Drop Kick Me, Jesus

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Yesterday after the Iowa – Iowa State game, Chad Leistikow wrote that it was a game “neither team deserved to lose.” [1] You all know I’m a huge Iowa Hawkeye football fan… but I am also the sort of fan who loves to cheer on Iowa State or UNI or any other Iowa team, as long as they aren’t playing the Hawkeyes. But the game yesterday was the sort of game where you were really happy that neither team beat themselves. Sure they both made mistakes, but none they couldn’t overcome. It was a great game.

There was another rivalry game this weekend. Creston/Orient-Macksburg were on the road verses their conference opponent Harlan. This week, five Creston players were kicked off the team after posing in a KKK style image with hoods and a burning cross. The community, including their African-American quarterback, Kylan Smallwood was stunned… he thought of those kids as teammates and friends. One of the families issued a statement – “We sincerely apologize for the hurt and strive we have caused this community. We do not condone the behavior… Our family strongly believes that all individuals are created equally in God’s eyes.” [2]

The community is only beginning to respond in a way that allows for conversation and healing in the midst of the tension they expereince, although it is yet to be seen how that will play out. In some ways, Friday night’s football game was a chance to return to “normalcy” for a moment, but the real work is just beginning. It will take that whole community, standing up against racism, demonstrating repentance and forgiveness for healing to truly take place. But even a football game can show a glimpse of hope. In an act of solidarity, the Harlan marching band turned towards the Creston fans and played their opponents fight song. It was a reminder that whatever happened on the field Friday night was just a game and really, we are all supposed to be on the same team.

My friend, Laura, is a pastor in Ohio and she is a huge Buckeyes fan. After a frustrating loss last night, she posted on her facebook wall that her faith has given her a different set of lenses to view such heartache. Football is only football. “It is not oppressions, hunger, disease, poverty, devastation, or in this moment hurricane force winds. Keep perspective Buckeye nation.” [3]

Keep perspective, Immanuel.

Because Laura is right. Football is fun and exciting and we all enjoy giving one another a hard time, but we are here to play a different sort of game.

As we heard in our scripture reading this morning, we are called to follow Jesus and to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. As the Message Bible updates this passage in every day language:
“Start running – and never quit!… Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever… When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long list of hostility he plowed through. THAT will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

Here at Immanuel, we do believe that God has given us a race to run. For over five years now, that vision has been to “In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer.”
Like tackling, passing, and running in football are the basic skills that players must learn and practice, in many ways, love, service, and prayer are the basic moves we utilize in our faith. In everything we do, they help us to run the race of faith.

But one of the things that we have been talking about for more than a year now as the leadership here at Immanuel is that they don’t paint a picture of where we are going. They don’t tell us what the finish line looks like.
How will this church, how will this community, how will this world be different because we have been loving and serving and praying?
So last fall, our Administrative Council began praying and brainstorming with one another. We took the values and priorities that you as a church named in last year’s CAT Survey. We looked at our community demographics. We explored this history of Immanuel and the vast resources that the vision team had put together five years ago.
And today, we want to put some meat on the bones of this vision. If you look at the half sheet, you’ll notice that is still our vision, but we have fleshed it out a little bit.
We believe God is calling us to personally engage in and partner with our community as we live out this life of love, service, and prayer, so that broken people and places might be healed by God’s grace.
If love, service, and prayer are the basic skills that we each will employ, the goal… the endzone if you will, is that this community and this world will experience God’s healing and wholeness.

As my friend, Laura said, there is a lot in this world that is broken.
Broken relationships can be seen all around us: in the partisan division, in racial tension, and in family strife.
Lots of people in this world also experience the pain of broken bodies – we are surviving and thriving in the midst of chronic disease, broken bones, addictions, and poor health.
And there are places that experience brokenness, too. This morning, we look out on the devastation caused by hurricanes and wildfires, but closer to home, we can see the impact of poverty and how our economic choices impact the environment around us.

We believe God has called us to love and serve and pray in each of these places.
We can help people heal relationships, reconcile, and learn to talk to one another again – like we did with our Cookouts and Conversations this summer and will do with the “My Neighbor is Muslim” study this fall.
We can be present with one another in the midst of pain and loneliness and isolation – like we will when we train folks from Immanuel to go out and visit our homebound seniors next week and like we do when we go out with Joppa to the check on the homeless.
And we can pool our resources to make a difference all across this world – whether it is through disaster relief and health kits, through donations to the food pantry, or through the Season of Creation organized by our Green Team.
God is calling you and me to love, serve, and pray… to practice those basic skills… so that God’s goals might be reached.
But basic skills alone will not help us get to the end zone.
In football, you put those things together in strategic plays. Those are the ministries of our church. Whether it is choir or children’s church, Ratatouille or Under the Bridge Casseroles, Re:Ignite or Men’s group… every activity we do, is aiming for that end zone and helping us to live out God’s mission in this church.

The other thing that I have learned after many disappointing seasons watching my favorite team is that in order to be successful and reach that end zone, every single player has to play every single quarter. And the coach needs a game plan that will help those players be successful.
If you flip to the back side of this sheet, you will find our game plan for ministry here at Immanuel. We can each practice our basic skills… but part of being on this journey together is that we should all be moving the same direction.
And as your pastors and your staff and your leadership, we think there are four different areas, four quarters of this game that we all have to play in if we are going to be successful.

  1. We need to worship together. If we don’t show up in this place to hear the story of God’s love and grace and to renew and strengthen each other, we will not reach the end zone.
  2. We need to connect with one another. We need to reach out in love and help one another out. We need to build relationship both inside and outside of this church.
  3. We all need to grow. Each one of us should be a part of a group that is helping us to grow in our faith and use our gifts and as we mature, we should be helping other people to grow in their faith as well.
  4. We need to go out into the world and serve. Through financial gifts, through hands-on mission, we can only help this world experience God’s grace if we get out of this building.

Friends, this is our game plan. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will live lives of love, service, and prayer and this world will experience God’s healing and wholeness.

And the best news is that we don’t have to do this alone.

There is this country gospel song called “Drop Kick Me, Jesus” by Bobby Bare and Paul Craft and it reminds me that God has our back in this work:

 

Make me, oh, make me, Lord, more than I am
Make me a piece in your master game plan
Free from the earthly temptations below
I’ve got the will, Lord, if you got the toe.

Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life
End over end, neither left nor the right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life

 

[1] http://www.hawkcentral.com/story/sports/college/iowa/football/2017/09/09/leistikows-first-word-hawkeyes-win-cy-hawk-classic-neither-team-deserved-lose/649140001/

[2] http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/sports/high-school/2017/09/09/creston-game-frayed-nerves-calls-unity-after-photo-students-white-hoods-confederate-flag-rocks-town/647639001/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/laurakennedyjaissle/posts/10154632317611986

Renegade Gospel: The Red-Letter Rebel

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There was a challenge issued TWICE by Mike Slaughter in chapter one of this Renegade Gospel book we are examining during this Lenten season: to read through one of the gospels and pay specific attention to the red letters… to the words of Jesus… spoken there.

I pulled out my bible and started with Luke. Luke is the gospel assigned for this particular Lenten season according to the powers that be. It is the gospel we will be following most weeks during worship.

The very first time Jesus speaks in Luke’s gospel, it is in the synagogue in his hometown and he is preaching.

Jesus reads from Isaiah, explains a bit about what he has read, and makes everyone so angry they drive him out of town and try to throw him off a cliff.

I really hope you don’t try to do that to me this morning!

Now, many of his words, like the ones we find today in the reading (Rod/Natalie) just shared with us, are words of healing or forgiveness or calling.

“Woman, you are set free from your sickness” (Luke 13:12)

But almost every single time, like we found in our reading today, when Jesus does so, he really makes people angry.

He calls the wrong people, he forgives the unforgiveable, he heals on the wrong day…

The synagogue leader, in this particular healing, was “incensed” (as my bible puts it) that Jesus was healing on the Sabbath.

And all of this anger and frustration on behalf of the system was slowly coming to a boil, as we find just a few verses later.

As our reading continues, the Pharisees (the religious leaders) are plotting together with the political leader, Herod, to be done with Jesus for good.

Now, Herod’s father was the one who had tried to kill Jesus as an infant because he thought he might be a threat to his power.

And this Herod has already beheaded John the Baptist.

Both Herod and the religious leaders were upset about the populist movement stirring up in response to the ministry of John and Jesus.

As Mike Slaughter writes in Renegade Gospel:

“Jesus could never be perceived as a protector of the status quo” (p. 27)

 

I think the same is as true today as it was then.

Jesus is never satisfied with things the way they are, because Jesus has a vision of the way things can and should be.

He is constantly getting into trouble for doing what is “right for the sake of people” … even if it was against “the rules.”

I think, at the core, Jesus is always pushing the status quo, always challenging us to do more and to be more faithful, because his goal is nothing short of the Kingdom of God lived out on earth… and friends, we aren’t there yet!

Those of us gathered in this room are incredibly blessed… even if we struggle… because we have more resources at our fingertips than most people in this world.

But even here, in a great city, in a great state, in a great country, can we agree that we’re not in heaven yet?

And the KINGDOM is the standard Jesus is holding us to. The KINGDOM is the standard Jesus is holding the political and religious leaders to. The KINGDOM OF GOD is the standard.

And so even today, as a modern religious leader of the Christian faith, I read these words of Jesus and I am still challenged and pushed to really think about the teachings I share with you and how I call us to live them out together.

And all of those harsh words Jesus has for the Pharisees…. well, they are for people like me, too. Because too often, as your leaders, we have simply not preached the gospel! We haven’t shared the vision of the Kingdom of God and we haven’t given you the tools to truly be the Body of Christ, in the world, helping to bring that Kingdom to fruition.

 

And friends… I think that’s what we, the Body of Christ, are supposed to do.

When I re-read Luke’s gospel, over and over again, Jesus asks us to not only hear his words, but to obey them. Just on a glance back through this morning, I counted at least 9 times (Luke 6:47, Luke 8:21, Luke 9:48, Luke 10:1, Luke 10:28 & 37, Luke 11:28, Luke 12:1, Luke 18:22)… Jesus asks us to not only hear but to do them. To live them. To go and do likewise.

We are trying to be faithful Christians and put into practice what Jesus says.

And, here is the good news I discovered in these commands to “go and do likewise.”

Jesus is NEVER angry at ordinary people who doing the best they can to live out their faith.

He never shames them.

He never scolds them.

He invites them! But he doesn’t get mad at them for where they currently are in their journey of faith.

He is never upset with someone if they aren’t ready to do it. Jesus simply sends them on their way. Maybe another day, in a different sermon, they’ll be ready.

 

In our United Methodist tradition, we call this “going on to perfection.” Discipleship is a lifelong journey and you are wherever you are today without any judgment.

We are called to be like Jesus, and we fully acknowledge and admit that we aren’t there yet!

And why would we be? Jesus is divine! The Son of Man AND Son of God. The standards are the very KINGDOM OF GOD!

We are mere mortals, trying to live up to the standards of the divine.

There is a quote by Barbra Brown Taylor in her book, “The Preaching Life” that has always stuck with me:

Over and over, my disappointments draw me deeper into the mystery of God’s being and doing. Every time God declines to meet my expectations, another of my idols is exposed. Another curtain is drawn back so I can see what I have propped up in God’s place – no, that is not God, so who is God?

It is the question of a lifetime, and the answers are never big enough or finished. Pushing past curtain after curtain, it becomes clear that the failure is not God’s but my own, for having such a poor and stingy imagination. God is greater than my imagination, wiser than my wisdom, more dazzling than the universe, as present as the air I breathe, and utterly beyond my control. (p. 10)

Every day, when we read the gospels, we pull back the curtain, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes, and we discover that we aren’t Jesus yet… we still have a ways to go!

We still have discoveries to make about what it means to be a faithful Christian.

But here is the beautiful and amazing thing about “going on to perfection”…

Every day, we also have an opportunity to grow more faithful.

Every day, we also have a chance to be more loving.

Every day, we also get to be a better Christian than yesterday.

 

The words of Jesus are NOT easy. The standards he sets for us are incredibly high! You know, Kingdom of God level!

But even in the midst of those Kingdom standards and Jesus’ never ending call for us to respond accordingly, there is grace upon grace upon grace.

One of my favorite lines in the chapter for this week from Mike Slaughter was this:

Although Jesus always called his followers to enter the small gate and take the narrow road to the Kingdom, he repeatedly taught mercy and relationship over rigidity and judgment. (p. 28)

And he points to Peter as the prime example.

You know Peter… the disciple who constantly questioned Jesus motives and got it wrong.

You know, Peter… the one who fell asleep in the garden.

You know, Peter… the one who denied Jesus three times when he needed him the most?

Jesus has ridiculously high standards. But when we don’t meet them… when we fail… and we will… Jesus keeps welcoming us back.

Keeps loving us.

Keeps showing mercy and love.

Keeps pouring God’s sanctifying, perfecting grace into our lives so tomorrow we can pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and try it again.

There is life and power and love and grace and mercy in the red-letter words of Jesus.

Jesus is constantly pushing our world through these words to rebel against what is… in light of what could be.

Jesus is asking us to examine ourselves, our church, our world, and to ask:

Can we be greater tomorrow than we are today?

Can we be more like Christ tomorrow than we were today?

Can this world look more like heaven tomorrow than it does today?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Always.

Thanks be to God.

Momentum for Life: Vision for Immanuel

God spoke:

Write this!

Write what you see!

Write it out in big block letters so it can be read on the run!

 

And when God gives a vision aids our momentum.

It paints a picture of the future that drives us forward because we can’t wait to get there.

God’s vision aches for the future.

It takes our trajectory and pushes us on.

Michael Slaughter writes that “faith is looking forward, living with a forward focus.” (p. 87)

And a vision is big enough and bold enough and so clear that it moves us all forward in the same direction.

 

Friends, we are going somewhere!

As a church, we claimed a vision statement for this church in 2012. You see it in our logo and on the inside of every bulletin:

In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer.

Let’s all say that together: In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer.

 

I love this statement.

It is clear and concise and talks about our relationship with God and how we live that out. It gives us three very focused things to do: Love. Serve. Pray.

 

But these words alone don’t ache for the future.

They don’t drive us forward.

In fact, they are generic enough that when each of us wrote down our dream for the church a few minutes ago, we probably each had a very different destination described on our slips of paper.

One of the things I am consistently asked is to share MY vision for the church. When I first arrived, I hesitated to answer this question because I think every church is unique and where we are going depends on where we have been. Our congregational DNA, our experiences, our gifts… all of these things shape where God is calling us to go next.

 

Slaughter writes that, “when a leader has a clear picture of God’s destination, the people begin to articulate and live that vision. Over a period of time, that vision begins to penetrate the surrounding culture.” (p. 96)

So today, I want to paint for you a picture of where I see us going. When I turn my heart to God in prayer, this is the vision that aches to be heard. And really, it is a fleshing out of what it means for us to live lives, in Christ, of love, service, and prayer.

 

First, we are called to love by celebrate difference and disagreement.

One of our greatest strengths as a congregation is our diversity in age. Countless churches lament they don’t have any young people, but we are full of young families AND nonagenarians. Unlike other churches, we can truly do intergenerational ministry that helps connect children and elders, youth and parents, retirees and babies.

We could, however, become more diverse in other areas. Within 2 miles of this building, 88% of our community identifies as white. As I look at our congregation this morning, we are far less diverse that the people we live with. Hoover High School, just a bit north of our church, educates students who speak over 100 different languages. Surrounded by that kind of diversity, God is calling us to find new ways of welcoming and making space right here for new people.

Another place we are diverse is in our politics and perspectives. From private conversations, I know that we as a church disagree on countless issues!

But the world around us has never been further divided. The roar of politics might die down for a few weeks after tomorrow’s caucuses here in Iowa, but it will come back just as strong as we head into the general election.

As a church, we don’t let those hot-button issues get in the way of being a family.

But like so many families, we hesitate to talk about the places we disagree… even when it comes to the everyday sorts of things. We hold our opinions in even as we are being asked to share our thoughts and feelings for fear of making ripples in the water.

The world gives us two models for how we deal with our differences. We can scream, shout at those who we disagree with OR we can keep our mouths shut.

There is another way. In the book of Acts, chapter 15, circumcision threatened to divide the church. So the leaders gathered and shared what they had witnessed and what they hoped for. They each spoke their truth. And they listened deeply to one another. They laid aside preconceptions and let God move in their midst. They let reason, experience, and tradition co-mingle with scripture to discover a path forward.

In the United Methodist Church, we call this holy conferencing. In love, this church can be a place that shows the world a different way as we each feel respected enough to speak our truths and we love one another enough to listen and let God, rather than our opinions, create a path forward.

 

Second, we are called to service, by taking Immanuel into our community.

This congregation does incredible mission work. Each year, we report missional giving through monetary and in-kind donations and for 2015 we are reporting $214,763 of outreach into our city, state, and world. Your generosity is simply astounding.

On a regular basis, there are groups in this church that collect items for the food pantry, take produce and bread, milk and juice to local shelters and service locations, read to children, serve meals, visit the homeless and prisoners and more.

What I notice is that this incredible work is often done by a handful of people. We aren’t very good at inviting others to come along with us in the work that we do. And I think that is because we don’t lift up these folks and tell their stories nearly enough. We aren’t painting the picture of what it means to serve in a way that allows every single one of us to find our place.

God is calling each and every one of you to serve in our community this year. And that is a two-sided calling: first, we have to be better about sharing opportunities, but you also have to take some initiative to seek opportunities and to pay attention to that nudging and say yes.

God is calling us to push beyond our traditional models when it comes to service and mission. We can donate money and goods with the best of them and we have done pretty good at doing ministry for people. But the next step is to truly build relationships with the people we are serving.

So many have told me about the warm welcome and love they experience here at Immanuel. Now we are called to take that hospitality and love into our neighborhoods. To get to know the people and their stories. To hear where God is already active in their lives. To allow their experiences to shape how and what we do in the future. And, to open wide the doors to invite the neighborhood into our building and our life of faith.

This year, I’m reading just one hour a week at Hillis Elementary School. And building a relationship with those children and teachers has opened my eyes to the realities of our community in ways I never imagined.

Whether it is in the Merle Hay or Beaverdale neighborhoods, or the neighborhood where you live, you are an ambassador for Immanuel and that you have an opportunity to serve.

 

Finally, we are called to prayer that actively changes the world.

Richard Foster wrote, “Prayer is the central avenue God uses to change us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.”

We pray for people who are sick, because we believe that God will bring healing into their lives.

We pray for places of conflict, because we believe that God can bring peace.

Prayer changes the world.

But a life of prayer means a life attuned to the places where the status quo is no longer acceptable. A life of prayer calls us to play our part, to be the hands and feet of God, to listen for where God asks US to be the answer to a prayer.

We can do that by caring for one another, offering meals, knitting shawls, and visiting.

We can do that through letter writing and advocacy, through being agents of reconciliation in the midst of conflict.

We can do that by going to the people and places that are hurting and simply being present.

God is calling us to be people who not only pray for others, but who allow prayer change our hearts, minds, and lives.

 

God spoke:

Write this!

Write what you see!

Write it out in big block letters so it can be read on the run!

 

God’s vision aches for a future where every single one of us are engaged in ministries of love, service and prayer.

God’s vision aches for a community that loves and welcomes all.

God’s vision aches for a people that are deeply embedded in their neighborhoods.

God’s vision aches for a people who are transformed by the power of prayer.

 

Friends, we are going somewhere!

In Christ, let us live a life of love, service, and prayer.

An Examen for Ministry #NaBloPoMo

Too often, we simply don’t stop to ask questions, to examine our lives.

We do things without thinking about the consequences or implications.

We do it because we always have.

We do it because everyone else is.

We do it because it seems like the best option in the moment.

And we do it in ministry, too.

An unexamined life is not worth living (Plato, quoting Socrates)

Well, maybe, unexamined ministry is not worth doing.

We should always be mindful of the implications of our words and actions.

We should take time to pause, reflect, and see if we really are acting according to our values and goals.

 

I really started thinking about this after having a dialogue with Rev. Bill Cotton on Monday of this week.  We were out at Taproot Garden for “Organic Ministry.”  One of the big themes of our classes is that we need to pay attention… to the soil, to the water, to the microorganisms, to the weeds, to everything!  It’s all related. And what happens to one has implications to everything else.

One of our guides for “Organic Ministry,” Tim Diebel,  shared with us the nautical terming “kedging.”  When you run aground with your boat, it is a method for getting back to where you want to be.  You throw or take your anchor to where you actually WANT to be, and then you winch yourself there. Taking time to examine your life (ministry) is like asking if we have gone off course and tossing the anchor into deeper waters.

The next morning, I sat down with a congregation member who is concerned about the potential addition of lazer tag to our nearby UMC camp.  As she paused to reflect upon values and goals, she is troubled that in a culture of so much violence, so many deaths of children via firearms (7 every day), as we prepare for a day of praying for peace and the end of gun violence as a conference, we want to install a recreational option at camp where we give kids toy weapons to point at each other for fun. And her words hit me like a ton of bricks. We had taken our youth to play lazer tag at a local business and hadn’t even paused to wonder about the underlying messages, the glorification of violence… it was simply for fun.  We just didn’t think about it.

So we are now talking about the values of our ministry and whether or not this type of activity is in line with the ends God has in mind for us.

Then, in Covenant Bible Study, we were exploring Paul’s writings to the Corinthians and I kept running into the idea that freedom means everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. The only way we can live into the freedom of Christ is to ask, in every situation, if what I’m doing is beneficial for myself AND for the community/world.

 

 

So here are four questions that I want to start incorporating into “an examen for ministry” in my church.

 

Could this be a bridge?

Is this ministry/event/class for insiders of the church only? What are the possibilities for transforming it into a “bridge event”? There are so many things we do as a church without every imagining they could be bridges for us to go to the community or the community to come to us.  For example: we have a Veteran’s lunch coming up: we have always done this special lunch after church for our veterans to thank them for their service. What would happen if we sent invites to local American Legion or VFW groups and invited them to come for a free meal so we could stay thank-you?

 

Who could this impact?

Who could this ministry/event/class impact? How do we reach them? What would it look like if every ministry in the church asked this question?  If they thought outside their current make-up to share what they have experienced with others?  We get so comfortable with our groups we often don’t think to expand.  Or maybe we do, but we neglect asking how to reach them.  We need to be reminded that what we are doing isn’t reaching them… or they would be there.  Do we change how we promote something? Do we change the event itself – day, time, format? For example: we have a monthly senior fellowship that hasn’t been able to get newly retired folks to attend.  One of the realities is some of these newly retired are the children of active attenders! We are starting to imagine how the event might need to change so all feel welcome.

 

Does this fall within our vision frame?

We have been using a tool called a vision frame this past year. Does this support/enhance our vision and mission? Is it in line with the core values of our church? Is it part of our strategy? Will it help us to reach the measures we have set?   Our mission at Immanuel UMC is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Our vision: In Christ, live lives of love, service, and prayer.  Our core values: hospitality, caring community, stewardship, missional outreach, worship/music, and growing in discipleship. Our strategy and measures include the goals we set at charge conference. This one seems fairly obvious… but how often don’t we stop to ask the question. This frame allows us to truly zoom in on our calling from God in this time and place… and it means we won’t do some things so that we can do these things well. This next year, our two main areas of focus will be children and seniors and it means we will shift away resources and attention from other things for this season.

 

What kind of world does this create?

What kind of world/community does this event/ministry/class create or support? What are the implications for the neighborhood; for the generations that follow; for the world?   And this question asks us to think long term about the consequences of any particular ministry.  One of the tensions of ministry is that what might be needed in the short term isn’t always what is best for the long term. Asking this question allows us to weigh options as we seek God’s future. It invites us to think about the values of the world we are implicitly supporting by our actions or inactions. As United Methodists, we have social principles and resolutions because we believe that we can and should have an impact on the world.  The conversation we have begun about lazer tag as staff is one example of how we are starting to wrestle with this question.

 

What questions would you add to this examen?

Delegate!

These are the jobs we are assigned to do as the Church Council, according to the Book of Discipline:

  1. Plan and implement all the programs of nurture, outreach, witness and resources.
  2. Administer the church organization
  3. Envision, Plan, Implement and Evaluate the mission and ministry of the church.
  4. Act as the administrative agency of the charge conference.

That is a lot to accomplish for a group that meets for 90 minutes once a month. Yet, according to the Discipline, all of this is our job to provide for.

So, how is it possible?

 

Exodus 18 (MSG)

13-14  Moses took his place to judge the people. People were standing before him all day long… When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What’s going on here? Why are you doing all this, and all by yourself…?”

15-16 Moses said, “Because the people come to me with questions about God. When something comes up, they come to me. I judge between [them] and teach them God’s laws and instructions.”

17-23 Moses’ father-in-law said, “This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out, and the people right along with you. This is way too much for you—you can’t do this alone. Now listen to me. Let me tell you how to do this so that God will be in this with you… Your job is to teach them the rules and instructions, to show them how to live, what to do. And then you need [to appoint competent people as leaders over smaller groups]… They’ll be responsible for the everyday work of judging among the people. They’ll bring the hard cases to you, but in the routine cases they’ll be the judges. They will share your load and that will make it easier for you. If you handle the work this way, you’ll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands you, and the people in their settings will flourish also.”

24-27 Moses listened to the counsel of his father-in-law and did everything he said.

 

The advice Jethro offered Moses was to delegate.

He didn’t have to shoulder all of the responsibility himself. He didn’t have to do it all on his own. And by delegating responsibility and sharing authority, both Moses and the people would flourish.

First, he had to train those additional leaders and equip them… you can’t be responsible for something if you don’t know what the expectations are.

But then Moses had to get out of their way. He didn’t have time to micro-manage. They didn’t have time to continually come back and ask if they were doing it right.

They all needed to trust one another.

As a result, Moses could periodically check-in and evaluate his leaders. And, he was available when there were big issues to discuss.

 

As the Ad Council, we could look at our purpose statement as defined by the Book of Discipline and try to shoulder it all ourselves, as Moses did at first.

Or, we can delegate.

When we delegate, we make clear the expectations by setting goals and strategy and communicating our vision and mission. Then, we need to empower our committees to do the work of ministry.

We give them a budget, we make sure they understand our vision as a church, and then they have the responsibility and authority to do whatever they need to do, within those parameters, as their work.

This means the council is freed up to truly handle the big picture and major decisions. We are freed to hold the church and committees accountable for living into our mission and vision.

“If you handle the work this way, you’ll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands you, and the people in their settings will flourish also.”

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.

 

Winter is Coming

As an introvert,  I dont often make small talk with fellow passengers on a flight. Now that you can use a kindle during taxi and takeoff, my nose is often in a book or playing a game on my phone.  But today, even my game of “caveman story” couldn’t save me from a conversation with a new single-serving friend. And I’m grateful.

It turns out we both went to seminary. And are currently in non traditional sorts of ministry.  We had a great conversation about mission and development and empowering local communities.  We also talked about how messed up the church can be.

At one point,  he said we need to do as much as we can to serve God before the winter of our lives.  In many ways,  he was talking about the life cycle of churches… and how many of our congregations are living in their winter days. Or at least approaching them. What good can we do before we die and fade away?

On the first leg of my flight, I had been reading the “Game of Thrones” books ( book 2, in fact) and there, “winter is coming” has a slightly different meaning.  We know how seasons work, with their cycle of life and death and life again.  However,  in Martin’s world, the seasons go on for years and are unpredictable in their length.  The world is in the midst of a long summer… around a decade in length.  But as the lords of the north often say, “winter is coming. ”  It always does. So you must prepare.

The world as we know it is changing.  Whether we are actively dying or merely adjusting to a change in the climate,  we have to pay attention and we must act.

Bullard’s life cycle of  churches describes how a congregation is born, matures and dies. He talks about vision, relationships, programs,  and structure being the driving forces in various stages of that cycle.  Unlike our physical human lives,  however,  churches can begin a new cycle if only they allow vision to take the reigns.

We need to not only believe winter is coming,  we need to see what kind of life is required of us to make it through.  If we don’t… if we keep pretending that the good old days of summer will last forever, we will die before the thaw.

May our churches see… and may they chose to live differently.

BIG words

strategic priorities  wordle

This first exercise or engagement with our proposed strategic priorities for Iowa  comes with a word image.  I put the full document into a word cloud generator to see what we talk about the most and what that says about our work.

For this post… the words that stand out:  conference, communities, ministry, development, transform, work, faith, disciple

Our document is fundamentally about how we as the Iowa Conference function… where we are going and how we are going to get there.  So it is not surprising to see “conference” as a primary word.

The same goes for “communities.”  We talk both about communities of faith and being more present in our communities throughout the proposal. There was an intentional effort to not limit conversation to local churches or congregations but to broaden our definition to include new and developing immigrant faith communities, Wesley Foundations, camps, and other places where discipleship happens… even if it isn’t in an officially chartered congregation.

So the second part of that term, “faith” also is prominent.  But this word is also used in “bold steps of faith” and to lift up faithful people and to develop the faith of leaders and disciples.

The word “ministry” surprised me, although it probably shouldn’t have.  In this proposal, we use the word in a lot of different ways, however… as a description of the activities we do (areas of ministry, the ministry of pastors, ministry with the poor), groups within the conference (Ministry Cabinet, School for Lay Ministry), but also as part of a description of place (rural ministry, ministry context).  These describe what we are doing, how we are doing it, and where we are doing it.

When we aren’t using the word ministry, we are using the word  “work” in this proposal.  We even talk about the work of ministry! This phrase describes who will work with whom (congregations working with the poor, CFA working with the Cabinet) as well as what that work looks like (work of peace and justice, work of intentional faith development).

Development” is a big part of our second priority – working to develop new and more effective leaders… both in terms of faith development, but also recognizing the need for asset-based community development.  It is internal and external to our walk with Jesus. Development also shows up as we discern where new communities of faith can be developed.

Next, “transform.”  This is the core of our document.  Change. New life. Resurrection.  This word captures transformation, transformational, transforming, transformed… you get the picture.  And it is all through the document.  Leaders who are transformed and transforming.  Communities of faith that are transforming their neighborhoods.  Our mission is to help transform the world.

Also not surprising, “disciple” makes a strong appearance.  Our mission is also to make disciples.  Whether we are talking about deepening our discipleship, making disciples, equipping leaders to disciple, or sending disciples into the world, this is a thread that runs through our proposal.