Rising Strong: Failing and Falling

In this “Rising Strong” series, we have remembered a few things so far about what it means to live as children of the resurrection.

First – we have to be ourselves.  God has uniquely created us with gifts and skills and has put us in this place for this time.  We shouldn’t spend our days trying to be someone we are not.  We need to learn to love and embrace who God has made us to be. 

Second – we should wholeheartedly put ourselves to work for the Kingdom of God.  If you are a fisherman – go out there and fish for people.  If you are an accountant, go out and count people for Christ.  If you are a mom or a dad or a grandparent, love every person you meet as a child of God.  Take the life God has given you and use every minute of it to serve the Lord. 

We are called to take both of those things and put them into practice.  So, if you haven’t already filled out or turned in the “Gifts and Talents” booklet that we handed out last week – this is your opportunity.  It is one way you can let us know here at the church what are some of the ways you are willing to be yourself and go all in for God.    There is a box at the back of the sanctuary to turn them in, or you can drop them off in the office.  There are also some blanks there, as well. 

 Today, we are going to ask what happens next…

What happens when you figure out who you are and you give it all to God? 


Let’s pray:


In the past six weeks, I joined a gym… a “transformation center”… and spent some intentional time focusing on my own health and well-being.   I’m now twenty pounds lighter and trying to figure out how to keep up the effort without the strict diet and accountability of the group I worked out with.

One of the things that we talked a lot about during those six weeks was failure.

Every week, there would be at least one exercise where our goal was to do as many as possible.  Whether it was sit ups or planks, a dead lift or overhead press, the goal was to increase either the weight or the duration of the exercise so that you physically could not do one more rep. 

Now, this was not how we were supposed to exercise every muscle every time.  But the general idea was that if you weren’t pushing yourself and trying to really grow, you wouldn’t.

Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “the last 3 or 4 reps is what makes the muscle grow.  This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion.  That’s what most people lack: having the guts to go on and say they’ll go through the pain, no matter what happens.”

What most people lack is the guts to go on.

We lack the drive to be willing to push ourselves to failure.


In our gospel reading this morning, the disciples of Jesus Christ are in a boat.  They have been sent by Jesus to head off and get ready for a new ministry adventure, but they have been kept up by everything that is going on outside of the boat.  The wind is blowing, the waves are strong, and they are a bit fearful of what lies ahead.  They really don’t know if Jesus will be on the other side of the lake in the morning. 

We are a lot like those disciples.  We are all here, because at some point we responded to the call of Jesus Christ in our lives and we showed up.  We heard the call and got into the boat, even if we didn’t quite know where this boat was headed. 

But, like the disciples, we also really want Jesus to come with us, to be with us, and we are afraid to push off from the shore out into the world. 

In some ways, I think that is where our church is right now. We are hanging out in this boat that has kept us safe. You’ve been kept your heads above the waters and have navigated lots of storms. But the winds of the spirit have been blowing and have been moving among us, and I think that in many ways, we are now finding ourselves in uncharted waters – we are just a little ways from the shoreline that we are used to.

Right out there with the disciples.  They found themselves in stormy waters, in unfamiliar territory, in a place they thought Jesus couldn’t possibly be.  So much so, that they didn’t recognize Jesus when he showed up in the middle of the night. 


Only Peter was brave enough, courageous enough, only Peter had the guts to go on and seek Jesus out there on the water. 

He remembered who he was and who God was.

He remembered the ways that Jesus had called him to follow and the amazing things that could be accomplished in God’s name.

And he took the risk to step out of the boat… to be foolish and daring and to trust where the Spirit is leading.

He didn’t let his head tell him “no” when his heart was screaming “yes”. 

And he walked on water.


Well, for a minute.

He got scared. He stumbled.  He started to fall.


By all accounts, Peter failed.

But the thing is, he took the chance where no one else had. 

He pushed himself far enough that he could fail, that he might fail, and while he did – it also meant that he was the only one who was in a place to grow from that experience. 


In his book, Failure: Why Science Is So Successful, neuroscientist Stuart Firestein points out all the ways the scientific process guarantees failures and flops.

There are very few eureka moments or big discoveries compared with the thousands of failures and flops that happen along the way. 

But every one of those failures is an opportunity to learn, tweak, grow, and do something different.

Every one of those failures allows you to learn a new limit or boundary and to push past it. 


As a church, maybe we should embrace not only the art of ministry, but also the science of ministry. 

We should take big enough risks and have the guts to try new things if the Spirit is leading us.

And we should not be afraid to fail and to fall flat on our face.

Because every time we do, we have the chanced to process, evaluate, and make adjustments.

When you turn in your Gifts and Talents booklet, here is the thing I want you to remember.  You don’t have to be perfect in order to offer your gifts to God.  None of us are.  You will make mistakes.  You will need others to help you and teach you.  And you might even discover that something really isn’t for you.  But you will never know what your limits are and how God might stretch you unless you offer yourself!

As a community, that also means that we need to be open and ready to surround people with love when they offer themselves and work for God’s kingdom, fully expecting that there will be mistakes along the way.

Innovation and discover take time, patience, grace, and a familiarity with failure.  Holy failure.  The kind of failure that means you are constantly moving on towards perfection – without judgment for where you have been.


God isn’t done with us yet… so may we have the courage to be ourselves, go all in, and make a whole lot of holy failures… knowing that Jesus (and this community of faith) is right here, ready to catch us.   


Six Week Challenge

I stepped on the scale about two months ago and the number was higher than my previous personal highest.  I was busy, in the midst of finishing up writing a book, and knew I didn’t have the time and energy to do anything about it.

Now that its a few months later, the book is finished and I have realized that taking care of myself isn’t something that can or should be put off.   So I signed up for a six week challenge through a local “transformation center” and I’m going to give this a go.

There is a very strict nutritional plan that goes along with said challenge, and I’m working hard to keep myself on track.  Basically, every meal has 4 oz of protein, 2 oz of carbs, and unlimited vegetables.

I spent today doing a bunch of meal planning and some of my food prep.  Although I might get a little bored with my meals, I’m going to stick to the plan!  Pinterest has been a great friend here!!!


Steel Cut Oatmeal: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92183123603653229/
– put into 1/2 cup muffin tins.  Based on the amount I cooked up in one batch, I should have 12 days worth of servings with 2 “muffins” each.

Egg White and Spinach Muffins: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92183123603652268/
– I made the turkey sausage today (a big batch) and I’ll make the omelets tomorrow.  I’m planning on 3oz egg white and 1 oz sausage per muffin


Lunch and/or Dinner: 

Sheet Pan Chicken w/ Sweet Potatoes: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92183123603651999/
– I adjusted this recipe per FTDI instructions and made 7 servings worth. I cut up the chicken into 4 oz portions and left out the apple & only used a spritz of oil. I’ve got 1 extra chicken breast I can use for a snack.

Tuna Lemon Rice: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92183123603653739
– I haven’t made this yet, but plan to do up a big bunch of brown rice. I might just add the tuna/spinach/seasoning each morning I want to take it to lunch or add it in the evening

Balsamic Chicken and Veggies: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/570268371549956543/
– I haven’t made this yet, either

Cilantro Lime Chicken: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/60869032439694073/
– I have a batch of this going for tacos tonight. I plan to portion out leftovers and use for salad  with brown rice and vegetables during the week.


Other things I’ve pinned for the future…

Format Aside

We have probably 20 volunteer red bud trees growing in the landscaping of our back yard.  If we simply let them be, they are in the wrong spots and far too crowded for sustained growth.  The best choice is to pick two or three and move them to where they will have a chance to flourish.

As I have been researching this, one article I came across suggested cutting the roots in roughly a 15″ radius around the base of the tree in all directions.  By cutting directly down and through the longer roots, it forces root growth near the ball that will allow the tree to transplant better.


This same information was learned in a different context by a colleague this Sunday.

The lectionary scripture for the day is about the gardener, the owner, and the fruitless fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.

In the parable, the fig tree isn’t dead… but it also isn’t bearing fruit.  The owner wants to cut it down, but the gardener wants to give it another year.  He wants to “dig around it and give it fertilizer.”

Dig around it…  maybe like cutting the roots in all directions?

My colleague had a parishioner come up after her sermon and share her own anecdote about digging around to help something bear fruit:

…She grew up in Eastern Washington state, on an apple and pear farm. And she said she didn’t know anything about figs, but with the apples and pears trees, if a tree was otherwise healthy and fine but not bearing fruit, as a last resort they would take a spade and about a foot out from the trunk they would chop all the roots all around the tree. This makes the tree kind of “panic” and think it is dying, for some reason the reaction to the panic is that it bears fruit!

Plants like fig trees or apple trees or even my raspberry bushes can grow vibrantly and abundantly… and still not put forth fruit.  Sometimes this has to do with it being too crowded or having a bad season or putting too much energy into other places like leaf production.  And sometimes, they need a radical kick in the rear to jump start production.


And I think our faith is a lot like that, too.  I think sometimes we need someone to dig around us and cut all of the long roots that keep us healthy, but also keep us from bearing fruit: wealth, comfort, success, health, freedom…

It’s not that these things are bad – but we can put so much focus on them, that we forget all about the bearing fruit part.  Maybe “digging around” and cutting the roots can help us to not take those things for granted; help shift our focus and our priorities so that there is room for other roots to grow;  help create energy towards fruitfulness and not simply stability.

And sometimes in the process, we find ourselves uprooted and transformed and transplanted as God sees our renewed strength and thinks:  I have just the place for that disciple to bear fruit…

Momentum for Life: Eating & Exercise

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About ten years ago, I was living in Nashville and was in the middle of my seminary journey. I was overwhelmed by studying and coursework and I was working full time at a local church as a part of an internship. I was burning the candle at both ends and learning a lot… but I was worn out a lot, too.

One afternoon, I stepped on the scale at my parent’s house… I didn’t have a scale myself… and I was blown away by the number listed right by my toes. It was the most I had ever weighed in my life.

I had been so busy doing all of this work that I hadn’t been taking very good care of myself. I was using food to get me through the day. I wasn’t taking time to exercise. And part of the reason I felt so worn out wasn’t all the work… it was that I wasn’t giving my body the right kind of energy to sustain the work.

I started preparing healthier meals in smarter ways – cooking up a whole crockpot on the weekend to last me through the rest of the week.

The next week, I started going to the gym with a friend of mine.

And suddenly, I discovered I wasn’t nearly so tired. I could focus more and tasks didn’t take as long. My mind was more nimble. And my soul felt more whole than it had in a long time.


We have been exploring Michael Slaughter’s acronym “DRIVE” over these past few weeks. He is inviting us to think about all of the things that give us momentum to keep following Jesus Christ.

D – for Devotion… for that personal one-on-one time with God in scripture and prayer

R – for a Readiness to Learn… for the ways in which we allow ourselves to be taught by God and one another.

I – for an Investment in Relationships with other people who are on this journey with us – through mentoring and being mentored and honoring our families.

V – for Vision… and understanding that we have a clear sense of where we are going… together!

And lastly E.

E is for Eating and Exercise… but when I look at this topic, it is really about how we honor and care for our bodies so that they have the energy and the focus they need to keep making this journey of discipleship.


Ten years ago, when I decided to focus on being healthier, I found a community of support online. There was a website that I visited every single day and I logged what I ate and how long I worked out and I found that there were kindred spirits who could encourage me or help me resist temptation or who needed MY help in their own journey.

I’m not sure I could have done it without them.

That sense of community is important when it comes to our bodies. Because we as Christians do not believe that we exist as individuals completely set apart from other people. This walk of discipleship is one that we take with others.

And Paul agrees. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he talks a lot about our bodies and what we do with them.

Before today’s reading, Paul writes about how the community should hold itself accountable for faithful living.

He doesn’t want us to live apart from the world – completely separate from those who engage in unhealthy activities. We can’t! It’s impossible to totally shut ourselves off from every sinful behavior we see.

But as we live in the midst of our communities, those of us who claim to follow Christ can hold one another accountable for what we eat and drink, who we sleep with, what we say.

Why should we do these things? What does it matter?


As we heard in our reading today:

It may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor God with YOUR body! …

Or didn’t you realize that your body is a [temple, a] sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? (1 Cor 6:13-20)


As we think about the role of eating and exercise in our journey of discipleship, there are two basic ideas at play here.


First: life itself is a precious gift. These bodies are a precious gift from God.

On Wednesday of this week, we will gather once again for Ash Wednesday and the putting on of ashes reminds us that from the dust of the earth we were formed. We were made by our Creator who breathed into us the breath of life. Every life, every body has value.

And when God took on our human flesh and was born as one of us, Immanuel, he came so that we might have life and life abundant ( John 10:10).

The very concept of momentum reinforces the fact that we need energy to go the distance. We need a healthy system of food and relationships, active lifestyles and spiritual care in order to sustain long and abundant life.

A team of researchers discovered in 2004 that there were small communities around the world where people lived measureably longer. In what they termed “Blue Zones” folks reached the age 100 at a rate 10 times greater than the United States.

What was the difference? What made their communities healthier?

Nine characteristics were discovered… characteristics that I think echo what we have heard from Slaughter during this series:

  1. They exercise as a part of daily living
  2. They understand their purpose – they have a vision of what we are here to do
  3. They down shift – they find ways to relieve stress and take Sabbath
  4. They abide by the 80% rule – they stop eating when they are 80% full.
  5. They eat more plants – they sometimes eating meat only once or twice a week
  6. They have a drink with friends –moderation and community are key!
  7. They belong to a faith community – attending a church service four times a month adds 14 years to life expectancy (REPEAT!)
  8. They put their loved ones first – they care for their elders and invest in their children.
  9. They choose a healthy tribe – they surround themselves with people who support healthy behaviors

Do any of those sound familiar to our D.R.I.V.E. acronym?

By being part of a faith community that supports a healthy lifestyle, we can help one another, in the words of the psalmist, “experience Jerusalem’s goodness your whole life long…. And see your grandchildren.”


But we also have to remember a second very important point. Our bodies are a gift… but they don’t belong to us. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:

“Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? They physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:16-20)

As Slaughter writes, “You cannot be a healthy influencer and agent of kingdom change if you are not demonstrating the reality of the kingdom of God within yourself.”

We have to live what we are teaching and preaching. Our lives, our bodies, witness to the faith we follow.

We are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, after all. And if you are not taking care of yourself, you will not have the energy you need to serve where God calls you.

But this also means that advocating for health and the care of other’s bodies needs to be a part of our ministry.

One of my leadership commitments in the community is that I am on the board of the Des Moines Area Religious Council. Every month, we as a church contribute food and resources to DMARC for use in their 12 food pantries across the greater Des Moines area.

A few years ago, DMARC made a conscious decision to change the food it was providing to clients. Researchers from ISU had helped the organization to discover that rates of diabetes and obesity were much higher in the clients we served than the general population. So a very intentional shift was made to provide more whole grains, to focus on fruits in their natural juices and not in heavy syrup, or vegetables with no salt added. The shift means that the food we provide is a bit more expensive, but contributes to a healthier overall lifestyle.


I’m going to close with a confession.

I have personally not been living out these principles lately. I stepped on the scale this winter and found myself back up to where I was about 10 years ago. Actually, a couple of pounds higher.

We are entering the season of Lent… a time of fasting and transformation. A time to recommit ourselves to the journey of discipleship. A time of accountability.

People all around this world give up indulgences for this six-week season, but I, personally, have felt convicted by the reality that I cannot serve God if I do not have the internal resources and energy to do so. So my commitment this Lent is to a healthier lifestyle… and I hope you will help hold me accountable to that… to eating better and exercising more.

And I hope that you will think about the momentum of our faith journeys we have discussed over the past month. Do you need to spend more time in devotion? Do you need to practice humility and an openness to learning? Do you need to invest deeper in relationships with your family or community? Do you need to spend time discovering the vision of God’s future for your life? Do you need to re-evaluate your eating and exercise habits?

This is the perfect moment to shift gears. This is a perfect time to create a new habit. This Lent is God’s gift to you and to this church as together we follow Jesus in the walk of discipleship.

Sitting REALLY close #NaBloPoMo

Yesterday morning in worship, I had the opportunity to sit in the pews at the first church I served. While I had a part to play, I also got to sit back and worship with the people.

A toddler was next to me and at one point, he leaned in really close, and propped up against me. He sat there for some time, flipping through the hymnal upside down, completely unaware of the fact I was a total stranger to him. The lack of boundaries spoke to a sense of safety and comfort in the walls of the building we were celebrating.

This morning, I was on a flight and the entire time, my leg and arm and side touched the person next to me. Seats keep getting smaller and we keep getting bigger, after all. Perhaps it is the assumed loss of personal space on a flight that allows one to sit, so utterly close, and not be uncomfortable.

But I am also aware that there is something profoundly human about touch. It is real connection. You cannot ignore the other exists when you are touching.

At a meeting on Saturday, we expressed the prayers of our hearts as we remembered our baptism. Each had the opportunity to come to the font, touch the water and speak.

Yet, I also recognize now, a loss of an opportunity to touch another’s head or hand in the process.

Some of our prayers were so personal and deep that we needed to touch one another to offer comfort, strength, hope, solidarity. Unprompted, we neglected to do so.

How can we share such physical proximity with strangers and not do so with those with whom we are treading this journey of faith?

I found myself fighting an urge to get up and embrace a friend as she prayed, unsure of why I refrained. Our vulnerability in those moments begged for touch, for human connection. When I finally did so, rushing towards her, pulling her in my arms, even if for a brief moment, I felt like even though things in this world are utterly broken, all shall be well. Not in a pie-in-the sky naïve way, but in the hope and coherence that allows us to take one step forward.

Today, I gather with colleagues to talk about the role of religion in public health. Our bodies, physical touch, acknowledging the dignity of another person have to play a role.

Hold someone’s hand today. Touch their shoulder. Make eye contact. BE the BODY if CHRIST to one another.

Alternatives to Herbicide

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I always through there were two options when it came to weeds.

1) you could spray chemicals all over them and hope they die… or use more natural chemical reactions like vinegar and hot water to cause them to wither.

2) you could get out there with a hoe, like my deda (grandpa) always did, and take them out by hand.

This year, I’m taking a course on organic ministry at a farm near Norwalk.  We spend roughly half the day in conversation and reflection, have some personal retreat time, and do some work in the gardens themselves.

So far, the thing I have learned that has stuck with me the most is that there are other options when it comes to weeds.

Weeds thrive, you see, because the soil conditions promote their growth.  And the weeds themselves tell you what the soil needs in order to be more healthy OR what type of plans you should be planting there instead.

Stinging nettle can indicate that the soil is acidic… so maybe you want to plant hydrangeas or blueberries there.  Or, you could work to improve the soil conditions by adding dolomitic limestone and making the soil more neutral.

Chicory or mustard weeds are a sign that the ground is hard and too compacted. You can break up the soil by planting sweet clover that will help break up the soil and replenish nitrogen.  Brassica crops (like broccoli and cabbages) also will flourish under these conditions.

The list goes on and on.

I was spending time with a group of clergy colleagues this week and we were talking about difficult people in our churches.  People who take up a lot of time or who talk too much in meetings, or are always complaining about something.  We all have them in our churches, and if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes WE are that person.

Our tendency is to see these people as weeds.  We wish they weren’t there. We’d like to pull them up by their roots or change them.

But what if, instead, we stopped and asked what were the conditions that allowed their behaviors to flourish?

What if someone talks too much in a meeting because we haven’t created space for other voices to be heard?

What if someone is constantly complaining because there is something else going on in their life and it is a sign of a pastoral care need?

What if that person who always takes up too much of our time is a sign of our lack of good, healthy boundaries?

And what if instead of focusing so much of our worry on the weeds, we instead worked to strength and plant things that we want to flourish in that space?

What if we shifted the meeting format to have more small group conversation time?

What if we made a policy to only accept a complaint if there was a constructive response along with it, or a commitment to volunteer to be part of the change?

What if we nurtured a community of care with trained lay folks who helped with congregational care instead of trying to do it all on our own.

All of a sudden, our lives are not consumed with stamping out weeds, but with promoting growth and health and vitality in our gardens and in our churches.

Count the Cost

I have four different apps on my phone that are designed to help me get healthy and fit and lose weight.


One of them is a weekly meal plan full of healthy, high protein, low calorie dinner options. It comes complete with a grocery store list and nutritional information for each meal.


One of them connects with a wristband to track my steps and even monitors my sleeping habits.


One is designed to track my calories eaten and burned each day. It is like a social network to connect me with others who are working on the same thing.


The last, I use when hiking or running to track my speed and distance.


I have all the tools I need. I have a goal in mind. And yet, somehow I have gained five or six pounds since I moved to Des Moines.


Fundamentally, my lack of success has nothing to do with the tools at my disposal and everything to do with the fact that this goal is not a priority in my life. I am not willing to put it above all else. I’m not willing to let this goal change other aspects of my life. I know that to succeed, this priority is going to affect the amount of sleep I get and it will mean spending more money for healthier food options. It will reduce the time I spend watching my favorite t.v. shows and even require that I cook more meals at home instead of enjoying my husband’s super delicious, fatty, carb-filled dinners.


The truth is, you can have all the tools in the world and all the best intention, but until you lay out a plan, build in some accountability, and actually make the commitment to do whatever it takes to reach that goal… then nothing about your habits or lifestyle or physical body will change.


In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus shares with us an extraordinarily difficult challenge. “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters – yes, even one’s own life – cannot be my disciple.” He asks us to “give up all of your possessions” in order to follow him.


Jesus isn’t asking you to turn right now to your loved one and treat them badly. He’s not asking you to leave home. He’s asking each one of us to take seriously the call to be his disciple and helping us to see that our intentions don’t really matter. Until we lay out a plan, build in some accountability and actually make the commitment to do whatever it takes to follow him, then our habits and lifestyle will never change.


Last week, we were reminded that the things of this world are impermanent and shaky at best. We heard the call to place our belief and our trust firmly on God and I’m sure a whole lot of us left worship last week thinking, YES! That’s what I need to do! That’s the kind of faith I want to have.


“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less than Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness”

“Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes Yes Lord!”


And yet, just like all of my good intentions about exercise and health, we have to be willing to let those words move from intentions and goals into an actual concrete plan that demonstrates commitment and sacrifice.


In your bulletins each week during this series, you will find a green insert that highlight some of the lessons we cover each week in the “Enough” study. I want to invite you to take that sheet out right now.


Today’s insert invites you to think about what God is calling you to be and to do. I want us to look at the side that talks about goals.


If God is our rock and foundation…

If God is the creator of our lives…

If Jesus Christ is calling us to follow…

Then, what are you supposed to be doing with your life? What is your purpose?


For very few of us, that calling involves some sort of professional ministry. And to answer that call took planning and commitment, money and time.


Most of us here in this room today, however, have a much higher and more difficult calling. You have been called to be lay persons in the church. You have been called to live out your discipleship where you are. At the office, on the soccer field, on the production line and in the classroom.


Sometimes, the work you give yourself to matches up with that call to live out your discipleship. Some of you could share how the act of caring for patients or helping someone plan for their financial future is your ministry.


Sometimes, however, our work simply provides the resources that allow us to live out our discipleship in other ways. We spend our retirement caring for neighbors and loved ones. We teach lessons and music to our little ones at the church. We volunteer with community agencies.


What gifts has God given you?

What is your purpose?

What is God calling you to do?


And once you have figured that out…

are you willing to sit down and count the cost?

Are you willing to give whatever it takes to get there?

Will you let God’s plans trump your plans?



One of the greatest adventures of my life was to engage in the work of Imagine No Malaria over the past two years.


Answering that call was extraordinarily difficult. After all… I already had a calling – to be a pastor, serving in a church. But I also began to see how my gifts tied in with what we needed here in Iowa… what we needed to accomplish what God was calling us to do.


I also discovered that God had some lessons for me along the way: the primary lesson being that when we have a mission and a calling, we have to do whatever it takes to get there.


Henri Nouwen writes that the work of “fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission… We are declaring, ‘We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources God has given you – your energy, your prayers, and your money – in this work to which God has called us.’”


And all along the way, I witnessed people who caught that vision and heard the calling from God to end this preventable, beatable disease. And they made sacrifices to help other people live. Some families gave up cable t.v. to make a monthly gift. A nurse quit her job to work on our grassroots campaign. Lots of people made a significant three-year commitment to give to this work. One little girl gave all of her birthday money to help save the lives of kids just like her.


And we did that, because we counted the cost and we were willing to give whatever it took to make the goal of saving 200,000 lives a reality.


What is your purpose?

What is God calling you to do?


Once we answer that question, then we think about those things that are going to help us get there. Then we can think about the spiritual goals and the financial goals and the steps along the way that will help us to say “Yes” to God and set our own plans aside.


On the other side of this green insert is a budgeting worksheet. It helps us to gain an accurate picture of the priorities in our lives based on our spending and helps us reorient our financial priorities based on those goals and that purpose that is on the other side.


I have a friend and a colleague who recently shared that he used a budget just like this to help him make some big changes in his family. As he and his wife started plugging in the numbers, they were shocked by how much they were spending on transportation. My friend had just bought a new truck and while it was beautiful, the payments were hefty and it was a gas guzzler. And he hardly ever used it as a truck. When compared with the amount of money they were giving to the church and using to help prepare for the new baby on the way, they realized that if they were going to truly give to God and set a good example for their new child, the truck had to go. They sold it and bought a more affordable car. They allowed their spiritual priorities guide their financial decisions.


But I also want to emphasize that this accounting we do in our lives needs to cover more than just our finances.


What would happen if we did this same accounting of our time?

Where are you spending your time and energy?

Does it reflect your calling?

What do you need to let go of in order to give more time to God’s purpose for your life?


Jesus knows that discipleship isn’t easy. He knows that to follow him requires sacrifice… a giving of ourselves and a letting go of our wants and desires.

Jesus knows, because he has been there.


He counted the costs. He weighed the options. And he knew what it would take.


And today, he asks you to do the same.


He’s asking each one of us to take seriously the call to be his disciple. He is asking us to count the cost, lay out a plan, and actually make the commitment to do whatever it takes to follow him. When we do so and when we hold one another accountable to the choices we have made, then our lives will truly be transformed.


More than we can ASK or IMAGINE

On the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, a lot of people are talking about dreams today.
Dreams for racial equality.  Dreams for unity.  Dreams for access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Dreams for our children.  Dreams for reconciliation.  Dreams for a future with hope and freedom, love and peace.
As I read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech again today, I was struck by how focused on the American experience it was.  Never before in my reading had I noticed how every word is intertwined with a sense of national identity and a prophetic reality check on our history and at the time, present conditions.  Or rather, I had always taken that piece of the address for granted.  The American experience encompassed my worldview.  This country is my country.  It is the place of my hopes and dreams.  This is the place where they are realized.
martin-luther-kingOnly, in the last year, my eyes have grown wider.
I’m dreaming different dreams.
I’m looking beyond borders to the needs of my brothers and sisters half a world away.
And so I read those words in a new way today.
Today, I’m thinking about the injustices of a world in which WHERE here we live determines IF we live.
In my work with Imagine No Malaria, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to get my friends and colleagues and brothers and sisters in Iowa and the United States to think about the lives of folks who do not live in this place.
I am trying to help them understand the “fierce urgency of Now” – the need for action, the need to take the momentum in our global fight and step on the accelerator so we can truly overcome this global disease that is taking so many lives.
Our fight is not necessarily against racial injustice, but we are battling a disease of poverty. We are working desperately to overcome systemic problems of access to care and education and resources.  We are working with those whose very fight with the disease keeps them trapped in the poverty that puts them most at risk.
In our work with Imagine No Malaria, we have placed our feet firmly in the promises of Ephesians 3:20… that God will do far more than we can ask or imagine by his power at work within us.
So we are raising our voices and dreaming prophetic dreams, too.
We imagine a world in which WHERE you live doesn’t determine IF you live.
We imagine a world where mothers tuck their …children in at night under bed nets and no longer worry for their safety.
We imagine a world where 655,000 deaths a year are prevented because we have taken action against malaria.
We imagine a world where illness and death do not keep families from fulfilling their dreams for education and work and stability.
We imagine a world where United Methodists from every nation stand together, united, to overcome disease by putting God’s abundant resources into the places where they are needed most.
Our work does not end with our imagination any more than the dream of Dr. King ended with the words said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
God works through us… in us… God accomplishes great things because we stand up and speak out and choose to turn our words into actions.
Just as his speech was a call to action and solidarity, a call to “never be satisfied” until the dream is fulfilled, I am spurred on to keep going, to keep preaching and speaking and working until we watch those deaths from malaria diminish to zero.
The work of the United Methodist Church in Imagine No Malaria is not the same challenge as overcoming oppression and injustice.  It will not lead us into clashes of power  and the resistance we find will not be water hoses and dogs and hatred… but we still have to work together.  We still have to be willing to step out of the comforts of our position in order to give sacrificially to make the dream a reality.
We still have a kingdom dream, a dream of brothers and sisters of all hues living full and abundant lives, working together, praying together, struggling together.
We dream not of a nation, but a world, united by God’s love and sustained by God’s redeeming power.