Tag Archives: Kingdom

A Season of Watching and Waiting

pregnant belly copyIt seems I am surrounded by pregnant women on all sides – which is not a bad thing. Women in our family – both my family and my wife’s family – are expecting in 2014. A young lady in our congregation along with another who is connected to and a regular visitor with our congregation just put out the news that they are awaiting the arrival of a baby in May. Then there are the ones connected to the families in our church, which means we have grandparents who anxiously await a newborn – including one set of grandparents-to-be headed to the hospital the morning this blog was written.

Pregnancy is a great image for this season in the life of the church – the season of Advent. During this time before Christmas we might think this image of expectant mothers points toward Mary who was at this time awaiting the birth of her first child (yes, assuming December 25th was the day – that debate is another blog for another day). It is partially what Advent has become for us – the waiting for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. And yet, it really is more than that. It is truly a season of expectancy – a time of waiting and watching for the dawn of new life, but it is about more than the birth of the Christ-child.

You see, pregnant families are not the only ones living through a time of waiting and watching. I know others who are facing the diagnosis of some form of cancer or about to enter into another round of cancer treatment (and for the record, I hate cancer). They wait to hear results. They wait to see if the treatment works. They wait and watch and wonder what the future holds.

Still others are waiting to find out other aspects of their future – what school will I go to when I move past high school? Will my job be one of the ones eliminated in the latest cutbacks? Will we have enough money to buy our children presents for Christmas? Will we have enough food to feed our families this week?

There is much waiting and watching and hoping in the face of unknown futures – some are waiting with exceedingly great joy. Some are waiting while holding their breath. And for those of us who know the truth behind the season of Advent, we encourage one another to wait and watch in faith.

The word Advent means “coming.” The Church celebrates this season not just as a pre-Christmas ritual, but as a reminder that Christ will come – again. Yes, Jesus Christ was born to Mary, humbly among the animals. But, our faith is not just based on this belief that God came near to us. Our faith is that this child would live courageously, and boldly declare that God has a bigger plan. He would go to the cross and become the sacrifice for all our sins as a way to show that the grace of God is at work to reconcile us back to our heavenly Father and restore our true life. And he promised that he would come again, that he would bring about the Kingdom of God in its fullness – a Kingdom of joy and peace where issues like cancer no longer haunt us in our nightmares.

That’s the joy we celebrate this season. That’s the reason we wait and watch. Just as a pregnant woman knows there is a day coming when the physical challenge of nurturing her child will result in the birth of new life, so we, the ones who believe in God’s promises revealed to us in Jesus Christ, await the birth of God’s Kingdom in all its glory.

So we wait and we watch and we say – “Come Lord Jesus, come.”

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

The Footsteps I Follow

enter at own riskI feel the need to apologize for my recent posts. They seem to all be very internal “me” focused musings. But the reality is, that’s the season I’m in. I have tried to use this blog as a place for honest musings and challenges regarding faith and discipleship. At times I have addressed issues within the church – both local and denominational; and at other times I have written about more individual, but hopefully universal subjects. Right now I’m in a season of self-reflection and its unlikely it will change any time soon.

So, I could apologize, but it might seem disingenuous as I once again delve into self-reflection or very personal moments. Therefore, I will simply let this first bit of today’s post stand as a checkpoint of sorts. Continue reading if you will, but you’ve been warned.

I recently let all of our church know that I would be taking a 3-month sabbatical beginning January 1, 2014. I have come to realize that I need to regain some spiritual footing in order to serve God’s purpose well in the years ahead. That’s a difficult feat to accomplish while managing and leading the day-to-day life of the church. My time away is not a means of getting away from the church in order to be away from the church, it is simply time to be more deeply connected to God for the work ahead. It may be too bold of me to equate this time to that of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days, but still I do relate it to that. In some ways, those are the footsteps I follow.

camino pic 1One of my hopes as I plan this time away is to make an ancient pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is otherwise known as The Way of Saint James. I first learned of this pilgrimage through the movie “The Way,” which piqued my interest in this 500 mile journey. Yes, I said 500 miles. The journey begins near the border of France and Spain and winds across northern/central Spain to the Cathedral of St. James. It takes about a month or so to make the journey. It is a pilgrimage that has been made by many peoples in the last 800 years. And I hope to add my name to the list.

The pilgrimage was historically made by Christian pilgrims who wanted to make their way to the place where ancient tradition says the bones of St. James are interred. To be in close proximity to these ancient relics was thought to bring a special blessing of God to the pilgrim who was willing to make such a journey. These days many people see the journey as more significant than the destination. They see the journey as the means to the greater blessing of God – and I am one of those.

My hope for the journey is to give myself undeniable time with God. By that I mean that I will have nothing else to occupy my thoughts or my spirit. Sure, for a couple of three days I might be consumed by other thoughts and challenges left behind, but eventually I will just have to get into a deep lasting conversation with God. There is no activity to capture my interest, no group to interact with (save the other pilgrims I see along the way), and no TV or Facebook to occupy my attention. There should be some significant time of reflection and spiritual conversation.

And that’s why I’m planning this as part of my sabbatical. I want to be intentional about digging down deeper with God. And I know that it won’t happen so easily among the everyday things that already distract me so (and I am NOT referring to church stuff – just common, ordinary, everyday stuff). You see, this time is not being planned as an escape from church or life or anything else. I was given good advice one time – it is always better to run TOWARD something than to run FROM something. So, I’m choosing to run toward God, to run deeper into a life as a servant of the King of Kings.

As I make my way I follow the footsteps of many pilgrims who have gone before me. I follow the footsteps of many faithful people who sought a deeper connection with God. I follow the spiritual footsteps of Jesus as I leave what is known for a time away to connect with God. And then, when I have completed the pilgrimage, I hope to walk more faithfully either on the road I am currently traveling or on a new path to which God calls me.

Of course, it all begins with that first step. As for what happens then? Well, that remains to be known and experienced. I simply thank God for the chance to know Him more in this ancient way.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Influenced by a Dream

Martin Luther King, Jr. is famous for his “I have a dream” speech. The idea of what could be in regard to racial harmony remains compelling to many. Dreams that have deeper and significant meaning can do that. They may not come true to the extent they were seen, at least not for a while, but they are influential in keeping lofty ideals in our hearts and in our work. I discovered that again in a dream had by a friend of my son, Andrew.

I had mentioned this dream in my sermon yesterday. I don’t know the details because I got this second hand (and my memory is not so great mostly due to sleep deprivation at UMARMY camp last week). The dream was about this young man going to heaven and experiencing worship there in the presence of Jesus Christ. Everyone in the room had something they were tossing at the feet of Jesus to honor and glorify him for all he gave to us as the Son of God. Some had beautiful crowns and handfuls of jewels. It is reminiscent of Revelation 4:9-11:

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever,  the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

In the dream, this young man realized that the amount of jewels and crowns one had to offer in worship was in direct correlation to the way each person lived for the glory of God. In other words, those who sought to intentionally act for God’s glory – those who lived desiring most to see God’s will be done, those who lived hoping that the face of Jesus would be seen and their own selfish desires would be subordinated to the will of God – those people had stored up greater treasure in heaven. And, because they lived more faithfully in connection with God and serving God’s purpose, they had more to offer to Jesus, the Lamb of God sitting on the throne of heaven.

The young man looked at his own hands and saw he had only a few jewels. As he looked at them he couldn’t wait to lay them at Jesus feet and to give him honor. And yet, at the same time, he wished he had more to give. He wasn’t upset or sad or jealous – he was in heaven before Jesus after all. But he did wish that he could give more like he saw others doing. Their joy was so much greater.

That young man woke up from that dream inspired to live differently. He isn’t fearing the fires of hell and thereby working to please God. Instead, he is anticipating the worship experience he will have when he gets to heaven and he wants it to be the greatest it could possibly be.

My son was talking to me about this dream because he too is being compelled by the Holy Spirit to live more intentionally for the glory of God rather than for his own selfish gain. And he in turn inspired me to consider my own focus in life – how am I seeking to bring glory to God? Am I?

As Andrew and I talked about this idea I was reminded by the Spirit of the words Jesus spoke – “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand…” (Matthew 3:2) and “The Kingdom of God is within you…” (Luke 17:21). The Spirit helped me to see that the experience of worshiping Jesus Christ in the Kingdom to come can also be known in this lifetime in a greater way. When we live seeking to all we do for the glory of God alone, we have more to offer in our acts of spiritual worship. Our experience of the presence of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit is more intense, more joyful, more fulfilling.

I am inspired to discover that greater life. I am inspired to know a great sense of God’s presence and power. I am inspired by the dream to live more and more for the glory of God. I hope you are as well.

Holy high five to you,
Mike

The week we found Living Water

Last week at this time I was riding in a van to the village of El Tanque outside of Leon, Nicaragua. Many of us from Asbury UMC had been anticipating this trip for a long time. And before we left, it was clear that we were going to learn much about our life with God in the midst of  helping others. I began to think about the trip as an internship more than a mission trip. I wanted to learn about the ministry of Living Water International and listen for how God wanted to teach me. What I have come to realize is that God wasn’t simply wanting to teach me, he was wanting to transform me. And God will have His way.

There is so much I want to share about this trip, but I am not sure one blog post would hold all I have to say about this experience. In regard to what I learned about working for the good of God’s Kingdom. I would say the lesson was “partnership.” God had made it clear to me that it was not our place to swoop in as the hero Americans to help these poor people. Our task was to be humble and to join in the work of the church in that village and the ministry of Living Water. And this is what we did. We joined the people of Nicaragua to make good things happen for El Tanque. We followed the orders of Angel, our drill boss, and Lester, the Foreman. We watched as the men and women of the village emptied the mud pits bucket-by-bucket at the end of the day. We gave thanks for the patience of the people as we tried to speak their language.

The lesson of partnership would connect with the next lesson as well – the lesson of working for systemic change. This work was different from anything I had ever been part of. The biggest difference in this work was the level of impact we could have. Let me briefly explain the situation. El Tanque residents have government provided water in their pipes for about 1 hour per day. The government does not want to run the pumps any more than that. And, the people are asked to pay about $40-50 for the privilege of that one hour of water. Also, if the electricity in the area is out, then the pumps don’t work and there is no water. Oh, and the well the government uses is not deep and highly contaminated. This means the people have to gather their water for the day in that one hour, and they have a high rate of illness due to the quality of that water.

So, the well we helped to drill and set up is a hand pump station located in the front of the local church property. It is available to the people everyday, all day. It is a deeper well that reaches better water. It will allow the people to have a supply of good water all day and this means their children will face fewer illnesses. It is just so incredible to be part of something that makes such a large impact! With the addition of this one fresh water well, the level of hope increased for the 3,000 people of this small community.

This trip was also different from many others because it had a good bit of down time. We were split into 3 teams – Drill team A, Drill team B, and the Hygiene team (this group worked with the women and children of the village, so they had less down time but more personal interaction). The two drill teams would alternate working on the rig. The other times we would walk around the village, meet and greet the people and hang out with the kids and others who came by. It was often a time of learning their language and them asking us to help them learn ours. It was also a time to be still and listen to what God had to say to us.

This was especially true in the evening times. When we would arrive back at our home base in Leon each night we would shower and get ready for dinner, which was always delicioso! After dinner we had time just to be still and relax. We would often talk about the day and the amazing blessing it was to be part of this work. We would also begin to reflect on the work we could do back in our hometowns. That’s where I really began to think about the issue of making systemic change.

I am blessed to be pastoring a church that is focused on helping others experience the hope of Jesus Christ. There are many ways we help serve those in need – from blankets being made for Hospice patients, to repairing homes, to delivering meals at Thanksgiving. All good and loving acts of selfless giving to be sure. But on this trip I began to think about the bigger issues in our community. I am still not sure I know what they are, but many people are caught in situations which are dealt with on mostly an episodic basis. It would be like bringing jugs of water to El Tanque. It does help, but the solution is temporary. Helping people with food and paying their light bill is good, but how do we help them find a better quality of life or better employment? Can we do something to help people start their own small business which can serve their community and begins to develop a greater economic future? Do we begin with the children by finding ways to help tutor them and mentor them and thereby begin a generational change that will change lives? There are so many questions I have and so many possible ways to serve God’s Kingdom purpose in these ways.

I find myself praying about this throughout the day. I find myself thinking of people I know who are working in the communities where they live to change lives. And I find myself thinking about the faces of the people in El Tanque, Nicaragua as they saw fresh water coming up from that well. It was not only a week when we helped bring water and living water to people; it was not only a week where we came to know and participate in the ministry of Living Water International; it was a week we found THE Living Water welling up from within us like a never-ending spring of life. Funny thing is, the more living water I have within me, the thirstier I am for righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit – not just for myself, but for all who long for new life.

How is God calling you these days?
What is God putting on your heart?
How might God be asking you to serve His Kingdom purpose?

I’d love to hear what God is doing in you. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Our God is Faithful

I have to share this with you because I am reminded of God’s faithfulness.

The other day our Financial Secretary came in to my office. She informed me that we were short of funds in the bank and did not have enough money to cover payroll. Not the best words to hear at the end of the month. I listened and learned we were a good bit short, but not extremely. I thanked her for letting me know and told her I would get back with her. I found myself back in my office, strangely calm. I sat down and opened myself up to prayer. I acknowledged the goodness of God and reiterated my trust in God and I listened.

Now, for those who don’t know, we committed to tithing our giving this year. 10% of our giving goes beyond our walls – first to the work of the church through apportionments (United Methodists formulation that allows for each local church to contribute equitably to the work of the global church). If those commitments get paid off, then we will decide where the other monies go. This is a real step of faith for a church who had never made these payments on a monthly basis.

Any way, I was praying, and thinking about whether or not we would have to divert some of that 10%. But then God gave me a word. Just one – WAIT. It was not yet the last day of the month. There were still 2 mail deliveries that would come before paychecks needed to go out, so we could wait. Having heard God’s command, I went back and explained to our Financial Secretary what God said.

The next day the this staff member came back into my office. Between the checks we had and the checks we had received we had enough to cover payroll, with just a tad left over. Do I wish God had sent more? Yes. Do I hope we can increase our generosity so we can do more in ministry? Yes. But God has not yet chosen to do that, or we have not yet chosen to respond.

This is what I can tell you, OUR GOD IS FAITHFUL. The prayer we were taught to pray is “give us this day our daily bread,” and God does. We don’t have to worry about what we eat or what we wear, if we seek first the Kingdom of God, what we need will be added to us. This I know to be true.

Now, does it mean our giving doesn’t matter? Absolutely not. Those checks we got did not come from God’s account. God will use us to show himself to us and to others. So I say to you and to all those God would call us to serve – fear not, our God is faithful.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

Turning the Church inside out

 “Everyone coming out of the church was laughing and smiling – it was just full of life.”

That was the comment made by a friend who was coming to our church to drop off his daughter, the best friend of my daughter. They had come from out of town and made it just as our last service was ending. I’m not sure you could have said anything else that would have made me smile so much.

What more are we looking for if not for the spark of life in people? I can promise you that many of those who were laughing and smiling don’t have it easy. There are family tensions and illnesses. There are job struggles and school challenges. There are financial burdens and uncertain futures. But they come into the presence of God and they laugh. They smile. They have these wonderful moments that remind them of God’s promise of life and peace that passes understanding.

That’s what church on the inside should be, I think. There’s lots of discussion about what the church should be on the outside – out in the world joining God in His care for the poor and the oppressed, those whose struggle is life-threatening. Those are good discussions. But, the reality of who we can be on the outside flows from who we are on the inside.

When we allow God to meet us on the inside of the church, we have much more to take outside the church. It takes both the inside and the outside to make the church powerful, effective and fruitful. I’m glad to be connected with such a church.

Holy high-five to you,
Mike

There’s More…

In the movie Hook, starring Robin Williams as the amnesia-struck Peter Pan, there is a scene where they sit down for a meal, but Peter doesn’t see the food. All the others are digging in having an amazingly good time while he sits wondering why everyone else is so excited over nothing.

Sometimes we limit ourselves to what we understand and what we can see before us, and yet, there’s more.

So often I find that to be true in my life and in the life of the church. Peter Pan was so caught up in his own struggle he couldn’t let go and see things in a new way. In the church, as followers of Jesus, we can get so caught up in keeping the doors open, so caught up in how many people are or aren’t there, so caught up in the work of the Lord that we forget to ask the Lord of the work to show us the life he has for us. And there’s more.

Jesus followers were finding new perspectives and growing in their understanding of God and God’s vision for the world. They enjoyed Jesus’ teachings. They were amazed and overwhelmed when watched Jesus heal others. But there was more…

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go… [he tells them] Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you…

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
(Luke 10:1,9,17-20)

It wasn’t until they went OUT as they were sent that they truly discovered what life empowered by the Spirit of God could really be. Life before that point was good – but there was more.

Life within our churches is mostly good. We’re glad to learn more about God. We’re excited to see the amazing things God does to change the lives of others. We are in the presence of God and we realize that life without God isn’t nearly this good. And yet, there’s more…

To go out into the world and do good for others – to heal and serve – is worthy of recognition. But, to go into the world, do good for others, and declare that our work is evidence that the Kingdom of God is at hand – that’s something more. That is life-changing, community-changing, world-changing – that’s the more that God calls us to be part of.

Life lived in the community of faith is good and life-enhancing. Life lived as a community out in the world proclaiming the good news of new life in Jesus Christ – that’s something more…

If we want to be a vital church, if we want to be a vibrant church, if we want to be a church that is fully alive, it’s not enough to know Jesus and it’s not enough to do good works. The key is to know Jesus so deeply that when we go out into the world we do what we can to change lives AND bring glory to God by telling others how our work is nothing but a by-product of God’s great love for the world. That is when others will begin to see there’s more.

Are you ready to seek God more fully?
Are you ready to engage with Jesus more deeply?
Are you ready to go out from the church and tell people that the Kingdom of God is at hand?

Let’s go tell them there’s more…

Holy high-five to you,
Mike