Meditation Monday: Building Up

Building Up

Dozens of new high rise buildings have been constructed in Nashville during the last five years. I counted seven gigantic cranes highlighting the cityscape at one point from my office window in downtown Nashville.

It’s been bittersweet to see these tall buildings seem to grow right out of the ground. Nashville’s construction shows vitality but it also comes with its own growing pains.

Affordable housing has become an issue as most of the new housing in development is high end real estate. What use to take fifteen minutes now takes double or even triple that amount to get into town during rush hour. The construction barrel has become the new state flower.

Building vs. Building Up

Yet for all their influence on the city, they are but buildings that remind me of the Jewish Temple of Jesus’ times. The Temple was much bigger and grander than any building ever imagined for its time and place, yet it, too, could be toppled. While the Romans burned the Temple, it was Jesus who called out its demise. Why? Because it no longer served the people it had been created to be in relationship with. It was a building that lost it’s purpose of building up. The Temple and its priests hoarded the wealth of the Temple for themselves, while the hungry, the poor, the sick cried out for relief. God heard their cry and gave the Temple ample warning to do better through Jesus.

As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”

Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” Mark 13:1-2 CEB

If the Temple could be brought down for not practicing its purpose, its ministry, how much more can churches be allowed to stand who have wandered away from their mission of doing for the least of these?

If Jesus was willing to call out the Temple for not building up the people, how much more does He want to call each of our churches out for not fulfilling the mission of the church – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

Dear God, help us to do your will in our churches. Help us to remember they are but buildings able to be brought down easily if they no longer serve their purpose for all your people – even the least of these. Amen.

Giving to Support United Methodist Beliefs

Giving

Many of the year-end giving appeals you receive are about increasing tax ramifications for one’s financial gift. These are important and support many great causes. However, as Christians we also realize the spiritual significances of our year-end financial giving to the ministries of our local churches and non-profits.

Year End Giving

Giving is an act of worship. It is an act of faith, of planting what future generations will see grow to fruition.

Our connectional giving provides support to our leaders who face the daunting task of steering the Church towards a common goal of faithfulness, forgiveness and making disciples for Jesus Christ. Connectional giving supports our efforts to minister to a hurting world.

We have organizations within our denomination dedicated to aiding the needy, healing the sick, comforting the stranger and addressing social ills. Our giving helps support these.

The needs are genuine. We are and always have been a connection of believers in need of one another’s generosity.

“For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us,” 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 NRSV

As United Methodists we are dedicated to these causes. As a denomination we are called to support them.

Investing financially in what God has given us a passion for is one of the ways to participate in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. God gives to us so that we might give. In giving we can fulfill our purpose in life – to love as God loved us.

During this time of gift-giving, let us remember our ministries that mean so much to us. As much as God has given you, provide good stewardship and give!

To learn more about how to give, where to give, and the impact of your donations, visit www.umcgiving.org

Standing with Standing Rock

Standing Rock

The use of water as a cleansing motif is not new. Amos the prophet likened it to justice rolling down like a river and righteousness as a stream.

But what if that water is polluted? What if the water itself has been tainted? What justice can it serve to the people? What righteousness can it supply to drink?

Standing with Standing Rock

So it is that we as United Methodists, stand with the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in their commitment to keeping clean God’s resources including the water of their sacred places.

Water like justice is for the good of all peoples. Let it continue to flow freely and cleanly throughout North Dakota and all over the world.

Meditation Monday: Definition vs Meaning

Meaning

Words take on a meaning when used in a sentence. Words by themselves have definition. But to have meaning they must be placed within a sentence with other words. Sometimes they can stand on their own.   “Go!” is a one-word sentence that has great meaning.

But most times the more words in the sentence the more meaningful the relationship. “Let us go!” There is greater context for better understanding.

As a church we cannot be an island unto ourselves. To have meaning we must venture into relationships with one another and others.

The meaning of our work at GCFA

Reading over GCFA’s Local Church Toolkits, a collection of local church statistics pulled together by our Data Services team, I am struck by how we define churches in this report by various measurements and graphs. These numbers are the “words” we use to describe an annual conference statistical circumstance.

Yet it is placing these numbers within the context of the Annual Conference’s interaction with the areas that are its mission fields that we gain the greatest meaning of what it means to be a local church in an annual conference. A church’s relationship with its people – both members and non-members – can be shown and understood through these measurements and graphs. Within those relationships we find the meaning of the church’s vision and mission, not solely the definition of it.

“Love” is a wonderful word. But “I love you” is even more meaningful and beautiful.

Let us Methodists not only “Love” but be, say, and act out “I love you” to the people of a hurting world.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. I John 3:11

Dear God, you are the Most High. You are the I AM. Lord show us how to be like you So that not solely by definition are we Christians but by our meaningful interactions with one another do we find a life in Christ. Amen.

UMC Flood Relief

Flood ReliefOne Drop Of Water That Leads To A Flood

One drop of water is insignificant.

One trillion drops can stop an entire city!

In Louisiana, in a short time, millions upon millions of drops of water fell from the sky inundating the people, their pets and their homes with flood waters. Four parishes have been declared disaster areas because of this flood. There is much devastation and chaos.

Like snowflakes, individual water droplets are singularly beautiful, even innocuous and not all that forceful. But when they get together, their power becomes an overwhelming flood, sinking entire homes and killing people.

One Drop Of Grace That Leads To A Flood Of Love

Yet, just as much as drops of water coming together can wreak havoc upon a community, so too can United Methodists when we come together to bring grace and love to people devastated by flood waters.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is working with FEMA and other national disaster response organizations, including the American Red Cross, Lutheran Disaster Response, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and the umbrella group, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD). They are helping those affected by this flood with warehouse space, cleanup buckets, distribution assistance, and shelter for evacuees—opening hearts, minds and doors to those in need.

Banding together, United Methodists can take on the flood and show people how God is working their midst.

The best ways to help are to assemble and send cleanup buckets and to support the UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response Advance, #901670, with your donations.

And praying, always praying.

Dear God, we pray hope and peace to our brothers and sisters in Louisiana. We ask for your healing touch upon the land that is flooded. May the waters recede and the time of rebuilding begin. We will not forget them now or when the rains stop. Protect them especially the vulnerable. Watch over them. Amen.

2016 Olympics: Team Refugee

Olympics

Olympics Make History

For the first time in the history of the Olympics, a “refugee” team was formed to participate in the Games. This team was composed of athletes from Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Their host countries were Kenya, Brazil, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg.

So who were these athletes competing for? Their home countries or their host countries?

Perhaps a little of both. Maybe they are especially competing for others like them in that in-between place they all find themselves in right now. Hopefully refugees around the world, can see, in seeing this team compete, that they can flourish too. They can hold onto their dreams and still make them come true. There is life beyond the harrowing journey they undertook with their families to make it to relative safety.

With so much anger and fear surrounding the idea of refugees in our respective countries, it is refreshing to see the refugee team receive a standing ovation from the crowded stadium during the opening ceremonies . How loved they must have felt!

Refugee Support

Dictionary.com defines “refugee” as, “a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc.”

Immigrating to another country is hard enough if you choose to do so. Having to do it on the run because you are fleeing in desperation for your safety is difficult to imagine. Being welcomed by those to whom you are fleeing gives you the opportunity to finally catch your breath. To be able to then receive an offer to compete in the Olympics must restore your hope and faith that perhaps with a lot of work and help from on high, “normalcy” can return to your life.

Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household. Deuteronomy 26:11 (NIV)

The examples of these athletes, the Olympic Committee and the people at the opening ceremonies is one we should emulate. Perseverance, remembrance and celebration of the refugees among us is what our God calls us to anyway. Who are the “refugees” among you who could use an outpouring of love?

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 3 John 5:5 (NIV)

Meditation Monday: Bread Of Life

Bread Of Life

I Am the Bread of Life

I have noticed in my travels that in nearly all cultures and even sub-cultures like the American South, bread is a staple in the diets of almost all people. It may take different forms and be called many things but it is in the final analysis bread.

How fitting is it that Jesus said in John 6:35 (CEB), “I am the bread of life.” Of all the food references he could have made, Jesus chose “bread,” not “meat,” not “vegetables” but “bread.”

Despite the warning against carbs and bread, it still remains a daily part of most people’s lives in a way that veggies and meat still do not. “Rice” rivals “bread” by sheer number in households, and even in places where “rice” is the main dish, there still exists “bread.”

When He says “I am the bread of life,” Jesus lands squarely in the middle of daily existence for nearly everyone. He is the sustainer of life, as long as you have bread and water you can hold out, but without one or the other life becomes very difficult. Like bread, Jesus is the very staple of a Christian’s life.

Bread will always be in our lives as human beings, despite all the carb warnings. It is too intrinsic to being human. Jesus too should always be in our lives. He is too intrinsic to being a Christian.

Dear God, Fill us with your amazing, sustaining bread. Let us take in your goodness for our soul. As you bring the rain and sun to grow the food for our stomachs, use the rain and sun in our lives to show us your comforting presence in the midst of our lives. For you alone are the holy one, the bread of life to our souls. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Tradition

TraditionTraditionalism V. Tradition

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities

Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. Avoid every kind of evil.  1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 (CEB)

People need tradition. We need them to navigate our way in the world. It lays the foundation for the future but it doesn’t dictate it. But there is a darker side to tradition that often can lead to death, especially with institutions.

Jaroslav Pelikan, scholar of the history of Christianity at Yale defines “traditionalism” as a way of life that kills the vibrant faith of believers. It takes itself too seriously And says there is only one way to do things even if the reason for it is now unknown. “But we’ve always done it that way” is a narrow point of view. Its followers turn inward and become insular with one another.

While tradition gives us a place to stand, it doesn’t anchor us to it. Tradition serves as a starting point. Tradition is constantly evolving as the generations following it add their flavor and understanding to it.

Let our faith be a living, growing faith! Let it be founded on the hope and dreams of those who have gone before us but always ready to expand its boundaries to do the work God has called us to do today.

Dear God, we are in need to a fresh anointing upon our traditions and faith. We want a living faith of the dead, not a dead faith of the living. As John Wesley wrote, “I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.”* Lord hear our prayer! Amen.

*John Wesley, How To Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer

The Beloved Community

Community

Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives. Martin Luther King Jr.

Whoever isn’t against us is for us. I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded. Mark 9:40-41 CEB

The question of who is in and who is out of the beloved community is one of the threads running throughout the gospel of Mark. What we find when we study Jesus in Mark is that those who are on the margins of society – the sick, the dying, the poor, the “unclean”, Gentiles, children, women, Galilean fisherman, prostitutes and the demon-possessed, are all at the center of the community. Always have been and always will be.

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Love Is Enough

Love Is Enough

Love Is Enough

A state legislator, trying to justify raffling off an assault rifle at a fundraiser, proclaimed, “You can’t combat this kind of hatred (mass shootings) with overwhelming love. There is only one way to combat this…that’s either to remove or neutralize these individuals.”

Yet being Christians, isn’t “overwhelming love” required of us, even with our enemies?

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. Matthew 5:43-48 (CEB)

But is love enough? In a decade of mass shootings and suicide bombers, is love a powerful defense against self-hatred turned outward?

Love was never meant to be a “defense” against evil. Love has always been an offensive action against bigotry, anger and hurt. (Double entendre intended.)

As Jesus tells us in verse 44, love is an action as much as praying for your enemies is one. It is not a weapon. It is a verb.

Love IS Enough

So what does love do?

In a moment of violence love is the mother out with her son for a night of dancing, throwing herself in front of him taking the terrorist’s bullet. In another, love is a teacher shielding her students.

But love is at its most powerful before situations have deteriorated to the point of bloodshed. It is in the act of loving people continuously that we prevent them from becoming so filled with self-hatred that it spills over into hating others.

We must love these people who seem unlovable. It is in loving that we can combat violence and hatred. Love is enough.

This type of love is not a superficial love. We are talking about a deep visceral love that makes miracles happen. Not in some magical sort of way but like the love shown at other nonviolent protests that have taken place and changed the world. The kind of love that brings people together to become the beloved community, taking care of all God’s children. This is the kind of love all of us can exhibit towards each of us. This love is enough.

We must ask ourselves how we could have loved these people before they lost sight of their divinely inspired humanity. Perhaps if we can answer that question, the need for guns will be obsolete.

Should we try?