. Like Elijah, like my youth pastor, like your own mentors…. We are now called to pass on the faith and share what we have received with others.

 

Our psalmist for this morning focuses his words on how we can do this in our families. So many of you have shared with me how your grandparents or parents faithfully brought you to church and formed in you the convictions that you have today.

One of the ways we are helping to equip parents to share faith with their children is our new children’s church curriculum. The truth is, we only get to see your children and grandchildren for an hour or two a week. You are the ones who are helping them to learn and grow every single day. And so our new curriculum provides some easy ways that you can reinforce the message we share on Sunday mornings. We send home with the children these sheets that include scriptures, prayers and thoughts so that together, you and your kids can grow together in faith.

 

But we are also called to mentor people outside of our families.   In every aspect of our lives… whether it is our work or our area of service, we can be on the lookout for those who are our Elishas.

While we might love what we do, we can’t do it forever.

We get to a point where we retire, or take a break, or transition to a new ministry and at every one of those points, one of the marks of our legacy is not what we ourselves have accomplished, but how we have prepared others to carry that work forward.

And that means we need to invest in the lives of other people.

This is one of the lessons I am learning as I grow in my ministry. It probably won’t shock you to learn that I’m not an expert at what I do…. And I’m grateful for how you have been patient and graceful with me as I learn what it means to be the lead pastor of a church like this.

Last November, I was at a continuing education event where I was reminded, just as Michael Slaughter was in the book, that I need to set aside more time to strategically invest in the work of our leaders in the church. There are so many tasks on the to-do list… but it doesn’t matter what we accomplish if we are not mentoring and moving together.

So one of the commitments I’m making this year is to meet one-on-one with the leaders of each of my committees and teams each month. And I’m encouraging each of our staff to do this with their leaders as well. My hope is that all of us will grow in our faith in the process.

And I started living out that commitment these past two weeks by setting aside time to sit down and talk with some of you about your ministry here at the church. So far, I have had about 30 of these one-on-one meetings and I certainly have been blessed in the process. I’m excited about continuing this work and want you to know that you don’t have to wait for a phone call or email from me… I’d love to sit down with you and talk about whatever is going on in your life!

 

Slaughter writes that there is an “invisible line of people standing behind you” who have helped to shape your life and your ministry.

But you also are called to stand behind others. “Who are you parenting, mentoring, coaching, encouraging, managing, or leading?”

Who is your Elisha?

Breathe

Shortly after we moved into our new home, there were a number of big, scary storms. It was cool for June, so we had opened the windows to let the cool breeze blow in.

Our cats typically LOVE to sit in the open windows. They look out, smell the world, and watch the birds.

But when those storms rolled through, the curtains blew everywhere. The breeze going through the house was strong enough to move things off the table. I thought it was crisp, cool and refreshing… but the cats were not pleased.

With each gust of wind, my cat Tiki’s ears laid back and he would meowl. He was a bit overstimulated. He didn’t know where to look or what to do. You could just see chest rise and fall with each panicked breath. So, I spent about half an hour petting and reassuring him that morning. The other cat, Turbo, refused to even make an appearance.

The blowing of the wind always makes me think of the Holy Spirit. She blows where she will, she stirs things up and creates a ruckus, and we can either be comforted or agitated by her presence.

When we are ready for the Spirit to blow, it is a refreshing change of pace…. We breathe in deep and enjoy the ride.

But when we are not ready for that change, when we are not looking for the Spirit and she shows up, well, then we feel like trouble is brewing. We complain about how we’ve never done things like that before. We might try to fight back and then when it’s obvious the change is here to stay – we might just hunker down in the middle of the floor and give up.

 

In our scriptures today, we find two different groups of people who are in the midst of some powerful Holy Spirit changing winds.

 

In our first story, Elijah is dealing with the shifting winds of culture and a changing political situation. His whole world has been tossed upside down and he feels threatened and afraid. He isn’t sure what he is supposed to do in response and cries out to God for help.

 

In our second story, the disciples find themselves in a strange in between time. We talked last week about how their friend and colleague John the Baptist had just been executed. They are being led deeper into more dangerous territory in their faith and being encouraged by Jesus to take bigger risks than ever. Their entire understanding of who God is has radically been changing. They are completely unsure where their faith will lead them next.

 

And in both places, a powerful wind shows up and helps remind them that God is always with them.

 

As we think about these two stories, it is helpful to imagine ourselves in their shoes.

Sometimes, we run away to a place of safety like a cave.  This sanctuary can feel like such a refuge, with its cavernous space and the warmth and protection it offers.

The disciples, were sheltered from the storms in their boat.  A boat much like this church…

20140818_093323[1]You may think I’m talking about some symbolic and imaginary boat. You might picture yourself floating down the Raccoon River or on a pontoon out on Saylorville Lake. But believe it or not, we have all, literally, gotten into a boat this morning!

The part of the sanctuary where you are sitting is officially called the “nave.” The word comes from the Latin navis, which means a boat or ship. This sanctuary is constructed, on purpose, to look like an upside down boat. The rafters are the frame and the wooden slats become the hull of the ship.

So we are all together, in the boat this morning. We are all in this boat called church doing our best to be faithful and follow Jesus.

The problem is, sometimes the winds start to blow. And when that happens… well, we can’t always be sure where we will end up!

In the gospel, the wind picks up and pulls the disciples from the shore.   Their boat is battered around on the water. The winds whip around and blow the lake water into their faces. It’s not a pleasant way to spend the night.

Out there on the water, they not only sense the breeze, but also the winds of change. Their fears and hesitations and feelings of inadequacy about this journey of faith creep in. In the wee hours of the morning, they start to feel alone, lost, and afraid.

 

That’s how Elijah was feeling too. Alone. Afraid. The winds of change were against him and he alone was left of the prophets of God. Ahab and Jezebel, the rulers of Israel had turned against God and God’s people and Elijah had done everything he could to try to get them to follow God again. Nothing he did worked. He felt like giving up. He wanted things to go back to how it was before. He wanted the land to be full of God’s power and blessing again.

 

It is a common experience.  Whether it was Elijah looking backwards or the disciples wanting to stay near the shoreline.

It is the tension between wanting to stay near to the shoreline, where we know Jesus has been, and allowing the winds of the Holy Spirit lead us into different waters and a new mission field.

The shoreline is where we are safe and comfortable.

The shoreline is where we have experienced Jesus.

Just close your eyes for a few moments and breathe in deep.

As you breathe in and out, think about where that shoreline is in your life. That experience of Jesus.   A Sunday school class, a worship service, a bible study….

PAUSE

The shoreline is our cherished past. It is where we KNOW God has been. So we try as hard as we can to stay near to that shoreline, or to find one just like it in another place. We don’t want to venture out into the world without Jesus by our side, so we want to hang on, right there, and wait.

If the disciples had their way, they would have stayed right by the shoreline, all night long.

That’s what many of our churches try to do. They tread water, anchored in one place, doing their best to stay afloat and keep things as they are.

But sometimes, the winds of change start to blow. The Holy Spirit starts to move us. And like the disciples, we find ourselves drifting farther and farther from where we are safe and comfortable.

Some of those winds might be cultural shifts that move news and conversations online instead of in print or in person.

Some of those winds represent the migration of people and the changing demographics of the state and this very neighborhood.

Some of those winds are changes in styles and preferences of those who would worship with us.

Sometimes those winds of change are finding pink slips in our bulletins instead of those familiar green pew pads.

 

It can be scary and disorienting to be led somewhere new by the Holy Spirit.

I remember I had this sense of absolute terror when I was called by my district superintendent to go to my first church. I had no idea what the future would bring. I didn’t know what the people would be like. I didn’t know whether or not I would fit in. All I knew were the churches of my past, the familiar boats I had worshipped and been taught in.

The winds of change were blowing and I had two options. I could embrace the call – take a deep breath and hope and pray that the Holy Spirit was truly working through the process. Or, I could try to hunker down and resist and probably would have been miserable. I chose to trust that no matter where the Spirit of God took me, Jesus would be there. And he was.

 

I think the mistake the disciples made in our scripture today is that they tried so hard to stay by the shoreline, where they knew Jesus had been… that when the winds drove them to the middle of the lake, they believed they were in a place Jesus couldn’t possibly be.

With the breeze swirling around, in that unfamiliar territory, they felt overwhelmed by the chaos of it all.

Their boat was the only thing they had left.

Without a shoreline to cling to, they took a deep breath, said a prayer, and hunkered down.

 

For Elijah, his mistake was constantly trying to go back to the old king and make them change. Do you remember the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Well, that was Elijah. Trying to convert Jezebel and fight her religion instead of moving on and looking for new people to minister to.

 

There is a temptation, when the winds of change are blowing, to retreat into a building like this. This church can become the center of our attention. It is that place we keep returning to, the familiar boat we hold on to for safety.

And so when those winds pick up, we retreat to our cave or hunker down in the boat.

Sometimes, it’s hard to get a sense of when we are being blown by the Spirit and when we are simply being tossed and turned by the breezes of popular opinion.

So, we focus on our people and our ministries And then we get into the rut of doing the same things over and over again, and wonder why it isn’t working any more.

But the biggest danger in doing so is that we no longer recognize Jesus when he shows up out there in the wind and the waves.

All around us are churches that are perishing because they have stopped paying attention to their neighborhoods and the world around them. They are dying because they no longer recognize Jesus when he’s standing out there in the winds of change.

When Jesus came out to the disciples, rocked by the winds on the lake that night, they didn’t know who he was. They were so startled by his presence, they thought he must be a ghost – an apparition – not their Lord and Savior.

Because why on earth would Jesus be out there?

 

“Hey! It’s me!” Jesus calls. “Don’t be afraid.”

 

Peter takes a deep breath and raises the courage to respond. He shouts into the wind at this dark figure approaching.

“ Lord! Is that really you? If it’s you… well…. If it’s you, then, tell me to come to you! “

 

And Jesus says, “Come.”

 

Take a deep breath and take a step out onto the waters.

Take a deep breath and step out of the cave.

 

I have new places to send you.

I have a new direction for you to go in.

 

Take a deep breath and step outside of these doors.

 

God is waiting. God is patient. And God has plans for us.

 

When we let the winds of the Holy Spirit move us,  we go where our Creator calls us, we will experience amazing and miraculous signs of God.

 

The winds… they aren’t going to stop blowing.

Change will keep coming.

The Holy Spirit is alive and active in this world.

So pull up the anchor, take a deep breath, and enjoy the ride.