Friday, October 28, 2011

Who’da thunk?

Text of the week: Luke 13:18-19 and Ephesians 3:20-21

Part of my journey this semester began over the summer, with a small parable embedded in Luke’s account of the parable of the mustard seed (see Luke 13:18-19).  So that you don’t feel like you’re reading an exegesis paper, let me just say this: a mustard tree is more like a gnarly, ugly-looking bush — not a majestic tree.  This is not the way Jews envisioned the Kingdom of God showing up.  They would have envisioned something more like a cedar from Lebanon, or an oak, like the oaks of righteousness from the psalmist, representing what the Kingdom would look like.  A mustard tree is a bush — a shrub, even.  This story is easily overlooked because Jesus certainly didn’t mean the Kingdom is like a gnarly, ugly bush. Or did He?
What if Jesus is saying the Kingdom comes in ways we don’t expect —on His time table — to wherever He wants it to come.  I like to call these “who’da thunk” moments.  For instance, when Susan Kizzee walked on this campus as a freshman art major, did she think she would be called to live overseas, doing graphic design for a company with her husband, helping raise funds for their ministry, while at the same time using her artistic talent to beautify a developing office compound in India?  I think we could put that in the “who’da thunk” category.  I’m sure Susan didn’t see that coming, but now wouldn’t have it any other way.  That’s the way God works.
The Kingdom doesn’t always appear in ways that we can predict.  Maybe if we stopped trying to predict how the Kingdom is supposed to come (i.e. telling God how to do His work), we would actually recognize Kingdom work more often.  Early in the semester, we started engaging our imaginations in the process of listening to what God has for us, and now we are right back to where we started.  For us to hear God, maybe we need to think outside the boxes we’ve created for Him.  Maybe we need to remember that this is His work, not ours.  Maybe we need to re-imagine what the Kingdom is about.   Maybe we need to be reminded that it isn’t about us.  And remember, this is most effective and meaningful when it happens in community.
So, we’re back to where we started.  We have come full circle.  We’re looking for “who’da thunk” moments.  We’re looking for the ways that God works in and among us that we didn’t see coming and couldn’t predict, allowing Him to create His dreams for us, as we partner with Him to build His Kingdom.
So, the questions we’ve been asking each other throughout the semester are still there:  What are you hearing?  How is God re-shaping your dreams?  Have you seen any mustard plants lately?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rediscovering the joy in the everyday

Text for the week: Colossians 3:17 and John 14:1-14

It’s a Thursday morning, and I just met with a student visiting our campus who will be a freshman next fall.  He has a sensitive spirit, and is asking questions about what God would have him do with his life.  I had the privilege of sharing with him that God calls in a variety of ways, and that he didn’t have to buy into the fact that you have to do something big or noticeable for it to be significant.  I also shared with him that he isn’t less of a person if he doesn’t have a classical call to ministry (e.g. pastoral, youth, missions, etc.), but that God can and will use him regardless of how he is wired.

Sound familiar?

I also shared some of the early story of Mother Teresa.   When she left her position as principal at a high school in Calcutta, she thought she was leaving a position of influence.  She was giving that all up to go live and serve among the dying.  What do you think motivated her?  Acclaim?  Recognition?  Title?  I don’t think so.

She saw a need, wanted to do something about it, and did it in Jesus’ name.  Why?  Do we really think she did it for the praise she would go on to receive?  Did she do it so she could be quoted from her speeches given in front of presidents and world leaders?  To give her a platform to write books?  I’m sure one of the things running through her mind was receiving the Nobel Prize for working among the dying, right?  You wouldn’t think there would be much said about someone who goes to live in the slums of Calcutta, to help the dead and dying, would you?

But that isn’t the way the Kingdom works.  The secular world, at times, even acknowledges that.  She didn’t do it for recognition.  There was nothing glamorous about what she was doing.  She was holding hands, washing bed sores, changing soiled beds.  I don’t think she ever believed she was doing anything special.   She wasn’t doing anything you or I couldn’t do.  But it was significant, and there is a difference.

Mother Teresa discovered joy in the every day.  She said, “I have a feeling that we are in such a hurry that we do not even have time to look at one another and smile.”  The joy given from a smile; the difference made in someone’s life because of a birthday party, a card, a word, or a hug.  It’s rediscovering the joy that comes in the mundane, ordinary, everyday experiences in life.  Loving and serving the needs that are around us today — right now.   Never forget, whatever you do now in Jesus’ name, matters.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Community is key

Text for the week:  1 Corinthians 12:12-26 

A friend of mine is executive pastor at a church in Valparaiso, Ind.  He and his wife both grew up around Tuscaloosa, Ala., and her mom teaches at the University of Alabama.  When the tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa and other towns nearby, they felt it.  The same thing happened when hurricane Katrina went through southern Mississippi and Alabama — they were hurt by what happened in their home state and by the devastation that occurred along the Gulf Coast.  They felt it.  Why?  Because it was home.  These were their people.   It affected their friends, their families and their neighbors; and they responded in kind.

I’m not sure how many trips they have taken to Tuscaloosa to help with the repair and rebuilding efforts, but I can guarantee, when they aren’t there physically, they are there in spirit.

Nouwen says, “As individuals we cannot be everything to everyone, but as a community we can indeed serve a great variety of needs.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Compassion fatigue

Text for the week: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 

I get tired of hearing I’m not doing enough, in the middle of my trying to do something.  There is so much pain, hunger and tragedy all the time. How can I help meet all the needs that are out there?  Just thinking about it makes me tired. (See paragraph 2, pg. 77 of Quitting Church)

What would you say if I told you that you didn’t need to?  What if you could be an active participant in the Kingdom of God without responding to every need that presents itself?

Remember what happened this spring with the devastations in both Tuscaloosa and Joplin?  I remember the personal guilt I experienced because not only did I not go, I never felt compelled to go.  Am I heartless?  Some might say yes.  These came right on the heels of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Come on, how much can one person take?  How much can humanity be expected to respond to?

Henri Nouwen says, “When there is no community that can mediate between world needs and personal responses, the burden of the world can only be a crushing burden.  When the pains of the world are presented to people who are already overwhelmed by the problems in their small circle of family or friends, how can we hope for a creative response?”

So, I ask again: How much are we expected to respond to?  All of it.  That’s right — all of it.  Not me, but you and me together.