Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Monday, December 4, 2023
What is the source of perfectionism within? Fear, shame, guilt?What does perfectionism promise and are these promises true?In what ways do I benefit from image control?In what ways has perfectionism drained, hurt me?How is it affecting my family and friendships?
Thursday, August 17, 2023
15:11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles."
15:12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?"
15:13 He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.
15:14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit."
15:15 But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us."
15:16 Then he said, "Are you also still without understanding?
15:17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?
15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.
15:19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.
15:20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile."
15:21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
15:22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."
15:23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."
15:24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
15:25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
15:26 He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
15:27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
15:28 Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.
Consider the Following Surprises
- The woman is the exemplar in the story (not the disciples, again). She shows the pure, undiluted motivation of love, acting for the best interests of another. What else could explain her action?
- It's the Canaanite woman first speaking faith where there was complete dismissal.
- It's the Canaanite woman who actually does God's will and proves to be a true disciple. Recall Matthew 7:21-24.
- Whom do I dismiss and whom do I deem undeserving or outside of God's blessings?
- The faith of my enemy (or those I have labeled as "other") is, according to this story, authentic. Maybe more so than mine. I resist this because it exposes my entitlement and privilege.
Sunday, August 6, 2023
- Focus on one important thing you can accomplish with the time you have left in full time ministry.
- Participate in the official observances provided by the larger church and the reception the congregation offers.
- Witness to your core values. With gratitude, tell your ministry story by celebrating with those most important to you.
- At all costs, resist the default to endure this passage alone. Keep reaching out to God and to those who know and care.
Friday, August 4, 2023
Effective Gospel studies or sermons begin (and perhaps end !) with questions that open doors of hope and creativity. Here are some suggestions, using Jesus' Feeding of the Five Thousand in Matthew 14:13-41.
- How do you think the first audiences of Christians would have heard this feeding story?
- What, for you, is a key word or phrase in this passage? Why?
- Note that Jesus tells the disciples, "You give them something to eat." How do you hear this directive?
- What do you make of the passage when it states "all ate and were filled?" (14:20a)?
- How might this story's message be heard among those living in poverty vs. those living in relative wealth? Does it really matter? Why?
- What does it mean for you to have enough? For our life together?
- How might the bread and fish that Jesus Christ gives fill you?
- How might your life be changed as a result of hearing this story? How would we live and share differently?
Thursday, August 3, 2023
14:14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
14:15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."
14:16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
14:17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."
14:18 And he said, "Bring them here to me."
14:19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
14:20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
14:21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
I invite you to reflect on the Gospel story, as if you were one of Jesus’ disciples. It may help to read it slowly, pausing whenever it feels right. It can also be read in a group setting.
It’s a sunny, breezy, late morning on the lake. It’s almost mealtime and I am looking forward to breaking bread with Jesus and the others. It will be the first time since we all heard the disturbing news of John’s beheading. John and Jesus were very close; the two respected and emulated each other. Where is Jesus?” I run out to see Jesus, who wading out to one of boats anchored off the beach.
Quickly, he climbs in, then sails farther and farther offshore. I call to him and track him from the shoreline. I trot along the crest of the slope and stop at a lookout point. A huge, hidden cove opens-up before me and I see a beach teaming with people. They have gathered, from the water all the way up the sandy slopes.. I stop in quiet amazement…
I walk down through the sand and rocks to get a closer look. I spot Jesus at the water’s edge, healing and curing everyone he can touch. He takes time to be with each person. From the youngest to the oldest, in families or by themselves, they come. Surely there is no one in whole world with Jesus’ compassion and dogged determination to love people. He is like a good shepherd who loves and protects his sheep no matter what.
As the afternoon light wanes, I hear someone say “It’s almost evening now.” Another one wants Jesus to send everyone away. I overhear Jesus’ reply, “Don’t send anyone away just yet. You give them something to eat.” I notice a few around him gather a small serving of smoked fish and bread, enough to feed a small family. They hand Jesus what they have collected. I hear Jesus’ words to the crowd, “Free people sit down to eat. We are a people delivered from slavery and captivity. Everyone, please find a place on the green grass. There is room for everyone.” Today, even though it seems everything is against us, I sense the presence of the Lord, and a peace deep down in my soul…
I see Jesus giving thanks over the food. He then starts to break the bread and says, “Blessed are you when you are kind and merciful to others.” He then tells us to share as God has shared with us. When I receive my piece of bread, I pass it along. The pace quickens as more and more bread is passed. As far as I can see, people are eating to their contentment and in quiet.
As the crowd begins to break up and walk into the waning light, I join the volunteers collecting any leftover bread. There’s enough for me but right now, that doesn’t seem important. I’m bursting with thanksgiving for Jesus. Somehow this day has made me feel renewed, like it was the first day of my life! I dedicate myself to loving God, even my enemies. My heart overflows with love...
Saturday, July 29, 2023
By the age of 60, I had been working full time for 37 years. Sometimes it helps to take a look at the mileage not just chronological age. (1)
About that time, there was an episode that has become a benchmark. I was sharing Holy Communion with a parishioner, a resident of an Assisted Living home, and a hospice patient.
As I greeted the patient, there was the remains of a meal that surely had been served hours before. The meal tray was covered with ants. I couldn't miss it as I prepared the Sacrament. I also saw ants on the patient's bedding and tee shirt. Where was the Nursing Staff, Meal Service, the Director? (2)
Soon after, I contacted the Hospice Chaplain. I also called the facility's manager/director, who was out when I visited. The Assisted Living Manager said that the room would be fumigated soon, and thanked me for letting them know. (How could fumigation be done with the hospice patient in the room.?! I was assured that it could be done safely).
Amidst the shock, sadness, and disillusionment, I sensed that something was ending. The idea that I was making a difference seemed far fetched, an illusion. The notion that I had the right to know the impact of my work seemed more about my hubris and entitlement.
A new clarity had been forming for awhile. From the beginning of the ordination process and well into full time ministry, the most important measurables in ministry were external: budgets, buildings, and bodies in pews. But what was the measurable for the inner person, the spirit? Institutionally, it's a secondary question. But it should matter. The practice of Christian ministry should, one would think, bring one closer, not farther from, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Of course it's not a bad thing to take care of your spirit and to care for your soul while caring for others. But all the personal sabbaths, journaling, devotions, and fasts will not change the system to value the measurements less. sure, everyone needs skills that are useful. But this is not the argument for more and better effectiveness, economy, and efficiency. All the technique in the world does not lead to sustainability and creativity, and transformation. To do that, one needs to love deeply and often. And, drilling down, one needs to be known and loved.
Under the long testing of full time ministry, my hopes and ideals of pleasing others were disintegrating. Was gratifying others a worth my best self anyway? I began to let go of the notion that I could fulfill the expectations of myself, others, the church, and the exhaustive pastoral role. In grief and wonder, part of my life's journey was ending.and a new season was calling.
(1) In the UMC, the clergy pension program is based on years of service- not age.
(2) After serving as Chaplain in a continuing care facility, I was trained as a volunteer Ombudsman (advocate) in Long term Care by the State of Texas. At the time, there was stringent State oversight of Long Term Care facilities, but not so with Assisted Living.
Friday, July 28, 2023
13:32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."
13:33 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
13:44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
13:45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;
13:46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
13:47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;
13:48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.
13:49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous
13:50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
13:51 "Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes."
13:52 And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."
Friday, July 21, 2023
13:25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.
13:26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.
13:28 He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?'
13:29 But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.
13:30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
13:36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field."
13:37 He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;
13:38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one,
13:39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
13:40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.
13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,
13:42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
- Evil is a Liar What better image than the story of the weeds looking just like the wheat? For evil to progress, lies are told as truth. We can tell lies to ourselves and each other. I often believe what I want to believe, hear what I want to hear, and I prefer whatever casts me in a positive light.
- Evil is an Escape Artist Through finger pointing, blaming, accusing, or shaming, I can project evil on another person, race, or religion. "They" are cast as non-persons, undeserving of kindness or respect. Scapegoating causes great harm and is another way evil thrives.
- Evil Multiplies. Unfortunately, evil can have a field day in people and institutions whose official mission statements provide cover for the harm they may cause, even in the name of religious faith. The hypocrisy can be covered by more and more lies.
- Evil Hides Out. The weeds are planted under cover of the night. The destructive weeds hide in the wheat. Because evil intentions exist in the mind, no one can know the true motivations of another human being. The hiddenness of evil is suggested in the word "den" in Scripture, as in a "a den of thieves, a den of iniquity," etc.
- Evil Can Be Outlasted. Because the weeds threaten the crop, we are tempted to multiply the harm. When I try to fix the troublemakers, I end up being like them. In what world does Christ call me to judge others without mercy just because I happen to attend church or pray more often?***
- Evil is Judged. Evil will not only be exposed for what it is, but once unmasked, the truth will be shouted from the rooftops. At the end of the harvest, the angels serve God best by doing the hard work. My job is to resist evil without becoming evil and to do no harm. My calling is to wait for God's deliverance in God's time in God's way.
- Our Decisions are Made in Gray Areas. Our lives are lived amidst good and evil. We live in the gray areas, that sphere where we decide the way that leads to greater evil or greater good. That's why our sense of wisdom and discernment of spirits is so important. We make our ethical decisions among the wheat and weeds.
Wednesday, July 12, 2023
13:2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
13:3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow.
13:4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.
13:5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.
13:6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.
13:7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
13:8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
13:9 Let anyone with ears listen!"
13:18 "Hear then the parable of the sower.
13:19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;
13:21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
13:22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.
13:23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
Thursday, July 6, 2023
11:17 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'
11:18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon';
11:19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
11:25 At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;
11:26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
11:28 "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Friday, June 30, 2023
10:40 "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
10:41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous;
10:42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple -- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."
As Jesus continues the instructions to those he is sending out, there’s an eerie parallel with Matthew 25: 35, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
It’s easy to overlook the act of welcoming another into our lives. The twist is that the immediate presence of Jesus Christ is the One being welcomed.
How different would my life be if I reflected on this amazing teaching? What if i made room for this Jesus? The message of God’s in-breaking kingdom is matched with how i welcome others into my life.
Choices are made in light of the Christ who is here and now, embodied in those welcomed. Not in terms of my convenience or preference or privilege.
The examples of receiving a prophet and giving a cup of cold water could relate to experiences of missionaries prior to Matthew’s Gospel. Did he look at examples of welcome and hostility to Paul and his message?
Welcoming others in the name of another prophet or disciple was the practice of the earliest church , witness the story of Paul and Ananias in Acts 9. In this case Ananias may have become the disciple vouching for Paul, the disciple in whose name Paul is welcomed by the church.
Jesus sometimes called his followers “little ones.” They are not, in this context, the privileged few. Those at the top of the food chain “have their reward,” but those making welcome for the little ones will find a different kind of reward, one that comes in almost invisible acts of kindness and welcome. *
What could possibly be the “reward” for welcoming “little ones,” or Christ, or God!?** Integrity. I get to fulfill my ministry and calling. I live into my purpose and potential as a human being, made in God’s image and likeness. I don’t have to honor the animal, instinctual brain. I can choose!
This welcoming, receiving, and giving are their own reward, ends in themselves, and nothing more or less. Sounds like a chance for both inner and outer repentance and change.
Repentance offers the church -which is anyone who claims Christ’s name- a chance to live by the alternative vision of God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom announced in Jesus and his missioners prizes actual welcome, receiving and sharing. Words just sugar coat the real failures and the positive hindrances I have created and perpetuate for others. For preachers and teachers, our words are empty if the repentance and alternative are not explicitly presented for others to hear.
Without repentance I do not change and without change, there is only the default of flying to Jesus but silencing his words of welcoming, receiving, and sharing his kingdom.
*For hypocrites having their reward, see Matthew 6:1-2, 5, 16
**See the many references to “little ones” in Albert Nolan’s classic, Jesus Before Christianity (1976, 2001).
Wednesday, June 21, 2023
10:25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
10:26 "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.
10:27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
10:28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
10:30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted.
10:31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
10:32 "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven;
10:33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
10:34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
10:35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
10:36 and one's foes will be members of one's own household.
10:37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
10:38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
10:39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
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